What if your memories could be in the palm of your hand, accessible from an app?
Warning: Indications of disordered eating and body image concerns
Have you ever wanted to experience something like it’s the first time again? Visiting Disney World like you’ve never been before… a video game you love but have lost the novelty of… a TV show or movie you want to relive that wonder of seeing for the first time…
What if it was possible with a simple pill and an app on your phone?
CookieScrubber is its name. Or, as people on my university campus have been calling it, just “Cookie”. The rich students all have it and call it the best thing ever. The poor students either want it but can’t afford the $800, or tell everyone they see no point in it.
‘Jenny – don’t you want to try?’ my roommate, Aimee, wheedled. She set her fruit-and-veg smoothie down on the table beside my laptop and flopped into a chair. ‘You can erase anything from your brain – we can watch Outlander like it’s the first time again!’
I hesitated, trying to find the right response.
‘It’s totally safe,’ Aimee insisted. ‘Half the university is using it! You’ve heard them talk about it! When has anyone mentioned any issue with it?’
Aimee was right. Everyone at school who had the Cookie said it was amazing. I hadn’t heard a single issue with it. And using it myself was tempting, definitely. Aimee knew the real reason why I was hesitating.
‘If it’s too, like, expensive for you,’ she said, ‘I can always help.’
Helping me with money was something Aimee could be inconsistent with. She could be really generous at times, like when she’d paid way more than her half for the expensive TV we’ve got in our apartment, or covering my entry fee for clubs. But for other things… she didn’t think it was fair for us to eat each other’s food or use each other’s products, which I totally understood.
‘Are you sure?’ I checked.
‘Yeah!’ Aimee said, in that tone that sounded like “of course!”. ‘It’s not like it’s that expensive! I mean, for revolutionary technology…’ Aimee finished her sentence with only an emphatic look. ‘So,’ she went on eagerly, ‘you’re saying yes?’
‘… If you consider it my early birthday present,’ I decided.
Aimee laughed, did a little dance in her chair, and hopped up with her smoothie. She took a peek at my laptop screen, pulled a face, and danced into the kitchen.
‘It’ll be more fun than your assignment-writing!’ she called back to me. ‘How many references do you have there?’
The university assignment I was working on was half-finished, and the references sat in the region of thirty. I’d researched the hell out of the impact of health policy on rural communities. I didn’t admit that to Aimee though.
I shrugged, and answered with, ‘This bit has a lot. The rest of it has less…’
‘You’re such a nerd!’ Aimee laughed. I smiled. When Aimee used the word “nerd”, she meant “cute”. ‘Prof Anally-Retentive will be proud! I’ve only got like two for mine. I’m just waiting for his snooty comments on my assignment.’
We were both studying Health Science. What I wanted to do with it was go on into medicine, if I could. Aimee, when she mentioned it, had designs on either becoming the federal Health Minister (which didn’t appear to need a degree in Health Science) or someone who cured cancer.
‘I think this calls for a celebration!’ Aimee declared. She yanked open the freezer and fetched ice cream. Holding it up, she waggled it invitingly at me. ‘I’ll share!’
Aimee’s ice cream was the good stuff: loaded with choc chips and caramel. I didn’t hesitate to take up the rare offer of her food, and Aimee, as she doled it out into bowls, gave me the larger portion.
‘Oh –‘ Aimee brandished her spoon at me. ‘I swear Dan was checking me out today! He hasn’t asked me out or anything, but he gave me that look…’ She pulled a commiserating grimace at me. ‘I’m sorry Jenny – but, look, there are other guys! Like what about Shane? He’s always wanting to talk to you.’
I’d had a crush on Dan since last term. I sucked at the ice cream in my mouth, hunting for an unconcerned smile. Aimee didn’t believe in getting “in the dumps” over guys. And, really, Aimee was the prettier and more fun one of us. I wasn’t surprised Dan preferred her.
‘Yeah, I’ll consider Shane,’ I said, finding that elusive smile. Maybe I would consider Shane. I’d found him… well, not at all attractive, in personality or appearance. But maybe I was just being shallow.
‘It’s here – it’s here – it’s here!’
I pulled off my headphones and looked around as Aimee came running out of her bedroom, chanting her excitement at, I presumed, a delivery. Pausing my learning module, I set my headphones on the table and questioned Aimee with a look as she clunked the apartment door shut again.
‘What’s here?’ I asked.
Aimee gave me a beaming smile. She held up the box like a trophy, coming into the dining area.
‘The Cookies!’ she announced.
Stunned, I stared at her. I’d barely even managed to save an eighth of the cost of mine, and I hadn’t transferred that money to Aimee.
‘Did you… buy me one?’ I asked, and instantly felt bad about the question.
‘I’m a great friend!’ Aimee exclaimed. ‘Of course I did! Go get the popcorn – the good stuff in my cabinet! It’s binge-watch night! Gear up for Outlander!’
Smacking my laptop shut, I hurried to find the good popcorn. Aimee was tearing apart packaging like a kid on Christmas. She offered me a plastic tube the moment I’d set the microwave to burring.
‘Come on – come on!’ she hustled me, stuffing the tube into my hand. ‘Get the app on your phone!’
