Antagonism in my family comes wrapped in layers of code, sideways feints, full deniability.
Language does this to our memories—simplifies, solidifies, codifies, mummifies. An oft-told story is like a photograph in a family album; eventually, it replaces the moment it was meant to capture
I was standing on one branch, holding with one hand on to a higher one, swaying slightly, casually, as I talked. You would never have known my stomach was roiling. Savoir faire to spare.
He was a great believer in our animal natures, far less likely to anthropomorphize Fern than to animalize me. Not just me, but you, too—all of us together, I’m afraid. He didn’t believe animals could think, not in the way he defined the term, but he wasn’t much impressed with human thinking, either. He referred to the human brain as a clown car parked between our ears. Open the doors and the clowns pile out. The idea of our own rationality, he used to say, was convincing to us only because we so wished to be convinced. To any impartial observer, could such a thing exist, the sham was patent. Emotion and instinct were the basis of all our decisions, our actions, everything we valued, the way we saw the world. Reason and rationality were a thin coat of paint on a ragged surface.
Where you succeed will never matter so much as where you fail.
I adopted my usual strategy of saying nothing. The spoken word converts individual knowledge into mutual knowledge, and there is no way back once you’ve gone over that cliff. Saying nothing was more amendable, and over time I’d come to see that it was usually your best course of action.
Sigmund Freud has suggested that we have no early childhood memories at all. What we have instead are false memories aroused later and more pertinent to this later perspective than to the original events. Sometimes in matters of great emotion, one representation, retaining all the original intensity, comes to replace another, which is then discarded and forgotten. The new representation is called a screen memory. A screen memory is a compromise between remembering something painful and defending yourself against that very remembering. Our father always said that Sigmund Freud was a brilliant man but no scientist, and that incalculable damage had been done by confusing the two.