content warning: sexual violence
I walk outside and am met with morning dew in the grass and morning crust in my eyes. The air is chilled, dirty, and dry—a bulldozer invades my lungs. Weird nostalgia-filled metallic smog flows into my mind as if I am spray painting carcinogens onto hot steel doors. My dad’s memories, fast approaching, make for grimey mornings. I change the station on my phone to Soft Indie Acoustic and cover my nose.
Last night’s dream arrives biweekly now: a white soldier clad in steel armor marches into my home, his face obscured through a visor. There is a brown man and child with me and an older woman on a bed. The brown man stands before me with arms outstretched as I hold my child close. The white soldier proceeds to shoot my mother, then a sword appears and spears through my husband and my child. I can feel the tip barely grazing my protruding belly as my clothes are soaked red. My baby dies from the fear inside me. A blanket made of innards.
Some of my friends convinced me a couple months ago to get off of my pills. Mom always thought they looked like candies. Bright indigo M&M’s meant to calm the memories impeding one’s pursuit of happiness. My friend’s overprotective mother never let her take them, because they lead to high blood pressure, or cancer, or maybe chronic acne. I take them with accutane every morning. My other friend quit in freshman year on a New Age cleansing spree to commemorate his freedom from parental authority. He would preach that it’s as easy as going vegan, and facing the experiences that hold us back can make us stronger and wiser. I thought maybe it could enhance my life, going ‘all natural,’ and I wanted to see what I was missing out on, so I quit too.
Memories overwhelmed me for a few weeks. Memory medication is like a dam preventing memories from overflowing. The internet warned that I would go through withdrawal. My friend offered me bags of weed to get through the initial week, and the dam slowly gave way. I don’t remember much of what happened, but I somehow made it to class everyday and remembered to call my parents on Fridays.
I first started my dosage when I learned to talk back. The memories made me even more insufferable in primary school than I already was. Recommended by my teacher. Required, even. I had forgotten what being off medication was like. As if I could reference dozens of past lives through a neural flash drive. I gained an illusion of emotional maturity, and the world had a new glowing aura. Like my retinas grew several layers of recognition. Everything had a connotation, I knew so much about the world, from the plants to the fish in the sea.
Making my way to my usual coffee shop, I get a glimpse of black rim glasses approaching me. I make a quick turn towards the entrance.
“Hey,” I hear behind me as I lunge for the door handle and I nearly trip—the kind of stumble that my mom would have if she heard my grandma yelling for her to come wash clothes. She’d watch her siblings through the rusty mirror above the sink while she did laundry.
I can tell it’s him through the window reflection. I don’t usually go for tall attractive types, but I can't help feeling like my weight just doubled instantly. I turn and am met with a kind smile.
“You dropped your wallet.”
From somewhere, my parents’ social awkwardness pushes me into further anxiety.
“No problem.” And I look over to the coffee shop.
“See you around.”
I see this boy almost every day but have never noticed him in this light before. Lately, my grandfather’s memories fuze into my skin and give me sour feelings of obsession. My medication must have numbed those emotions.
Before coming to school a few years ago, I watched an award-winning romantic comedy. My sister was working to forget her failed marriage and our mother suggested that we bond as siblings.
“Oh, your grandma knitted? My great grandma also knitted, I want to grow old like that one day.”
“I want to be with you forever. Let’s have sex like our ancestors did in the Middle Ages.”
And they kissed.
“I feel like our love is as real as my grandparents’.”
“My grandparents fought a lot, but they still loved each other through it all. Just like us. I love you.”
My sister sobbed. She lost her husband to a World of Warcraft addiction and once threw a dish at him in a fit of frustration. He pressed charges a year later, and now she’s still on probation, taking memory pills every other day.
I can see now why she needed to throw a plate at him. We don’t necessarily have the most iconic love stories in our heads. But one day I will find someone to enlighten me with lifetimes of love stories. I hope that he is carefree, like in my dreams.
The guy I run into seems like it. I heard from a mutual friend that he majors in philosophy. Poetry and film are his ‘passions.’ And he never takes pills, only acid. I would lie to my parents that he studies law, just as I had convinced them that I was taking engineering classes, and one day we will escape to backpack the Alps or float on a gondola through Venice. A love story that I will live to see.
