17 October 2012


I attended Catholic school for twelve years. (And I'm leaving out the two-ish years at Catholic universities for the sake of simplification—and also because I was, theoretically, an adult then and could have legally chosen to do something else.) And now I am tempted to extrapolate my (probably unique) neuroses onto other Catholic school survivors by claiming that the prevalence of mass market pop psychology today and the continuing revelations of the sexual misdeeds of Catholic priests have together given birth to a new psychological phenomenon—I'll call it aggressive remembrance because nothing catchier comes to mind.

Aggressive remembrance is the scrupulous attempt of former Catholic school students—more often boys than girls—to remember whether they were or were not in fact molested at some point during their matriculation. We are told by psychology—are we not?—that when traumatic events happen to us, our mind is able to block their memory from our conscious minds, ostensibly to protect us from the pain, I would guess. In point of fact, however, this blocking mechanism usually exacerbates the individual's suffering in the long run because (a) he usually feels the negative 'imprint' of the event even if he can not consciously remember it and (b) he of course isn't aware of what he can't remember, so he can't hope to come to terms with it. 

So what if I was molested as a child by a priest and I simply can't remember it? How can I try harder to remember? The farthest corners of my childhood are growing darker and darker as time passes; these things that I could remember—or could have remembered but no longer can—might have led me by a chain of association to that hidden place where the mind keeps secrets from me. But now the past is becoming hazier and more speculative. Am I remembering what I'm remembering—or did I dream it—or wish it—or invent it out of thin air? I am the unreliable narrator of the novel of my early childhood. 

It would make sense if I had been molested. Father B., after all, was known to have a fondness for the boys—he wouldn't even teach the girls—and now that I try to remember, he seemed more of a caricature of a slithery sexual predator than any news story I've ever heard. But back then, we didn't know. It wasn't a 'thing' yet. It would also make sense if I had been molested, of course, because I'm so fucked up—with guilt, anxiety, depression, the whole buffet of neurotic affects. 

Sometimes I think to myself (and I'm aware of how strange it sounds, thank you very much): Would I be happier or more satisfied now if I had been molested or would it make any difference at all? Let me hurry up and clarify this: I am not asking whether it would be preferable for the child that I was to have been molested. That's absurd. I am asking whether it would be preferable for meas the adult that I am right now—to find out that there is a good reason why I am fucked-up. In this scenario, there's no wishing for the past to be changed; there's only wishing for an explanation now for the way I am. I am who I am, regardless of what happened in my adolescence, but if I had been abused would it be better to know?

That's a rhetorical question, of course. I'm not looking for an answer. But do you ever have those moments when you try—aggressively—to remember whatever you may have forgotten? Not just unspeakable traumas, but anything and everything that would clue you in on who you are now. I think, fundamentally, we'd all like to make sense to ourselves. If our lives were movies or novels, we'd like to be able to follow the plot and then to say at the end: 'Maybe it wasn't a happy story, but it was very well-written.'


  1. You bring yourself to the edge of the fire pit with this one, and then weasel yourself back out of it again! But seriously this is a great post. As you know, I went to Catholic school for 11 years. I don't suffer from too many neuroses (although I'm sure I have my undiagnosed share), but I can imagine how unsettling it is to have these issues (depression, anxiety, etc.) without a well put-together story of how they got there.

    1. I actually think you suffer from too few neuroses. I don't think it's healthy to be too healthy.

    2. I have to admit, it does make me a little anxious and depressed at how unanxious and undepressed I am for the most part.

    3. Get psychiatric help now. Before it's too late.