Memory is Fluid

It seems to me that writing a blog is the equivalent of having a diary that you let anyone who happens by read whenever they want.  I don’t know if there’s any rule, official or unwritten, about how much to reveal versus what you should keep under wraps, especially about the people in my life who haven’t exactly given permission to have their lives exposed on the interweb for others to see. 

I’ve so far made a point of only identifying others by first name, since everyone in my life has names that are popular, so using a Mike, Rose, Anna, Chris or Joey doesn’t reveal the individual I’m referencing except within my own circle.  Outside that circle, I could be talking about almost anyone.  At least, that’s my perspective now.  I’ll see how this goes when my friends and family have found themselves in my posts and decide, based on their reactions, whether or not I have to change their names in the future.  No matter what, I think it’s impossible to avoid having the people in my life recognize themselves in my posts, since they have memories too and can recall the things I do.  Memory, though, is a funny thing.

In college, I had to write a paper for English class about the fluidity of memory.  That semester, I was also taking my Intro to Psychology (or was it Abnormal Psychology?) class, so I was really deep into the human brain and its assorted foibles.  I had never considered how flexible memory actually is, or that the simple act of recalling a past experience can change that memory to something other than what it originally was.  For instance, my late friend Simone had a litter of kittens coming, and I was positive she had promised to give me a female from that litter so I could join her in breeding Himalayan cats.  I looked forward to the birth, and was excited when she told me that two of the kittens were female, so I didn’t quite know how to respond when she started talking about keeping both females for herself. 

Eventually, I approached her to ask why she hadn’t given me a kitten like she’d promised, and Simone told me that in fact she’d said she would give me a female kitten only if she already had two she could keep herself.  Since the litter had contained only two females (I can’t recall whether there were males), there wasn’t another for her to give to me, so if I wanted to be a breeder of kittens, I was going to have to actually buy a female someone else.  This was over thirty years ago, and I still have no memory of Simone telling me she would give me the third potential female kitten.

The point of all this is that memory itself, without a contemporaneous written record, can be folded, molded and rewritten until it becomes something that bears little or no resemblance to the actual experience that occurred in the first place.  The person with the new memory has no idea that what they remember as an actual event has been altered.  Because of this fluidity, there are untold numbers of people in prison based on eyewitness testimony that in all likelihood has been manufactured by the repeated questioning and retelling of the witnessed event to police.  It is possible to convince large numbers of people that they witnessed something or someone by slowly and repeatedly altering actual memories in little ways until the story they all tell matches what those doing the investigating think it should be.  Sort of what Trump does at his political rallies.

This brings me to the accusations that have been brought against Joe Biden by Tara Reade, a former Senate staffer from thirty years ago who last year complained about being made uncomfortable by Joe’s tendency to be a little too touchy-feely with all people, but especially women throughout his life and political career.  At that time, Tara claimed that Joe’s tendency to put his hands on a woman’s back or shoulders, or to touch a woman’s hair made her uncomfortable. Ms. Reade claimed that she’d filed a complaint with the personnel office on Capitol Hill and reported this ‘harassment’ to three supervisors within Biden’s office.  Reade is unable to find a copy of the complaint she says she filed.  All of the people who worked in Biden’s office at that time deny ever hearing any complaint from Reade about this, and in fact deny anyone filing such a complaint against Biden, and there is no documentation to support this claim.

Recently, Reade has changed her story, reporting that she was asked to bring a gym bag to Biden in a public hallway in the Senate building, and that Biden assaulted her right there in this public area, forcing himself on her, putting his hand down her skirt and then up inside her, digitally penetrating her while forcibly kissing her.  She reports pushing him away, and that he responded to her rebuff by saying, “Come on, man, I thought you liked me.”

There’s a lot to unpack in this accusation, and of course, everyone who comes forward no matter how long after the incident should be listened to, and their accusations should be investigated.  I know personally that it took me some fifteen years before I mentioned to anyone that I’d been molested by the cousin of a friend when I was thirteen years old and playing hooky from eighth grade.  I never said anything to my mom then because I knew that the first thing she was going to do was to yell at me for cutting school, since I couldn’t have been molested by this guy if I’d gone to school in the first place.  Since my Mom was there when I made this revelation, she admitted that I was likely correct in assuming I’d get in trouble for skipping school first, before we even addressed the molestation part.

