I have approximately one real memory left of my mother. And today was the day I was going to lose it and forget her, presumably, forever.
According to the sticky notes and clipboards and torn off pieces of newspaper written over with permanent marker, my mother was a really good person.
One bright orange sticky note claimed that she was a field nurse; providing aid to those on the front lines of The Recollection Wars. In my own tiny scrawled handwriting, it proclaimed that she did this for over twenty years, far beyond the terms of a typical service contract. She was either a glutton for punishment, or a saint bent on making the world a better place one patient at a time.
On the inside cover of a dog-eared copy of Brave New World lay another hastily written clue about her. Apparently, she loved to sing. At least I assumed this to be true because in tiny font it had stated that she was a karaoke champion for seven years. I did not know if this was during her time in the service, her time with me as a babe, or sometime in between. Apparently, I had not found that information important. What I had found important was that she had won every time with a tearful rendition of the classic ‘Ode to Remembrance.’ Seemed like a sad song to sing karaoke to, much less win, but apparently people had loved it. I am sure I had loved it too. I must have seen at least one or two from the sidelines. What I wouldn’t give for the chance to see it again; even if it was with fresh eyes.
I also know that she had died young. I knew this not just because she was no longer here with me, because of an ancient photograph. I assume it is of me and her. I of course, have no memory of it. But when I compared the woman in the striped red and white swimsuit posing in the photograph to the woman hovering in my memory, I knew they were the same. The woman in my memory was older, wrinkle lines visible around her shining green eyes. But I could tell in this old photograph, it was her. And of course, another clue was that I was there too. Young, happy, and care-free. I couldn’t have been more than six years old.
On the back of the photograph was the only evidence I had as to what happened to my mother.
It simply stated ‘She died at age 49 from repeated b…’
Like I said, the photograph was old. And ripped in various places. One of the places it had been ripped was right over what caused the death of my mother. It was frustrating, knowing that I would probably never know what caused it. It was my fault; an old photograph was a truly awful place to write a ‘Last Fact.’ But sometimes you were out and about and needed something desperately. And had to trade a memory for whatever it was. You only have a few seconds to jot down the basic facts of that memory on whatever scrap of paper or material you have lying around at the time. Apparently, I had only had the photograph on me that day. I don’t know. I must have traded that memory sometime, too.
I hope that whatever I traded that last bit of information on my mother for was worth it. But then again, maybe it was not. Maybe moments after her death I had rushed outside to trade it in for whatever I first saw, desperate to be rid of the pain. Maybe I had traded the last memory of my mother for life saving medical attention. Or maybe it was for a street pretzel. There was really no way of knowing.
Living in a world where memories are the currency may seem like a utopia. Trade the memory of your morning cup of coffee for some breakfast on the way to work! Seems ingenious, yes? No one needs all of all of all those million meaningless moments! But everyone has to eat! It’s a perfect system!
That is until you get to work. And you think to yourself ‘Oh! I haven’t had any coffee today’ so you have another big mugful and get a piercing headache. And your boss comes in and asks you why you were 15 minutes late. You know it was for a good reason. But you won’t remember the 10 car pileup you spent thirty extra minutes in this morning. Because on your commute to work, you were finishing up your morning cup of coffee. Then you’re in trouble at work. Things don’t get better when you can’t, for the life of you, remember that brilliant idea you had about this month’s project that you had promised your team would be brilliant. You hadn’t realized it, but you first had that thought, in your car, in the pileup, drinking your morning cup of coffee.
Things like this could get out of hand very quickly. On the lesser side you could drink a lot of coffee and maybe lose your job. On the greater hand, people often died or made life altering mistakes.
Of course, these were usually the kind of things that only affected the poor. The rich could afford to hire memory tutors. These very expensive specialists spent hours manually constructing memories as well as practicing storage and retrieval. Why would you need to trade the memory of this morning’s coffee when you have a pure, untainted yet specific memory for learning the word dog in 80 different languages? These memories were premium too. Normal memories degrade with time. Whether that time is three hours ago or three decades ago, the specifics get hazy. The hazier the memory, the less it was worth. But Memory Tutors taught their client how to keep each memory they created with high-definition accuracy. A rich person’s memory of the word carrot in Welsh could be worth more than a normal person’s memory of an entire Christmas holiday.
