It’s there. It’s right there on my phone. A picture of the two of them. Kissing. Is he really the same person that didn’t want to post pictures of us because the world doesn’t need to know he’s gay? What does this new boyfriend have that I didn’t? That I don’t?
The whole thing just fucking hurts. Then again, it’s on me. Why do I keep following him on social media? To torture myself because he moved on that quickly?
Am I that forgettable?
I need some air, so I get out even if it’s raining. I walk around feeling sorry for myself, not really paying attention to where I’m going. I end up in a place of town I’m not really familiar with in front of the greatest comic book store ever. I mean… I don’t know anything about this store yet, but they have the coolest door. It’s a replica of the phone booth Clark Kent would use to become Superman.
I haven’t read comics in a while. Maybe I should go get one. That would take my mind off things.
The inside of the store is as cool as their front door. How did I not know that such a place existed? The not reading comics thing should be the only explanation I need, but I’d also like to think that the universe kept it for a day like this, when my mind needs a distraction.
My eyes scan the store and something catches my attention. Not a book like would be logical in a place like this, but a boy. Next to the (fake?) fireplace, a boy is reading, going back and forth between the pages of a paperback. There is something about him. Like he’s in his happy place.
I wander around the store for a few minutes, and I end up in front of him. I’ve never really been the type to talk to a stranger, but I feel oddly drawn to him. “Hi.” He looks up at me and he seems confused for a second, like he’s trying to remember me. “So… I’m new to comic books. Since high school, at least. Anything I should try?”
He smiles an adorable shy smile, gets up and takes me to one of the bookshelves without even hesitating. He recommends two series. Scorpius Hawthorne and The dark alternates. I take the first issue of both. He just sounds so excited when he talks about them that I want to experience it for myself.
He is charming and endearing. Plus, there is a gay vibe coming from him. But maybe I’m just projecting my own desire there.
“I’m Jay, by the way.”
“Like the letter?”
“Exactly like the letter,” I answer with a smile.
I’m about to ask Aaron if he wants to go grab some coffee when someone calls his name by the door. He says he has to go, and he disappears.
I get home and I start reading The dark alternates. It’s quite good, but it uses so many characters from other series that I feel kind of out of touch, probably missing references I would get if I did read the other comics.
Then I give Scorpius Hawthorne a go. I have obviously heard of it, but I don’t really know what it’s about. I haven’t even seen the movies. Now this one, I am really into. I don’t even put it down between the first and the last page. When I do put it down, I almost feel empty. I can’t wait to know what happens next.
Tomorrow, I’ll go by the second one.
If I’m lucky, he’ll be there again.
He is here again. Sitting nearly in the same spot, reading the exact same comic book. Okay, Jay, time to man up. Go get the boy.
I sit next to him and he looks at me before shooting me that cute, shy smile again.
“I guess it’s your favorite,” I say pointing at the comics.
“I don’t know,” he answers. “I just started it.”
I frown looking at the book. I am fairly certain that’s already the one he was reading last time. Plus, he’s over halfway through already. He looks down too and looks confused for a second. He closes the book and says, “I’m Aaron.”
Great. I’m that forgettable that even cute boys I met yesterday don’t remember me. “I’m Jay.”
“Like the letter?”
Seriously? Does none of that ring a bell to him? “Exactly like the letter.” I am tempted to thank him for his recommendation yesterday, but if he doesn’t remember that, I will feel even less than forgettable. I will feel invisible.
“Do you come here often?” he asks.
“It’s my second time. Comics resurfaced in my life pretty recently.”
“You should definitely try Scorpius Hawthorne, then. Or The dark alternates.” At least he’s consistent.
“I’ll do that,” I say.
He smiles and holds his hand out to me. “I’m Aaron.”
I laugh and shake his hand. “Jay.”
“Like the letter?”
“Yeah.” It’s weird. When he shook my hand, it felt like he was joking. Introducing himself again. But the way he asked about the letter… Does he not remember asking me the same question less than three minutes ago?
He seems to read something on my face, because he winces and asks: “We had that conversation before, didn’t we?”
“Sorry. I… I have anterograde amnesia.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“I can’t create new memories. I forget things. Five minutes to half an hour. That’s all you can have from me.”
Oh shit. I didn’t even know stuff like that really existed. “That must be tough.”
“Well at least, I don’t remember it,” he answers with a sad smile. I have a feeling that he made that joke countless times before. Even if he doesn’t remember it, I’m sure he knows it too.
“How did that happen? If it’s not too personal.”
“I went through a glass door. There is before the glass door, and after the glass door. Or rather… there isn’t an after the glass door.”
“How long ago was that?” Aaron lifts his sleeve. On his wrist, there is a tally tattooed. He reached five. “Are those years?”
“I think so. I don’t really remember, it’s more like a feeling. And having to stare at it all the time. I’m not even sure it was my idea. Maybe my family got tired of hearing me answer ‘seventeen’ whenever someone asked me how old I was. Or maybe I wanted something to show me that I’m still living.”
This conversation is surreal. Not just the content of it, but also that this boy would share that much with me. He might be like that with everyone – maybe that’s who you become when you only have the present – but it might be that we connected on some level for some reason.
He looks at me and shoots his shy smile. “I’m Aaron.” He extends his hand.
“I’m Jay.” I shake his hand.
“Like the letter?”
“Exactly like the letter.”
I’ve been back to the comic book store a few times, but I haven’t seen Aaron. My mind keeps going back to him. Sometimes, true, it’s because of his crazy condition that seems even crazier than the stories he recommended, but most of the time, it’s his smile. I just can’t get his smile out of my head.
I think about him whenever I open a comic.
I think about him when I Google his condition.
I think about him when I’m doing nothing at all.
It’s crazy. I’m obsessing over a boy that I’ve seen twice, that forgot everything about me, and that I probably won’t ever see again.
But I do see him again. Out of the blue.
My sister and I are coming back from lunch when I see him walking toward us. He is with a woman that looks like she could be his mother.
I know he doesn’t remember me. I know it’s awkward with my sister and his mother, but when we reach them, I say: “Hi, Aaron.”
All four of us stop walking. Lily looks intrigued, but I ignore her. I look at Aaron who seems to genuinely try to remember where we know each other from.
“I’m Jay. We met at the comics book store,” I tell him. I don’t see the point in pretending that it’s the first time we meet. He knows he forgets things.
“I’m sorry,” his mother (?) says. “He can’t remember, he has…”
“Anterograde amnesia,” I finish. “I know, he told me.” She looks surprised. He might not be that friendly with everyone after all. “I know you don’t remember, but I read the books you recommended. I really liked them!”
Aaron’s face lights up. “What were they?”
I tell him and he asks me how far I am, and he smiles telling me that he remembers those numbers. Apparently, they were pre-glass door. We talk for five minutes before Lily reminds me that we have somewhere to go.
I don’t know how to ask Aaron to see him again. I don’t have to come up with anything though because his mother invites me to dinner on Friday. Aaron seems about to protest, but I accept before he can.
“What’s anterograde amnesia?” Lily asks me when we start walking away. I explain what Aaron told me. “That sounds complicated,” she points out.
“According to the Internet, scientists still don’t know how to cure it. Some people do get better, but science has no idea why. Crazy, uh? You would think that with everything we know, we would be able to know how the human body works, right?”
“Yeah, but… I wasn’t talking about that. Isn’t the whole situation a little complicated? You have this face when you talk to him… it’s not like it can go anywhere.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Yes, you do.”
“It’s just dinner.”
“If you say so.”
“Yes, I say so. I barely know him and chances are I never will. But what? Because he doesn’t fit in a box, he shouldn’t make friends?”
“Come on, it’s not what I said. It’s just… what’s wrong with the friends you already have?”
“First of all, they’re all Harrison’s friends.”
“Oh is that it? You got your heart broken and instead of picking yourself up like an adult, you go for an easy relationship with someone new?”
“It’s not like that.”
“Of course it is. He’ll never know you enough to reject you. It’s going to be the honeymoon phase forever. Well, you know what? It’s not real. He won’t ever know you enough to love you either.”
“What I meant is that I’m not going to date him. Because I’m nice to someone that means I’m going to fall in love with him? You do realize that he is probably not gay, right? Or maybe we won’t click together. Or I will be put off by having to introduce myself every ten minutes. Or something. He’s just a guy from the comic book store, and yes, I am curious about him. It doesn’t mean anything more.”
Even beyond all of that, relationships, even casual ones, are hard enough for regular people. I can’t see Aaron that way.
“Just be careful,” Lily concludes. “You’re a bit fragile at the moment.”
Sisters are completely overrated.
I bring wine to dinner because that’s what you bring when you are invited to someone’s you don’t really know. It’s odd to think that I sort of know Aaron, but that none of them knows me. Not even him.
When I arrive at the apartment, his mother opens the door. “Jay, welcome!”
“Hello Mrs… I’m sorry, I don’t know your last name.”
“It’s Soto. But please, call me Elsie.”
“Sure, Elsie. Those are for you”. I give her the mandatory gifts.
She replies with the equally mandatory: “Thank you, you shouldn’t have!”
While she’s putting everything away, I take a look at the apartment. The front door opens to a large room that is the kitchen, dining room and living room. Four doors are labeled ‘Mom’, ‘Eric’, ‘Aaron’ and ‘shower room’. I’m not entirely sure why not ‘bathroom’, but I don’t comment. Actually, even the front door is labeled ‘outside’.
A lot of things are labeled, actually. Not obvious things like ‘couch’ or ‘table’, but next to the game console, some games have a sticker that reads ‘Aaron’s choice’, which are made to imitate the ones you can see in stores. Probably games he likes but can’t remember. Haven’t we all dreamed of that? Being able to forget things we enjoyed to be able to experience them for the first time all over again. I’m sure it sucks when you don’t have a choice.
Other things notes are spread out through the room like a list of times and channels by the TV. Probably what Aaron likes to watch. Key phone numbers are written by the landline and Aaron’s daily schedule is next to every clock.
From here, I can see a whiteboard on the fridge where Aaron noted what he ate today and when. I guess it’s the only way to keep a healthy diet when you don’t know if you’re hungry for a snack or a meal, or how much junk food you already put in your body that day.
Elsie comes back to the living room and she seems to notice what I was staring at. Her face drops a little and she looks sad for a second. “How many times have you met Aaron?” she asks and her phrasing seems odd until I realize that it’s probably the most accurate description of our interactions.
“Three. A bit more, perhaps, but on three different occasions. Is he here?”
“He will be back in a minute, he went to get the dessert. Actually, his brother went and he took Aaron with him.”
“What happened to him?” I ask. “If that’s okay to ask. He told me that he went through a glass door.”
“It’s okay to ask, but it’s a part of his life he remembers. You should ask him. Listen, Jay, I’m sorry about ambushing you like this with dinner, it’s just that… he doesn’t really make new friends, and people usually stop caring after they hear about his condition, or after he asks them their name for the fifth time. But you stopped him to talk to him, and…” She seems overwhelmed for a moment and I squeeze her hand quickly. She smiles, grateful, and changes the subject.
“So what do you do?” she asks going back into the kitchen.
“I’m a graphic designer. Website and ad campaigns, mainly,” I answer, following her to keep the conversation going.
“Really? Aaron is a bit of an artist too. He draws every day. He’ll probably show you something later.”
