I do not recall being a child.
I never saw this as weird. After all, it’s not uncommon for adults to forget these things. I never thought about it. I always had more important things to worry about, or so I thought. It wasn’t until I reached my fortieth birthday that the reality of my situation really hit me. I was at home celebrating with my friends. We were chatting, drinking, etc, and then somehow the topic of childhood came up.
Jen, who I have known for almost a decade, shared a childhood story where she nearly died. She was about eight, living in a small dilapidated hamlet on the outskirts of some defunct city that got destroyed years later. Back in those days, she was saying, you could scream as loud as you could and unless you were smack dab in the center of town no one would hear you or care. She was exploring some abandoned warehouse, a manufacturing house used to assemble cars centuries before The Disaster. She spent a good half an hour rummaging through the junk and corroded machines before she kicked over some rubble and got jumped by a lesser demon. These days, these little fuckers aren’t as common. Every now and then some construction company will dig up a nest of them and raise hell. People get hurt, people die, and eventually the militia is forced to come in kill them for good. It’s always an ordeal, but not a common one. Back then, though? You’d be lucky if anyone in town even had the firepower to scrape them.
She got jumped and it bit her arm hard. At this point she raised part of her sleeve to reveal a nasty scar. Everyone in the room shuddered at what it must’ve looked like fresh. She continued with the story. As it goes, she freaked out and thrashed. Punching it, biting it, eventually she was able to get ahold a four by four and whacked it until it let go. It hissed at her and scampered off.
She ran back home and didn’t go outside for a solid month.
After this everyone else began to share similar experiences. Almost snapping their back in half, nearly drinking poison water, etc. When it got to me, I realized for the first time that I couldn’t say anything. I did not remember. Or maybe I couldn’t remember. It didn’t matter at the time, I just sat there trying to remember something. Eventually I scrounged up some story from when I was seventeen. I was off-duty for the first time in a while and almost bled out to death after a knife-fight. They laughed at that, but I could tell they were confused by my choice of story. I chose not to dwell on it that night, but a few weeks later I really began to wonder why I couldn’t remember what everyone else could clearly.
Ages zero to the back half of thirteen, I found, I could not remember anything. When I realized this, I had a pretty good conclusion about what was the cause. I wasn’t surprised, at that point in my life I really shouldn’t have, but it still hurt. Again and again, decades after my service, I still had to wade through the shit it gave me at the end. First loss, then trauma, therapy, bad coping mechanisms, the list goes on, and now this? It made my blood boil. I’m thankful that it wasn’t as bad as some other “surprises” I had to endure, but it still remained. This time though, I wasn’t going to just let it go. I was tired, I still am, but then it was more potent. Like a bad taste in my mouth. I wanted to wash it and spit it out.
I decided to go back to my roots. I took train a back home, to the shitty factory town I had grown up in. As I watched the cityscape dwindle and turn to ruins and vegetation, I kicked myself over not realizing the holes in my brain sooner. Of course something was off, I told myself, how could I have not noticed the unfamiliarity of my home all those years before? I was stupid, especially at 13, but even I should have realized that something had changed. Maybe I did. Maybe I was just too disoriented and stressed with the weight of the world on my shoulders. Maybe I just wanted to pretend everything was ok.
I wondered about the limits of my memory loss. I had not forgotten everything. I still remembered my parents, my siblings, my neighbors, why I had to go back home in the first place at that time. It was only the events that were blurry. I could see them in my mind. They were just out of reach, as if I was looking up at the sky and jumping up to touch the clouds hundreds of feet up.
I reached home before long. I had a long talk with my brother and sister. About their childhood and mine. As we talked I could feel the eyes of my parents passively look down on me from their framed pictures on the wall. Did they know, I wondered, about how much their daughter had changed? Did they know that they sent their child in to the arms of the military only to have them send a stranger back? I think they knew. I think they knew and succumbed themselves to it. There is no question that they loved me, even after my first excursion in to project ANGEL. But did they die knowing that their youngest had been replaced, or did they truly think me as their flesh and blood daughter? I do not know. I wish I could have asked them when I had the chance.
During that visit I learned I was an energetic child. Always running around and getting in to trouble. As I grew older I subdued, but I always had a mischievous air around me. I asked them what I was like after I came back from ANGEL the first time. My sister was too young to remember it, she must have been around 5. My brother though, he remembered well. He was 17 and had been working in the factories for a few years then. When I came back he had noticed a big change in me. I was quiet, serious, more irritable. From an outsider’s perspective, not much seemed to change. From his, I seemed like a completely different person.
Again, I wasn’t surprised. I told them my reasons for the question and they weren’t shocked either. As a family, we had grown a more than healthy hatred for ANGEL. To us it didn’t matter if they were the reason why the Greater Demons were eradicated. They cost us so much more. We collectively spat on their name and their director and moved on.
After that talk, I decided it was about time I stopped running away from the hard questions in my life. I also decided it was time to set the record straight. There are so many stories floating around about my heroics, about how great I am. About how great all the pilots are. Glamorizing a miserable existence pushed on to children at the tender ages of twelve and thirteen. It’s disgusting. It makes me want to vomit. The holes in my memory were only the fuse to light my newest and last mission. Maybe no one will read this, maybe they will and won’t care. I don’t care. I’m so tired of having my voice silenced, and have others talking over those who cannot speak for themselves anymore.
This is a memoir to the best of my memory, the cracks filled in by first hand accounts of those who do remember. I hope whoever does read this take it to heart. If they don’t, well, it’s their loss.