Tag Archives: memories

Memories

She says she studied at Yale, but it’s so hard to believe her when I remember it so vividly.

I met Kodi just a few months back. She was sitting in a café with a copy of Lord of the Rings on her table – or was that me? I was wearing a bright purple sweater and I approached her and took the book of the table while I made a joke about never having heard about it. I’m not really sure if it was a joke. And I’m not really sure if it was me or her that said it.

“Tolkien, what a strange name.”

It’s confusing, this amalgam in my head. There’s somewhere a dent in the conversation.

“Yeah,” she said. “Don’t you know him?”

“Not really,” I said. “Is he new?”

I laughed and looked at her face and the tight purple sweater. Continue reading

The Orange Sun and the Smell of Chocolate Chip Cookies

The sweet smell of chocolate, one of the warm and soft cookies melting on my tongue. My grandmother smiled, then turned back towards the sink to clean the tray.

The orange sun rained warmth on us. With my fingers still sticky I sneaked up to her side, grabbed a cookie from the white plate and quickly ran back to my chair.

“Hey,” she said. Then she laughed.

I reclined on my chair with both hands on the cookie. The backrest knocked against the only wood-paneled kitchen wall. A dull, hollow sound. Then my chair slipped.

During those two weeks in the hospital the orange sun and sweet chocolate air filled my head. That might be why this moment still lives so vividly in my wind. Whenever I remember that moment I can place my hand back into the scene; the coldness of the wooden chair and the warmth of the sunrays on my skin. It is the last memory in which I can still see my grandmother with brown hair. The movie that lives in my head just lacks the end; the fall. The best of hundreds of memories in that kitchen. Continue reading

I Just Want to Live Alone

I want to say this right away: I’m in my office now. I think I’m safe.

I shouldn’t have waited. That was my mistake; that’s the one thing that really is my fault. I shouldn’t have waited; I should have run while I still could; while things were still normal and sane.

I used to like my roommate. He was the artsy type, cheerful, always up for a beer. I don’t know what changed along the way, or when exactly he changed.

I first noticed it when his girlfriend moved in. The first days he was cheerful, then, after their first big fight, Martin began to act servile, submissive even.

She called herself Amaya but I was never sure whether that was her real name. On the letters that arrived for her there were at least three, maybe four different variations of the spelling and some altogether different names. She was somewhere from Asia, that was really everything I knew, and that she liked chocolate.

Either way, around the time Amaya moved in everything changed. It could also have been the job and visa trouble Martin had, or maybe just the winter weather; he became a different person.

Since then I lived in solitude. I paid my share of the apartment, but being in the living room or kitchen or even just to stay for long in the bathroom made me feel uncomfortable, as if I wasn’t quite welcome. They weren’t even in the living room that much – they too just stayed in their room – it was more that the apartment itself, the rooms with the wooden floors, bare white walls and mélange of furniture began to feel threatening.

Around that time my social life died. I can’t really blame my roommates for that, but the constant sense of discomfort, the shallow sleep and the feeling that somehow I was sinking into a black hole; the social part of my self was slowly slipping away. Work and the internet filled the place where once friends had been.

Apart from gray and stiff colleagues the only people that stayed in my life were Martin and Amaya. I thought I could sit it out; wait for the last six months of our contract to finish and then quickly find a new place and become a new and healthy person again. I shouldn’t have waited.

It seemed cute at first – they fought at night and in the morning Martin brought Amaya breakfast to say sorry. That day I left with a smile when I went to work.

When I came home Amaya was again – or still – in their room. Martin cooked and brought her food. At night I heard them shouting.

A week went by before I saw Amaya again. She looked sick and exhausted. Our conversation consisted just of “You okay?” and “Yeah.”

The next days she seemed happier, although the color didn’t really return to her face. I saw both of them occasionally in the living room where they were watching movies on their laptops. That seemed to be their only entertainment, the only thing I saw them doing at all. There was no artsy soul left in Martin; for Amaya I wasn’t even sure if there had ever been one.