The front door opens and I hear two boys bickering as they come in. They stop when they see me. One of them is Aaron, the other one is the boy that was with him at the comic book store. The brother, I assume.
“Hi, I’m Jay.”
“Eric,” he says shaking the hand I extended.
“Aaron.” He has an awkward smile. Like he knows I’m here for him, but he doesn’t remember me. I try to smile warmly, whatever that is supposed to look like, to communicate that it’s fine. I get it and I don’t blame him. I don’t know if the idea gets across to him.
We all sit around the table and Elsie brings the food. I cannot remember the last time I got a proper homecooked meal, and that alone makes it worth meeting Aaron.
None of us seems to know how to get the conversation starting. Eric doesn’t know me, at all, Aaron doesn’t remember me, and Elsie literally just sat down. “It is a nice apartment,” I say to break the awkward silence.
“Paid for with the Sweden money,” Eric replies, a bit bitter.
“I’m sorry… I don’t know what that means,” I say.
Aaron frowns like Sweden should ring a bell. I can see him give up pretty quickly. I don’t blame him. Even if he doesn’t remember doing so, he must have spent ages trying to remember things unsuccessfully. “I don’t know what that means either,” he answers. “But I don’t remember living here.”
That’s probably why everything is labeled. This is not his pre-glass door apartment. “So… you wake up every day in an apartment you don’t know?” I ask Aaron.
“Or I suddenly am in one,” he answers. “It’s weird, actually. I don’t remember this place, but it feels familiar.”
“That is because he cannot create new memories, so he doesn’t remember facts, but his brain can still develop new procedures,” Elsie explains. “For instance, he learned how to ride a bike after the accident.” This is weird. I understand what she said, but I can’t quite wrap my head around it. How can you learn something if you can’t remember it? Riding a bike could be muscle memory, but not living in an apartment.
Also, if the tally on his forearm truly counts the years that passed, then he was in his late teens when the glass-door incident happened. Did he not know how to ride a bike?
“How is an apartment a procedure?” I ask, focusing on the most important question.
“It’s not,” Eric answers. “But going to the bathroom, making your bed, loading the dishwasher… that’s stuff you do every day. His body remembers doing that. Which is why you should do more chores. It’s not like you remember doing them anyway.” The words sound harsh, but I don’t mind them. First, because it’s siblings’ banter, and I probably said worse to Lily countless times, and second because sometimes, dark humor is the easiest way to keep yourself from going crazy over something. Aaron doesn’t seem to mind either since his only reply is to show Eric his middle finger.
“Boys!” Elsie interjects. “We have a guest!”
At some point during dessert, as Aaron is telling me about a comic book he wrote before all of this, his eyes go a little fuzzy. He looks down at his plate, looks at his family, then me. His eyebrows move up in a sign of surprise when he sees me.
Elsie looks sad and Eric gets up to put his plate in the sink, ignoring the entire situation.
That’s it. Tonight is gone from his mind. So am I.
“You were telling Jay about your comic,” Elsie says. Aaron looks surprised again, but accepts what his mother just told him. Apparently, he knows he can’t do anything but trust her.
“Where was I?” he asks me. I tell him, and he carries on telling me a story he doesn’t remember starting.
After dinner, Eric disappears in his room and Elsie goes in the kitchen to do the dishes. I offered to help, but she refused. I think she is happy to have a guest, and she is even happier that Aaron is having a guest.
So here I am, in the living room, alone with Aaron. It should be all kinds of awkward, but it’s not.
“Do you want to tell me?” I ask after a while. “About your accident.”
“What do you know?”
“That a glass door was involved.”
He sighs and leans back in his armchair. “How well do we know each other?”
“Not very,” I admit. It would be so easy to lie to him that I know I couldn’t. Since I was a boy, whenever I lied, I was hoping to be found out. And every time one of my lies was exposed, I had a huge sense of relief. That cannot happen with Aaron. If I lie to him, I am nothing but the asshole that took the easy option and took advantage of someone who couldn’t know better.
Aaron looks at me for a long time and I am pretty sure that he is going to change the subject when he says: “Tell me something personal about you first.”
“Such as what?”
“It doesn’t matter. It’s not like I am going to tell people.”
I can’t help but laugh at that. I just love how he manages to find humor in his situation. “Fine. I just went through a bad, humiliating breakup.”
“With a boy,” he comments. It is not a question, he is just stating a fact.
“With a boy,” I confirm. “How do you know?”
He shrugs. “I just do. What happened?”
“He was… not right for me. He always acted like he was ashamed of me, even though he never presented things like that. He wouldn’t introduce me to his friends because they were too serious and I would be bored. He wouldn’t let me post pictures of the two of us because he didn’t want to be openly gay online. I never met his family because they live out of the city. And then one day, he tells me that he has been ‘seeing’ another boy. By that, he meant screwing. Pretty much immediately, they started going out, with his friends, posting kissing selfies online. In the end, it wasn’t him. It was me. I wasn’t special enough.”
“Or he was a dick.”
“Or that,” I agree even though I’m not entirely sure it’s how I feel. “Is it personal enough?”
Aaron nods. “Yes, that sounds fair. My story is a bit longer than that.”
“I have time.”
“I might not. I didn’t use to live here. I’m not quite sure which neighborhood this is, but I was living in the projects in Queens. I didn’t mind it. I didn’t feel unsafe. I belonged, you know? And then I didn’t.”
He looks at me like I should know the answer to that. “I realized I was into dudes and it doesn’t go with the projects. So I got a girlfriend and I tried to ignore it. Then I fell for a boy and I came out to my family.”
“Well done, that’s really brave.”
“That was very stupid. My dad kicked me out and when my mother stood up to him, he killed himself. Then the boy I thought would become my boyfriend got his girlfriend pregnant and there I was, left with nothing but loss, in a place that would never accept me. I just wanted to belong.”
I mean… I knew there would be a story, I just didn’t expect it to be…that. “But you realized you couldn’t,” I sum up.
“Quite the opposite. I realized I could. I went to Leteo. They made me forget everything about being gay.”
“My mom refused, at first. But it went so bad that I tried to kill myself, and…” he lifts his other sleeve. Not the one hiding the tally. There is a scar that oddly looks like a smile. Which, given the circumstances, is highly ironic. “… she caved.”
“You’re talking about it. I guess it didn’t work.”
“It did. For a while. It made me forget about being gay, but it didn’t change me.”
“Fell for another boy?”
“Yes. And when I couldn’t hide it well enough, my… friends… beat the shit out of me. Until one of them threw me through a glass door. The trauma brought back all of the memories. It took a few weeks before my brain caved.”
“Because of what? Leteo or the door?”
Aaron shrugs. “If anyone told me, I don’t remember.”
We stare at each other for a long time. Until his eyes go fuzzy again. After that, he says he's tired and he disappears in his room. I’m a stranger again. He doesn’t owe me anything.
“Sorry about that,” Elsie says leaving the kitchen. “He tires quickly.”
“Don’t worry about it. I get it.” I’m not sure I do, but I’m not offended either, and that’s what she needs to hear.
“Being here. I know it isn’t easy to see that he’s worth it. Especially for people who didn’t know him before. Actually, most people who knew him before gave up on him, so… even if this is all you’re prepared to give him, thank you. That means a lot to me, and to him too, even if he can’t express it. Or remember it.”
“I like him. I mean, you’re right, it’s odd to only get slices of time with him before being erased, but… I like those slices.”
“You know… he’s different with you.”
“I’ve never heard him tell his story to anyone. Not like this. He trusts you.”
I’m flattered to hear that. To know that even if he keeps forgetting me, I’m special to him. It’s probably just his mother’s view on the situation, but it makes me happy anyway.
I like that about Aaron. He sees something in me and I see something in him. Isn’t that the basis of all good friendships?
“How was your dinner?” Lily asks.
“What are you doing in my apartment?”
“I came to interrogate you about your weird dinner.”
“Dinner wasn’t weird. It was lovely.”
“Fine. I’m here to interrogate you about your weird friend.”
“Don’t call him that.”
She shoots me a capital-L Look. “Someone’s touchy.”
“His name is Aaron. He is a person.”
“Who doesn’t remember anything.”
“He remembers things.”
“Did he remember you?” If she had a knife and were stabbing me with it, I legit think it would sting less.
“No, he did not. But it’s not like he’s an empty shell, he remembers everything from before his accident, when he was seventeen or eighteen. After that, it’s a bit more of a blur.” I don’t tell her that after that, it’s completely blank.
“Are you going to see him again?”
I shrug. “For all the reasons one decides to see someone again. He is cute, he is funny, he is interesting.”
“He is seventeen!”
“He is twenty-three.”
“Not if he thinks he was seventeen yesterday.” She might have a point. One I am not ready to concede.
“Look, I had a nice time today. I’m going to see him again. He doesn’t have a lot of friends. Why are you upset about that?”
“I don’t know. No reason, I guess. At least, when you’re done with him, he won’t remember you ditching him.” This sentence is painfully real. On so many levels.
I change the subject and she lets me.
A few days later, Elsie calls me. She is starting a twenty-four hours shift at the hospital and Eric is out of town for work. She would like to know if I wouldn’t mind checking on Aaron at some point during the day. She sounds very embarrassed and I have to tell her a few times that I don’t mind.
She assures me that he is capable of taking care of himself, but that she still doesn’t like to leave him alone for so long. I get it. She’s a mom.
I have a bit of work to finish so I don’t make it to Aaron’s until the end of the afternoon. It takes him a couple of minutes to answer the intercom. I guess that he was busy, but he also had to navigate the novelty of his apartment.
“Aaron, hi. It’s Jay. I know you don’t remember, but we met at the comic book store.”
I thought he would be harder to convince, but he lets me in. When I make it to the apartment, I understand why: there is a note by the door saying that I would be coming, that I am a friend, and that he should let me in.
Aaron follows my gaze and says: “It doesn’t specify if you should be my friend, but you don’t look like one of my mom’s and Eric wouldn’t give enough shit. So… I guess we know each other?”
“We do. I’m Jay. Like the letter.”
“Did I ask you that before or is it just how you introduce yourself to people?”
“It’s not how I usually introduce myself,” I admit.
“So… as you can see, I’m still alive, I didn’t leave the apartment, you can tell my mom that and go back to your life.”
He sounds like he knows that happens regularly even if he can’t possibly remember any instant it actually happened.
“Or we could hang for a bit,” I offer.
He looks at me, or rather gauges me, and says: “I think I would like that. I was drawing, are you cool to hang in my room?”
More than cool, I am dying to. Getting to know him is like scrapping pieces here and there and hoping that it would give a coherent picture. I’m sure his room will tell me so much about him.
His room is full of post-it notes.
‘We moved a year after the incident’
‘You have been to Sweden three times’
‘You can ride a bike’
‘You can talk to Eric’
‘Eric has a girlfriend, Carla’
‘Eric works in a night-club’
‘Genevieve is at NYU. She sends handmade postcards every week.’
‘Thomas got married. To a girl’
Tens of those. All the things that Aaron needs to know but can’t remember.
“It’s all facts,” I comment. “Nothing there refers to something you have actually done.”
“If you experience something worth remembering, it would be sad if it could fit on a post-it note, right?”
“I guess so.” He is oddly philosophical about all of this. “Then again, ‘I met a cute boy at a comic book store’ fits.” He walks to a bookshelf and gets a sketchbook. He hands it to me. I open it. It is full of drawings. It takes me a couple of pages to understand. “Are those your memories?”