Having said that, however, let’s revisit the fluidity of memory and how easy it is to end up mis-remembering something.  I don’t doubt that something happened to Tara Reade, but I don’t believe that what she claims is what actually occurred.  Reade says reported the assault to her mother at the time it occurred, and she told a former neighbor in 1995 or 1996, two or three years after the alleged assault, who has come forward in support of Reade’s accusation.  A call made to the Larry King show on CNN in 1993 is purported to be the voice of Reade’s mother, who is deceased, but the caller does not mention sexual assault or harrassment and there’s no way to verify if it was Reade’s mother on that call. 

Joe Biden does not have a reputation of being a skirt chaser, although there have been several women who also spoke out last year that they were made uncomfortable by Biden’s documented tendency to touch them – hands on their shoulders, kissing the top of their heads, and other non-sexual physical interactions that were previously not considered taboo.  It is only recently that men are finally getting it, that women are not here as a gift to the men in the room, either as eye candy or as a plaything, and the culture that existed just thirty years ago is not the way things are going to be anymore.  There is a big difference, however, between a man putting his hands over your clothes in a non-sexual manner versus forcibly kissing someone or digitally penetrating them against their will.

I’ve worn skirts – and after my marriage ended in the early 90’s wore some short ones that provided opportunities for consensual adult activities.  Using that access requires going under the skirt from below, but Tara Reade’s story claims that Joe put his hand down the waist of her skirt before digitally penetrating her vagina while also kissing her against her will.  This seems physically challenging if both parties are willing participants.  Tara’s description of this part of the alleged assault troubles me because it doesn’t make sense on its surface.  Why would a man get his arm all tangled up in the waist band of a skirt when he could just stick his hand up from the bottom?

Assuming for the sake of argument that Biden would even have considered such a thing, why would anyone, in the midst of the Bob Packwood scandal, do so in a public place where anyone could come by and see what was going on?  How crazy would a man be to do such a thing out in the open?  It’s not like he was just propositioning her to go get a room, she’s claiming he was up to at least his elbow down her skirt while digitally penetrating her vagina and attempting to kiss her.  I have to say that I find the entire story not quite right, when added all together. 

Could Biden have thought Tara Reade ‘liked him’ and was game for a roll in the hay, no strings attached, then decided that he’d go for it right there, out in the open, while Bob Packwood’s political career was in free fall over sexual harassment allegations?  I suppose anything is possible, but I believe it’s highly unlikely both because Biden has no history of behaving this way and events at the time would have given pause to him if he were so inclined. 

Biden has been in the public eye for decades, and never, during all those years, has there ever been even a hint of sexual scandal.  Usually, these creeps, like Bob Packwood, did these things over and over again because they could do so without repercussions.  As recently as the Kennedy presidency, the media didn’t report on sexual scandals involving politicians because they viewed it as a private matter unrelated to the man’s position in power.

There are only two people who may know what happened the day that Tara Reade brought that gym bag to Joe Biden so he could work out at the gym – Reade and Biden.  Biden has emphatically denied that the incident with Reade occurred.  The rest of us have no way of knowing for sure what, if anything, actually happened between Reade and Biden.  Reade’s refusal to do interviews with any mainstream media (versus Trump-leaning outlets) does not make me more likely to believe her.

But here’s what I do know.  Today, we have a man in the White House who was a known sexual predator and boasted of grabbing women “by the pussy” on tape before the 2016 election, and Republicans still voted him into office.  Keeping this allegation in the headlines is useful only for the Trump campaign, because their only hope for keeping Trump in office is to so dishearten Biden voters that they don’t bother to vote. 

I still support Biden for president, and will cast my mail-in ballot for him both in the June primary (since Warren is no longer an option) and in November.  That is the only thing that matters at this time in our democracy.  Voting for anyone else, or simply not voting at all, is unacceptable.

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