Memory is fallible. You tend to treat it like it’s not, but you’re wrong. It’s pliable, suggestable, sometimes even amorphous. What really happens and what you remember happening – those are often completely separate things.
Here’s an example:
You wake up covered in blood and assume you got into a fight the night before, but your mind is blank, and when you turn the phone camera to see your face, there’s no sign of bruising. Even your knuckles are pain-free. But there’s blood flowing from your neck. Weird.
You close your eyes, try to think. Where were you last night? You swallow, and your saliva tastes like old blood and stale beer. Gross! But then you recall…
You were at a bar. You met a woman. She had blonde hair. She looked vaguely familiar, but you couldn’t place her, until…
“Paul? Oh my god, how are you?” Her enthusiastic greeting was met by your blank stare.
“Do I… know you?”
“I’m Sam’s sister,” she said. “Don’t you remember? I used to try to tag along whenever you and Sam went to the movies.”
Sam was a friend from childhood. Every Saturday, they’d ride their bikes to the dollar theatre to see second-run movies and gorge themselves on junk food. But he didn’t remember a sister, until…
“I had a pink bike with streamers.” The woman – Sam’s sister – was still talking. “With this really tinny bell and you guys hated it. You told me I could come to the movies if I kept up, but…”
“… but you never did.” The memory was there as if it had been implanted. “We’d kill ourselves trying to outrace you, and you almost caught up once.” You paused. “Your hair was darker then, wasn’t it.”
“So, you do remember me!”
“Sure,” you say. And you realize that an age gap of three years when she was nine and you were twelve was an unbridgeable chasm, but now that you’re thirty-one, a three-year difference is nothing. “Can I buy you a drink?” you offer.
“Do you buy drinks for a lot of women?”
“Hardly ever,” you say. “But you’re Sam’s sister.”
You spent the night drinking and telling stories about Sam. “I haven’t seen him in years,” you said, trying to recall the last time you even called him. “He moved around a lot. He’s somewhere back east, isn’t he? New York? Or…?”
“Pennsylvania,” she answered. And you nod. Because you’re suddenly quite certain there’s a postcard of Liberty Hall on your fridge with Sam’s newest address.
The evening flew by. The drinks flew faster. You aren’t typically the kind who drinks to get drunk, but somehow you’d stopped keeping track. You were surprised when the bartender announced the last call.
“I should go,” you told her, “Can I give you a lift somewhere?”
“I’m good,” she said. But when you stumble at the curb, she pulled the keys from your hand. “I guess I’m giving you a lift. Where do you live?”
You don’t recall the drive. You can’t remember how she got you up the stairs to your apartment. But you remember her voice in your ear. “Invite me in,” she’d said, a faint rasp coloring her tone. Had that been there before?
The hazy image of undressing comes back to you. Your skin was hot and hers was cool. You kept reaching for the light switches, and she kept preventing it. “Darkness is better,” she said.
You remember her pushing you backwards onto your bed, and you feel the echo of her weight on top of you. You reached for her face, to pull her closer for a kiss, but she dodged and got your neck.
(Your neck where the blood is coming from.)
“She bit me,” you remember with a start. “Holy fuck, she was a vampire.” You say the words out loud even though your apartment is empty. “Wait, that’s not even possible.”
You have a sudden urge to call your friend Sam and ask him if he knew his sister was a vampire.
Except… you’re pretty certain Sam never had a sister, that the girl with the pink bike was some other kid on your street, that there was no postcard from Pennsylvania stuck to your fridge with a Domino’s Pizza magnet.
Your phone chirps. An incoming text from an unknown number. A single word. “Forget.”
You move to the bathroom and start the shower. By the time your hot piss hits the cold water of the toilet, you only remember that you met a woman in a bar and had some drinks.
By the time you emerge from the shower, all traces of blood down the drain, you’ll be absolutely sure that you cut your neck shaving.
“Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, or whatever it is that you think you remember?” – Elizabeth Loftus