The Buddhist Monk of Obsession
by Jonathan Price
My mother thought about Lacy in the strangest way. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t see it the way she did. This is probably why I never understood her relationship with Lacy in the first place; I can only imagine their friendship blossomed out of pure benevolence on my mother’s part.
When my mother spoke of her, she sometimes muttered, “Obsession. It’s what the lazy call the dedicated.” I never understood this, either, because it didn’t seem as if Lacy was obsessed with anything. It was the men. There would never fail to be at least a few of them orbiting her like moths, worshipping her as if she were a kitsune of Japanese lore that would play a trick on them if not appeased. She loved to play tricks on them, and she loved to play tricks on me.
I was a teenager under the assault of his own hormones, and noticed every beautiful woman regardless of age. Lacy was no exception. While in her presence, I would helplessly crave to see her entire body, maddened at the twists of fabric that flashed curvy glowing flesh but hid the luscious parts. For those little bits of time, I needed all of her pressed up against my bare skin. But once she was gone, I found the thoughts she had conjured repulsive. The woman was twice my age, and had known far too many of those worshipping men in the biblical sense.
It didn’t take much time for her to discover the power she held over me, and she would relish in holding herself like bait over my head. She tormented me when my others’ eyes were away, with quick provocative gestures or discretely flashed bits of skin. She would grin madly and her eyes would twinkle when taunting me, as if she could see the war between arousal and morality raging within me, knowing I was cursed to silence. Who would believe me that this thirty-something desired me? Of course, then I didn’t understand the difference between teasing and sincerity.
She would barge into our lives at perfectly inopportune times. It was when she failed to pay her rent, when a boyfriend left a bruise too many, or whenever else her life would bottom out.
She would barge into our lives at perfectly inopportune times. It was when she failed to pay her rent, when a boyfriend left a bruise too many, or whenever else her life would bottom out. This was all my mother was to her—a convenient net to catch her when she fell, and quickly forgotten when she climbed out. I pitied my mother at the time for letting Lacy repeatedly use her, but she would always spout off some misplaced moral truism to refute my protests.
The torture was unbearable, and thus avoiding her became a priority. When Lacy’s bags were slapping against the tile that guarded our front door, I was already charging to the pool hall, the bar, or the hill. My mother thought I was going to the mall, or some other locale that attracted poser and prep alike. I let her think such things. I let her think my friends weren’t as uncouth as they really were. They managed to make quite the show in front of her when the need arose. Great friends do things like that, besides the hookups with the fake ID’s and the back ways.
I always managed to schedule sufficient arrangements to occupy my time for the duration of every one of Lacy’s visits, drowning myself with friends, girls, nicotine, alcohol, and other methods of sedation delicious enough to distract me from her thought.
Yet, there was inevitably the snag. Lacy hauled her kids to our house every time she came. She had nowhere else to drop them off—her friends never managed to last a week or two, and every member of her family down to cousins tenth removed were onto her. There were those times that I failed to properly execute my stealthy escapes, and I was forced to drag them with me—a sentence from my mother for my impolite efforts to avoid Lacy. She said I should be nice to her, be her friend, be her kids’ friends. She had a point—her kids sure needed friends.
This forced babysitting caused me to abandon very delicious appointments at times, making true on my excuses of going to the mall or the movies, but looking back it honestly wasn’t that bad. Her oldest daughter Heather was always my favorite. She was a very sweet girl. I mused on occasion that out of the lot of them, she would have grown up to be Lacy's only truly sane offspring—probably. She seemed the least affected of the bunch. I couldn't say with certainty how Heather had ended up, because I blissfully severed Lacy, her family, and my former life when I left five years ago.
I picked out Heather’s face out of the mass of pedestrians as I walked down the wide causeway of Michigan Avenue, the sun glaring through the glass canyons of the city. Beguiled with disbelief, I changed course and followed her down to that artsy museum near the corner of Michigan and Adams and then finally to a small grease stand on the corner of some street or the other, a few blocks away from that hideous red sculpture of a swan. I tapped her shoulder.
Her brow furrowed as her mind's gears churned to process memory. "Jake?" she muttered. I noticed her skin was darker. There were lines across a face that I remembered as unblemished in youth. She was dressed very modestly, in black and white business attire.
"Hey, Heather," I feigned casualness, "I saw you walking down Michigan a few blocks back. Couldn't believe it was you."
