Selective Memory (Short Story)

It was the 20th of December when my ex-girlfriend got into a car accident. Naturally, I was nowhere near the accident at the time. Isn’t the definition of a breakup to not be with the person you broke up with? In any case, I spent the morning of December 20th trying to get breakfast with a friend.

“I swear, you told me that this place was quick,” I said. My growling stomach helped force the issue.

Samir’s tone was somewhat apologetic, but mostly defensive. “They usually are. Maybe they have some new people working the kitchen or something.”

“Whatever, I’m just joking.” I waved off his concern at defending his choice. Instead, I took a peek at the outside through the nearby window. Like any single person, I didn’t spend my time admiring the brutalist architecture style of the nearby student dorms, but rather incrementing my daily mental count of all the couples that happened to walk by.

I was up to 5 so far. It was a quiet morning apparently.

“Anyway, what happened with Elaine last night?” Samir said, interrupting my counting exercises.

“Elaine?” She had been my recent hope to make me one of the counted, rather than a counter. I began relating the events of the evening of the 19th to him. How we planned to meet up for at a bar with some mutual friends. How she was a little late. How she ordered a mixed drink while the rest of us ordered pitchers of beer. How we all just started talking.

And of course, I mentioned the inevitable twist that changes everything.

“So after a few drinks, everyone starts getting a little looser. and then the conversation shifts to girlfriends and boyfriends. One of my other friends asks Elaine if she has a boyfriend right now. She says ‘no’.”

“Well, wait. That’s good news right?” Samir said, interrupting again.

“Yes yes, that’s great news,” I quickly replied, trying to get back on track with the story. “But then, she adds on ‘and I’m not looking for anyone right now’.”

Samir’s face grimaced like he had taken a blow to the chest. Imagine how I felt when I heard that news live on-the-scene. At least he was getting the “censored for the evening news” version.

I sighed quietly and rubbed my face. “In any case, it’s just another name to add to the list of failures.”

Samir quickly jumped into the conversation, eager to pick my spirits up as any friend would do. “Oh come on. It’s not that bad. What is this ‘list’ of failures you’re talking about?”

The sad fact was that I knew it better than I knew the proofs for my calculus final.

Cassandra, the rich foreign student, who I had taken a 8 A.M. lecture just to be with, only to find out that she had a boyfriend. Of course, this was after the drop deadline.

Rachel, the quiet girl, whom I spent months getting to know, then I found myself too much of a friend to be anything more.

Saaya, the Japanese student I met while I was abroad, whom I could truthfully claim was my “three-hour girlfriend.”

Jackie, the girl I almost broke the bank to win at a date auction. It was a double defeat, I lost the auction and the chance to win her over.

Samir, now reminded of the “list,” stopped the exercise at four names. “When you put it that way, you make it sound super depressing.”

“Isn’t it?”

“Hey, it just isn’t your time right now. You’ll find someone eventually.”

The same old tired excuse. Nonetheless, I had to believe it again if I wanted to avoid another state of depression.

“And besides,” Samir continued, “you already have one more girlfriend here than I ever had. Lauren right? Lauren Yang.”

Lauren Yang. Yes, I guess it was true, I did have one success, despite how brief it was and poorly it ended. I did, at some point, in between Rachel and Saaya, have someone I could call a girlfriend.

We started beautifully.

Then I did something horrible.

And we ended terribly.

It had been about two years since last I spoke to her. After our breakup, I was such an insecure mess than I had to resort to impersonal e-mails about the most trivial things just to try and stay in her mind. I would have to talk to her friends just to find out how she was doing.

Eventually, in response to one of my insignificant e-mails, she wrote, “I think you should stop talking to me. It’s for the best. I just don’t feel comfortable hearing from you anymore.”

It wasn’t like I was stalking her. I wasn’t hanging out in darkened alleyways or constantly checking her Facebook profile. How did I get from such a fantastic relationship to me trying to erase her face from my memory just so it would not haunt me anymore?

Lauren Yang, my biggest success and my biggest failure.

Despite all that emotional baggage, all I could say in reply to Samir’s inquiry was, “Yeah…Lauren.” A shrill voice interrupted the conversation, announcing the number of our order. Samir got up, returning with two plates of food. My breakfast was a cold pastrami sandwich that I distinctly remembered requesting to be hot. Still, a hungry stomach does not care much about the contents, so I quickly dug in, grateful that at least the bread was tasty.

