Friday, February 28, 2014

Remember Me?

In Sleepers (1996), the film based on Lorenzo Carcaterra's controversial book, two young gangsters have a chance encounter in a pub with a man from their past. Played by a blurry-eyed Kevin Bacon, the man is one of the guards who abused them when they were children sentenced to an upstate New York juvenile facility. They confront Bacon, then kill him, thereby avenging their victimization at his hands. Although the book was marketed as non-fiction, when it was published the account was challenged. Carcaterra -- who claimed that he and three childhood friends from Hell's Kitchen had accidentally killed a man during a prank and been sent to a hellish home for boys -- admitted that he had changed the names and dates. But the Catholic Church challenged the existence of the helpful priest in the book/film. The New York State juvenile justice system challenged the existence of the juvenile facility. Whatever the truth of the story, the film encounter between the two boys grown up and the former guard gone to seed provides an excellent example of "remember me?"

This is a concept that came up in my last book. I thought I had exhausted my interest in the topic, but I'm thinking of a short story. The concept -- the question -- is what might happen if two (or more) people who had some unpleasant connection in the past encountered each other years later. Of course, there are humorous possibilities. For example, in an episode of "Everybody Loves Raymond," Ray Barone, the hapless sports writer, has a dilemma. When he was a teenager, he took a girl from his neighborhood to a dance. When he brought her home, it was snowing. Instead of escorting her to the door, he stayed in his car with the motor running. Now, years later, he wonders to his wife what he should say to this girl (now woman) when he sees her at an event. When they meet, the woman is smiling, pleasant. She reminds him of who she is, and introduces her husband to Ray and his wife. She doesn't seem to remember what happened. But, being Ray and neurotic, he wonders if she was only pretending not to remember. When the two couples meet again on the dance floor, he -- with an attempt at casualness -- reminds her of what happened and apologizes. She says she doesn't remember that and asks if he has been worrying about it all this time. But he is still not convinced she doesn't remember. How could she not remember an incident that is so vivid and cringe-worthy in his own memory?

Of course, there is another variation of "remember me" -- the "remember when" moment. We all have those. One of mine happened years ago when I was with a group of friends in a bookstore cafe. A friend of a member of our group saw her and stopped to say hello. She introduced him, and I made a wisecrack about being glad to discover she had other friends. I have no idea why that popped out of my mouth other then -- as I explained as I was apologizing for my joke that had flopped -- it was the kind of teasing that the sole male in our group of friends always engaged in. He could do it and make people laugh. I couldn't. And I apologized. I wonder if my friend would remember that moment years ago. Probably not. But I still cringe when I think about my awful lapse into "not niceness". Someday I'm going to have to see if I can get a story idea out of that.  

But returning to the "Sleepers" scenario (and that title can be read as equating memories to enemy agents who rise up at a signal), what about avenging an old wrong? We all have someone from our past who did us wrong -- perhaps in a moment, perhaps over a longer period of time. If we encountered that person, if he or she didn't remember or perhaps didn't even recognize us, what would we do? Of course, that might depend on how deep the wound inflicted by this person, how much it had affected our lives. Would it be worthy of a curse, a punch in the nose, or even murder. Or, maybe some more elaborate game of destruction.

This concept is not original to me. Every writer who sits down to play with it will come up with something different. It can work in any genre -- mystery, thriller, romance, sci-fi, paranormal.

But in real-life, be a little wary if someone should tap you on the shoulder and ask, "Remember me?" No way of knowing what might happen next.

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