The stoner that used to baby-sit you grew up and got himself a real job. See? I’m wearing a tie now.
The pleasantries of conversation continued from this point, as we tossed nothings and catch-me-ups between us. I really didn't absorb any of it—there was something about the shape of her body that drew a queer memory. It wasn't her body.
She did a pirouette and reached for the slippery slice of pizza that was handed to her from the grease dealer. Her motions were drenched in felinity. A faded plum and jade tattoo peaked from the rim of her pants' backside as she was turned, sketched against milky skin. When she cocked her head and whipped inky hair, Lacy taunted me again.
"How's your mother?" I asked.
Lacy’s eyes rolled. "I don’t know. Got away from that psycho as soon as I could. For all I know one of her boyfriends killed her and stuffed her into a barrel,” she jested coldly.
My lips cracked into a smirk. "I guess don't blame you for feeling that way. She was a bitch."
Lacy responded with a pfft and a smirk, “That really doesn’t come close to describing her.”
The conversation died promptly thereafter. She insincerely blathered about how glad she was to see me once again after all these years, and I regurgitated the same phony-sounding sentiment. I meant it, though, despite my ruse of half-heartedness.
The rest of my day was painted with dreams of that Celtic knot on the small of her back, as I thought of how nice it would be to rest my cheek against that spot of her skin, and press my lips against it. The familiar curve of her backside and her small breasts had resurrected the feel of Lacy's presence, but with there was a difference. There was no repulsion, no war between morality and craving. My mind was entirely one sided about the matter.
I rolled up quietly to her apartment a few nights after, checking to be sure that the address I had scrawled on a sticky-note was correct. “Privacy exists only when other people don't care to know,” I remembered one of my mother’s overly used truisms.
The day after I ran into her, I’d awoken to find my limbs sprawled across my mattress, my dreams having tossed me about like a rag doll. My mouth was parched and tasted bitter, and my mind was sparkling and light. My waking thoughts were consumed by curiosity concerning the five years I'd missed since I’d been gone.
A myriad of possibilities manifested themselves regarding how Heather had grown up. She seemed stable enough now, but that could have been the ruse of a first meeting. During our short reunion, Heather's motions had been saturated by Lacy's many flavors, her hatred and her sinew, and her power to imbue lust. But then, she expressed such abhorrence of her mother. I wondered what kind of new creature she was.
I reminisced about the little fragments I knew of her life in an attempt to piece together a probable history, but this did nothing more than rouse further curiosity instead of satiating my questions. Apathy would have burned these memories clear away had they chanced to surface a day before, but now these memories were finding ways to pop into my consciousness, worming their way into my thoughts with an ugly persistence.
I remembered seeing Heather, twelve and shy, a stick of a girl standing alone in the mall with some older high-school boys heckling her. Heather, fourteen, face flushed and running from Lacy because she'd just been caught with a boy's tongue in a place it shouldn't have been. Heather, sixteen and in a sundress, white arms and ankles glowing, her willowy figure dancing rebelliously in the rain.
I nodded out of my trance of thought, then glared through my car’s windshield at the apartment building. I always found it amazing what things you could scrounge up with the Internet, a credit card, and a trip or two to the library and the courthouse. Piles of information lay sitting on my passenger seat: phone, address, age, social security number, and work history, birth records.
Jesus, I’m stalking her.
I considered walking up and knocking, just saying hello and simply asking her all the questions that spun inside my skull. That somehow didn’t seem prudent.
I continued to sit in front of the apartment, hoping to catch a glimpse of her. Rain started to pelt against the windshield, and the clock on the radio rolled to 1 a.m. I found myself drowsy. Despairingly, I decided to drive home.
"How did you get my number?"
"My mom had it. I was talking to her the other day and I mentioned that I ran into you. She said I should give you a call." It was a reasonable sounding lie.
"How'd she get it?"
"Oh, I dunno. I would imagine from your mother."
Her voice changed, aggressive now. "I haven't talked to my mother in two years. I've made sure she doesn't know anything about where I live—"
Shit, I immediately thought. I seemed to have lost my knack at lying.
"—I'll kill whoever gave her my number," she finished.
"You know, my mom always used to tell me, 'privacy exists only when other people don't care to know.'" I cringed as the last word spilled from my mouth. What kind of idiotic thing was that to say?
