WARNING: The following content includes graphic descriptions of abuse. If this is a trigger subject for you, you may want to sit this one out.
By ALLISON MCCARTHY
In news that sounds more like the work of science fiction, The Washington Post reported that MIT scientists were able to successfully implant false memories into a mouse’s brain through optogenetics, which uses light to switch activity on and off for each brain cell in a living animal.
The study’s authors claim this type of research could one day help treat emotional issues in human beings, including disorders that involve the invasion of unwelcome memories, such as in PTSD.
In fact, this concept has been explored in pop culture, including the 2004 film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Those of us who have seen the movie remember how Joel (Jim Carrey) tries and fails to erase his memories of a long-term romantic relationship with Clementine (Kate Winslet), ultimately reuniting with her and the two of them accepting one another’s flaws.
In the original script, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman included scenes of trauma and rape survivors having their memories erased in order to move on from their ordeals. It makes sense that these individuals would choose to forget the lifelong suffering that these memories carry.
However, as a rape survivor, I would not choose to have my memories erased.
I was 13 years old. I spent the night at a friend’s house and her stepfather (who was 31) let us drink with him: Coke and Kentucky Gentleman Bourbon, which I still can’t stand the smell of. My friend got drunk and left the room to mess around with a boy. Her stepfather had rented a porn video, something about gangbanging in the barn. It was the first time I was drunk and the first time I’d seen pornography in a movie.
The rest of that evening is like a movie with missing transitions. In one scene, I’m on the couch and his hands are sliding down my thighs. In the next scene, I’m on my knees on the balcony outside, and even though all I’d ever done was kiss a boy in middle school, I was doing things with him. How did we get here?
Then my memory fades out to black and I’m in a computer room as he takes off my nightgown and whispers, “You’re so damn beautiful” and I realize that he is going to have sex with me—all the way, not just a blow job—and I don’t want him to do it. “I’m on the rag,” I said. I had never used that phrase before, but the lie came out easily, even if my voice was shaking. He stops and leaves the room. His wife comes back to the apartment within an hour.
For the next nine months, I keep the secret. He made us sound like co-conspirators protecting his marriage from failing and his son from being raised by a single parent.
Whenever I visited, he leered at me—once, he stood near the opening of my friend’s bedroom door (which had been damaged and wouldn’t close all the way) and jerked himself off as he watched me dress. If we were in a car alone, he would slide his hand over my breasts and under my shorts.