A Note For You, And Amnesia

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You and I used to be friends, a few years back. Hmm, if you could only know how hard it is to write this. I mean, at this point, you don’t know who I am. Where do I start? I’m not sure of the beginning, so how do I write for you? I guess that’s a rhetorical question. None of these memories will be the same for you. They’ll be new, like a story told from someone else's view. They won’t be memories, because you have none.
To start at the beginning. It’s taken me over an hour to write this much. The nurses say I can’t do this, but I want you to remember before I go.
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Do you remember the house? Your house, it was. With the small porch on the front, the screen door we ran through once for fun. Do you remember your mother’s sweet, tired face, after we chased the sheep out of the pasture and into the forest? How about your father’s stern hand when you stole his Sunday clothes, and ran through the mud? Or your sister's young body, which made all of the boys from our town drool with desire? But these slight moments will not fill the gaps. For you to remember me, and the life we shared, I must write for you, the story of our entire existence.
We were born and raised in the grand state of Tennessee. Your mother and father were the young married couple in the town, all the old-timers used to call them kids. They were new to this life of having responsibility. When you were born, they were fresh off the altar only nine months. Barely moved into your house, lucky thing your father had that old truck that could reach thirty, or you would have been born in the bed of that rust-bucket.
I guess since your mother and father passed on long ago, there is no one here to tell you had an easy birth. You all stayed one night in the hospital, you curled in you mother's arms, and your father's long body stretched around you both. You were supposed to be in the crib, but your mother couldn’t resist. I was born a month later, and we were thrown into the make shift pen in your living room from the very beginning. This is the beginning of everything.

You visited that general hospital where we were both born again because you were dropped on your head by my mother on your first birthday. If you take your finger and run it along the left side of your head, you’ll feel a crack in your skull running from the top of your ear to the back of your head. My mother was bouncing you on her lap when you fell, hitting the radiator on your way down. Once again, your father's old truck saved the day. You would’ve bled to death in your mother's arms. Not to taint your new memories with guilt, but my mother never truly forgave herself for that.


We started school at the age of seven, all of us locked up in the small red school house that even old Mr. Forts went to back in his day. We were attached at the hip so to speak more than ever from then on.
I have to stop phrasing questions with ‘do you remember…..’. It’s silly to assume you know any of this. I’m apologizing for later if I do it again.
We had the expected childhood for that time. We were considered the trouble makers by all the old women who sat on their porches on hot afternoons fanning themselves with the fans their sons and husbands brought back from the war. We were adored by our one and only school teacher, Miss Willows. According to her, we were the cream of the crop. Mostly we just flattered her with apples and perfect cursive. We both had the traditional school boy crush on our beautiful Miss Willows. You even went so far as to give her a rose after school. And don't get me wrong if I imagined this, but did you give her a kiss? Not one phony one on the cheek meant for younger sisters, but a true kiss on the mouth? I shouldn't be asking you though. Imagine how many boys can say their first true kiss was with their school teacher from back in good old Tennessee.
While we are speaking of kisses, remember that one summer when we worked in John Rilbow's hay field? And the month when his niece came from upstate New York to visit her old and true uncle John. You literally fell head over heels for her from the top of the hay barrel truck. And that night in the barn when she played you the Irish lullaby on her flute. You said she played like an angel, so you kissed her to see if she kissed like an angel. You said you couldn't even begin to describe the heavenly feeling that surrounded you. You said you could feel her fingers on your neck, shyly playing with the hair at the base of your head.
You called her Lu, short for Lindsay. She doesn't know you're back here. She's married now, back in New York. She has two children. You're the godfather of her first little girl, Anna Lu. I bet you can figure from what I just told you that she named her daughter Lu so she would be reminded of you every time she said her name. Both Lu and Anna were your world back then. You still loved her from that one month back at Rilbow's field. Maybe I shouldn't have told you that. You would never know she existed, and now you'll just miss something you don't remember. I should have saved you from worrying. You deserve to know. They were the only things that mattered to you.