"Yeah? That makes a lot of sense. Your mom was always pretty cool. You know, this might sound stupid, but, I used to wish that she could be my mom, instead of Lacy."
"Yeah, she was." Here came another bad lie, "Hey, I was thinking we could get together and catch up. I've been doing a lot of thinking since I saw you a few days ago. I left town without ever saying goodbye to anyone, you know? You were like a little sister to me. I kind of—"
"Wait a minute," she cut me off. "No, I really don't think that’s a good idea. You're a great guy, you always stuck up for me, and I appreciate that. It was cool to see you again, but don't start thinking it's a good idea that we get close. My past is something I'd rather leave behind. I think you should do the same."
There was a monumental pause, and then I managed to say, "All right. I understand. I didn't mean to—"
"It's all right, Jack. Forget it about it. Thanks for calling." Click.
"Wish in one hand, piss in the other, and see which gets filled the fastest." I think my mother had a stack of truisms that she hid somewhere in the attic, which she must have consulted from time to time.
I had come home from work the next day to watch the most boring documentaries on television I could find, a stratagem to rid my thoughts of Heather (or was it Lacy?). I instead ended up finding excuses to think of her anyways, and managed to tune out an hour and a half of a heavy British accent and stock footage. As I was having a rather enjoyable erotic daydream of Heather and myself, the both of us wrapped in sweaty grunting ecstasy, I managed to be distracted by something rather unbelievable on the television. I wouldn’t have caught it, actually, had the image not been accompanied by the coarse voice mumbling about ‘icy towels’ and ‘a room chilled to 40 degrees Fahrenheit.’
My eyes focused on the steam that rose off the towel-enshrouded backs of Buddhist monks, who had apparently been sitting in that chilled room for hours without ever getting cold. Listening to the narrative, I learned that they could control generation of their own body heat as they engaged in Tum-mo meditation. They could also lower their breathing and heart rates, and even make their brainwaves change. Of course, they merely exhibited control over their own bodies. Merely.
I laid back and stared at the ceiling after the documentary was finished, the tinny drone of a cereal commercial bouncing off the walls of my apartment, and recalled something a friend had rambled to me as we had laid across the hood of the beat-up land yacht I drove around in my high school days. As we gazed heavenward in the parking lot, enjoying the fine cannabis he had procured for us, he ranted on about his theories of how the universe worked. He lectured me thus:
“…all the knowledge, ever, is made up of threads, Jack. Like string. They stretch—eternal—through the universe. Memories are made when the threads cross with our minds,” he had punctuated his thoughts by jabbing at his temple, “It has to do with perception. We get memories through experience, and that’s how the threads meet our minds, because we perceive the world around us and drag the threads with us. That’s why memories are—unique—to each person, ‘cause experience differs with perception. But, you can make the string cross in all kinds of ways. You just need a little—help.” He finished his treatise with a huge puff of smoke, giving me a ridiculous grin, as if just having concocted a legitimate excuse for getting high.
He never explained the source of this insight, and I never cared to search for one, considering he was baked when he said it.
But I now pondered the possibility of finding resolution to my fascination with Heather in this manner, as ridiculous as it was. Perhaps there was a way of finding out the dark secrets of her past in indirect fashion, crossing those threads of knowledge with a little help. You see, stalking her wasn’t much of an option for me. You can get in serious trouble for that, and that’s not a way that I wanted to screw up my life. I had a decent job now, a studio apartment, and a fuel-efficient compact with a buzzy exhaust that I rarely drove because I took the train everywhere. Besides, I didn’t want to scare the poor girl. I just wanted to know everything about her.
I figured it was worth trying. It’s not as if I could ruin my life trying out some hocus-pocus in the privacy of my own home.
I didn’t know exactly where to start on my quest, but I had some ideas. I dropped by my mom’s house and—enduring the prolonged interrogation she gave me—managed to find an old toy jewelry ring Heather had left over years ago, and a few photos shoved in a box in the hallway closet that lay around. I tore through the closet for more. Behind some of my dad’s shoes (Why didn’t mom throw them out? He’d been dead for fifteen years!) I spotted a dusty ball of paper.
My hands delicately uncrumpled the find to reveal a picture of a cardinal I had drawn when I was seventeen, for my art class. I had totally forgotten. It was one of the few classes I actually bothered to do well in. I showed it to the thirteen-year-old Heather in an attempt to entertain her one day, and she was enthralled with it. I tried to give it to her, but it made Lacy insanely jealous. Lacy became so angry when I tried to give her children things.
