[tw: child sexual abuse, child abuse, repressed memory, mention of suicide]
Last year I read Naoki Urasawa’s Monster, a sprawling manga epic about people struggling to fix a dark past of massive, government sponsored child abuse and experimentation. I recently watched the anime adaptation for the first time.
In Monster, there’s a scene where Nina returns to her childhood home. She goes with Dieter, a little boy who has had his own terrible past as an orphan under an abusive foster parent, but who was saved by Dr. Tenma. The long story very condensed, Nina starts to recall the day when her brother was taken away from her home to participate in terrible experiments on children. She goes into a traumatic state as she recalls these repressed memories, becoming more and more agitated as she endlessly repeats and re-experiences her memory.
Dieter stops her. He says “you don’t have to remember”, that he has some horrible memories too but it doesn’t mean he has to remember them. It doesn’t mean Nina has to remember, either. He wants to make his own good memories, like Dr. Tenma said they could. He says that they can make good memories together, go back home, go to school, live a normal life and be happy. Remembering is optional.
(You can watch that scene here. For the sake of accessibility I’ve started it after most of Nina’s remembering, right when Dieter stops her)
I don’t know if memory is optional. I don’t know if healing from this, if moving on, requires diving deep into the monster inside of me, or if I can just move on without it. Some days it feels like forgetting is better. Other days, I feel like forgetting would be terrible, would almost allow the people who hurt me to “get away” with it. It would be an insult to other people who have survived.
Unlike a lot of other survivors, I am privileged in having abusers who feel remorse. They understand to some extent that it’s something they will never be able to make up for. It’s something they must carry and deal with for the rest of their lives. But I have to carry that, too. Is it “letting them win” to purposefully forget? Or is it practical, even necessary for me to get on with my life? Could I remember some, but then decide that there are other parts that I don’t have to? I don’t know.
A few months after my therapist discovered the abuse, and after my two suicide attempts, my family moved into a new house. It was better for the family in a practical sense, but it was also better because it got us away from a place that was full of bad memories. For a few years now, I’ve been rolling the idea around in my head— of returning to that house to remember. When would I go? Would it be night or day? What would I say to the current residents? How would I explain all of the feelings I have for the places I was hurt— that living room, or the room upstairs, down the hallway? Would it even be the same with different furniture and different people?
People are such strange beings, the sad memories seem to just fade away until all a person is left with are the happier ones. People are certainly designed so conveniently.
—Eva Heinemann, Monster
For a lot of us, memory is not an option. I have to remember to be able to understand why I am the way I am. After being trained to forget, after having other people ignore or write off my experiences as made up or blown out or proportion, remembering is so important. And there are those pressed or forgotten memories, too, with their feelings still lingering in the background. Without remembering, I might not be able to completely understand.
I’m not sure where I belong in this. Sometimes it feels like, the more I dig up, the sadder I get. And that doesn’t put me anywhere except in my own grave. Other times, I feel like that sadness is necessary— I can’t mourn what I don’t know. I can’t properly acknowledge the death of the person I used to be unless I know exactly what that person went through.
I’m running in circles here. I don’t know. I really don’t. I have no idea what is right for me or what would be too much, even dangerously so.
Could I choose not to forget, but to move on and never dig up the rest of my past?