A Trip Down Memory Lane
A Mnemosyne story
Start at the beginning of the Mnemosyne series
For the rest of the party I was on autopilot. I made conversation, drank far too much rum, and finished the night vomiting into the same sink again. I truthfully cannot recall much of what happened, be it from the shock of finality or the alcohol with which I tried to console myself. If I managed to actually find any of my guests from the evening, I can only think that they would not remember the night either, though they might play along with my desperate inquiries.
I was staggering so badly near the end that Janice offered to clean up when people left and I accepted gratefully. There is some small recollection of smelling her hair and telling her she was nice as well. I'm positive that contributed to her helping me get a cab to take me home.
The driver left no impression in my memory other than a strong smell of old cigars and cedar. The back of the cab was freezing, despite the heat being turned up as high as it could go. There was a big crack in the front passenger window, leaving a semi-circle about the size of a fifty-cent piece taken out of the top where the glass should press into the rubber and form a seal. The driver joked about the cab taking a bullet earlier in the day, and in my drunken state I took him seriously and spent most of the ride home slouched as low as I could go, basically sitting on the floor.
The wind made a high-pitched whistling as it came in through the hole. We must have been on the highway to be going fast enough for it to make that noise. I can only remember that it was a howling ring in my ears, and as the jet of cold air burned past my ears I believed that the sound itself was the same as the cold. I kept asking the driver to turn down the sound because I was freezing. Doubtless I sounded completely insane.
Sitting in the back of the cab, being burned by the high-pitched shriek of the wind, and terrified of catching a bullet in the head from mysterious taxi assault squads, I was forced to confront what had been happening in my life. Events from my past were disappearing. Things I had put out of my mind deliberately, painful experiences, were simply being erased. Kevin was a difficult pill to swallow, but as a singular sort of philosophical entity in life, I could accept that perhaps I had poor recollection somehow. I could arrange things in my mind such that some trauma from my past had left me confused and disturbed. But the erasure of Merrit's and its seeming replacement by this Ace Hardware. . .that was simply too much. Merrit's had been part of the national consciousness. It was a household brand name, like Windy's or Fry Town. To have something so complete basic to the way of life of every single person I had ever met just disappear as if it had never existed. That I could not accept.
Thinking back on it now, it was laughably arrogant of me to assume that I was the cause of the world itself being rewritten, as if I was somehow the axis upon which all events were hung. Yet that is exactly the conclusion I reached without even pausing to think about it. Things that were painful memories to me were disappearing, so obviously I must be at the root of it. There should have been more self-analysis of my sanity then, but I believe it was too new for me to come to the conclusion that I was mad. It was enough to only try and absorb the shock of reality altering around me.
The extent of the alterations was unknowable, and staggering to consider. Memories are the pinning of our entire existence, and when they become suspect, your sense of self-identity begins to erode. If you are composed solely of experiences that never happened, are you real at all, or simply a character in some larger imagination? I had never been one of Platonic thought experiments of shadows on cave walls, but upon finding myself staring only at those shadows, I was forced to consider it. Was my life all some giant passion play for the cosmos? A Truman Show for some hidden audience?
The feeling of being trapped came upon me then in the back of the taxi, whistling wind freezing my ears. I felt myself a rat who had been sniffing at some cheese for his entire life only to find that the cheese was a false smell produced by some machine to force me to run through a maze. A great sense of betrayal set upon me and I was filled with a drunken rage. I remember repeatedly smashing my head into the back of the front seat of the taxi and growling until the driver threatened to kick me from the cab. Still, though the only catalyst I could see in the alterations to my life was that the things disappearing were things I myself had forgotten, there was no blame in my heart for me. There had to be some outside force imposing this torture and insanity on me.
I did not know how to even begin to decipher who or what could be responsible. Ideas of shadowy government agents, or alien conspiracies filled my mind, only to be cast out in favor of some kind of Biblical justice returned upon me for some crime I had unknowingly committed against the Almighty. I even began to question whether it was my choice of lifestyle that had gotten me into this mess. Many people might have jumped to that idea sooner, but my life had always been a natural extension of my feelings, with very little self-analysis or doubt over my choices. I never struggled with feelings of wrongness in how or who I was. I cast that possibility out almost as soon as it occurred to me.
Riding in the back of the freezing cab had the effect of eventually sobering me up enough that I was able to walk to my building and up to my apartment after the cabbie dropped me off. I must have paid the man, because the police didn't show up to knock on my door later, but I have no recollection of getting out of the cab or going into my building. One second I was in the backseat of the car, the next I was going up my stairwell and into my apartment.
Once home I got an icepack out of the freezer and pressed it to my head. The cold on the way home had seemed to facilitate my thoughts even as it burned my ears, and I felt the need for its driving painful pick to pierce the haze around my brain. If I was going to understand what was happening to me, I would need to understand the extent to which it was happening. The only way to do that was to try and dig up some old memories.