The picture had been collecting dust in the corner of the hallway closet for seven years, exactly where it landed when Lacy had tossed it before slapping the tar out of Heather. The shock on Heather’s face and its vivid redness were still bright in my mind.
I left my house and went all the way downtown to complete my mission. I purchased a slice of pepperoni and cheese from grease stand of our reunion, riding all the way back to my apartment on the train with it dripping on my slacks.
I tossed everything on my bed when I arrived home. I sat in the dim light of closed drapes, the afternoon sun facing the opposite end of the building, and stared at the objects while I kept my thoughts empty of anything but what was in front of me. My imagination drew lines among the haphazard arrangement. I imagined them to be my friend’s strings of knowledge stretched between each thing, incorporeally looped through them like ghostly sewing needles.
An hour of staring. Nothing.
I felt a little dumb. I had no idea how the monks went about real meditation, even if it would help me. Should I get a book on it? I imagine the only real way to learn is from another monk. What kind of meditation would this be? Tum-memory meditation? Perhaps if I lost myself in the library, read everything I could on related mumbo-jumbo—
I just spent an hour staring at old photos, a ring from a gumball machine, a wrinkled drawing, and a cold slice of pizza. Now I want to go to the library to get a book on how to transcenden-whatever with this shit. I’m such an idiot.
Undaunted by my own logic, I tried arranging the items in pseudo-pagan fashion, everything in a circle on the bed and me sitting in the center. I focused, thinking about each object in turn, and the associated memories that came to me as I thought of each. With my horrible attention span, this attempt only lasted a few minutes. My mind drifted as I thought dimly about the now petrified slice of pizza. Heather had always loved pizza. And cheeseburgers. She could pile stuff down, like an eating machine—and she was always thin, so very thin.
Ah, screw it, were my last thoughts before relenting to unconsciousness.
I awoke the next morning with a dream still fresh in its sweat. It swam in my head along with the sensations of the real world.
I grumbled to myself as I rose, stumbling semi-conscious into the bathroom. I noticed my right shoulder smelled like pizza sauce. I dimly remembered that I had fallen asleep without cleaning off my bed, and probably had sauce and pepperoni smeared all over my bedsheets.
As I went about my morning routine, I recounted bits of the dream. Lacy had been beating Heather with the back of her hand. Heather was willowy and adolescent, and I estimated her fourteen at best. I didn't recognize the room they were in; it was probably just a fabrication of my unconscious. It had off-white walls and holes in the plaster, and black-painted furniture that was old and chipped. There was an empty birdcage in the corner and an old television on the opposite wall, and a beige couch with the hole in the armrest near the center of the room.
There was a reason for the beating, but it was vague—Heather had done something rather innocent with a boy. It warranted this most severe punishment within Lacy's deranged mind. The dream ended with Heather sitting in school with bruises on her face.
After work, I returned to my mother’s house. The dream made me want more trinkets of memory, despite knowing how absurd my concocted meditation was.
Mom walked in my old room, tired and grey, as I sat on the floor with an album sitting in my lap. She asked why I was suddenly so interested in Heather. I muttered something briefly as an excuse—I just wanted to know because of this weird dream I had last night. It wasn't that I was obsessed with her or anything.
“Strange dream, huh? You didn’t have to clean up after yourself in the morning, did you?” I groaned at her. Mothers always had a knack for teetering on the awkward and lewd, without actually crossing that boundary.
I recounted the dream for her. My mother’s gray eyes grew wide at my descriptions. “Sweetie, that was Lacy’s living room,” she said.
“There’s no damn way,” I reasoned. I had always avoided whatever den of insanity Lacy inhabited. I could not have possibly remembered Lacy’s living room, because I had never been in it.
“No, Jake. That was her living room, in her old apartment on Adams street. That’s exactly how it looked—that’s the way it was about eight years ago.”
“What?” I stared blankly at her, and she returned the same type of stare. Elation and terror brewed within my gut. How could I know what her living room looked like?
Before my mother could question further, I thanked her, planted a kiss on her check (something entirely uncharacteristic of me) and rushed back to my apartment.