I rushed to find it, Aimee looking over my shoulder as she waited, pointing the right one out. The CookieScrubber app was already open and ready on hers. She’d started bouncing on the balls of her feet as we forced patience while it downloaded. I grinned and giggled, and was ready with thumbs the moment the sign up page appeared. I chucked in my “fun things” email, picked a password, and was greeted with a home page that flicked through popular titles, each popping up in the screen for a few seconds, showing you all you now had available to watch again as though it was the first time: Lord of the Rings… Supernatural… Stranger Things…
‘We’ve got six months ‘till the pill wears off,’ Aimee said impatiently. ‘You can do other things later! Find Outlander!’
Six whole months of being able to watch whatever I wanted with a fresh mind… I let my own excited feet patter the floor. At the top of the app were tabs that let you pick between Movies, TV, Books, Games, and Other. I went for TV, and found Outlander only two scrolls down.
Aimee had already flumped herself on the couch, calling to me to switch out the lights and grab the popcorn as she got the TV on. I joined her on the couch, put the bowl of popcorn between us, and we both hit the Outlander icon on our phones, picking the option that popped up reading “SCRUB!”.
‘Okay – okay –‘ Aimee cracked open the top of her plastic tube. Like mine, I could see the little pill inside. She stared at me, as though this was our moment of truth, and said, ‘Got yours ready? Okay – on one – two – thee –‘
We both downed the pills, swallowing the small metallic things without water.
It was like I’d sunk my head into a still pond of tepid water. The pills worked instantly, I could almost feel my memories of watching Outlander sluicing from my mind. Aimee had gone glassy-eyed beside me. She sighed out, no doubt feeling what I was.
Slowly, the sense of tepid water slipped from my head, leaving me feeling a little cooler, but otherwise normal – normal and more than eager to see what happened in this TV show I couldn’t recall a second of, but knew was great.
‘You ready?’ Aimee said, remote in hand, poised to hit “play”. She glanced over, grabbed a handful of popcorn, and added, ‘Rest is yours Jen! You’re skinny enough for it!’
‘No way!’ I retorted. ‘You’re way skinner than me!’
Aimee flashed me a grin, and started the show.
‘And it’s worth the money?’ Dan asked.
It was Monday, at the end of our most class-heavy day. Aimee and I had been leaving the health sciences building talking about what next to use the Cookie to watch. Dan’s question had been aimed at both Aimee and me, his eyes glancing between us. I pulled a polite smile for him. Aimee was already responding.
‘Oh my god,’ Aimee deadpanned, ‘yes! You can scrub anything – a video game you wish you weren’t tired of – anything! With no consequences! It’s insane tech!’
Dan looked at her for a second, then a second longer, his eyes lingering. Then he glanced to me.
It was a question for me. I didn’t want to muscle in, but I responded automatically.
‘You never need to wonder what to watch next. You always know you’ll like it.’
‘Oh – and I’ve got the perfect idea, Jenny!’ Aimee said, spinning to catch my arm. ‘Bridgerton! Just think of the duke…’ her eyes slipped shut as she sighed longingly.
Aimee pulling me, we left Dan behind with called goodbyes and climbed into Aimee’s car.
‘Oh – I’m so sorry Jenny!’ Aimee said, pulling out of the parking spot. ‘I know it sucks to see him be interested in me! I wanted to get you away from that – and, honestly, it’s so stupid he doesn’t like you! You’re so much prettier than me!’
I found a smile, dredging it up with difficulty, and shook my head.
‘You know I’m not,’ I said. ‘Look at your skin – it’s flawless!’
‘That doesn’t matter at all!’ Aimee denied. ‘Look at this –‘ Glancing at me as she slowed by the parking lot exit, she pinched one of my arms. ‘You’re so trim! I’ve got a belly!’
Aimee absolutely did not, and I told her so. She laughed at the road ahead.
‘Ooh – how’d you do on Prof Anally-Retentive’s assignment?’ she said.
It wasn’t a question Aimee usually asked, and I’d learned not to ask her. When I did, she typically scowled and took off on a rant about whatever professor had marked it. For a second, I wondered if I should lie and tell her I did badly. But Aimee wouldn’t believe that.
‘92%,’ I said. Then added, more hesitantly, ‘How’d you do?’
’97!’ Aimee cried, and cackled, dancing happily in the driver’s seat.
It took me a second to stop staring in astonishment and congratulate her. Aimee had really picked up her game with that assignment. She never normally did anywhere near that well.
‘Yeah – but he loved having a kid!’ Aimee said, our chatter having turned to Bridgerton as we let ourselves into our apartment. ‘He was just being stupid – and she was showing him that!’
I wasn’t convinced. I still thought the character’s actions amounted to her sexually assaulting her husband, but I wasn’t about to argue with Aimee. She landed on the couch and pulled out her phone.
‘Well,’ Aimee said, with finality, ‘I think she’s a strong woman, doing what she needs to do!’
I couldn’t really argue with that. I wasn’t a strong woman, so Aimee would know more about it than me. I didn’t want to argue anyway. In seconds I’d forget the entire plot of Bridgerton. Taking my spot next to Aimee, I hit the app with my thumb, and was greeted with the login page.
‘You ready yet?’ Aimee asked, the remote in her hand.
‘Ah – just a sec,’ I said. I stared at the password box, blinked, and stared at it again.
‘… I have to log in.’
‘Oh yeah,’ said Aimee. ‘It’s a security feature. It logs you out after a week.’
I knew that, I’d had to log back in once already. My problem was that I’d completely forgotten my password.
‘Just reset it,’ Aimee said, unconcerned.
