A History of Memory Eating, Part One.
Green strings of moss hung like bacteria over a swamp just outside Moorhead. The swamp itself was like a little pool of bile digesting something hundreds of years old. Burps of gas and insects jumping from the dissolving bank took turns making the yellow liquid break and refract. In this way, the still water was in continuous motion. Two brothers, Abraham and Simeon (as their Christian names would be) were playing by the acidic bank as the sun was setting on America’s bowels.
The sound of their laughing became a part of the country’s gut biome that sweaty Mississippi evening in 1850.
“Do that shit again, now!” Simeon said between laughs and squinted eyes. Beads of sweat clustered around his bare forehead. The fading sunlight was being eaten by his black skin.
“Nah, nah. They gon’ hear us and come lookin!” said the younger brother Abraham.
“Abe! Come on now!”
“Nah, nah. Hell nah!” Abraham started to laugh hysterically. “Massa’s gon hear and his fat ass gon’ come rollin’” Hysterical laughter again. Both of the young black boys.
Abe began to pantomime the fat plantation (and slave) owner Mr. Beaumont by holding his arms out as if he were carrying a giant stomach. He made his eyes wide and pretended to be out of breath. His skinny hips swung as if he had a load eighty times heavier on them.
“The hell ya’ll boys laughing about? Best be sum’tin good.” With a brief pause for laughter, Abe resumed. “That cotton ain’t gon’ pick itself nah! Ya’ll know my fat ass can’t bend over to grab sh-” they both fell over laughing.
Another burp interrupted from the swamp and soon the boys were lying on their backs with their arms folded over their visible ribs. As the laughter faded, the syncopation of their little rising chests became as a metronome and the two brothers fell into a silent moment of thought for a few measures.
Simeon was only a year older than Abe, but he looked at least five past him. The boy was on the brink of manhood and his young body had started to show muscle and hair in new places. A temperament was beginning to mature and snapshots of the man’s personality were being developed in the dark room of adolescence.
“C’mon now, Abe. Just one more time.” The older brother pleaded calmly.
Abe and Simeon both shared a similar set of kind eyes. Currently, those kind eyes were staring up and through the cypress fingers grabbing for God.
“I can’t.” Abe said seriously. “Pa gon’ kill me for even showin’ you.”
“Pa! Pa knows? An’ he ain’t said nothin’? Does Ma know?” Simeon rolled over onto his belly and pushed himself up with his boyhood arms. He was staring at Abe as if he’d just told him Pa and Ma were dead.
“The hell you mean? You donno? Donno-wha’?” The last part melded together as if it were one word.
“I donno ‘bout Mama.” Abe said seriously. “I think she know.”
“What ‘n the hell Pa say?”
“Pa…” Abe stopped as if he remembered something. The way someone reading a script might. “You know how Pa is.”
That was true. Simeon knew how Pa was. He knew that he worked all day in the cotton fields and was tired all night. He understood that Pa was owned by the fat-assed Mr. Beaumont and therefore, he was as well. He knew he never saw Pa cry, nor scream, not even when the crackers got to whippin’ him. He thought that Pa was from a different world where men are made from stone and they can’t feel the things everyone else does. It made sense too, since he figured his rough and massive hands were cut from granite and then attached to his Pa’s arms.
What Simeon didn’t know was that Pa, in fact, was not made from stone; but from the same dust as everyone else. Flesh and blood, head and heart. He didn’t know that Pa watched both his parents get lynched a couple miles from that burping swamp and where the ground is a sandy delta of blood and dirt. Neither did Simeon know that Pa watched his two sisters get loaded into a wagon and taken deeper into the Land of the Free and to never be seen again. Nor did the almost-man know that Pa had laid by his mother’s bed for three days while she recovered from the bleeding that had resulted from Massa’s drunken rape.
The boy didn’t know that men are not born as stone, but instead made into it by other men.
“Please Abe, I am beggin’ ya.”
“Goddamn it Sims ya fuckin’ cryin’ ass. Fine.” Abe rolled onto his belly and lifted up, twisting as he did so. Soon Abe was on his bare feet and walking toward the edge of the fermenting swamp. Simeon hopped to his feet immediately and followed him to the bank.
The earth sucked at their heels.
