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F is for Flexible Facts



"Just the facts, ma'am."

That's the line, isn't it. We just want to know the truth, the exact story. When we have that, we can create an opinion on it, right?

If only it was that easy. 

We all tell ourselves stories about our lives. We hold on to things we remember as kids, and develop our ideas about the world and maybe even our personalities based on these "facts."

This is how I remember certain events from my 1st grade year:

A bunch of us were in a kind of haphazard line waiting to go on the slide. I went in front of a boy named Bob. I don't know if I cut the line, or if I really thought it was my turn.

As soon as I made it to the bottom of the slide, Bob was waiting for me. He accused me of cutting. He punched me in the stomach. Hard. It didn't help that I was a skinny little thing. 

I couldn't breathe for a bit. It was like the time I was jumping on the bed at my friend Blake's house and I jumped too  high and landed on the floor. Wind knocked out of me. 

Back on the playground, when I could breathe again, I did what I thought was the right thing: I tattled. 

I plead my case to the teacher: "He hit me," I said.

"Oh, you're all right," she told me, "Boys will be boys."

(I added the emphasis because this told me so much.)(For years. Still, now.)

Later that night, I got up to use the bathroom. Something wasn't right. There was blood in the toilet.

My parents drove me to the emergency room.

For years, I was sure that the punch had somehow ruptured my bladder. I always thought of this kid Bob as a mean kid who sent me to the hospital.

Years later, at my 10-year high school reunion, I found out that Bob had lost his wife and child. "It was a horrible accident," some said.

It wasn't long before people started talking that it may not have been an accident. I start thinking back to that violent day on the playground. 

Bob ended up in prison later, after being found guilty of attempting to hire a hit-man to kill his parents. I found out most of the story, as well as the investigation into his possible involvement in his wife and child's deaths, from a Dateline story.

After one of the airings of the show, I was talking to my mom on the phone. 

"You remember that he was the boy who punched me in first grade, right? He sent me to the hospital."

"Well, I remember he hit you," she told me, "But that's not really why you were in the hospital, not completely."

I had had a severe bladder infection, and probably would have had to go to the emergency room that night anyway. 

I hadn't remembered any of that part of it. In my mind, for over 30 years, I remembered getting punched on the playground, and then having medical issues for about a year after that. In my mind, they were related. 

But that wasn't all the facts. Facts are flexible. Memories are malleable. 

And we're all human, just trying to figure it all out. 

Have you remembered something that changed your views and found out it wasn't true? Did you change your views again?


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