My fear there was that I couldn’t remember my email password either. With relief, I saw my email was still logged in on my phone. I reset my password, found Bridgerton to scrub, and decided I’d probably remember my password again later. Likely in the shower or something.
Though I tried, I didn’t remember any of my passwords. They were all just gone. I had to go through the rigmarole of resetting them all, and ended up writing them down in a note on my phone to make sure I wouldn’t forget them again.
I had to check that note to sign into my “serious stuff” email when I sat to breakfast a few days later. Digging a spoon into my cereal, I clicked through emails. Near the top was one from two nights ago. I stopped on it, frowning, and stuffed the cereal into my mouth.
“New sign-in from Apple device” the email read. It was from my email provider, and it listed a computer I didn’t recognise. As I only recognised my own computer, that told me one thing.
The email instructed me to reset my password if this wasn’t me, so I went straight ahead and did that, plonking the new password down in the note on my phone. Stuffing more cereal into my mouth, I spotted another email about an unrecognised sign in, this time for my university account. The second one had me more worried, and I dumped my spoon in my bowl, hurrying to check everything was fine with my university stuff.
It looked fine. All except for a homework assignment due tomorrow I hadn’t even started. That shot my heart into my throat. I never left schoolwork to the last minute. I hated the anxiety a dawning due date gave me. But I’d completely forgotten about this one – and that was so unlike me.
All I could do was thank my lucky stars I’d checked my university account. Trying to calm my nerves and scrolling through the rubric for the assignment, I sought comfort in the shovelling of cereal into my face. It was probably the downside to CookieScrubber, I figured. The attraction being able to re-watch your favourite shows as though they were new all over again had been eating into my time and available brainpower. That was the benefit of growing tired of re-watching them: you had to return to the real world.
Unless… it was a glitch in the technology? I’d never forgotten my passwords before either…
And maybe that’s what had happened with the unrecognised log-ins? Maybe I had logged in from a school computer, and just forgotten?
‘Good morning!’ Aimee greeted me cheerfully, plodding into the main room of our apartment in slippers, her pyjamas casually stylish in a way I’d never achieve.
My greeting was distracted, my attention focused on working out how to write the homework assignment in the diminishing time I had left.
‘Ergh…’ Aimee said, stopping to peer over my shoulder. She wasn’t looking at my homework this time. She was staring down into my cereal bowl. ‘Is that a weight loss thing?’ she asked. ‘It looks gross.’
I blinked and pulled my eyes from the screen to look up at her.
‘No milk?’ Aimee questioned me, indicating my bowl. ‘How does it taste with just water?’
Frowning, I looked down at my cereal. The crunchy bits were floating in clear liquid. I blinked again, and got a weird flash, like tepid water swishing through my head, of cereal in white liquid. I focused on it, trying to work it out.
Aimee had moved to the coffee maker, chucking a pod in and thumping the lever shut. She set it to run, and pulled open the fridge.
I stared at the container of white liquid she pulled out. It was as though there was an impression of it in my head, but nothing there when I went searching for what had made that impression.
‘Did you want some milk?’ Aimee asked me, holding it up. ‘I’m sure it’d make the cereal taste better.’
I squeezed my eyes shut, and shook my head to clear it – or knock the memory back into it. Milk. The cereal had tasted different to what my mouth had been expecting. It wasn’t so much a lingering taste in my mouth, as a lingering lack of a taste I’d expected. Milk.
‘You okay?’ Aimee said.
‘Yeah,’ I said, pulling my eyes open. Self-deprecatingly, I chuckled. ‘I think I just need my coffee!’
The coffee didn’t fix it. It took me a whole day to remember milk, the experience like slowly filling in a hole in my head.
‘No one else has said anything about a glitch,’ Aimee reasoned when I finally admitted my concerns to her. She shrugged. ‘You’re probably just really tired. You always work so hard with school! It’s probably just getting to ya, nerd!’
For the first time, I didn’t really like being called a nerd. I’d been telling Aimee about something that was actually disturbing me, and her response grated my nerves for a moment. Plus, I didn’t think I had been working as hard as Aimee said I was. She assured me, her eyes wide and emphatic, that I’d spent whole days just studying and writing away, and wouldn’t listen when I told her I didn’t think I had – told her that I was sure we’d spent more time watching TV.
‘It’s midterms!’ Aimee declared, sounding certain. ‘They’re coming up, and you’re doing your thing where you get really anxious about anything school-related. You know anxiety messes you up! It muddles up your brain. You really need to let loose more Jenny. Your anxiety is stuffing with you!’
Aimee had a point. I did struggle with anxiety over coursework. I had an insatiable need to do well, and a constant fear of deadlines. The idea of not doing well enough to get into medicine hit me where it hurt.
‘Well,’ Aimee said, coaxing, ‘I think you should relax more. That’s exactly the fix you need. But, if you don’t want to Cookie-watch Supernatural with me tonight…’
She left the threat hanging, and, for all my fears, I didn’t want to miss out on Supernatural. It was one of the shows I’d been dying to re-watch with the Cookie. I rushed to finish my homework assignment in time to join her on the couch.
Milk wasn’t the only thing I forgot, however. Odd and simple little things slipped my mind, like remembering which key was which on my keychain, forgetting how to open a car door – and, more embarrassingly, forgetting to shut the bathroom door when I was in there. The last one disgusted Aimee, and it took me a little while to understand why.
‘You really should study less,’ she said, frowning disdainfully at me when I opened the bathroom door she’d shut for me. ‘Did you wash your hands?’
