Introduction: Back in 2005 I was taking a Fiction Writing class at Berkeley City College. It was the second creative writing class I took in my life, and I remember being a little self-conscious there until I submitted my first short story, which was very random with not much happening but different characters talking. The people in the class seemed to really enjoy it, so my confidence got a real boost. What I’m posting below, “Remember to Forget”, was the second story I submitted to that class.
I really loved this idea, of somebody who lost their memory and are realizing that they turned into a person they didn’t like, and I kept adding stuff to it long after the class was over. In fact, I’m working on expanding it into a full-on novel or screenplay. What you are about to read isn’t the version I submitted to class, but very close to it. I got an idea a few months after the class was over, and what I added on this version are little seeds for the big reveal.
Stay tuned for Part Two in the coming weeks.
Remember To Forget by Hannibal Alexander
So, it’s been about three years since my cousin got into this big car accident. Some stupid white dudes were hella drunk and, like, racing each other on the freeway, and they rear-ended my cousin and just completely fucked up their car and his. My cousin, JC, almost flew through the window, but he had on his seatbelt for once in his life. His head crashed through the window though, and he was in the hospital for like three months and he had some serious head damage.
I remember when Des called me, that’s his wife, and told me that he wasn’t picking up his cell. She was worried because he said he was just going to the store real quick, and she knew he was coming right back because “Lost” was a new episode that night and he had been talking about watching it for three weeks. So she knew something was wrong.
Finally, after waiting at his house for about a hour and a half, somebody from the hospital must have picked up or called the phone or something because Des came down the stairs just hella crying, I couldn’t even understand what she was saying. She said the name of the hospital so I just drove her and the three boys there. I called the rest of the family on the way, not knowing what to tell them because Des didn’t even really know. When we got there Joe, JC’s oldest brother, had already talked to the doctors and he told us about the accident.
JC didn’t actually go through any big surgeries, he was just out of it for a couple of days. When he was finally able to talk to us, he didn’t know who any of us were. He didn’t remember us. The doctor than told us that he had some severe damage to his head and that he probably suffered some degree of memory loss, he didn’t know if it was permanent or just minor. Everybody was just in shock about this, and than maybe a couple days later he did start to remember things. He had memories of his childhood, and he remembered my grandparents, and of course his mom and dad. He remembered Joe and Julian, his two older brothers. He remembered stuff from elementary school, and old friends he had when he was like 10. Which was fine with his parents, but he didn’t remember his little sister, or any of the younger cousins. He barely remembered me. Probably the worst though was that he didn’t remember his own wife, or their three kids.
When we visited him in the hospital, we would always try to fill him in on stories about his life since that’s all he ever wanted to know about. Des was there the most, telling them about their courtship years and having DJ and JD the twins, and JV their newborn. And about buying their house and all that couple shit. I would do the same thing, so would some of his high school friends he didn’t remember and his friends from his job. I’m not sure that any of us were completely truthful with these stories though. I remember I asked Des, that’s short for Destiny, what kind of questions he asked her about their marriage. She’d say “Stuff like…” she started one day in the hospital when he was asleep “…were we always happy? Did we ever get into big fights? Did he ever hit me? Stuff about our wedding! If we ever talked about getting divorced? It just depends on what he’s watching on the TV. One day, I came down and he was watching ‘Divorce Court’ and this couple was having problems with their sex life so the dude cheated on the chick. JC was like , did I ever cheat on you?” She rolled her eyes and kind of smirked.
“What did you tell him?” I asked her
“Well… I tried to be as honest as I could, but… I guess I didn’t really want to get into all the times we got in fights or all the times we broke up…” she noticed she was rambling and giving up some inside secrets so she caught herself real quick.
“… I just kinda, fed into what I thought he’d want to hear I guess”
“I understand though” I said “because I think I do the same things sometimes”
“What did he talk about with you?”
“Stuff about when he was in high school, like if he was the jock or the quiet dude, if he got in any fights and what not. Like, I told him he got in a few fights that I remembered… but I didn’t tell him he was, basically a bully”
And she tilted her head to side and nodded in agreement that it was probably the best route. I guess we both figured that he’d probably feel better about not having any memories that made him out to be a bad guy. Not that he was totally a bad guy or anything, but even before he got in the accident there were things that he regretted about his life.
Anyway, it took him about two more weeks before he left the hospital. I volunteered to stay with him and Des and the kids to help out around the house. Knowing that it might take him a while to get back into the groove of his adult life. Besides, my little girl was a little baby then, and I figured I could use Des’ parenting skills to help me out when I had her. JC was my favorite cousin by far, and I just wanted to help ease him back into the way he used to be. Plus they had a phat, practically brand new 5 bedroom in the suburbs, so it wasn’t a issue of space.