My main connection with them was their noise; the way they were seemingly unable to keep any movie or piece of music at a sane volume; not to speak of their constant shouting. Whenever I asked them to be more considerate Martin said “sorry,” turned it down and – after I turned around but before I had even left the room – turned it up again.

They fought a lot. And after every long and loud nightly fight Martin brought Amaya breakfast and dinner for a few days. I hated the sheepish expression he had while carrying the food to their bedroom.

I lost track of my roommates. I forgot when I last saw them; I forgot even when I heard them last or what they were fighting about – although, for the hearing part, the guess “last night” and “something about love” would probably have been the right guesses for most days.

At some point our trash rotation system broke down. I stopped cooking and soon stopped feeling responsible for trash that I was sure wasn’t mine – and they just didn’t care. The kitchen began to smell of old fish, then of rotting fish, then of rotting fish and meat; the smell broke through the closed door, made the living room unbearable and finally invaded our bedrooms. The bathroom with its strong vent and moist air was the only refuge.

They had many fights, Martin loudly and Amaya with a weak voice that at some point always broke into crying. Often he cried too. I didn’t dare to interrupt their fights; twice I brought the trash bags with their nearly liquid contents out myself; then I took the passive-aggressive way of “please bring the trash out” text messages instead.

At some point the fights got shorter, then stopped. When Martin proudly told me that they were engaged I offered a celebration beer – but he refused and went out alone. I sent my congratulations to Amaya by text. She replied late at night with a simple “thx.”

From then on I didn’t see Amaya at all. It might seem strange in retrospect, but at the time I didn’t notice it. I barely ever saw her anyway and our encounters were usually so brief and so meaningless that my mind didn’t bother to remember them.

They only watched movies from then on. Occasionally I thought I heard them speaking between the movie dialogue – but I’m not really sure of that. I gave up and stopped complaining about the noise; I was just happy that the fights had stopped. I slept badly with the movie soundtracks blasting through the wall, but at least, without the fights, I slept.

I really can’t tell whether it’s been two or three months since I last talked to either of them. It’s not that I didn’t try – I definitely did on the few occasions that I saw Martin coming out of the kitchen with two large plates of food in his hands, but he just ignored me, squeezed past me and disappeared in their room.

He began to do weird stuff, as if he was trying to make me get angry or even more uncomfortable. He move furniture to strange places, turned the washing machine or microwave off while I was using it; used my kitchen utensils and even my toothbrush and left thick crusts of smelly brown or red stuff on the brush. No matter how many times I asked him to stop – first politely, then angry, then loudly – he never even responded. Instead he just continued whatever he was doing – usually to cook pieces of fish or large slobs of meat; to burn them a dark black in what used to be my nonstick pan.

The smell began to grow worse. I stopped eating even bread at home; I stopped actually being at home for anything but sleeping. When I signed up for a gym I told my colleagues I wanted to get fit for the summer; the truth is that I just wanted a clean shower.

Every day the same routine: Sleep; buy a croissant on the way to work; shower in the gym; work; eat lunch – sometimes alone, sometimes with colleagues; work; work overtime; eat a sandwich for dinner; sit in the office to video chat with family or waste time online; finally go home and try not to gag while falling asleep.

I was happy when the notice period came. I sent Martin an email and he replied that he would send the email off – his first words to me in months. Three days later I asked how it went; he replied that out message was too late and that we had to pay another month but then “it will end.”

That night I heard Martin leave the house. There were no tears rolling down my cheeks, but inside I cried at the prospect of being in that apartment for another three months. I had a drink to help me fall asleep, then a second and a third and I’m not sure how many after that. I never felt so lonely in my life. Lonely and drunk enough to fantasize about the pretty girl Amaya I met for the first time months ago. Lonely enough to think it a good idea to say “hello” to her.

After all, it’s not like we had any fights or anything. Amaya was quiet, but somewhat nice, most of the time. We just had lost track of each other, right?

The smell should have been a warning. People who live in such smell can’t be good people. My drunk mind told itself that it was okay, that it was probably just Martin’s messiness, dirty plates and they forgot too often to bring the trash out. I laughed at myself when I realized that I too was living in that smell; that I too couldn’t be a good person.