The old swing on the lake is worth remembering. It was just that old rope hanging from the tallest branch over the lake. After we were done jumping and swimming, we would lay under that worn down tree and wonder who had climbed up to the top to hang the rope. It had been there long before your parents had moved to Tennessee. We once tied one of your old bikes onto the rope loose enough that it would fall off just as it reached over the lake. I wonder if it's still at the bottom of that filthy brown lake?
We fished that lake every summer, catching nothing but small catfish barely edible once you flayed them. But your mother sure was proud every time we came home with a few. She'd rustle both our tangled heads of hair and take the few small fish and mix them in with a can of tuna or a sliver of fish from the grocer. She never did tell us she did this until later when we stopped fishing and moved away. So for years we went out fishing, thinking we were catching a full meal, while in truth she was giving us almost double the credit we deserved. We never quite gave her the credit she deserved.

I still can't believe one short word of a disease could take away a trilogy worth of memories. Those books would've been long too, like the Moby Dick story we read back when Miss Willows moved away after the young doctor from the next town over came and swept her off her feet. You never did really forget that silly school boy crush of yours. We were sixteen by then, and it was our last year in the small red house. We'd been put in charge of repairs when it leaked , or a pillar loosened on the front porch. You volunteered us just so you could impress her. She was a sure beauty nevertheless, with her pale ivory skin and her sheer flowery dresses that made her look like she had just walked out of one of those silly books your sister would always read. The ones with all the love stories and what not, the ones we would take at night when we were bored and read. I might as well admit it now, seeing as you wouldn't remember anyway; we both would take those books, and then laugh at how girly and mushy gushy they were, when we both knew secretly that we loved them, and we both learned a lot from them. Reading those damn books is how I got my wife to fall in love with me. If you ever see her, don't tell her that. She still thinks I'm just a sweet country boy from Tennessee who won her over with my good natured charm.
But back to sweet Miss Willows up and leaving. We didn't see her too much when she called on us to fix the schoolhouse. And you could never look her in the eye now that she was Mrs. Hall. You must have felt guilty about loving after a married woman. She wasn't the small town rose you thought her to be. Seeing her being carried off by the rich doctor with his golden hair made you realize that she wasn't as young as you thought, and she most definitely wasn't the priceless Miss Willows you had chased since age seven. She was a nobody with that shiny gold band around her finger. And worst of all, she had become what we both feared the most back then: a mother.
After we both had had our good and few share of girlfriends to take to barn dances and to the new diner a few miles down the newly paved road, mothers and babies became the devils in our eyes. Not only were they a way of holding us down and keeping us from the freedom of boyhood we both thought we'd never get enough of, but if we ever did get a girl pregnant, it was our fault. So they were the devils; the things that would hold us back, and the things we were most afraid of.

I wish on all the gods imaginable that I could tell you more, but my arm is cramping, and I don't have my medication with me here at the hospital. It's back in the hotel, next to some photos I was maybe gonna bring by. Thought it would be too much though, all those faces and things for you to pretend that you know, when really you're just pretending for everyone else's sake. But there's so much more to tell. The life you left behind on the other side of your operation could never be summed up onto a few pieces of paper I pulled out of the trash.
Love is important. maybe I can close with this. All those girls along the way to here, you loved them all, in a way. You were a true gentleman, a real man in a sense. You never mistreated a single one. After you thought you had gotten over Lu, then Miss Willows, you met Mary.

