It’s a little surreal looking back on the teenager I used to be. Like anyone else my age, I was insanely passionate about the things I did. I loved music and computer games, and was fastidious in keeping diaries of my every thought and experience. I was well-read. I was also lucky enough to have travelled, having lived in three countries and visited over a dozen more.
I’m in my mid-twenties now and I don’t travel much anymore. I returned to Australia after high school and have since grown comfortable here, maybe too comfortable. Unconsciously, I have built a home around myself from the bits and pieces I’ve picked up along the way – the stories I’ve heard, the things I’ve loved, and memories of the places I’ve been.
These mementos have become more burdensome to me through the years, however. A decade later, my once robust CD collection is now a cluttersome remnant of a dying passion for music, untouched and blanketed in dust. My cupboards overflow with unfolded, thinning clothing that I haven’t worn in years. I have slowly grown tired of the meaningless mess that stares me in the face, as it represents the kind of wastefulness that I’m beginning to feel embodies my life. Surely being able to revisit the memories in my head is enough. I find myself wanting to get rid of everything, wanting to start afresh so I can move on and find some new stories to tell.
This morning, determined, I slit the packing tape holding together a large box that I had filled and mailed to myself when I had moved back to Melbourne some five or six years ago.
Having lived without glimpsing its contents for so long, I knew well that the box did not contain anything essential to my life. I steeled myself, braced myself against the dust that I was unsettling as I lifted out old notebooks, photographs, pictures cut from magazines. I told myself that I had no need for any of this junk. I had a wastepaper basket at the ready.
But as I sorted through a thick envelope of old photographs, just to ensure its contents were worth binning, I hesitated.
With the numbness of life pressing in on me, I have once again fled to New Vegas, seeking reprieve in the strange comfort of the desert.
In New Vegas, junk has value. Bottle caps are currency. Scrap is traded to merchants for medicine and food. Ordinary objects are combined to create new things altogether, from ammunition to cola, better equipping one for survival in the wasteland.
I have my own methods of survival worked out, crude, like the stained remains of mattresses I sleep on each night. I’m a mercenary, a thief, and a scavenger. Stolen cigarettes are pure profit, provided I can spare the bag space needed to carry them to the nearest vendor. Fission batteries are valuable, more valuable to the merchants I trade with than their memories: many have lost their families, others still are escaped convicts, but they carry no memento of it now. Their pockets contain only bullets and scrap metal. Even I feel guilty, recognising the value of these few and seemingly insignificant objects as I pickpocket them from farmers, or extract them from soldiers’ battered trunks.
I steal everything I can. I have nothing else to my name – hell, I don’t even have a name. Without a history to speak of, all I can lay claim to is the fortune – financial and otherwise – that I build myself from the dirt upwards.
The postcards and posters that figure so heavily in the game’s menus and loading screens are noticeably absent from New Vegas itself; the curvy, grinning pinup girls that beam from the yellowed paper ceased to exist long ago, the perfection of the era they represent perhaps an affront to the exhausting, despondent lives that people lead now. Photographs, too, are largely lacking in the world. My one experience with photography in the game was strange, with an agoraphobic commercial artist requesting that I document various landmarks of the Mojave for him not as a keepsake, but as a way of helping him contribute to his trade without forcing him to leave the memories of the vault he grew up in. Visual documentation served a different purpose to him than it does to you or I.
Only The Strip’s affluent leader, Mr. House, can concern himself with the folly of collecting, his rigid personality softening should one present him with a snowglobe for his collection. Nobody else in New Vegas gathers such keepsakes, with toy rockets and miniature dinosaurs at various tourist attractions remaining unsold. There’s simply no room for such indulgence in a world as grim as this.
As I’ve journeyed across the wastes, I’ve met a million weary people with only sad stories to tell, and nothing physical to commemorate those memories. They sleep on tattered cardboard sheets on the floor, live on tasteless food that’s hundreds of years old and chock-a-block full of preservatives. Anyone lucky enough to own a house is not much better off, with mouldy newspaper lining the floors and bent metal scraps littering the kitchen surfaces.
Maybe these people only wish they had the memories that I do.
So as I sort through this box of personal effects, things that I collected as a child and a teenager, my resolve weakens. These handwritten letters from primary school friends, my old sketchbooks, embarrassing photographs – they have served me no purpose for six years, other than to take up space in my one-bedroom apartment. Quietly, though, I place them back into the box, folding it up and putting it back in the corner where I’d left it for so long.
I’d thought the memories were useless to me, nothing but junk, but perhaps I’m actually pretty damn lucky to have them.