109 Remembering What Can Be

I was going to have to drop my camera off with Eric, to make the whole spy cam thing work. That meant that I wouldn’t have it to record video messages for Grandma, which was the reason she had bought it for me in the first place. I therefore recorded one more message before going to bed. Who knew when I’d get it back to do another?

The situation made me feel annoyingly helpless. I knew it was illogical. Eric and Martin were used to building things in the metal shop, and had ready access to the physics building at night; I didn’t. Still, I couldn’t help feeling that it was two guys taking over for me because I was a girl. Even though I had more to gain or lose from this operation than anybody else, I was being deprived of the chance to control it.

I’d told Vicky that we just had to stop worrying about things we couldn’t control, and that was what I was going to do. I had an idea of something that I could control; something that I could do to make our lives better in the interim.

I had to wait until the next morning to put my idea into operation. As we left the Orgo lecture, I pulled Geoff aside. “Can I talk to you a moment?” I asked.

He looked surprised, but I was pretty sure he’d like my idea. A guy should watch out for his girl and make sure she doesn’t get hurt. I couldn’t be a guy for Vicky the way she wanted, but there was something I could do. She was only with Kevin because she didn’t have an alternative and didn’t want to be alone, and I knew Geoff would be much better for her. Geoff, on the other hand, had been looking for ‘somebody special’ and I knew better than anybody how special Vicky was. And there was no reason for me to be jealous, because if I changed back, Geoff and Vicky would never have dated, but in the meantime, I could make them both happy.

My own romance with a boy who treated me well and never tried to hurt me made me feel a bit guilty. But… if I could be a guy for Vicky in this one thing, I’d be free to be a girl for Jeremy.

Things never seem to be easy, though. “Doesn’t she already have a boyfriend?” Geoff asked when I suggested it.

“Sure,” I admitted, “but he’s a jerk. She’ll be much better off with you.”

“Marsha,” he said, “no. Are you forgetting about Lee Ann and me? Remember how Chandra tried to use me to break her up from her old boyfriend? Do you really think I want to go there again?”

“But this is different!” I protested.

“Really? How? Did Vicky say she wanted to dump the guy I saw her with? The one she promised to ‘make it worth his while’? I don’t think so. There are plenty of girls around with no entanglements. Try somebody else. I’m out of the substitute boyfriend business.” And he started to walk off, presumably toward his next class.

I ran after him. I wasn’t proud, not about this. “Wait, Geoff!” I called.

He stopped and looked at me impatiently.

“I really think this would be good for both of you. Can’t you give me a chance to make it work?”

He looked incredulous. “Don’t you think the two of us are grown up enough to make our own choices?”

“I don’t think either of you are doing very well about it,” I explained.

He sighed heavily. “Much as I like you, Marsha – I hate this impulse you girls have to manage other peoples’ lives.” And he walked off, leaving me with egg on my face.

At least things were still going well with Jeremy. He called me a bit after lunch, suggesting that we get together to study tonight. If it had been any other guy, including the old me, I’d have expected it to be an excuse for a make out session, but with Jeremy, I was pretty sure he actually meant studying. Not that I would have minded a make-out session, of course. As long as I was a girl, I saw no reason not to enjoy it.

Since I needed to save at least some studying for this evening, that left me with a bit of free time, which meant that I could start on Celeste’s outfits, certainly a serious challenge. I had found the receipt for her first outfit in Marsha’s notes, and the amount encouraged me. I could easily justify spending about fifteen or twenty hours on each of the ones she’d dropped off, and it would put me well on the way to reaching the amount my parents expected me to contribute.

But after studying the dress Marsha had made, and the two I was supposed to work with, I realized that I was stuck. I had an amateur’s perspective on how things might look, and outsider’s view of fashion, and a general insecurity when it came to major clothing alterations. Obviously, I was going to need to ask Nikki for help.

“Oh, I’d love to, Marsh,” she said when I called and explained my request, “but I’m spending time with Alvin, now. Can we do it tonight?”

I explained my own plans for the evening, and she checked with Alvin, and decided that she might be free around five o’clock, so if I was willing to eat dinner a bit late… I did think of maybe waiting until the next day, but we hadn’t spoken face-to-face in a couple of weeks, so I decided to do some bio homework and then knock off some simple sewing jobs in the meantime.

I arrived at Nikki’s apartment at a bit before five, carrying Celeste’s clothing in plastic bags to protect them from the snow. I was taken a bit aback when Alvin answered the door. “I’m sorry, Alvin,” I said. “I don’t want to rush you.”

He laughed. “It’s OK. Nikki said you were coming over. You don’t mind talking with me here, do you?”

I hesitated, since there were things about me that Nikki knew and Alvin didn’t, and if he was there, we’d have to be careful about what we said.