I had remembered that much. Ashamed, I apologised hard, and agreed, as she shook her head at me, that I probably was letting my anxiety get to me.
‘Yeah, you really should relax,’ Aimee insisted. ‘It’s even affecting your grades. You said you only got 81% on that homework assignment? Even I got 94% on that! You usually do way better than me! If you stress loads with it, you’re actually going to do worse.’
I’d have been more worried about it if the week hadn’t worn out with it getting better. It happened the week after the same way: the fogginess lasting only a couple days before getting better again. I reached the weekend feeling clearer, checked I was up to date with all my schoolwork, and, that weight off my shoulders, sat to the TV with Aimee, a smile on my face. Lord of the Rings. It wasn’t Aimee’s favourite, but she’d agreed to Cookie-watch it with me because I’d had a “hard week”.
‘Oh – Jenny – Dan picked me as his partner for our dissection!’ Aimee informed me, spreading into a grin as she set up the pizza box on the coffee table. ‘I’m so glad you’re over him! He’s so hot! And I think he’s really into me!’
I didn’t remember telling Aimee I was over Dan. I wasn’t over him. He was in Aimee’s tutorial group for anatomy, but he was in mine for a few others. We’d chatted here and there, me getting those nervous butterflies every time he spoke to me.
I might have lied, though, and told Aimee I was over him so she’d feel okay dating Dan if he asked her out. I could believe I’d have said that. Maybe earlier in the week when I was so messed up by anxiety I didn’t remember much.
‘Urgh!’ Aimee said, with good humour. She used her piece of pizza to gesture at my body. ‘Your thighs are so skinny! Mine spread all over the couch – it’s so ugly!’ She stuck her piece of pizza back in the box and pushed it towards me. ‘All for you!’
‘What are you going to have for dinner?’ I said.
For a second, Aimee’s face drew into a stormy look. Her teeth closed in her mouth as she glanced irritably at me. In a rush, I remembered what I was supposed to have said. And remembering it annoyed me. I was supposed to put my own body down. But that seemed like such a stupid thing to do: continuing an ongoing trashing of ourselves in some endless competition of ugliness to try to make the other feel better? I shook it off.
‘I think your proportions suit you,’ I said, lifting my slice of pizza. ‘Honestly, I envy your curves.’
I bit into the pizza as Aimee tried to work out whether that response satisfied her. The pizza squelched between my teeth, cheesy and bready… in a way my mouth was tired of. It felt like I’d eaten pizza every day for weeks, and was sick of it. I lowered it, frowning.
‘Didn’t we eat pizza yesterday?’
‘No way!’ Aimee said, and laughed, abruptly back to boisterous. ‘We haven’t had pizza for, like, a month!’
Yet I felt full already, as though I’d eaten so much damn pizza over the past few days I couldn’t stand another bite. I stuck it back in the box, and fielded Aimee’s questions about me attempting to lose weight. Every one of them annoyed me, like they never had before. But I managed to deflect her enough to get to the movie.
And, for the first time, I wondered why Aimee was being so generous. She’d paid for the pizza. She didn’t really want to watch Lord of the Rings… She hadn’t really cared about Supernatural either.
But even thinking it, I felt bad for my suspicions and shoved them out of my mind. Aimee really was a great friend, and I was being ungrateful. Maybe I was just tired. I didn’t stay awake long enough to see the end of the movie. I passed out on the couch.
Despite a good night’s sleep, the constant subtle competition with Aimee continued to get under my skin. Admittedly, though, I couldn’t blame Aimee for it. None of what she was doing was worse than my old high school friends, many I still kept up with in a group chat on Facebook.
Scrolling through that group chat while Aimee was out at the gym, I found myself similarly irritated with the subtle competition there. And, funnily enough, the girl I thought least catty was the one Aimee had once called a “bitch”.
I stopped scrolling on a message that caught my eye. I’d sent it nearly three weeks ago and, bizarrely, I had a vague memory of writing the message, but no memory of what it was about.
“Yeah,” my message read, “my roommate’s trying no-milk right now. Milk’s really not that great for you, so maybe I’ll give that a try too.”
It was a message in response to a long string of comments about what this girl or that was cutting out of their diet, and why – a section that read to me now like a bunch of catty girls pretending to support each other while duelling over who had the superior restrictions on their diet.
But that wasn’t what held my attention long. Maybe I’d just made up Aimee trying the no-milk thing to contribute something to the group chat – to feel like I was part of the group. But I could believe it of Aimee. I could believe her talking about all the health downsides to milk she’d learned on a blog or Instagram post, while really just cutting it out of her diet as a weight-loss thing.
I had no memory at all of Aimee going no-milk, and she certainly hadn’t been sticking to it. She’d been putting no-fat milk in her coffee every day. Frankly, it wasn’t out of the ordinary for Aimee to say she was going to do some fad diet, then give up on it even within a couple days.
Several messages down from mine, I’d sent another: “Yeah, I’m going to give it a go too, I think! I only have milk in coffee and cereal, so it won’t be too hard to cut out!”
I hadn’t done that either, and I had zero memory of even thinking to try no-milk. That one time I’d had cereal without milk had just been because my brain had glitched and forgotten all about milk…
And not remembering why I’d written these messages seemed another way my brain had glitched. I could believe a lot of anxiety. Anxiety could make you act in ways you never would when thinking rationally. It could incapacitate people in panic attacks… But…
I pulled up another tab and typed into a Google search bar “CookieScrubber glitches”. Aimee had said the Cookie was completely safe. She’d repeated it more than once, and I’d believed her. But the results were there, a good many of them on just what I was worried about. I clicked through into a TechNerd article.
