They Carried Their Memories

Summary: Jackson Davies carried a letter in his pocket, and a backpack full of other things he couldn't throw away. Jessica carried her purse and no expectations for her future. They both carry memories from their past that play an integral role in their hopes and dreams. These dreams directly reflect their individual attitudes about life and what it means.

Disclaimer: Well, I do own a lot of this. But thanks to Tim O'Brien and my English teacher for the idea?

Jackson Davies always kept a letter in his pocket; the paper was stained and crinkled from being folded too many times, but he always had it with him. Of course, he could never tell anybody that he kept something as sentimental as a letter. In a world of text messages, Myspace, and close-minded views of masculinity, nobody even wrote letters, and real men didn't keep them folded up in their pockets everywhere they went. When Jackson was ten years old, his father died in a car accident. Not even a year later, his mother lost her marbles; she dropped Jackson off with her grandmother because she had to run some errands…but never came back. Before she got in the car, she'd folded up a piece of paper and placed it carefully in her young son's pocket, telling him to read it when his favorite TV show came on in a few hours. Young Jackson hadn't understood why his mother left, but that piece of paper, her letter to him, helped him cope. "You remind me so much of your Dad," she wrote, where wet spots dotted the page. "Jackson, I love you, please don't ever forget that."

He wished he could.

At school, Jackson liked to pretend that he didn't live with his decaying grandmother who smelled like carrots and cat pee, but sometimes the letter felt ten times heavier than it really was, sitting there in his pocket, not letting him forget. In order to distract himself, he lugged around a backpack heavy with textbooks, novels, and other papers he couldn't seem to throw away. Sometimes he felt out of place at McKinley High School, because although he wasn't the only kid with a bursting backpack, all around him in this place where "champions are made and success is tradition," there was a startling lack of champions or success.

Students at McKinley carried the burden of dissatisfaction, though they usually didn't place the blame where it truly belonged. Instead of holding themselves accountable for their lack of education and success, they preferred to carry around, just like Jackson, things that distracted them from the truth; McKinley students carried bad attitudes, headphones that were in their ears when they should have been in their backpacks, as well as the added weight of pompousness and low expectations. Jessica Raine carried all of this and more to school with her everyday (instead of a backpack). At a family picnic and the age of twelve, Jessica was shot in the leg by a drugged out cousin and decided to take out her anger on the world instead the family that shot her. She had low expectations because no one ever expected anything else, especially her parents who were never home and always unemployed. To Jessica, success was making it through high school with maybe a 2.5 GPA, it was managing to end up pregnant, unmarried, and on welfare before the age of nineteen. If she was lucky, her boyfriend Anthony would get her pregnant before graduation – maybe then she'd have a real excuse to drop out. Jessica saw Jackson in the hallway once and laughed at him, walking around with a backpack (who carried one of those anymore?) and one hand shoved deep into his pocket. Jessica laughed at everyone because everything was funny; life and the world were one big fat joke.

Jackson wished he didn't have to carry around the weight of his mother on his shoulders and in his pocket – he wished that everything was one big fat joke, but it wasn't. Unlike Jessica, he wished to escape his undesirable circumstances, and not just because he hated cats but had to live with ten of them, strutting around meowing and driving him crazy. Maybe, just maybe, if he survived the hell hole people affectionately called "McKinley Senior High School," if he escaped the armpit that someone chose to name "Canton, Ohio", he could literally leave this all behind. Jackson could go somewhere new and fresh, strange but beautiful, and not take with him that letter in his pocket or the backpack Jessica always laughed at. He could picture it now: on the eve of Graduation, wearing one of those ugly black caps he wasn't even allowed to throw up in the air like they do in the movies, standing in front of the Civic Center helping his grandmother hobble out the door, Jackson would carefully pull that letter out of his pocket and tear it angrily into pieces. A million tiny little fragments of paper that had been stained with peanut butter and jelly and hints of Jackson's anger would fly away into the horizon, never to be seen again, and so would this life. Every day, that's all Jackson thought about; he pictured that scene over and over again in his head, knowing that girls like Jessica could never imagine the feeling of finally living your dream.

Creative writing assignment for my English class in which we had to incorporate techniques that Tim O'Brien uses in The Things They Carried -- except instead of soldiers in Vietnam, students at my high school. I really enjoyed writing this and the two characters I created. I heart The Things They Carried.