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This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

The first time the Memory seeped through was in freshman year of high school, sitting in 4th period lunch across from my girlfriend of two weeks, Ruthie. We had just learned about genes with the Punnett square, and I could see her doodling those boxes in her notebook, fantasizing about her future family.

        “Do you think our kids would have my curly hair, or your straight hair?” she asked innocently.

        “I don’t want kids.” – I never realized that’s how I felt, but the Memory was returning to me, filling my veins like acid down a drain.

        “What? Why not?” Ruthie’s daydream was being unceremoniously popped like a bubble.

        “What if I poisoned it by accident and it died vomiting? Imagine waking up to your baby in a crib, surrounded by vomit and pee-”

        “Ew, stop it! What’s wrong with you?”

        She didn’t think it was funny to joke about a baby dying. I wasn’t. That was the end of the relationship. Two weeks. That became my benchmark for how long I thought people could tolerate me…

        <When I was eight, I should’ve told my mother to turn the car around.>

        In college, my roommate Ken also didn’t want kids.

        “Kids are gross. Running around, yelling their heads off. Plus, in this economy? Forget it, total drag on your finances.”

        But I didn’t like his tone. He was too nonchalant, tossing a football in the air, perfect exam scores on the table in front of him.

        The Memory made me hate him for that answer.

        “I don’t know, I kind of like kids…” I weakly fought back.

        “Didn’t you say you didn’t want kids though?” Ken pushed back, holding the football for a moment, staring me down. 

        “Well… yeah… because kids can just die randomly. Imagine you build a treehouse for them- actually, no, not even. What if they just climbed a tree, any random tree? Then they fall, break their spine, bite their tongue, choke on their blood-”

        Ken laughed, thinking I was joking in the way his frat brothers might have.

        “I’m serious,” I said, the Memory hammering the nail in my coffin. He gave me the out and I didn’t take it. 

        Now Ken looked at me like I was gross. Like a cockroach. “What’s wrong with you?” he scoffed. That led to me being shunned by him for the rest of the year. Social life ruined.

        “What’s wrong with you?” – that’s exactly what my mom asked me years ago when I stopped saying anything during that car ride. 

        <It was right after the dentist. I was smiling because I didn’t have cavities and my younger brother did. I was holding my Spider-Man sticker like a trophy, looking out the window during the car ride home. I still remember the exact street we were on, just a few blocks from our elementary school…>

        I tried explaining all of this to my first ever therapist, Elaine, just the other day. I’m still not sure how I survived until twenty-five without therapy. But before I could explain, she chuckled a bit.

        “I’d say it’s fairly common for men your age to not want kids. My husband didn’t. But now, look at us.” Elaine showed me a family photo, four smiling kids. All healthy. All alive still. Presumably. “You might need to meet the right girl, that’s all.”

        The Memory barged in. It wasn’t about finding the right girl or guy or whatever…

        “But just imagine,” I began, letting the Memory take the wheel again. “You could have the most loving partner in the world. But all it takes is for one of you to turn your back for a second. Just a second. Maybe you were unloading groceries. And your kid runs out onto the street for whatever random reason. And there’s a car and it’s speeding and suddenly… you have to pick up your kid’s body, cut in half, organs trailing down the street… and that’s just your life from then on.”

        Elaine gave me the look Ruthie gave me. The one Ken gave me. The one everyone gives me at some point. But Elaine held on to hope just a second longer than everyone else did.

        “That’s not a normal thought. It’s your anxiety talking. Let’s dig to the source,” she prodded.

        I took a deep breath. And I let the Memory drown me.

        <That day, the woman was in a navy-blue blazer and a skirt. High heels. I couldn’t hear from the car but as a kid I already imagined the click of her heels on the brick sidewalk.

        She had a baby in a stroller. Pushing it along. Her ponytail was bobbing back and forth. I didn’t think so at the time, but looking back, she was pretty. But her stroller’s front wheels got snagged on something. Tipped over. Baby fell headfirst on the concrete brick I was just imagining the clicks against.

        A different woman rushed to the mom who scrambled to her baby. I couldn’t hear any cries from the car. But I saw the mom’s mouth open in shock. Then the light turned green, and my mom drove away. She didn’t even notice it happen.

        I have no clue what happened to the baby.>

        “Some days I do hear the woman scream. Some days I see blood on the brick pavement. Some days I can look right into the baby’s open head, catching a glimpse of unformed brains about to spill out…” My mind is gasping for air, trying to escape from the Memory. But I continue.

        “Does that make sense? I should’ve told my mom to turn the car around so I could’ve seen if the baby was okay. But I said nothing. To her, it was just a regular visit to the dentist. But it wasn’t to me. Threw the Spider-Man sticker away too, tore it to pieces actually. Then I threw up that night. Never told anyone else about it. And now… here I am.”

        Elaine looked shocked. Insulted actually. The benchmark for people tolerating me had now shrunk to less than thirty minutes. She leaned forward to explain how I was “catastrophizing” a woman’s tragedy as an excuse for my anxiety.

        “Potential” tragedy.

        The rest of her speech was drowned out by thoughts swirling in my head.

           “Oh. Okay. I get it.” I nodded, already realizing I was too scared to ask for a different therapist to help me.

June 23, 2023 03:13

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1 comment

Richard Seven
23:49 Jun 28, 2023

Nice, substantial story. Although your style is direct, you might want to simplify some of the sentences. I'm a bit dense, but the Memory could have been better explained/expressed. Good job.


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