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A Mnemosyne story
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I woke tangled in my sheets. The warm lethargy of a fresh waking prevented me from unraveling myself, and when I tried, I simply twisted myself tighter until I rolled off of the bed. The sudden jolt of rolling against my bedside stand propelled me fully into the waking world and I managed to scrabble the sheets the rest of the way off of my legs.
My bed was empty. I wasn't surprised, as many mornings when I brought someone home from The Horizontal they wouldn't be there when I woke. The corners of my lips raised of their own volition as I thought about the previous night. It has been a good night, in the end. Theodore had helped me take my mind off of . . .
As that through flashed through my brain, the remaining fuzz of waking blew away like grass on the wind, leaving me cold and naked to the truth. Theodore was gone when I woke. I was terrified that he was gone entirely, not just from my room and bed, but from the entire world. Suddenly I was on my feet, as if I hadn't bothered to get up at all, merely went from laying to standing with no intervening movement.
There was no sign of Theo anywhere in the room. No shoes, no clothes, nothing. I knelt down on the bed, trying to find some sign of where he had lain through the night, but I'm no detective. There was no chalk outline of a body on my bed, so I couldn't tell if he had ever even been there. A wave of frustration rolled into me like the tide, filling my muscles with a need to snap and flail out at the world. I punched the bed a few dozen times, then buried my head in a pillow and screamed for all I was worth.
I had known this would happen, and I felt the sour pang of regret in my gut as guilt replaced frustration. Theodore had been there—had been something there—something about him that I liked that felt special. I felt as though I had let him down. There had to be something wrong with me if I could let someone I felt that connection with slip out of my mind so easily, and so quickly. Had he faded while the bed was still warm?
My alarm began to blare as I lay face down on the bed, my head still in the pillow. I flailed at it until I managed to turn it off, and then rose and went into the living room.
There, on the table in front of the television, was a cup of coffee from the JavaHut down the street. Dark black letters in marker stood out on the side. "Had a good time. Call me." Then, a phone number.
I started laughing hysterically, then picked the cup up and kissed it. The coffee inside had long since gone cold, but I didn't care. I drank it and danced around my living room naked, crowing like one of Peter Pan's Lost Boys.
There was a gladness that blossomed in my chest as I danced, a gladness that grew until it warmed my naked skin. I had not realized until then how alone in the world I felt. I was a person of magnetic pushes and pulls, with people surrounding me my entire life. As my world had faded, so too did any feeling of connection with it, as if I was severing any emotional ties I had with the rapidly vanishing existence around me. The emptiness inside me mirrored the growing emptiness around me, leaving me hollow and listless. For the first time since the fear of my own memory had begun, I felt hopeful.
In fact, I felt in love, which was ridiculous. I am a passionate person by nature, though I full admit to my own cold and calculating judgments of people, but even I know that falling in love with someone after a single torrid night is a falsehood bred of hormones and adrenaline. Logic, however useful in most situations, unfortunately has little sway when the horses of Cupid seize the bit and run. I twirled in place with a smile on my face and crowed to the heavens, feeling hope and need fill my skin to the bursting.
Refreshed, I rushed to my room and threw on a robe, determined to finish a few house chores that I had neglected in my sojourn into apathy. I had work that day, and the bus waits for no man, so I knew I had to hurry. There are few times in which I can be caught leaving my apartment for any reason in a state of disarray, but I was so buoyed by the new feeling of affection that I decided to run down to the dumpster in only my boots and bathrobe to dispose of my garbage. I wanted to feel the cold against my skin and let it burn at me for a moment before I rushed back inside to a warm shower.
The energy swirling inside my chest began to leak out like air from a pricked balloon as soon as I opened the trash compactor. The bag was empty, and the smell of fresh plastic wafted out of the machine as I stared down into it. There had been at least a week's worth of trash in the bag yesterday. I had drunkenly thrown a few of the empty wine bottles into the compactor last night, after Theodore and I had finished them off. There had been no telltale clatter of glass on metal as I tossed them in, and there were no bottles in the bag that morning. For all I know, they vanished in thin air just after leaving my hand. The despondency that had plagued me for days returned to crush down on my shoulders, forcing me toward the floor. I staggered out into the living room and slumped against my book shelf.