The . . .memories was an improper term to use. Forgettings that had happened so far had revolved around painful occurrences in my life, things that I wanted to forget. Thus I decided to being my search around the memories that I had a difficult time digging up because I had buried them as deeply as possible. The natural place to start was Mr. Soto.
When I was in the seventh grade, our school had hired a fresh new teacher named Ms. Fournier. She was a breath of fresh air to our school, trying some new thinking approaches to teaching. Rather than rote memorization, many of her lessons emphasized team building and social skills rather than the rote memorization of our previous teachers. Unfortunately about two-thirds of the way through the school year Ms. Fournier was caught doing some "team building" with the P.E. teacher Mr. Robson on school grounds and was summarily fired.
She was replaced for the remainder of the year by Mr. Soto. Mr. Soto was my first crush as a boy. He was a naturalized Cubano whom we had for a substitute occasionally in junior-high. His voice was still thick with a rolling honeyed accent, filled with rolling r's and hissed ess's. I was very used to the proper dress code of the junior high teachers where the men wore ties or high buttoned shirts and the women long skirts past the knee, but Mr. Soto always wore tight polo shirts and jeans. Whenever he would fill in for a teacher he would begin the day by telling us just how great America was that the son of a sugar cane farmer born on the mud floor of a hut could now live here and own his own home in the suburbs. I'd always wondered how he was able to afford a home working as a substitute teacher. When he took over for Ms. Fournier and stayed with us for longer than a few days we learned a bit more about him, and I found out his wife was a doctor.
I was crushed to say the least. Far too smart to have any serious hopes of some kind of relationship with him when I was only twelve years old, discovering that we didn't play for the same team was still devastating to my rich fantasy life that I had constructed. There were notebooks filled with sketches of us together, drawn in the idle moments that proliferate the junior high school day. I was a reasonably talented artist at that age and the drawings were a labor of love for me.
The crush would have resolved itself in the normal fashion for a junior high fixation had Mr. Soto not discovered one of my notebooks on his desk one afternoon just after the last period ended. To this day I don't know who stole it out of my locker and put it there, and if I did I would make it my mission to make their life a living hell.
From my seat at the front of the classroom I watched in horror as he flipped through the book. My name did not appear anywhere on the cover or in the pages, but I'm positive that he knew it was mine. I studied his face in minute details as he leafed over each page, passing through the drawings of leaves I had been working on for art class. He nodded appreciatively of the work, and I prayed that he would stop turning the pages, or that the bell would ring and I could reclaim the book and escape.
His eyebrows shot up as he reached the first sketch of us together. I had drawn us driving in a convertible on the highway, wind blowing our hair around, with Mr. Soto reaching over to ruffle my head. We were both smiling in the picture, and to the casual observer, it probably looked like a father and son dynamic. His eyes flicked up toward me as he studied the picture, and he smiled. Then he turned the page.
The drawing on the following page had us still in that convertible, only we were no longer driving, and the definitely not engaged in a father/son activity. The smile was off of Mr. Soto's face faster than Ronald Reagan could deny peddling nuclear weapons. His eyes went very wide and he looked at the picture several times as if not wanting to believe he was seeing what was on the page. He looked up, opened his mouth to say something to the class, to me, when the bell rang.
I was out of there in a heartbeat. I ran home as fast as I could and hid in my room, dreading a phone call that surprisingly never came. There was only a week left in the year, so I managed to fake sick until summer rolled around. I couldn't bear even the thought of seeing Mr. Soto again after that. So I hid and put it out of my mind. By the time summer ended a new permanent teacher had been hired and I never saw Mr. Soto again.
Even though I didn't think of Mr. Soto much after that, except in dark flashes of embarrassment, I kept the other sketches I had made of him, if nothing else than because the non-pornographic ones were examples of detailed art I had produced. There was a time when I had wanted to be an artist, and though that had gone by the wayside, I was still proud of my ability. The books were buried in my filing cabinets just below where I had kept the Rolodex. There were still there, which was a bit of a relief to me, until I opened them up to find no drawings. The books were entirely blank. The paper appeared old and stained with various pencils shavings and tears, like any old notebook would be, but there were no drawings on the paper.
I had been expecting it, but there was still a sick feeling of shock in my gut staring at those empty white sheets. The notebooks made me feel as though my life and personality were somehow draining out of me through an unseen crack. I grabbed the stack of them and threw them into the garbage, and then went to my closet.
When I was only six years old, my grandmother decided that I would look very dapper in a kind of early century British schoolboy outfit, the kind with a suit top and tie and knickers. She was more than a little out of touch with reality, but Papa Poppa believed in having a tight knit family and respecting your elders, so I was forced to wear that outfit to school once a week until I outgrew it. You can imagine how much I despised that outfit, and the resentment I built towards my senile grandmother because of it. Papa didn't let me get rid of the outfit even after I outgrew it, and it became habit to move it around with me and stuff it into the back of whatever closet I possessed.
