What if the Past Doesn’t Exist?

By | November 6, 2020

What if all us therapists are wrong and it is possible to forget the horrors of the past?

Maybe we don’t know. After all, therapists only see people who have trouble. People who aren’t troubled by the past never have a reason to see a therapist. In fact, anyone who would have successfully forgotten the past, wouldn’t know they forgot the past, because they had forgotten it. In fact, get this, maybe we all forget the past all the time and don’t even know it.

If that’s the case, then why can’t my last client do it?

He can’t because he believed the past still exists in the form of memories. Both he and I believe the past, in the form of a memory, no matter how fragmented, still exists and walks among us, doing ill. But what if the past doesn’t exist at all? What if, once the present occurs and recedes into the past, it becomes, well, past? What if the past, being past, is no longer real and is replaced by nothing but a fiction? What if memories are figments of the imagination? In other words, a fiction.

If the past was a fiction, then you might be able to rewrite it, making it quite possible to forget the past.

In that case why can’t my last client do it? Why can’t he rewrite the memories out of his story, or do away with them, altogether?
First of all, people need a story. A story is what glues everything together and establishes a self. A person must have a story even if he never tells it to anyone; and, if he does tell it to someone, he must have something to say. Therefore, he has to have a story so much, he must construct one out of nothing.

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Why can’t my last client replace his past with a story that includes no awful memories?

That has to do with his selection of genre.

When most people sit down to write a story, they have trouble either knowing what to say, or how to say it. Most people, professional writers included, generally end up writing a story that conforms to a genre. It’s easier that way. You don’t need as much imagination. You have the general plot already outlined. All you have to do is fill in specifics. Readers also prefer genres. They want to know what they’re reading before they invest the time and money to read it. They want a story to reinforce their particular view of the world.
In choosing his horror story genre, a horror writer seems to say, there’s evil in the world, if you don’t face it and vanquish it, it will vanquish you. The romance writer claims, your instincts are good, and you can use them to find a perfect love. In the same way, my last client ended up writing his life into a ghost story. There are supernatural forces haunting me. I can’t get rid of them.

As a therapist, I have my genre, too. I was just attempting to rewrite my last client’s ghost story into my genre: a detective story. I can uncover the secrets that haunt you.

But what if the real secret is that the past no longer exists? What if all our memories are nothing but stories to scare us away from the truth, that the past is gone, never to return? What if both therapists and their patients have created genres that assert that

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secrets cannot be buried while they bury the one secret they cannot accept? That the past does not exist, and we are all just full of fiction.

This piece is adapted from my novel, Who Killed the Lisping Barista at the Epiphany Café, which is being posted one chapter at a time.

This post was previously published on medium.com.

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