We'd known her for as long as I can remember. She did almost everything with us from the age of twelve on. But neither of us ever really acknowledged her as a girl, until you got over Miss Willows. Mary was medium height with red hair always changing length, so I can't actually give you a solid picture. She was a motherly figure almost, watching out for us but at the same time being the best friend we ever had. She was timid around everyone, like the girls who were richer and who all thought they were prettier, but with us she was adventurous and smart, more like a boy than the two of us combined.
Do you remember sitting in the long since dead body of your father's pick up truck, while we watched her run off to catch the mailman, and you turned to me and said "I love her,"? I almost died then and there laughing. And then you went onto explain the way, while she was talking casually with us there in the hot afternoon, you noticed she was much prettier, beautiful even, than the girls who intimidated her to the point of rosy cheeks and averted eyes. You said she had dark brown eyes, the color of a dry field after a long spring rain. You said you had never seen any of these things before, and you said you felt like such an idiot when you realized that you had spent all this time mourning an older woman when you had the most beautiful girl you ever set eyes on sitting next to you every day.
Do you remember how terrified of talking to her you were after you saw her for the first time? But when you finally told her, she jumped into your arms, and laughed. You two stayed together until her parents separated and she moved to Dakota with her father. You two left your marks on the backs of school bus seats, scratched in with nails, and on the side of you father's truck, all those little notes saying love and your names. If only she could have stayed forever.
Those few months before she left were hard ones. I remember being there through you two fighting, and then her crying when she thought about leaving you and going with her mean father. Do you remember how mad you got when she talked about him? Now, know that he wasn't one to beat his daughter, but definitely one to speak his mind. He treated her as if she were the reason he couldn't stay married, when in truth it was his roaming eyes and hands. Never, never his own daughter though. But you were always afraid for her safety. You would sneak in her room and sleep next to her just to make sure he didn't come into her room in the night.
Neither of you knew how to leave on good terms. No matter what you could do, you would both be heart broken in the end. But after all the fights and sweating palms, it came time to just stand on the road and watch her drive away with her father, and know she would never be back. Mary had always appeared strong, but underneath the mask she put on, she was just as heartbroken and angry as her mother. As she drove away, she pulled out the pad she carried everywhere and wrote in block letters, 'You keep me sane. I love you. Never forget. I love you.'

You cried for days. She said she would write as soon as they reached their real address. It was almost a month until you heard from her, and from her letter we could tell something if not everything was wrong. Mary sounded dead, her entire personality gone. You feared the worst. You blamed her father and would rant and scream for hours if he so much as layed a finger to her head.
Writing to her, she slowly came back to life, saying she could hear our voices in the letters we wrote to her, and you still loved her. I can't say the same for her. She met a boy, one like her father, an ass, who smelled of liquor and cigarettes. Soon her letters were less and less frequent, and less alive. Mary started to die and fade into what she never wanted to be, but was all along: her mother.
You were twenty one then, she had just turned eighteen before she left. You had been together since you were newly eighteen, and she was sixteen, alive. The last letter you got from her went something like this:

Hi.
I'm tired. Joe got home late last night, and I waited up. I know he wasn't being honest, but how do I get away? He's so sweet to me sometimes. He just bought me a new dress for no reason last week. It fits like a glove. A sleek glove that is. I don't have much time to write this, he'll be home soon, and he don't like it much when I go write boys from my hometown. He don't even know you exist, which is mighty good seeing as he'd lick ya right away. I gotta slip this under my car seat so I can drive it to the post office tomorrow while he sleeps off his booze. I'm so scared of alcohol now, I don't ever think I'll drink. I miss being home, I miss being young. Joe makes me feel so old and haggard, just like a maid. If I ever do visit Ma I'll make sure to see you and old Hank. I had best finish this letter fast, seeing as he is coming down the road all swervy like.
Miss everything... miss you.

Mary



You knew perfectly well like you know after summer comes fall that when she said she was tired, that she did more than wait up, and that her talking about her sweet husband Joe was just her saying it out loud, forcing it to be true, like carving against the grain. You knew just as well as her that he stole that dress from some woman he had fooled around with, and it was a chance that it fit her. You knew fine that if she got caught writing to you she would get more than a stern hand. You knew when she said she missed home and being young, you knew those were easy ways to say she missed you, but if she said it out loud, it might come true, just like she was trying to make Joe come true. You knew she would never come to visit her ma, and you knew what she was expecting when he stumbled into the house, and that's why her handwriting began to look shaken, and why she wrote in scribbles 'miss you' then crossed it out. You would sit in your father's dead truck and run your finger over the grooves from the days when you wrote poems for her on the rusted paint. And after months of ignoring it, you knew she was like all your other loves, she would never come back, she was gone forever.