“I need ya to be quiet as death, ya hear? Damn dead silent.” Abraham said as he sat down crossing his legs into a pretzel in front of him.
“I got you. I got you.” Simeon was so excited he almost sat down in the swamp, catching himself last second and sliding the other half of his rear onto the bank.
“Okay, just don’t say nuthin’. Don’t even breathe.”
Abraham sat with his eyes closed and like a coiled snake as he laid both of his palms flat on the dirty mud around him. His fingers stuck straight out as if he’d been stung or stabbed in the palms. It looked painful.
Inward through his nose he began to pull heavily at the humid air and release it through his mouth while making a sound similar to wind. His stiff fingers dug into the ground and beads of sweat began to drop from his chin. His lower lip pulled up and he bit it as someone does in a giant pain. Simeon was staring silently, barely breathing.
The swamp went strangely still as if it had been frozen by something. Fear maybe? Surprise even. Regardless, the bile was smooth as glass for a few moments and then the strange thing happened that Simeon wanted to see again so badly.
A single catfish, maybe eight inches long, floated out of the water and straight into the air. The fish rose slowly until it was halfway to the tops of the trees and then sat still and motionless. Its mouth was pointed upward and its tail was directly below it, its fins stuck straight out like the boy’s fingers and in a really bizarre way, the creature looked like a cross. Like that strange symbol Mr. Beaumont had on all the walls of his house.
A moment later two other fish floated up to join the other paralytic one. Same way, same height. Soon a school of little mosquito fish were pulled up and hung behind the catfish like TV static. More and more fish were lifted and soon the entire stomach of the swamp had been emptied and held in thin air by Abe’s special mind. His shining mind.
“Holy hell.” Simeon whispered breaking the required silence and sending all of the fish back down into the swamp with a murderous splash that soaked both brothers.
They both jumped back and fell down laughing hysterically.
“Alright, alright.” Abe said smiling wiping the swamp water from his brow.
“Thank you.” Simeon said, doing the same. “Let’s get back now.”
“Well, what is we supposed to do then? Go ‘n tell on em?” Pa asked quietly as the boys slept in the room they all shared.
It was nighttime, the only time Pa wasn’t working, and Abe had just turned five. “We got to keep this shit low. We gon’ wake em.”
“We need to tell someone.” Ma responded quickly and quietly.
“Why in the hell-”
“Stop cussin’ at me damn it. You talkin’ to a lady!” Ma put her hand down on the table loudly enough to make them both look over at the sleeping boys.
“Keep it down woman, sh-” He stopped himself and leaned back in his chair and began to stroke his gaunt chin.
“Tombo.” Ma said, in a way only a woman who truly knows her husband can. “Tombo. He’s special. He can do things. Good things.”
“Don’t call me that name.” He said in a way only a man truly broken can. “That ain’t mines no more.” He was still rubbing his chin looking past Ma.
“I ain’t callin’ you nothin’ else when you is in my house.”
“Yo house?” Pa’s eyes flicked at hers. They were brown and so goddamned tired. “Yo fuckin’ house woman?”
“Yeah Tombo, my house.” The oxygen got sucked out of the room and Ma couldn’t breathe easily. “Our house baby. Tombo’s home. Ain’t no Isiah here.”
He said nothing. He pulled his fire eyes back and returned to a stare that felt like a pressure cooker, or a bomb. A single tear bled from his tired eye and ate through the fine dust lying on his cheek – leaving a black trail as its proof.
“Tombo,” she sighed and got up to touch the monolithic face that sat across the table.
“Don’t” he comandaded. “Don’t need no fuckin’ pity.”
“It ain’t pity, it’s me.” She said frozen in her approach. “And stop that cussin’!”
Ma sometimes wondered if Tombo was made of stone but then she would remember those three days she bled. He would change out the dressings and rags without a word, keeping her comfortable and clean. They had only met each other a month prior to that and she only knew him as Isiah – one of Mr. Beaumont’s boys.
She’d think about his rough hands and how soft they were when they worked over her those three days. His silence was heavenly and it healed her more than anything else. She knew he’d caught one hell of a beating for helping her too. On the third day when her most personal parts stopped bleeding she knew that’d she’d never love a mortal man more than that tall slender angel with rough hands.
