Authors: Ann Brashares
Tags: #Fantasy, #Young Adult, #Romance, #Paranormal, #Historical, #Chick-Lit, #Adult
My Name Is Memory
For my dearest Nate, who has a gift for remembering.
Not asking the sky to come down to my good will,
Scattering it freely for ever.
—Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”
I HAVE LIVED more than a thousand years. I have died countless times. I forget precisely how many times. My memory is an extraordinary thing, but it is not perfect. I am human.
The early lives blur a bit. The arc of your soul follows the pattern of each of your lives. It is macrocosmic. There was my childhood. There have been many childhoods. And even in the early part of my soul I reached adulthood many times. These days, in every one of my infancies, the memory comes faster. We go through the motions. We look oddly at the world around us. We remember.
I say “we” and I mean myself, my soul, my selves, my many lives. I say “we” and I also mean the other ones like me who have the Memory, the conscious record of experience on this earth that survives every death. There aren’t many, I know. Maybe one in a century, one born out of millions. We find one another rarely, but believe me, there are others. At least one of them has a memory far more extraordinary than mine.
I have been born and died many times in many places. The space between them is the same. I wasn’t in Bethlehem for Christ’s birth. I never saw the glory that was Rome. I never bowed to Charlemagne. At that time I was scratching out a crop in Anatolia, speaking a dialect unintelligible to the villages north and south. Only God and the devil can be counted on for all the thrilling parts. The great hits of history go along without the notice of most. I read about them in books like everybody else.
Sometimes I feel more akin to houses and trees than to my fellow human beings. I stand around watching the waves of people come and go. Their lives are short, but mine is long. Sometimes I imagine myself as a post driven into the ocean’s edge.
I’ve never had a child, and I’ve never gotten old. I don’t know why. I have seen beauty in countless things. I have fallen in love, and she is the one who endures. I killed her once and died for her many times and I still have nothing to show for it. I always search for her; I always remember her. I carry the hope that someday she will remember me.
SHE HADN’T KNOWN him very long. He’d shown up there at the beginning of eleventh grade. It was a small town and a small school district. You kept seeing the same kids year after year. He was a junior when he came, the same as her, but he seemed older somehow.
She’d heard many things about where and how he had spent the previous seventeen years of his life, but she doubted any of them were true. He was in a mental institution before he came to Hopewood, people said. His father was in jail and he lived by himself. His mother was killed, they said, most likely by his father. He always wore long sleeves, somebody said, because he had burns on his arms. He’d never defended himself against these stories, as far as she knew, and never offered any alternatives.
And though Lucy didn’t believe the rumors, she understood the thing they were getting at. Daniel was different, even as he tried not to be. His face was proud, but there was a feeling of tragedy about him. It seemed to her as though no one had taken care of him and he didn’t even realize it. One time she saw him standing in the cafeteria by the window while everyone else was jostling past him with their clattering trays, yakking a mile a minute, and he just looked completely lost. There was something about the way he looked at that moment that made her think he was the loneliest person in the world.
When he first appeared at school there was a lot of commotion about him because he was extremely good-looking. He was tall and strong-boned and self-possessed, and his clothes were a little nicer than most other kids’. At first the coaches were sniffing around for him to play football because of his size, but he didn’t pursue it. As it was a small town and a bored town and a hopeful town, kids talked and rumors started. The rumors were ennobling at first, but then he made some mistakes. He didn’t show up at Melody Sanderson’s Halloween party, even though she invited him personally in the hallway, and everybody saw it. He talked to Sonia Frye straight through the annual junior/senior picnic, even though she was an untouchable freak to people like Melody. It was a delicate social ecosystem they lived in, and most people got scared off him by the first winter.
Except Lucy. She herself didn’t know why not. She didn’t respect Melody or her posse of yeah-girls, but she trod carefully. She had marks against her to begin with, and she didn’t want to be an outcast. She couldn’t do that to her mother, not after what she’d already been through with her sister. Nor was Lucy the kind who liked difficult boys. She didn’t.
She had the weird idea—kind of a fantasy, actually—that she could help him. She knew what it was like on the outside and the inside at this school, and she knew what it took to maintain yourself through both. She sensed that he bore a heavier weight than most other people, and it gave her a strange, aching empathy for him. She honored herself with the idea that maybe he needed her, that maybe she was the one who could understand him.
He showed no sign of sharing this view. In almost two years he hadn’t spoken to her once. Well, one time she’d stepped on his shoe-lace and apologized to him and he’d stared at her and muttered something. She’d felt nagging and uneasy afterward, and her mind kept going back to it, trying to figure out what he’d said and what he’d meant, but she finally decided that she hadn’t done anything wrong and it was his problem going around with his shoe untied in the senior hallway at three in the afternoon.
“Do you think I’m overthinking this?” she’d asked Marnie.
Marnie looked at her as though it took restraint not to claw at her hair. “Yes, I do. I think you are overthinking this. If there was a movie about you it would be called I Am Overthinking This.”
She’d laughed at the time and worried later. Marnie wasn’t trying to be mean. Marnie loved her better and more honestly than anyone else in the world, with the possible exception of her mother, who loved her intensely if not honestly. Marnie hated to see her spend so much of herself on someone who didn’t care.
Lucy suspected he was some kind of genius. Not that he did or said anything to let you know. But once she’d sat beside him in English class, sneaking looks when the class was discussing Shakespeare. She’d seen him, his big shoulders huddled over his notebook, writing sonnets from memory, one after the other, in beautiful slanting script that made her think of Thomas Jefferson drafting the Declaration of Independence. He had a look on his face that made her believe he was as far as he could be from the small, boxy classroom with the stuttering fluorescent light, the gray linoleum floor, and the one tiny window. I wonder where you come from, she thought. I wonder why you ended up in this place.