The loud movie dialogue told me Amaya was home. I knocked on the door to their room. No response.

I knocked louder and, when still no response came, finally banged on the door. There was a sound; I took it to mean that I could come in.

The door handle was sticky; the door hard to move.

When I pushed the door open a suffocating smell hit my face; like the burnt and moldy slobs of meat in the kitchen combined with the week-old rotting fish and topped off with old diarrhea.

It was nauseating; sickening; I had to take a step back to keep my dinner in my body. Still I felt the urge to say hello, to at least have some social interaction for the day.

I finally got myself to push the door further open and step inside the room. The thick curtains were drawn; illuminated by just the light of her laptop screen I saw Amaya’s shape on the bed. She was at least three or four times bigger than I remembered her.

“Hey.” I said and stepped inside; my foot hit some sticky mass. I suppressed the urge to run just like the one to vomit. Some fusion of alcohol and loneliness drove me forward; drove me to say “hello” again.

The floor was covered in dirty plates; trash bags; piles of rotting food; and so was the bed on Martin’s side. On Amaya’s side the trash was piled on her body, right on the ripped blanket.

Only at the foot of the bed I realized that the ripped cloth on her stomach wasn’t cloth. Her skin had ballooned and ripped open all through the middle. The rotting food wasn’t on her; it was spilling out of her; through a thick layer of a crusted, brown and red mass.

I left the door open for the police.

While running to the office the image of her bloated body refused to leave my mind. She must have been dead for months. I had seen pictures of bloated corpses, but none like hers.

Then, just when I arrived at the office, my memories clicked into place.

Dead for months. Still he always carried two plates.


This is my story, originally I published it on Reddit.

He Took My Sister

From the very beginning I didn’t like Erik. There is not much I remember from that age, but I remember that Erik scared me; whenever mom left the room I followed her, just so that I wouldn’t have to be alone with him. Mom often scolded me for that, especially if Gia was in the room too.

I was six back then and Gia was three. I loved playing with her, but in contrast to me Gia didn’t mind playing with Erik either. I hated it when he played with her, often I felt he just played with her to taunt me. Most of our evenings ended with mom in the kitchen and Gia in the middle of the living room with a ring of toys around her. On the one side, the side closer to the kitchen, was me, on the other side, towards the stove, was him. Gia was the barrier between us, the protective wall that kept us in place and at the same time kept me away from him.

I remember mom and Erik fighting about me. They never fought about Gia, they only fought about me. They fought often during the three months that Erik slept in mom’s bed.

“She hates me.” I heard Erik say.

“She will get used to having you around.” Was my mom’s reply. “She will think of you as her dad.”

My mom was wrong. She was wrong about everything. She was wrong when she told me that Erik was a good guy and that he was just trying to be nice. She was wrong when she told me that I should stop glancing around corners to see whether Erik was hurting Gia. And mom was wrong when she swore to me that Erik would never hurt me.

After those three months, when he left, Erik hurt me more than I could have imagined in my wildest nightmares.

In retrospect it’s strange to think back of the weeks where the nice lady talked to me nearly every day. I knew she was a police officer, I knew I could trust her. And still, every time she asked me whether Erik had touched me somewhere I said “No.” And I don’t think that I was lying. He really never touched me. He tried hugging me a few times, but he gave up when I kept running away. I think that’s why he chose Gia instead.

When I think back of the times where the nice lady asked me questions I remember three things: the way she smiled, how the teddy sheep in my arms made me feel safe, and that the lights on the Christmas tree were twinkling at the other end of the room, behind the couch.

In the years afterwards I knew that mom always cried around Christmas because of Gia; she didn’t cry because Erik left – she cried because Erik took Gia with him.

I always thought that important things stay with you, that you don’t forget the memories that matter in life. Then, shortly after I turned sixteen, I read the protocols that the nice lady did – the protocols of her interviewing my mom and me. I felt my stomach cramp when so many memories, so many paranoid habits and fears suddenly made sense.

I didn’t remember that I had told the police why I was scared of Erik. And of course I didn’t know the things mom told the police either.