That’s what the Recollection Wars had been about. About every person’s right to cherish, hate, be bored by and keep their own memories. But like history has shown, war is not kind to the poor. The rich had plenty of spare memories to sell for weapons, for soldiers. But the poor had to finance it by selling memory after memory after memory until they could not remember or even comprehend what they were fighting for. When everything was finally over, and we had lost, they let us remember seeing those who could not remember anything to remind us what could happen if we rebelled again.
So many were left Empty Headed. Past the point of knowing not just what they were doing; but where and who they were. All but memories of the last few moments striped from their heads. No one really knew where that threshold for the Empty Headed began. It seemed to be different for every person. Some have to sell almost everything to cross into that territory. But some who have a pretty good grasp on who they are and what they believe in accidentally sell whatever is their own magic number, and lose themselves forever. And that was a fate worse than death.
That’s why I had to sell the very last memory I had of my mother. Times were tight. I have been having to sell way more memories than I was comfortable with to get by. I felt myself begin to slip away. Forget little things about myself. Where I was born. The name of my first girlfriend. Then it got bigger. Entire months at a time, just covered in blackness. Not because I had sold them. But because I was losing them and myself.
I knew that I could not progress any further. The more treasured or important a memory was, the more it could be worth. The memory of your morning coffee may buy you lunch. But the memory of the last cup of coffee you had with your grandma could feed you for an entire week. Finality was also worth a lot. ‘Lasts and first buys more than dessert’ the old saying went.
And this. The last memory of my mother. Would be able to buy peace of mind. It would buy me…myself.
I walked to the hallway closet and pulled out my peacoat. It was December and so New York was freezing.
‘At least I remember that much,” I think to myself as I slip my arms in. By the front door, I reach of the shelf. I grab my keys and my CIARD bracelet. Citizen Information and Remembrance Device. It contained pertinent information about you, information that was accessible to others, even if you sold the memory.
For example, if you sold the memory of you robbing a bank, the bracelet would alert all others that you were dangerous, even if you did not know why.
I slip on my bracelet and head out into the frigid air. I take my time walking to The Memory Bank, savoring the last few moments I have with my mother.
I had been young, ten or eleven. My mother and I had gone to the beach for the day. This was a very rare treat. My mom had little time for adventures.
It was gorgeous out, the sun blaring through the clouds. We spent the whole day together. Body surfing the freezing waves. Building sand-palaces and then destroying them like epic monsters attacking. We ate hot dogs and ice cream, played games and napped in the gentle salt air.
At the end of the day, as the sun was setting over the waves, I looked at my mother, face burned, eyes blurry from tiredness.
“I will remember this day forever,” I had said, eyes filling. My mom grabbed my hand and squeezed, and we watched the sun dip over the horizon.
“I sure hope you do, my son.” she said.
And I had always remembered it. Until now. I waited in the line, hearing beep after beep as the people in front of me exchanged moments of their lives for capitalistic opportunity.
“Next!” a bored looking man yelled. I moved forward.
“I have the last memory of my mother. I was about ten years old. We were playing on the beach.”
The worker readied his equipment. I started shaking, tears falling wordlessly from my eyes. I held her in my brain. This wonderful woman who had saved lives, sung without fear, and always been there for me. I didn’t know that last one for sure. But I felt it in my heart.
The scanner beeped.
I held her in my mind.
I held her in my mind.
I held her…
The worker handed me a sheet of paper. It instructed me to head to a debriefing room. Also on the paper was a very large sum of money. This large of a sum of money would get me through, for sure.
Somewhere, in the back of my mind, a part of me wept.
But the rest of me was just confused; unsure as to why I was here. I walked into the debriefing room, ignorantly hoping to find some answers.