Emma Storm ‘19

When I look around my bedroom, this is what I see: Polaroids scattered across the wall— of my little cousin running through sprinklers, friends gathered around the fireplace cooking s’mores, the day I said goodbye to my best friend as he went off to college; world maps encircled by the gold fairy lights, marked with places I’ve been, like Paris, and places I want to go, like Greece; a chest full of cherished treasures—a note from my father, a friendship bracelet, a heart-shaped rock I found while hiking in Haiti; 4 vintage Canon cameras lined up on my bookshelf; a 1930s suitcase I found at a thrift shop full of old essays, notes, scribbles, and other random scraps of paper. Memories that I can’t bring myself to get rid of. At best, these objects seem like decor, at worst, clutter. But for me, they piece together a past I don’t have.

This is the past:

I was volunteering with my school at Girls Inc., weeding a community garden. I remember sitting in the gymnasium, a mural of Birmingham on the walls behind me. The next thing I remember, hours later, is eating my lunch in the same gymnasium… a bruise quickly spreading on my back.

Later, I discovered I’d passed out from dehydration and hit my head on a metal fence. My injury resulted in a grueling nine month concussion and an eighteen month recovery period. What I didn’t know until two months into my rehabilitation was that I’d lost memories: my first day of middle school, watching the northern lights in Alaska, roadtripping into the sunset with my best friends growing up, and many more, which I only now can put together secondhand from friends, family, pictures and home movies.

Because of my injury, I could no longer differentiate what actually happened and what my mind created from snippets of conversations and photographs. It felt like someone dumped out a 1000 piece puzzle but several random pieces had vanished. I was left constantly thinking, “is this real or did I make this up?” It’s heart wrenching to see the look on your mother’s face when you can’t remember going to Wyoming every summer, which, pre-accident, you said was your favorite place on earth. Or watching your friends make an inside joke about a middle school memory that’s forever out of reach.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve never been scared of insects, heights, or of unknown. But quickly, I became afraid of losing more memories. So what do you do when your biggest fear is something you can’t control? When your biggest fear lives deep inside your own head but can’t be solved through rehab or surgery or immersion therapy? How do you cope with something like that?

I decided from that point on, I wanted to make new memories, instead of wondering about old ones. I started trying to live every single moment- good and bad- as if I might forget. My concussion gave me a gift. It molded how I wanted to live my life. Taking everything in, documenting every moment, and appreciating it all. When the first day of school, wearing my new cowboy boots, I fell down the stairs, only to reveal a pair of hot pink underwear to half my class. Or standing on top of the Eiffel Tower, watching my sister admire the world around us. Or last year, when I had my first heartbreak. I’m a collector. I always have been. But now my collection isn’t hanging in my room, it’s in the life around me. With my friends, my family, my community; in the activities I choose to participate in, in the service I give myself to. I’m ready for more memories next year. I know that my collection will continue to grow with every new experience, and make memories that are worth another Polaroid on the wall.