It’s only in the third week of being on the run that he begins to write down the memories. The first two weeks, he was too busy looking over his shoulder, terrified that he would be caught–by his handlers, by the man with the blue eyes, by SHIELD, he wasn’t sure. He was verging on delirious with pain and exhaustion, fighting to keep running while his body healed from the injuries he sustained during the hellicarrier fights. The memories, when they did come, were confusing and terrifying and much too overwhelming, leaving him all but incapacitated until they released him back to reality again. Only when he can no longer taste the river water on each breath, when his reflexes do not recoil for every shifting shadow every hour of the day and night, does he find the presence of mind to desire a record of the scattered traces of history his mind spews out. 

Oh, but once he starts writing them down, it’s like the floodgates open. He spends the first three days holed up in an abandoned apartment in some large city–he couldn’t remember which if he tried–shaking off the vivid and overwhelming throes of memory just long enough to write down the newest thoughts. At first it’s all that same man from the bridge–Steve. Small and skinny and sickly, sometimes on the verge of dying with a fever burning him from the inside, sometimes raging and raring a brawl with brittle fists and endless resolve. Big and strong and miraculous, streaked in mud or blood or smoke, a flash of colours on a dull battlefield, emerging unscathed and impossible from a storm of fire, leaping headfirst into battle after battle after battle, curled next to his body in some frozen forest with a grin on his lips… 

And then the rest of it hits. Blood, and blood, and blood and blood and blood. On his hands, on his face, on his every inch of skin. Staining him through to the bones, until his heart can no longer tell his own blood from others’. Death here, death there, death again and again and again. Sometimes it’s kids. Sometimes it’s screaming women. Sometimes he can’t even tell, and that feels worse. Sometimes it’s far away, just a single bullet whistling precisely past a sniper scope; sometimes it’s close enough that he feels the blood splatter on his skin. He tries to keep those in separate pages, tries to keep the blood in those memories from seeping into Steve’s–but when his fingers tremble like earthquakes are erupting in his bones and his eyes can no longer tell ink from blood, it’s all but impossible. He has to give up on that quickly, and it feels like a betrayal; he spends that night curled around his first notebook, the one filled from start to end with nothing but Steve, and tries not to let his tears taint it. (He fails that, too.)

Once, he remembers seeing Steve in the middle of an assassination in Russia, and that’s when he realizes that not everything he remembers is true. He buys a red pen and goes back through every memory, every jumbled story dragged out of the dim vaults of his fractured mind, marking the ones that can’t be true, that go against what he’s learned from books and museums and endless Internet searches. A blue pen soon joins the red and the black, tracing uncertain circles around the memories that feel shaky and blurred, the memories whose truth are beyond his power to verify. 

It’s messy, with layers of ink and smudged streaks, with tattered corners and ripped-out pages, with fancy notebooks filled with crisp creamy pages and bits of napkin covered in tiny letters and food residue–but it’s messy like his mind, like him, and as terrible as most of those pages are, it feels a little bit like home. 

not 2 start discourse but pepsi should never have been invented it tastes like filthy river water and the only reason i’m drinking it is because the pizza company i ordered from didn’t stock coke and i needed something carbonated to write this essay

Fiction, which is the ribbon pulled from a trembling mouth,
which tells its truth with such defiance
that everything forgotten will blaze, every joy burnished,
every recollection of unexpected flight shared
and passed from hand to cupped hand,
carried warm next to the skin,
recited for courage.
—  The Taste of River Water by Cate Kennedy