“Revolutionary technology can have dark side effects: The scary truth of CookieScrubber glitches” read the title. Below that, the article dug in:
CookieScrubber, a ground-breaking chemico-nanobot tech that erases your memories through a pill and an app, isn’t all it’s marketed as. One look at the app shows you how most people think it’s used: the pages focus on media and games you can scrub from your mind to watch, read, or play as though it’s the first time all over again. Even the “Other” category doesn’t seem ominous: it lists experiences such as visiting Disney World or ghost tours, and online media like fan-fiction so you can choose which ones you want to experience anew.
It all sounds pretty benign, the app in your hands to pick and choose only what you want to erase from your mind. But shows, books, movies, games, and certain experiences aren’t all you can use the tech for.
In the top right corner of the app, there are three dots. When you click on them, most of what appears are settings, your log of what you’ve scrubbed, and account options. But in the drop-down menu there’s one option labelled “Misc.”.
Bottom line: never, ever, scrub anything in the “Misc.” folder.
The fiancé of a friend of mine stuffed up his proposal. He wanted it to be really sweet: planned the whole thing with someone filming, a group of acapella singers to give the proposal while they had a romantic picnic… Only, he ended up in a fight with another guy in the park, it rained, and the pictures show a – to me – hilarious mess complete with black eye.
His second proposal was far better than the first, but it came at a cost. They’d been sipping a lot of wine at the first proposal (likely part of why the fight broke out). When my friend scrubbed the memory from her mind, she forgot all about both wine and picnics. The concepts befuddled her, as though those two common things had just been plucked from her brain and she struggled to grasp them again.
That’s a relatively harmless example, which is why I picked it, but it can be far darker. The “Misc.” folder contains your personal memories, and I only want to tell people that while making absolutely sure I warn you, loud and clear: never scrub your personal memories.
You can understand the appeal. Any traumatic experience you desperately want to forget? Something, like a proposal, you want to try over again as though it’s the first time? CookieScrubber lets you do it, in that “Misc.” folder. But you have no idea what the cost will be. Erasing your personal memories is an experimental area without even a quarter of the research that went into scrubbing your favourite TV show from your mind. CookieScrubber’s pretty safe when it’s just removing a fictional plotline from your brain. With your own memories, anything can go wrong.
Plus, it can’t erase everything connected to the memory. Just like you can still remember you want to play the game you’ve just scrubbed from your mind, erasing your personal memories leaves indelible impressions behind.
A woman made news earlier this month, after she tried to scrub her sexual assault from her mind. She took her own life just weeks later, having forgotten a dozen things and unable to understand why she was depressed without the memory of what had caused it. Her story reads as a tale of horror: she completely lost any understanding of physical modesty or appropriate conduct, and, perhaps worse than that, forgot every face she knew. Everyone around her, from friends to family, all suddenly looked like strangers to her.
The rest of the article gave extra info about the “Misc.” folder, and talked about how CookieScrubber did put warnings about the folder in their product, but, as the author postulated, didn’t get rid of it because they made money from desperate people looking to use the tech for just that purpose. I only skimmed that part of the article. My hands shaking, I pulled up the app on my phone. It was Tuesday, the day after the app’s security features should have logged me out. But I didn’t need to use the note containing my passwords to log back in. The app took me directly to the homepage.
The “Misc.” folder was there, right at the bottom of all the other options. When my jittery thumb clicked into it, there was a warning at the top of the folder. It cautioned about “unintended consequences” of deleting your personal memories. Below that warning, there was an endless list of items categorised by chronology only.
The personal memories in the Misc. folder didn’t have clear names or images like any of the TV shows I’d scrubbed. Their file names were nothing but long strings of alphanumeric characters, and the icons showed foggy images. The most recent one had an indistinct picture of my computer screen, the memory of me reading the article distinguished further only by the timestamp.
My heart pounding hard in my chest, I went back to the three dots and picked the option for “Scrubbed Bin”. The most recent item in the list should be Bridgerton, which Aimee and I had scrubbed to watch again yesterday evening. But, instead…
I had no idea what the personal memory at the top of the list was. The foggy image in the icon seemed to be an indistinct person sitting in a classroom, but that could be anything. The timestamp of the memory was Monday at half past two yesterday afternoon, when I would have been in one of my tutorials. Below that memory was one I thought I could work out held a foggy image of a pizza box. That memory was timestamped to about the same time as the next in the list: Bridgerton.
So, evidently, the two personal memories had been scrubbed after I’d used the Cookie for Bridgerton. I found what time they’d been scrubbed in their details: about two in the morning – after I thought I’d gone to bed.
But I not only didn’t remember eating pizza or whatever had happened in my tutorial, I didn’t remember scrubbing the memories. Nor had I any idea why I’d even want to.
For a second, I thought that must be the point: maybe me scrubbing these memories was resulting in my forgetting other things – those unintended consequences the app and article warned about. But… surely I’d need to remember even knowing about the Misc. folder to be able to scrub the personal memories? And I didn’t remember ever learning about the Misc. folder until now.
But then, maybe that was the point? Maybe I had known, I’d just accidentally made myself forget?
