When you recall a memory, you’re actually recalling the last time you made that recollection. It’s how memories can change over time. When every day is the same, those memories become tangled up in ways that it is nearly impossible to describe. We’d skipped school and driven to the beach many times, but when was the last time? Without the concept of days of the week and unique events occurring on those days, everything just melted together into a giant pool of inseparable recollections.
Sometimes I didn’t know if a memory I had was before the iterations began or after. I knew that Hay had just moved to town – not because I remembered it, but because she did. Before August 28th started repeating, we didn’t know each other, but she was apparently in my class. I knew for certain that on iteration number two, we figured out that it was only the two of us that retained our memories iteration to iteration. It was within the first week that we started calling them “iterations” rather than “repetitions,” but I couldn’t remember why.
I also knew that it took about half a year’s worth of iterations for us to start dating. At least it was easy to remember our anniversary.
Sorry, that’s a little of my hopelessly depressing humor for you. I have to find comedy in our tragedy sometimes to keep sane.
Other than important things like that, it was very difficult to keep track of what happened when. Notebooks reset at 12AM. Computers, phones, whatever – it all reset at 12AM every day, asleep or awake. Anything we recorded onto any medium during the day was wiped out of existence.
If events were unique enough, which was rare, they usually stuck better. Some didn’t involve Hay, but most did. For those, I could usually at least put a descriptor on them. Like, our first kiss was a very, very long time ago. That talk we had about us never being able to have kids…at least 10 years’ worth of iterations ago. Maybe 20.
Okay, so maybe I couldn’t be that descriptive. But anyway, perhaps it’s best to say that if it was something about Hay, I’d probably remember. If it was something I did with Hay, well, those were the tricky ones.
The point I’m trying to make is that our memories are patchworks of events grafted together from various iterations of August 28th, and then a smattering of important things from before that. I knew my parents, of course, and I remembered things that I’ve always known, like their birthdays and favorite meals, but I have no idea what happened on August 27th, or August 26th, or really any other recent date leading up to the 28th.
What’s perhaps even wilder is that when we tried to jog our memories and figure out what happened on the 27th by looking on social media and various news sites, we found that posts and news stories from today were the only ones that existed. On Twitter, when you reached 12:00AM in your timeline and kept going back, it just started all over again from August 28th at 11:59PM. All news articles on mainstream news sites were from the 28th. Sections containing yesterday’s headlines were either blank or repeats of headlines from the 28th.
Really, my only memory of the day before this all began was that it was just another mundane school day. Hay remembered it the same way, but honestly, neither of us were sure that we weren’t misremembering. We could patch together a few things about August 27th based on the many iterations of August 28th and the thousands and thousands of chances we’d had to ask people about the day before, but we had no way to record any of it. Important details we could commit to memory if we really tried, but only by rote memorization. Any memories of less importance that we didn’t at least occasionally recall were doomed to get lost in the ether.
The frustrating thing about trying to remember August 27th was that we didn’t know if there was even anything important about it. The one thing we did have was time, so we tried for many years’ worth of iterations to figure out what could’ve triggered the repetition of this day. The fact that I was sitting there in Hay’s second period class should tell you just how successful we were.
I hadn’t even bothered going to my second period to fake sick or ask to go to the bathroom. I just walked into Hay’s classroom and announced that my teacher had to abruptly leave, and I was being dispersed to this class.
“Hey, Hay,” I said as I sat behind her. Rodney Tillerman snickered at my greeting – just like he’d done thousands of times. I barely even heard him anymore, as I’d trained myself to just ignore it.
Our greetings had gradually become very concise. We used to make more small talk; tried the standard goofy greetings, made jokes like “long time no see,” even though I just saw her three minutes ago and spent almost every waking hour of my life with her. But in an abnormal situation like ours, those societal norms just sort of faded into the background.
Mr. Dolman taught Hay’s civics class. He was really awkward, or at least, he seemed that way to me. I’d lived more days than he had for sure, but his days were real days that he could spend learning and growing in the ways that people are supposed to. I didn’t have that luxury, despite my mind’s age being somewhere around 60 years old.
