If I had to pick, I would forget the day you were born.
Genius parents have a son, the papers read.
The world knew of your arrival. From the beginning, they watched your every move. And I, at age four, thought nothing of it.
I would forget the day you graduated college.
You were only thirteen–lanky and awkward–with brown hair that always fell in your eyes. It felt like your accomplishments were on the news every night, broadcast for the world to see. I talked about you with my High School friends. Some said you were cute. Others said you were weird. Everyone speculated on the capacity of your genius. Some said you might become President someday. But you, my love, became a physicist, because science inspires awe like nothing else can.
I would forget the day we met.
You, in your cardigan sweater and glasses, a collection of books under one arm, and me, wearing that awful dress. You were studying for your doctorate. It was my first day at college.
I would forget how we fell in love.
Nights down by the lake, dancing under the willows, and afternoons in the library, giggling behind books. It was like you forgot everything around me. No longer the brilliant boy I had seen in the papers, but a funny sixteen year old guy. I was surprised by how normal you were.
If I could forget all that, why not forget the day we were married?
The Church bells pealed our union, our families gathered in celebration, but the public had its doubts. A distraction, they called me–an anchor–set to bring you down. Those were hard days, for though you were always so quick to comfort me, I could tell you wanted to prove them wrong. And you did.
I would forget what living with you was like.
Yes, you were brilliant…but you were also absent minded. I once fished your car keys from the sink, and found your cell phone behind the fridge. There were days you forgot to eat, and we had countless arguments over your health. But in the end, you were still you, my love, whispering my name as we drifted asleep each night, saying how you loved me.
I would forget the day you told me your mission was a go.
Deep space. That was the plan. Looking for the wormhole you discovered. All your hard work, your brilliance, come to fruition, and you had been chosen to lead the mission. I was happy for you, truly I was. But no matter how hard I tried, the tears would not stop. You held me close.
I would forget the day you left.
More tears as I watched you slide beyond the clouds. I thought nothing could be more painful. How wrong I was.
I would forget the day I heard about the accident.
Men in black suits came to my door. There had been an explosion, they said. The chances of your survival were slim. And they stood by awkwardly when I collapsed in a heap on the doorstep, paralyzed by the vast emptiness of loss.
I would forget the day I learned you were still alive.
Alive! Hope filled me anew. I spent those nights in a hotel, and drove to NASA headquarters in the mornings, technicians and engineers giving me sad, sympathetic looks when I passed them in the hallways. “His wife,” they whispered. You weren’t responding to communications. We had no new information. But you were coming back, and that was enough.
I would forget the day you returned.
You weren’t yourself. All the news broadcasts–your module parachuting into the sea. As soon as I set eyes on you, I knew: something was different. Something was wrong.
I would forget the day they told me what you did.
Of course you had left that detail out. Everyone had. NASA’s version of a cyanide tablet: a drug that makes you forget. Each member of the crew had been given one–a small pill, fashioned like a molar, hidden in your mouth. The ship’s transcript told all. The crew’s careless mistake. How you had sealed yourself in the airlock as soon as the explosion erupted, knowing that would keep you safe. How you had watched them burn from the other side. How you saw them suffer. And you suffered too. In many ways, it was you, my love, that suffered most, being the only one to survive, and bearing the burden of bringing them back.
It was a ten month trip back. One in which I’m sure you asked yourself many questions. Maybe, with one extra man to help, the fire could have been extinguished, the explosion prevented. But that was not what happened…You needed your brains to make it back to Earth. And make it back you did, before crushing the molar in the back of your mouth and forgetting about a life you didn’t choose, greatness you never wanted, a woman you once loved, and the burned corpses of three dead men, their dying cries ringing in your ears.
I would forget the way you look at me now.
Those eyes, once so alive and bright, now hollow. Empty. You’ve forgotten who you are, and worse, who I am.
I would forget that I had a choice, that I could have done the same as you–forgotten.
They gave me a pill, back at NASA headquarters. A pill to forget. I keep it in my pocket, running it between my fingers.
But no matter how hard or how much I want to forget, I cannot. And even though you’re as good as dead, I would be forgetting you, my love, and without you, I am not me. Memories, however painful, make us who we are.
But if there’s one thing more painful than death, it’s the man you love forgetting who you are, and knowing he had a choice.
JT Gill is a 22 year living in Virginia. His work has appeared in Every Day Fiction, Daily Science Fiction, and The Molotov Cocktail, where he won the 2015 Flash Fool Contest. You can follow him on Twitter @jt3_gill or through his website at wordlsofhisown.com.
Image by RyanMcGuire