Are you familiar with the quote, ‘the best revenge is a life well lived?’
I’d like to offer another quote, in a similar vein.
“The worst life lived is a life forgotten.”
Amid the stay-at-home orders, I ventured out to the local grocery store. Strolling down the aisle looking for a certain bag of chips, I ran into an old friend, Kim, who I hadn’t seen since she’d moved away for work.
As I neared, my cart rumbling down the aisle, I broke into a smile and greeted her warmly, “Hey Kimmy, long time no see!”
“Oh, hi,” she replied awkwardly.
I was taken aback and her coldness, but I figured she may not have recognized me with the mask on. Pulling my mask under my chin, I hoped her demeanor would change, but it didn’t. Kim responded with raised eyebrows and an annoyed sneer, looking around as if in a hurry to leave.
“It’s me, Nick,” I replied perplexed.
There was a time when Kim and I were more than friends. For about four months, there was rarely a night she didn’t spend at my house, or vice-versa, and when we ended things, it was as amicable a breakup as I’ve ever had.
Kim and I were close, really close, so there was zero chance that she legitimately, genuinely didn’t recognize me. I couldn’t think of any reason why she would pretend to not recognize me. We hadn’t seen each other or spoken in some time, but our last interactions were positive.
Kim mustered a plastic smile. “Ummm, hi? Do I know you?”
“I…I’m sorry, I thought you were someone else,” pain lingered in my voice.
Kim chuckled and nodded, before grabbing a bag of pretzels, tossing them in her cart, and continuing on her way. The encounter left me perturbed and hurt by her callous action. I struggled to imagine what would have led her to act as if we were strangers; the whole thing was bizarre and rage-inducing.
I went about my day, finished shopping, and went home. The next several days were occupied by projects with fast-approaching deadlines. Buried in my work, I forgot about Kim, tried at least, just as she had chosen to forget about me.
The following Thursday, I received a call from my close childhood friend, Ben. Ben and I had been inseparable since he’d move two houses away from me in second grade; there are few significant memories I have in my life that don’t in some way involve him.
After chatting about pirating movies and videogames, I brought up the incident with Kim. Ben agreed it was strange, but told me not to worry about it. “Bitches be tripping,” he joked. The conversation brought to mind a party the three of us had gone to years ago.
It was a Halloween party, and as a prank, at the stroke of midnight the owners of the house shut down all the power, bathing the house in shadows. The party-goers shrieked with fear, and in the darkness and confusion, a few of the pranksters crept around the house, whispering about creepy and disturbing things. The entire stunt was surprisingly effective, and looking back, a memorable and unique experience; although at the time we were scared shitless, and maybe even a little pissed, in the end, it was worth it.
When I mentioned the party to Ben, he didn’t recall any of it, “I don’t think I was there for that one man. Maybe you had a few too many, am I right?”
I retorted that he was incorrect, and that he definitely was at the party.
“Oh, well maybe I was the one who had too many.” He replied with a hearty laugh.
I thought back to that night, and I was sure that we were very much sober — but I didn’t press him. Accepting his response, I moved on to the next topic, trying not to dwell on the strangeness of it all. First Kim, now Nick?
I began to question my memory, and at the risk of sounding dramatic, my past as well. It’s a jarring experience, to be so sure of something, but to then have a deep-rooted seed of doubt planted. There was a part of me that knew I was right without any hesitation, but I couldn’t shake the feelings of self-doubt.
The following day, I rolled out of bed late and stumbled towards the kitchen to make breakfast. As the french toast fried in the pan, I quickly ran to my bedroom to retrieve my phone from the charger. Once I entered the room, I realized it was a mess, so I started to clean. After cleaning, I had worked up a real sweat, and jumped in the shower to wash out.
It was only when the smoke detector in my kitchen started wailing like it had been mugged, that I remembered that I’d been cooking. Dripping wet, with a towel around my waist, I flew to the stove and removed the pan from the heat, smoke billowing into the air.
Something was off, that much was clear — I needed help. I had a televisit with my therapist, which was a regular occurrence, and my primary doctor, which was less common. Neither could provide an adequate explanation for the lapses, or errors, in memory I’d been experiencing. My therapist suggested that I may have been working too hard, stretching myself out thin and leaving me in a constant state of stress. She was right, to an extent, but the stress I was feeling from work was nothing new, but these symptoms were.
Since the visit with my doctor, it has gotten progressively worse, and about a week ago, things started to nosedive. I’d texted my college roommate Luke, whose wife had been sick and laid up in the hospital.
‘Hey man. How’s Amy doing? Any news?’