But he only laughed again. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to intrude on any private girl talk. I’m going to be in the corner, listening to the Sweeney Todd soundtrack on my headphones. Believe me, I’m not going to be listening to you guys!”

I looked past him and caught Nikki’s eyes and saw her shrug, so I went to sit in her sewing area while she made some tea for the three of us. She came in and asked, “so how does it feel, being back at school with a boyfriend?”

It wasn’t the question I had been expecting, but… “It’s pretty neat, actually. I’m still dealing with the weirdness, and I haven’t actually seen him in almost two days, but it is really nice to be in a relationship again.”

“Just any relationship?” she teased.

I flushed. “OK, I admit I am sort of… stuck on him.” I couldn’t help giggling. “It’s really gotten me in trouble with Vicky.”

“I can imagine.”

“I just don’t know what to do for her,” I whined. “She seems really lost without me, sometimes.”

“Why do you have to do anything? You’re not her boyfriend any more.”

“Well, I know that, but she’s my friend, and I feel…”

“Marsh,” Nikki said, putting down her cup. “I’ve figured out what you are to her, but what is she to you?”

“What do you mean? I told you – she’s my friend.”

“And that’s all?”

I sighed. “And my past, and… maybe my future.”

“Even though you’re ‘stuck on’ Jeremy?”

“It’s super confusing,” I admitted. “But after all, you know that a year from now, you’re still going to be a girl. I don’t. So… It’s not so easy for me to just focus one way and ignore everything else.” She opened her mouth to respond, but I stopped her with a gesture. “But it’s getting late, and I came over for some help. Why don’t we take care of that first, and then try to solve my problems with Vicky?”

She nodded and put aside our mostly empty cups. “OK, so show me this project that has you baffled.”

I took Celeste’s finished dress out of the bag and held it up, and she exclaimed. “Oh! I remember that piece! I told you that you were crazy when you said what you were going to do, but it turned out well.” She glanced over at Alvin, who wasn’t paying us any attention. “I mean, I told Marsha.”

“And that’s the problem,” I said. “Marsha did it and I have no idea how, and Celeste wants me to do it to these as well.” And I pulled out the others.

“Oooh, I’m not sure I can help much,” Nikki admitted. “I got the idea, generally how she did it, but…”

“You’re not saying Marsha was a better seamstress than you?” I asked, now concerned.

“No, only that she had her own way of doing things, and in this case, she was willing to try something that I wouldn’t have. But you have her skill, you should be able to figure this out.”

“I have her dexterity, apparently,” I corrected her. “My hands seem to know what to do, but my brain is lost. I never knew how to do anything until you told me – and then I found that I had the skill. But this looks like something that needs to be figured out. And if you can’t help me, I don’t know where to turn.”

“Your mother?”

I considered that. “Maybe. Marsha might have asked her… “

“Too bad you don’t have some of Marsha’s memories,” Nikki commented.

I nearly choked.

“What…” she asked.

“Actually… I think some of her memories are leaking through,” I told her. “That was something I needed to talk out.”

“You make it sound like a bad thing.”

“Well, yeah… I mean, what if her memories are replacing mine? What if I start forgetting who I was? What if I turn into Marsha?”

Nikki opened her mouth and then closed it, evidently thinking better of her first response. She looked at me for a few seconds and then said, “I can see how that would bother you.”

I said, “Yeah, seriously. All that I have left of myself are my memories. I don’t want to lose those. I don’t want to lose me.”


“Problem is,” I continued, “I don’t know if I’ve already forgotten some things. What if I don’t remember something important and don’t remember that I once knew it?”


“I think… maybe I need to start writing things down – you know, everything important that I can think of in my life. My old life, that is.”

Nikki blinked. “And exactly how are you going to do that?”

I sagged. “Obviously, I can’t. Not thoroughly. The best I can do is write down some really important things that I did that Marsha didn’t; at least that way I might have some idea if it’s happening to me.”

Nikki stood up suddenly, and as I watched her, she picked up one of Celeste’s finished dress and spread it out to examine it. Then she dropped it and went over to her sewing basket and started rummaging around. Finally, she pulled her hands back up, and while facing away from me, said softly, “Maybe… maybe it would be better if you didn’t know.”

I felt a chill run through my chest. “What do you mean?” I asked cautiously.

“I was just thinking,” she continued, her back still toward me, “that if you can’t do anything about it… maybe it’s kinder not to know it’s happening. Sort of like the way you didn’t want to tell your sister about the chance of your changing back.” She turned and looked me straight in the eye. “I’m not saying that’s what I want for you, Marsh. I’ve gotten to know the you you. The one who remembers…” she looked over her shoulder at Alvin again and lowered her voice so that she couldn’t be heard over his earphones. “… the one who remembers a very different life. But if there’s no way to avoid it, is there any reason to make yourself miserable while waiting for it to happen?”