I tried meditating again that night. I was determined to stay awake longer, but this attempt was obviously futile considering the next thing I remember was dreaming. I remembered all of the dreams I had that night, which was strange, because I don’t usually remember every dream—just the ones I have right before I wake up.
My dreams were memories. I knew they were memories, because they had that familiar feel, tied with emotions and voices and phrases you know you’ve heard before, but I just couldn’t place where. Like dejavu at nighttime.
And, they weren’t my memories.
I was fast forwarded through clumps of them, unrelated to each other—memories as a toddler, a young child, and in adolescence. In the mental storm, some were very notable from the rest. They were so intense that I could not distinguish them from reality, and when I awoke, I would find even from my own memory.
I saw a hot summer night, sitting in the stands during a game. I was in shorts and a halter-top, with some girls and a few older boys that gawked at my blossoming figure (at Heather’s figure, I suddenly had a semi-conscious flash of thought, this is Heather, not me). I was hot and sweaty, and they were such smelly, hungry boys.
I remembered getting that Celtic tattoo on my back. I had feigned two additional years of maturity, and ended up lying on my soft belly in a dirty parlor for hours, biting my lip at the buzzing pain. I didn't cry. Shelia did, when she claimed that she wouldn’t and that I would be bawling, and she’d only gotten a smaller tattoo on her ankle. I made sure to never let her forget that fact.
I remembered riding in a truck bed with older teenagers, speeding through the main street of town on a warm august night, hollering and flashing my breasts at passing cars.
I remembered my counselor in high school telling me how I couldn't graduate with the rest of my class because I kept failing courses, and wondered why I was sobbing when five minutes before I could have cared less.
I remembered loosing my virginity on Lacy's bed (I had another flash of semi-conscious thought, briefly realizing again that it wasn’t me, and I thought, Heather was that brazen?) to a stout young man, a football player who thought I was an easy lay because I kept teasing him. I just remembered enduring the piercing pain as he relentlessly pounded his hips against me. I gripped the headboard and screamed in pain—he assumed afterwards that the ruckus I made was out of enjoyment. I never told him otherwise. He bragged to all of his friends.
I remember being raped. I couldn't remember his name—Lacy had dozens of boyfriends. I couldn't remember many other details, and I think this amnesia of detail was voluntary. All I saw was the shadow of my face against the mattress, which was sopped in my own tears, and all I felt were my bare knees on the wooden floor and bed cloth chafing against my face.
My eyelids exploded that morning, my face sopped in cold sweat. I somehow ended up hovering over the toilet bowl, watching the contents of my stomach whirling in the water.
I attempted going about a normal day, trying to forget the images I had seen, but Heather’s memories viciously persisted. I could do nothing but obsess about them.
I needed more.
I spent afternoons meditating, nights drowning in Heather’s memories, and mornings vomiting. The wear of this lifestyle on my health soon became apparent. My supervisor was concerned at my lack of focus. He offered me a few days off. I was surprised; I expected him to make me sign termination papers. My mother called me a little more often than usual, and I blew her off more readily than normal.
Every day my consciousness swam in the memory of two. Because of this, I had to be constantly aware of how memory worked. Triggers that would normally cause a retrieval of my own memories would retrieve hers as well, and I would have to stop and remind myself which things happened to her and which happened to me. Thus I was forced to dissect her character and my own so I could differentiate.
My life progressed like this for weeks. After having practiced the memory meditation religiously, dissecting and analyzing every memory and every event of her life during each free sliver of my time every day for two months, I realized that I was really getting to know her. I mean, I knew her before, but it was just a little bit of her. I now could see everything that intersected with her life.
I knew everything about of her.
She wasn’t the angel I had remembered. I knew all of the dirty things that happened to her—all of the dirty things that she did—and realized she was no better than the devil I had been when I was her age. I also knew that a sliver of innocence had persisted in her heart.
I knew everything about her.
That is, up until the time that I moved away. I soon came to the realization that not one memory existed past that day that I had left home. What prevented me from grabbing those threads of memory?
I brainstormed for an entire day about how to get them. I thought I had an answer, as I realized that almost all of the tokens I had dredged up were entangled within events of the past. Almost, with the exception of the pizza slice. The slice of pizza was recent—but, ah! It was never something she held, never something she touched. It was just another slice of pepperoni and cheese, similar yet not the same one she ate that day of our reunion. I knew that I needed something that had recently come in direct contact with her life.
This meant breaking into her apartment.