“You ain’t pity me when I was bleedin’ out.” She caught her breaking voice and sat back down. “You was you.”
“Please. Woman please let me think.” Pa said leaking another tear from that same eye. Ma allowed the silence and watched as a man who refused to be broken fought to collect all his pieces once more.
“Do you know what I am saying? About the boy?” Ma finally asked. “You know why I say he special?”
“Yeah.” Pa slid down and placed his elbows on his knees looking at his bare feet. “I know. Been knowin’ the boy special.”
“How long you know?”
“Couple years now… I ain’t know for sure at first. Just a feeling. You know?” Ma nodded in agreeance, with question. “How you know? When you see?”
“A couple months ago.” Ma said, leaning back into her chair and staring into the memory she was recalling. “You was all asleep ‘n I woke up to use the bathroom and -” she froze at something in her memory. “And I look over at the boy and he was floating over us.”
“What you mean, ‘floatin’”
“I means exactly what I say- he was floatin’! Over us while we was all sleepin’” she paused again looking at the memory’s detailed face. “He was asleep and floating.”
Ma was telling the truth. Sometimes when Abraham had particular dreams, he would start to levitate in his sleep. Just like the fish in the swamp floated a few years later, the young boy would hover a couple feet above the floor completely involuntary and asleep. It wouldn’t last more than a few minutes and most of the time no one would even notice. That was until, of course, Ma’s midnight piss uncovered the whole thing.
They talked about that isolated event and a couple others until the early morning hours began to pull at their sleepy minds.
“He could be our way outta this place Tombo! He could pull that whole damn house down on the whiteys while they sleepin’. I seen ‘em move stones with his eyes! With only his mind! I seen it Tombo!” She was getting excited. Hope does this sometimes, no matter how anemic it is. “We can run up North, there is a rail-”
“Ma… We can’t.” Tombo said sadly, and tired, and broken, and sick, and realistic, and human. “Baby, we can’t.”
“Why in the hell not, damn it?” She was crying now and getting louder. “He’s special, we can’t let them-”
“Let them what Ma? They already is!” Pa was crying now and also getting louder. “He pull that house down, then what? Go North? Baby this whole country ain’t nothin’ but whiteys sleepin’ in big fuckin’ houses. He can’t pull em all down!” He stopped and looked at the sleeping boys. The special one and regular one fast asleep. “They’d catch us and string us up. Then they’d take Abe and make em into some kinna fuckin toy for the whiteys to play wit.”
“No, we can’t be thinkin’ like this.” Pa remember that he was made of stone. “You a woman and you think like a woman. You ain’t know what it’s like out there. You ain’t seen what they do to boys who be different out there.”
“I don’t know?” Ma began to speak as a wildfire dances. “I ain’t know? Don’t you be sayin’ things like that to me! I know exactly what it is.”
Pa froze at the tone and understood that his words had poked boyishly into something they shouldn’t have.
“You ain’t the one watchin em leave every day.” Ma was sobbing. “You ain’t the one watchin’ em work the man you love to death and havin’ to pretend every night that I ain’t seen you is in pain.” Sobs over took the words. “You ain’t know what it’s like to carry two boys into this world to have some man put em in chains. You ain’t know!”
“Ma.” Pa got up and went to hug her. “I ain’t mean it. I’m just upset. It ain’t right. It ain’t fair.”
The two embraced and soothed each other in a tongue holy and only known by a man and his wife. After the tears stopped, Ma and Pa realised their exhaustion and laid together and waited for the small freedom of sleep. Ma stroked Pa’s rough hands and listened to her boys breathing.
“Tombo?” she whispered.
“How’d you know he was special?”
“Hard to explain baby. Get some sleep, I’ll tell you some other time.”
The dad made of stone was starting to age rapidly now. His face’s skin had turned rough where the sun had licked it for decades. Splotches of gray like a plague infected his hair. Pa was an old man, but he still picked cotton like a young one. Not because he wanted to nor because he had to, but because when you’re made of stone you just do.
Abe grew up to be a little bit taller than Pa and had Simeon lived to see adulthood he would have been taller than him too.