One time she’d asked him, in a fit of boldness, what the English assignment was. He’d just pointed to the board, where it said they were supposed to prepare for an in-class essay on The Tempest, but he looked as though he’d wanted to say something else. She knew he could talk; she’d heard him talk to other people. She prepared to give him an encouraging look, but when she met his eyes, which were the color of canned peas, she was suddenly swept away by an awkwardness so confounding that she cast her gaze to the floor and didn’t pick it up again until the end of class. Usually she wasn’t like that. She was a reasonably confident person. She knew who she was and where she fit. She’d grown up mostly among girls, but between student government and the ceramics studio and Marnie’s two brothers, she had plenty of friends who were boys. None of them made her feel the way Daniel did.
And then there was the time, at the end of junior year, when she was cleaning out her locker. She was aching at the thought of not seeing him for the entire summer. She had parked her dad’s rusted white Blazer badly, with two wheels up on the curb a couple of blocks from school. She had left piles of papers and books from her locker and a cardboard box of her pottery on the sidewalk while she tried to gentle the door open.
She saw Daniel out of the corner of her eye at first. He wasn’t walking anywhere or carrying anything. He was just standing still with his arms dangling at his sides, gazing at her with that lost expression on his face. His face was sad and a bit remote, as though he was looking inside himself as much as he was looking out at her. She turned and met his eyes, and neither of them jumped away this time. He stood there as if he was trying to remember something.
The ordinary part of her wanted to wave or make a comment that seemed clever or memorable, but another part of her just held her breath. It seemed that they really knew each other, not simply that she had thought of him obsessively for a year. It seemed that he was trusting her to just stand there for a moment, as though there were so many important things they could have said to each other that they didn’t need to say any of them at all. He looked uncertain and walked away, and she wondered what it meant. Later she tried to explain it to Marnie as evidence of a true connection, but Marnie tossed it away as another “non-event.”
Marnie felt that she was in charge of taming Lucy’s expectations and had even adopted a special mantra for the purpose: “If he liked you, you would know it,” she said constantly, a phrase Lucy suspected she’d read in a book.
It wasn’t just that Lucy wanted to help him. She wasn’t as selfless as that. She was madly attracted to him. She was attracted to all the normal things and then weird things, too, like the back of his neck and his thumbs on the edge of his desk and the way his hair stuck out on one side like a little wing over his ear. She caught his smell once, and it made her dizzy. She couldn’t fall asleep that night.
And the truth was that he offered her something that no other boy in the school could: He didn’t know Dana. Dana had always been a “handful,” as her mother decorously put it, but when they were young she had been Lucy’s hero. She was the smartest, fastest-talking person Lucy knew, and she was always brave. Brave and also reckless. When Lucy got in trouble for something, even for something dumb, like tracking mud into the house or spilling ketchup on the floor, Dana would take the blame. She did it even when Lucy begged her not to, because she said she didn’t mind blame and Lucy did.
Dana became notorious when Lucy was in fifth grade and she was in ninth. Lucy didn’t understand what all the whispering among the older kids and grown-ups meant at first, but she knew there was something to be ashamed of. “I had your sister,” one or another of her teachers would always say significantly. Certain kids wouldn’t come to her house anymore, or even invite her to theirs, and she understood that her family had done something wrong without really knowing what it was. Only Marnie was her unwavering friend.
By seventh grade Dana was the “Go Ask Alice” of the school, the cautionary tale, and her parents were the ones people endlessly speculated about. Did they drink? Were there drugs in the house? Had the mother worked when the girls were young? The speculation usually ended with somebody saying, “They seem nice enough.”
Her parents took it all with heads bent so low it was like an invitation for more. Their shame was boundless, and it was easier getting blamed than doing nothing at all. Dana held her head high, but the rest of them walked around with a black eye and an apology.
Lucy tried to be loyal sometimes and other times wished her last name was Johnson, of which there were fourteen in the school. She tried to talk to Dana, and when it made no difference she convinced herself she didn’t care. How many times could you give up on someone you loved? “Lucy’s a different kind of Broward,” she overheard her math teacher say to the guidance counselor when she entered high school, and she felt horrible for how fiercely she clung to it. She thought if she tried hard enough she could make amends.
Dana fell back a few grades for lack of attendance and every other possible crime that wasn’t academic: drugs, violence, giving blow jobs in the boys’ bathroom. Lucy once saw the envelope on her father’s desk declaring Dana a National Merit Scholarship finalist based on her SAT scores. It was strange, the things Dana chose to do.
She dropped out for good on the second-to-last day of school, just a week before she would have graduated. She appeared again on graduation day and in the midst of “Pomp and Circumstance” made her dramatic exit. Daniel was possibly the only boy Lucy knew who hadn’t seen Dana tearing off her clothes on the school’s front lawn, surrounded by medics trying not to get their eyes scratched out as they carted her to the hospital for the last time.
Dana overdosed on Thanksgiving that year and went into a coma. She died quietly on Christmas. She was buried on New Year’s Eve at a ceremony attended by the family and Marnie, her two surviving grandparents, and her crazy aunt from Duluth. The single representative from the school was Mr. Margum, who was the physics teacher and the youngest member of the faculty. Lucy wasn’t sure if he came because Dana had aced his class or maybe given him a blow job or both.