As I turned on the light and maneuvered my way into the closet, I made full use of my Tetris skills. I shuffled past boxes of record albums, computer parts and dozens of other boxes of unrecognizable junk and crammed my way to the very back. After much sweating, swearing, sneezing, tripping and falling, I finally found them. There they were—just as I left them—still lined up on the shelf of an old WalMart put-it-together-yourself bookcase. I gazed at the titles, some of which had faded with time: Summer, 1990; NC Vacation 1989 Part One; Home Movies – April 1993. Damn, I thought. It really does seem like yesterday when I was known as the Home Movie Junkie.
After some more strenuous effort, deep within the closet, I finally pulled out dozens of VHS and Compact VHS tapes chronicling the years 1989-2002. Laying them on the floor, I attempted to place them in order by date. I was on a mission:
This is 2015. This is the digital age. I want to convert each video tape and store them on my computer; I want to preserve them forever so I can easily share them with others. I am convinced that my kids, loved ones, friends—anyone and everyone who once starred in my many productions will be just as excited as me to go back in time and relive the images I forever captured. After all, I am the Memory Hero.
I’m one of the few people I know who still owns a VCR and still has it hooked up. Although I haven’t turned it on in a decade, this hunk of archaic technology was the best of its kind back in the day—complete with VCR Plus, four heads and stereo sound. After plugging in the cables and queuing the software to transfer the images to my computer, I inserted the oldest tape I could find and hoped for the best. Automatically, the tape sucked in and began to play. After a blur, smudge, and blurp, images and sound appeared. There I was, back in 1989, with my ex-wife and my 18-month-old son.
As the images transferred to my computer, I watched the tape beginning to end—two full hours of home-grown TV. I was intrigued, startled, amazed, and angry at how much I’ve aged and matured. But at the same time, I was a bit pompous at how good I really looked: I was young, tan, and toned—despite the fact that I dressed like crap and sported a porn stash. Although it was the 80s, I was surprised there weren’t crowds of spectators in the background pointing and laughing at my sense of style.
Mixed in with my assessment of self-image, there were also spontaneous and unexpected moments of shame, tears, pain, embarrassment, and regret. Watching and hearing myself and my family became difficult.
The more I transferred VHS tapes to my computer, the less I watched them. I secretly knew the real purpose of my camcorder and endless videotaping. I wanted to create an artificial image of reality. Because I so desperately wanted to be the Memory Hero, I edited out all negativity. I edited out all arguments. I edited out all dysfunction. In the end, I stockpiled hours and hours of my kid’s daily lives, convincing myself that they’re gonna want copies one day. Yeah, they will surley appreciate me documenting their entire childhood the way I want them to remember it, I thought. Without a doubt, I will be their Memory Hero. After all, videotape is infallible.
For Christmas, I gave my kids digital copies of all the home movies I found in the closet that day. But the Memory Hero I was not. My kids felt the same way I did when they watched themselves grow up. They too had spontaneous and unexpected moments of shame, tears, pain and embarrassment. Instead of the future delight I envisioned when I recorded these moments, the result was varying shades of anguish. Instead of remembering the carefully selected and heavily edited videos I prepared, they remembered the truth.
Clearly, I should have spent a lot less time building false memories with my camcorder and spent a lot more time fixing the problems I chose to ignore, and I should have avoided using my camcorder as a tool of manipulation.
Instead of being the Memory Hero I so desperately strived for, I became the Counterfeit Memory Hero in the end.
I know it’s too late, but I get it now.