One of the things that repeating days teaches you is that you can do anything you want. There were no consequences to skipping school, cursing at a teacher, stealing a car, burning a pile of money. Absolutely none of it mattered as soon as the next iteration came. In one iteration, I even broke an arm to basically no fanfare but a few hours of pain. No matter where I was, no matter what I was doing, when the clock struck 12AM I blacked out, and upon waking, I was in my bed, and it was August 28th again. And the stupid alarm on my phone was going off.
Having no consequences to my actions had made me more confrontational. I mean, I certainly wasn’t worried about appearances, so there was no reason not to do and say exactly as I wanted, except that Hay would hear it. Having her kept me in check. If I did something awful, she’d always remember it, so I tried not to do awful things.
It may sound terrible, but being stuck in this God-forsaken loop did a number to my senses. There were iterations where it wasn’t easy to hold back from raging at people all day long. But even if other people didn’t remember it, we would, and if we ever escaped from this loop, we’d have to live with whatever we did while we were in it.
We may have been barely hanging on to our sanity, but our humanity was firmly in place.
However, confrontation wasn’t necessarily an evil or even bad thing. Argumentative, maybe, but it could just be a squaring off of the minds. Or so I told myself.
There were some iterations where I argued with various teachers. For a while, I passed most of my time by reading books. It was one of the few things I could do that wasn’t affected by the repetitions. Sure, bookmarks were useless at the end of the day, but it was easy enough to remember a page number. I read all of the books in my house, including my school text books. Weirdly enough, when I had no reason to learn, I actually started to find them quite interesting, so I read most of them a few times. I didn’t remember everything from them, which would’ve been true with or without the iterations, but I definitely remembered the parts that I found the most interesting.
Having read those books over and over, it made me more cognizant of the fact that teachers would misrepresent some concepts on purpose. Or, well, I assumed that most teachers did it, because Mr. Dolman was about to do it, and it would drive me nuts.
“So, wait, the money isn’t backed by anything?”
“It’s not backed by any physical thing, no,” Mr. Dolman explained. “Instead, it’s backed by the trust our citizens have in it. The US dollar is what is referred to as ‘fiat money.'”
“And the Federal Reserve just prints it?”
“They do. They control the money supply this way as well.”
Here it comes.
“If the Federal Reserve can print money, why don’t they just print money to pay off the federal debt?”
“Well if they did that, it would devalue the rest of the money supply due to the influx of new money into the market.”
Could I bite my tongue today?
“What, not going to say anything?” Hay whispered.
“What’s the point?” I sighed.
“That’s never stopped you before.”
But I didn’t feel like saying anything today, so I kept my mouth shut, and Mr. Dolman’s class took route B. Route C was when I corrected Mr. Dolman, and he had to explain to the class that what he’d just said was technically not true, but wasn’t important to the context of the lesson. Route A was when I stayed in my own class, Tracy Morris didn’t sneeze, and Justin Clements didn’t ask to go to the bathroom. Maybe there were other small differences, but those were the ones that Hay pointed out to me.
Like I said, we were the only ones that could affect change in this world. Even the smallest, seemingly harmless act changed just enough to make the day different in comparison to doing nothing at all. I couldn’t really explain why, though I had my theories.
There were many, many different routes Mr. Dolman’s class took, but B and C were the most common. A almost never happened anymore. A was too lonely.
It probably sounds incredibly silly to say that being in a class full of people is lonely, but it’s absolutely and horrifyingly undeniable to me. Imagine playing a video game where every person you meet always does the same thing, every path is linear and only branches off based on choices you make. That’s our entire existence. The only escape I have from that is interacting with Hay.
I didn’t feel like expending any effort, so I continued down route B all the way until third period. It may sound dull – and trust me, it was – but it was more entertaining sitting through class than staying at home and doing nothing since we had no better plans for the day. Either way, I was with Hay, so what did it matter?
Marty – Mr. Randal, as we were supposed to call him – had eaten something that didn’t agree with his stomach that morning. It wasn’t that he announced it to the class, it’s just that I figured it out one iteration by following him…to the bathroom, and I’ll stop there, because the rest of the story is about how you’d expect it to go, and ended with me quickly exiting the bathroom.
Anyway, as soon as Marty left the room, Hay pulled out her laptop and started playing the puzzle game. Now, you might imagine the other students snickering or going a little nuts trying to figure out why Hay was playing a video game in the middle of class when we were supposed to be reviewing a chapter in our textbook. In that case, you’d be just as surprised as we were the first time she did it. It drew attention, sure, but then our classmates just pulled out their phones and started playing mobile games and texting their friends. So really, what was the difference other than the size of the device they were screwing around on?
