When I had about a baker’s dozen worth of years of life under my belt, I spent a summer working in the hippocampus. It was my first job. Labor I had found in order to keep me flush with cash for Green River sodas and Big League Chew. It was difficult, dark and dusty, and the shovel wore holes in my hands. But I stuck it out. Four enormous furnaces were required to be kept stocked in order for the machinery of the brain to operate properly, and there were teams of two that worked round the clock to keep the fires burning. If the furnaces died, so too would the memories that we were entrusted to keep alive.
Certain fires supplied the energy for specific types of memories inside of this particular area. One, perhaps the largest of them, was dedicated to a past love. It was the furnace that seemed to consume the most fuel and burn the brightest. The others, for experiences, people, and miscellaneous other things, continued at a slow, steady pace which did not demand as much attention. The majority of our supply of that archaic combustible material went to stoking that fire for her.
I worked alongside an ignorant, talkative boy who chain-smoked. He was only a few years older than I, but he seemed to already display a jaded world view; which I often found hilarious seeing as how we were both just a couple of fucking kids. I kept my head down, concentrating on my work, constantly showing a lack of interest in speaking, yet he always dragged me into lopsided conversations about nihilism and such. And so he preached at me as I smiled, politely nodding my head, while we threw shovel loads of coal upon the pyre. I only engaged when we discussed issues relating to our work, or what the hell we were actually doing there. Day in, day out, we punched the clock, poured cheap cups of coffee, fed the flames of the past and talked small about whatever was on my coworker’s mind.
The work we did made us consider the laborers who worked inside of our own minds. Fathers of three and single mothers and desperately hopeful immigrants who slaved long hours and late nights in order to keep our brains going. Individuals who paid their bills by providing us with the necessary energy for our thoughts and dreams. It was strange to think that there was someone inside us all the way down the line. Someone was in my head who maintained my livelihood, and someone still was inside of that person’s cerebellum, and another person inside of that one yet again. It was an infinite matryoshka doll of consciousness. A chain on a level that would have made Fleetwood Mac quiver in their boots.
I used to sing “Burnin’ for You” by Blue Oyster Cult while I tossed the flammables into their intended destination.
One Tuesday morning when we arrived for work, the main heater appeared less active than normal. I peered inside the chamber to find that the central furnace was dead. As soon as it went out completely, the alarm above shouted to the authorities in a shrill voice, the bright lights ricocheted off of the walls of the mine. Fuck. We both looked at each other and knew what was to come next.
The foreman approached us and regretfully removed his hardhat to deliver us the news. We felt that our work here was finished. We had failed. Even though it was through no fault of ours, the memory of her had ended, and someone had to take the blame for not maintaining the fire. We retrieved our car keys and cleared out our lockers and clocked out for the last time. Upper management escorted us out. They wanted to make sure that retaliation wasn’t possible, and that we didn’t make a scene. How could we anyway? These weren’t our memories. Sometimes they die, and nothing is ever going to prevent that.
My mouthy coworker went on to do construction in the frontal lobe. With my mediocre technical skills I found gainful employment in the medulla oblongata. And so it goes. We moved from supporting one’s memories to supplying higher functioning thought processes and vital organ operations. It wasn’t the best, but it was a living, and it taught me a lot about life.
The next summer, I worked in the liver, and that was the most interesting place to be.