It felt like I’d plunged not just my head into tepid water, but submersed my entire body into swimming pool and sunk to the bottom of it, now panicking and unable to find the surface. “Unintended consequences” was a line, like a freaky sound heard when you were alone in the dark, that chilled my insides and slipped back and forth through my head, unable to be ignored.
Unintended consequences, like forgetting about milk and the need to shut bathroom doors. And I couldn’t even imagine what memory I could have erased that had made me forget those things. It was like I’d realised, all of a sudden, how unreliable my own perception of the world was, huge black holes scattered through my memories.
Many of them: my thumb had continued its scrolling through the Scrubbed Bin. It wasn’t just the two memories from yesterday that had been scrubbed. There were plenty of them. I stared at it, seeing it for the terrifying thing it was: a catalogue of everything I couldn’t remember.
Dropping my phone on the table, I raced for the bathroom and lost the contents of my stomach in the toilet.
It took me a while to calm down enough to be rational after that. Spinning a story to Aimee about period cramps and just wanting a nap, I shut myself into my room and tried to find out anything I could from the list in the Scrubbed Bin.
I noticed a couple patterns. The number of scrubbed memories picked up later in the week, many of those containing the foggy images of a computer screen. They typically got more numerous by Friday, reduced over the weekend before increasing on Monday, then dropped off again. The majority of memories I still had about working at my computer were from the weekend. I knew that, because I’d previously avoided doing much schoolwork over the weekend. I tried to get it done in the week as much as possible to keep my weekends clear. But, lately, Cookie-watching TV shows had eaten into my week, pushing more and more of my schoolwork to the weekend.
The other pattern was that, until about three weeks ago, there’d been a clear gap after Monday evening, with no scrubbed memories until Wednesday, when the next item on the list would be a TV show I’d have to log back into my account to erase. It did seem to me this was connected to that security feature that logged me out every Monday. And I’d made the note on my phone containing passwords about three weeks ago…
But why I’d scrubbed all these personal memories, I just couldn’t fathom. Every time I tried to understand it, it was like that tepid water swished through my head again. It was a feeling I was rapidly coming to hate – that made me anxious and sick.
I didn’t mention any of this to Aimee. I couldn’t imagine she’d be genuinely sympathetic or helpful, and that made me start to resent her. Eventually, I managed to talk myself into just never deleting any more personal memories, and reassured myself all would be okay after that. I’d use the app for shows and movies only, and avoid even looking at the Misc. folder again, for fear there was something untrustworthy in me – some crazy beast born of forgetfulness or anxiety – that I couldn’t remember but would make me scrub them.
It was a couple days later, on Thursday while I was in the shower, that Aimee started tempting me with Cookie-watching Outlander again. I was hesitant to even go near the app, scared of whatever was in me that kept scrubbing my personal memories. Yet Aimee wheedled, and, for the first time, I noticed the control she had over me – noticed how much she could talk me into agreeing with her.
But that didn’t mean her coaxing didn’t work. A huge part of that control was that I didn’t want to upset Aimee. And, somehow – without any memory of precedent for it – I just knew refusing to Cookie-watch Outlander would upset her.
‘Moment I get out,’ I called through the bathroom door to Aimee, ‘I’ll scrub it!’
‘I’ll do it for you!’ Aimee shouted back to me. ‘I’ve got your phone here! What’s your passcode?’
It was as though the water of the shower had cooled, drenching me suddenly from head to toe in a tepid wash. My heart dropped and grew cold all at once.
‘That’s okay!’ I called back, trying not to sound freaked out and not sure why I was. I hurried to add, ‘Only my thumb remembers my pin! I can’t call it off the top of my head! I think it’s because I usually just use the fingerprint unlock!’
She doth protest too much, I thought of my own response, gritting my teeth in the shower. It was semi-true: I didn’t actually remember my pin, and even my thumb had started forgetting it sometimes over the past weeks. It shouldn’t be a big issue anyway, but as cold silence rang back to me, Aimee not responding, I knew it was.
Around me, the bathroom now looked small and isolating, the only sound the pattering of water. It warped at my senses, like being deafened by diving deep in a pool. I was sucking in lungful’s of humid air, my heart beating faster and my bowels turning liquid and sickening.
‘Be out in one sec!’ I called to Aimee, and made myself hurry up. Pulling my biggest sweater over my head, it covering my pyjamas to mid-thigh and knowing I was doing it to hide my body from Aimee, I faced the bathroom door. The task of opening it and facing Aimee seemed daunting, though I couldn’t explain even to myself why.
Aimee was sitting at the table, a phone in her hand. I could tell it was mine. Mine was a Samsung, so it’d connect more easily to my Windows computer. Aimee’s products were all Apple.
‘You don’t want me to know your passcode?’ she said, affecting hurt. But, somehow, I could tell it was really anger, not sadness. ‘Don’t you trust me? I let you use all my stuff – my phone, my computer – even the TV! I trust you with everything! You can see what I’ve watched any time you like on my Netflix account!’
The TV she’d paid more for, but had always insisted was “ours”. Her Netflix account she’d said time after time she never minded me using, but hadn’t ever given me the password for.
Aimee’s lips pursed over her Invisalign braces, her staring at me with my phone still in her hand. She didn’t hand it back, and the longer she had it the more I wanted to snatch it from her hand.
But I didn’t want to fight. The whole thing was making me anxious – I couldn’t remember ever fighting with Aimee. I wanted that fun easy friendship back. And I wanted my phone back. Desperately.
