This story is part of Fiction Month 2020. Click here to view stories featured this Fiction Month, as well as past fiction pieces.
- So I’m Told.
In a moment, the waters rise up over everything that makes me me, I forget what me that even was. I am sixteen years old and I am walking in a lush park when I hit my head on a low branch. My brain seems to thud to the back of my skull, before rattling back into place. My hands go to my head, instinctively holding it. The colors of the river near me are inverted, everything is unnatural, orange trees and purple ducks. The world is dark and bright, the sky is black, the water is yellow. I am dazed, everything shifts back into its proper color. The earth seems to tilt beneath my feet, as soon as I realize this, I feel it stabilize beneath me. I stand still. It is then that my forehead begins to throb, massively pulsing. I take a step, tentatively. My body jolts, tilts, falls forward. I decide to return home to lie down. It is only later, as I lower myself down onto my bed, that I realise that the flood has settled, and that things are gone. The cities and people and places which are my past are so easily submerged so as to no longer be mine. The tips of many memories remain, it is not so bad as all that, but I can’t remember what I did before my walk, or the name of that girl who I was best friends with two years ago, whose photo I stare at on my wall. I have never not trusted my memory before. Because I do not remember what I have forgotten, I think that I must be okay, that I remember nearly everything that makes me me, I have not lost anything too significant. How much could I have done before my walk that was really so essential to remember?
Later at dinner, my little sister references that yesterday I told her more people visited France this year than any other country. I scoff, telling her that I never said that. She insists that I did, my parents agree. I search my mind but the more I try, the less I can remember having ever even thought that. I should be able to remember something that I said only yesterday, if I don’t remember it how could I have said it. Still, when it happens again during dessert I’m quicker to agree that what I’m being told is what happened. I am lying when I agree that I said what I said. I am being told what I have said instead of knowing that I said it.
The next day I pull out my phone to text my neighbour but I cannot remember which name is hers. I look through my contacts but nothing seems familiar, or they are all familiar but none are her. Eventually, it comes to me. Jasmine. I ask Jasmine if she needs me to walk the dog this week, she tells me quickly that I already did it on Monday. My face flushes with shame. My control over my own life seems to be gone, I have no command over what I have done or said, the people around me are familiar but know more about me than I do. How can I not be the person who knows the most about my own life? I have to believe them when they say that they remember what I told them yesterday. I would agree to having said anything.
After this accident, I begin to be tossed by my mind when I lie in bed at night. I can feel that I am lying on something solid, on my bed, yet I cannot tell which way is up. My body is spinning in circles. I tell the doctor it feels like I am floating through space. The… what’s the word for them… the crystals in my ears are jumbled, I learn. So as I lie in darkness, I feel myself spin and float and tilt according to laws of gravity that I have never known before. When I close my eyes I imagine that I can feel the world rotating around the sun and around itself. I have to remind myself that I will not float away. I cannot describe the feeling better than this, but it never leaves me. I am always aware of how precariously I am holding on to this planet.
I live on, the clocks continue spinning, I go to school, I remember every day, for the most part. I lose conversations as soon as I walk away from them, there are faces I cannot put names to, although they greet me by name. I sit with my friends and forget how we met, what we have in common, why we are friends. I become an, what’s the word, an imposter in those moments. I cannot argue every time someone assures me that I did say that thing to them, just the other day. I am not sure I would even believe that I could forget so many of my own words if it were not so frequent.
My headache doesn’t go away for three months, but it stops getting worse from loud sounds and bright lights after one month. Despite this, my past is no longer on my side, it has betrayed me too abruptly, too gently washed away in little moments of every hour. My mind does come back to me, but it is no longer central to who I am. I have learnt to be me without remembering every part of me. I have learnt to ground myself in a moment that might not last when I recall the history of me. Most of my mind comes back to me, the names to the faces, the things I have done. The water washes away, much slower than it arrived. Months pass and the headaches are rarer and rarer. My sister brings up things I have said and I agree that I said them.
- So I See.
I have created life and do not remember having done it. I am thirty one, and it is the most important thing that I have done in my life. Perhaps there was not enough space in my mind for such a grand event to be kept, maybe it was simply too much. My daughter is named Camille. I remember having decided this, I remember having flitted between Camille and, oh, another name that I can’t quite remember. But I do remember shaking under the weight of having to give a word to an entire human being. She has been talking for a few weeks, walking only since yesterday. My body created another body which can move through the world, and I do not remember it happening. My husband speaks of the moment with pride, with praise and awe of a strength that he tells me I had. It feels like there is a stone wall around the most essential experience of my life, a block between me and what I did. I know she was small, but I do not know how it felt when I first held her against me. I pull her to me now, gather her chubby hands in mine and press our foreheads together.
There is a photo of me holding her for the first time, but when I look at it it seems like a photo of her just before I knew her, just before I really held her, just before she really existed. I am not me in that photo, I am sweaty and shining and glittering and false. My sister wanted to know how much it hurt, and I couldn’t tell her. I said quite a bit, because that’s how my husband made it sound when he told me how brave I was. I know I took hours, and the hours of pain left a toll on me. I can still feel the aftermath of the strain in my neck and back, in my tender cervix all these months later. Headaches too, straining my temple, are leftover from the day she came out of me. It’s strange though, having pain with no origin, with an origin that you cannot reach although the proof of it is right here. What’s her name? Camille. Camille squirms in my arms, her nails digging into my stomach and I place her on the ground, watch as she totters away. I watch her make her way across the room, her bright yellow dress catching the light and making her seem surreal.
