• A.K. Lee

Scenes from My Supposed Life (or notes on a defective memory)

My memory is defective. A show with excised scenes lost to the cutting room floor.

Apparently, some people have near-perfect recall. They remember which kindergarten they attended, who their best friends were, when they first rode a bicycle. They remember whom their first crush was, where they had their first kiss, which song they listened on repeat to ease their first heartbreak.

I don’t remember any of these things. Not really.

I can tell you certain facts of my youth. I know them, intellectually. I don’t feel like they’re real though. These facts unroll in my mind like I am reading a Wikipedia entry on myself.

I lived in a semi-detached house when I was in kindergarten, at Sixth Avenue. Then we moved away to Macpherson, halfway across the country. I was in Primary 1A, 2A, 3A, 4A, 5A, and – inexplicably – 6H.

But there is no memory of what that semi-detached house looked like. What the classrooms looked like. Neither can I recall any of the names or faces of my primary school teachers, nor do I remember the name of the pastor who let me hide in her office during recess. I can’t even remember the color of the office.

Did I ever step in that office? Or perhaps I had wanted to, and so told myself that I did?

My memory tells me that I once threw a classmate’s schoolbag out of the window from the fourth floor, because he had been bullying my best friend and made her cry every day. Yet, even if you were to put a knife to my throat, I cannot remember my childhood best friend’s name, nor the name of the bully.

I don’t know if I was punished. I could have been. I probably wasn’t.

I know I had childhood asthma – there was a huge contraption at the clinic to help me breathe when I suffered an attack, and it is hard to forget being trapped in a chair with a plastic mask strapped over your face.

I know I tried bathing in cold water once and caught a fever so severe, I had to be hospitalized. I was dunked in a cold bath. I think I was screaming through it all. I still loathe cold showers.

I know I once took an examination script home by mistake, and did not realize it until the next morning, because I was crying out of worry that I would flunk. Oddly enough, the Chinese teacher took my script and nothing more was said of it. Or maybe he did, and I had to sit for the paper again.

Did I sit for it again?

Ah, but you were young then, you might be thinking. Children don’t remember things very well.

All right then. Let’s move forward into my adolescence.

Secondary school life was not too bad. I made friends. I discovered new interests. I stood next to a fragrant shrub – Styrax japonicus – at morning assembly, and ignored everything the principal said in favor of savoring the sweet scent of the white blossoms, dangling delicately from the branches. I had ‘friends’ who stabbed me in the back. I had peers who tolerated my presence but did not see me as a companion.

I had my first kiss when I was fourteen. I know where my senior and I held hands to kiss, for that very first time; I remember thinking, with unshakeable teenage faith: I love you and we will be together forever.

I remember crying over him. I remember making out with him in his bedroom. I remember the way he looked as he played his guitar, like a fire was lit in his soul and shone through his skin, and that was how I had fallen for this skinny, tall, talented guy. I remember going to a Westlife concert with him, and I remember him chasing after cabs at the end of the concert.

But I don’t remember what songs he played. What songs we sang together. I don’t remember breaking up with him, nor do I remember what presents we gave each other on our birthdays. I have no memory of his voice.

At fifteen, I suffered a concussion in a P.E. lesson. To this day I don’t know what happened. My friends told me that when I was standing on a chair to catch the balls for my team, someone backed into me hard and knocked the chair over. I fell and hit the back of my head.

I think I woke up lying flat on the floor of the sports hall, and the P.E. teacher was there to make sure I hadn’t died. Or maybe I was lying on a mat. Or the chairs.

I think I hobbled out of the hall to throw up. I think I wanted to throw up and didn’t. I don’t know if I did.

I think I was sent home, or maybe my mother came to fetch me from school. I don’t remember if I went to the sick bay, or if I went for a scan to check for concussions.

I also attended an inter-school camp, and this was after my senior and I broke up, so when a boy from another school showed interest, we went on a few dates. I remember thinking, He’s not too bad. He’s romantic.

But I don’t remember his face at all. I think I know his name – Christopher – and I cannot be sure that is his name. I can’t even recall how we broke up, or if I had ghosted him, or he had found that we were too different. I remember waiting in Ang Mo Kio MRT station, but for what reason was I there?

There is something about computers in this fuzzy memory. Maybe he built them. I don’t know.

I do know there were rumours that I was a slut, because I had kissed Christopher at camp and held hands with him, and this was many years ago, when most people didn’t have computers in their homes, let alone social media.

There are other piecemeal memories that I can’t be sure happened.

- Did I tell a friend that he was a sissy, or just wished I did?

- Did I almost drown at sea when I was eight or nine?

- Did I draw a comic about the rabbit on the moon for Mid-Autumn Festival?

- Did I write a confession of love to a crush or was it just wishful thinking?

- Did I totally snap and rant at my cousins for making fun of me?

Whoever is handling the controls to my memory: you have got to get it together, dude. Seriously.

If I could fix the defects in my memory, I would. It would be lovely to be able to pick and choose which parts of my life I could remember. Just key in a code to unlock certain experiences, view them again. Like watching a favorite series on Netflix.

In fact, I’d like to remember more of what I’ve been through. Learn more things from my history. Can’t learn much if I don’t know it well, can I? Heck, I'll even endure the painful, traumatic shit.

What is exciting though is that in another few decades, I’ll know what my brain decides to keep on hand. Hopefully, I will get to review the greatest hits. My wedding, perhaps, or my little balcony garden and how it bloomed and thrived. (A novice gardener can hope.)

Perhaps I will remember the time my husband and I went hiking in the freezing rain in New Zealand. The first time I saw snow, with him beside me, grinning at my wonder. Or perhaps I would be thinking of the meals I cooked for us, the laughs we shared. The way he holds my hand, the lame jokes he makes. The way he touches my cheek like he can’t believe he’s allowed to do that.

Perhaps a highlight reel. Perhaps a rewatch of the entire show.

I hope there’s good popcorn.

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