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I'll Always Remember...
There are three thousand, four hundred and twenty eight cracks in the sidewalk on the way home from school. I had no choice but to remember counting them all once three years and ninety-six days ago. I remember everything that’s ever happened to me. My name is Kristen and I have hyperthymesia. As a familiar bench came into view, a string of words, memories, and dates immediately pop up in my mind. May 13th, 2006: my best friend Paige left her history homework here. August 8th, 2008: a guitarist was playing as I passed by; I gave him a quarter. March30th, 1999: tiedmyshoeshereforthefirsttimeallbymyself,December29th,2002:trippedwhileplayed hopscotchhereandscrapedmyknee. A dozen short clips of my past flashed before me, lasting only a couple of seconds until I can snap myself out of it and focus. This kind of thing happens so often that I’ve pretty much gotten used to it. I paused for a second to collect myself before continuing the generally monotonous and uneventful journey home.
A light breeze rustled the copper-brown leaves that collect along the path. One is swept off of a tree branch and I stop and wait as I caught it in my hand. I turned it over several times, studying it, before finally crushing it and blowing the pieces like confetti off my fingertips.
A crumpled up piece of paper catches my eye and I bent down to pick it up. Smoothing it out, I realized it was someone’s report card. ‘Where did I put mine?’ I wonder to myself, as if I could’ve forgotten. It was still stuffed in the back pocket of my second favorite pair of jeans, which I’d shoved into the deepest recesses of my closet. As my mind drifted off into a recap of the day, I went into autopilot and let my feet carry me home.
The next thing I knew, I’m flat on the ground with the contents of my book bag spilled over and an elderly lady glowering at me.
“Oh…I, erm…got distracted. I’m sorr –” I managed before she cut me off.
“Teenagers these days! Always got their heads in the clouds! No respect for their elders!”
“No, I-I uh, I can explain –”
She interrupted me again and the woman continued to rant to me as she grabbed her purse and the scraps of paper and receipts that had fallen out as I shoved my notebooks, papers, and other belongings back into my bag. I tuned her out, mostly focused on not making eye contact and attempting to ignore the ridiculous amount of musky perfume this elderly woman gave off.
“Are you listening to me?!” She shrieked, grabbing my hand as if she had the intent of biting it off or something.
Completely taken off guard, I jump and reply with a feeble, “Yes.”
After what seemed like an eternity, the woman finally brought her lecture to an end, released my hand, and turned to leave in a huff. Gingerly rubbing my fingers back to life, I started walking again, still in shock. As I was crossing the road, I realized my journal was missing. Behind the black leather cover I’d scribbled down my thoughts, and hopes; an alternate life without the burden of my memories. Then it struck me that I was carrying it and I must’ve dropped it when I…oh God. Retrieving my beloved journal would mean another encounter with her. ‘How would I even find her?’ I thought to myself. ‘Would she even give it back to me if I did?’ It started to rain, and I was thrust into another string of memories. Distracted, I didn’t realize that I was still in the middle of the street, and I didn’t see the skidding car coming until I heard its blaring horn and it was too late to move.
Suddenly – darkness. I opened my eyes for a split second, but something was wrong. I couldn’t remember anything. My mind went completely blank.
Beep. Plink. Drip. Vague noises float around me. Not quite registering; just there. My head feels heavy and groggy. I groan inwardly as a feeling of soreness washes over me. I cautiously pry my eyes open, blinking. ‘Where am I? What’s happened to me?’ My eyes eventually focus on a lanky nurse leaning over the side of my bed.
“Do you know what your name is?” The nurse asks tentatively.
“Do you know where you are?”
I shake my head and frown in distress and she tries to explain what had happened. I catch the words, “car accident… temporal lobe…amnesia…” Nothing makes sense to me.
“Wait…what?” I manage to sputter.
“Shh…” the nurse says, in a futile attempt to calm me down. “Your parents called; they said they were catching the first flight back from New York. They’ll be here tomorrow.”