‘No – it’s not that!’ I assured her. ‘I just don’t remember my passwords!’
Hurrying to press my thumb to the fingerprint sensor on my phone, I pushed it back to her even as it panicked me to do so, insisting she scrub Outlander for me.
It was as though a switch flicked inside Aimee. Staring at me with abject dislike in her eyes one second, then smiling and laughing the next, her teeth flashing white: straight back to normal, boisterous Aimee.
But this memory is one I only know because I found it written down later. The next morning, I had zero recollection of it. I had a ghost of anxiety in my chest, with no knowledge of why it was there, except for that funny feeling of tepid water sloshing through my head, and ongoing fears about what deleting the memories in my Misc. folder had done to me.
Aimee joined me in the main room of the apartment like she did every morning: with a smile and a happy greeting. I hadn’t put water in my cereal again, but I’d forgotten something else.
I stared at her face, bamboozled by the white things in her mouth. Her grin was bright white and wide.
It took me all Friday morning, and much Googling, to remember teeth. And then, just coming to grips with teeth, I realised it was mid-terms next week. Which I only remembered by checking my university account online – something I’d thought I was doing every morning now to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything.
Any panic about forgetting teeth was soundly supplanted by a new panic: I hadn’t studied. I’d completely forgotten all about the midterms, and now I was very far from prepared. It’d had me running in a whirl of panic, actually turning Aimee down when she suggested we Cookie-watch Outlander.
When I finally got to sleep that night, I dreamed. Or, rather, I had a nightmare. One in which Aimee was grinning down at me, those white teeth flashing in a broad smile, as she held up my phone. It was as though I was at the bottom of a swimming pool, trying to see her through the rippling water separating us as she leant over the pool in the fresh air above.
One by one, my memories swished through the water around me, like tableaus projected on the water: moments in class, things I knew I needed to do for school… even eating breakfast at the table. And as I fought to swim up to the surface, the memories were fading into dark patches like cloudy spots of slowly spreading ink. More and more of the water darkened, me losing sight of the surface but for a single spot where I could see Aimee’s beaming smile and, her wiggling it in the air at me, my phone.
I woke with a gasp like a drowned person just reaching the surface. I sprung onto hands and knees on my bed, feeling cold jittering me from head to toe.
But as the nightmare loosed its hold on me, I started to feel bad for it. Aimee was my best friend. We’d lived together for a term and a half now, spending every leisure moment together. I remembered our laugher, our smiles, and all the fun things we’d done together. Even if I was starting to get sick of her constant competition with me, she was a great friend.
Or so I told myself this morning. Saturday. Six weeks after we’d taken the Cookie pill, and nearly four since I’d forgotten all my passwords.
It was only that day, when Aimee was at the gym, that I felt up to checking my Scrubbed Bin again. I’d been avoiding it – scared every second of what I could have forgotten. Scared of what I was doing – erasing personal memories – without any memory of it. It had started feeling like there was a malevolent demon inside me, self-sabotaging myself.
But that fear had paled next to the fear of midterms that had gripped me since yesterday. Needing a break from cramming, I finally picked up my phone, clicked into the CookieScrubber app, and found the Scrubbed Bin.
There were more erased memories in there. More and more. So many of them. I felt my eyes starting to well up – my thumb scrolling through like I was looking at a list of dead loved ones – loved ones I couldn’t recall at all.
I’d thought forgetting all about mid-terms was bad. I’d thought this fear paled in comparison –
I was wrong. This was far worse. I’d done it again. Again and again and again.
My face screwed up, seeing in the scrubbed list all the things I’d deleted from my mind, and I started to sob. Just sitting there on my bed, in a horrible cloud of doom and panic, sobbing.
I gripped my phone, and hurled it viciously across my room. It hit the doorframe of my cupboard, and landed in my school backpack. There it waited as I cried myself out – my fists balling up and pounding at my stupid legs – hating myself for doing exactly what I’d told myself not to.
Stupid legs that flabbed way more than usual under my fists. I’d not only let my studies slide. Not only sabotaged myself by scrubbing personal memory after personal memory from my mind. I’d let myself put on weight. A good deal of it. And I sobbed on until there was nothing left.
Then, a need to scream dulled by exhaustion and the draining power of a good cry, I got up to retrieve my phone. It had slipped down into my backpack between my notebooks for the classes that had their mid-terms later in the week. I reached in to dig for it, and saw a notebook that gave me a weird pang of déjà vu. It was glue-bound, rather than ring-bound like my school notebooks.
Like everything else I’d forgotten, I had no memory of this notebook. It made my fists ball up and my face scrunch all over again. Then I pulled it out and flipped it open.
On the inside of the front cover, written in all caps, blue pen, and my own handwriting, were the words: “IF YOU DON’T RECOGNISE THIS BOOK, TAKE FINGERPRINT UNLOCK BACK OFF YOUR PHONE! AND IF YOU’VE TOLD AIMEE YOUR PHONE PIN, CHANGE IT!”
I stared at the warning, my heart sinking fast and hard into my gut. A sense of black doom filled into the space it left, and my breathing came faster and shallower.
On the page beside that warning, in black pen now, was a section written like a diary entry, the date indicating I’d written it several weeks before:
“I woke up on the couch to Aimee using my thumbprint to open my phone. She said her phone was dead, and she was just checking the weather to see whether she wanted to go for a jog in the morning. But it was weird…”
I blinked, then looked again at the message. Aimee never went for jogs outside. She always went to the gym.