I had to watch so I could learn her patterns. I didn’t go into work for three days straight, and didn’t bother for the fourth day because I knew I didn’t have a job left. I lived in my car for two weeks, only leaving in the dead of night to return to my apartment to bathe and to eat whatever food rotted in the fridge.
Most of her activities were irregular, except for work. I didn’t dare attempt to break in during the middle of the day. I did learn that every Friday night she would leave to return Saturday morning, drunk and dirty. I had a whole night to work with.
That following Friday I waited outside the building until a tenant left so I could catch the front door before it closed. I hid in the shadows of the maintenance closet behind the boiler until three the next morning, after which I cautiously skulked up the darkened stairs to her door.
4C. I briefly pondered picking the lock with a wire or some ridiculous thing like that, but I wouldn't have had the slightest idea of what I was doing anyway. I shrugged, and tried to open it the normal way, finding that it popped open with a simple twist of the knob. Seemed she had forgotten to lock the door. Something I knew from her memories was that she forgot little things like locking doors behind her all the time, and locking her keys in her car.
I poked around the disheveled quarters, snooping about for items she probably wouldn't miss. There was a brush that sat on the coffee table, matted with her tangled sable—an excellent specimen. The dusty corner of a paperback peaked out from underneath the couch. I retrieved it and began to leaf through the pages, discovering it was a horribly written romance novel. I chuckled to myself as I placed it into my huge jacket pocket, alongside the brush.
I then wandered into the kitchen, which was in horrid disarray. Dishes and pots were piled in the sink, obviously having been sitting for weeks. Lacy lived like this, I recalled from Heather’s memories. Not finding anything of interest there, except for a half-eaten casserole that looked like it had been sitting for a while, I braced for forbidden territory—the bedroom.
There was a dog-eared photo on the dresser. Current boyfriend? Ex? Certainly not a relative or an old friend, for I would have drawn her memory. Off it went into the pocket. I discovered a dozen other pictures in her dresser drawer, hidden away so she wouldn't have to look at them but so they always remained part of her life. Some of them had writing, vicious words; some had crosses and jab marks from a pen. The hatred was obvious, but why was she afraid to throw them away? I decided to take a random sample, leave the rest.
I felt pathetic and stereotypically deranged all the same when I found myself opening another drawer and grabbing a pair of her panties. I couldn't deny the logic in the act, however. How intimate could an object get on a regular basis? I suddenly thought of a dozen other things, and thus I decided it was best to leave the apartment.
I rushed home and spent a good three wee morning hours in my meditation ritual with my new objects. The sleep afterwards was luscious and deep.
Too deep. It was devoid of event recall, or any kind of dream, in fact. I tore out of bed that afternoon, enraged at this failure, and glared at the new tokens spread across the floor amidst the old. I had followed my established methods exactly—the objects in the circle, the focusing. I focused hard, damnit!
What did I miss? The objects were intimate and recent parts of her life. The hair and the panties should have done it, at least! Would I have to ransack her whole apartment to get what I needed?
I mulled over this in incessant repetition as I rode the electric train downtown, mumbling theories and recalling memories aloud to myself, ignoring the queer glances of the other passengers. It gnawed away at my insides, a hunger worse than the boys at the baseball games.
I soon found myself staring at the brass 4C on her door again. My life usually amounted to decisions like this, rashly made in the heat of emotion and out of desperation when I've realized my other bad ideas have failed. I assumed she'd be home from work. She usually didn’t work Saturdays. She’d have a hangover and would be in a shitty mood.
I imagined turning the knob and simply entering, waving at her incensed face and saying, 'Hi, how's it going? Don't mind me at all,' grabbing a few more objects from her apartment and then walking out in the most casual fashion.
My hand instead rose to knock. It had almost struck the thick skin of black paint before I heard, "Oh my god." My head snapped to the left to see a thin figure at the base of the stairs, bags hanging from her hands.
"Hi—Jake. What are you doing here?"
My mind quickly constructed a semi-plausible excuse. "I—was shooting it over the phone with my mom the other day again, and she insisted that I pay you a visit. Said it might do you some good. She was worried about you." That was horrible.
"And she gave you my address."
"She looked it up—yeah, she gave it to me. I figured I'd drop by this afternoon." Lie, lie, lie.
She knew it was, too. "Jake, I told you that this wasn't a good idea."
