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Remember the Forgotten; Forget the Remembered
“Airin, you have to get over her already.”
“I know, Boku. I know,” my voice echoed off the walls of the empty bathroom.
“Yes, I know you know, but that’s not the problem. The problem is that you don’t do anything about it.”
“C’mon, Airin. It’s been two years. YEARS. You’re a junior now. You have to move on.”
“Airin!” I jumped and hurriedly opened the bathroom door. It was my aunt, “You’ve been in there for half an hour, what are you doing?”
Sternness and concern painted her face. I avoided her gaze, “Thinking. Just thinking.” Silence. In that instant, her expression changed to pure concern. I cleared my throat awkwardly, “Well I’m going to bed now, is that all right?”
She hesitated for a moment before approving my requested dismissal. Because of her hesitation, I assumed that she was about to offer to “talk about it”—whatever “it” was. I didn’t really care for the idea of talking to my aunt. I didn’t particularly dislike her, but I didn’t like her either. I wasn’t like that with only her. The same went for my mom back in California, along with most other adults in my family. I preferred to be left alone to do my own thing.
I made my way to my room in the basement. Of course, there were other rooms available on the ground floor. In fact, my aunt would strongly prefer if I slept on the same floor as her. She says it makes her less “nervous.” Of course I’m sure her intentions were all but unreasonable, but I couldn’t help but wonder if there was anything to worry about. I wasn’t the type to sneak out. I wasn’t my sister Alli—though identical in appearance, we were polar opposites. We even lived on opposite ends of the country. She currently lived on the west coast with Mom, while I lived on the east.
According to my aunt, while Alli was here during the summer, she’d flirt with just about every emo-skater punk she’d meet. I on the other hand, was quiet at social events and was normally the first to jump into the car at the first mention of going home. However, if I were to ever sneak out—not like I would in the first place—where would I go? I didn’t really have any friends to speak of. Plus, I was in a foreign land; Newton, Massachusetts. The East Coast. Even the grocery stores were bizarre. I mean what in all the circles of h*ll is “Sudbury Farms?!” I’m trapped in some alternate dimension where Albertson’s doesn’t even exist! It seemed as if there wasn’t a place anywhere within my reach that I could ever claim to belong to; not at school, not at the house, and—now that I’ve taken the time to give this some thought—not even back home with Mom and Alli. I didn’t belong anywhere…hadn’t belonged anywhere since that April day during my freshman year. There was nothing this world could offer for me to gain, and I had already lost all that I had, including my sanity…
Presently, I’m forced to face this ongoing trial. I am unable to recall exactly how I was able to get by each and every day prior to my experience two years ago. It’s frustrating, but no matter how hard I try, I can’t remember. Even old memories from my childhood have undergone a seemingly unstoppable deterioration. No remnants of memories lost in the sea of my mind ever resurface… or at least… they don’t resurface long enough for me to realize I had actually recalled anything. For hours, I would sit on my bed desperately trying to remember anything prior to my first year of high school. Sometimes when it felt like I was getting close, a head-splitting migraine would hit me.
I recall that this had been going on since my sophomore year last year. When the actual memory deterioration started, I’m not so sure, but it’s because of this horrid condition that Mom sent me here to the East in the first place to live with my aunt, a doctor. Though my aunt doesn’t specialize in psychology, she had diagnosed me with depression. The diagnosis was the easy part. The cause of it was the problem. Trying to track down any clues that’d lead to the cause proved futile. Questioning me didn’t help at all, since when they asked, I was at an early stage of my trauma and already having difficulty remembering basic things such as my birthday, my name and even the faces of my own family.
I don’t recall this, but my aunt often speaks of a day when I woke up and couldn’t recognize anyone in the house. Ever since then, I’ve had to meet with my therapist, Nia to “try to uncover something that might be of great importance” and explain why I was so “hopefully depressed.”However, as crucial as it was to find out what was causing my depression, if there was anything I did remember, that was it. I kept few things—if any—from Nia. In fact, I was like an open book to her, but with a few faded and torn out pages and everything left written was in Sanskrit; not quite impossible to decode, but what does get decoded speaks in riddles. I actually sort of liked Nia. Unlike my aunt and my mom, she didn’t treat me like some messed up teenager. She knew just about as much as they did, but regardless, she just treated me like I was normal. Then again, she’s a therapist and it’s her profession. Still, I told Nia a lot—or at least a lot more than I had told anyone else—but didn’t mention the answer to the mystery that she, my aunt and mother had been losing sleep over for the past few months.