My jaw dropped. I mean, I could see the logic, sort of, but to have her say it like that? It didn’t seem like her. At least… I had expected her always to say what I would have been thinking, and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t thinking that. Unless… was she tweaking me for having been insensitive to Tina?

“I can’t accept that,” I said. “I can’t. I have to fight this, no matter what. And… if I do figure out a way to know if I’m forgetting, at least I’ll know if I’m not, right? So I do want to know. I would want to know, if only to make sure I don’t have to worry if it’s not happening. Doesn’t that make sense?”

“Sure,” she agreed. “Either way, it’s your choice. Nobody but you can decide something like this. But what makes you think you’re losing your memory in the first place?”

“I don’t know I am,” I admitted. “I just don’t like having somebody else’s memories in my head. And it just makes me wonder, what if?”

“Could I make a suggestion?” Alvin said. We turned; he still had his earphones on, but it suddenly struck me that I had no way of knowing whether there was actually music coming from them, or how much he had heard. I tried to think if we had said anything specific about me being a boy in my old life.

“If Marsh is having memory issues, shouldn’t Ben as well?” Alvin continued when we didn’t stop him. “Nik, can’t you ask him? He’s even less comfortable than Marsh is with this whole thing; if he were suddenly remembering his current life, don’t you think he’d be all angsty about it?”

“I haven’t noticed anything from him beside sullen, lately,” Nikki said, “but I’ll ask.” Alvin nodded, pushed a button on his iPod, and turned away from us. Nikki and I looked at each other again, but Alvin had definitely broken the mood.

“Well, anyway,” I said, standing up, and feeling a bit awkward. “I should probably get going… I’ll ask Mom for advice on the dresses; thanks for the suggestion. And thanks for talking with me about the other thing.”

“No problem,” she said, standing as well.  “Um, I’ll let you know what I find out from Ben.”

We hugged good-bye, I waved to Alvin, and left for dinner, and tried to focus instead on my upcoming study session with Jeremy.


  1. von says:

    >>… asked when I suggested it.

    It would be interesting to know how this went.

  2. scotts13 says:

    This one is kinda all over the place, but not bad.

    I’m beginning to think the entire story might be a Chaucer-like allegory about understanding (or not understanding) your own motivations. Marsh now has occasional flashes of insight, but generally still has no clue why she does what she does. It’s almost cute how she doesn’t know why she’s trying to pawn off Vicky the Hot Potato.

    Though it could be me that’s clueless. I can’t imagine what Nikki might be thinking, sharing that insight about forgetting being kinder. A friend would keep their mouth shut. Maybe, like Marsh’s mother, she’s in cahoots with the scientists in the abandoned house… I mean lab! Abandoned lab!

    Oh, and Russ – the bit with Alvin both listening and not listening in the background is really awkward. It’s convenient for you, you can retroactively have him “have heard” whatever you want, but I don’t think people act like that – telling secrets out loud because someone’s wearing headphones, or ignoring the rest of a conversation once you’ve heard something interesting.

  3. von says:

    >>>telling secrets out loud because someone’s wearing headphones, or ignoring the rest of a conversation once you’ve heard something interesting.

    ooooh, I totally missed this. Good flash of insight, Scott. I just thought about what a neat plot trick. Fooled me 🙂

  4. Pickle says:

    “Or ignoring the rest of a conversation once you’ve heard something interesting.”

    That’s kinda what you have to do. If you’ve said something, they aren’t going to start talking again, so if you don’t turn on your music you just have a long awkward silence where everyone is annoyed that you listened in to their conversation. You also miss the inevitable feedback for intruding where you weren’t expected. (or wanted)

    As a side note, Nikki was still thinking about him overhearing something because she lowered her voice, so it’s not like she was totally oblivious. I don’t think she would have talked about vital secrets in front of him, even with the headphones on. (Or at least anything she thought was a vital secret.)

    None of this makes it any less convenient for the plot, but it does happen from time to time in real life. (I’ve done it myself a few times.)

  5. April says:

    I can’t help but feel that Marsh is experiencing the same kind of terror that I get when I think about getting something like Alzheimer’s. Especially at the beginning, when your memories start slowly slipping away from you, but where you still have enough awareness to understand what’s happening. Eesh! 🙁

  6. April says:

    I explained my own plans for the evening, and she checked with Alvin, and decided that she might be free around five o’clock, so if took a late dinner… — this sentence is clearly missing something in it. I think it’s supposed to be “if she took a late dinner”, but it could also be “if I took a late dinner”, or something.

  7. April says:

    I’m not 100% certain I would do if I was Marsha in this situation. But, if I was determined to try to meddle in Vicky/Kevin’s relationship, I probably would have gone to Vicky and offered to introduce her to Geoff, instead of the other way around. Otherwise, it would have put Geoff in the uncomfortable situation of trying to woo someone with a known asshole boyfriend.

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