“When I live something worth remembering, I draw it. When I’m not doing anything, I open them and I dive back into memories I can’t remember.”
“Doesn’t that frustrate you?”
“Sometimes. But here is how I see it. I picture a rainy Sunday afternoon – every day can be a Sunday for all I know – when you have nothing to do but remember what you’ve done with your friends the day before. You’re not doing anything, but it makes you feel good to be in those memories. Remember a time you were happy. That’s my version of that. That’s how I get my happiness. In knowing that I lived happy moments.” This is an incredibly mature way to look at it.
“Some drawings aren’t finished,” I notice
“Sometimes, I forget what I’m drawing before I’m done.”
“Again… doesn’t that frustrate you?”
“I don’t know. I feel like it used to. I probably learned how to live with it. I can’t remember facts and things, but my brain apparently keeps learning. Like the bike thing.” He points at the post-it note. “I can’t remember learning how to ride a bike. But if it’s there, it means I can do it every time. Because I can’t remember but I can learn. Procedures, not facts, obviously. And it’s like… I don’t remember being told that I have amnesia. But I know it now. Or… I don’t remember this apartment. But it sort of feels like home. And these post-it notes… I don’t remember writing any of them, but I know what they are for, and I know I can trust them.”
“So maybe one day you’ll remember me?” I ask half-joking.
“Maybe,” he says with a soft smile. I can tell from his tone that he doesn’t believe that either. “But in the meantime, you might be in there somewhere.” It is so odd. The boy that doesn’t remember me is also the boy who thinks I might be worth remembering and who might have thought I was.
I have a look at his most recent drawings. There is nothing about us meeting at the comic book store. I can’t blame him for that, but it stings a bit. I’m not in there. He always forgot before making it to his room.
“Not in there?” he asks.
“How well do we know each other?”
“I told you about my bad break up, you told me about Leteo and the glass door.” He seems fairly surprised. “But we haven’t known each other that long,” I admit.
“I must like you then,” he kindly suggests. “Sit there.” He points at the window seat while he sits at his desk.
“So I can draw you. Before I…”
“Reboot?” I offer.
He smiles happily. “I like that image. Okay, sit still.” He turns his chair so he can work and look at me at the same time. The seat is extremely comfy and it is easy to find a pose I think I might hold, even if the process is a bit embarrassing.
“Can we still talk? Or do I have to be perfectly still?”
“I’m not that good of an artist. It will just sort of look like you anyway, there is no need to look like a statue either.”
At some point during his drawing, his eyes do that thing and he reboots. He looks confused for a moment, then his eyes land on me. A very intricate mix of emotions passes on his face. I think I understand. He forgot what he was doing halfway through doing it. Yet, this time, he had a way to remember. What he was drawing is still right in front of him. Which also means that he knows the stranger in front of him.
So he continues drawing as if nothing happens. We are quiet for a few seconds and I realize that he probably won’t restart the conversation himself since he has no idea what we were talking about moments before.
“Will you ever let me read it?” I ask.
His pencil stops and he looks at me. “I told you about that?”
“It’s not finished,” he tells me, half-defensive, half-apologetic.
“I know. Some of the greatest artists left unfinished work. Some of those are still considered masterpieces.”
He smiles shyly. “I don’t think this one will be.”
“Can I be the judge of that?”
“I’ll see,” he replies.
Just like that, reading this unfinished story became the new mission of my life. Reboots or not, I will wear him down.
“I think I’m done,” he says.
“Can I see?”
He squints his eyes and looks at me cautiously. “I don’t know. Are you a judgemental person?”
“I don’t think I am.”
“Okay then. But one mean comment, and…”
“You’ll forget the whole thing?” My cheekiness surprises me. Do we know each other well enough for me to laugh at his condition? Lucky for me, he seems to believe so because his smile reaches his eyes. He throws me his sketchbook.
The drawing is really good. I definitely recognize myself and I love the way he used mainly a pencil and a blue crayon, using just a hint of other colors with parsimony. If it wasn’t the only way for me to remember me, the only proof that I exist in his life, I would ask him if I could keep it.
I hand him back the drawing and he looks at me, apparently trying to remember something. It takes me a couple of seconds to understand. If this is the way he is going to remember me, he will need extra information.
“My name. It’s Jay. Like the letter.”
He smiles, grateful, and writes something at the bottom of the page. I am curious, but then he closes the sketchbook and throws it aside. “I’m sorry I can’t even remember your name.”
“It’s alright. I’m sorry too.”
“You were drawing when I arrived. I guess you won’t finish that now.”
“It won’t be the first time.”
“I don’t know how you do it. You are so… calm and philosophical about all of it. I think I would go mad.”
“I’m pretty sure I did. And then I learned how to cope. I read a study, before all of this, of course, that said that if you assess the level of happiness of someone who just lost his legs in an accident and someone who just won the lottery, there is obviously a very noticeable difference. But after six months, it’s not that clear. Apparently, happiness is a decision that everyone can make with the cards they are dealt with. Then they talked about short-term happiness – like buying something – and long-term happiness – like having a family – for which they had words I don’t remember – nothing to do with the procedure, I just suck at fancy words. Anyway, I used to think it was bullshit. That you either have everything you need to be happy, or you don’t. Maybe it wasn’t that much crap after all.”
“So you’re happy?”
It is an incredibly personal question. I don’t think I would answer anyone who asked me that, not even Lily. Against all odds, though, he answers: “Even before all of this… Genevieve used to ask me what I wanted, as if it would make me happy. But back then my brother and I shared the living-room as a bedroom, my mom was working two jobs and we were still missing basic stuff all the time. I never really had my eye on what I wanted because it wasn’t as important as what I needed. There were things I wanted then and there are still things I want now. But I have a bedroom, we have a nice apartment, and… I think it has something to do with Leteo and Sweden or something. I’m not sure. Being like this isn’t what I want. But it got us what we need.”
This might be the most fucking powerful life lesson anyone ever gave me.
Aaron rebooted a couple of times that day, and sometimes we talked about the same things twice. I didn’t really mind.
He started to get tired, probably because he kept trying to remember previous interaction we might have had, and I took it as my cue to leave. Before I could go, though, he asked me if we could see each other again.
I half-joked that he wouldn’t be able to remember any plan we could make. He replied wittily that his phone would.
His phone is full of alarms. Brush your teeth. Take the medicine in the blue box in the bathroom. Call Mom. Do the dishes… Things that we would remember to do, or at least know if we have done them or not, but he can’t. So he doesn’t do any of them unless the alarm tells him to. Otherwise, he could go a week without brushing his teeth, or take enough medicine in a day to overdose.
In the middle of all of that, there is now a reminder that we will watch a movie – a DVD at his place, I clearly can’t take him out – Friday evening, after work. We agreed I would choose the film, anything from the last five years, as it would be a discovery for him whatever the movie might be.
“So… it’s a date?” Lily asks me, stealing one of my fries.
“Stop taking my food. If you want fries, just order them. And no, it’s not a date.”
“It is a movie, on a Friday night.”
“At his place, where his mom and brother might be.”
“So you’ve met the family already?” she teases taking another one of my fries.
“It’s not like that. Why do you keep trying to make it what it’s not?”
“Because you keep bringing him up. Clearly, you like him. Plus you casually mentioned that he’s gay.”
“And that’s bad?”
“In any other circumstance, it would be the best news I heard. Even if it were to lead nowhere, it would take your mind off that stupid ex-boyfriend of yours.”
“But this is messed up. If you want to be this guy’s friend, fine. But it can’t ever be anything more.”
“Because I might get hurt?” I ask with a mocking tone.
“No. I mean… sure you will get hurt trying to get someone who doesn’t even remember you fall for you, but most importantly, what do you expect from him? Sex? If he doesn’t know you, why would he want that? What would it be? For him, a one-night-stand, for you, taking advantage of a teenager.”
“He isn’t a teenager.”
“That’s not the point.” I am about to argue that I talked to him and that even though his memory might be stuck when he was seventeen, his thought process didn’t stop then and he is a different person. But she is right. It’s not the point. The point is that she is right. I have wondered myself if that could count as a date, and the incredible grey area of me being interested in someone that cannot fully reciprocate the interest.
Which is why I decided that no, it isn’t a date and that yes, he is on my mind, because he is unique in so many ways, but this is not even a crush. I want to be Aaron’s friend, nothing more.
I try telling Lily that. She still seems worried and judgemental at the same time.
Okay, so I’m weak.
This is clearly not a date. It is two friends hanging out with his brother getting ready for work and his mother cleaning the kitchen while we watch the beginning of the movie. But his brother ends up going to work and his mother goes reading in her bedroom.
It’s been just the two of us before, but this time – and I blame Lily and the stupid ideas she put in my head – it feels different. I barely focus on the movie because I am focusing on his reactions instead. The more I try to not see him as a boy I might be into, the more it’s just what I see.
I chose a movie with a limited plot, great action scenes and nice pictures as I figured he wouldn’t be able to follow it through its entirety. And indeed, he reboots a few times, but I apparently chose wisely because he gets back in the movie every time. Whenever I’m sure he’s not looking at me, I’m studying his face. He doesn’t show a lot of emotions – not that this is the most emotional movie – but I can tell that a lot is happening in his head. How many of those thoughts are lost forever? How deep can your thought process be if you have to start it again every five to thirty minutes? Are they really lost, though? If he can learn things, then his brain is storing some information somewhere. Can he just not access it? Does his subconscious do more than we all realize?
Lily might have been more of a point than I care to admit. When I get home that night, ‘not even a crush’ definitely became a crush.
It still doesn’t matter. I am never going to act on it. He can’t reciprocate any of that. It will be like having a crush on a straight boy. Something you like to daydream about but leave within the boundaries of impossible. We’ve all been there at some point.
I am looking through Aaron’s drawings from this week. I have kept my crush under control, by I still have found myself visiting regularly. Every week or so, I spend time with him. His mother seems grateful, his brother apparently thinks I’m mad, Aaron doesn’t remember. But there have been a few more drawings of me, proofs that I exist in his life.
Spending time with Aaron makes me happier. The awkward, ill-advised curiosity I felt at first made way to a truer form of friendship. His memory doesn’t work very well, or at all, that’s true, but his mind keeps amazing me every time.
He humbles me, really.
This time, I am at his desk and he is on the window seat.
“What is that supposed to be?” I ask, showing him a drawing that’s completely abstract, all in harsh lines, tones of red and black.
Aaron looks at the page, trying to read into it something he doesn’t remember. “I don’t know. I’d say rage.”
“Or maybe anger.”
He looks at me like I’m completely stupid. “I don’t know, J.” Whenever he says my name, I only hear the letter.
“Sorry, I’m still adjusting.”
“So am I,” he offers playfully. I try to ignore his amused smile because I have this new rule that I am not looking at his lips. “Although, you know, I think it would be…” Aaron doesn’t finish the sentence. Why would he? He now cannot remember starting it. It really freaked me out, the first time he rebooted halfway through a sentence. Luckily, his mother was in the room and the sad but calm and reassuring look she gave me soothed and terrified me at the same time. It is part of his daily life. It was great to know, but also heart-breaking.
I look at the clock. Forty minutes. We’ve been talking for over half an hour before Aaron rebooted on me. It’s never been that long before.
