I read some bullshit in an article about recalled memories. This quack scientist or whatever hypothesized that our minds are never recalling the original memory, just the last time we thought about the memory. So by the time we've thought about the damn thing so many times it's been distorted to the point where you're probably not remembering it exactly how it happened anymore.
Like I said—bullshit. My brain is a smooth engine, pumping thoughts and feelings around just how I want them. These memories are pristine in a white room, air-sealed, dusted and sanitized regularly. My old days were great.
But then, the other night, I was thinking about that stupid article and then I ran into an ex of mine at a bar. I hadn't thought about her in years. The whole time I was thinking about how she looked older, obviously, but she had been twenty-one and clear in my mind. I thought to myself, man, she kinda looks like hell. But then she said goodbye, and when I glanced up into the mirror behind the bar, I looked like hell too.
Seeing her had me opening up the boxes stacked neatly in my mind, the ones labeled Kelly. Now it was like someone dropped black ink into my head and compromised those clear memories. I started pulling the lids off of other stuff too. Nothing looked the same anymore. The trap doors and phony walls were apparent now, shoddy construction, harsh lights and truths. I saw the way everyone around me was actually beat down and dejected in the photos of me smiling like a fool.
I called my older brother. I asked him if I was remembering things right. He didn’t understand.
I said, “Hey, I mean I think maybe the old days weren’t as great as I remembered.”
He laughed, long and hacky, and said “No shit, kid.”
A few days after I found out my memories were all lies I went to buy candy from the corner store, the one with the knock-off baseball caps and a gambling machine in the corner. Next door was the Lucky Lady Laundromat. When I was a boy I used to pump quarters into the Q*bert arcade game in there while my mom did laundry. I remembered how much I loved laundry day because it meant a couple hours with Q*bert. Man, I was really good.
I went inside. The place was just about the same. Same detergent and cigarette air that made my eyes itch. The plastic yellow molded chairs were a little browner and a few machines were replaced with newer models. There was another mom in place of mine, staring into the dryer window, wondering what the hell. Another scrawny kid in place of me, oblivious. I walked around the rows of washers to the back of the place where the vending machine and the arcade games were. The Street Fighter machine was gone. The Cruisin’ USA console was just an unplugged chair now. A boy sat in it while he played games on his iPad. But there it was, Q*bert. Still there. I ran my hand along the console's frame, an inch of dust on the top. I watched the intro screen flashing in the grimy console window. It moved to the high score list. ASS was there, of course, TIT as well. I looked at the number one slot and laughed
LAD: me, my top score, still there. 20-plus years and no one had taken it from me.
“Hell yeah,” I shouted. The boy with the iPad cocked his head at me. I slapped my hand against the screen and said “Look here, little man, that's me.”
He walked away.
“This happened for real,” I said, to God or whomever I was trying to spite. You can't take this away from me.”
It was right there, crystal clear. I wanted to write a letter to that asshole scientist in that article and really give him the business. Tell him I disproved his stupid theory. I was right, he was wrong, my memories were real.
The proof was right there on the high score list of the Q*bert arcade game inside of the laundromat.
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