How much for a spotless mind?

How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d.

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— Alexander Pope, from “Eloisa and Abelard”

My favorite movie ever

The phone chirps just as I am heading into the grocery store.

Do you have a moment? Can you talk?”

Hearing the signal for a sit-down conversation, I get back in the car, set down my shopping bags and settle in.

The story, which takes a while to tell because it involves bad deeds, an innocent, the criminal justice system and heartbreak, by all avenues of logic should summon tears to my eyes, set my heart racing, stir my gut. Instead, I sit in the car watching shoppers unload their carts and wrestle their kids into car seats. I do not pound my fist on the dashboard. I do not declare the world a wretched place. I just sit there.

The information only sinks in as deep as a tattoo artist’s ink, sparing deep tissue and nerves. Is it because the people involved in this story are far-removed from my life? Is it because they were not nice to me in the past? Does their heartbreak mean less to me than those who’ve been kind?

Let’s go back to the weekend, when my husband and I had one of our occasional date nights. Part of the plan was to see Samsara. But when we entered the theater for the late showing, my husband changed his mind, fearing the artsy think piece would inspire snoring and drooling on the less-than-hygienic theater upholstery. I let him have his way. We ended up seeing The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

(For the two readers of this blog, this is what is known as a spoiler alert. If you’ve not seen this movie, skip this paragraph.)

The coming-of-age flick, heavy on early ’90s nostalgia, seemed fairly safe until the main character Charlie’s problem is revealed close to the end. I had my suspicion about where things were heading but dismissed it as my dark thinking. When the two main characters bond over the revelation that trusted adult figures in their lives molested them, I am teary-eyed and sweaty, and the wine and appetizers in my stomach start churning. Instead of snoring and drooling on the upholstery, I’m afraid I’ll vomit. I am moderately devastated over movie characters.

So during this phone call, in which I find myself unmoved, even though the characters in this story are real and not played by actors, I’m told by the bearer of the news, who ought to know better:

“I know this isn’t something you’ve experienced in your life, but try to have some sympathy. Say a prayer.”

Now I’m ready to pound my fist on the dashboard. Now I’m ready to rail against humanity. Why do we make assumptions about others? Why do we make judgments when passing on information? Is it possible to erase our minds of personal history?

In the amount of time it takes the guy next to me to return the shopping cart to the corral and get in his car, my head implodes: How could she (of all people) say this to me? Wasn’t she there? Does she remember nothing of the last 30 years? Did she say that to see how I would react? How should I react? Right now, right here it could be a major fight. Oh, it could get ugly. But toward what end? Maybe she has forgotten. Maybe she never really knew or understood. Maybe the day I told her she was preoccupied. Maybe after all those sessions in family therapy she had a brain cleanse and her memory is spotless. 

Much later I think about the girl at the center of this new story. A girl like me at that age, surrounded by dysfunction, largely forgotten. Now she’s the object of pity,worry and gossip. Is this her legacy? It might be years before she emerges from the fog of this story and connects dots between things that happened to her then and how it has colored her world. Rather than be angry that my very old story is forgotten, or that I have unpredictable reactions, I should think about the parade of girls and boys to whom this is still happening.

So, like the wind sweeps trash from the store parking lot, I let go of the comment, let it slip into the gutter and out of sight. It’s better for the news bearer to believe nothing ever happened to me. It would be better for me, too. Maybe I should seek a spotless mind.

I’m working on having more compassion for those who have hurt me, who wished the worst for me when we were young, who maybe knew my secrets and thought less of me because of them, and who now find themselves on the other side of this divide.

I’m working on avoiding assumptive statements.

How sure am I of such things? How sure is anyone?

Always, I’m seeking eternal sunshine.