At first there is little to take in, although the adrenaline surging through my system has kicked my amygdala into high gear, assuring that I absorb every little detail, lay down memories so thick time seems to slow: two guards, their fingers etching bruises into my arms; a bald man; concrete walls of this makeshift interrogation room. One guard pulls up my sleeve and yanks my arm across the table; the other has a needle in his hand. He sticks me, and the walls suddenly peel back like the gray frosting on my third birthday cake (a brontosaurus whose flesh was sweet as sugar). Like waves splashing together in the Big Surf wave pool, this magic moment meshes with every other memory that has led up to now, stretching back through all the neural pathways of my life. There is no pattern. All is chaos.
The Beatles are coming after Beaver Cleaver with AK-47s and I know this trip has gone terribly, terribly wrong.
A woman’s shouting, “I shaved my legs for this? I shaved my legs for THIS?!” I don’t know why you shaved your legs, lady — I don’t even know who you are, and I have no fucking clue what “this” is. Maybe I picked her up from the radio or a TV show or some overheard conversation, sometime in the receding past, just another white-noise blip that registers for barely a moment in the prefrontal lobe then fades away. Yet here she is, clear as that moment neurons first fired her through my hippocampus into deep file storage.
Every memory lodged in my brain has suddenly been entitled equal weight — a random scrap of a Sesame Street song I logged at the age of six is now on a par with the first time I made out in the back seat of my car, my grandmother’s funeral, my first child being born. There is no “level variance” — each individual slip and sliver of the picture now assaulting me is genuine, but they are morphing into a kaleidoscopic collage of utter insanity, staggering in its scope, horrifying in its incidental juxtapositions.
A pornographic scene from a VHS tape edges up against a recitation of The Lord’s Prayer.
The engineer is absent from the control booth; there are no distinctions made.
We are more, more, so much more than our memories. Our internal editor incessantly sifts, like a scrapbooker, labeling this thing good and that thing bad, this one happy and that one sad, this one insignificant and that one momentous. Without this moderator our memory is madness.
My moderator has for the moment been banished, and a shark is swimming toward the fat calves of my third-grade teacher, while John Wayne stirs dry ice in a Halloween punch bowl, informing me in his southern drawl that I must watch my dangling modifiers.
No one is conducting the symphony; all the instruments are playing at once, at the same decibel.
My third girlfriend from college is having an orgasm in the sandbox I used to play in at elementary-school recess. My favorite comic books are being incinerated in the second World Trade Center tower and an angry President Grant is retaliating by declaring war on the Kool-Aid Man, who just busted through the wall of my second apartment.
A bald, chiseled man leans across the table, his alert gray eyes boring into me. He immediately becomes one more memory mixed into the maelstrom, he and his questions carrying no more weight than “A Horse With No Name”, my mother’s Kodak camera, the shackles on my feet, a polar bear, the needle that pierced my arm a minute ago, Dionysus, diplodocus, Daffy Duck.
The bald man looks frustrated. To underscore this, he bangs the flat of his hand on the table. “Now, what do you remember?”
I’ll tell them. But I don’t think they’re ever going to use this experimental truth serum again.
“I remember Humpty Dumpty, and I recall this kid sharing his Mike and Ike’s with me at lunch, and that brings me to a drunken fist fight I had with a guy who accused me of not calling my shot in a game of 8-ball. Do you remember The Munsters, that fire-breathing pet they had that lived under the stairs? Which reminds me of an anthill I stopped and looked at once, and Orange Dreamsicles and belly rings…”
Nicholas Ozment teaches English at Winona State University. His stories and poems continue to appear in numerous magazines, book anthologies, and online zines. He is a co-editor of Every Day Fiction’s sister publication, Every Day Poets.