Sorry, who is this?
Lol it’s Nick
Nick? Nick from accounting?
Panic gripped me, weighing heavily on my chest. When faced with confusing or upsetting circumstances, the brain will automatically, on a subconscious level, try to rationalize what’s happening. In an attempt to stave off the panic, I tried to rationalize Luke’s response. Maybe he got a new phone? I thought to myself. Sweat dripping down my brow, I continued to text.
Nick Botic dipshit. Did you get a new phone or something?
I’ve had this number for years. And watch who you’re calling a dipshit…asshole
This isn’t Luke, from U of M, my college roommate who’s married to Amy?
You got part of it right. My name is Luke, and I did go to U of M, but I don’t know Nick Botic, and I’m definitely not married. I should know.
Are you fucking with me? If you’re fucking with me, I need you to stop. Please, tell me this is a prank…
The last message didn’t go through, it was clear I’d been blocked. Mind careening in a million different directions, I booted up my laptop and went straight to Facebook. My teeth clattered as the screen loaded. According to my account, I had 0 friends, no posts, no pictures — it was like I didn’t even exist.
Anxiety rushing through my veins, I found Ben’s profile and sent him a message.
Hey man, something really weird is going on. Can we talk? Also Why did you unfriend me?
Who is this?
Ben messaged back immediately, but I didn’t bother to respond.
I didn’t bother responding. Instead, I immediately dialed my therapist. I told the receptionist my name and that I needed to set up an appointment but she replied, “Are you a new patient?”, to which I informed her I was not.
She put me on hold for several minutes, before getting back on the call and letting me know I wasn’t in the system, and that I’d have to come in as a new patient. In a moment of frustration, I slammed the phone down and hung up. I then reached out to my primary doctor, who receptionist also couldn’t find me in her computer — all records of me were gone.
Flustered, I hung up the phone and screamed into my couch pillow, yelling until my voice was hoarse. Yearning for balance, and a semblance of normalcy, I frantically dialed my mother’s number.
“Hello?” Her homely voice filtered through the receiver.
“Do you know who this is?” I replied nervously.
“Well you’re either great at impressions, or you’re my favorite son.” She replied humorously.
I breathed a sigh of relief, my heart race decreasing. Fumbling through my words, nervous to come off as crazy, I told her everything. Like only a mother can, she assured me that it was nothing to worry about, and that there was a rational explanation for all of this. We took some deep breaths together, and after a little bit, I began to calm down.
After discussing all of the unpleasantness, my mom mentioned that she’d been cleaning out the crawlspace at her house and had found a box of comics from my childhood. She knew I was still an avid collector, and thought I’d like to have them. She was right, I was absolutely interested in having them, so we planned to meet the following day.
When I arrived at my mom’s house, I found the door locked. I struggled with my keys, but was finally able to unlock the door, oddly, it was deadbolted — which is a rarity.
“Hellooo? Your favorite son is here.” I sang.
The house was quiet, but my mom’s car was in the driveway, so I knew she was home.
“Mom?” I asked, a little louder this time
“The cops are on their way, you need to leave now!” Mom shouted from the kitchen, her voice wavering with fear. She was crouched behind a counter, peeking just around a corner.
“Mom, what are you talking about? It’s me, Nick!” I ripped the mask off my face. Eyes welling with tears, I look her directly in the eyes. “It…It’s me…your son…”
My mother’s voice shook with terror. The police will be here any minute now! Please don’t hurt me!”
“You don’t…” I started to respond, but stopped mid-sentence as eyes drifted across the family pictures we’d kept on a living room table. My mom had kept the same pictures on that end table for years, stills of me and my sister’s childhood and teenage years. Only now, although the pictures of my sister remained, there wasn’t a single photo of me. It was as if I’d been erased.
“I–I’m sorry. I must have the wrong house. I didn’t mean to scare you. I’m going now.” I turned heel and sprinted to my car, driving away before being overcome with a tidal wave of emotion.
As I returned to my apartment building, I passed my neighbor Patricia in the mailroom. When I said hello, she asked me if I was, ‘new to the building’; this was my neighbor of seven years. Defeated, head spinning, I ignored her additional queries and trudged up the stairs.
It’s a very painful experience, to feel like you’re fading away. I’ve never been afraid of death, but being erased from existence is another thing entirely. It’s one thing to die, it’s a whole other thing never to have lived.
No one wants to die without having left some impact on the world, a breadcrumb of our time here on Earth. But I am without crumbs, without hope, and without connections, I simply am, and there’s nothing worse than that.