And I had no memory at all of Aimee doing that. I remembered falling asleep on the couch a little while back. But not that.
There were more entries, all dated and separated by lines between them; many written as though I’d scribbled them down hastily. I remembered none of them. Not the events, and not writing them in the notebook.
“Aimee told me to weigh myself on the bathroom scale while she watched. It was like déjà vu. Like I’d done this a lot, but have no memory of it.”
The next entry changed person.
“You are doing this a lot Jen! She did it again today! You keep forgetting it!”
“Dan called you pretty Jen! Don’t forget!”
That one had my breath catch in my throat. It was definitely something I wouldn’t want to forget. But I had. Completely.
“Pizza pizza pizza. How many times are we eating pizza? Or, I am. Aimee never has any. She pushed me to finish it all today. Kept calling me skinny.”
“Pizza tonight!” read the next day’s entry. “I can’t remember eating it yesterday! Jen! Are you eating pizza every night???”
There was a gap here of a few days before the next entry.
“I don’t remember any pizza! Aimee says we haven’t eaten it for weeks! But Aimee had me weigh myself beside her. And… OMG, I donno about it. I think… she smiled when she saw I’d gained weight? She said she’d help me lose it… is it the pizza? Why do I keep forgetting???”
Pizza. Every night. I could believe it. My mind felt awash with tepid water – my body swaying on the spot like I was lightheaded. But, with a terrible dawning realisation, I could believe all of it.
“Dan asked you out!” the next entry read. “He asked you out! Saturday 6pm next week at that bar next to campus! The weekend before midterms! Don’t forget Jen! REMEMBER THE DATE!”
Saturday… I dropped to my knees and dug furiously into my bag for my phone. The screen had cracked, but it still showed me the date.
Tonight. If I was to believe myself, my date with Dan was tonight.
But that made no sense! I couldn’t even remember talking to Dan for weeks! All I could remember was a moment on Monday when he’d been looking at Aimee. There were no texts on my phone from Dan. There was nothing there!
The last entry in the notebook had been written only a couple days ago – on Thursday. And it was a lot longer. It was written in blue pen, like the warning on the inside of the front cover.
“Jen, remember this. I don’t think Aimee is my friend. She got really angry after I didn’t give her the passcode for my phone. It felt like she’d been angry at me a lot lately, but I don’t remember it, because I think she’s scrubbing all the bad stuff she does from my mind. I’m reading through these entries here, and I’m sure Aimee is manipulating my memory to make me forget Dan, eat more than she does, and… I think she’s stealing my assignments. Making me think I haven’t done them yet, so I’ll do them again and she can steal the first ones you do. REMEMBER MID-TERMS NEXT WEEK! YOU’VE BEEN STUDYING FOR THEM! If you don’t remember what you studied, it’s Aimee!”
What followed that was a detailed description of Aimee getting angry at me for not giving her the passcode to my phone. And then, below that, were the words, “Please, please, Jen, if you remember to read this, I’ve taken fingerprint unlock off my phone. DON’T PUT IT BACK ON! Aimee can get into your phone with it! And NEVER TELL HER YOUR PIN!”
I looked at my phone. I’d been able to remember my pin for the past couple days. I knew that because the fingerprint sensor hadn’t been working. I’d put it down to my phone messing up or a dirty sensor I hadn’t bothered to clean around frantic studying. Wanting to make doubly sure, I pressed my thumbprint to the side of my phone. It didn’t unlock. It didn’t even respond.
For the past few days, I’d been sure I’d been scrubbing the memories in my Misc. folder myself. Sure there was something awful inside me that kept making me do it.
That something awful wasn’t inside me. It was Aimee. Aimee getting into my head.
But the last memory in my Scrubbed Bin had been erased on Thursday. Before I’d taken fingerprint unlock off my phone. Before I’d written that message to myself.
So if my phone was locked down, only accessible with the pin, then I was safe. Safe… from my best friend.
My bedroom door wasn’t closed. Down the corridor, I heard the apartment door open. I jumped into action, shoving the notebook back into my backpack and stuffing my phone into my pocket.
‘Jenny!’ Aimee called, shutting the door. This time, it sounded truly taunting as she continued, ‘Outlander tonight? I’ll get us pizza! Been ages since we’ve had any! Oh my god – and I think Dan was checking me out at the gym! He’s so hot!’
Aimee’s footsteps were coming up the hallway. I gulped, and tried to find a friendly smile. It fell from my face as she poked her head into my room and grinned at me, those white teeth flashing. Just one of Aimee’s boisterous smiles. Only I couldn’t see it that way anymore. I saw it like the horrifying grin in my nightmare.
And, just like my nightmare, she was wiggling a phone at me. Only, this time it was hers. She pushed my door wider open, it creaking a little as it shuddered toward the wall away from her.
‘Did you forget writing down all your passwords in a note on your phone Jenny?’ she mocked. Her phone was unlocked, and, with one finger, she tapped through into the CookieScrubber app. In the top left corner, the greeting in the banner read “Hi Jen!”
My account. She was in my CookieScrubber account. And she was already in my Misc. folder. She selected the latest memory, even as I scrambled to my feet, and hit “SCRUB!”
‘Oh!’ I heard Aimee exclaim as the tepid water sluiced the memory from my head. ‘I was looking for this notebook! It’s one of mine, Jen! Thanks!’