The conversation between me and Samir continued, eventually drifting away from the topic of girlfriends. We started to focus more on our food than on any real important topics of conversation.

I was finishing the last touches of my sandwich when my cell phone began to vibrate in my pocket. Not being used to receiving calls, much less calls early in the morning, I eagerly pulled it out.

“Scott Wen?” I said, reading the caller ID aloud. Samir’s head perked up with interest. Scott was a friend of mine, but more importantly, a friend of Lauren’s as well. However, after Lauren and I broke up, Scott and I rarely talked, only exchanging words when we happened to pass each other on the street.

“Don’t just stare at it. Answer it.”

I heeded Samir’s command and flipped the phone open.

“Hello?” I started off with the standard greeting.

“Roland? It’s Scott.”

“Scott!” I tried to sound more surprised. “It’s been awhile. What’s up?”

“Hey, I’m sorry to call you this early.”

“Don’t worry about it. What can I do for you?”

“Ah, well…” Silence sneaked its way into our conversation for several seconds. “Screw it. I’ll get right to the point. I’ve got some bad news to tell you.”

I was genuinely interested in what bad news a mere acquaintance could give me. “Oh…okay. What happened?”

“Well, I just heard from Sara. She was at the hospital. She told me that Lauren, she got into an accident this morning.”

The mere mention of Lauren’s name was enough to make my heart fall a couple inches, but now it was compounded by the fact she was in the hospital also. What’s the correct emotion here? Concern, obviously. How much sadness was appropriate? As I tried to figure it out, I kept Scott busy with more questions. “What the? What happened? Is she alright?”

“Sara said that Lauren was driving in to work from the city. They think Lauren fell asleep at the wheel.” Another invasion of silence followed. “But, I heard she’s doing alright now.”

“That’s great news.” It was the only reply I could muster. Relieved at the news, I started to calm down. Still, a nagging thought hung around in the back of my head. “I’m really glad to hear that Lauren is doing okay. But, I just have one question.”

“Oh, sure. What is it?”

“I don’t mean to be rude or anything, but why did you tell me this? I haven’t spoken to you in a couple months, and I haven’t spoken with Lauren in about two years. And well, you know how Lauren and me are.” Scott didn’t need me to fill in the blank for him.

“Yeah, I understand. To be honest, I’m not sure why either. But, Sara told me that Lauren wants to see you. I asked Sara why she didn’t call you herself, but Sara is still a little sore about what happened between you and Lauren.”

“I see. Are you sure that Lauren wants to see me?”

“That’s what Sara said.”

“And you’re sure she’s not dying or anything.”

“God no. I don’t think so.”

“Sorry. I just never figured Lauren would want have anything to do with me anymore.”

“Well, that’s the way things are now.” Scott paused for a second. “You should really go see her.”

This moment reminded me when Scott told me the exact same words before I broke up with Lauren. I briefly enjoyed my trip to the past before I fell back to the present.

“I guess I have to. Where is it?”

I jotted down the address of the hospital and after exchanging a couple more words with Scott, said goodbye and hung up the phone.

Samir, who apparently had been hanging on my every word, quickly chimed in. “Lauren’s dying? What’s going on?”

“Lauren’s not dying. She got into an accident and she’s in the hospital. I need to go see her.”

“You need to go see her? Is something going on with Lauren again?”

“Damned if I know. But when someone in the hospital wants to see you, you go. If television has taught me anything, it’s that.”

Samir, not the television watching type, simply shrugged. “I guess so. Fine, I’ll catch you later.”

The brisk cold of a December day greeted me as I stepped out onto the street. Bundled up, I made my way to the nearest bus stop that would take me to the hospital. With nothing else to do, I continued to increment my couple count while I waited for the bus. I just managed to reach double digits when the bus arrived.

My mind still busy trying to comprehend why Lauren would want to see me, I took a seat in the back of the bus. I tried to make it clear with my posture that I didn’t seek anyone to sit next to me unless they had to. I watched the world pass me by, but quickly found myself becoming drowsy. Well aware the trip to the hospital would take almost an hour, I let myself drift away.

Luckily, I was able to hear the bus PA system announce the approach of the hospital bus stop, breaking my light sleep. Quickly realizing where I actually was, my hand darted for the stop request button.

