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Eleven Years of Memories
My eyes flicker over the pictures on my wall. I see myself, age fourteen, at my birthday party. Then I was thirteen, swimming with my younger brother. Twelve, wandering through my backyard. Eleven, looking at the sky in wonder. I remember it all. But then the pictures stop. No pictures of me as a ten-year-old, or any year before then. And I don’t remember those years either. Neither does Amanda, my twin sister. Our parents won’t show us old pictures, or anything else from the early years. But we lived with it. At least until we were fourteen.
Amanda storms into my room and sits down on my bed, glaring at me. “Mom won’t let me see pictures of my fifth birthday party,” she says sulkily.
“So?” I ask Amanda, “We’re not allowed to see any old pictures. Not a surprise, really.”
“Exactly! And I’m tired of it, Rachel. The farthest back I can remember is three years. Three! Other people can remember so much more. Why?”
I take a deep breath and look back at Amanda in exasperation.We’ve both complained about things like this before. “I don’t know,” I reply wearily, “Come on, Amanda, why does it matter? Mom always says we should, you know, look to the future, and stop worrying about the past.”
“I don’t care!” Amanda fumes, her eyes flashing towards me in frustration and fury, “From 1996 to 2007, neither of us can remember anything! Why not, Rachel? Why not? I don’t care if you’ll help me or not, but I’m going into Mom’s room and I’ll find some photos.”
I sigh and follow Amanda, knowing that this is what she expects me to do. We rarely agree on anything, and I know now that I should just go along with everything that Amanda says, even if Amanda is often immature. But still, I feel slightly nervous about sneaking into Mom’s room, after constantly being told not to.
“Come on,” Amanda urges me, and we silently slip into our Mom’s room. As soon as we are inside, Amanda immediately flings open drawers, looking through everything. She smashes closet doors and shuffles papers around, creating so much noise that I worry that Mom will hear. I wait at the door, nervously checking to make sure nobody is coming.
Suddenly, a gasp emits from inside the room, and I disregard all fear of getting caught. I dash to where Amanda stands. Despite my reservations about breaking rules, I do want to see what I looked like when I was five years old. My eyes glance down at Amanda’s hands.
Amanda isn’t holding photos. She is holding a birth certificate - mine. I look down at the words:
Rachel Elizabeth Hawthorne
Born March 28, 2007 2:08 PM
I don’t need to hear Amanda say, “That was only three years ago,” to cause my heart to start thumping loudly against my chest. I stare at the document, not sure of what to think. 2007, the year that my memories started. I am aware of myself breathing deeply, my eyes glued to the page in front of me. I watch Amanda as she fearfully tugs at another sheet of paper in the open file folder. It is her own birth certificate. My gaze fixes on her face as it turns from an expression of fear to one of disbelief as she reads the words in front of her.
Amanda Lindsay Hawthorne
Born March 28, 2007 2:21 PM
And neither of us can speak. We just stare at the papers, dated three years ago. I don’t know what to think.
Finally, after what seems like hours of sitting there, dumbfounded, staring at the papers that lay in front of us, Amanda speaks. “According to the certificates, both of us are just three years old,” she says, fingering the papers carefully, “But obvious, we aren’t. There must be a mistake. These must not be the right certificates, or the printing people made a mistake or something...”
It is afternoon now. Amanda and I sit in my room. The door is tightly shut, and we each hold on to our own birth certificate, each of us immersed in our own thoughts.
“What if the certificates are right?” I whisper to Amanda. I have been thinking about this all day. “What if we really are, you know, three years old?”
Amanda giggles, but it is a rapid, forced laugh, and I know that it is faked. “We’re not three years old! You can tell just by looking at us,” She forces herself to chuckle again and tosses her birth certificate on my desk. “It’s a mistake.”
But we both know she doesn’t believe that. Amanda is just too afraid to admit it. “Listen, Amanda,” I said, placing my birth certificate on top of hers, “Neither of us remember anything before our eleventh birthday. What if those years never actually happened?”
“Rachel, you’re crazy,” Amanda told me, “If we were really born three years ago, we would know, trust me. You and I have the bodies of fourteen-year-olds, the minds of fourteen-year-olds, because we are fourteen years old.”
But I’m not so sure. A crazy idea has begun to form in my head, one that I can’t understand myself. Slowly, pieces are coming together. I know that there is an answer, but I can’t seem to grasp it.
Just then, our mom strolls into our room. We both glance at her and watch as her gaze slowly drifts from us to the two birth certificates lying on the table. Her eyes widen.
“Where did you find those?”
I haven’t even begun to think about how I am going to answer when Amanda stands up. “That doesn’t matter!” Amanda screams, “Tell us the truth! We’re not three years old!”
Mom looks at us, her eyes boring deep into mine as she slowly picks up the birth certificates. Her fingers caress the pages, and she looks at them sorrowfully. “Actually, you are.”
I shoot a glance at Amanda, warning her not to speak up, but she is too stunned to say anything. There is nothing we can do but listen.
“You have to understand, there was a terrible disease going around our part of the state in 2007. It was killing infants and young children. The day before you were born, your father and I had to make a choice.”
Both of us nod to show that we heard her.
