Episode 29 – “Nightmare as a Child”

Miss Foley’s nightmare as a child wasn’t a dream, it was the actual murder of her mother, witnessed by her as a 10 year old and then suppressed in memory.  Her mother’s murderer knows that she doesn’t remember the murder, but suspects that this could change. Miss Foley doesn’t know it, but he’s been lurking in the background ever since.

The return of memory is represented through Miss Foley’s confrontation with her 10 year old self – “Marky.”  The grown-up Miss Foley doesn’t recognize the child waiting at her apartment door as herself. Who would believe that they could meet an earlier stage of their own self? Marky seems to know a lot about Miss Foley’s beliefs, desires, and past. She takes control, and forces Miss Foley to think and remember, something Miss Foley does not want to do.

How do we talk to ourselves, and how does memory force its way to the surface, when obscured by the scars of traumatic experiences at the time the memories are formed? As represented here, remembering is the act of holding such a conversation. The younger version of the self provides the first-person testimony, thereby verifying the information being remembered. However Marky doesn’t provide the memories. She just demands that Miss Foley recall the past, and then seconds the correctness of the memory.

Miss Foley’s initial failure to recognize Marky as herself amounts to her failing to take ownership of her memories.  When Marky tells Miss Foley her name,  she tells the little girl “That’s a very pretty name.” Marky replies: “Is that all you’ve got to say?” Only later do we, and Miss Foley, discover that “Marky” was Miss Foley’s nickname, that Marky is Miss Foley.

Why does Marky appear when she does? Memory ideas are part of the landscape of the imagination. Earlier that day, Miss Foley saw the man who in fact murdered her mother, though she didn’t recognize him as that man. Marky’s job is to encourage the spread of activation, to take encourage the train of thought that leads from some features of the visual representation of that man, all the way to the memory of that same man killing her mother years ago. At one point Marky’s goal is partially achieved. Miss Foley forms the mental representation of the events surrounding her mother’s death, but she doesn’t recognize what she imagines as memories, as the actual record of past events. Utlimately, Marky tells her, or non-metaphorically, somehow she actually remembers.

When does something that we imagine become a memory? What cognitive processes are at work, and how do our emotions sometimes block and sometimes allow clarity about our personal past? How do we know when we are remembering and when we are merely imagining? In Miss Foley’s case, the distinction is ultimately a matter of life and death.

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