“Your memory is a monster; you forget – it doesn’t. It simply files things away. It keeps things for you, or hides things from you – and summons them to your recall with will of its own. You think you have a memory; but it has you!” ~ John Irving,A Prayer for Owen Meany”

In the last blog on emotional crime scenes, we looked at differentiating. There are many more categories of crime scenes, but let’s take a look at mapping a crime scene and working with, rather than against, your own memory. Memory keeps us safe.

Most of us have memories of childhood. I was in the grocery store today and bought some English muffins. The sweet brunette check-out clerk commented on the muffins, “My mother used to make us a muffin each morning and put cream cheese on it.” She said it was one of her fondest memories.

I commented that it is so nice to recall the nice memories, as sometimes there are those that are not nice. She made eye contact and said, “That’s for sure.” She then looked away quickly as though she didn’t want to stay focused on what was just brought into her conscious mind.

I don’t think people like the sad, hard, or traumatic memories. Why should they like something that stirs the pot of a nicely simmering life? But, as John Irving points out, like it or not, we have to deal with our memories because they are dealing with us.

If you pretend they aren’t there or feel you did fine despite events in your history, this doesn’t mean you have learned to silence memory. It will speak and it will have its voice. A Memory Map (Crime Scene Map) is a useful thing from time to time. People who write memoirs often use a version of this technique.  I will use a bit of my history to illustrate the point of mapping.

The photo that accompanies this blog is from Columbus Park in Chicago, Illinois. The photo is a 1920 photo of what was called the Council Ring. This is a real place in the park. This Council Ring existed in my childhood, although it was some forty years later when I would stand in the center of the ring and sit on the stone seating having council with myself.

I remember Columbus Park. Let me explain.

One of my brothers was hit by a car when my other two brothers and I were walking home from the park. We had to cross a large street and a car sped through the red light, knocking one of my brothers to the hard pavement. Cars whizzed by and people shouted, “What’s wrong with you kids?” I was 10 years old and my oldest brother was twelve. My brother was hospitalized.

On another occasion in the park I was riding my bike on the many paths that circled the excellent lagoon. I heard teenage boys ahead. They were shouting, laughing and a tightness filled my chest; my stomach began to feel twisted. Then I saw one of them point in my direction. They took off in a jog toward me. I turned my bike around, but they were now running, I pedaled with a speed that almost made sparks, and I escaped them. I don’t know what they would have done if they would have caught me.

One time walking home from the park by myself I was wearing shorts and a little button-up shirt. I was age eight or nine. A white Hudson slowed down on Jackson Boulevard and the man asked if I wanted a ride. I took off in a run and didn’t stop as I jigsawed in and out of alleys and side streets until I reached my grandmother Josephine’s house. That day my grandmother would speak to me about strangers, men and how to stay safe.

Columbus Park was also the place where I learned to swim in the pool and went to day camp in the summers with my brothers. After swimming, my brothers and I would go to the large sandboxes and construct castles. I imagined I was Guinevere and my oldest brother was Sir Lancelot. These were the days before television, cell phones, or even private land lines. So, all of us were well-read in the classics such as “King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.”

I liked sitting at the Council Ring and imagining having a meeting of minds on the state of the world. The state of the world at age 10. There were serious considerations. There were my precious brothers, a father who worked hard, a mother who had something called depression, which I did not then understand, and a densely dark neighborhood filled with things that happened that made no sense. There were rapes in the park and Mr. Kindrake hung himself in the basement next door. These were things I had to ask Grandmother Josephine about. She understood things like this.

And I asked the nuns at the church if God was watching, and if he was watching all the time. I was assured he never rested.

One of my emotional crime scene maps is that of Columbus Park. It is a setting, a place, a point in time that serves as an anchor for many memories to surge forward to serve me, warn me and inform me. I looks something like this:

Columbus Park

In my Columbus Park Crime Scene Map I include learning about the following things:

1. Physical injury of a loved one was witnessed.

2. Potential injury or harm to self was avoided by paying attention and acting on impulses.

3. People help, grandmother Josephine was always there to explain the world.

4. It is good for a girl to be strong physically and strong in other ways.

5. The magic of pretend carries us and beautifies the moment.

6. A Council Ring is a place to have a conversation about things that matter.

Can you locate a time in your history around which many events and memories coalesce? Can you draw a rough sketch of the scene? Perhaps you can find Internet help. My map was an actual map of the park where I grew up. The places are real and I remember being there. It is one of many crime scenes.

A crime scene is nothing to be ashamed about. We don’t get through life without life events that teach us things. Categorize your memories by way of places. Places serve as anchors.

Be well and take care of yourself.

Nanette Burton Mongelluzzo, PhD

Photo Credit: The Council Ring with Children 1920. National Park Service. Map Credit: Chicago Parks System Archive.