Naturally it wasn't there. I ended up digging out my entire wardrobe to make certain that I hadn't simple missed it in between two of my suits or some such. The only trace I found was the tie from the suit, the only piece of it I had actually liked. That tie is what gave me my lifelong taste for finer clothes. It was a simple dark nylon tie, but I remember looking in the mirror while wearing it and feeling like a mature and sophisticated man. I held it up after pulling it off of the old hanger around which it was draped, then wadded it up and tossed it into the trash with my notebooks.
Though the ride had sobered me somewhat, I was still drunk enough to decide to call my father. He answered the phone after a few rings, mumbling a greeting. "Papa, do you remember the suit gran gave me when I was a kid?"
I could hear his brain begin to fire, rousing itself out of the half-sleep it had been in while picking up the phone. "Suit? What? What are you talking about, calling me before dawn even with this questions about a suit? Your grandmother died before you were born, my son. Are you drunk? Bad dreams?" My father spoke quickly in a sleepy slur, letting his mouth control what tracks down which his brain walked.
Again the answers where what I had expected, and again that did not do much to ease the impact of the new truth. My grandmother, though she was senile, was an important part of my childhood. She gave me candy whenever she would visit, and pick me up and crush me to her until I was too big to life. The scent of peppermint and nicotine always hung around her like a bingo hall perfume, and the inside of her big old Cadillac had been littered with old losing lottery tickets. Now that was all gone, consigned to the realm of my imagination rather than memory.
"Yeah Papa, just some crazy dreams. Do you remember that fish you got me when I was nine? I named it Abraham and knocked it off my desk three days later and killed it? Or the neighbor kid who always shot at me with his BB gun when I was riding my bike? When I got heatstroke during that school play and fainted on stage?" I asked these questions quickly, following my father in letting my surface thoughts skitter out of my mouth.
"What? What kind of dreams are you having? You are not on the drugs, son, are you? You weren't having any fish for pets, and our neighbors never had children. The fainting thing I do remember, yes. What is this about?" He sounded concerned. That was reasonable given the way I'd been acting, asking him questions about things that apparently only I remembered.
I responded "I'm just still drunk from the party, Papa, and having bad dreams. I'm a little confused. I'll call you tomorrow. Sorry for waking you. Goodnight." And then I hung up. I couldn't think of any way to explain what was happening that didn't make me sound insane, so I ran from the conversation.
It was strange that he would remember the fainting incident. I supposed that it did garner me quite a bit of attention in school for a few weeks that I enjoyed, and I did relate the story on occasion at a party or at work. Perhaps my unconscious mind felt that it was something I valued and continued to remember because of that value, so it was worth preserving. Or whoever was responsible for these forgettings found the idea of me passing out and plummeting eight feet off the front of a stage hilarious enough to keep. I couldn't be sure, but it was comforting to know that at least SOME of my childhood was preserved the way I remembered it.
I didn't want the remnants of my disappearing memories in my house to keep the issue in the front of my mind, so I decided to take out the trash. My landlord was a frustrating individual. After I graduated college I had moved out of my father's building into one closer to downtown where I could easily walk to the bars and clubs I wanted to go to. The location was excellent, but the landlord left something to be desired. Every week he would check the levels of the garbage and recycling dumpsters, and if they were not what he thought were reasonable for the building, he would hang around in the hallways and harass the residents, either to throw out more, or throw out less.
His brother ran the local towing company, and guests would come outside after a visit to find their cars gone and the landlord emerging from the building to hand them the number for his brother. I had heard that he would even take out renter's insurance policies in the names of some of his tenants in the hopes of cashing in if they were robbed or had an accident. Not a pleasant man, but the rent was low enough compared to the quality of the apartments that he had no trouble keeping the building filled.
Getting down the stairs to the dumpster outside was no trouble. I simply held onto the railing with one hand and let myself have a controlled fall. At the bottom I slipped on a patch of ice just outside the door and barked my knee on a cement marker in the parking lot. The air outside was freezing, so cold I could feel the inside of my nose stiffen and melt with each breath. I hadn't worn gloves and when I opened the dumpster to toss in the trash bag, I could feel the metal begin to stick to my hand. After I had tossed the trash I did a half-running shuffle back across the ice and inside. I stood in the entryway of the building and looked out into the crystal clear frozen night, trying not to think about anything and just lose myself in the darkness.
An hour passed while I stood there, head pressed against the glass looking out. I believe I may have drifted in and out of a drunken sleep while standing up. Finally I caught myself starting to fall over and decided that no matter what was occurring, it was time for sleep. As I turned to go back up the stairs, my eyes trailed across the row of mailboxes along the wall. The nameplate on my landlord's box was empty.
Story and image by Nick Bergeron, Copyright 2010