"Yeah, well, I told her that, you know? She never listens to a word I say." I eyed her posture as I said this. She leaned tiredly with the bags clinging from her fingertips, arrogant expression on her face. Tummy slightly scrunched up, muscular legs. It looked painfully familiar. "You sure you don't want me to carry tho—"
"No, Jake. I don't want you here. Look, you were a really nice guy," I'd heard the rasping angry tone before, from another mouth, "I don't have anything against you. But this is a little weird, you showing up at my apartment like this. Besides, why do you think I want to remember anything about my past? Do you know how bad it was for me?" But I did. I knew all of it. "I left because I didn't want to remember it anymore. You remind me too much, Jake."
"I'm sorry." I couldn’t think to say anything else.
"You know my mom liked you? I mean, she really wanted you. She talked about how she wanted to do things to you—to us, her kids! Ugh," she groaned. "You have to know what that means. You can't be part of my life."
The last statement ran me through. You can't be part of my life.
I hadn't been part of her life! It had nothing to do with tokens or objects; there was no voodoo garbage that made me remember her memories. It was me. The memories came because I was weaved within the threads of her memory by my presence. I was only entangled in her memory up until the time I had moved away, whereupon I faded away from her life. I was entwined in the fabric of her experience as a horrible reminder of her suffering. This is all that I was to her now—a bad memory!
This fact enraged me with its blatant unfairness. I was more than that! I deserved to be more! I should have taken the chance when I was younger, overcame my fears and drawn close to her, should have been her hero when I had instead selfishly protected myself from Lacy.
She stood there glowering at me, waiting for me to say something in response to her protests. I saw Lacy glaring at me again. The posture, the tone of voice, the very reasoning behind her request to keep me out of her life—it all reeked of Lacy’s thinking.
"You need to leave, Jake."
Pieces continued to fall from the sky. The disheveled apartment. The pictures of a dozen boyfriends. Poverty and smutty clothes. The attitude. The power to imbue lust, although twisted into a new form of obsession. The eighteen-year-old that was living inside my head wasn’t standing in front of me, she’d ceased to exist five years ago. This was someone different.
It was Lacy’s daughter.
A horrible knot lumped up in my throat as I kept my gaze on her. Now I was stuck with a dead girl living in my mind, forever cursed with the memories of a person I could never experience again in the flesh, someone I could have saved but now never could.
“Those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it,” another of mom’s clichés suddenly popped out of my mouth. I never did mention how much I hated my mother's truisms. She said them enough to doom someone to have them pop into their heads at unexpected times.
"You were a great kid, Heather," I managed to add. "But people grow up, they change."
"Yeah," she replied, “I guess we all change.” I wondered if she was making a jab at me.
"You know," I kept going, the lump still bobbing about in my throat, "your past plays a pretty big role in shaping what you are. My mom always tried to beat that into my head, but I've—quite recently grown to appreciate how much that’s true.
“You refuse to remember because it hurts. So you let you’re past bang around inside your head unchecked, and it’s starting to shape you into something that you hate the most. If you let yourself remember, you can resist the identity your past secretly tries to force you into. It might hurt, but you have to remember everything.
"God knows I do."
Her face transformed into an expression of horrible realization. Her eyes squinted and pierced at me, as if to ask, how the hell did you know to say that?
I didn't answer her. I really didn’t need to say anything else. I brushed past her on my way down the stairs, my bare arm sliding against hers. I drew one last memory, remembering how her own skin felt to her own touch, and I thought about how it felt to my touch then. The difference was startling.
I knew she was staring after me, even though I didn’t look behind me, her eyes piercing into the back of my skull, pounding for an answer. How did you know? How did you know to say that? I didn’t turn; I just made my way down the stairwell, to the door. I kept the apartment behind me, all the way down the street to my civic, and refused to look back. My face was pounding hot with blood, my head sparkling and light. I would like to think I’d found the middle way between my unbalanced fixation and love, between sinner and hero. I wondered if Heather would find the middle way between sin and possibility, what she once was and what she could become.
I really wanted to go home and tell my mother what a wise woman she was.
Jonathan Price is a 26 year old aspiring writer who toils in retail to pay his bills. His work has previously appeared in Strange Horizons webzine. He has a degree in computer technology, but would much rather spend his time in front of the computer churning out fanciful ideas than making other people's computers work.
Copyright 2003-2006 AntiMuse