Hay’s record was a level that was about halfway through the game. That may seem impressive, but there were people on the Internet that did speed-runs of the entire game in around 20 minutes, so Hay wasn’t quite at their level yet. If she really wanted to, she could certainly do it. After all, she had all of the time in the world.
At exactly the right moment, Hay picked up her laptop (having not beaten her record yet again), and like clockwork, Marty reentered the room, looking a bit relieving. A couple of kids got in trouble for having their phones out, as usual, but Hayley never did, and no one said anything since they were all just as guilty.
It was truly a standard iteration of August 28th. All routes we’d been down before, nothing even remotely new. Not that I expected differently, but even after 40-something years’ worth of reliving this day, I still had this weird hope that one day, something would surprise me. Even just the smallest thing.
Anything to escape the monotony.
The rest of third period I spaced out thinking about what we could possibly do tomorrow that would be more exciting than sitting through classes again. Urban exploration? We’d been to a closed-down theme park a couple (few?) dozen or so times. That was pretty cool as long as we spaced out our visits enough. But hadn’t we just gone a couple months of iterations ago? Or was it a couple years? Ugh.
I could feel that part of my mind start to activate – the part that gnawed at every thought that kept me sane. Luckily, we’d learned to notice the signs, and it was a slow creep that we could kind of control.
“Hay, do you wanna just skip fourth period and go home? This iteration is far too monotonous. I’m kinda feeling it.”
Feeling it. Hay understood what that meant. It may sound quite innocuous, but we’d both had bouts of…well, I don’t know what to call it. Tantrums bordering insanity? Releasing bottled up frustration? Whatever descriptors you wanted to give it, the symptoms were the same: hysterical crying, probably some screaming, pounding our fists into a beanbag chair. Occasionally we’d lash out at others, but never one another. She could bring me back, and I could bring her back, but it took time. Fortunately, or I guess unfortunately, that was something we had plenty of.
To spend our lives here meant to constantly be on the edge of our sanity. It was a daily struggle. I could never explore the world. I could never finish a video game that I hadn’t already mostly completed. I could never order things from the Internet because we didn’t have any same day delivery services. Even if we acquired some new thing, it would be gone in a matter of hours and we’d have to acquire it again.
Everything compounded and compounded until it was unbearable. I shuddered to think of living in this world alone. If I didn’t have Hay, I don’t know what I’d have done.
When the bell rang to switch classes, we ditched and went back to my house in our separate cars. No one guarded the school outside of recess to make sure students didn’t leave, so we didn’t even have to fake being sick or whatever. We just left. It was almost upsettingly easy.
My parents were at work for a few more hours, and we got off of school before they got off work anyway, so my house was the easiest to go back to at times like these. Hay’s mom had a weird schedule that meant she usually ended up home pretty early, but she was locked away in her office doing work. Either way, we couldn’t go to her house or we’d get caught. Sure, she’d wake up the next day and have no consequences, but the rest of the day was shot if her mom found out we’d ditched school. Hay would get grounded, and then she’d be stuck in her house without her phone for the rest of the day. She could just walk out of the house, but then her mom would be worried until the day reset. It’s just one of those things that was easier to avoid.
As soon as we got home, I went to my room and sprawled out on the bed. Hay sat down beside me and stared at the wall opposite the bed.
“How many times can this happen before it breaks us?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I muttered.
“There’s a limit. One of these days, we’ll exceed it, and we won’t come back from it.”
These reactions had only started a few years of iterations ago. You’d think the monotony would’ve driven us insane earlier, but I suppose our aging minds couldn’t recover quickly enough anymore.
“I don’t know what we can do about it.”
“We could try looking for a way out again…”
I laughed, but there was no joy in it. It was the only possible reaction. Hay didn’t respond because she knew it too. She sighed and laid back, resting her head on my stomach.
“We’ll die here,” she said, now staring at the ceiling. “We’ll die in this screwed up world, and no one will even know what we’ve been through.”
“I know.” We’d talked about it many times, and that was the conclusion we always came to.
“One way or another, we’ll die here.”
It was times like these that latching desperately onto hope seemed so futile.