Forty minutes. I can’t stop thinking about it. Five to thirty minutes. That was the deal. Was it a rough approximation, or was this time different in any way? I know that I am ridiculously getting my hopes up, but I need to ask. I need someone to tell me that I’m being ridiculous.
So before leaving, I stop in the kitchen where Elsie is sitting at the table by the window, doing crosswords. She smiles when she sees me. “Oh, hi, Jay. Are you leaving?”
“I am, but I was hoping I could have a word first.”
“Oh? Is everything alright?”
“Yes… Yes, everything is fine, I just… have a question.”
“Five to thirty minutes… how strict is that window?”
She sighs as if she already knows what I really want to ask and understands what she has to reply. “Do you have time for coffee?” she delays.
I sit in front of her, waiting for her to bring the cup and start talking. It takes her a few seconds to order her thoughts. The question she asks me proves that she understands perfectly where I am coming from. I might not be the first one to brush the subject. “How long?”
“A little over forty minutes.”
“Are you sure, though? Sometimes, he gives the impression of a continuous conversation but when you ask him, he cannot remember how it started.”
“I am sure.” There is more certainty in my words than in my head. She knows him better than I do.
“Aaron is followed by doctors in the Leteo institute, but also some doctors in Sweden, who research brain and memory. They specialize in amnesia. Aaron is… a case study, I guess.” Sweden money. Eric’s words make more sense now. “We have been there a few times. They say that it is normal to want to see signs of improvement and that we most likely will never stop looking for them, but that ultimately, he probably won’t get better. Any help he brings to science will be for another generation.”
“I hear a lot of ‘most likely’s and ‘probably’s,” I notice.
“They don’t know. That’s the part that hurts the most, I think. No one knows enough to give us hope, but they don’t know enough to kill the hope either. I asked that question before. They told me that anything under an hour isn’t noticeable. Anything under a day isn’t significant enough to notify the doctors.”
There are one thousand four hundred and forty minutes in a day. I got excited about forty. This is the harshest wake-up call on my life.
“I am sorry,” she adds.
“Don’t be. What I feel is probably a fraction of what this whole process has been for you. At least I have someone to give me some answers.”
“I guess this is it, then.” She smiles, but it doesn’t reach her eyes. At all.
“What do you mean?”
“Like all his friends, you realized that however much you like him, he has very little to offer. Then you thought you might cure him. And finally, you realized that you couldn’t. it’s usually when people stop visiting him.”
“It’s not like that.”
“Don’t worry. You are the first person to try to connect with him without knowing him from before. I will always be grateful to you for that. We also both know that he won’t miss you. You don’t need to feel guilty.”
“It’s not like that,” I repeat. “You make it sound like I am here out of a sense of duty. But you’re right. I did not know him before that. I don’t owe him anything. I am not trying to be his friend because it would be shitty… sorry, low of me to abandon him in times of need. I am here because he has a nice smile, a way to look at the world that moves me, a sense of humor that brightens my days, and overall because he is like no one I met before. Of course, I want to cure him. Be the hero that saves the day. And it kills me that I’m not or that no one will ever be. But it doesn’t mean I’ll disappear.”
Elsie’s hands start shaking around her mug so I take them in mine. Her smile, although fainter than before, finally reaches her eyes.
But then she looks more serious than I have ever seen and she says: “He can’t fall in love with you, you know?” It’s pretty much what Lily has been telling me, yet this time it’s different. It feels like it comes from someone who feels that same pain of being stuck in a non-evolving relationship with Aaron. It comes from a place of concern for me as I move forward rather than a warning not to do so.
“I know that.”
“Do you?” In those two words, I hear the motherly advice to stop dreaming alongside the sheer understanding that I probably won’t.
Against all odds, the one person that ends up confusing me, shaking all my certainties, is Eric.
One day, he’s the one opening the door. “He’s in the shower,” he says while letting me in. He goes back to the couch to resume his racing game. I sit next to him. “So?” he asks after a few seconds of awkward silence. “Are you two a thing?”
“You mean me and your brother?”
“Yeah. I don’t really care about your relationship status with other people.”
“Uhm… He… You do know he can’t be in a relationship, right?”
“Well… yes and no. he can’t get married and have kids, sure, but he can do other stuff.”
“Like what?” I know as soon as I ask that it was a stupid question, but I still realize that too late.
“See… when two people really like each other, they like rubbing their genitals together. Or whatever it is that you do.”
“I can’t have sex with him.”
“He can’t consent. He can’t remember it.”
“Alright. I’m not pushing for anything, because I really don’t want to know anything about what he does with his dick. But he can give consent. Not every time, sure, but there are moments he is more there than others and I’m sure he would enjoy fooling around in some of those moments. And about remembering it… I don’t know about you, but I have sex because it feels good, not because I will remember it the next day.”
“Wait… if you’re not having sex, what are you doing with him all the time?”
I shrug. “Talking. Drawing. Watching movies.”
“Oh. So you two are a thing. Just the boring kind.”
Aaron gets out of the bathroom then and joins us on the couch. He doesn’t question my presence. He just assumes that I am a friend of Eric’s, I guess. We end up playing the game all afternoon. We obviously don’t discuss relationship status or sex after that.
Still… Eric’s words insidiously pulled Aaron from the ‘impossible’ category to the ‘improbable’.
Everything shifts one rainy Tuesday night. Eric is at work and Elsie has another all-nighter shift at the hospital. Aaron and I are watching a movie. This time, we chose a film he saw pre-glass door but that I have never seen. Today, I am the one discovering something. It is a nice shift in our usual dynamic. I also think that the familiarity of the movie helps him ground himself back to the present when he reboots, and it also helps him with having to meet a stranger again every time.
We’re approximately two thirds into the movie when it happens. Aaron slides a bit closer on the couch and when I turn my head to look at him, his face is so close that my heart skips a beat. There is something in the way he looks at me that pulls something in my stomach.
If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he’s about to kiss me.
“What are you doing?” I whisper. He is so close that it feels like talking would be too aggressive.
“Am I reading this wrong?” he asks.
I honestly don’t know the answer to that. “No, you’re not reading this wrong, it’s just… we can’t… I can’t… you can’t…”
“Are you going to list all the pronouns?” I could smile at that joke, but there is too much tension in the moment. “I know what I am. To some extent. But I’m still me, I’m still a person, and I still want things. I… don’t know much about you. But this feels like what I want.” My heart is beating faster. It’s getting harder to think properly. “I also understand that I’m a mess and that it’s not sexy,” he adds. “I get it if you don’t want this.”
Now, that’s ridiculous. I can see behind his condition. Sort of. I still don’t know if this is right. Regardless of what Eric said, I know we can’t have sex, but maybe kissing him is allowed. I’m still debating when he decides to be the bravest one and closes the gap.
I understand right then that I would never have instigated anything, but that I have been wanting this for a long time now. And what a kiss this is. I mean… his lips? Pure magic. I pull him closer and he extends the movement by sitting on my lap. The fact that he’s taking charge is very strongly attenuating the feeling that I might be doing something wrong.
When we break the kiss, my fingers are tightly gripping his shirt and his are gently cupping my face. We stare at each other, breathing fast, and his adorable shy smile comes back. “Was that alright? I probably haven’t done that in ages.”
“This was beyond perfection. Plus, in your mind, you’ve probably done something like that not so long ago.”
He looks a bit sad when he says: “Not like this, no.”
We are still holding on to one another, him on my lap, looking at each other and smiling when his eyes go a little fuzzy. Panic raises from my guts, but I try my hardest not to let it reach my face. I keep looking at him and smiling, hoping that it will limit how much he’s must be freaking out right now.
Oddly enough, he doesn’t focus on me first. He takes in the living room he doesn’t know. I can’t help but wonder which feeling takes over whenever he reboots: being completely lost, or knowing that he lives in a nicer place now. I always remember the way he talked about getting what you need above what you want.
Then his eyes meet mine. He half-smiles and I can’t tell how uncomfortable he is. He doesn’t move away, though.
“So… this is awkward, but…”
“I’m Jay,” I say.
“Like the letter?”
“Exactly like the letter,” I reply softly.
“And… are we together?”
Oh, wow. Straight for the difficult question. “I don’t know,” I answer truthfully. “It’s very new.”
He looks relieved. “Oh, so I’m not that behind.”
“No, you’re not. So I guess we should take a break, huh?”
“Actually… I think I’d like to do more of this… if that’s alright…”
How odd that he would be the one asking that. But if he wants it, and I want it, then surely it’s alright, isn’t it?
The kiss – the make-out session, really – doesn’t leave my mind. I’m thinking about Aaron all the time.
Okay, maybe not all the time, let’s not be a cliched teenage girl.
And there is nothing I can do. What could I do? Call him? Text him? And say what? ‘Hi, I’m Jay, like the letter, you can’t remember it, but we kissed and it was amazing, now it’s hella confusing, but I’m thinking of you, have a great next five to thirty minutes’?
Peter is probably my favorite person in the world. He and I go way back, all the way to primary school when I got stuck on a tree, trying to prove something, and he helped me down. We were the best of friends in high school, but I never thought it would last. He left for college and I decided to stay and try to build a career without putting myself into years and decades of debt. He called regularly, he came home often, I visited when I could, and the friendship never faded.
He is now a photographer for a holiday planner and his job is pretty much being paid to take a vacation to amazing places and take pictures. It’s a dream job, really, but who would have thought that you would need to go to college to do that?
But he is just back from Thailand and he is coming over tonight.
I open the door, we smile, we hug, and he starts immediately with the annoying questions: “Why is your sister asking me to check on your love life?”
I haven’t mentioned the kiss – or anything suggesting that Aaron and I might be more than friends – to Lily. It’s just her refusing to mind her own business. Again.
But it’s a bit harder to argue that she didn’t have a point, now.
“Because she loves micromanaging my life?”
He laughs and takes his coat off, throwing it on the couch, same as always. “So… there isn’t any boy? Other than Harrison, I mean. I never really liked the guy.”
“Yeah, well. I did.”
“The guy was trash. But… new boy?”
“Can we not start this with you grilling me about my love life?”
“That totally means yes. But fine. Do you want me to tell you about Thailand?”
Harrison is already in the kitchen, scavenging through my cupboards for food and drinks. Then we sit down in the living room and he tells me all about his holiday. Apparently, the travel agent only offers all-inclusive trips to Phuket, but they sent him all over the country to take pictures of other places, whether they offered expeditions there or not. What they want are nice illustration pictures. He points out that, at this point, they could as well just have used the Cambodia pictures he took last spring, but he’s not about to really complain. He was very well paid to take pictures of gorgeous places in a country he had never visited before.
I don’t know about the official pictures, but I’ve seen his Instagram and I must agree that if I were paid to go there, I wouldn’t complain either.
The way he talks about the people, the food, the culture, the architecture, the landscapes… I almost feel like I was there with him. He has a gift for that. I keep telling him that he should write travel guides, to which he always replies that it would add a seriousness to his travels that he doesn’t want to carry.
“What about you? Any exciting work lately?”
“I’ve just designed a website for diet pills.”
“Still selling your soul for money, then?”
“It pays the rent.”
It’s a conversation we often had and in spite of his words, there is never any judgment coming from him. I used to take all the crap jobs, just to be able to eat. It’s much better now and I am doing a lot of projects I am interested in, or with aesthetic value. Sometimes, though, I still have to take quick, easy, rubbish jobs.
