memory cloak

Brother, This is Your Memory Cloak

By

These are the things that you chose to forget about your childhood. These are the memories that became carbon deposits within the soft interior of your hippocampus.

In a poignantly regretful tone, you said to me, “I don’t remember anything before the age of eleven.” I rested my cheek on the hot plastic of my phone and stared into the light gray of the pavement. I wanted you to know this:

Only I share the secrets of our mother’s womb. Only I can lay them near your restless soul. Only I can whisper just right and make your tears ease behind your blue eyes. I can reach you wherever you are and take you from your unrest.

Do you seek to recover the memories of your mind? Do you want your cloak now? The burden of memory has always been carried by me, your older sister, the brave hand that labored at the loom and weaved the brawny cloth that was to save your memory. I made it for you, hoping that it would keep the fear inside the amygdala of your brain from translating into long-term memory.

I cried with you at the front door. You were three years old. I was five. You scratched at the door, trying to attach your fragile claws into the grains of the wood. You spared no energy attempting to reach for the small octagon window. You wanted to see, maybe for the last time, a mother who told you she was never coming back. You wanted to witness the dark space between her and us as it slowly grew into the darkness where your childhood is stored.

I took your moist hand and led you to my loom. I pulled you from the crime scene, but the sadness had already begun to absorb into your tiny thalamus. I was not yet a master with the satin of a toddler’s mind. My own satin was still just as white.

I cried with you in the corner of your bedroom. You were five and I was seven. We were crouched down in the fetal position. I tried to become the wallpaper, but its dingy, pink flowers wilted as I plead with them. Your head turned toward the doorway when you heard her coming through. You screamed, “Please! I’ll never do it again! I promise!” I urged you not to look. I told you to bury your head as deeply into the blue carpet as possible, but you had to see what was coming. This time the darkness stalked you, bristled against your spine and pinched your chubby arm until it bruised.

I saved some more of your satin and took you back to my loom. I stole the redness from your round, apple cheeks and stained the loose, white satin that I pulled from your spinal cord. I left it to dry, but the lint of your pain gathered still.

I cried with you when dozens of brown stained underwear were discovered behind your bed. You were seven and I was nine. We were outside in the fall leaves playing a game of “ghosts in the graveyard” when we heard the witchy screech calling you inside. I tried to hide you in the middle, in the moldiest part of the heap of leaves, but you refused to stay. You lunged into the lowest bow of an oak tree and held your breath. You wanted to see the darkness coming. When she grabbed your soft, blond hair and pulled you from the tree, you cried out for me. You cried, “Sissy! Sissy! Help me! Please!” I followed you. I held your shirttail as she dragged you inside and up the long, narrow staircase.

While she rubbed your nose in the pile, I stole some soft satin from your medulla oblongata and I weaved some more, but the stench of shame had already traveled to your mind.

I cried with you when the police brought you home. You were nine and I was eleven. The detective said that you ran away with the neighbor girl. You made it all the way to the railroad tracks, at least a mile away from home, before the darkness found you again. I asked you to visit me in my looming room after she was gone, but you fell into a deep sleep after a long guttural cry.

I stole some more white strands from your pons, put them in boiling water with the redness of your cheeks and watched it soak all night long.

When you were ten and I was twelve, you told me that you were happy that I have no father. You called me a “bastard girl.” You laughed jovially and taunted me with your sinister half grins. I pulled you by the shirt and threw you up against the cement wall of the garage. You laughed and called for her help. I let you go and took my beating.

Later, when she couldn’t find her hairbrush, she dragged us into the dim living room and made us fight. I watched your tears stream down in slow motion over the supple skin of your round nose and I punched as lightly as I could. I was stronger. By far I was the stronger of us both. A ballerina’s punch could’ve broken your nose, but I held back. We danced around the room like two tiny sparrows pecking at a fresh worm. We swung into the darkness between us until we were too exhausted to move and you staggered backward into the coral cushion of the couch.

I stole some fragments from your cerebellum, as she continued to humiliate you. She called you a “loser” and “fat little fuck.” I looked into your eyes and grabbed what was left of your pride. I took it back to my loom and inserted the shiny, silver strands into the middle of your cloak.

