What Has Been Forgotten – Mina Yu ’22

The first thing I imagine a human would ask me is if I am not tired of living. All of you are so adorably obsessed with immortality, you know that? I hope you do know that none of you will ever be blessed or cursed with my particular brand of longevity.

In any case, in that imaginary conversation, I would answer that I really don’t have a problem with being immortal. I know your stories talk about how awful it would be for a human to become immortal — about how he would grow sick of his life and of watching his loved ones die — but, if you haven’t guessed already, I’m not a human. My species was built for living for thousands and thousands of years, so we don’t suffer in the same way you would if you ever lived as long as we did. For example, we experience time more and more slowly as we age to offset the perceived speeding up of time as we grow older. It’s really quite convenient.

I live in a house, like you probably do, but it is very small with very few rooms. All my walls are stacked up with thousands and thousands of glass bottles (all labeled and color coded, of course). When I light the lamps in the morning, the walls almost look like they’re on fire for all the reflected light.

The bottles grow every day. They are my special duty, so I take very good care of them and their contents. You see, they contain human memories, but not the ones that you remember. These are the ones that escape you altogether — your forgotten memories — and I catch them and store them right here.

And, before you ask, I won’t ever give any of them back.


Some of them are very silly memories. These memories tend to feature little children; I assume that they come from adults who are slowly forgetting pieces of their childhood.[1]

Such memories are filled to the brim with a carefree and unadulterated joy. Sometimes, when I’m in a foul mood, I go up to one and place my fingers against it, and suddenly my mind is filled with birthday cakes and piano music and treks through the forest and sitting on top of Dad’s shoulders to look out at the sunset. And I wonder why in the world anyone would let go of these memories at all, even if it’s to make room for new ones.

It’s always so sad, the forgetting.


I realize I’ve made my job sound quite fun so far, but honestly, it’s usually a bit of a chore. Most of the things people forget just aren’t very interesting. I have countless jars filled with old addresses, phone numbers, test questions, and passwords; thousands of moments from meetings, parties, and just sitting at home.[2]

But there’s always something beautiful in the mundane. Once in a while I sit next to a bottle that has a love poem that someone read in class or a Beethoven symphony playing on the radio and wonder how anyone can stand to forget these. What could possibly be so important that you are forced to relinquish such lovely things?


I rarely get any truly frightening or disturbing memories.[3] My guess is that these memories are too deeply set into your mind for you to forget them. They must take up room in the house of your mind like a filthy, unwanted guest that does not want to leave, chasing wispier memories of everyday light and laughter and music away with its grubby hands.

I wish you could see me crush those black-and-blue jars under my feet. I wish you could see those memories — though they are now but forgotten nightmares — shoot out of my window and shrivel to their deaths in the light of the sun.


Once in a while, I get so many memories in a day from a single person that I can hardly make sense of them all. I assume this happens when a person is suffering from some sort of amnesia.[4] As I look through those memories, I can’t help wondering who they could possibly be without them.


I’ve always had the option of going down to where you are and seeing you. My isolation is my choice; I’ve only made the mistake of trying to find the owner of a memory once.

There was once a bottle, my smallest, prettiest bottle made of crystal, that used to sparkle on a little pedestal in the center of my jar-room. It was the happiest memory I owned, filled with sparklers and loved ones and successes and wonderful desserts filled with chocolate cream.[5]

I got this memory when I was young. I made the mistake of assuming that, if someone could forget a memory this wonderful, it must simply be that it was crowded out by even better memories. I wanted to be near this happiness so badly that I planned my next trip to Earth as quickly as I could. The only thing I packed as I left was the little memory-jar, for luck, tucked into my left boot.

When I found him, he was hanging by a rope from a ceiling rafter.

I screamed. I screamed so loudly I was afraid someone would come and discover me.[6] But no one did. No one came. Not for me, and not for him.

The rope frayed, and he thudded to the ground. I scrambled up to him, put his head in my lap, and saw through my frightened tears that he was still breathing, shallowly. He was dying, but I would give him a last moment of happiness. I snatched out my jar and shattered it close to the man’s head.

I saw the memory — the bright yellow seemed so foreign in this place — creep into the man’s head. I watched for a smile, for any indication that he was comforted, but it never came. Instead tears came overflowing from under the man’s eyelids. His teeth gritted in pain and only unclenched when life had left him.

It took centuries for me to understand what had happened. What I had done when I reminded that devastated human what his life used to be.

I abhor myself.


I’ve always tried to remind myself since then that the memories I see of you are not who you are, but simply parts of you that have been left behind or crowded out. I’ve never gone back to Earth.

Because David might have grown up to be the man beating that girl into submission. Because the girl might have died. Because Penelope might have been sitting in that room in numb despair because the love of her life had gotten in an accident, because that love had forgotten everything about herself and her family, because they would never work together in a hospital like they had planned, because she had just walked into her hospital room and been chased out as if she was a stranger.

I hold memories, human memories, past selves shed like snake skins on the side of the road. They disintegrate into dust all around the child lying on the floor; they leave an outline where he lies, and the edges allow me to divine his true self.

But I try not to guess what you are. I daily teach myself to be content in flooding myself with every emotion you will never again experience, every name and location you cannot quite place, every part of you that you can no longer reach. In my bottles, every one of you is beautiful.

I’ve drowned myself in these memories so much that I can no longer recall my own. But no one keeps bottles for me.

[1] I have one from a boy (or a man, now, I suppose) named David. It was a bright summer day, and he was in a park with his parents and a golden retriever named Westie. He threw a bright blue ball out into the grass for Westie to fetch, but Westie took the ball and wouldn’t give it back. David chased and chased Westie until he was tired and fell into grass, panting. Then Westie came and sat on David’s chest, and the boy’s parents laughed as David threw his arms around the great dog’s neck. Westie is probably dead now, or at the very least a very, very old dog. I’m sure David has other memories of his childhood pet (and, in fact, I have some of them in other jars), but sometimes I wish he could relive the sunshine and the soft grass and the gentle weight of a huge dog sitting on top of him.


[2] One is of a woman named Penelope that lasts for hours. It features only her, sitting on a couch, looking out a window with a cooling cup of coffee she never touches. I can usually hear thoughts in these types of memories, but this one is silent except for the occasional sound of a heater turning on or off in another room. I often wonder who she was and what she was thinking about that day. I wonder if it is a good thing that this memory has left her.


[3] I have a memory of a little girl. I don’t know her name. She couldn’t remember her name. A much older man with beer stains on his clothes and a hungry face beats her, again and again, around her face and arms and legs, ignoring her screams, until she falls unconscious. He must have hit her on the head. That must be why she doesn’t remember.


[4] One day, I got the memories of someone’s entire life. How much she loved her parents, how much she cried when her father passed away from cancer. How hard she worked during high school to support her family, how many years she studied to be an oncologist, her entire romance with a physician’s assistant; her marriage, adopting children, the hope of grandchildren running around her feet. After I’d seen the last one I put the bottles down and cried and cried and cried because these memories were so important and I didn’t want to have them.


[5] I don’t want to relive this memory anymore.


[6] I hadn’t even bothered to bring a proper disguise. What was I thinking? What in the world was I thinking?