Never while I was alive did I understand why what I was doing was considered wrong. I was laughed at, called names, and in rare cases beaten… just because of a hobby.
As a child, I ran around town collecting these lovely pearly bubbles. They floated around ethereally and I had the best luck finding them on windy days, when they would get caught in cracks or bunch up in corners. I held all of them in a little wicker basket that my father had given me to hold tools in. He got it from his father to hold tools in, and his father got it from -his father,- but there are no stories about him that I know. Father says that is just the nature of things. Things get old, and then they get forgotten.
My Father is a successful man. He works seven days a week maintaining the auto repair company that his father started. “When you get your first tool, hold it in this basket,” he instructed. “The more tools you have, the better repairman you are. The better repairman you are, the greater the world in which you live.”
I got a little confused. “Why does it matter how great the world is if I’m going to be forgotten?”
My father took a little while to think with his furrowed brow and crossed arms. Then he popped open, raising an index finger to show how wonderful his idea was, and spoke: “Because, my dear son…”
But I didn’t hear the rest. I was too transfixed on a tiny pearly bubble that burst out of my father when he got his new idea. It was this beautiful blue color that I had never seen before. I watched it float high into the air, bounce off of the ceiling, and roll out of the door.
"…and if that isn’t the grandest motivation you’ve ever heard, I just don’t know what to tell you, son."
"No Father, that was very motivational. Thank you very much! I’m going to keep my first tool in here when I find it, and then I will become a grandest repairman!"
He laughed and ruffled up my hair. “‘Attaboy.”
I have not forgotten the day my Father pulled me aside to talk about them. I had a bunch by then, about an inch from the bottom filled with these tiny pearly bubbles. He rested each of his strong hands on my shoulders, stared me square in the eyes, and asked me if I liked being made fun of.
I told him no, it doesn’t feel particularly good, but it’s worth it.
"What’s worth it, son? You’re doing nothing!"
His yelling dropped me to the verge of tears. I wrestled out of his hands and grabbed my basket full of bubbles. I delicately showed it to him, careful to not let any of them spill or float out. “These are worth it, Dad! I don’t care how many people treat me badly as long as I can find these beautiful little things!”
Father grabbed it as delicately as he had received it, his hands holding back an explosion. They trembled under the enormity of it, causing the basket and the pearls within to tremble as well. “Son, look. There is nothing in here.” He flipped the basket upside down, and no tools fell out. There was no clang of metal or rattle of plastic. “Nothing.”
I cried out, feverishly holding up the pearls as they slowly floated down. I tried with all my might to grab his hands and rotate the basket back to normal, but I couldn’t. I wasn’t strong enough. He had big strong hands of metal and plastic. I had small weak hands of youth and foolishness.
Back then I didn’t know what I was doing. It took me a long time to figure out what they were, and why only I could see them, but I’ve figured it all out now. My first major hint came at my funeral, when I saw the bubbles float out from the heads of everyone in attendance.
In a world where everything was forgotten, I was a memory. I have discovered that every pearly bubble has a birthplace. Some of them were born at a funeral, some were born in my father’s garage. They float away in the wind, never to return unless you catch them. Then, if you bring them back to their roots, they pop! They dance, they shake, they leap for joy, and then they melt. They melt into this gorgeous golden nectar and they gather into a puddle on the ground. If you gaze into it, you see the reflection of another time. You see a memory. The people who belong to these memories remember them. They are reminded of the past even though they cling so strong-handedly to the present, and they are overcome by emotion, this marvelous golden liquid.
I find people that were like myself when I was living. I float through their homes, their schools, their closets, and their gardens, and I collect these tiny little pearly bubbles. They float around ethereally, like little ghosts, and I collect them and show them that they can still live. They are not forgotten.
Stories would be passed around about how some children would wake up from an unconscious bath of golden ichor. Tears would be flowing from their drowsy morning faces and they would run and tell their parents and their friends about how blessed they were. The laughing, name calling, and beating all meant nothing, because they had memories that proved all those things wrong.
I spent many ghostly lifetimes helping these kids, but after all that time the children had grown up. I began to find pearls that could not melt, and I found a lot of them. I gathered all of them and brought them with me on my journeys, hoping that one day I would pass someone who had forgotten these things. They would melt and they would be filled with wonder and we would both revel in the delight of the golden nectar, the beauty of memory, but it never happened. The pile of unmelted bubbles grew and grew until I simply floated with them, unsure of where I belonged. The wind took me to many new places, all of which I did not care about. It was only on one day, one fantastic minuscule day out of my entire existence, that the wind took me to a place that I knew. I was blown into my father’s garage, its door wide open as per habit, and I was pinned against the inside wall. Deciding that the wind would keep them here, I let go of my lost memories and took a look around at all that had changed here, and all that had remained the same. Floating outside, I turned to notice something quite odd.
