Friday, April 06, 2007

The Unreliable Eye

There’s a quote floating around somewhere about how an eyewitness is the most unreliable witness. And it’s true. An eyewitness turns a blue car red. An eyewitness thinks all Asian people look alike (though, let’s face it, we do). An eyewitness turns 15th Street into 51st.

Still, inexplicably, an eyewitness account is relied upon heavily. Despite knowing that memory carries about as much weight as a marshmallow, people are still willing to swear that what they kind of remember seeing even though they were a little tipsy is the absolute truth…to the best of their knowledge. And any jury will eat it up and send you marching into a ten-by-ten cell for the rest of your life.

And why shouldn’t they believe them? After all, most people don’t have just cause to lie. Surely someone who isn’t absolutely sure about something wouldn’t claim they are knowing that by doing so they are potentially damaging someone else. Except people are entirely willing to do just that because their pride won't allow them to admit their memory is flawed.

I bring this up because I got into a bit of a kerfuffle, if you want to call it that, with the Eldest Bro thanks to an account he gave of me that was incorrect to the point of being completely fabricated. And he swore it was true.

I was sitting on the couch on a Sunday afternoon nursing a relatively tame hangover when I mentioned to B that the night prior had been a particularly difficult one in regards to quitting smoking.

“I don’t know what it was, but I was craving a cigarette like crazy all night. Which is weird because I’ve been pretty okay the past three months.”

To this, Eldest Bro whipped around and faced us.

“You quit smoking? But I saw you smoking last week.”

“What? When?” I was half-laughing. Clearly he was making a joke. Trying to cast doubt on my accomplishment out of jest.

“That day I dropped you off to meet your friend. When you got out of the car, you put a cigarette in your mouth.”

B eyed me dubiously. “Did you have a cigarette?”

My eyes are wide now and I can’t wipe the incredulous smile off my face, a smile that can easily be interpreted as a poor attempt at lying. “No! I haven’t had a cigarette in over three months!”

“Fine, whatever,” Eldest Bro shrugs and rolls his eyes. “I’m pretty sure I saw you putting a cigarette in your mouth, after you got out of the car without even thanking me.”

“I didn’t thank you because you dropped me off in a pile of snow and I was slipping and sliding all over the place while talking on the phone trying to figure out where to meet my friend and picking up all the shit that fell out of my bag.”

“You were on the phone, but you didn’t drop anything.”

“What the fuck?” I’m livid now. How would he, from his vantage point inside the car with the door shut as he’s pulling away, see anything I was doing? Where was he getting off telling me what I had and had not been doing when I got out of the car?

“Well, I want to believe you, but why would he lie about this?” B says.

At this point, any argument I make is pointless. It’s my word against his. My word—agenda-ridden and dripping with reasons to lie in order to cover-up my supposed lapse—versus his—free from any motives. And like a true eyewitness who milks his fifteen minutes in the courtroom limelight to be self-important and presumptuous, he stands by his word with a nonchalant swagger that makes me want to rip his eyes out and shove them down his throat.

Quitting smoking isn’t an especially easy thing to do, and in the last three months and change, I have felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment. Smoking was the one thing I could never seem to get a handle on. But just like that, someone feels like they have seen something, testifies to it, and a huge shadow has been cast on my achievement.

It’s almost enough to make me want a cigarette.