I try to reach back to the earliest moment I have. The blanket with blue dots on it. No, the diapers. The boxes of diapers. It was walking into my bedroom at home, stiffly, and seeing the stacked boxes of diapers, realizing what was coming, turning around to take the bundle of blankets from my husband. Curling around her in our bed. Before that, a blurry hospital gown at the edge of my mind, and before that, my water breaking. My husband is the one who holds the pain for us both in his furrowed eyebrows, who has to give me the story of the birth, recounts the pain he soaked in from my screams. I think I should be more grateful to him for bearing the weight of her birth for both of us. I know there were complications. I know I could have died right in front of him, the baby too maybe. He had nail marks on his hand that I squeezed, that can only have come from me gripping him. I know this retrospectively but I never feared for my life, he feared for three lives, for all of us. And how unimaginable is it to fear for a life other than yours, to fear for potential lost and the familiar vanishing with it? The whole thing is not a matter of forcing myself to believe that an emptiness in what I recall happened, there is a baby to prove it. But it is a matter of the pain that sometimes I think she must have appeared out of thin air. There is some connection missing between us, I fear, if I do not remember giving birth. I remember the, I don’t remember what the word is, the… the diapers! Right, I remember the little diapers so vividly, and the blanket with blue dots after that. I believed that I no longer regretted missing memories, after all I could readily believe that I had said things that I forgot and thought this was the extent of realizing that the past was not as solidly placed in my mind as it was for everyone. But to not remember the birth of my own daughter? To have scars and tight muscles from an ordeal I did not have? It feels unprecedented.
- So I Am.
My mind is a city by the sea, and the tides will soon wash away every memory that I have, submerging me in an empty echo of having once known that I lived. I once thought my mind invincible in the long run, believed that my body would break down, words or events might fall away but I would still be in it, I would be I, would remember all that I was. This is not the case, things are slipping. I forget more every day. It is not just an image, the city by the sea. I do live by the sea, fulfilling an urge that tugged at me my whole life. I am here, I am alone, I have my memories and the sea every morning.
Every morning I sit on the beach, naked, allowing the waves to wash up over me, cleanse me. Tangles of seaweed come up sometimes and catch on my knees and toes. I pick them off, painfully bending down to make a pile next to me. As I sit, I take an inventory of what is left. Scattered moments, mere images, with years and years forgotten in between. I remember my first love, my nine year old wedding under a tree. The love that can hardly be called love, but hints at it. I cannot remember the beginning of my longest love, of my real marriage. I remember his eyebrows, the curve of his shoulders, the way his ankles twirled when he was bored. I know we were married, but that day itself has gone from me, recently. I had it until yesterday, or the day before. It was not a space I immediately noticed. I ran through my life, wondering what was missing, and noted at length that that day was gone. Sometimes it seems there is order to the washing away of my mind, but in truth it is sporadic. I hear a baby cry. I remember the birth of my daughter, all at once, her red face. The slimy, dark hair curling forward on her forehead. The light hit her the same way this early morning light hits the seaweed beside me, elegant in a foreign way. I remember holding her, although I do not recall the pain that came before I held her. Pieces of that day are falling away. I remember a cold afternoon in the middle of winter when I stared at my bedroom wall as the sun went down, and as the light left I imagined my life fading so slowly the world hardly noticed. I told my husband about it, he smiled and told me to come eat.
The waves toss a shell on me, scraping my leg. It is broken, purple and orange. Only part of a shell. I remember tripping in the shallow end of a pool, remember the blue sky and the red shorts of the kid which my face ended up right next to. The white of the sun as I looked right at it for a moment, disoriented. I think no matter how long goes by I will always have that image. It is still so bright, the red shorts against the sky. The sun on the water is blinding, and my eyes tire quickly. My hair falls before my face, it is somewhere between bleached from the salt, the sun, and age. I head back towards my house, where I will clean for a few hours. Sand has invaded every room, walking on the floor inside hardly feels different from the beach surrounding the small, creaky house.
I hear a sound from the wiry bushes behind my house. It is my daughter, she was just born, she is crying. A small wail fills the air, but when I go to her, it is not my daughter, it is a strange baby. I wonder how it got here, what it is doing here. It is not my daughter. I pick it up gingerly, stare at the runny eyes and red cheeks. Usually, one memory falls away at a time, but suddenly, I find myself empty. I can’t remember a thing. I stare at the baby, stare until it becomes foreign and I set it back down quickly, backing away. I turn, and go back to sit on the beach. I am no one, I have no responsibility to this baby. I watch the sea, the waves, and wade out until my feet no longer reach the sandy bank.
Océanne Fry is a junior HAST student in the Ethics & Politics, and Literature & Rhetoric concentrations. She has always loved creative writing, in the forms of poetry and short stories, and is especially interested in exploring memory and our relationship to the present, following her own concussion.