This is a story Hector told about someone he went to boot camp with: there was a guy Hector went to boot camp with who was an idiot. One time when they were lining up for inspection, this guy got yelled at because he had put his pants on backwards. He zipped them up and buttoned them backwards without realizing it because he was an idiot. One time he asked Hector to read a letter he was writing to a girl back home and that was when Hector learned this idiot had beautiful cursive handwriting. I asked Hector if what he wrote was also beautiful. He said no, just the handwriting.
Hector told me that story in Nikhil’s kitchen on the day of Olivia’s funeral. I would have told you about Olivia’s funeral earlier, but all I did was stand and stare and move a couple of feet and stand and stare and cry and find my hands and move a couple of feet and stand and stare. Except one moment when I saw her body and two things happened.
The first was that she was not there. When I’m in crowds, I can feel the lives churning in strangers. Even if they’re asleep you can tell they’re alive―not that you see their chest rise and fall or they twitch a bit, but that their dreams are spinning and you know what that’s like. Olivia not being anywhere was like hearing static your whole life and then silence for the first time. I am not a spiritual person.
The second was that I felt the universe swell with regret. That is why we have open caskets: to shame the universe. There’s no reason for any of it, but there’s an infinite number of timelines in which this didn’t happen. We open the casket to make the universe look at the cost of its recklessness.
So we all got drunk. Or at least I got drunk enough to lose track of whether anyone else got drunk. I knelt in the street with my sister and held her shoulders and touched the crown of my head to hers so that my tears fell straight into the asphalt without rolling down my face and asked her to please never die because if she died I would die.
I felt okay because I had told all the people I loved that I loved them. On Monday work was fine and on Tuesday Brian asked me which donut flavor he should try and I couldn’t reply because I was suddenly weeping.
Every time I cried I worried that it would be the last time. Grief is clumsy, but I was afraid if I set it down for a moment, I would never pick it back up. I went a couple weeks without crying and without thinking about Olivia and without thinking about how I wasn’t crying. Then Anika came to my house and brought Hector too and we cried in my living room and we cried in a stranger’s living room and when Hector and I went out in the rain for cigarettes we cried in the gas station parking lot.
Corinne said she had been writing down memories she shared with Olivia of which she is now the sole rememberer. Olivia had more memories that were just hers and now no one remembers them. You can’t destroy energy, so somewhere the energy from those neurons that fired when she remembered things is not being destroyed. An elephant never forgets.
Corinne is wrong because she was the only one who ever had her memories. Time can be shared, or near enough, and space can be shared within reason, but memories can’t be shared.
This is a story Anika told Hector and me when we were crying in my living room: Anika had a friend who invited her to a Super Bowl party that Anika did not want to go to but went to anyway. Later that friend told Anika that that night was the anniversary of the day she stopped cutting herself. Up until then, Anika thought they had a shared memory of drinking PBR and watching Katy Perry’s halftime show.
I know this too. I have memories of what I have done and memories of what was done to me and I can’t share those with the people who were done to or did. I can’t share the memory of lying on our backs at an art museum and talking about our dreams which we all have trouble remembering because that night we all had dreams that paid some tribute to that day and they were all different. No one knows why we laugh but one theory is that it’s a sort of sigh of relief that somebody else understood you or that you understood somebody else.
When you remember your memories, you are dismembering them and remembering them and so like a game of telephone they sound like “She knew that I loved her” when the original phrase was “I can’t think of when I last called her.” Rarer recollections are more accurate ones, and our truest memories are like giant squids in that we never see them but sometimes we find their tentacles washed up on the beach. I have memories I can’t remember.
The memories of goldfish only last three seconds and so they have the freest wills. All the decisions you make are based on all the things that have happened as a result of the decisions you’ve made in the past, but if you don’t remember your decisions, maybe you aren’t making them. The only real decision I ever made was my first one and I can’t remember what it was.
I’m trying not to taint old memories with new ones or false ones, though it’s tempting because I could let the new ones ruin everything and never have to cherish the old ones again, or I could replace them all with the memories I could make up.
Ria Vell is a tall girl who lives in Washington D.C. She used to work in an office but now she works in a restaurant. Say hi or tell her your secrets at @33demetria on Twitter.