Saturday, October 22, 2016


We return today to the question about how much of our memory--no matter how intense it seems to us--is accurately recalled, and how much is invented or reinterpreted in retrospect by the mind. Here's a prime example of a story that addresses the issue with a particularly interesting, even poignant twist at the end, as it comes up-to-date. It also touches, disconcertingly, on the themes of boyhood bullying and cruelty. It's written with alarming honesty by the artist Joel Barr

by Joel Barr

My older sister is five or six.  She is small and will always be small.  We blame an early fever associated with a kidney problem, but we are guessing.  Whatever the reason, she’ll always be looking up at five feet.  Even back then, when I am only four, I am as tall as she is and much healthier.

She is squatting, bent over forward.  I’ve caught her after a short chase.  She must have crossed me in some way.  Her shoulder blades are extended back and toward each other as she tries to present the smallest target she can.  It is understood that I will be socking her in the middle of the back.

This is the punishment I always deal out to her.  This, to a child who could do no mischief and who knows nothing whatever of trying to anger or hurt another child.

I will close my fist and, like a retriever covering its teeth so as not to puncture its capture, I will hit her with the fleshy heel of my hand.  Kinder maybe, but still I will hit her.  I will never hit anyone else.

*  * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

My sister has a condominium at the beach.  We are sitting on the balcony, seven floors above the ocean.  By now, she has a child in his twenties, another a bit younger, and I have two of my own.  Her husband is out of town on this day; I am divorced.  Our parents have died and we are beginning to understand each other.

“I can still remember…” she begins.

“I know what you are going to say,” I interrupt.

 “I don’t think you do,” she says.  “I still remember your shoulder blades poking out when I went to sock you in the back.”

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