One of the recurring little arguments in our marriage is whether or not we watched The Last Temptation of Christ together. Erin says yes; Ben no. “I distinctly remember sitting on our futon in our apartment on Westlawn watching it with someone else,” Erin says. “Then you were watching it with another man,” Ben says. “Yeah, I called my secret boyfriend and said, ‘Hey, feel like coming over to my husband’s house and watching The Last Temptation of Christ with me?'”
As evidence, Ben cites his journal, in which he obsessively (Erin may not choose so kind a word) records any books or films he has read or watched. Scanning back through the early years of our marriage in Nashville, there is no record of The Last Temptation of Christ. (There is, however, The Spanish Prisoner, which Erin claims she never watched. “Yes you did, remember?” Ben says. “It had Steve Martin and Campbell Scott and Campbell Scott thought he was going crazy.” “I have never seen that film,” Erin says. “Why would I have written it down in my journal?” Ben asks. “Why would I have written it down in my journal?” Erin says in a higher-pitched, whiny voice: the game, set, match of any elementary school argument.)
The nature of these arguments, and the reason they endure, is that they are essentially freed from any determinative fact. Evidence from one party that is seen as infallible (Ben’s journal) is seen by the other side as highly suspect if not irrelevant (or simply downright erroneous). There are only conflicting eyewitness accounts and a hung jury. And the case can always be retried. It’s like a “Law & Order” repeat in which both sides reiterate the exact same arguments and it ends with no resolution. Then it’s on again the following week.
We have only been married six years, which is not nearly as much time for memories to entrench and fossilize as, say, thirty or forty years. If we can’t remember things correctly now, how will our memories — the shared understanding of the way our story happened — ever improve? The answer is they won’t. Rather than fret about this, however, we’re trying to make peace with it.
There is also always the chance of resolution, of one party finally acceding to the other and saying, “Yes, yes, you’re right, it happened the way you say it did.” My (Ben’s) parents for years recounted their sides of what came to be known as “The Deviled Eggs Incident.” The account more or less goes that my mom and her family, being good, down-home, Midwestern-bordering-on-Southern Baptists, had a thing for potlucks and deviled eggs. My dad did not, and so throughout their dating my father frequently declined to partake of what was, to his prospective in-laws, a supreme delicacy.
Fast forward to their first year of marriage when, at a party or on a cruise (depending on who’s telling the story; the mental picture of a cruise is what settles in my mind, though it is almost certain my parents never went on a cruise together), a young, somewhat attractive (again, how attractive depends on the teller) woman offered my parents a plate of deviled eggs. Dad took an egg; Mom went ballistic. (Some accounts have my dad saying, “Why yes, I love deviled eggs!”)
Throughout my childhood, this incident was recalled and hotly debated many times. It is why my brother and I were never once served deviled eggs. My mom pledged never to make them for her husband until he agreed to her account of the story and confessed his wrongdoing.
Then, not too long ago, the accounts suddenly merged. We were at a family reunion and there, on both of my parents’ plates, were deviled eggs. “Wait, what’s going on?” I said. They laughed. It was no big deal. My father had apparently pleaded forgiveness and fessed up, corroborating my mother’s account of the incident and since enjoying, on occasion, her deviled eggs when she decided to make them for parties or church potlucks. “Your mother makes very good deviled eggs,” he said, to which she responded, “That’s right, and I always have.” Whether my father finally remembered the incident differently or whether he just wanted to bury the past and make his wife happy, to this day I’m still not sure. Maybe he was simply hoping I was taking notes, and wouldn’t make the same mistake he did.