“I’ll write my travel guide when you write your graphic novel,” he comments. That’s been my dream since I was a teenager. But like most dreams, it got lost in reality. “But I’ve humored you long enough. Back to the main subject.”
“Is there a boy?”
“There is,” I admit. I really want to talk about Aaron to someone, and that someone cannot be Lily until I’m sure about what I feel and want. “His name is Aaron.”
“And why is Lily telling me about Aaron?”
I tell him all about him. How I was first moved by his smile. How I got intrigued by his condition, but not in a nosy way. How I understood that we could never be anything more than acquaintances. How, even with his limited experience of time, he managed to work his way to my mind. How he shattered all of my good resolutions with a kiss.
When I’m done, I look at my best friend, waiting for the sentence. Is he going to condemn or forgive me? Somehow, I need him to tell me if what I did was wrong or not.
“I’ve heard about stuff like that.”
“Really?” This is absolutely not the answer I expected. How can he have heard about something like that before?
“Well, maybe not exactly that, but I’ve read about Leteo and how their procedure can have terrible effects on people. You shouldn’t play with people’s minds.”
“So there are more people like Aaron.”
“I haven’t said that. There are other people who suffer from terrible side effects because of Leteo. By law, they have to make public any known failed procedure. It’s well hidden, but it’s all on their website.”
I wonder if Aaron’s story is on there. Probably not his story. His tragedy was probably reduced as a fine print in the list of possible side effects.
“But more about your guy. So… how does that work exactly? Does he really forget all about you several times a day?”
“That’s the thing… I’m not entirely sure. When he reboots…”
“When he what?” Peter interrupts me.
“It’s just how we call it when his mind goes blank. So when he reboots, he forgets me. I have to introduce myself and all of that. But I also think that there is a part of him that is growing more comfortable around me. When I met him at the comic book store, there is no way he would have kissed me. Even after that, all the other times we’d been together, even in his room… there never was a kiss vibe. Or do you think I’m just seeing what I want to see?”
“I think you can’t know what’s in his head. Especially in the part that even he can’t access. And yeah, you might be trying to bend the reality to your own desires. But if he’s the one who kissed you, I’d say it’s fine. I don’t know either man… It might also be that no part of him remembers you, but that seeing drawings of you enter your face into his procedural memory.”
“A face isn’t a procedure.”
“I’m sorry that your knowledge of the brain is so much better than mine,” he replies wittily. “Look… if you want answers, you might want to go talk to a doctor. Maybe even his, if his family is cool with that.”
“That’s actually a very good idea.”
“Well… I went to college. But… even if we overlook the moral dilemma of ‘can he really want this’… Do Do you really want this? I believe you when you say that he is cute and that when you’re together you click. I understand that it’s more than enough to develop a crush. But where can it go from there? You can have a lot of moments with him, but never continuity. You’ll never be special to him. Is that enough?”
“I don’t know. So far, I tried very hard to convince myself that there was nothing between us, and then we kissed. It’s still new and confusing. I don’t know what I want, I don’t know what I can expect, I don’t know anything really. But it helped to talk about it. With someone that’s not Lily.”
“Yeah… I love your sister, but she’s a bit judgemental.”
“I noticed. So… what about you? Any girl in Thailand?”
“One or two,” he replies with a smile. “None that made me want to stay, though.”
“Peter… Leaving broken hearts all over the world…”
“It’s because I can’t leave you. What would you become if I suddenly moved to Asia for love?” He said it as a joke, but the idea terrified me once or twice before.
I am nervous to see him again. I have all these feelings in my heart, all these memories in my head, and I am just a stranger again. I know it will hurt to see him again and have to introduce myself again, know that I can’t even touch him until we create a moment again. I just don’t know how much.
Lily did warn me. She just warned me about the wrong things.
She thought it was an easy way out for me. That I would never owe Aaron anything and that I could just walk away whenever. I don’t know how true that is. There might be some part of me that was looking for something safer after Harrison… But I can’t believe that it has been my main motivation, even at the beginning. Something in Aaron touched me in spite of his condition, not because of it.
Sure, his condition is odd and I was curious about it, but that’s not what got me interested in him. Actually, it could have pulled me away more than once. There have been many times these past few months when I had to wonder why I was so drawn to that boy. I didn’t shy away from the hard questions. In the end, I genuinely believe that there is something in this boy that touched my heart repeatedly, enough to compel me to come back, to get me to hope that we could create a bond stronger than his condition, and that my hopes are now higher than ever.
I remember the shy boy from the comic book store. This boy wouldn’t just have had a make-out session with a stranger. Surely, that means that part of him remembers me, right? Or am I just fooling myself?
I was still working up the courage to go back to Aaron when Elsie called me to invite me to dinner. I accepted immediately. I might not be brave enough to make the first step, but I am not stupid enough to ignore an opportunity.
Eric opens the door. He looks very handsome, clearly dressed to go out. “Oh, Jay, great! My mom is stuck at work for another hour and I’m late to meet Carla. Is it cool if I leave you with Aaron?”
“Yeah, no problem!”
“Thanks, you’re a lifesaver!”
“A date-saver, at least,” I lamely joke.
He smiles, grabs his jacket, shouts “Aaron, Jay is here!” and disappears.
Aaron appears a few seconds later. He looks at me and I can’t read his expression. He almost looks… intimidated?
“Jay,” he finishes. Sure. Eric just shouted it through the apartment. “Jay, I… I have something to ask you.”
“You can’t make fun of me.”
“Okay,” I repeat, a bit more confused this time.
He hesitates one more second then makes a sign with his hand that I understand as an invitation to follow him to his bedroom. He goes to his desk to pick up his sketchbook and then looks at me, still unsure.
I really want to look at whatever drawing started all of this. Is it one of me? Is it one of us?
“You know about my condition, don’t you?” he asks me.
“So… You get that if I got this wrong, it’s not entirely my fault.”
“Aaron, you’re making me nervous.”
“It’s just… I don’t know if it happened or if it’s just daydreaming.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
He hands me his sketchbook open on a page where he drew me. My face isn’t entirely finished, he probably rebooted halfway through, but you can still tell it’s me. It’s enough for him to have recognized me if he was looking at that page before coming out of his bedroom. What catches my eye isn’t the drawing, though. It’s the tiny comic strip under it. Three panels that cover my skin with goosebumps and wake all the butterflies my stomach ever contained.
First panel: two boys sitting on a couch, looking at each other.
Second panel: the two boys are kissing.
Third panel: the first boy smiling, his heart glowing.
Even if it’s a comic with little details, I can definitely tell that it’s us. He must have drawn that in a rush after I left, before he would have to forget. Even if he had rebooted in the middle of it, he still drew our first kiss pretty accurately.
“Was it in my head?” he asks, voice unsure. “Or are you my boyfriend?”
I was wrong. There are a few butterflies left in there somewhere. “It wasn’t in your head,” I answer him and I can see his entire body relax. “But… this was once. So…”
“So we’re not boyfriends,” he finishes. There is something in his eyes, like he doesn’t know what to think about that.
“What’s on your mind?” I ask.
“Nothing, it’s just… I get it. I couldn’t get a boyfriend before, so I know I can’t get one now. I shouldn’t have hoped… it’s just the picture, and… anyway. Did we at least have fun?”
I dismiss the sketchbook on his bed and I take a few steps closer until I can take his face between my palms. “We’re not boyfriends because it was once and we didn’t get the chance to talk about it. And yes, your condition does make things harder, but… we’re not not boyfriends either.” It’s true. We’re not a couple. But he is on my mind pretty much all the time, and I know that if I were with anyone else, I would feel like I was cheating on him.
“So what are we?” he asks. “Fooling around? Dating? Experimenting?”
Behind his words, I hear his fear of being trapped in a relationship like the one he had before without knowing it. “I guess we’re dating.” We sort of are. We have movie nights, we have days when we just stay in his room and talk about everything and anything, I have regular dinners with his family. “And yes, by the way. We did have fun.”
He smiles and his eyes fall on my lips. I think I want to give him a second first kiss. But I don’t know if he’s there yet. To him, I am a comic strip and a maybe-boyfriend. I know he likes the idea of having a date more than he likes me. I have to be fine with that.
“I really want to kiss you,” I tell him.
And, for the second time, he is the one who makes the decision and closes the gap.
This kiss is so different from the first one. It’s much softer. This is not a make-out session at all, there is no sexual tension in the air. I like this. This is a much better first kiss than the previous one. Even if it’s not.
That’s all Aaron and I are ever going to get. First kisses. I don’t know how I feel about that. Maybe first kisses are only great because they are the beginning of something. How many beginnings can you have before it becomes routine?
Also… how much of this is him wanting me, and how much is it him just wanting to kiss someone?
We end up on his bed, lying side by side, not really touching anymore, except for his fingers brushing mine, mine grabbing his, over and over again. It’s sweet, really. We talk about stuff, but he is slightly quieter than usual.
“Aaron, are you alright?”
“I don’t know… you’re usually a bit more talkative.”
“Oh.” He blushes ever so slightly. “It’s just… I’m afraid to tell you things I already told you and to scare you away. Or to bore you.”
“I’m here. I know you don’t know that, but it’s been months now. It’s true that we sometimes have repeated conversations, but I never find you boring. I’m not even sure how you manage that… And… you are not going to scare me away. I know you, I know your condition, and… I don’t know if we’re going to really be a thing, because relationships are messy even in the best of circumstances, but… I won’t just disappear on you either. Not because of your condition. Not because of you.”
I know it’s really sad, but I am actually glad that he would feel nervous around me. I feel like I matter. Like I’m not the only one trying. I also realize how much I mean what I am saying. I don’t know if we’ll be able to build anything. Lily might have a point when she says that he is stuck at seventeen, and maybe that will catch up on us at some point, maybe it will get frustrating to be the only one moving forward, maybe we’ll just stop clicking… but I also know I want to try something. I am not afraid that it might not be okay anymore.
I also know that it can’t really become serious.
This is confusing as hell.
“Can you start a topic?” he asks me.
“Sure. Like what?”
“I don’t know. Just something we never talked about before.”
I point at his post-it notes. “Can I ask you about them?”
I stand up to be able to read them.
You have been to Sweden three times.
“Do you remember anything about Sweden?”
“No. I think it’s important. I… I think I remember that Sweden is important. I think it has something to do with my condition, but… I don’t know why.”
“Would that be alright if I asked your mom?”
He thinks about it for a second then nods. It’s crazy that in my mind, I pretty much deserved that trust from him, but in his world, it is this giant leap of faith. He has to trust his guts.
You can talk to Eric.
“Did you have issues talking to your brother?”
“How much do you know about me?”
“I know about the glass door and why it happened.”
“I came out to him before the Leteo procedure. After that… whenever I tried talking to him about our dad, or girls… I think it was easier for him to shut down than to live in lies. But he was there for me again when I started to remember. And then when I started to forget… So, yeah… talking to Eric doesn’t come naturally to me, but I’m glad that it’s a truth. Only truths go on that wall. I at least know that much.”
Genevieve is at NYU. She sends handmade postcards every week.
“My ex-girlfriend.” I can see on his face that he doesn’t really want to talk about that. It’s fine.
Thomas got married. To a girl.
“Why is it important that he’s married to a girl?”
“Thomas was… my second sexual awakening, I guess. I thought we had something for a minute. I was sure he was gay. Even after he told me he was straight, I just thought he was lying. To me, to himself… Apparently, I was wrong.”