They lynched Simeon when he was sixteen. There was no reason, other than the fact that he was black and they didn’t seem to care much for that in Mississippi in 1853. Furthermore, he was a slave and slaves aren’t made of dust like men. Instead, they are made of stone. Abe was in the field with Pa when it happened, but Ma was able to witness the whole thing. The same day that Simeon died, so did Ma’s ability to speak. Today we would call it an acute stroke brought on by extreme emotional distress, but back then then they called it heartbreak. I think the latter is a truer description.
Ma was confined to the inside of the plantation doing the various forms of maid work an old mute woman could handle. She had become what was known as a house help. Pa was the field help, and Abe was the stable help. Of course, they were known as another word too. A word that turns men into stone. Both the one speaking it, and the one being called by it.
Abraham had mastered his shining mind over the years and used it to do things like read minds, and calm angry white men, and calm hurting black men, and speak to mute women, and tame horses. Abe found ways to speak that people couldn’t hear but found themselves answering. If he tried really hard, or if he could touch the person physically, he could even walk inside their minds. While he couldn’t do this with animals, he could speak to them in a language that they understood. Hard to explain; like floating catfish, or a father’s tears, or a hung up brother, or the way a swamp feels like stomach. Some things are beyond explanation but not feeling. Abraham knew this very well.
This particular afternoon was very similar to the one Abe had shared with Simeon at the swamp and Abraham was thinking of his brother when he put all the horses away for the night. Removing their tackle he spoke to the horses with his mind. They told him where they were hurt and how they were tired. They were comfortable with him and he knew that because he knew them. Well, he didn’t know that, but he could feel it. Floating catfish.
From the fields a couple acres away he could hear Pa walking back to their little shanty house by the plantation where all the other help lived. Where his tribe, family, and blood lived.
“Oh, Abe. Abraham, father Abraham had many sons! Oh Abe, you’re ol’ daddy’s a comin’ on home.”
Abe smiled to himself as he rolled up a set of reins and put them away in the stable’s cabinets.
“Old man, a comin!” he said back over the cerebral telegram wire. Yeah, he thought, it’s like one of those new fangled telegraph wires they use with the railroads. “Get yo ass on home, let’s go talk to Ma!”
“On my way boy!” Pa responded from a couple miles away and from where the cotton fields were.
“Watch out for ole Massa’s fat ass!” Abe laughed alone (but not really) in the stable.
“Ole whitey’s ass so fat he ain’t lef’ his bed for three years boy! Ma said you can smell his stank all the way downstairs!” Pa was chuckling.
“Fuck you laughin’ at boy?” said a white devil on a horse. He was slouched back, holding a shotgun like a boy holds his penis when he first discovers it. The little-boy-man was escorting the slaves back from the fields as to make sure they didn’t run away or do things that free people did. Like laugh, or talk, or go where they pleased.
“Nuthin’ boss, just had a good day is all. Won’t happen again boss.” Pa said verbally, or with his mouth.
“Which horse he on? I’ll tell him to buck that mother fucker off!” Abe said halfway serious.
“You will do no such thing boy, he’ll pop up red like a tomat’a and shoot us all outta embarrassment.” Pa shot back on the cable that no one but him and his boy saw.
He was right too, that man would shoot every last one of the group walking back home if he fell off that horse. He could see the anger – that’s not right – he could see the fear in his ice blue eyes. They snapped at the slaves as they hunched over picking cotton from underneath the brim of his hat.
To the devil on the horse, they were not people. When you put a man in chains and a dollar amount on his soul, he no longer is human. Then again, neither is the one that does the fetting or the appraising. Instead, you are left with things made of stone and not of dust.
“Oh, Abe. Abraham, Father Abraham had many sons. Many sons, and I am one of them.” Tombo was singing in his head as he started the mile or so walk back home. The sound was nice in Abe’s head and he was thankful for the things that no man can own. Like laughter, or words, or thoughts.
The sun was dipping behind the horizon and Pa was just about back to their house. Peach and pomegranate hints stuck to the sky as dying wishes. Finishing up his day’s work, Abe swept out the stable and recalled one morning when he was a boy.
It was early, and Abe was almost seven years old. A fog had fallen on the plantation and the sun was warming it like a souffle. He had that funny dream again where he was floating over the Earth and in between stars, and when he woke up he had felt as if he had physically fallen against the floor.
