I can remember everything.
When I say everything, I don’t mean to say almost everything. I mean to say everything. I mean to say that when I see a thing, it becomes lodged inside of me, and I see it over and over ad nauseam. The details of it deepen with each recollection, the way it appears to me wears in like the grooves of a favorite record.
Memories are like snapshots to me, static and unchanging. The albums in my head are packed full with the good, the bad and the many. Every brief bit of elation and every stark sliver of sorrow, all in crushing, vivid view.
I can remember two months ago when the insects started crawling inside me.
Enter my usual nighttime ritual: tepid bath followed by up-close grooming in the vanity mirror. The flossing and the brushing, the moisturizing and the toning. I looked at my reflection and noticed the broken blood vessels in my nose and cheeks were back, as was the anxiety.The doctor said that might happen, a side effect of the treatment. My internal portrait of me shifted to include them.
It was when I finished cleaning one ear and started for the other, fresh cotton swab in hand, that the tingle caught my attention. I turned my head just in time to catch a glimpse of the tiny, ant-like creature as it disappeared into the crusted canal. I tried for an hour to flush and suction it free but nothing emerged. I eventually convinced myself that it wasn’t real and went off to bed, making a mental note to tell the doctor about possible hallucinations. I might be a landmark case with a first-time symptom, I thought. That would be something.
In bed I dreamt for hours, dark visions of formless fear. I saw impossibly large chasms of sucking, vacuous shapelessness and shivered in sweat. I knew those scenes of fresh hell would linger with me forever, like all the ones I’d seen before. I reeled from the realization and felt the pest burrow deeper in my inner ear, where it whispered vicious lies.
The next day, I could hear everything. Every idea, mundane and malicious alike, from every source imaginable. I heard the thoughts of small children riding bikes and the mental mutterings of the mailman as he pounded pavement. I listened as passersby anguished over their morning shifts and daydreamed about early lunches. The grocery clerk thought about her sick mother in hospice, and the man in the cereal aisle thought about following the grocery clerk home. By the time I was back in the bath that night, I ached from all the inadvertent eavesdropping.
As I was washing my face and refusing to blink, a second tiny bug came crawling around my neck and onto my cheek. It performed two fast figure-eights before looping into my nostril, up up up into my sinuses.
In my sleep, I smelled burnt toast and scorched flesh. I smelled iron-rich blood and almonds. The next day, I gagged at every intersection and winced at the waste wafting all around me. The city presented pungent at every single turn, and the likeness of those two tiny bugs stayed seared on the inside of my eyelids, promising to never leave. It’s enough to make a person crazy.
Each evening I’m visited by these nightly ne’er-do-wells, these invasive species who mean me much harm. They move in without permission and they instigate my organ systems into open rebellion.
They shack up in my mouth, and I curse and damn and get thrown out of corner shops. They catch in my throat until I can’t keep food or water down, causing me to retch until my esophagus is raw and my tongue is singed from stomach acid. They hole up in my heart and I cry and cry, heartbroken and helpless, until my forehead accumulates new wrinkles from all the furrowing of my brows.
Every night, more bugs. Every day, more exhausting experiments in empathy. More parts of me under six and eight-legged control. The coterie of creepy crawlers has me threadbare in the brain and I can’t help but feel like this 24-hour cycle of infestation is more of a movie I’m watching than a life I’m living. When they fill up my feet I run for hours, blood filling my shoes as I pull at my hair and scream for it to stop.
Every part of me is now fair game for the feared foster bugs. I don’t bother bathing and I don’t look in the mirror anymore. I already know how it looks when they come out into the light. I already have that photographic memory of tiny feet marching into my skin and open holes. Now I just lie in bed with the lights on and watch as they descend from the rafters. Now I just let them envelop me.
Tonight, they’ve set sights on my eyes. They trudge by the two and slide slick under the sclera. They blot out the light and blur my vision, obscuring everything but the pulsing parade of their legs as they dance over my dilated pupils. With any luck, they will feel at home enough to stay and keep me from minting any new memorizations. With enough mercy, they will cut camera on this production and roll credits, no more scenes of muted horror.
But even if they did, I’d still be doomed to the reels inside me. I cannot scrape those sights from my mind’s eye any more than I can pull their wriggling bodies from my own.
I can remember when I cared enough to feel fright at the sight of a spider before one called me home. I remember aversion and alarm at the mere mention of roaches before I hosted one, literally.
My temporal lobe is the last part of me I figure is free of them. It fires frenetic and shows no signs of slowing, but I have hope. When they finally find it within themselves to take it over like they’ve taken everything else, I won’t be sad. I won’t seethe under the pressure of having to hear the world’s honesty anymore and I won’t smell the stink of it’s sincerity. I won’t fall down fetal with fear and cry and cry with heartache. I won’t feel anything at all.
Nothing but the relief as it comes in waves of devoured recollection. Nothing but the ecstasy of images gone grey and neurons nixed necrotic. I will celebrate each passing picture and rejoice until there is nothing left but the gnawing sounds. They used to scare me, but now they bring me peace. Now I can finally sleep. Now I can live in the moment, and now I can say I never remember anything.
Now I know what it’s like to forget, and for that I am truly grateful.