“Or he’s still lying to himself,” I comment. I know a few of those.
“I guess I’ll never know,” he says. Then he completely changes the subject: “Would you like for us to start messaging?” he asks me. “So I can have something to remember you when I forget.” How stupid am I that I didn’t even think of that earlier? “I have a few mentions of you on my phone,” he adds. “Like movie nights reminders and stuff, but… I’d like you to be more than an alarm.”
“I would love to be more than an alarm.” It gives me an idea. I take the pile of blank post-it notes on his desk, grab a pen, and gives them to him. “It’s cool if you don’t want to, but I thought that maybe I should be on the wall too.”
He looks at me like he’s gauging me. “So… are you a fact in my life?” he asks, jokingly.
“I don’t know. But I’d like to be.”
He uncaps the pen and writes. You have a new friend, Jay.
I take the post-it note and crumple it. “Uh-uh. Not good enough.”
“Okay,” he says with an amused smile. You’re dating Jay.
I look at the sentence. I don’t like it. I know it’s what we agreed on minutes ago, but seeing it black on yellow… it doesn’t seem like it’s what I want.
“Not good enough?” he asks in a whisper and when I look at him, there is this confidence and this patience in his eyes that completely overwhelm me. I’m not the one leading the other, now. I am the one who’s lost and there he is, steadily waiting for me to sort out what I want.
He crumbles the post-it note and hands me the pad. “Do you want to do it?”
“It would be the only one without your handwriting. It will look weird.”
“Or it will stand out and it will be the first thing I look at every day.” Right now, more than ever, I have the certainty that this is not a teenager in front of me, nor a boy that needs saving. Right now, I have a charming guy completely overshadowing my doubts and fears.
Right now, I don’t care about anything but him. So I write down: You have a boyfriend. He smiles softly, takes the pen and adds: his name is
But he doesn’t finish the sentence. His eyes go fuzzy and he reboots. He looks at the post-it note first and takes a few seconds to process it. Then his eyes shift to our touching arms, then my face. In his eyes, there is a question. I know what he needs. “I’m jay.”
“Like the letter.” It didn’t sound like a question. He finishes the sentence and puts the note on his wall with all the other ones. “I think we should add a picture,” he says, almost carrying on the conversation as if he didn’t just reboot. “Do I have a picture of you?”
“I don’t think you do. We could take one of us, though.”
Before we can actually take the picture, though, we hear the front door. His mother enters the apartment shouting that she brought food.
As often, Aaron tired quickly tonight and he went to bed. After another reboot, I wasn’t his boyfriend anymore. I was just a stranger at the table. I don’t think he saw the note when he went back to his room. It stings a bit, but I also don’t mind. He should get some rest.
“So…” Elsie starts as I help her clear the table. “Boyfriends?”
“I… is it inappropriate?”
“I don’t think it is. He is happier with you. I think you see something real in him. But what we talked about the other day is still true.”
“I know.” I remember her words. Aaron won’t fall in love with me.
“One day, this won’t be enough for you.”
“Are you saying I should let go?”
“No, I… as Aaron’s mother, I am so grateful for you. I see the effect you have on him even when you are not around. I know he doesn’t remember you, but I think part of him remembers being happy. But when I look at you… if you were my son, I think I would want better for you. This is very single-sided. Aaron will only ever be able to like you back to a certain point…”
When I’m with Aaron, I’m happy. I really am. It annoys me that everyone else is gently telling me that I’m a fool. Especially because I hear their points and they make a lot of sense.
“I would like to talk to his doctors,” I reply.
Elsie doesn’t seem surprised. She pretends that I didn’t completely change the subject and says: “I can give you Evangeline’s phone number.”
Today, I am taking Aaron to the comic book store. It’s been weeks and I still haven’t called his doctor. I don’t think I’ll like whatever they will have to say. It’s easier to ignore the problem and just hope. Look for signs.
“J, where are we?”
I stop right there and look at him. He looks very confused. I can totally see on his face that he rebooted. He also looks a bit embarrassed.
“Sorry, I have…”
“Anterograde amnesia,” I say. “I know.” I calmly tell him where we are and why and he looks happy with it. I can see that he’s not fully here. It’s one of those times when he’s not even creating short term memories. He’ll ask me again where we are in a few minutes. It’s a non-moment, like we had so many, and that will keep happening. But this time, something is different. Massively different.
He rebooted. He forgot everything again.
But this time, he remembered my name.
That evening, I call Evangeline – Dr. Castle.
Dr. Castle’s office is very… futuristic. Everything is white, chrome, or glass. I guess it was to be expected for one of the top doctors from the Leteo Institute.
When I called her, she seemed to already know who I was and I think she was expecting my call. I guess Elsie talked to her first.
So here I am, listening to her giving me a lot of information about Aaron’s brain. Quite frankly, I don’t understand all of it. “I don’t need the medical details,” I tell her. “I just need to understand what’s happening to him.”
“I’m sorry,” she replies with a polite smile. “Force of habit. How about you just ask me questions.”
“I know that Aaron’s brain fried.”
“This is not the correct imagery,” she interrupts me.
“But it’s pretty accurate,” I interrupt her. I don’t want any of her stonewalling. “Was it you or was it the accident?”
She sighs. “At this stage in our investigation, we believe that it was both. It was an unfortunate series of events that just… unfolded the way it did.”
“What does Sweden have to do with all of this?”
“We are working with a partner lab in Sweden who is currently studying anterograde amnesia. Their research is quite groundbreaking and they are definitely making major progress.”
“But it is a recent and complicated field of study. Aaron’s condition is helping us a lot to understand the brain, the damages it can go through, and how to heal it… However, it is very unlikely that we will find a cure in time for him.”
“Unlikely doesn’t mean impossible.”
“No. It doesn’t. But it’s still not enough for anyone to build hopes of a forever life.” I am about to argue back, but she says: “He still won’t be able to recall your time together. Even if he gets the ability to create new memories, he still won’t be able to access memories he never created.”
“But he might start creating some?”
Dr. Castle takes a deep breath. “It’s difficult to talk about patients with amnesia. The truth is we don’t know. If I say ‘no’, it tells you that there is no hope for Aaron and we are working really hard to make sure that there is some hope. But if I tell you yes, I am giving you that hope when it might never become true.”
“So I know just as much as you,” I sum up.
“I wouldn’t go that far. Aaron is due for an MRI next month. We will know more then. We will be able to tell you if he is getting better. In the meantime, you need to accept that every new thing he seems to remember is actually treated as a procedure by his brain. Like your name. If he remembers an event, a one-off thing he did, then it would be different.”
This conversation completely depresses me. Every progress is nothing. I am nothing to Aaron. His brain is processing me as a procedure because I keep going back to him and there is a picture of me in his room. The other day, he remembered the plot of a film that came out post-glass-door and I got really excited, but it’s probably just that he saw that movie a lot. It’s one of Eric’s favorites.
And there is Lily, Dr. Castle, and even Elsie getting in my head. Eric and Peter’s chilled attitude toward the whole thing doesn’t even seem like enough to keep me from freaking out anymore. Maybe they were right. Maybe this is too much. I should just walk away from this and find a normal boy. Someone who could actually text me first. Or think about me when I’m not around. Someone who could be with me long enough to watch a film and then talk about it…
So I made up my mind. I am going to break-up with Aaron. I know I am entirely doing this for me. He doesn’t need a break-up. Eric could clear his phone and take the post-it note down. I need closure.
But then the most awkward of timings happens. Just as I am about to knock on the Soto’s door. I get a text message from Aaron. It’s the first time he’s ever messaged me first and just for that, I think I could cry.
I open the message with shaky hands.
I don’t know how long it’s been. I don’t know why. I don’t know how. But I think I miss you.
I drop my phone. It’s not a figure of speech. I literally drop my phone. I pick it up and hold on to it like a lifeline. I put my back against the door and slowly slide to the floor. He was probably just reading texts or looking at the picture. I know I didn’t spontaneously come to his mind. This changes nothing.
This changes nothing.
This changes nothing.
Maybe if I repeat that enough times it will feel true.
It takes me ten minutes to sort my shit out. I decide to leave it to fate. I will knock on the door. If Aaron remembers me, it will be a sign that I should try. That this could become something. If not…
Elsie opens the door and I guess I look upset because instead of greeting me, she asks me if I’m alright.
“I’m fine. I just need to talk to Aaron.”
She lets me in, still looking slightly worried. Aaron is on the couch, reading.
“Hi,” I tell him.
He lifts his gaze to meet mine. “Hi,” he replies politely.
“I’m Jay,” I tell him. He doesn’t ask me about the letter. I think there is something in my tone that is confusing him. I think I am confusing him. Since he sent me that text, he already rebooted. There we go. Break-up it is, then.
“I’m Aaron,” he replies. This time, I don’t find it cute. I find it upsetting, unfair, devastating, frustrating and enraging. I am mad and sad all at the same time.
“I know… Aaron, can I talk to you?”
He nods and I sit in front of him. “Do you know who I am?”
He shakes his head. I can see he’s trying to remember, to connect my face to any sort of memory, but there is nothing there.
“Can I tell you who I am?”
“Sure.” He seems to get that it’s important to me, even if he doesn’t know who that upset stranger might be.
They were right.
That fucking hurts.
“So I’m Jay. We met a few months ago. We became friends. Then we became a bit more than that. At least we tried. But… Aaron, I really want to be with you, but I can’t. Even if I stayed with you, I couldn’t be with you. You get that, right?” I don’t care that I’m properly tearing up. I don’t care that his mother is pretty much in the room. I don’t care that I feel like I’m making a mistake. I’m just looking at his eyes, trying to find something in there. Any feeling that’s not confusion. But there is nothing else in there. No sadness. No panic. No resignation. Just a boy listening to a stranger talking about things he never lived. “And I know you can’t remember… Right now, you probably don’t even know who I am. And I need you to remember me. I need to know that all of this isn’t just for nothing. That it’s not just in my head. I need you to like me more than just the cute guy you just met today, I need…”
I am interrupted by Aaron’s arms wrapping around me. He holds me tight and I hold him back, crying on his shoulder. He is steady and strong against me, letting me evacuate a pain he knows nothing about.
If life was perfect, he would remember me right now. But life is a shitty mess and he doesn’t. But when I’m done crying like the mess I am, he looks at me and lets his fingers run on my face. “Jay,” he whispers. “Like the letter.” I’m not even happy to be a procedure in his mind. I want to be more. “I don’t remember you,” he continues, stomping on my heart. “But I… you smell familiar. And I… I feel like I should remember you. Also… no one cried over me before… I think… I think I don’t want you to break-up with me. But I understand why you’re doing it, and I want you to know that it’s okay. Obviously, I won’t remember it, so it was always going to be okay, but… Even now, when I do remember it, when I see on your face that we shared great moments… it’s okay. I get it. I forgive you. I want you to be happy.”
“Are you happy?” I ask.
He thinks about it for a second and says: “Less than I was five minutes ago.” I can see on his face that it’s true. He doesn’t remember me, but he still doesn’t want me to leave. Is that just because no one wants to be broken up with ever, or is it because of something more?
The way he looks at me is right now is more confusing than anything else we shared.
I need to stand up and leave. Now. Before…
Too late. My lips are on Aaron’s. I don’t care if it’s one-sided. I only care that it makes me happy and that it feels right. I want to stop worrying about tomorrow and enjoy the present. Just like he does.