“Your father studies aging. He found a way to shorten the ends of the telomeres on your DNA so that -”
“Whoa, wait. Hold on,” Amanda interrupts, “What’s a telomere?”
“Didn’t you pay attention in science class?” I ask her, “Telomeres are strands on the ends of chromosomes.”
“Exactly, Rachel. I don’t pretend to understand the specifics, but by cutting off the telomeres in your DNA after you were born, you began a period of rapid aging. You were both in a science lab, growing maybe an extra year’s worth of growth each day. We had to get the energy delivered to you and we had to add in basic information that you should have gotten when you lived your childhood- the ability to walk, the ability to talk, basic knowledge of our world. It wasn’t easy, but we managed to get you to become perfectly normal eleven year olds.”
Amanda glares at our mother, unable to speak. Her body trembles with the weight of the revelation. Fists clenched, Amanda stands up and stares at Mom with a look of disbelief and anger. “So that’s it? You just, like, fast-forwarded our lives until we were eleven? You skipped our childhood?”
“No! I never skipped anything,” Mom says, “Even though your body is fourteen years old, you, as a person, you are still three.”
“I am not three,” Amanda fumes, “I am fourteen, and I was born in 1996.”
But I wasn’t like that. Mom had a point. If we had grown up with a disease as an infant, we could have both died. But then I remember this morning. The picture of myself, swimming with Sam... my little brother.
“What about Sam? Is he really five years old?”
“Yes,” Mom answers, “The disease wasn’t an issue in 2005.”
“So you’re telling me that Sam is older than us?” I demand, and Mom nods.
I don’t speak for the rest of the day. Neither does Amanda. I want to think, like a fourteen-year-old would. But I also want to cry and to fall into Mom’s outstretched arms, knowing everything would work out, like a three-year-old. I have always been told to act my age. But how old am I?
I lock my bedroom door and set myself down on my bed. Amanda knocks later, but I don’t answer. I need time to think. I don’t want to believe it. I pound my hands against my bed and lay there, letting my tears drop against my pillow. Am I having an emotional breakdown? Or is this a normal three-year-old tantrum? I can’t tell. And that’s when I realize that I can’t do this.
My mind is made up when I go to dinner. Dad is away, so I sit at table with Mom, Sam, and Amanda. Sam knows that we are all upset and he eats quickly.
Finally, the three of us are alone.
“I want to go back,” I say.
Amanda and my mom glance at me in confusion. “What?” the ask me.
“I want to be three years old again,” I tell them, “You can do that, right? Turn me back into a regular toddler? There’s no danger of sickness anymore.”
“But Rachel,” my mom protests, “Your body is fourteen years old. You have friends who are your age. No matter what happened when you were born, you’re perfectly normal. There’s no reason why...”
“My friends are eleven years older than I am,” I say, “Can you do it?”
“I... we’ve never done it before,” replies Mom, “We’ve only done the growth forwards. Nobody has ever done it in reverse.”
“But could you do it?” I demand.
“Well, yes, I suppose we could try, but are you sure-”
“I am three years old. I can’t be three years old with the body and mind of a teenager.”
“I’ll call your father and see what he thinks,” Mom says, “What about you, Amanda?”
Amanda looks at me incredulously. “You think I want to be a toddler again? You risked my life trying to age me to eleven years old in order to stop me from getting a disease. Now you want to risk my life again by trying to put me back. What you’ve done is done. I’m not going anywhere.”
Mom seems relieved by Amanda’s opposition to going back to being a toddler, but that’s not going to change anything. If Amanda won’t cooperate, I’ll do this alone. I don’t know why I feel so motivated to do this. Maybe it’s my fourteen-year-old mind’s reasoning, telling me that I can’t live the rest of my life knowing that I’m eleven years too old. Or maybe it’s my three-year-old mind’s reckless behavior- making choices that might not be the best for me. How am I ever to know the difference?
I hear mom sigh. “If we’re going to do this, we may as well get it over with. Amanda, watch over Sam. Rachel, come with me.”
I force a smile at Amanda and I follow my mother as we get into the car, and drive away.
My eyes open. Everything towers high around me, and I find myself in a huge room. A bed is tucked away in one corner, and a wide, chestnut-brown desk is in front of me. Two sheets of paper lie face down on the desk.
The door opens. I look to see a tall girl take a peek inside. She looks familiar to me, but I don’t know where I’ve seen her before. In fact, I don’t seem to remember many faces at all.
“My name is Amanda,” the girl says slowly and carefully, making sure I can hear each word. She bends down so she is my height, “I am your sister.”
My sister. I listen as Amanda carries me and shows me our home. Amanda explains where her room is, where the kitchen is, where the doors are, and then she leads me back to my room. Amanda sets me down on a soft pillow. I feel it carefully. It is a little bit wet.
Amanda tells me of all the things she likes to do- run, and play games with her friends. “Someday,” she tells me, “you’ll be able to do all of those things too.”
Amanda closes my door and leaves me, and I smile. Amanda is a good sister. Some time soon, I want to grow up to be like her.
I lay down that night, looking at the long wall to my right. It is blank, except for one picture of me and my big sister Amanda, playing with toys. It was taken today. Slowly, I glance at the rest of the blank wall, wondering what new memories will someday take up that empty space. I can’t wait to grow up.