False Memories

Recently my nephew’s wife Marnie was explaining to me the psychology behind false memories. My first contact with the phenomenon came in my early 50’s when my wife recounted a scary incident from 15 years earlier when my three sons and I were trapped on the 520 floating bridge. High winds closed the bridge but we were in a long line that had to be turned around mid span. A stranded 18 wheeler could not turn, making the clearing of the bridge long and tedious. Meanwhile, winds were buffeting my little Volkswagen Rabbit all over. I had everyone roll down the windows and let the wind blow through to take the pressure off. Consequently, we all got soaked. I told the story many times with details about the motorcyclist with bigger troubles but an easier route off the bridge. This time, though, my wife was recounting the adventure as if she were in the car. I was incredulous and reminded her that she was not present. She angrily called two of our sons back East to prove that she was part of the episode. Much as they usually delight in siding against me, they confirmed that she was not there. The retelling of the story over the years was so vivid that she would have testified in court that she was in that automobile. The epiphany for me was that I could no longer rely on my old memories because my wife was more competent and less prone to exaggerations than me. I was as shook up by the experience as she was, partly because she never apologized for the names she called me before learning the truth. So now I am not even sure it was Marnie I was talking to about this the other day.


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