My neck aches from lying on the library bench. I have a talent for being able to sleep anywhere at any time. I think I got it from my dad, from when he did maintenance in my city’s anthropology museum. The work was far away from my mom and sister, so he lived in the museum, sleeping on the wooden benches he made and taking naps by the blueberry gardens in the courtyard. He told me that dreams in 20-minute naps felt like 20 lifetimes.
The last lifetime is always the clearest, close to a dream: I was married to a brown man who never loved me. One day a light skinned man came into my life. He was similar to the white soldier from my other dreams, but this time I could see his face. And he greeted me with a handsome smile and white irises.
In the dream, I could not understand him. Retrospectively, I could tell he spoke Spanish. A different accent from my mom’s or father’s. But it was like I did not know any Spanish at all. Or English. I replied, “No, I am a married woman,” in a language foreign to me, yet familiar.
He kept coming every day. Teaching me Spanish, and I fell in love. One day the lighter man came and killed the brown man. I moved into a beautiful house in the nearby colonial town with him. But the flowers grew foul when I learned of my love’s temper and fist. Years went by and I bore a green-eyed son. And I gave the remainder of my love to him until I died.
I asked him to get lunch together.
I imagine us having a picnic on a meadow. Two children and a house. I could cook my mom’s recipes, passed down through centuries, while he would read on the couch.
My friends never know what to say about my dreams. And my family doesn’t know that I stopped taking medication, but I never wanted these thoughts to stop.
My class was a socratic seminar full of clear faces with a tall white man speaking about colonialism and critical race theory. He spoke of social responsibility and showed images of poor brown children with their mothers. Then he showed a picture of his wife, who he found in Nicaragua ten years ago. It was her birthday, and he was ending class early. I didn’t turn in the writing response; maybe he’ll finally fail me. I just wanted to go to my room to think of all the ways my crush will make me happy.
Lately, it’s been hard to watch porn. I have flashes of my dad calling my dead uncle a maricon, which my mom used to tell me were men who wanted to be women. My uncle’s body was caught in bed with another man. Both naked and brown and awkwardly shaped. Then beaten and limp and strewn over the bedside like a Renaissance painting I once saw in another lifetime when I had blue eyes. It didn’t bother me too much because the men in adult films look really good.
Of course my father is apathetic now. He’s kind of taken a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to the whole gay thing, so I don’t get offended. I think he just really hated his brother.
When I look at the boy with black-rimmed glasses, I kind of forget about our sexual orientation. It feels just like a friendship that blends my appendix in a food processor, and I want to serve it to him with a side of chips.
My mother’s face buzzes on my phone. I cancel the call.
Lonely nights far away from family are the worst. I miss my family. A month has passed since I began working in these halls. The white men want me to work harder. And harder. My children can’t live this way. They need a better life. My life is over. Every day, I’m working.
There’s a tap to my forehead and I wake up. My professor’s face hovers above. His glasses glare up the greens in his eyes. People with colored eyes have always looked possessed to me. Like their pupils shot needles that could pierce through my heart.
“You all might want to study for the final exam. Perhaps especially those of us who are memorially disadvantaged.” That’s what they called people who took medication in the academic world.
The attendance roster listed students who were medicated. So teachers would understand.
The green halos glared at my unshaven face. I did feel smarter off of my medication, but never as smart as I should be.
“I will be holding my office hours later today.”
A kind proposal, and in that, a trap.
I wait outside class with my friend. He lights a cigarette and I secondhand smoke.
Even though the spark of the lighter does remind me of when my mother used to work at the fireworks factory. She saw a child blow his hand off.
My friend didn’t hold the cigarette by the bud.
“Be careful with the fuse.”
“The hot part. Don’t let it touch your finger”
He rolled his eyes, chuckling.
“Thanks. But I like smoking this way. You know, my grandfather used to smoke like this right in front of this door when he went to school. He was a badass.”
My mom used to clean classrooms at my middle school. My sister was always embarrassed. Eventually she stopped working there.
I took one last smell of the cigarette. I used to do it out of nostalgia, but now I feel as though I am my father.
“See you later, I’m running late.”
I put my headphones on max to cover up the fireworks popping all around me.
I open my eyes. There’s loud music and the floor is shaking.
My friend pulls me up.
I kissed another guy tonight. His lips felt like a dry lizard’s. Two corpses swapping spit. He tried grabbing me but the touch felt unreciprocated.
When I pushed away, someone shoved me, and I landed on a couch out cold dreaming of the time my parents tried conceiving my older sister. My mom was asexual even if she didn’t know what that meant, but she really wanted a child.