That’s when it hits me. I’m not upset because of the talk with the doctor. Not just because of that, anyway. She hasn’t told me anything I didn’t know before. I’m upset because of how I feel and how forbidden it is.
I don’t like Aaron. I’m not attracted by Aaron. I’m not into Aaron. When I think about him, I feel something different. But it’s a feeling I am trying to kill.
Because Aaron won’t ever be able to L me back.
That night, I fall asleep in his arms. We’ve never done that before and I am very nervous about what the morning will bring. But it feels nice. It feels very nice.
Since we came to bed, he already rebooted twice. Every time, he is confused about what’s happening, but never panicked. Every time, I introduce myself, he asks me if we’re together, and I say yes. Every time, he looks happy.
When I wake up, Aaron is already up. He is sitting at his desk, drawing. It’s another warm day and he is shirtless. I wouldn’t mind waking up to that view more times.
“Hi, Jay,” he tells me.
“Hi.” Then I do a double-take. “What did you call me?”
He points at the post-it note with my name on it and our picture next to it. “I took a wild guess and assume that my boyfriend, the guy I took a selfie with, and the one sleeping in my bed were the same person.”
“What are you drawing?”
I have mixed feelings about that. “Am I snoring and drooling on that drawing?”
“No. you’re sexy as hell.”
“Then it’s not an accurate drawing.”
Sexy. His word, not mine.
Sex is off-limit. Right?
Him sort of remembering me isn’t good enough to justify moving things forward. I know we click, but I can’t treat Aaron like I would a one-night stand. And what if he reboots in the middle of it? Can he even properly give consent?
But I need to be honest with myself and admit that I can’t live without sex forever. What does that leave me? Cheat on him? Break up with him? Which one would make me the least of an asshole? Which one would hurt him the least? Would that ever hurt him? If I knew that a guy I just met had sex with someone else a few days ago, I wouldn’t care. And if someone told me that someone I can’t remember broke up with me, I wouldn’t care either.
Does anything I do really matter? Does it impact Aaron in any way? I know that his mother thinks so, but she is desperate to see him improving. Or at least to see him happy. I don’t know if I can really do that for him.
This is ridiculous. I thought I went past it yesterday. It’s just… whenever we overcome one obstacle, another arises.
I’m glad I didn’t break up with Aaron. This is not a normal relationship. Things are moving steadily and slowly, but we are definitely moving on. I made my peace with the fact that he doesn’t remember any facts about us, but that we have to become procedures. That takes time. But that also feels stronger. There is something quite magical about becoming some sort of a negative imprint in the mind of someone who isn’t supposed to learn or remember.
We reached a point where he can link my face and my name almost every time after a reboot. He instinctively looks for me in his phone when he’s bored. He talked about me when I’m not here. Nothing specific, no details, but he mentions my name to his mother or to Eric sometimes.
We also go out more. Get some food, go to the comic book store, go for walks… I even took him to my place once or twice. He is a bit uncomfortable in unfamiliar places. I don’t know if I should let it go or try to transform my place into a procedure too.
I met Genevieve and Thomas. They were a bit skeptical about me. I think I won Genevieve over, but Thomas was another story. Aaron’s second sexual awakening… He’s hot, I’ll give him that. And he is very protective of Aaron – he calls him Stretch – and I think he waits for me to prove myself to him. He told me that if he were gay, he would have become Aaron’s boyfriend when he made a move on him and he would even have stayed with him after the accident (his words), but that he doesn’t really understand how someone can connect with Aaron now. The answer is simple, though. In sessions of five to thirty minutes. Although… I would say that latterly, we are closer to fifteen to fifty minutes. I haven’t been in his life long enough to know if it’s his brain making progress or if his first assessment of time was wrong.
There is no way I am letting Lily anywhere around Aaron at this stage, but he met Peter, just before he had to go to Ecuador for work. Peter, being the amazing human being that he is, said that Aaron and I should combine our projects. When I asked him to explain, he said the best thing ever: Aaron cannot finish his comic book because he struggles to continue his story because of all of the reboots, and I need to find the motivation to start the graphic novel I keep postponing since college. We should therefore create a project together. At first, we laughed it off, but the idea got stuck in my mind.
I still don’t know if we will be able to create this project together, but it at least got Aaron to finally let me read his unfinished comics. It’s good. It’s really good. It obviously needs some work – and an ending – but there is so much potential in this. I can’t believe he did that when he was seventeen.
So… yeah. Things are moving slowly. It takes time. It takes patience. But things are moving. It’s not like I am stuck in a time loop, reliving the same thirty minutes forever. Aaron is a person, and a pretty great one, and he is worth all the efforts we have to make.
I sort of hope that we will create something together. A graphic novel, a comics… even just a painting… Something that would be from the two of us, linking us forever, even if things don’t work out in the end…
Eric is at Carla’s. Elsie has a nightshift. Aaron and I are alone in the apartment. Since his last reboot, we have talked about the graphic novel and how we could spread the work in a way that would be manageable for him. We don’t really reach any decision, though, because we ended up doing something else.
Our kiss, that didn’t feel like a first kiss – they rarely do, now, but it’s probably just my perception of them – quickly heats up. We are horizontal and if it were anyone else, I would be making a move right now.
Aaron’s lips move to my neck and my hand gets lost in his hair. It feels great. So great that I know we should put an end to it. Before it’s too late to think straight.
Aaron seems to think otherwise, because his right hand travels all the way south.
I catch his wrist the moment his hand cups me.
“Whoah… what are you doing?”
“Having fun,” he replies.
“Aaron, we can’t… it wouldn’t be right…”
“You do know I’ve had sex before, right?”
“I did not know that.”
“Oh. I thought we would have talked about it.”
“Nope. Sex is not a topic we even brushed before.”
“Sorry. From the context, I thought we were together. My bad.”
“Oh, no, we are. At least… I think we are. It’s just… I just spent months with you. You have spent forty minutes with me.”
“No, I haven’t.”
“I… It’s true that I only remember forty minutes with you. But it doesn’t feel like forty minutes. You feel familiar.”
“Like the apartment?” I joke.
It makes him smile. “Maybe. With one major difference, though.”
“I don’t feel like having sex with my apartment.”
That answer flusters me for a second. Aaron takes advantage of that moment and kisses me. Before I realize what’s happening, he’s straddling me. I get completely lost in the moment, letting his hands find their way under my clothes, feeling my own hands do the same. As we start getting undressed, I ask: “Are you sure that’s okay?”
“I’m sure. Look… for all I know, I haven’t had sex in over five years, but in my memories, I had sex pretty recently. This isn’t you taking advantage of me. It is you giving me something I want. Something I need. It’s also… it’s also me giving something back. I don’t remember how we are together, and yet I know that you are good to me. I want to be good to you back. I want to make you feel good.”
“What if you reboot in the middle of it?”
“We just have to make sure that it’s so good that I won’t want to stop then,” he answers with an easy, cheeky, sexy smile. I kiss him again and I stop talking. I don’t even know why I keep trying to fight this. I want it more than he does, and he is practically begging.
We kiss. We get undress. We have sex. Actually, Aaron might be having sex, but I am making love to him.
I’ve had one-night-stands before. This doesn’t feel like that, not even from what he is projecting. It feels like we are connecting.
But maybe I’m just seeing what I want to see.
Aaron doesn’t reboot during it, which is a relief. I know it will happen one day, but I wasn’t ready for it. Not during our first time.
Pretty much immediately after we’re done, he walks away from me and sits at his desk.
“What are you doing?”
“Making sure I remember,” he answers getting his sketchbook and pencils out. In any other scenario, I would be borderline offended that the boy doesn’t stick around in bed for at least five minutes. Right now, I am not. There is nothing that could make me happier right now than Aaron’s desire to make sure this gets in his Ariadne’s thread of forgotten memories before he can’t do it anymore.
I get up too, kiss the nape of his neck and say: “I’ll make us some coffee,” before letting him work in peace.
I can’t wait to see it.
The drawing is not what I expected. I think it’s the most abstract piece of all of his sketches. I don’t think anyone could tell what moment he was drawing. I’m not even sure he will be able to when he looks at it after rebooting. But somehow, it speaks to me. I get it. When I see that, I totally see us having sex for the first time, and how beautiful it was.
The moment wasn’t just great in my mind.
Aaron is spending more time at my place. I would say around one night per week. We don’t always have sex. It depends on how we connect that day, how present he is, how often he reboots… but some nights, we do, and I don’t feel guilty or anxious anymore. Not even when I instigate it.
We have talked about it many times. I even discussed it with Dr. Castle, as if I was waiting to be shamed for it. She just said that anything that could help Aaron have a normal, healthy life could help any potential recovery. She insisted on the potential. I am not sentimental enough to believe that I will cure him by making love to him, but I am not conflicted about it anymore.
Lily keeps saying that it’s weird, that I am having sex with a teenager that can’t give informed consent, but I refuse to listen to her. Not because I don’t value or like her opinion, but because she still won’t meet him. I will take her advice when she has at least seen us together.
I think Elsie knows that we have added a physical side to our relationship but she hasn’t commented on it and I am for sure not going to be the one to bring this up. We have talked about Aaron and I becoming more serious, though, especially before I took him home for the night the first time. She wanted to make sure that I understood everything he needed in an unknown place, how to keep him safe, how to deal with emergencies.
My apartment is now full of post-it notes. Lily finds it ridiculous, but I can tell that she’s also a bit impressed that I would do that. She never expected us to become serious. But there we are.
It’s still very frustrating, sometimes, that Aaron can’t remember things, or that we have some conversations over and over again. But there is something beautiful about the way his mind works, how he does change his view on things when they become more familiar, how some things can happen and still affect his mood even after he reboots…
I don’t regret not breaking up with him.
On the post-it note by his bed, under the ‘His name is Jay’, I added ‘He loves you’. I did that when Aaron was sleeping. He never commented on it. Of course not, how could he have known it was new? But one day, I arrived and there was a new line added to the now full and messy note. It said. ‘You love him back’. This was added when I wasn’t here. Which means that looking at my picture, looking at our texts, or looking at his drawings, the memory of me triggered the love response.
We still haven’t said it, ever, but the proof is here, on a 3 by 3 piece of yellow sticky paper. Never would I have thought that I would treasure a piece of paper that much.
Aaron wakes up, sits up and looks around. I know my bedroom is still unfamiliar to him but I’m not even stressed this time. I know the speech. I know how to calm him down. But then he looks at me, and all the panic disappears from his eyes. “There you are,” he mumbles, and he snuggles against me before going back to sleep.
He remembered me. Probably not all of me, but he saw my face and it triggered the boyfriend's response in his brain. Not a note, not a drawing, nothing tangible. Just my face. It was even like he was looking for me. I know it might be the context, I know it might be because he was half asleep, I know it might not be there tomorrow… But I don’t care. Right now, it makes me so happy that I could cry.
Moments like this. It is all worth it for moments like this.
We are walking back to my apartment after eating at his favorite pizza place and getting a few books from the comic book store. He already has one of them, but he looked so eager to read it, and I thought it wouldn’t hurt if there were a copy at my place too if he likes it so much. Or, at least, if it catches his eye every time.
Suddenly, Aaron stops. I don’t even need to look at him to know why. I give him a second to adjust to the present. First, he looks at our hands linked together. Every time that happens, he looks so surprised. I guess that holding a boy’s and in public was completely unthinkable in his pre-glass-door world.
