The Arc of Memory

MemoryArcThis started out as a post about horseback riding and ended up being about the nature of memory. I was out of town with my sister at a ranch in the Arizonan desert. For four days, we rode horses once in the morning, once in the evening to avoid the midday heat. It made me think about the first time I rode a horse. This is how I tell that story…

I was about eight years old and I was at a friend’s birthday party where the activity was to go horseback riding at a local park. We were a small group, maybe five or six kids. I was in jeans and a t-shirt, hair in ponytails, ready to go. I don’t recall receiving much instruction, or perhaps I just didn’t pay much attention to it, what with me being eight and all. My horse’s name was Blue.

The ride started just fine, everyone in single file walking orderly along the trail. At some point though, without warning or provocation (at least that I saw), Blue reared his head and charged forward away from the group. I’d never experienced such fear and lack of control. I managed to hold on to the reins, but not much else. This was Blue’s ride, not mine. I was a mere passenger. I’m sure there was screaming involved (horses always respond well to that!), and eventually the guide caught up to me, and along with me finally pulling back on the reins, he got the situation under control.

That’s the end of the memory for me – short, quick, scary as hell. Did we have cake and open presents afterwards? Were there tears? No clue.

I’ve carried this memory with me in one shape or another for about four decades.

Here’s how my sister remembers it…

She says we lived in Charleston at the time. She was eleven and I was eight. In fact, she was just turning eleven because the birthday party we were at was hers. We were there with Tina and Cheryl Watkins, two of our friends who were also sisters. There may have been one or two other girls with us. 

My sister says she wore jeans and a t-shirt, hair in ponytails, ready to go. Her horse’s name was Blue.

The ride started out fine, but at some point, without warning or provocation, Blue reared his head and charged away from the group. My sister had never experienced such fear. She recalls Blue racing off in to the woods. (My memory barely has a tree in it.)

This is her memory. She’s carried it with her for almost four decades.

I don’t recall ever having talked to her about this until recently. I was asking her more details about the day to round out my memory since I wanted to write about it. That’s how I fell upon the fact (I now use that term loosely) that we have this shared but skewed memory. I’m almost afraid to quiz her on other life events.

But the kicker was when we asked our mother, thinking she could break the tie. How did she remember it? Did she remember it at all?

This was all via text message.

ME: Do you remember when we went horseback riding in Charleston? And do you remember the horse that ran off?

MOTHER: Yes, I remember.

ME: Who do you think was riding the horse?

MOTHER: Cheryl Watkins

What???? So much for the tie breaker. I don’t quite know what to make of this. I was young at the time. I have no reason to trust my memory more than my sister’s or my mother’s, but even they don’t recall it the same way. It seems I’ve co-opted something that isn’t mine. How many of my other memories aren’t mine?

Perhaps, in the end, it’s all just fiction.

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