The lights flickered on at last, revealing the simple layout of my room. There’s a small bookshelf filled with stacks of notebooks, sketchbooks, manga (Japanese comics) and a small collection of books by Julie Anne Peters. There was a nice firm twin-sized bed covered with a black comforter, and to the left of it was a nightstand. Just beyond it was a small vanity table, the mirror facing the bed. To the right of it was nothing but a small rug on the floor. It leaned against the wall, while the bookshelf leaned on the wall opposite of it. I walked over to the bookshelf and picked up Define Normal, one of my favorite books by Julie Anne Peters, until I let myself fall backwards onto the bed, neglecting my book entirely to stare thoughtlessly at the ceiling. It wasn’t long before I turned off the lights and attempted to sleep hoping it’d be a dreamless night. For a while, I stared through the black abyss surrounding me, my eyes searching for something to focus on. After several moments of exhausting my mind, I gave up and turned over onto my left side. The moon shone dimly through the window. I could see the vague outline of the mirror.
“You know, you should really get some sleep, Airin.”
“Trying to, but failing miserably.”
“Looks like someone’s become quite the insomniac.”
“Shut up. Not like you’re one to talk.”
“Exactly. Not like I’m ‘one’ to talk to in the first place.”
“Yes, I’m aware that we’re crazy.”
“There’s no ‘we’ either, Ai.”
I sighed, “You know what I mean, Boku.”
“Yes, you do know what you mean. Well… tomorrow’s comin’ again.”
I shuddered at the thought, “Don’t remind me.”
“I’m not. You’re reminding yourself. After all, you’re the one that brought it up…”
I turned over to my right. As I lay there dreading the next day to come, the night began its prelude of absolute silence. It wasn’t long before the soundless rhapsody took over my buzzing mind and I slowly but finally fell asleep.
The school bell. Laurie beside me. The business office. Laurie. Me. Her… Can’t breathe. Something is said. I run out. People walk the other way. Have to get to class. Left Laurie behind with… Can’t think straight. Don’t want to. Chest pain. Blurry vision… Tears…
I jolted upwards. I was shaking. I sat panting for several minutes. My head throbbed. I stared at a small beam of light coming from outside. It was morning. I took a moment to attempt to shake off the dream before reluctantly dragging myself out of bed, up the stairs and into the bathroom to get ready for school. I splashed my face with cold water and glared at my reflection, which glared back. My eyes were red and blank. After a while, I was unable to bear looking at myself any longer. I lowered my head.
“Why’d it have to be the 5th again?”
“You can’t make time freeze. It’s not like you can skip days of the year.” I gritted my teeth in frustration. I knew she was right, and it was for that exact reason that Boku got on my nerves so much.
“Shut up, Boku.”
“You know, you always talk to me, and then whatever I say ends with you telling me to shut up.”
“Shut—okay, then stop talking.”
“Yeah, you should.”
Suddenly there was a knock on the door and I turned away from the mirror. Before I could answer, my aunt walked in. Concern filled her eyes as usual. I stood in place saying nothing while an awkward tension filled the silence. My aunt scanned the area as if there was something she was searching for. Boku hid behind me, just as still and just as motionless as I. We stood back to back. After several moments, my aunt turned to me telling me to finish getting ready for school. As she walked away, I turned my back to her, and Boku fixed a glare on my aunt. I shook my head begging Boku to stay quiet. She imitated my movements, but I wasn’t convinced. Boku often imitated what I did. It was natural for her. I didn’t mind it, but I did mind that she tended to speak up at the worst times. What’s worse is that for some inexplicable reason, Boku just didn’t like our aunt.
The entire day, I tried to stay zoned out as much as possible during school, but no matter how much I wished for a distraction to take my mind off of my memories, it didn’t work. Instead, I only found myself retracting deeper into my own unwanted stream of thoughts. The rest of the day was a blur, and I could barely recall getting home, but when I did, my aunt was unusually enthusiastic when I walked in.
“Airin! Hey, how was school? Anong yangyare? [What’s happening?] Anything interesting?” Two years ago, yes, I thought, This year, no.
Before responding, I caught sight of Nia standing off in the corner. At that moment, I knew something was up, “What’s going on?”
