The Nature of Memory

This was written for a writing course I was taking, and we had to start at one time, and then skip forward or back in the life of the same person. I started in the 80’s and then skipped forward to the near present. Again, it seems to have a theme of being happy with what you have, and I guess the theme of 2022 is self acceptance. Please note, that I am not trying to accept being a serial killer, this note will make more sense after some of my later posts.

I coughed as I tried to escape the fumes, hoping that no one lit a match near my sister’s head. “Come on, Jenny, you have enough hairspray that you could use your hair as a helmet. We are going to be late.” I stamped my foot, and then reached down to pull up my neon pink leg warmer.

I couldn’t wait to get to the roller rink, but Jenny was busy trying to get just a little more volume that Amy Pilsner, and so I was stuck. Mom wouldn’t let me take my bike across town alone at night, so I was stuck waiting for Jenny, as usual

Tracey looked down at the photo, that had brought back the memory rushing back like it was yesterday. Jenny had been so proud of her hair, that she begged Mom to take a Polaroid of it. There were three of them. The first one Tracey was sneezing, and the second Jenny’s eyes were closed, but the third was perfect. We were so happy back then.

Tracey’s phone dinged, and she pulled herself out of the chair, wincing a little at the pain in her right knee. She would have to rub some A535 on it later, and take some tylenol. It only took a month for her to heal from that first sprain back at the rink, but she was still feeling last years, even after the physio.

She finally got to the phone, and saw the notification. It Emily, Jenny’s granddaughter, posting a picture of her and her mother Clara on Instagram. Emily looked so much like Jenny had at that age, it made her heart ache. Tracey felt a stab of guilt at how long it had been since she had went to see Jenny, but it wasn’t like Jenny would know. Jenny hadn’t remembered her in a long time.

Every time Tracey left the nursing home, she was paranoid for weeks. Each time she forgot her where she left her keys, she wondered if this was it. Was this was the first step, though she was reaching an age where it wouldn’t be early onset anymore. At least Jenny seemed happy, happier than she was at least.

Tracey looked around her small two bedroom house and frowned at the quiet. She wondered at times if her mother had been right. If Tracey should have settled down, settled that is, and got married and had some kids. There wouldn’t be the linger rumors at family occasions that she was in fact, a lesbian.

It was such a strange concept to others, that she would prefer being alone, that they instead tried to come up with ideas on why she didn’t have someone. The lesbian theory was the best of the bunch, the others leaving her either traumatized, or too pitiful to keep someone. They couldn’t imagine that she might not want someone, that this may be the life she wanted.

They were too busy comparing her to Jenny, who in her illness had her history rewritten. People spoke of how sad it was that Jenny couldn’t remember her children, how happy they had made her, how much she loved them. That this illness had torn apart such a happy family, and that Jenny never got a chance to know her own grandchild , oh it was such a terrible thing.

Some of it was even true. It was tragic that Jenny didn’t know her own grandchild, and it was true that she loved her daughters, but the reality stopped there. People seemed to gloss over Jenny’s teen pregnancy, the alcoholism, the seven weeks her second daughter spent in the NICU for FAS, or the two years the kids lived with Tracey and Jenny’s parents until Jenny got back on her feet.

It was the same way they glossed over thirty years of nursing, the volunteer work, and all the traveling Tracey did in her own life. In the end, all anyone saw when they compared the sisters was Jenny’s two surprisingly well adjusted daughters, four grandchildren and Tracey’s empty house.

Tracey’s phone dinged again, and she saw the reminder: Cards with the Girls. She looked around her empty house again, and smiled. She loved her nieces dearly, but she really wouldn’t trade this life for anything.

Things Left Unsaid

This is another tragic type of story. I have learned I write mostly really sad and or twisted things. This is from the prompt of “End your story with a truth coming to light.” It contains mentions of death, aging, old age homes and Alzheimer’s. Yes, not very light reading, and made myself cry with this.

Oliver sat on the bed staring at the closet.  It was a daunting task, going through someone else’s belongings.  To look at what remained and decide what did and did not have value.  It felt wrong to throw away any of it.  Benjamin had had so little in the end that every bit of it must have been precious to him.

You acquire a lot of things over your life, as you and your space grow, but then there comes a point in your life where something shifts and the spaces stop getting larger.  The opposite happens, you go from a big house, to a smaller one, to a townhouse, to an apartment, and eventually you end up in a room like this.  

With each downsize you have to take a look around and ask yourself the same three questions. What do I keep? What can I give away? What do I throw away?  When you got to this point, the single room, you had distilled your belongings down to the most treasured.  Each thing that had made it this far was priceless, not in terms of material value, but in the memories it held.  To throw any of it away was an atrocity, but Oliver didn’t have much choice as he too only had a closet.

His would be cleaned out by his son, who would be too young to understand the importance of the things he had kept.  Mementos of important events, friends long gone, and his dear wife Sophia who had passed years before.  Oliver had gone through her belongings as well, but at least then he had Ben at his side to help him through it.  His dear friend had even offered to get a place together so that Oliver would be spared the indignity of this place so soon, but Oliver hadn’t wanted to be a burden.  It was a choice he regretted when Ben joined him less than two years later.  Ben deserved better than this place. 

