Welcome to the Gallery
The JamBios Memory Gallery showcases user submitted memory stories from around the globe.
Each month selections are hand curated by Annie Cusick Wood and the JamBios creative team. They are chosen based on how the memory touches our heart, makes us laugh or inspires us.
To submit your memory story, start your free JamBio and invite the Memory Gallery to read one of your Chapter sections. Select Reader "Memory Gallery" at MemoryGallery@JamBios.com.
By Brittany Rae
the fragility of memory
The thing about this particular memory is that it’s one that I look back on with a sort of vague fuzziness. It’s blurry around the edges, mostly made up of black and yellow and white, devoid of sound. I don’t know what that night sounded like. For all I know, it didn’t have sound at all.
I actually don’t know what that night looked like, either; the colours in my head are my own creation, pieced together from other people’s accounts. I don’t even think it’s an accurate one. I see a roadway on a summer night -- but it was fall, and it was snowy. I see a deserted street, but surely other cars drove around mine. I don’t see people, but I know people were there. I was there.
I just can’t remember it.
This memory is a cheat, in a way. The night I created it, I lost it. Not of my own accord, of course, and I desperately wish time was the culprit of its loss. I like losing memories to the slow slide of time -- it means they faded normally, slipping into the recesses of my mind, perhaps recalled with some serious effort and some creative language.
This one, though. This one I didn’t get to keep.
They told me later that things might come back. Brain injuries are hard, they said, because no one really knows how your particular brain will react to trauma. Time could bring them back -- time, they said, was all I needed.
But I knew. I was sixteen and had a constant ache in my back, in my chest, in my head, and I knew. I was never getting that night back. Or the week before -- that was gone. So were little bits and pieces of the month and the year before. So were pieces of my life.
I lost the next year, too, though I didn’t know that would happen at the time. In fact, from the year before the accident to three years after it, I’m not really clear on much of anything. I know there was an accident, and I know I graduated high school, but beyond that things are just a little out of reach. Like trying to pick an apple from a branch that keeps growing ever upward.
Anyway, let’s get to the point: I lost my memory while dressed as a vampire.
I know. I know. But bare with me, because anyone at age sixteen will list off “vampire” as one of their top Halloween costume choices, and I was trying to impress a boy. I’m not sure how I was going to impress him with a mouth full of fake vampire teeth and hair so stiff with hairspray that it didn’t move, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is, I thought I was hot shit.
At twenty-seven, I am well aware I was not hot shit. Bless my past self for trying, though. She was a trooper.
So, here’s what I remember:
- Standing in red-painted bedroom, listening as my clunky, silver TV played my favourite episode of The X-Files (it starred a “vampire” and Luke Wilson, as your normal TV episodes do), spraying hairspray to high heaven.
- The pink zipper of my best friend’s black Lulu Lemon coat. That was the thing I repeated over and over when anyone asked what I remembered: “Sarah’s coat. I remember Sarah’s coat.” She wore it when she visited me in the hospital. I don’t remember the hospital, but I remember that coat.
Here’s what happened:
I left my mom’s Halloween work party to climb into a car with three of my friends. I was on my way to my first high school Halloween party, all the way out on what I thought was the outskirts of town, but is now actually a few blocks away from where my family and I eventually moved. Life is funny like that.
I got into my friend Greg’s car. He drove. Sean, the boy I was trying desperately to impress, rode shotgun. Jordan sat to my left.
I have no idea what we talked about. No one ever told me. I don’t think they really thought about it much, but sometimes I wonder. When memory is the thing you don’t have, you end up caring a lot more about the details that other people don’t think to.
At some point, we stopped at a red light. At some point, some kid in a pickup truck with a lot of bravado and zero good judgement decided that the light was going to change before he had to slow down. At some point, it had snowed, and the temperature had dropped, and ice had formed on the road. At some point, all those things converged into one heartbeat of a moment.
The guy did end up stopping. He just kind of did it by smashing into us.
Accounts vary from person to person, with me being (quite obviously) the least helpful of the bunch. But it basically boiled down to this: three sides of the car got away pretty unscathed, and one really didn’t. The back right corner took the brunt of the truck’s impact -- so I, as the person sitting on the right in the backseat, took the brunt of the truck’s impact. Things flew. The car spun. My back contorted in a way it shouldn't have, so much so that it sometimes pains me even now. My head collided with the cracking passenger window and smashed it to pieces. My family picked glass out of hair for the next day.
After that, I’m not too sure what happened. I know my mom’s story: she got a call from me telling her that I’d been in an accident, but I was okay. I was still going to the party. I was fine. She says she didn’t even let my grandpa stop the car at the scene before she was out of the it and sprinting for me. I know in my hear that that’s true.
My brain “rebooted” all night. It was like Dory from Finding Nemo -- over and over again, I’d think something, lose it, and then repeat it again. I asked my sister who she was when she walked into my hospital room. I don’t think I’ll ever break someone’s heart the way I did when I looked at her and couldn’t tell her who she was.
(I refused to see Finding Dory. It's easy to guess why.)
I woke up the next morning in my mom’s bed. My 14 year-old sister was squished in next to my legs, and my mom was wrapped around my back. I had no idea why I was there. For a few, beautiful, blissful moments, I lived in a world where nothing was wrong. For a few moments, my not being able to remember was a good thing.
I made them tell me what happened. I made them repeat it. They told me over and over, until hearing it made me angry. It still does. There is nothing more frustrating than not being able to remember.
My brain hasn’t been the same since then. I was young, and my back healed up well, but my memory...it never went back to normal. My family calls me a goldfish, and I truly am. I can’t recall things like other people can. Moments from my childhood that my sister remembers in perfect clarity are just blank spaces to me. Details like someone’s favourite colour, or their least favourite food, or their birthday -- those slip away. Even big memories don’t have the same kind of vibrancy that they should. I wish I could remember my mom’s wedding, but so much of it is a haze. My sister’s graduation, the year I went to film school, the intensive therapy I went to in order to deal with my PTSD -- it’s all sort of gone.
But this is why writing matters. This is why social media, and diaries, and the internet matter. These things we use to communicate with each other have a different meaning for me, because they contain my memories. I’ve trained my brain over the years to hold almost as much as other people can, but the things that I can’t hold onto, my phone will.
So I write everything. Every thought, every moment, every ridiculous picture gets put in my phone, or on Twitter, or Instagram -- or JamBios. The internet is my memory now, and it holds my most treasured moments. I look back, and I can see the day I moved from my home in Edmonton to my rainier home in Vancouver. I can see my sister’s 21st birthday, or the day I adopted my cat, or the day I met my best friends. All of it is preserved on the internet in perfect, detailed clarity.
People worry about us spending too much time on our phones. We spend too much time behind screens. And maybe we do. But me? I’ve figured out how to supplement my mind’s failings with a technology designed to never forget. My camera catches the beauty of the sun meeting the water in Stanley Park, the tranquility of my best friends sitting on a couch talking to each other, the hilarity of my dog’s inability to turn left (she really can’t). It sees my mom sticking her tongue out at me, my sister dancing badly, the gently swaying palms in Maui.
I take those images, and I turn them into words. I turn them into mementos, reminders, memories of things I’m afraid I’ll forget. The internet holds what my mind can’t. I can look up from a screen and see the world around me, and I can look down at it so that I’ll never forget it.
In this way, I am free.