My aunt took my arm, “Halika dito. [Come here.]” Her anxiousness was easy to sense. Usually, she’d never speak to me in Tagalog unless she was nervous, or excited. At this point, I couldn’t tell which one it was. She led me to the living room and stopped next to the sliding glass door. There was a big box accompanied by a few medium sized boxes and several smaller boxes, “Your mom sent over some of you stuff. Why don’t you take a look?”
I took a few steps toward the boxes and looked back. Nia watched alertly. My aunt stared intently and I noticed Boku standing behind her. Boku stared straight at me, I don’t like this. This is a therapeutic experiment. Don’t fall for it, Ai.
“Okay,” I said as I stepped forward and started with a small box. The atmosphere was intense. It was like everyone was holding their breath. The first box contained my old pens that I kept from 8th grade and my old drawings which I kept hidden from my aunt. 8th grade wasn’t my best year. My most favorite themes at the time included blood, gore, death and demons; not the best thing for my highly religious catholic aunt to see.
My aunt and Nia continued to watch me as I opened each box. They were like two scientists making observations on their experimental guinea pig. They were waiting for something; a reaction… or perhaps a sign of remembrance. I hated feeling like an experiment, so in return, I refused to give them what they wanted. Minutes passed as I unpacked more papers, old shirts, used and bent ligatures… The only thing I could think of now was what was going through my mother’s mind as she was packing these random trinkets of her eldest daughter. What went through her mind…? Perhaps she was discombobulated on distinguishing between my belongings and Alli’s…? Or maybe she was driven to a frantic and desperate insanity by the thought of her first child’s condition making no progress at all—which could explain why everything was so cluttered and disorganized. Mom was always a neat freak, so seeing this all seemed extremely out of character for her; I almost felt sorry for her.
Finally, after unpacking more pictures, trinkets and the last box—containing my old comforter—the scent of my old room hung in the air; quite a nostalgic smell. I turned around to face Nia and my aunt. As they stood there waiting, the silence continued until it was seemingly unbearable for everybody.
“I guess that’s everything,” I said as plainly as possible, “I’ll bring this all downstairs. Can you tell Mom I said thank you?”
Nia looked over to my aunt, who stood there in front of the sliding glass door speechless almost as if she was standing before a murderer. I stared at her blankly. She stared back. The displayed terror in her eyes made it seem as if she was aware of Boku’s presence behind her. Boku mirrored my expression, but her eyes were cold and filled with detest, resentment, anger and hatred.
Eventually Nia spoke up, “Rita?”
Then as if she had been snapped out of a trance, she looked over at Nia, then back to me. Again, she hesitated to dismiss me. As I began taking things downstairs, she called me from behind, “Oh and Alli sent you a pair of shoes. They’re in your closet already—the shoebox all the way to the right.” I stopped half way down the stairs and looked back at her to respond, but she and Nia were already in deep conversation about something (probably regarding my condition).
By the time I finished bringing everything down, I was exhausted by the rounds up and down the stairs. I flopped down onto my bed trying to figure out where to put everything, unti I dismissed the thought by deciding to worry about it later. I got up and walked into the closet to locate the shoebox my aunt had mentioned. Once I spotted it, it was wrapped in duct tape—typical of Alli to pull something like this just to piss me off. It was a classic prank she always tried to pull on me growing up. We always picked on each other. Although she’d often try to sneak up on me, but Boku—though she didn’t talk at the time-- always gave Alli away when she was approaching. Boku would send me signals through glass, puddles, and even by playing with the shapes the sun forms on the ground when light gets blocked. Alli could never figure out how I knew she was there. Little did she know that Boku and I were always together; from the day Alli and I were born and even now…
I brought it over to the bed after locating a pair of scissors. After several irritating moments of slashing at one side, I managed to remove the tape from one side of the box, revealing a layer of foil (perhaps to prevent ripping the box itself?). I picked passed the foil layering when I spotted a certain symbol I recognized with disdain. Before I knew it, I was shaking violently and my vision began blurring with tears.
In order to confirm the assumption I had come to, I unwrapped the entire box. It was covered in the intricate black marks that I had drawn with a sharpie two years ago. There was a sticky note on the lid that read:
Thought you might need these again one day, so I saved them for you before you could toss them
out freshman year. Knew something was up when you suddenly stopped wearing your Rosario Capsule.
Dunno what happened to you that day or what’s goin’ on right now. Mom’s freaked. Can’t say I’m
too worried though. I know you’re not that easy to be pushed down.
