The Extraction Series: Part 3
After Hazel agreed to help, I figured it would be a good idea for her to see what an extraction felt like.
“Ok we can keep it simple, and I can extract a happy memory from you. Those are generally easier for people to think about,” I said.
“No, let’s do a painful one. Since that’s what we’ll be doing with Sarah, I’m guessing,” Hazel said.
“Ok, you sure?” I was surprised at Hazel’s willingness to help; the last time we saw each other was at Jake’s birthday party two years ago, and even then we didn’t talk much.
“Yup — I already have a memory in mind.”
I attached the electrodes to Hazel’s head and started the software.
“So close your eyes and start thinking about the memory. Visualize the setting first,” I prompted.
Hazel closed her eyes and immediately, the image of a small apartment living room appeared on the monitor. A sofa bed took up the majority of the space, in addition to an almond-colored dining table with numerous scars and marks. The image resolution was quite clear, indicating that Hazel remembered the memory well.
“If there are people involved, you can think about them now,” I said.
The screen cuts to a woman running out of the door, crying. The perspective follows the woman until she leaves the apartment landing. Back in the apartment, there’s a man pacing back and forth, looking troubled and angry. He has a slicked combover hairstyle and black stubble showing that he hasn’t shaved in days, maybe a week. Next to him on the wall is a large indentation the size of a grapefruit. A frozen pack of small, clumped, gray spheres lies on the ground — the faded blue label on it reads bò viên.
“Wow, this is some Black Mirror shit. Those are my parents!” Hazel said as she opened her eyes and watched her memory play out. “This is one of my first few memories after we immigrated here. My dad didn’t do well in the beginning and had a lot of temper tantrums. You know how it is — typical stoic Asian father feeling emasculated because he can’t speak the language and provide for his family the way he wants.”
“My mom took it the hardest but she was also the most resilient. I don’t know how they’re still together after all these years but I think it speaks to how much she cares about our family.”
“I didn’t know all that about your family,” I said. “Thanks for sharing that. Where did your mom go that night?”
“She went to my cousin’s house,” Hazel explained. “She stayed there for a while and then came back. It was the first time I saw my mom leave the house after my dad’s outbursts. I remember feeling shocked and scared and I didn’t know if she was coming back, and I cried a lot that night. I was only like, three years old or something. Core memory, you know?”
“You were only three? The quality is really sharp for a child’s memory,” I remarked.
“I don’t know. What’s in a memory anyway? I think memories are vivid when a lot of emotions are involved. That may not have even been what happened though, but it’s how I remember it. Looking back, I think I came out relatively unscathed. My brother didn’t do so well. Wanna see?”
Hazel closed her eyes again, and a small boy, maybe seven or eight years old, appeared on the screen. He had a blank look on his face and stared off into the distance.
“That’s your brother? He doesn’t seem phased at all,” I said.
“He’s dissociating,” Hazel said quietly. “We learned in peer counseling training that when an event is too overwhelming to be kept in conscious memory, your brain will block out the memory. A lot of the people we worked with would have a hard time talking about these things, unless you really prompted them — and even then it’s hard. That’s how you were.”
We locked eyes and were both transported back momentarily to the small office space in Eshelman. Hazel probably sensed that I felt uncomfortable and changed the subject.
“But yeah, my brother took it hard. He always had an idealistic view of how our parents were supposed to be perfect and flawless. That night really shattered his worldview.”
“How’s your brother doing these days?” I asked.
“He’s doing alright. Makes decent money and has a girlfriend. But he’s still fucked up,” Hazel laughed. “I was like ‘Don’t you wonder why you have trouble sleeping all the time?’ He thinks smoking more weed and exercising more is the solution.”
I related to Hazel’s brother and had felt similarly growing up. Like myself, his idols collapsed when he learned they were only human. Parents were not unwavering and perfect, but immigrants journeying to a strange land to make a better life for their kids. Of course they’d make mistakes along the way.
I texted Sarah later that night that I found someone that could continue the extraction for her. She texted me back:
you sure? I don’t wanna go through all that again if they’re just gonna bail halfway…
That reminded me to tell Hazel about what happened to Sarah.
“Oh god,” Hazel said. “That’s insane. Um, I think I can stomach that though. I’ve dealt with deaths before during my counseling days.”