As he lay strewn and tangled in his mother and brother, he realized that his father was outside in front of the house smoking tobacco. The smell of smoke filled the little home like a familiar hug and it eased Abe.
“Dear God, I can’t do this no more.I can’t do this no more. I’m tryin’ God. I hurt God. My body aches Lord Jesus Christ. Save us, get us out of here God. If you is kind God you will rain fire down on us while we sleepin’ and it will all be over. God, my sons look at me like I’m a monster, and I am God. Ma looks at me for help God, what do I do Lord? End this pain, Lord end this hell. What did we ev-”
“Pa?” Abe was still laying under the blankets.
“Abraham?” Pa thought. “Abe, that you?” Abe could hear Pa stand up and toss his rolled cigarette and make for the door.
“No Daddy, don’t need to come in. I can talk to you from here, see?” Abe waited to hear the door open, but all movement had stopped. “Pa? You still there?”
“Yeah, I… Abe?” Pa was still. Frozen in time reaching for the door. “Abe are you speaking to me right now?”
“Yes sir I is. But, not with my mouth. With my thoughts.” Abe paused. He was going to say something that was going to either kill him or redeem him and he knew it. “Daddy, I am like you is. I can see inside you. I can see when you was a boy like me. I can see yo sissies and yo ma. And daddy too. Your Pa used to speak to you without words, and you were able to speak back to him too. Pa you is like me. Your Pa was like us.”
Silence, like the fog, sat for an eternity. Abe’s heart was beating like a drum, like the drum his Pa’s Pa used to play. A drum from a place far far away. From a place that takes a really long boat ride to get to.
“Don’t say that boy.”
“I didn’t wan’ make you cr-”
“I ain’t crying boy.”
“You is Pa… I can feel you.” Abe didn’t realize it right away but he was crying too. Crying and floating above his sleeping Ma and his sleeping brother.
“…It’s hard to explain and more like a feeling. You know it when you feel it, but to put words to it would steal the whole thing and make it seem like something that could be taught. Which it can’t be. This ability isn’t a learned thing. Truly beautiful things seldom are. It can be honed and mastered, but it cannot be learned. Just like other things that can only be felt, it is passed down generation by generation from the beginning of all things. From a time before time. From an eternity, or a garden, we spend a lifetime searching for…”
When Pa got back to their home, the sun was all the way dead and the moonlight was peeking in through the various holes. Smoke was rolling from a fire behind the house and Ma had just finished making dinner.
The three of them ate in complete silence and were completely comfortable with that.
“You meet with Christian yet, Abe?”
“Yes sir.” Abraham said without his voice.
“You get his whole story?”
“Yes sir. He fell asleep around sunrise and I walked ‘round in ‘em for a few hours. He’s a fifth generation from Cape Town. I got all the names, dates, faces and everything.”
“Good boy.” Tombo leaned back in his chair. “You ‘member what I always be tellin’ you right? Since the first time we practiced it.”
“Of course Pa. That’s why I be doin’ what I do.”
“Don’t ever forget it boy. This is how we beat ‘em.” Pa paused. “Change is comin’ boy. This country is splittin’ in half. We ain’t gon’ die slaves. I know we ain’t. We can never forget those who did. No chains in death. Every name boy. Every face.”
“I know Pa. Then when I get a chil’ of my own.” Abe smiled and he daydreamed about his future wife.
“You know I can see that shit right? Damn boy, you need to get laid.” They both laughed out loud and looked at Ma. She smiled with part of her face.
“Don’t worry Ma, I will tell you tonight.” Abe said with his words, or his voice.
“You can’t stop Abe. Every one of us has a story. Every story matters. You have to save the memories you can.”
“I know Pa. Let’s get Ma laid down, she looks tired.”
Pa nodded and got up from the table and took his wife by the hand and walked her to the old bed they got from Massa a couple years back. Mr. Beaumont had indeed become so fat he needed a new bed and Abe persuaded the fat bastard to give the old one to his mom. He had a keen ability to speak to animals in a way they understood.
Once laid in the bed, Abraham climbed in with his mother and laid on top of her. Face to face, the mother’s son pressed his forehead into hers and pressed his open palms into hers. His fingers stuck out like they were in pain and he began to inhale her breath and exhale it into her mouth with a sound like wind.