Then he looks around and I can see some childish sense of awe as he looks at all the Christmas lights. “When is Christmas?”
He asks me that pretty much every time we are outside and he sees the winter decorations. It broke my heart then and it breaks my heart now. “It’s January, Baby.”
“Oh. Were we together at Christmas?”
“Did I get you anything?”
“You did.” I remember how Eric helped him pick a watch and how, to his request, his mother reminded him every day that he was in the middle of a project, and he drew the most wonderful portrait of us that is now hanging in my bedroom. He is turning me into a romantic. Before he can ask me more about the gift, I tell him: “You know what? Let’s have another Christmas.”
“Right now.” Stupid question. Right now is the only thing we ever have.
We treat ourselves to a spiced hot chocolate, we go to the park and spend an hour on the ice rink, we go to a mall and buy each other some silly present, we get the Christmas lights out at my place – the same one we put away ten days ago, we cook something that resembles a Christmas dinner with whatever was left in my fridge, we watch a Christmas movie, we make love, we fall asleep.
Aaron didn’t even reboot once. I know it’s going to be gone in the morning. He never remembers after sleeping. I don’t know if it’s because of the sleep process or just because it lasts several hours, but it’s how it is.
I took a lot of pictures today. I think I’ll print a few. I ‘ll keep one and I’ll put the other ones in his room. There are more and more tokens of our relationship on his walls and I’m sure it’s part of the reason why he is getting more and more comfortable with our relationship. Everything we lived has been forgotten, but the souvenirs are becoming familiar.
“Thank you for today,” he tells me as we are both falling asleep.
“I’m sorry I’ll forget it. I don’t want you to think it was a waste…”
“It wasn’t. I want you to be happy even if it’s just in the present. Besides, I had fun too.”
“I wish I could remember these moments. How many wonderful things have I forgotten already?”
“Don’t worry, Sweetheart. I’m remembering them for the two of us.”
He kisses me again, and there is determination, hunger, and a hint of despair in that kiss. There is also love and gratitude, I think. Fine. Sleeping will wait a bit longer.
I find Aaron in the living room, sitting in the armchair, crying. My heart breaks, like every time. I thought we were past this. I thought this place was familiar enough to avoid the panic attacks. I walk toward him and his eyes look up.
Something is different. It’s not a look I’ve seen before.
“J… I remember yesterday.”
“What?” My entire body freezes. I have never been so still in my life. Surely, I misheard that.
“Yesterday. The park, the ice-skating, the hot chocolate..., the fake Christmas… all of it.”
I fall on my knees in front of him, eyes watering. I take his hands in mine. I am not even overwhelmed because it is a sign that he is getting better. I don’t think I fully registered that yet. In this moment, I am only focusing on a simple thing: today is going to be different from yesterday.
The emotion is pushing a feeling up. A feeling that I tried so hard to keep buried, but that I can’t anymore. “I love you,” I say, voice shaking.
“I love you too.”
“Aaron… you can’t know that.”
“I don’t remember it. Falling in love with you. But it is what I feel when I look at you.” I know it’s the truth. I see it in his eyes.
I pull him for a kiss, my adorable, sweet, passionate boyfriend that loves and remembers me.
Out of all the days, I am glad that yesterday is the one he gets to keep for a while longer.
Aaron’s lips are getting more pressing against mine. “I also remember last night,” he tells me between kisses. “And I want more.”
He doesn’t need to ask twice. I don’t think I ever wanted anyone as much as I want him right now.
We don’t even make it out of the room.
After we were done being selfishly happy, I called his mother and his doctor. Anything longer than a day. We clearly had that. He rebooted later that day, but it still was more than twenty-four hours.
Aaron has been sent to Sweden again. We will have to change the note on his wall.
Elsie went with him. I know that none of us should hope for more, we should just welcome the changes that happened and already be grateful for them, but I don’t think we could stop ourselves even if we wanted to. Even Eric seems restless. He texted me four times this week, which is more than the past year.
So far, we haven’t got many answers from the doctors in Sweden. The ones we had were filled with words like ‘might’, ‘could’, ‘possibly’, ‘after more tests’…
It means that even they don’t know if it was a one-off or if he is actually getting better. I think I could handle any answer, but having to wait and see is extremely frustrating. I know that I will be on the look-out for any sign of improvement, always wondering if we can get another day again.
Six days. Aaron hasn’t rebooted in six days. Part of me is over the moon. He is clearly getting better. There is no denying it at this point. But he isn’t cured. In a way, it’s worse. Because when he will forget, it will hurt even more.
This is a crazy emotional rollercoaster.
I realize only now that it isn’t about how long he can go between reboots. Who cares how much he forgets? The issue is that he does forget. And the more he forgets the more cheated we all feel. What truly matters is his long-term memory. Is that part getting better? There aren’t any signs of that yet. Sure, he does seem to remember things post-glass-door, but as Evangeline – yes, we are on a first-name basis too, now – said, it’s just things treated by his brain as procedures.
Aaron switches off the TV and squeezes my leg. “Hey, J. What are you thinking about?”
“I’m terrified,” I say.
“That we’ll go ten years like this, that we’ll feel safe like we’ve put everything behind us, that we’ll build a life that we won't record anymore and that you will reboot again.”
Aaron doesn’t answer anything. What could he tell me? That it won’t happen again? That would be a lie. That we should prepare for it? That would be obvious. Instead, he does the only thing I would need him to right now. He wraps his skinny arms around me and I lean against his chest, closing my eyes, forgetting about the uncertainty that is our future to focus only on the present. Anyone who’s ever been happy had something to lose. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t enjoy what makes you happy while you have it.
When Aaron senses that I am completely relaxed in his embrace, he whispers against my temple: “I won’t forget all of it. You know I don’t do that anymore. I forget all of the details. I remember what’s important.”
“Such as what?”
“I remember that I love you.”
So that’s what it feels like when your heart explodes? Is that what true love and happiness are supposed to feel like? If I had to pick one thing for him to remember after each reboot, it would definitely be that one… “I love you too, Aaron.”
That night, our embrace feels different. I’ve had a lot of sex in my life. Never has it felt like this. This is kissing more than humping. This is caressing more than holding. This is looks rather sounds. This is lovemaking. It is not about the pursuit of a climax, it is about becoming one. This lasts longer than usual, and it leaves me more content than I have ever been.
Aaron reboots a day later.
“A, What are you doing?”
“I’m working on something. Do you mind if I only show you when I’m done?”
“Of course not, but it’s quite late. Why don’t you come to bed? You can always finish it in the morning.”
“I can’t. I want to be done with before I forget what I’m doing. It’s important.”
“Alright. Do you want some coffee?”
He shoots me a very grateful look. I don’t think it’s for the coffee. I think he is thankful that I understand. Of course, I understand. There are so many things I always want to do in between reboots, and I live as much as he does under the pressure of that unknown timer.
But we’re going on ten days. I know in my brain, in my heart, and in my soul that this isn’t a forever. But it’s better than we ever had.
When he finally shows me what he had been working on, I am more moved than ever before in my life. I even start crying. There is no way I could keep this feeling in. He hands me a very full, very heavy notebook. On the cover, the letters A and J are calligraphed. He made a book about our story. He took a notebook and turned it into a scrapbook about us.
There are things he retrieved from his phone, from his sketchbook, pictures he could only have gotten from his mother or brother, something that looks like a picture of us drawn by Genevieve, a portrait that Ben took, and pages and pages of things we lived together and that he knows only because people told him, or because he found traces of them.
“Do you like it?” he asks.
“It’s wonderful. Is it for me?”
“Absolutely not. It’s for me. The beginning is obviously a bit messy. It’ stories I can’t remember. That I have been given second hand by people or souvenirs. But I think I managed to get everything in the right order.”
“I could have helped you with that.”
“I know. But I wanted to know if I could do it on my own. I wanted to surprise you with it. I wanted you to know that it wasn’t all lost.”
I don’t know if he planned on continuing that list, but he can’t anymore. His lips are busy responding to my kiss.
“Now that I’m done, we should add things together,” he says. “And from now on, we’ll just add every milestone or important memory.”
“And some plain ones,” I add. “Just to show that we are happy during everyday life too.”
He smiles softly, like he is tasting this happiness. “Next time I reboot, give me this book, okay? And every time after that. We’re going to make every detail in there a procedure.”
“Deal. What are we going to do when it’s full, though?”
Aaron shrugs. “Start a new one. We’ll fill shelves of them.” That actually sounds like perfection.
Aaron and I started working on the graphic novel. Ben even got his publisher interested in the project. Of course, it helps that Aaron’s periods of lucidity are getting longer, but to be fair, he is clear enough in his progression notes that even after a reboot, he can start working pretty quickly.
Given the lifestyle we have, this book (and any after that) might be the only thing we create together. We might never have a family, although I’m not even sure I would want one anyway, but we will have our work. I think that would still be a greater achievement than most couples.
Not that I compare us to other couples anymore.
Harrison got engaged – not to selfie boy. I’m happy for him, but only sort of. Not because of spite or anything similar, simply because I realized that I don’t really care anymore.
Genevieve got engaged too. That, I care about. She didn’t pick any bridesmaid; instead, she asked Aaron to be her best man. When he rebooted after that, he still remembered. We all knew this could mean nothing, but that was him remembering a fact. He went back to Sweden for a week. That time, I went with him.
That felt so formal and official. He isn’t his mother’s boy anymore. He is my man. That made me so proud and happy.
When we came back, he moved in. He was there most of the time anyway, but now it’s official. This is his place too. We are a boring domesticated couple. Okay, maybe not boring. Of course, it helps that I work from home, but I don’t worry as much as I used to. He can stay alone most of the time. He is familiar with the apartment, his phone is still full of alarms that he follows even if he is lucid that day in case he reboots at some point in the day – he needs to know for sure what he has and hasn’t done. The last time we went out, he is even the one that navigated the neighborhood to take us back home.
There is no telling what is fact and what is procedure, but he is starting to remember more than he used to. I know that the lost memories are lost forever, but it is so nice to know that not everything new will be ephemeral.
After a year, Lily finally accepted to meet him. She looked relieved. I think she understood that I wasn’t mad for embarking on this crazy journey. She saw what he brings me, she noticed that I am happy, she understood that he is great.
After all the doubts, the uncertainties, the pain… it finally feels like we made it. I am sure about him. I am so sure about him. He makes me happy every day. Even the bad ones.
He is getting better. I am sure of that too. But I also know that if today is as good as it ever gets, I will still be content, happy, fulfilled, and any other synonym that could be added to the list.
Aaron looks at me, and I can see on his face that he rebooted.
“Did you sleep well?”
“I did… I… You’re J, right?”
“I am.” He can link my face to my name pretty much every time, now. It still makes me happy every single time.
“And you’re my boyfriend?”
“And we’re happy together.”
A smile spreads on my face. It wasn’t a question. That’s part of his long-term memory now. That’s something he remembers when he reboots. Everything we lived and he forgot still left a mark on his heart. I don’t know if it’s Leteo making progress, if it’s his brain getting better, or if it’s us beating the odds, but we are moving forward.
Slowly. Surely. Together.
He smiles back at me and comes in for a kiss. He doesn’t hesitate. It doesn’t feel like a first kiss.
Tomorrow is still very uncertain, but it looks brighter than yesterday.
Very fucking happy.