She jots something down on a clipboard and starts to leave. “Oh, an elderly woman came by; she told me to give you this,” she adds, while pulling my black notebook out of her pocket and placing it on the bedside table.
“Wait!” I exclaim as she exits the room, ignoring my pleas. I tentatively conclude that I’m in the hospital, but I’m still lost in a whirlwind of confusion and frustration. I feel like I’ve been thrust into a twisted dream where you can’t remember the beginning. Why can’t I remember? I ask myself question after question. ‘How old am I?’ I come up with fifteen after a short pause. ‘What’s my birthday?’ Umm…birthday…summer? June-ish? I figure around June 3rd. Suddenly, I remember what the nurse said and grab the notebook. It seems familiar in some disconnected way that’s just out of my grasp. I flip open to the first page and start reading.
- They tell me it’s called hyperthymesia. But I don’t care. Just make it stop. I would give anything to forget it all… -
‘Hyperthymesia? What? Who is this anyway? Forget what? And what about that old lady? Wait, old lady…’ A faint memory surfaces, but the only thing I can pick up is a strong scent of musk. I moan in confusion and keep reading.
- What would life be like without all this? What if -
Suddenly, my fingers find a series of grooves etched into the bottom right hand corner of the cover. I close the notebook to find a small KB monogrammed into the lower right hand corner. ‘KB?…Kristen…Bell? This was mine? What? So I have…hyperthymesia, whatever that is? And what is this I’m apparently so desperate to forget?’ I think back to the old woman. She must be significant in some way... Then suddenly – a faint memory of falling. ‘Falling? Okay so there’s an old lady, musk, and falling…I think…maybe we crashed into each other? Hmm, that sounds right. So where did this happen? Oh, school! I was walking home from school! But then how did I get into the hospital?’ I flip my journal open again and keep reading.
- What if I was just like any other person? I would be forgiving my once-best friend for stealing my boyfriend. I could finally move on from April of two years ago. Instead of a never-ending stream of memories filling my mind, there would be a blissful, clear silence. I need to get out of this world. -
‘So this hyperthymesia…I couldn’t forget anything? That can’t be right – I don’t remember anything about a stolen boyfriend or what happened two years ago in April.’ Then a new thought hits me – ‘This journal is mine. How did some old woman get it?’ Even more confused than before, I skip ahead and hope that I’ll finally be able to make some sense out of this.
- …What if I pretend that I’ve forgotten? Will it make my life more bearable? I’d actually have friends then, you know. People would stop thinking of me as a freak...No one believes me when I tell them I’m not a straight A student. If only I could get them to understand that knowing the textbook word for word isn’t going to help you unless you can concentrate long enough to actually finish the test…I keep waiting for someone to wake me up out of this nightmare… -
I mull over the few pieces of the puzzle that I’ve managed to remember, hoping to spark some sort of revelation. Nothing comes. I open the journal to keep reading what I’d written, but my eyelids grow heavy and I drift off into sleep.
‘Falling, falling, falling…It feels like it’s been an eternity and I’m still falling. I frantically grope around me and grab for something, anything to stop this, but to no avail…Suddenly, THUD, I hit the ground but when I open my mouth to cry out, I can’t. I realize an elderly woman is leaning over my and yelling – wait, an old woman? The musk… Where’s my journal? My vision blurs before I can find it…Now I’m crossing the street, but I stop abruptly in the middle of the road. Car coming. Fast. Move. NOW. I try to will my feet to cooperate but it’s as if I’ve been chained to the ground. Petrified, paralyzed, I brace myself for impact –’
I jolt awake, nearly falling out of the bed. Instantly, everything comes together. I remember the entire scene down to the very last detail. ‘Will the rest of my memories come back too?’ I hastily grab a pen, flip open to a fresh page in my notebook.
- There are three thousand, four hundred and twenty eight cracks in the sidewalk on the way home from school… -