Laura van den Berg

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All That I Can’t Remember

By Laura van den Berg

1. I want to say something about pick up lines. I know that I’ve heard so many, spoken to me and to friends, but when I try to remember the best ones, I realize I can’t remember any at all. I can see the face of a particular man: the beer bottle he’s clasping, the sheen on his cheeks. I can feel the weight of a look from across the bar. I can remember the girlfriend—or in some cases, guy friend—I turned to with a smirk or an expression of mild terror, depending. I can remember a guy getting down on his knees, a gesture of mock proposal. I just can’t remember any of the words.
2. At first, I think this is a product of having been in a relationship for so long. Who needs pick up lines after almost a decade of not needing to pick anyone up? So instead I decide to tell the story of how my soon-to-be-husband and I met, the story of his pick up line, but he says I can’t because I always got the story wrong, exaggerate it into something that isn’t true.  
3. This might be accurate. I’m a fiction writer, after all. What can be expected of me?
4. But when I really think about that story about meeting my soon-to-be-husband, about his pick up line, I cannot see any of these embellishment. The memory feels clear and solid and exactly like the truth.
5. My soon-to-be-husband is a fiction writer as well, so it occurs to me that maybe he is the one who has rewritten the story.
6. Maybe I can’t remember any pick up lines because my memory has filtered out useless information, to make room for the important stuff, but if that is the case it seems like I shouldn’t be able to remember lines of dialogue from Scooby-Doo or the slushie flavors that were available at 7-11 in 1993.
7. Of course it’s hard to know what will be useful to remember. It’s remotely possible that knowing what slushie flavors that were available at 7-11 in 1993 could come in handy one day.
8. Maybe my soon-to-be husband is right and I remember images and not language because I want the freedom to attach my own meaning, my own narrative, to what I saw. To manipulate, to exaggerate, to revise.  
9. It’s a little unnerving, the idea that I might not always, even in very small ways, be able to separate my own fiction from what actually happened. I understand about reality being subjective and all, but it still seems like there are some basic facts we should be able to agree upon.
10. At one point, I’m almost able to remember a pick-up line. It stays on the edge of my memory, never coming fully into view, no matter how hard I try to see the shape of the thing casting the shadow. The line has something to do with shoes, as unlikely as that may seem. 

Laura van den Berg was raised in Florida and earned her M.F.A. at
Emerson College. Her debut collection of stories, What the World Will
Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, was a Barnes & Noble “Discover
Great New Writers” selection and shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor
International Award. Her second collection, The Isle of Youth, will be
published by FSG in November 2013. She currently lives in Baltimore
and teaches in the creative writing program at George Washington