challenging memory and reality

My mother was totally sure it didn’t happen that way. I was totally sure it did. Months ago we had a conversation about how we were supposed to bag, in sealed bags, any trash we put down the trash chute. They live on the 9th floor. It was one of those situations where I could tell she didn’t remember it the way I did and there was no point in arguing it. In the past, maybe being “right” would have mattered. Or, more likely, since I gave credence to other people’s realities more than I felt confident in my own I would have had to fight it out until I knew the truth. Instead, this time (and most times in the last year or two), I said, “Okay,” and walked away. Sometimes this bugs the crap out of her and she needs to discuss it until we’ve sorted out what really happened. Thankfully this time she let it drop.

When something causes me to question my sense of reality these days a few things happen. Sometimes, I feel like I’ve gone temporarily insane. How can I not know the truth? It’s like a jolt of electricity. It stuns. Other times I just think, huh, they see it differently but that’s not how I see it. Then I feel even more comfortable with my own truth. In any case, if my sense of reality is called into question, different responses live in me concurrently.

Last night, into this morning, I got more sleep than I have in months. Certainly in the last 8.5 years there have only been a handful of nights I’ve slept so deeply and for so long. (I’ve been either pregnant or nursing a child for all that time and have very little opportunity for uninterrupted sleep.) This means I dreamed and remembered my dreams. I woke up with a scenario that started in a dream and continued on with the story as I drove home from Boston today.

Setting aside the person’s motivations (though an examination of possible motivations could be fascinating), I imagined someone put together an elaborate hoax and it went like this…

I frequently work out of coffee shops. I carry my laptop with me, of course, and I carry it in this striped case. It’s a bag I got at Target on clearance 5+ years ago. It’s filthy and beat up, but it’s sturdy and simple. Handy.

In my story, the hoax maker has a duplicate bag. Not just the same bag from Target, but a bag that’s been doctored to look exactly like my bag. The same scuff marks, the same stains, the same stretching of the outer pocket.

I’ll be sitting working at a coffee shop and my bag will be under the table up against the wall, or on the chair next to me at the table. Wherever it is, it doesn’t really matter. When I pack up to leave, I start putting my laptop in the bag and see there’s a magazine in there that’s clearly not mine. Architectural Digest or NASCAR, something like that. I realize it also doesn’t have the USB cord I carry in it for my iPod. It’s not my bag. I’m puzzled. I look around and see my bag is right there. Under the table, on the chair, maybe even on top of the table but it had been hidden by my computer, or I see it nearby but at a different table. What the heck? There are two identical bags here, what is going on? I pick up the bag that I now think must be my own and, yes, there is the USB cord. I pack up my stuff and leave the other bag there. It’s really weird. This was weird. What the heck happened? I didn’t see anyone… how was there a bag just like my own? what are the odds? the odds are too… no… this is nuts… it’s insane… what just happened?

The same situation repeats again and again. I come to almost expect the bag I pick up when I get ready to go home won’t be my own bag but will be a mystery version of my bag.

This is too insane to actually be happening, right? Someone’s obviously fucking with me. Why the heck would they do that? I grow increasingly paranoid. I try to catch the bag switcher in the act. I try to look for clues in the fake bag for who might be doing this. I begin obsessing over this weird, weird experience and lose sight of many important things in my life. I’m maybe even a little scared. What kind of person would play this kind of trick?

But then… here’s the part that ties it with my conversation with my mother. I know I work in coffee shops and I have this computer bag. I know that someone’s fucking with me and replacing the bag. It just is. I’m not crazy. They’re being freaky, but my reality is certain. I go to the coffee shop. Somehow the bag gets switched no matter how careful I am to keep an eye on it (I suppose, logistically, maybe it doesn’t happen every time…). It just is. I know what’s happening. I don’t know why and I’m flooded with questions, but I stop worrying about my own sanity. I know it’s happening even if it seems and sounds totally crazy. It might even become a sort of calming meditative experience. Ah, yes, here is this insane thing… this is not my bag and I don’t know how or why it’s here… I do know that is my bag. Nearly soothing, really.

When I said to my mother, “Okay” and walked away from her rather than engaging her in a discussion of what we talked about months ago, I had a tiny flash of anxiety. It quickly moved into a peaceful state, though, where I just knew what I remembered. If she didn’t remember it that way, that was no big deal. And, at the same time—and this is key—I knew I could be wrong. Maybe my memory of it was tweaked or I’d mixed a few conversations together. That’s totally possible. The fact was, I didn’t care. I knew what I thought had happened and her believing it happened another way wasn’t going to rattle me. Even if she had come after me about it which she frequently does, it would have been a moot point for me. I was where I was with my experience of it. She could see it however she wanted to or needed to and that didn’t affect me or my experience of it.

If I’m working out of a coffee shop and I go to pack up and find my bag isn’t actually my bag (it has a Wall Street Journal in it), nothing anyone says would convince me I’m wrong just because it’s an insane and absurd thing to have happen.

Most relevant to my thoughts about these issues lately is that notion that I can hold various possibilities in my mind, or my gut, at the same time. If I’m not sure I’m right about something, but I’m almost totally positive I’m right, I can hold on to that as reality. I don’t have to rush out and try and prove I’m right or have someone else prove I’m wrong. I know perfectly well that at any moment I could find out I’m wrong, but at this moment, I know what I know to be true is true.

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Filed under mindful living, my own chautauqua

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