Again I was welcomed with a cold breeze as I got off the bus although the overall temperature had increased slightly during my ride. The hospital looked out of place with its surroundings, large cubes and wide fields of the campus contrasted considerably with the crowded rows of nearby houses. I hurried over to the hospital’s main entrance, eager to get out of the cold.

The hospital entrance was decorated festively for the upcoming Christmas season. The “Merry Christmas” banner plastered on the sliding doors split into two words as the doors parted. A large life-size cutout of a cute cartoon dog in a doctor’s coat warned me of the dangers of the current flu season as I entered the lobby. I worked my way through a maze of chairs and waiting people to approach the receptionist’s desk.

She was busy on the phone when I reached her. “…Right, right. Don’t worry, I’m off on Christmas. I can meet your family then. Okay. See you soon, honey. Bye.”

I incremented the count in my head. Was I at 12? I had lost track after I taking that nap. It was a shame too, the receptionist was pretty cute. Then I remembered the reason I was here. I figured it wasn’t exactly moral to be hitting on people right before you meet your ex-girlfriend who was just in an accident and wanted to meet you after years of no contact.

“Sorry about that,” she said, as she hung up the phone. “Can I help you?”

“Oh, yes,” I replied, trying to reorganize my thoughts. “I’m here to see a patient. Her name is Lauren Yang.”

“Okay, one second.” She turned her focus to the nearby computer, seemingly typing more than she needed to just to find a room number. I saw a nearby poster of the cartoon dog from the entrance. This time he wanted me to get all my shots. “Lauren Yang, you said?” I nodded in reply. “Okay, she’s in Room 602. Elevator is to your right.” She pointed vaguely to her right before hastily dismissing me to resume her work.

Pushing my way through an exiting crowd of people, I jumped into the elevator right before it closed. I flashed an embarrassed smile at the remaining occupants of the elevator before pushing the button for six. Faint muzak piped in, distracting me from thinking further about it. Soon enough, the elevator dinged and a large six showed up on the number display. The elevators doors again parted and a busy bulletin board of notices and warnings greeted me. Not giving any time to the possible life-critical messages on it, I followed the signs leading me to Room 602.

I hesitated slightly in front of Room 606. What the hell was I about to do? I would be seeing my ex-girlfriend, someone whom I had not spoken to in two years and not expected to ever speak to again. Moreover, she had just been in accident. Should I have dressed better? Should I have brought flowers?

All those opinions against not coming were summarily defeated though. Lauren asked to see me. If after all that happened, she wanted to see me, then it had to be important. I would have to tough it out.

605…604…603. There it was, Room 602. Behind the door was Lauren. Someone I spent so long loving, but even longer missing.

Another thought came to me. Do I even remember how she looks? It honestly took me more time than it should have to remember. My mind had built up so many defenses against the pain that I think I forgot her face. I was selectively destroying the memories that caused me pain. The process wasn’t perfect though. The content of the memory was gone, but the result still remained.

Faint pains aside, I steeled myself and opened the door. Realizing I should have knocked first, I only opened it slightly and peeked inside.

The overall white of the room was heightened by the sunlight shining in through the window. Some flowers had been sloppily placed on a corner table, apparently brought there as a quick afterthought. Naturally, the majority of the room was taken up by medical equipment. Various machines I had only seen on television made a mess of boxes and wires, all surrounding a bed, which I could only assume contained Lauren’s sleeping body. No one else was in the room, which was to my benefit. I knew that Sara was here before. After the breakup, she became unapproachable to me. She was the personification of Lauren’s hatred towards me.

In any breakup, the two parties involved will always try to fight for moral dominance. One side will always want to look like a victim, while making the other side look like the bad guy or girl. But it’s a delicate balance. Just like in real war, you can’t go in too strong, or the world opinion is going to go sour on you. However, if you can get someone else to do your dirty work for you, then no one will blame you for it.

Sara was how Lauren got to enjoy the moral high ground post-breakup. It was also how I lost a whole group of friends. I learned that poison spreads quickly.

Quietly shutting the door behind me, I approached the bed, aware that Lauren was sleeping. Normally, I would have woken someone at a time like this, but I decided to let her sleep instead.