The shelf in my living room had been neglected for quite some time, though I never allowed a disgusting layer of dust to form. It was there mostly for show, as I was not a reader by choice. In my mind every living room contained a bookshelf of some type, filled with volumes of important literature, as well as more useful books like dictionaries and The Joy of Cooking. I most likely formed this picture of the adult living space from television, and much like on television, my books were never taken off of the shelf for actual use.
What attracted my attention was the fact that a significant portion of the books I had purchased and placed on the shelf where now conspicuously absent. I had made certain that the shelf had been full from one compressed particle board wall to the other, but now nearly half the space sat empty and staring like the eye sockets of a terrible skull, silent and accusing of the life that had been lost. Looking over the titles, I could not even place which titles had vanished, which was most likely what caused the problem in the first place. As I stared at the empty air where my books at been, a niggling curiosity sprang up in my brain.
The books on my shelf had been classics, considered part of the Western canon. I was dimly aware that entire fields of research had been done on these books; each had spawned a veritable sub-genre of critical literature pursued by academics from around the world. Did those who studied these texts wake to suddenly find the central aspect of their world gone? Were their lives rearranged as if the books had never existed? Did the people themselves disappear? The thought was maddening, an ever widening gyre descending into itself for eternity. The world is a myriad of connections in infinite complexity, and the mind cannot conceive of what would happen should some strands of the web were simply to disappear.
The empty spaces on the shelf were not the true brutal blow struck at me while I stared at the shelf. The full extent of the madness spreading before me was revealed in the volumes of my Encyclopedia Britannica. I had received the collection as a gift from Papa Poppa upon entering college, and despite the enormity of the books, I carried them with me from living space to living space. There were over thirty books in the set, composed of literally millions of words and thousands of images. At least, there had been over thirty books in the set when I last moved it. Looking at the shelf, there were fewer than twenty. Seventeen, to be exact. The encyclopedia had been nearly halved.
To say that I was rocked would be an understatement. It had not occurred to me that the world had been vanishing on more than an individual scale - one thing at a time as they ceased to be in my consciousness. Though I knew the feeling was naïve, I had always regarded the Britannica as a representation of the world at large, encompassing a canvas of reality as we knew it within its glossed white pages. Now half was missing.
What did the missing articles represent? Missing concepts and materials from the world? Or simply missing volumes from one set of encyclopedias? What was disappearing? Things I had never known, or only things I had forgotten? There was no way to know. I was seized with the feeling that nothing was real beyond the walls of my apartment, and that a great force was pulling at the walls, which would soon tear asunder and leave me floating in a void of nothingness. I slid down the bookcase and curled into a ball on my side, trying to still the feeling of vertigo.
The sound of my alarm waking from the sleep cycle into which I had put it forced me to my knees. The buzzing reminded me of waking, which in turn reminded me of Theodore. The thought of his hand on my shoulder, and his lips against mine was enough to make me nearly literally kick myself in the ass to rise and continue with my day. I was the new boss of IT at SitSurvey, and I would be damned if I was going to miss the thing for which I had worked so hard.
My shower passed easily, so easily that now I am convinced that it most likely never occurred at all, since I cannot remember it. All I recall is that nearly all of my bathroom supplies were missing, which was fine with me, since what I actually used remained. It was unsurprising that my closet remained full. I made my clothes purposefully part of my self-definition, and spent a great deal of time planning outfits and categorizing my collection. As a final act of self-affirmation, I recorded Theo's number in my cellphone so that I could call him on my lunch break.
I tried to add some spring to my step as I walked down the sidewalk to my bus stop. The false sense of buoyancy I affected nearly sent me crashing to the icy pavement, and after I recovered I resorted to purposefully sliding on the ice patches like a child. The momentary loss of control as I slid felt both good, as the wind whipped past and bit my cheeks, and terrifying, as the world around me seemed even less permanent.
I waited at the bus stop for nearly an hour before I finally realized that the bus wasn't coming. In all of the time I had lived at my apartment, I had never bothered to memorize my route number, as only one bus route passed near enough to take. The bus had existed at the edges of my world, in the fuzzy zone of things you depend on, but to which you pay little attention. Now it too was gone.
The frustration and complete loss of control pulled the last energy from my legs, and I sank down to the sidewalk and wept. I smashed my fist against the ice underneath me again and again until it whitened and split apart. This was not my life, and I could not, would not have it. I was in control, and I was desperate to prove it. I'd found some hope in Theodore, and I would hold on to that as hard as I could, even if it meant bending the whole world to my will.
Story and image by Nick Bergeron, Copyright 2010