“We should get out of here,” she said, obviously drunk out of her mind.
I don’t usually go out, but I thought I was horny enough, and my friend insisted. She was trying to run into a boy, but drank too much vodka instead.
“Hey, isn’t that the guy you’re really crushing on?”
I look over and can’t really tell from the shadows across the street. Mom’s anxiety pumps adrenaline into my body. She had an embarrassing crush on her second grade teacher, who had always helped her with math, but my mom never acted on it. Luckily, she had to drop out to work at the local fireworks factory. My grandfather only had enough money to get his sons through school.
The streetlight revealed his face for a moment, and I see his black rim glasses reflective, almost metallic. My friend’s weight shifts and she throws up on my shoes. His image recedes back into shadow.
I walk her to her room and end up staying the night just in case. I sing lullabies to her. My mom would sing them to my sister every night until she went to sleep. Sometimes she would fall asleep singing. And I dream of the life and children I could have one day.
Every morning I wake up more confused, but the dreams have a more real and less feverish quality to them than when I was a child.
Today, I imagined wearing my mom’s veil.
It’s the last week of the semester. I’m eating breakfast, later accompanied by the boy with black-rimmed glasses, so I brush my teeth. I glance to the white jar with blue pills. They still live here. Sometimes they follow me.
We decided to meet at the cafe I usually go to.
My parents' wedding always stood out to me from the other weddings. I mean, their memories take up 50 percent of my mind. The other 50 being my mind and occasional dead relatives.
I walk down the sidewalk. It’s kind of like a church aisle. The morning light goes through the tree leaves like stained glass.
I was baptized once and did Catholic confirmation too. Mom told me that she would go to Hell if I didn’t. I didn’t want that for her.
The wind picks up the white veil and reveals my brown face. Mom told me how she used to think that I would be born with blonde hair and blue eyes because she conceived me here.
We have eaten together a few times in the past few weeks. I assume he likes my company.
He still looks cute in his glasses, I can tell through the coffee shop window. I wanted to tell him how I feel today.
I always liked the coffee shop. The smell of peach incense and dark roasts usually feels devoid of nostalgic meaning and flushed out any other noise.
I ordered some coffee with cream and buttered toast, conscious of but indifferent to the newfound fact that lactose intolerance runs in my family.
“What did you do today?”
Same. The conversations draws on. I can’t tell if I’m boring or just filled with intergenerational love anxiety. I guess I’m not that boring. My parents lived very boring lives. They used to tell me about how their childhoods were labor-filled and miserable, and I remember every day even if I don’t really want to. I remember raising my crap older sister. I guess it’s nice since it makes my life feel well off. I mean, homework kills me now too. Sometimes if I’m bored, I just tune out into the memory of working in a fireworks factory and watching things ignite.
I pour some pink packet sweetener into my coffee. My parents’ diabetes made me partial to the taste. His hand takes out the tea bag and dips it into the remaining crumbs on his plate. It was entertaining at first, but then nauseating. My hands needed something to do. I spread jam on my toast.
“I did a tab the other day.”
I never once did LSD. Maybe I should.
I’ve heard that medication and acid are a bad mix.
But I’ve heard memories can lead to a bad trip too.
“It was so beautiful. I imagined like my great great great grandfather when he first came here with his family. On a boat. Isn’t that crazy.”
Crazy. So did my great great great grandfather, before he raped my mother and never came back. My ill mother and a non existent father left me orphaned three years later. I got up, needing to pee before my grandma’s memories made me.
I looked at myself in the bathroom and the visual layers of my mind refracted into an infinity mirror. Like a portal into my dark eyes. An abyss lined with red veins and faces I don’t remember.
The stall door opens for me, and I sit on the toilet seat. It smells like the apartment that my parents used to live in when they first moved here with my sister and no money.
A tear pulls my eyes to the ground.
Frantically, I search my jacket pocket. The white jar from my medicine cabinet is small enough to sleep perfectly there for excursions like these. Opening it is impossible for a moment. I forgot how to read but the jar opens with an awkward hand movement.
I forgot the accutane, so I make sure to wash my face.
He was still there when I came back. Now poking through his leftover blueberries with a fork. One, two, three, four stacked onto the metal prongs. Violet juice stains the white empty plate. He eats them in one bite, smiles at me and laughs a little. I laugh too. He’s so cute. I never noticed that his eyes were so blue. I sit down.
“So… what kind of films have you watched lately?”