For the month of February, each writer’s post will begin with the same line, which we’ve borrowed from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.
All of this happened, more or less. Of course, the memories happened more. The events happened less. But I have told these memories to myself over and over again, like a broken record, like a man with dementia, until they became immutable. I’m stuck with them now.
In high school, a friend and I were discussing who the most and least intelligent members of our clique were. It was a nonchalant conversation, immature in its understanding and devastating in its consequence; whoever the winners and losers were would be consecrated as such in our minds. We carried on anyways, quickly establishing the most intelligent. It was a tie between three or four of us, but it was an easy tie that happened out of necessity. Too many intelligent minds filled our group.
Then came the more interesting question: who was the stupidest? Who couldn’t quite keep up with the smartest in the group? I rattled off a couple names. My friend shook his head, a sympathetic grin forming at the corners of his mouth, and said, “It’s you.”
There is something about being the youngest in one’s family that makes his or her opinion more suspect, simply by virtue of having fewer years. Every year the older members have is a year of experience and information that the younger doesn’t. Add to this the way in which the youngest relies on the wisdom of the older members, raised for so many years as the shorter and less-developed person, and it’s easy to see how one might begin to doubt his or her self even after their mind matured, no matter how loving and supportive the family.
Outward Bound, Super Camp, tutors, counsellors, mentors—my parents spared no expense in trying to figure out my 2.33 cumulative high school GPA. Nothing worked.
“You have no discipline,” said my professor. “If you want to be a successful writer you need more discipline.”
I nodded my head like I knew what he was talking about. “You mean like writing every day?”
“No,” he said, shuffling through some papers, “I mean your writing is undisciplined. You need to pay more attention to the details of the craft.”
I was twenty-three and working at Starbucks when I ran into my old high school guidance counselor. We knew each other rather well for a time, because my grades were so low I was required to visit his office often. I walked up to him excitedly, as I’m sure many of his old students do.
“Hey Mr. Meyer,” I said, “I’m not sure if you remember, but you were my guidance counselor in high school.”
“Oh, yes,” he said, “I remember our conversations. It’s good to see you.”
Not much more was said. He looked at me coolly. There was something about the way he held me in his eyes. A distance. I wondered how many times he had spoken the same words to others.
I walked into the metal detector with my jacket still on, not realizing my mistake until I lifted up my arms and felt the jacket’s flaps pull apart across my chest. The attendant told me to take my jacket off, put it onto the conveyer belt, and get back in line. My coworkers had already made it through TSA and were waiting on the other side. My mistake cost us an extra minute.
“Sorry,” I said to them when I finally made it through, “My brain’s not working this morning.”
“That’s nothing new,” my boss mumbled under his breath.
I’m afraid of Alzheimer’s. It runs in my family. I’m afraid that when the memories leave I’ll be left with these ones.