When he got back into the real world, he didn’t seem like he wanted to get his life started again though. And mainly that was because he felt like he wanted to get back his old memories before he started new ones.
“Damn, how did I afford a house this big?” he asked once he finally got a good look of his home. Me and Des looked at each other wondering what part of the truth we wanted to tell him.
“You’re a hardworker baby” Des said, and kind of left it at that.
The questions definitely didn’t stop there, and they still really haven’t stopped . Once he got out the hospital he was dead set on trying to recapture his memory. So we ended up having the family over to the house a lot. Everybody would try to remember their best JC stories to tell, and we’d watch movies that JC used to like, and look at old camcorder videos and photo books. All to try and help jog his memory, at this point we still thought it was possible for him to regain those years in his head.
JC seemed like he didn’t understand, like he didn’t think it was possible that he grew up into the kind of guy he was. “Why am I not in any of the camcorder stuff?” he would ask
“Because, you always hated being on camera” Des said once over at Julian’s house one evening.
“Really? … I don’t know… that doesn’t seem like … me? I remember being little and … I was always in front of the camera”
“Really?” Des sounded genuinely surprised “you HATE getting your picture taken, ever since we met. I had to practically BEG you to take my prom picture with me… remember?” She realized that he couldn’t remember and felt stupid for saying what normally comes natural for her “I’m sorry baby… I’m retarded”
“No” he didn’t seem too mad about it, he just turned back to the TV “It’s alright”
When he got bored of the camcorder footage, and of talking, he’d normally pick up a photo album and sit by himself and look through it. Though, he always would interupt our poker or whatever he had going on to ask questions about… pretty much every other picture in the book.
“I remember all these… it’s like I made them myself… just yesterday” he said one night .
“You did… make them I mean. You use to make those with mom…” Joe said, and kind of smirked. He eyed Julian from across the poker table.
“Yeah you used to do a lot of girly crap with mom when you were young…” He continued.
“Yeah, big sissy momma’s boy” Julian said, completely drunk, and started to laugh.
JC looked on, confused, and looked really sad. Julian noticed and stopped laughing and walked over to JC and patted him on the head.
“Come on man… were just joking. We used to do that A LOT”
“Yeah… I know…” JC responded, feeling a little better. “But I was a momma’s boy?” he asked
Julian kind of nodded his head to the side, and tried to think of a nice way to put it.
“Yeah… kind of” he smiled “but it’s okay… we shook you outta that, how else you think you got Des… if it wasn’t for us you’d probably be… ”
“JD… COME HERE” Joe called for Julian, JD short for Julian David.
“He’s drunk … he doesn’t know what he’s talking about” Joe said from the poker table.
Julian came back to the poker table and Joe swatted him hard in the back of the head once he sat back down. “Shutup man” Joe said, annoyed.
“Man… I was just joking” Julian responded rubbing the back of his head.
“It wasn’t funny”.
I didn’t get it personally, so I just let it go. That was probably one of the last nights in the family photo book phase. Than we got into the, watch old movies and TV shows on DVD, phase. He got all the DVD’s from his own personal collection. Something he worked hard at building by the way. And he’d watch them, and he didn’t like any of them. Hardly any of them at least. I mean it’s not a big deal really, to like different movies, but it’s like… it was the start of him changing into a different person kinda. It was weird.
Another thing was that he didn’t take care of his responsibilities like he used to. He didn’t really have to work anymore, because for one he was being taken care of through disability. And he and Des had saved a lot of money from their jobs, and other stuff. Des and me were taking care of the household though, by ourselves. Whenever we’d ask him to do anything, he’d baby his way out of it. And he played with his kids a lot, watching TV or playing little games. The minute one of them needed a diaper change, or started crying, or was hungry, he’d pass them off to me or Des in a hurry.
One day I remember me and Des were doing the dishes and JC was watching a movie by himself.
“I liked this movie??” he’d yell out from the living room
“Scarface” he’d yell back.
I went into the living room to stop the yell fest “Yeah… we all liked this movie”
“Why” he seemed perplexed
“Guns, explosions, gangsters… all the ingredients for a JC favorite… right?” I asked
“No” he said.
I went back into the kitchen, Des rolled her eyes up and laughed.
“Asking more questions about movies right?” she smiled
“Yeah… it getting on your nerves yet?” I asked
“Pretty much… all he wants to do is watch movies. And I’ve seen them all a million times before”
“You think I don’t see that. Why don’t you start taking him out. You know… him and the wife” I asked
“You should” I encouraged her, mainly because the rest of us were sick of trying to take him out. First of all he never wanted to go anywhere, ever. And when we would finally convince him to go out with us it was always like… I mean if we would go to the club or even just riding in the car and some song was on the radio that we all knew and sung along too, he’d get really upset, like really emotional because he didn’t know the song. “It just would have been cool if I remembered the words too, so I could sing with you guys” he’d say, almost like he was about to cry. So I figured since Des had been so busy with the kids , maybe it was her turn to try and get him to go out.
