Visual art by Jing Li
People have a tendency to forget things. They forget things they learn, they forget things they say, and they forget the friends they’ve made. In a world where materialism is the norm, the more we have, the easier it is to forget.
Lately this thought had been rambling around my head a lot. It’s funny, how when you think about something for a long time you start seeing it everywhere you go. In reality, that something has always been there, but it’s not until you think about it that you actually start acknowledging its existence.
Lately I have been noticing people forget. Sometimes they forget who they are, or where they come from. They forget about their true friends and end up abandoning them. Other times they forget about a nonsensical love, or a broken heart. A myriad of people have told me about the feeling one gets when one finally forgets someone who has caused pain, of someone who has harmed. They said they had finally realized how idiotic they were, how, if given the choice somehow, they would never repeat their actions. I nod and agree; only really interested in the landscape passing by the window. Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy stories passionately, but after a while of hearing the same things over and over again, even the most interesting fables can turn into tedious sermons. People, for some reason, have a tendency to trust me, which I do not understand. Is it that they pity me? Is my face a trustworthy one? I don’t know. All I know is I’ve been a runaway for about 5 months now. I have hitchhiked about 1,200 miles, and every time I get into a car, or van, or truck, I have had to listen to someone’s story. I haven’t shaved, but thanks to my wondrous age of 15, my facial hair can easily be mistaken for the dirt on my face. I guess people aren’t used to seeing someone as young as me hitchhiking, so they feel sorry for me. I believe they use pity as an excuse to unburden themselves onto someone, anyone, even this dirty 15-year-old kid.
This last ride has left me in the middle of a highway right before a road division, somewhere in the state of Nevada. The sun’s heat has made me regret taking my fur-lined leather jacket. But it has served me well. After all, when I left Milwaukee it was still winter, and the snow and cold would have been a problem if it hadn’t been for this jacket. And to be honest, it wasn’t like I had any other type of clothing I could have packed. But now my long-sleeved shirt smells of sweat, and I finally decide to take it off, not giving much importance to sunburn.
A car drives by, the driver ignoring my signal for him to pick me up. As I walk, I think about the last person that let me hop in.
She was a middle aged woman, with skin as white as milk, like an angel. She drove a green pick-up and spoke with a beautiful southern accent. If I hadn’t been in a different place mentally, I could have had a crush on her. She told me the story of her life, of how her two boys grew tired of her and abandoned her. She told me, with light in her eyes, how she used to play with them when they were younger and all the fun they had. She told me how on stormy days, they would stay inside watching movies, putting quilts over the windows, making forts out of pillows, pretending they were in a theatre. But it all changed when her husband left them. He had grown tired of his daily routine. He thought that if he managed to escape his boring life, he would be happier. She told me how later she would walk with them to the town square in a futile effort to forget what had happened, and she began crying when she remembered how they could escape their reality on those afternoons as they ate ice cream on Main Street. But her boys had grown up to be very independent and had moved away. Although they had kept in touch with her for a while, they eventually stopped talking to her. According to her sons, she was the reason their father had left. She would never be forgiven. But something had come up, and her first son had called her. She was ecstatic to hear her son’s voice, but the happiness didn’t last long. Her smaller boy was in the hospital, and from what she told me, it was really bad. Pneumonia or something like that. Real sad. I had a cousin who once died of pneumonia. Her death shocked me; I had never had anyone close to me die.
A sudden breeze of cool air snaps me back from my wandering thoughts. Drivers keep passing me by, but my arm aches so I stop making signs. As if they would actually stop to pick me up again. As if anyone really cares I am here. As if anyone really cares for me. Is that reason enough to run away? I don’t know. It was for me, but someone else might swallow it and learn to live with it. But I refuse. I want to live somewhere where people care. Where they care about what happens to me. I want to matter. I wanted to matter. To make a difference. I don’t care now. Things change, people forget, people forgive, and people die. People find a way, or they lose themselves. People have a way of making things different.
My friends all vanished, disappeared under a thin veil of nothingness. Some found a passion in underage drinking. The adrenaline of being above the law combined with alcohol filled them with euphoria. Others moved. They wanted to become rock stars and photographers, but I knew, as everyone did, that it was just a waste of time and that their trip to Hollywood was nothing but misused money. My dad vanished too. He got a promotion, and stopped coming home for weeks at a time. Since it was just me at home, I had to survive on Mac ‘n Cheese and Cocoa Puffs. I started skipping school, and the more I got away with it, the more I enjoyed my new freedom. My mom died when I was very young. I can’t quite remember her, but my dad used to say she was wonderful, so I just believed him. Suddenly, I wished I had known her. A feeling of loneliness began to soak me, but the paradoxical thought that this might get me attention from someone somehow, made me not want to dry it off. After a while I grew tired of this, and figured that if I could make it here, without a father, I could make it anywhere else. And I had made it all the way to this hot, wild, tomb-like desert.
The heat is overbearing. Sweat falls to the road and quickly disappears. Cars do not pass by anymore. Or at least that’s what I think. I have stopped paying attention to the road. The rock I was sitting by lent me her shadow, but it’s noon, and all the shade is gone. I put my sweaty shirt over my head, hoping it will ease my heat. My shoes are destroyed. The only reason I have kept them is because the ground would cook my feet. “Oh well, I’ll take them off when I’m hungry.” I say out loud, and surprise myself. Am I really going crazy? I must be. I must find a car. I have lost the strength to get up, and honestly I don’t think I would get picked up anyway. Maybe I should put my shirt back on. I traveled 1,200 miles with my shirt on. But the heat is suffocating, so I decide I’ll put it on later. For now, I’ll just stay here, next to this rock. A loud car passes by, it’s roaring engine driving my attention back to the road. But the more attention that I give the driver, the more he seems to ignore me. Drivers probably think I’m dead by now. Abandonment. The story of the milk-skinned woman hits me, and I suddenly realize my situation. The human body can only stand a number of days without water. My sweating like a pig will only make dehydration quicker. I only hope death will be brief. All motionless, all beat up. I made it all the way to this desert but what has changed? Why has luck suddenly flown away from me? Or have these past six months been only a dream? Could this be just a nightmare? I wish it were. I wish I were still home, with the people I loved. What have I done?
People have a tendency to forget things. We forget things we learn, we forget things we say, and we forget friends we’ve make. We forget the love others feel for us, and we forget the love we feel for others. We forget the good times, but we keep the bad times, as if they were an excuse to justify our actions. People forget. I forgot. I forgot all the warmth of my home. I forgot about my dad, and how he always called me when he was away. I forgot my friends, how they phoned me worried when I skipped school and how they cried when they had to move. I forgot how they wrote home every day. I forgot about all the parties I attended myself. All the fun I had had with my friends. I forgot about my place on earth, and now it’s too late. I forgot about home. I forgot that there’s no place like home.