We crawled around the dark contours of the basement hallway. With the lights on, the bowels of my elementary school was a path of drywall, dust, and student graffiti. With the lights off, it disappeared into blackness. Our presence didn’t break any rules, but the place felt forbidden. We navigated the dark walls with our hands, and our nervous laughter filled the space with an unseeable comfort of camaraderie. As I shuffled around a corner, I grabbed onto the wall to steady myself. My fingers curled around a hand hold As I pulled my body up, I also pulled down the lever of the fire alarm. Loud sounds prompted a full evacuation of the student body. Fire trucks, and frantic teachers swarmed the fields. They determined that the alarm came from the basement, but by then we were scattered and consequence free.
We had to brag and tell all of our friends back in the classroom. Though, as the story retold itself, I was nervous to admit that I was the pulling perpetrator. My worry quickly passed when my friend Patrick began to boast that he was the one who pulled the fire alarm. I quietly knew the truth, but Patrick was a cool and loud crowd pleaser. I let it be.
A year later, our class went on a field trip that finished with a frolic in a local park. Amidst, the games of soccer and tag, Patrick and I scampered over to our friend who had sent a kite soaring into the sky. The windy day had lifted the kite a hundred feet in the air. The kite wielding friend was understandably nervous, afraid that we would pester his high flying pride. In jest, we danced around him. Furthering the joke, I brought my hand close to the string, and formed my hand into a pair of fleshy scissors. “Snip, snip”, I said, making the obligatory finger motions. The friend was unimpressed. Moments later a strong gust tensed the string to the point of breaking. The kite, now untethered, flew up and away, gliding deep into the neighboring valley. Unretrievable.
Patrick and I laughed and laughed at the expense of our friend’s stifled tears. Somehow, before we could tell all of our friends, the story had shifted. In the new version, it was Patrick who had ‘cut’ the string. I protested and craved both the truth and the recognition, but Patrick was too cool. No one believed my version.
Today is 15 years later. I’ve fallen out of touch with Patrick. All I have is my memories and feelings, but my mind is split. As hard as I probe my brain, I can’t figure out whether Patrick’s social status was gained by stealing the fame of a friend, or whether my reverence and jealousy of Patrick caused me to emulate his every move. Our minds are incredible story generators, weaving webs to fill in the missed details between observed facts. But even these facts are subjective and malleable. I will never know the truth about either of these trivial childhood moments. I’ll only know the unshakable doubt of the collective history we call memory.
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