A blue pearl.
I reached down and gently cradled it in my ghostly fingers, but it melted on the spot. I ran back inside to see my mountain of lost memories all melting at once, a torrent of delicate golden liquid. You see, every memory has a birthplace. You just have to bring them back to their roots.
Everything came flooding back, and I was drowned in memories that didn’t all belong to me. I saw my great-grandfather for the first time, staying up late at night to craft a wicker basket to hold small ghosts that for some reason only he could see. I saw him pass that basket down to his son, who decided he would become a man of tools, rejecting his father’s tales of bubbles and pearls. I saw that very same basket enter my hands, a boy who by some stroke of genetics, or God, or luck had that same ability to see. I saw my father, my friends, and the town, and I saw how they could not see what I could see. I saw the lives of each and every outcast child I had helped, and how despite not being able to see ghosts or bubbles, they grew up to see themselves as golden. I saw my own story. I saw how up until now, I never understood why what I was doing was considered wrong. I was laughed at, called names, and in rare cases beaten… just because of me. But I am not wrong, and I didn’t deserve to be considered that way. I am a memory, and now I am nothing.
"Only take one of these if your life is in danger."
"Can do." I was handed an entire bag full of the things. Tiny yellow beads.
Over the course of the next couple of weeks, I found myself to be in life threatening danger several times. Each time I took just one as instructed, and each time I lived on. On the first Wednesday of the third month, however, I moved. I packed up all of my belongings, including the bag of yellow beads, and I spent quite some time saying goodbye to all my friends.
My new home was a lot safer. There was, in fact, no life threatening dangers here, and that made me very happy. My only responsibilities were to push the red, orange, and hand-shaped buttons in the morning, and the green, blue, and cushioned buttons at night. This proved much too easy for a being of my be-ness, so I took it upon myself to start building three sandcastles at once. As each one grew, the people that migrated there started to file requests.
"Us people in Castle 2 tire of pushing a mere six buttons a day. We request that you give each citizen something to do based on their strengths and weaknesses."
"Okay," I said.
"The archways in Castle 1 need reinforcement," another person began, "And we need you to construct a funeral for the man who was crushed in the archway collapse of the southeastern wing the other day." The rest of the message was blank, but when you flipped it over, it read: "His family would like a shell grave marker."
"Okay," I said.
These sorts of requests continued, and they became more and more needy. One day I wrote letters to the citizens of each town asking for a break. This was all too much, I needed some time to relax. I had begun to forget to push some of my buttons in the dawn and evening, and said forgetfulness had taken its toll on me.
The people replied no, they could not give me a break. This was because people’s lives were on the line and such, and “if you cannot handle tending to us, perhaps you should not have built so many castles.”
One day my mind got pulled in so many directions that I did not accomplish anything. I felt rather worthless. I wanted a way out. There were so many things that I had to do, and I was paralyzed just looking at all of them. I watched them grow and shift and take the form of a rather be-ful being.
"You should probably get off of your ass and do things," it said.
"Okay," I thought.
”,” I said.
The being grew and cast a shadow over me. It built me a sand castle and then it left to do other things. This was rather inconsiderate because I needed it to be content, but now that it was out of reach there was no way I could be happy.
Then I remembered the bag of yellow beads.
"My life is not in danger," I said to myself, "But I am so very unhappy. One bead could not hurt me." So I took a bead, and I waited for it to make things better. It did nothing.
So I took a bead, and I waited for it to make things better. It did nothing.
"My life is in danger," I said to the beads. "The buttons I had to push and the people I had to maintain grew out of control. You have saved my life before several times, you lovely beads, and now I need you to do that one last time. Make things better for me."
They did not.
I am laying on the ground, one hand on an empty bag, and another on my throbbing throat. I see a sandcastle in a glass bubble, and it falls into another. As the second bubble fills and the first empties, I realize that there is one final thing I must do. I cut open my stomach, take a great handful of yellow beads, and put them into a bag.
"Only take one of these if your life is in danger." I say to a passing stranger.
The last of the sand falls. My time is up.