Jessa Remembers Everything (Short Story)
When I first meet Jessa, she tells me she can remember everything that ever happened to her. She can remember being swaddled by a nurse after her own birth as clearly as she can remember a fuckboy from our anthropology class asking her yesterday if she’s read Infinite Jest.
Jessa is lying. None of this is possible. I let her lie to me because she’s charismatic, pretty, and slightly older than me, and I want to be friends with her and bathe in her light. I tell her that’s really cool and I never met anyone who can do that, and I pretend to be non-committal when she invites me to the bar with her friends tonight.
Much like I imagined, Jessa’s three blonde and interchangeable Sophomores surround her like moths. They’re all drinking gin-and-something and I don’t know what to order, so I get a beer. One of the moths asks me, do you actually like beer? and I say yes, my eyes watering from the taste. The other moth says I like your top and I know she’s lying because she hates me. My very presence is a threat to a slippery dynamic I’m about to discover.
Daily, I move up and down a pyramid which has Jessa at the peak, switching places with one of the moths based on factors mostly outside my control. Whoever Jessa decides to call when she’s upset the Infinite Jest boy hasn’t returned her texts takes immediate second place, the VIP spot. The moth on the bottom is routinely left out of group texts; Jessa forms a new chat group each week to allow for new exclusions. This happens to me twice and it fills me with an intense feeling of distress that overtakes my life. Eventually, Jessa will be closest to my apartment when she’s in the city and needs to pee, and hence I will re-take my spot just underneath her.
The pyramid descends like Jessa, me, moth, moth, moth, on the day I get the phone call. I’m feeling powerful as a result, and I answer the unknown number with a confident voice rather than my usual insipid hello? On the other line there’s an older woman’s voice, like a Mom, but slurred and distressed. She asks me have you seen my daughter? before clarifying that she means Jessa. I have trouble placing the woman’s accent for a while before realising it’s wealth, not geography, that informs her tone. I tell her I saw Jessa two days ago and ask if she’s tried calling her. Of course I have, she won’t pick up, the woman says, a snarl of tears. She adds, can you please go check if she’s okay? I agree to head to Jessa’s and call the woman back. I never figure out how she got my number.
I’ve never been inside Jessa’s house, which I figure is a power play on her behalf. Let the moths debate who’s been inside and why they were allowed. Jessa loved effortlessly causing tension. I approach the townhouse on foot, a terrace in an upcoming neighbourhood rented via trust fund. I knock three times before hearing Jessa groan from inside, what? then, just come in.
I enter and I smell incense burning, then cigarette smoke. Jessa is laying on a white leather couch, her hair limp and face bloated. She holds a smoke in one hand. Her fake tan has smeared a streak on the otherwise immaculate sofa. After a silence, she asks me what do you want? without getting up. She stubs the cigarette out as I explain her mother had called me and was worried about her. Jessa shakes her head, as if I have it all wrong. I hope I do, and I can leave immediately and pretend I never stumbled on Jessa like this, all wounded and uncombed.
My mother’s bi-polar, she says, and I make vaguely sympathetic noises and pat her on the leg. She doesn’t react. I’m sitting stiffly on the same couch now, Jessa having curled her legs up to make room for me. She’s upset I didn’t call on her birthday, which was yesterday. But I never call her. You wanna know why? she asks, engaging with me directly now. Prior, it had seemed like she was talking to the air in front of me, her eyes glazed over. I say she can tell me only if she’s comfortable sharing. She smiles when I say this, but I can tell she’s about to cry.
When I was a toddler…I was two. I was so cute, I had such fat little legs. Anyway, Dad left me with Mom and she’s having a manic episode, but we didn’t know that back then. Jessa wipes away a tear, suddenly, and I so desperately want to leave that I think she can sense it. She continues, I don’t know what her reasoning was, really, but it was all wrapped up in some delusion she was labouring under at the time. Y’know, she put her fingers inside me, in my pussy. It was weird, it didn’t bother me so much at the time because she was my Mom and they’re allowed to do things to you, but I remember it all. Y’know, I remember everything, but it wasn’t until I was thirteen that I realised, oh, my mom totally fingered me. How gross is that?
She’s sitting up now and she turns to me, saying and that’s why I don’t answer her calls. You can tell her I’m fine. She does this every year.
I leave fifteen minutes later, vibrating with awkwardness the whole way home. I debate whether to call her mother at all, and I settle on texting her: Just saw Jessa. She is safe + doing fine. Hope that helps.
During the next few days, I tumble down the pyramid. The group chat is reformed without me. I see Jessa or one or the moths in classes and they’ve turned on me, either ignoring me entirely or making faces behind my back. Days pass and nothing happens, much longer than ever before. I realise after a week that I’m never climbing the pyramid again.
Whenever I see Jessa, I’m left feeling a strange kind of discomfort. I find it hard to believe her when she says she remembers everything that ever happened to her. It’s not possible. It can’t be. But then I remember her face all puffy, her mother’s desperately sad voice, and the fundamental mundanity of her story. Really, when you break it down – it’s neither an explosive story nor one that serves Jessa in a particularly positive way. I’m left questioning her motives.
Maybe I’m out of the group because I saw something I wasn’t meant to. A plainness. For someone who relished being thought of as a collector of vivid memories, Jessa suddenly seemed so ordinary, just someone who has recollections she’d rather discard.
In that way, I realise, she’s cursed.