It is Sunday morning and it’s brisk.
Not cool enough for a small, tastefully laid fire; but cool enough for coffee sipped in the darkness on the deck.
This morning I also have a New Yorker that tells us about Elizabeth Loftus — a scientist who has spent most of her life trying to explain the mechanics of memory. Often explaining, in Court, whether or not one’s memory is a reliable, retrievable movie that can be removed from one’s brain, rebroadcast, and then placed into evidence.
These days there is usually a lengthy period of time between the event and its re-playing, legal or otherwise. Years pass between an assault, or a rape, and the legal accounting that happens in the form of sworn testimony. In some cases there are no eyewitnesses to the event other than the perpetrator and the victim.
Ms. Loftus is in demand these days. She is an expert, usually paid thousands of dollars to explain the memory process to the jury. And Loftus usually says that memory is not indelible, or chiseled-into fixed-forever stone. And that testimony has stirred-up controversy.
I am drawn to this piece because I usually write non-fiction and try to stay in the general vicinity of the truth as I remember it.
For 30 years I’ve written some kind of column; and can go back and “refresh my recollection” with the descriptive words and phrases that I used in 1990. But there’s not much written before 1980 and so I have to rely on hazy, indistinct memories — memories that have been eroded or enlarged or enhanced by the passage of time.
But for three months in 1964 — February through May — I kept a running journal in the margins of my French textbook. I wrote these thoughts during lectures at The Citadel. The entries beginning on February 6, 1964,
“Barth has me worried. Apparently the old boy is on the warpath. Has the whole squad upset by his trying to impress Wallace.”
These sentences remind me that “Barth” was my squad leader, and relentless oppressor, determined I would never wear a Citadel Ring.
On February 11, I wrote,
“Situation normal. Barth back in the groove, however caught hell from Morgan after breakfast. New hope in Chemistry; and French seems almost classic; Come Easter. Do Come.”
On February 18,
“All hell has broken loose in India.” (Here I’m referring to my Company, not the SubContinent.)
On February 29,
“The bottom has fallen out. Saw English professor and he gave me the impression that I might be the worst writer in the world. Sometimes my mood plunges into utter despair. Every front looks imminently bleak. Sometimes I entertain pretty sordid thoughts. Come Easter. Do Come.”
Then on March 15,
“Tonight it finally happened. The revolt against the sophomores finally materialized complete with fist fight. It was incredible from the beginning until it’s somewhat abrupt end. I tackled someone but I’ll be damned if I know who. Strickland jumped me, and we fought until the fight began to break up …”
I did not record that those of us involved in this “insurrection” ended up in front of a retired general who said something like this,
“Graber you can either resign or return to the barracks. But if you choose the latter I have instructed your Company Commander to impart whatever punishment, mental or physical, he deems necessary—in whatever fashion or degree he deems necessary.’’
As I think back on those days I again feel the desperation, pain and the shame I felt 56 years ago. At this point in my life I was also failing Chemistry, sleeping maybe two or three hours every night, and now I was being officially informed it would get worse.
For reasons not memorialized in the margins of my French textbook I did not leave the school.
On April 28, I wrote,
“Stayed up with that SOB Pryor until 2 last night, received an 84 in chemistry, 32 days to go — 32 days of knobdom.”
And on May 19,
“My God I cannot believe it but have survived this hell and, incredible as it may seem, I’m proud.”
It is a good thing I retained possession of this inelegant narrative. I believe it is healthy to occasionally revisit this darkened, desperate confessional where I believed I had no future, and was living life minute by desperate minute.
I learned — with the passage of time — that time things usually get better.
In this case much better.
Scott Graber is a lawyer, novelist, veteran columnist and longtime resident of Port Royal. He can be reached at email@example.com.