Oliver wished that there was someone else to help him with his task, but Ben had never really had anyone else.  He had many a lover in his day, but not one of them lasted long. With the exception of himself and Amelia, Ben hadn’t even made any lasting friendships.  

Amelia was still with them, in a manner of speaking.  Alive in her body certainly, but in her mind…. On the good days she relived the heyday of their college years, thinking they were throwing parties and breaking hearts. And on the bad days… There had been a lot more bad days lately than good ones.

So here Oliver sat, alone, trying to go through the last belongings of a man who once owned more shoes than would fit in this paltry closet, trying to decide where to start.  Finally, he decided on the least emotional path, the clothing.  It was all good quality, and still in good condition.  Ben had always been so fastidious about his appearance, even as his looks faded with the years.  He folded the clothes neatly and put them in a large box labelled donate.  A helpful volunteer had gotten two of them ready, garbage and donation.  She said nothing, but the sad look she gave him let him know she understood there was no need for a large box for keepsakes.

After the clothes it got harder, and the hatbox he opened next was a loaded prospect, full of layers of bow ties.  The top few easily slid into the donation box, the plain stalwart affairs he had favored recently.  When Oliver reached the last layer though, the memories swept over him.  

The bright red bow tie that Ben had gotten to match school colors for the first time and last time he acted as an orientation guide.  That was the day he and Oliver had met, and Oliver wondered if that was why he had kept it. The ridiculously purple one from graduation. 

Oliver chuckled to himself as he pulled out the sleek silver one that Ben had worn to three out of four of Amelia’s weddings.  He had tried to go for a hat trick, but when Amelia had caught on she was furious demanding he take it off. In response Ben went around the entire night making bigger and better excuses as to where his bow tie had disappeared to.  

There twelve total in this layer, and Oliver could name the origin of eight.  The other four were a mystery, the strangest of which was a small faded brown bow tie sized for a child.  Was it Ben’s, or someone else’s? He would never know.

The pictures weren’t even a question, Oliver would keep them.  He would have to get his son Roger to scan them into the computer when he visited next.  He had room for the albums under his bed until then.  They weren’t supposed to keep things under the bed, but the nurse who checked their rooms from time to time had a soft spot for him, and she would understand how important these were.  

Most of what was left went in the bin.  He knew the ticket stubs, and playbills had meant something, but not to him.   Some of it he recognized as being something that Ben and Amelia had shared, but well, Amelia didn’t have any need of it.  He wondered if they had even told her about Ben, and if they did, would she remember it? Would she still look up each time she heard a knock at the door and expect him to be there to invite her to the latest party?

He took a shuddered breath, and chastised himself for wishing for that kind of ignorance.  For never having to find out that Ben was gone. In the end there was a single box left, labelled important papers. There was the obvious, life insurance, will, etc.  He put that in a smaller labeled box on the floor, Estate.  The lawyer was supposed to come pick that up later in the week. Ben’s diploma, certifications, awards, did he just throw them out?  It seemed like such a shame, but what were they worth to anyone now. He threw them in the bin and looked away from it.

He took the twelve bow ties from the hatbox and put them in a small shopping bag with the pictures.  It was overly full, but he hadn’t wanted to risk bringing a bigger bag, lest he fill it.  As it was, he would have to re-evaluate his own belongings when he got back to his room.  If he wanted to keep hard copies of the pictures it would be even harder, but that was tomorrow’s problem.    He tipped each container of Ben’s over to ensure it was really empty, and then threw them either in the donation or garbage boxes.   

When he flipped the last one out, the important papers, an envelope slipped out from between the bottom box flaps.  Oliver almost tossed it; he had already found all of Ben’s legal papers.    He stopped though, it was yellowed with age, and something Ben had kept that long had to have been worth something. When he flipped it over, his heart skipped a beat. There in Ben’s perfect calligraphy was a single name “Oliver”

He sat back down hard on the bed and flipped the letter back over to verify what he had seen before, it was sealed. What Ben could have possibly written so long ago, but never sent, and never opened? Should he throw it out?  Was this something he was never meant to read?  But he couldn’t go through with it, curiosity had always been his undoing. So with trembling fingers he gently opened the letter and unfolded it. It was dated 54 years earlier. 

Dearest Oliver,

I am writing you this letter, the one that I will never send to tell you that I still love you.

You probably won’t believe me, after all, I did go to such lengths to break your heart. But it’s true, you are the love of my life, but I am a mess, and you Oliver, deserve so much better than me.  I know that Sophia is still interested, even though you did your own heart breaking not too long ago.  With her you could have what you always wanted, a happy family, children, and with me there will be none of that.  

So I made a choice, and because I love you, I let you go.  I don’t regret it, not knowing that you will be happier without me. It is my only hope that you were being honest when you said that you would still be my friend, because your presence is what brings joy to my life.  As much as it will kill me to live out each day with you never knowing how I feel, if you are there, it will be worth every second of pain.  

Maybe someday I will be as brave as you were the day you kissed me in the middle of that crowded classroom, and I will tell you the truth and this letter will be something you laugh at when you find it.  Just your sweet Ben being dramatic as usual.

But if not, please know that I have always wished nothing but the best for you. 

Love Benjamin

For a look at the reedsy contest take a look here for more prompts. It runs weekly Friday to Friday!