I have always found it astonishing when people say they can recall conversations and events that they experienced as far back as when they were toddlers. I can remember all the birthdays of people who made even the slightest appearance in my life. I can recall my old girl scout troop number as well as the names of everyone in it. I can even recite the words I used to chant from the sidelines of football games in middle school. But I still feel as though there are years missing from my internal archives. So much of my life feels like a blurry paraphrase of irrelevant happenings tied together by strong, vivid images. Some of these images are burned on like a thick seal to an envelope holding in feelings that are too heavy to roam freely throughout my body.
I am young, no idea how young or what time of the year it is, and I am in my aunt’s basement in Ohio. My whole family is downstairs waiting out a tornado warning. The adults all seem calm. It’s obvious that they knew everything was going to be okay. I’m playing it cool on the outside but on the inside I am utterly petrified that we are all going to die.
I am fifteen and I’m working as a barista – my first real job. I’ve just made a cappuccino for a man who takes one sip as he hands me his cash. I can tell he doesn’t like it. He turns to leave and tosses the full cup in the trash can on his way out the door.
I am still fifteen and I am at my dad’s office just outside of town. We are watching a set of four tornados touch down in the distance, miles away from us and what appears to be right above where our house sits in town. My mom is at home with Sam and my grandma. Scott is trying to call her but the phone lines have already been sucked up into the storm.
I am sixteen now, on the phone with my parents who are a little over an hour out of town. They need to come home right now. Scott is laying on the floor drenched in sweat and urine. They get back just in time for his final seizure of the evening, his first Grand Mal seizure. I have my brother’s eyes and my dad’s eyes at the forefront of my memory – one set rolling back into his head, the other welling up with tears.
I am eighteen and I’ve just woken up naked with a rolling headache in a room I’ve never seen before. A toilet flushes from the other side of the bathroom door and I don’t wait to see who emerges. I’ve already gotten clothed enough to flee this stranger’s house.
I am twenty, then twenty one, then twenty two, then twenty three answering another phone call that is going to obliterate another little chunk of my heart. My recollections of each time someone I loved has died are so clear that I could write an entire book just on those sets of 60 seconds alone.
I get these fleeting flashes that I replay like a familiar song in my head before they disappear again. Of course I have memories of the fresh air that was breathed into my body when I finally, truly fell in love or the sound of my grandma saying “Amy, look-ey here” whenever she’d place a tricky puzzle piece. Of course my temporal lobe isn’t this damp, musty room where I go to brood, but it seems my ability to hold onto my most disturbing sensations is the strongest of all. Even though I can’t call it nostalgia because that implies a desire to go back, I can’t stop wearing out the rewind button, forcing myself to re-feel these things all over again.
Bad memories sprout up like strings in my brain that are too tempting not to pull… and pull and pull and pull and pull until my thoughts are set on fire. I braid my strings together and lay them out in the form of writing and soon I can bare to look at them. The way they tie together feels poetic. I’m not ashamed of holding onto these memories. In fact I think the way my body consistently tells me this is going to hurt is its way of protecting me from all that is yet to come.