~Alli Bokurin Charis
P.S. Don’t worry ‘bout Mom. I’ll take care of her. But hurry up and get better so I
we can all just go out like we used to.
Slowly, hands shaking, I removed the lid. My assumption was correct. I was holding back tears as I scanned over the first few items visible; old notes written in code, my old pendant and a lost sketchbook. Memories flooded into my mind as much as the tears flooded my eyes. Only recollections as far back as January 5th, 2009—two years prior to this day—returned to me. After a while of staring at the contents of the shoebox, I detected a necklace chain under a pile of notes. I picked it up slowly; it was connected to a blank dog tag-styled pendant wrapped around a black sharpie.
Unable to recall its significance, I held it in my hand and I lied back down on my bed—now covered with my old comforter—without the intention of falling asleep when my eye lids suddenly felt heavy and I felt myself drifting off to sleep, but just before I closed my eyes, I turned over to left. As I slowly drifted off to sleep, I heard a voice—I could have sworn was Boku—say “It’s time now.”
April 30, 2009. It’s Thursday. Laurie and I are in the business office. An unbearable weight settles itself in my chest. To my right is Laurie. To my left, a window. Behind me, chairs. Up ahead… Tina. It’s her last day. Today is her last day here at TUHS. No… this isn’t fair… Why does she have to go…?
I clutch Tina’s sketchbook to my chest with one arm, my other hand the Rosario Capsule—my pendant. I’m paralyzed. It’s taking everything I’ve got to hold back the urge to cry. The bell rings. Tina embraces me in a hug and the weight in my chest grows heavier. She’s trembling… I can’t breathe… We’re both scared. I’m scared for her… I’m scared about her instability. I’m scared for her safety… All I can think about is her… All I can see is her… I don’t want to forget her… I don’t want her to forget me... I don’t want to forget…
She removes a chain from around her neck and holds it out in front of me. I recognize the blank dog tag dangling at the bottom. She whispers something in my ear and then after lightly kissing my forehead, she places it in my hand, “If there’s ever anything painful you wish to forget…” A few tears escape from her eyes.
I’m crying rivers. I know exactly what she means… I wish I didn’t… I run out the door…
I was awoken by my phone going off. I looked around. It was pitch black—midnight. I reached over for the lamp on my nightstand and switched on the light. Its brightness flooded the room, illuminating my surroundings and expelling all shadows. Boku stared at me silently. I tilted my head to the left and she did the same, but to the right. Her eyes were red as if she’d been crying; sadness filling her expression… which was peculiar especially for her.
All of a sudden, something in the mirror caught my attention causing me to realize what was now around my neck. It was an odd, yet very subtle detail which I normally would not have noticed. The very thing I fell asleep with in my hand was now dangling from my neck, with the name of my beloved written clear across one side with black sharpie. Unable and unwilling to think, I went back to sleep until the next morning I awoke to find that everything was still in the same place when I drifted off to sleep the first time—shoebox, sketchbook, comforter and all—but the [once blank] dog tag which was still hanging from my neck. As bewildering as it was, however, I ended up wearing it for the next few days; at school, at home… everywhere and all the time.
With each passing day, Tina’s name grew more and more illegible than the previous day. Soon days turned into weeks and those weeks became months. Every day, Tina’s name kept on fading. Although memories were beginning to come more and more easily to me; even so easily that I didn’t have to sit thinking for hours on end anymore. Boku was talking a lot less these days. Then on April 29th, a few months after I got the boxes from Mom and Alli’s note, I recall lying on my bed examining how much Tina’s name had faded. As I lied there turning over the tag back and forth, I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the tag itself when out of nowhere, Boku said, “Take care of yourself, Ai.”
The next day, the tag was completely blank. One would never be able to guess that there ever was writing on it to begin with. Boku was gone. She never spoke again nor did she ever reappear before me, but I couldn’t help but believe that she disappeared without ever leaving…
I took off the blank dog tag and placed it back in the shoebox. I couldn’t recall when and why I began wearing it in the first place, or what I wrote on it… However, it seemed as if I had finally woken up from a horrible nightmare. Before I knew it, my aunt even took me out of therapy. I was a little bummed about not seeing Nia anymore, but she said I was healed and since now I could remember all the lost memories that they were so desperate to recover, there was no more need for it. I was back. Finally, I was able to return to the way I was before the therapy, before the moving, before the scars, before the depression… but… it’s funny… because I can’t seem to remember what I was so depressed about when this all started…