I told the police that I was scared because Erik was often hiding behind my window. Mom told the police that I cried on the day that she brought him home for the first time. I told the police that he had the same smile behind the window that he had when he played with Gia. Mom told the police that she thought I was just inventing things; that she thought the boogeyman I’d been seeing outside my window for over half a year wasn’t real.

That day, when I read through the old protocols, much of my past suddenly seemed in a different light; suddenly those Christmas with my mother crying on the sofa seemed almost evil, nasty. I felt that for all those years mom had not just crying because of Gia, instead she cried because I warned her and still she let him in.

And maybe mom was also crying because originally Erik was at my window, not at Gia’s; she was crying because I stayed safe because I refused to be alone with him. Mom would have taken Gia to go gift shopping; instead she took me and left Gia with Erik.

From my sixteenth Christmas on Christmas was even worse than before. It was suddenly not just the time when mom cried – and of course I was sad too. Suddenly it felt as if mom was blaming herself, and it felt as if she was blaming me.

Those days, when she cried, mom was blaming herself because she had ignored my warnings. And she was blaming me because it should have been me. Erik was outside my window. He always tried to be friends with me. But I fought hard to get away from him; I was never alone with him. The one Erik wanted to take was me, but because he couldn’t get me he took Gia instead.

I’m 23 now. It’s been seventeen years and it always made me angry that mom couldn’t get over losing Gia. I’m not cruel and I don’t want to sound selfish, but for me the fact that she mourned Gia around Christmas felt like a knife in my back. It always felt to me that she wished it had been me, rather than Gia, and it felt to me as if she rather mourned a family that doesn’t exist anymore than spend time with the family she has – with me.

I feel dirty and guilty for it, but for years I felt angry at mom – angry that Erik might have taken one part of my family, but she took the second part.

A wedding invitation changed all that. It came about three month ago; a stray mail with my name on it. My name is fairly common and I’m used to getting holiday cards or other letters obviously not addressed to me because my address is the only one in my town that shows up in a cursory internet search.

“Together with their families Jennifer Swift and Greg Murray request the honor of your presence…”

I stopped reading because I knew neither of the two. As said, a common mistake.

There was no return address, just the address of a venue in Jamaica and an email to send the RSVP notice.

I sent a short note that they sent the letter to the wrong address. Within three hours I got a one-line response:

“Sorry to hear that. – Greg.”

The letter went in the trash and the memory fell out of my mind.

Then, last week, I got another email, an obvious mass message:

“We are sad that you weren’t able to attend – here are some of the photos from our wedding. Love, Jenn & Greg.”

I’m not sure if it was curiosity or the peeping tom-like instinct to look at private photos that you are sent; to see what other people’s lives look like.

The venue looked great, with open spaces, a beautiful beach backdrop and a perfect ceremony, but there weren’t many guests and even those looked uncomfortable. The groom stood at the altar with a smile on his face.

The bride looked ugly, nearly scary, in the way she was standing at the end of the aisle. Her nose was bent and despite the beautiful white dress several scars and blue and yellow bruises were visible on her face and arms.

On the next photo she was led down the aisle. The bride was crying.

It took me a moment to register it, to pull my eyes away from the scared bride and onto the man next to her. He held her arm gently, had a beer belly, and his hair and beard were gray. Still, I recognized first the beard and then the nose and finally the eyes. I hadn’t seen his face in seventeen years and still I held my breath and felt cold sweat running down my skin.

The man walking the bride down the aisle was Erik.

My mom came over. She cried when she saw the pictures – she cried just the same way she cried each Christmas.

It’s strange to discover that there are some important things you don’t remember, for example that your sister’s full name is Jennifer.

And it is even stranger to loathe your mom for many years for hurting you every Christmas; to loathe your mom for not allowing you to be happy and be a family – and then, one day, you learn that she was just protecting you. All those years, all those tears for Christmas she wasn’t mourning Gia, she was crying for Gia. She was crying because once a year, once every Christmas, she received an envelope with a photo inside – one photo of Gia, sitting on a stone floor and with dirt on her clothes and bruises on her face.


This is my story, originally I published it on Reddit.