Admittedly, she did not look bad for someone who just was in accident. Bandages around her head were the only visible sign of something wrong, but otherwise, she was just as beautiful as the day it ended.

So that’s what her face looks like.

And then I found out what her face looked like when her eyes opened.

She said my name weakly.

“Lauren? You’re awake.”

“Yeah.” She smiled at me. I didn’t know how to feel about that. “What took you so long?”

“I uh…had breakfast with Samir this morning. I came as soon as I got the news.” I tried to play it cool in front of her, but with my heart racing and my mind confused at her attitude, I didn’t know what to think.

“It’s okay. The important thing is you’re here now. How long can you stay?”

What? How long could I stay? What was going on?

“I, guess I can stay as long as you need me.” It was true, I didn’t have any plans today beside sit at home and watch Christmas television.

“That’s good. You’ll make me better quicker, won’t you?”

“I guess?” Was this some kind of joke?

If it was, she was definitely committed to the humor. I was so busy trying to comprehend the situation that I didn’t notice her hold my hand in hers until the touch was evident.

I hadn’t been touched like that since we were going out. I hadn’t been spoken to so kindly by her since we were going out.

Then I finally noticed her eyes. There was something different about them. It took me a little while to get it, but then I figured it out. No longer was there the anger and indifference I received from her cold stare the few times I met her in person after the breakup. No, now her eyes conveyed something much warmer, some sort of love and friendship one gets from their girlfriend.

Girlfriend?

I gave her a test. “What happened to you, Ro-chan?” Ro-chan was the nickname I gave her when we were going out. It was the shortened, cute version of her name in Japanese. It made sense back then.

She gave me her version of the events. Then she ended by calling me by her nickname for me.

“I see. Will you give me a second?” I started to get up, but noticed she was holding too tightly to my hand. She always used to do that when I was her. I flashed her a quick smile, just to reassure her that I wasn’t going anywhere far. She smiled back and gently let go of my hand.

This was just too surreal. It was too real to be a dream, but too fantastic to be believable. I noticed that her charts were hanging from the front of the bed, so maybe they would shed some insight into her present state. I took them from the holder and started to look through them.

A majority of the notes were basic identifying information or incomprehensible medical jargon. However, I did notice an area towards the end marked simply as “Notes.”

“…Physical damage is limited. Should regain full mobility in several days. Mental status is questionable. Has full memory of events leading up to accident. However, friend accompanying patient noted that she has no memory of events relating to former significant other. Apparently suffering from selective memory loss of this related block of events. Length of memory loss still to be determined. Further tests ordered…”

Selective memory loss? Did she just forget the last two years of her life? But it said she knew everything leading up to her accident.

“Hey, Lauren, you said you were driving to your work right? Where was it again?”

“My work? It’s on Durant. You know that. But, why so formal? What’s with this ‘Lauren’ business? We’re alone you know, you usually call me ‘Ro-chan’. Just because I’m in a hospital bed, doesn’t mean anything is different.”

No, everything was different. She didn’t start working until after we broke up. I didn’t know where she worked. And the whole ‘Ro-chan’ phase was definitely over.

“Right right. My mistake. I heard Sara came by?”

Lauren raised herself slightly in the bed. “Oh yeah. Just to help me fill out some forms. You know, she kept saying the strangest things. Like you and me broke up and don’t talk anymore. I don’t know, she said I had amnesia. But, I know what day it is, I know what I did yesterday, I know what I need to do tomorrow. That can’t be amnesia, right?”

“Yeah, I guess. But what about us?”

“Well,” she hesitated, “I guess that’s weird. I don’t remember anything between us since like what…2nd year? Between us I mean. I remember the boat dance, but after that, it gets foggy. Hell, wouldn’t I remember if you and I broke up though? Especially if I remember everything else.”

The boat dance? That was a long time ago. The last good memory I have of the two of us.

I didn’t want to cause her anymore stress. And really, I needed to take in what just happened. “Sure. You’re right…Ro-chan.”

Lauren smiled brightly at the mention of her nickname. “That’s more like it.”

And so we spent the 20th of December together. It took me about another hour to get used to Lauren’s rekindled affection for me, but I began to relish it. It was a welcome change to the dreary lifestyle I had grown accustomed to. Lots of hand holding, nickname using, and those eyes. God, those eyes were just so warm. Anyone would melt looking at them, with the way she viewed the world.