“I could watch the kids over the weekends, and you guys could do something… romantic” I said
“You’d give up your weekend” she asked and smiled
“Sure” I was always trying to help the family. And since JC was my favorite cousin, still, and I was staying in their house so I couldn’t say no.
So they started to spend more time together. First just the weekends, and than some days during the week they’d go out shopping or to dinner. Des liked it at first because they talked more about things. Superficial things, clothes and movies and music, but that was right up Des’ conversational alley. JC definitely got more comfortable with Des, they talked and laughed a lot around the house. It didn’t help with any of the chores or raising of the kids, but it was progress. Or maybe it wasn’t. About a year after they first started really spending time as husband and wife, Des admitted to me that she felt like he was “more like a best friend than a husband these days”
“why’s that?” I asked once at a BBQ one summer.
“I don’t know. He’s not… well first of all we don’t even argue anymore”
“and… that’s bad?” I was confused
“You know… I mean we don’t even disagree. It’s just weird I guess. It’s not the Josh I know … I don’t know. Maybe I’m just being stupid” she shakes her head at herself and gets back to her plate.
“I know what you mean” I added. I didn’t really though.
I mean they really seemed like close friends, and I guess what bothered Des was the fact that he became more like her best girlfriend. He didn’t really have anybody else though, besides me. Joe and Julian had stopped dropping by and hanging out. Tired of the questions I’m sure. And he didn’t hang out with his old friends because, they really didn’t know how to deal with each other. JC I guess was not as much wanting to just go with the flow and re-establish friendships, he was real dead set on trying to get the complete history of their friendships. And I’m sure that was annoying to them.
And another thing, it kinda felt like his brothers and his friends were always on eggshells when it came to conversation. Like they didn’t want to say anything that might trigger some bad memories. Like one time, I think it was Joe who was over and we were talking about cars, or no… car chases in movies. And at one point I think he said “yeah but they didn’t have nothing on you back in your prime Joshua” Joe laughed, and than he looked over at JC.
He looked confused, as usual when we joked about something he didn’t get. Joe instantly stopped laughing and tried to change the subject real quick, but JC wanted to know. “I used to get in car races?”
Joe didn’t know what to say, neither did JC’s old friend Sean. I didn’t want to say anything, so I remember that’s the night I helped clear off the poker table. At that very moment.
Julian said “Yeah… sometimes we would race around in those big parking lots in the city late at night” He looked like he was waiting to see if JC would buy it.
“Were we racing the night I got in the crash” was JC’s only question.
“No… I don’t even know why you left home that night…” I said to kind of ease the tension “… I can’t believe you risked seeing a new ‘Lost’” I laughed, and JC kind of smiled while everybody else joined me in the ‘taking away the tension and changing the subject’ laugh.
I mean we figured. If you used to be a criminal, but couldn’t remember it. Would you really want to? We kind of all felt it was in his best interest not to know that he pretty much made a living off of boosting cars. He worked a 9 to 5 sure, but the car thing gave him an insane amount of disposable income, and it was so easy for him. Joe and Julian did it when they were younger, and I guess admiring them so much JC got into it. And because I admired JC so much, I wanted to join up. But JC didn’t want me too, I remember when I was around 17 I was talking major shit about how I was gonna start boosting cars and how I was gonna be blinged out or whatever. And JC got kinda mad at me, he yelled at me saying that I better not ever get into that shit. How he’ll beat my ass if he ever hears I’m doing it. He ripped me a new one that night.
Later on though, he came to me and told me the only reason he flew off the handle was because he kind of wished he never was into that life of crime. He had just had the wins with Des and was really trying to focus on being a family.
“I know it’s not easy to try to do things the right way… when it’s so easy for me to do things the wrong way. But I just wish, I never knew anything about… the wrong way, you know what I mean?” he asked me that night.
“Sure” I remember saying.
That night right there is why I won’t ever bring up his criminal ways, he doesn’t need to know. And I guess that his brothers and his friends have their reasons for not wanting to bring it up, but I never understood why they couldn’t talk around it. Me and JC pretty much maintained our relationship after the accident. It’s a bit turned around though, because I’m more of the responsible one than he is, but we still have the same amount of love for each other. Still, he knew that I might have been irritated by his questions at the point, so we didn’t necessarily make any plans to do anything outside the house. So Des was there, he was his wife, and she didn’t so much mind reliving their courtship and their marriage because for the most part it was good.
© 2014 Hannibal Alexander