Just the facts, ma’am

 

CAIRO (murmurs)

I don’t know — what to say.

DUNDY

Try telling the facts.

CAIRO (fidgeting)

The facts?

–the Maltese Falcon

 

When Joel Cairo, played by the inimitably creepy Peter Lorre, is asked to tell the police the facts, he’s at a complete loss. Several different versions of “what is going on here” have been told, and he needs to decide which one is the best one to tell the police.  Most of us don’t have quite that much trouble, but sometimes facts can be a little hard to pin down. We like to think that there’s a true and a false to facts. We like to think that there’s a right and a wrong to them. In reality, though, facts can be slippery.

 

Memory is notoriously unreliable.  I remember distinctly being in a couple of places where I am assured I have never been and don’t remember being in others where people are certain I was.  Sometimes we don’t want to remember what has happened. Sometimes (don’t read this, Mom) there are chemical factors impairing our memory. Personal perspectives also skew things we think we know as “fact.”  Physical perspective as much as emotional perspective. How much of our memories are wishful thinking or edited to make us look better to ourselves? Or, in that perverse way some of us have, how much is mentally edited so we look worse to ourselves?

 

The legal system has always understood this, and guides witnesses into telling a version of what they saw that matches the evidence on hand in a way convenient to the case they are building.  There are a lot of stories of repressed memories that come to light years later, many of which were later demonstrated to be false or which were re-remembered differently with the passage of time. That’s not a huge problem in day to day life (no one but me really cares who my ex-boyfriend went out with right after we broke up–and I don’t even care much), but what about when eye witness testimony is used to put someone in jail? You can overturn a conviction, but you can never return time to the people who were imprisoned.

 

I  wonder about what our eyes actually see, too. Sure, we all have eyes that see using rods/cones/lenses/irises/etc and we share conventions on how to describe things like colors and shapes. There are even scientific ways to  measure the components of a color, distance and shape. But is what I see as red the same as what you see?  Is my rectangle the same shape as the one you see?  I have no idea, but suspect it isn’t. My crackpot theory is that what we see as well as what we feel is very personal.

 

Where does that leave us when we feel a need to know “the Truth?”

 

I think we need to recognize that if it happened in the past (and if it’s isn’t Now, it’s Past), especially if wasn’t documented in photograph or writing, any recollection is at least a little suspect. Maybe (oh, there’s that word again…) we shouldn’t be so sure of things all the time. Maybe we should cut each other some slack when we don’t see the same thing when we see the same thing.

 

If we start to  remember things that happened in the future, we have a different problem entirely.

 

 

 

 

And all I ever meant to do was to keep you

And under the boughs unbowed
All clothed in a snowy shroud
She had no heart so hardened
All under the boughs unbowed

Each feather it fell from skin
Till threadbare while she grew thin

–the Decemberists/the Crane Wife 3

 

Sound the keening bell
To see it’s painted red
Soft as fontanel
The feathers in the thread
And all I ever meant to do was to keep you

–the Decemberists/the Crane Wife 1 and 2

 

Sometimes you love someone and end up hurting them without meaning any harm. Maybe there is something fundamental about them you didn’t understand,  Maybe you didn’t understand what the cost would be to them or to yourself for letting something continue.

 

I only wanted to…

I just meant to….

All I wanted was to…

 

Followed with the almost inevitable

I never meant to…

 

Keep you. Not lose you. Stay with you. Be near you. Love you.

Love you.

Not

Hurt you. Kill you. Break your heart.

 

In an English class, about a million years ago, a teacher once told us that what makes a merely  sad story tragic is  inevitability.  Romeo and Juliet have to die. There’s no way around it.

I’m not sure that’s true.

Is it the inevitability that makes it tragic, or the heartbreak?

Certainly a certain amount of heartbreak is inevitable if you have a heart that feels anything at all.

 

Isn’t it?

Inevitable.

 

People come together and offer each other their gifts, and their flaws.

We don’t always knows what the gifts are really worth, or how much the flaws draw from us.

Sometimes, we find out and it’s too late.

 

 

 

 

How were my eyes so blinded?
Each feather it fell from skin

And I will hang my head low.

–the Decemberists/the Crane Wife 3