I was with you when you cried at the front door. You were eleven and I was thirteen. The Christmas tree was laid on its side, the tiny lights blinking into the darkness of night. She said she was never coming back and you believed her. You begged her to stay. You screamed, “Mommy, I love you! I love you! I really do!” She told us that Christmas wasn’t coming this year. She told us that we ruined it all. As she slammed the door behind her, I told you, “Shut up! Stop crying! Its better that she goes and never comes back! I’ll take care of us now.”

During those few hours of peaceful night, I worked away at my loom with the last bits of your graying hypothalamus. I asked you to try it on, told you, “It’s ready for you now.” You turned away and asked me to cook you something for Christmas dinner.

When she threw the grapefruit at your head and you ran through the house screaming and sobbing, I pulled pieces from your parietal lobe to form the sash.

When she grabbed our heads and beat them together, I snatched a string of your occipital lobe so you wouldn’t see my large forehead rushing toward yours. I used this to connect the soft white satin and the red-stained thread together with the shiny silver fibers in the middle.

When she screamed at your teachers because you were failing fourth grade, I went back into the classroom and begged them not to fail you, told them that I would teach you what you couldn’t seem to learn.

When she held you down and bit into your back, I told her that whatever it was you had done wrong was all my fault.

When she laughed at you after you fell from the roof, I bandaged your knees.

When she punished you by telling you that you’d never see your father again, I cuddled with you until your body stopped quivering.

I read fairy tales to you.

I fought off your bullies at school.

I helped you practice for your school plays.

I pushed you around in my pink stroller and made you giggle.

I gave everyone a reason to hate me, so they would stop despising you.

I turned on the closet light when you were too scared of your childhood darkness.

Again and again, I returned to my looming room with the hope that you would someday wear the cloak I made for you. You kept growing out of it. Every year, you grew taller and meaner. You grew more careless and brutal. You lost your way in the darkness. Every year, you rejected my cloak, but I never stopped weaving for you.

When I left you with her, I was fourteen and you were twelve. I took the cloak to the detention home with me. I took it to my single cell and I stitched relentlessly. I sewed until my fingers were raw and peeling.

When I heard that you were living with a friend’s mother and you had been sleeping with her, I stretched your cloak from Aunt Jo’s house to where I imagined you living. I wanted you to feel the softness of my love for you, as the white satin caressed your teenaged face.

When I was in college, I found out that you quit high school and became a father at age seventeen. I borrowed the fabric from my own mind to make your cloak bigger, stronger and wider.

When I bought my first car, I found out that you were discharged from the military for starting and finishing a bar brawl in Korea. I added a camouflage pattern and placed gold stars in each corner.

When I moved to Newark, Ohio for my first job out of college, I found out that you were going to prison for beating a man in his face with a 40-ounce bottle of Cobra. I went back to the loom and began mixing in some barbed wire.

When I bought my first home, I found out that your new girlfriend was pregnant with a baby girl, and you had been sent back to prison for possession of cocaine. I arranged for the cloak to be delivered to you in jail, but you told the guard to send it back.

When I started working on my Master’s degree, I found out that you broke a man’s nose and sent him driving in fear until he crashed into a tree. I sewed some steel wool along the edges and inside the seams.

Two years ago, I learned that you beat a woman in the face outside of a bar. All three of your small children were crying at the doorway when you were handcuffed and driven off to jail. From the front door, they stared into the darkness parting them from you and refused to look away. I began sewing for them, too.

You still hide from the police.

You still beat your wife and snort cocaine.

You still use your paycheck to party with other women.

You have two more children, one you’ve named after me.

You still cry for the love of a mother who told you she’s never coming back.

And when you tell me that you don’t remember anything before the age of eleven, dear brother, I weave for you.

One day, you’ll remember. One day, I’ll cloak you with your memories. I’ll stitch the strands of your brain back together again. The nerves in your mind will reattach in the middle, relax your frontal lobe. Your corpus callosum will reconnect with soft, white satin.

***

Rumpus original art by Jason Novak.


Along with essays, Andrea S. Collins writes short stories and poetry. She is currently working on a novella, several poems and a project supporting the articulation of silent stories and marginalized voices. Endeavoring to provoke equality and compassion for all sentient beings, Andrea is an avid volunteer and advocate for animal rights and rescue. Andrea is an IMA Creative Writing student at Antioch University Midwest. She earned her BA in English from Wittenberg University. More from this author →