A feeling started at the soles of his feet and soon it spread to the top of his forehead and the process of entering into his mother’s mind had began. A lump moved up to his throat and Abe made an uncomfortable choking sound.
The first, or initial, part of entering one’s mind begins with lying on top of them and sharing breath. There are other ways to do this, but the position Abe took with his mother is the one that most card-carrying Eaters prefer. It’s known as “The Embrace,” and for whatever reason, and as things that can’t really be explained go, this position yields the smoothest crossing.
When it comes to the crossing there are three main parts the Eater must endure.
First is known as the Water and it comes on suddenly. It’s a feeling of drowning or being submerged completely underwater. Like a baptism or a cleaning, this part is where the Eater must allow a purging of themselves in order to move on. There is a feeling of loss at this stage. One similar to when you have an idea and forget it only to remember that whatever idea you just had was good but cannot remember the details. It can be disorienting and uncomfortable.
Once you work past that threshold, then comes the Fall. It feels as if you are free falling from a great height and infinitely and you must allow the drop. It is this point that most early Eaters are unable to move past.
I must note that the Fall is horrifying and so much more than a feeling. Again, this is something difficult to put into words but if you have ever had a panic attack it can be similar to the falling. It’s never known how long the Fall will take, as time doesn’t really exist here. The anxiety feeling of walls moving is the most similar experience of which I can compare it to. It is also my belief that it is this stage which causes “Eater Madness,” which is inevitable for most Memory Eaters.
Finally, when the falling is over, one finds themself in the chaos of someone else’s mind. This stage is known as the Call. Again, I find words silly and difficult to use in describing this but it may be similar to a feeling of being lost in a dream and trying to understand its details. It is here that the Eater must find their host’s guide (or projection) to help them construct the shared landscape into something navigable for the two of them. Once this is built the two start to work on the memories together. One guiding and one eating.
As the old mantra that goes,
“Drown down, weather the fall,
In the void, a voice doth call,
What ails thou, I come for all.”
Abe was able to perform this practice because he had it taught to him by his Pa who had been taught it by his Pa who had been taught by his Pa.
While this practice may be considered occult and mostly mythical by some, it has been used since the creation of humanity to heal and to hurt and it is known by many different names, the most popular being “Memory Eating.”
Memory Eating is the practice of consensually entering into one’s mind with the intent of removing or altering certain memories. It is achieved through gifted people by performing the steps I have briefly mentioned above. For the sake of brevity I have condensed very technical and complex information to offer a brief explanation of what Abraham was doing. Of course, back then they didn’t call it Memory Eating, nor did they know the Eater’s Coven Mantra of which I have mentioned above that helps explain the process of entering one’s mind. Instead they performed a ritual passed down to them by their Ancestors. Different name, same thing.
Also of note is that the process of Memory Eating can be used to accomplish more things than just altering memory. There’s a myriad of exploits one can achieve once in one’s mind. Some things ME’s can do are of the most beautiful and healing nature. Some things, however, are horrendously evil. The same man that was capable of slavery is capable of similar exploits. Related goals.
Abe’s and Tombo’s goal, however, was to archive every slave’s history and story in an effort to return them to humanity. As men and women and not just slaves. Not just stones. This augmentation of Memory Eating is known as “Preservation,” and those who practice in this way are known as “Preservationists.” Preservationists make up the majority of present-day ME’s and are responsible for us having such early accounts of this tragically beautiful and volatile ritual. They are the reason you are reading about Abe and his family right now.
One can also use Eating to speak with people who cannot use their mouths – like Ma. This practice is known as “Mouth Piecing,” or “Mouthing,” and was something that Tombo was never able to master.
His son, however, was a natural.
Abe breathed in, Ma breathed in. They continued to press their palms together. Breathing in and out. His palms were as hard as stone as they pressed into hers. Breathing in and out.
Pa came and sat on the floor with his back against the bed, right by Ma’s head.
“How was your day, baby?”
“It was grand, baby.”
“Good, how ‘bout you boy?
“It was a goodin’ Ma.” Abe said inside his soul.
The room was completely silent as the three spoke; and even though his body felt like stone, Pa’d float like cotton reaching for Ma’s every word. A pale glow from the moon’s intrusive stare was the only witness to the three as they spoke miles away from their bodies and in a place where things can last forever.