But there was one more nagging thought in my head. Something that would not let go of me.

Would this last? What would happen if she recovered her memory? The downfall, the breakup, the pitiful attempts at contact, and the eventual loss of contact? Not to mention what I did to her. It would come back to her all at once. Every time I met her gaze, I worried that something in her head would click and then they would become as cold as ice.

The afternoon of the 20th turned into the evening of the 20th soon enough. We just talked and talked, interrupted every now and then only by hospital personnel checking in on Lauren. Time always flew when I was with Lauren. No wonder our relationship seemed way too short.

However, as much as I enjoyed it, I knew that I had to administer one final test to see if this could be for real.

“Hey, will you be able to stay overnight? I think the hospital would let you stay if I said so.”

“I don’t think I can stay overnight. Not tonight, unfortunately.” I was lying. I could, but I had to do something that required my absence from Room 602.

“Oh okay.” Lauren seemed slightly dejected. “But you’ll be back tomorrow?”

I rubbed Lauren’s hand gently. “Tell you what. If you want me to come back tomorrow, you call me in the morning personally. Don’t use Sara this time.”

Lauren chuckled. “Sure thing. But I want you to come tomorrow, right now.”

“Sleep on it.”

“Stupid! Maybe I won’t then,” she said playfully, sticking out her tongue at me.

“Hey,” I exclaimed, as yet another thought hit me. “Let’s take a picture.” I always had a digital camera with me.

“What? No way, I’m in no shape to be taken pictures of.” Lauren instinctively shielded her face.

“It’s okay,” I said, coaxing her out of her shell. “I think you look pretty enough as it is.”

“Stupid!” Despite her protest, she brought her arms down. “Fine, just let me at least fix my hair.”

As she fixed herself up, I set up my camera on the nearby table. I set it to run on a timer and then ran quickly over to Lauren’s side as the camera started to flash.

Click.

“Looks great!” I exclaimed, as I appraised the picture.

Unbelievable as it seems, one of the true regrets of my relationship with Lauren is that we never had a chance to take a picture together. I had pictures of her by herself, she had pictures of me alone, but there was no definitive picture of the two of us together.

But, on a tiny memory stick, I did now.

“I’m sure I look terrible,” Lauren said.

“Psh, whatever. Look at it.” I showed her the picture.

She yelped in reply. “Heck no, don’t put that on Facebook.”

Well, her pop culture knowledge was still intact too. I put the camera away.

“Hey…” Lauren started to speak, “stay until I fall asleep. Okay?” She grabbed my hand yet again, squeezing tightly.

I squeezed back in response. “Sure thing.”

It was late, so she soon fell asleep, my hand still in hers. I gently let go once I was sure she was out. Then I grabbed a nearby pen and paper and started writing.

What about? I started from the boat dance and kept on going until today, December 20th. I wanted to give Lauren the memories she had lost. Maybe she was meant to forget all the bad things in her life, but no one should have to live their life as only a part of who they really are. People are the sum of their life’s events, both bad and good.

Did I deserve a second chance with Lauren? Maybe. But I didn’t want to be handed the chance, especially by something like this. I’d leave it up to her.

I wrote all the gory details. But I made sure to make most of the opportunity I had now. I told her all the horrible things I did to her, but I also made sure to include the most sincere apology I had made to date.

I just kept writing and writing. By the time the letter was done, the lights in the hallway had dimmed to help the patients sleep. Lauren had only shifted a couple times throughout the night, but didn’t wake up again. The letter was rather lengthy, although the size was increased by my constant revisions and cross outs. I wanted to make sure my words were perfect.

I put the whole mess into an envelope and wrote “To Lauren” on it. I placed it on the table on the side of her bed.

I got up, a little drowsy from my writing exercise, but awake enough to get a cab home. I made sure to take one last long look at Lauren, not sure if I would ever see her again. Lauren looked peaceful, sleeping on the bed. One last memory of watching her sleep hit me, but the wave of reminiscence subsided quickly. Gathering as much courage as it had taken to enter in the morning, I finally managed to leave the room.

On the cab ride back to my place, I played around with my cell phone with my right hand. The lighted screen display illuminated the dimly lit cab interior greatly.

I wondered if my cell phone would go off the next morning, with Lauren on the other end.

But, I guess that would be in a story about December 21st.


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