I guess that wasn't the best story to end with, but she just flew into my mind like one of the swans we chased off the lake with her. You left town after you sent her a letter, and she never wrote back. And to be as honest as the good earth, I don't know what you did after that. Maybe you traveled, maybe you worked in one of those big buildings we saw on billboards the first time we drove on the highway. Maybe you got a dog, and lived out in nowhere, just like here in Idaho. I stayed in our hometown until I turned twenty five, just one year more than you. I went traveling, saw the world, filled in the empty space in my vision where there was nothing but the never-ending farm fields of Tennessee.
I met up with Lu in New York, and she told me about how you had made her and her daughters your priority, and that's how I knew about all that I said before. So I guess you lived in the big city of New York, at least a little.

I feel almost guilty telling you all these things you'll never understand. Maybe trying to fill this here emptiness you feel with stories will just make you even more hollow, like a big tree who kicked the bucket years ago, and has been chewed down to nothing but bark by greedy termites. Maybe I should have just listened to the nurse and left you empty and hollow, let them cut you down with all the others.

I feel like I am to blame for you getting so sick. But I don't know why.
Maybe I should have been the good friend I made my myself up to be in this here letter, and stayed by and with you through all the brambles I never got to hear about. I wish we could just sit down as the two friends we used to be and I could just listen to you tell me your life. I'd want to hear everything, from the happy moments you would have saved in your mind as photographs, keeping them all archived and out in the sun for everyone to see, so they fade and change colors over time. I'd want to hear the times you don't really regard as important, but you would've realized by now that they played a a part as big as the sun in your life. And I'd want to hear all the memories that make you cringe and close your eyes, with the lines around your forehead going deep with pain. I'd want to hear them all, and tell you mine. I'd want to hug you as the two boys who did everything together until we went our separate ways.

Now is as good as anytime to tell you about me.
I'm sick.
I have cancer, in both my lungs and skin. I guess all those cigarettes we smoked as kids in that burning southern sun everyday for almost twenty years weren't worth what I'm going through now. But we aren't really to blame, that handsome man, oh, what was his name again, Marlboro Man. He made it seem like you ruled the world and the ladies when you had an old smoke hanging out of your mouth.
The doctors say I'll be alright soon, hopefully.
They tell me you had a bad hit on the head. You fell out of a window, and the trauma made you forget. They say that you could just be in shock, but you haven't been able to recognize anyone for weeks.

Do they ever come in your room and talk all smart like and say these big words that don't even make logical sense? They do that to me all the time. I feel so stupid when they do, because of course us coming from Idaho we didn't learn none of that stuff. We learned about the land, not about sunscreen and filters on cigarettes.
But enough about that. Everything in here we've shared, so there's just as much in here of me as there is of you. So, now that I have begun, I don't know how to end. I guess it just ends here, where we live in different parts of the country, see different doctors, have different illnesses, live different lives.

The only thing we shared was our past, but that's all gone now. you don't even know what I look like.

I should go, that snappy nurse will be back soon to make sure you drank some water, which you didn't but I poured out part of your glass so you don't have to drink too much. She told me you don't like to drink too much because it hurts your stomach. Consider it one last favor that I owe you from thirty years ago.
So how to say goodbye?

First off, I lied.

I have more than just those small cancers. There's something with my brain and my stomach and my heart. I'm falling apart faster than your father's truck.

So I just wanted to say hello from our past, and then goodbye. I can't travel anymore, so getting here was hard, and my doctor who uses all his big words won't be happy.
I know I'll have to wake you up so you know where to find this, and if you don't read this, I won't be offended. But how would you know that without reading this here letter? Who knows. I'm starting to talk in circles, and feeling silly like a dog with his tail right between his legs.

I have an idea:

Just remember me as a dream you had when you were asleep here, not some one who really mattered. You dreamed all of the things I just told you. But don't you go about your life ignoring me. I want you to remember me as a part of something you never really owned, a dream.

See ya around later.


Your name is Tom.
I called you Tommy.




P.S.


I love you.





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