The Nodes of Ranvier
Memories are strange things, like little stories that live inside our heads. Now Bob’s memory had gone a little funny, he was starting to forget things. In the universe of Bob’s head there were hundreds of kingdoms, and each was unique and beautiful. In the kingdom known as Neuron 451, there were plains of empty space stretching on for miles, green fields without a forest or a waterfall in sight. However, in the middle of the fields was a city, an old city, with narrow streets and thatched cottages, and a stony path that wound all the way to the top of a big hill, where the castle of Nucleus stood. This castle was where the council of elders, the Nodes of Ranvier sat, so that they could control the whole of the kingdom.
In the highest tower at the center of the castle, the Nodes of Ranvier had called a council meeting to discuss the population crisis on Neuron 451. The cavernous halls that housed them were so often silent, that even the hushed sound of their whispers echoed fiercely against the walls.
‘We, the Nodes of Ranvier, are the council that presides over this place, and there is a matter at hand that can no longer be ignored. The memories, our people, have been disappearing at an alarming rate. We received an electronic message through the synapse, warning us that the same phenomenon is occurring across all of the neurons in Bob’s brain, and we must get to the bottom of it!’
So, the Nodes ventured down from the tower and out into the streets, which had not happened since the Delirium crisis, when Bob had caught a fever, aged 5.
It was easy to see signs of damage as soon as they exited the front door. There were large cracks in the bricks of the houses, and fissures in the cobbled streets that the Nodes had to step very carefully across. As they headed down the path towards the gathering of memories in Long-term Lane, they noticed a thick cloud of smog that hung in the Myelin Sheath sky over-head. The first memory they came across introduced himself as Stubbed My Toe On The Table Leg, and he did not look well at all. He had gone a sort of see-through grey colour and was propped up against a crumbling wall, unable to stand.
‘Tell me, what is it that ails you, Stubbed Toe On Table Leg?’ Asked the lead council member.
‘Please, call me Stubby, though I fear it will not matter for long. I have begun to decay!’
‘Decay?’ Questioned the Nodes in shock.
‘Across the course of a human lifetime, memories like me, who are never thought about, loose their use and start to fade away until we are forgotten completely,’ explained Stubby, leaning in close ‘but it is happening much faster now than it used to, and us memories are dwindling in number.’
Before the council could ask any more questions, Stubby vanished right before their eyes, with the faintest pop sound and a whistle of air.
‘Oh no! It’s happening!’ Cried a nearby memory, who had just witnessed Stubby’s fate.
The Nodes turned to face him and found him down on his knees, staring at his hands that had turned the colour of ash.
‘He can’t forget me! He’ll be devastated if he loses me!’ Begged Sandra’s First Baby Steps ‘It’s been so long since he has thought of me, now that Sandra is all grown up.’
The Nodes crowded round him, tried to reach out and grab hold of him, to lift him to his feet, but he was rapidly disintegrating beneath their fingers.
‘Please, please!’ He yelled, and then popped straight out of Bob’s brain just like Stubby.
Now the council were full of fear, and headed straight for the next memory they could find.
As they approached her, they noticed that her fists were bunched up in concentration, and she was saying the same thing over and over again, ‘Doctor’s Appointment, Doctor’s Appointment, Doctor’s Appointment.’
‘Excuse me - ’ called the Nodes of Ranvier.
She looked up, stopping what she had been saying, and then a look of horror passed across her face as she too turned grey, sighed ‘oh bums’ under her breath, then burst and vanished with a whistle and a pop.
The Nodes looked at each other with stricken faces.
‘Well now Bob is never going to remember that Doctor’s Appointment!’ Giggled a memory who was stood nearby.
The council turned to face her, and noticed that she too was turning a funny colour, the paleness creeping in around her edges, as if she were about to fade from view.
‘Why are you laughing?’ Exclaimed the council members, ‘you too have caught the terrible sickness of decay!’
‘Ah don’t you worry about me, my name is Buying A Carton Of Milk Last Tuesday, it won’t take long for me to be back.’
At this, the council became very confused.
‘Repeating something can help you remember it, which is why Doctor’s Appointment at 3:45 was saying the same thing over and over again,’ explained Carton Of Milk, ‘and when you get distracted, you can often forget things. The same goes for - ’
She disappeared mid-sentence, vanished before the council could even blink. Just as they thought about moving on to the next memory (who would have been The Time I Tried To Dye My Hair To Get Rid Of The Grey But It Was Actually Bleach So I Ended Up Blond) she suddenly popped back up directly behind them, as if she hadn’t gone anywhere at all.
‘ - actions, so Bob has just been reminded to buy milk. I might come back as Buying A Carton Of Milk On Wednesday next time, fancy that!’
The Nodes were very uneasy, until they noticed that she had reemerged with a sort of orange tint.
‘Go and speak to The Day I Married Ava, and then everything will make sense’ Carton Of Milk suggested.
They knew it must be him as soon as they saw him, because The Day I Married Ava was glowing a beautiful golden colour and looked healthier than all of the memories they had met so far.
‘I will never be forgotten’ he explained, ‘because I am a treasured memory, who is thought about often. This is known as recall, and recall is what stops memories from decaying. Bob’s memories are decaying and disappearing much quicker than they used to, because he is now an old man, and old people can become forgetful. But every time Bob looks at Ava, or at Sandra their daughter, he thinks of me, of his wedding day,
and associates it with how much he loves his family. Associating things together makes them easier to recall. I can never fade as long as he holds me in his memories, I can only grow stronger.’
With this new information in mind, The Nodes of Ranvier retired back to the council room in their huge tower, and thought long and hard about what they had learned. They sat in silence, each lost in their own thoughts. Many hours passed, without any one saying a single word, until the lead council member stood up and offered a solution to the problem. Though decay was a natural part of memory, and happened to everyone throughout all of their lives, there was a way to help Bob stop forgetting things. They simply had to teach him to associate memories with other things, more important things, so that they were easier to remember.
The first task was to start re-building the crumbling city, which the council did by creating new districts that they called Schema’s. In Schema 1, they housed all of the memories that related to Bob’s Childhood, like Loosing My First Tooth and Learning To Tie My Shoe Laces. The next Schema along Memory Lane was where all of the memories about Education lived, ranging from Mrs Appleby’s Chin Hairs, to GCSE Maths Paper, Question 6. Once all of the memories had been grouped into their new homes, and lived beside the memories that were similar to them, they all became much easier for Bob to recall.
At the end of a long week, the Nodes held a final council to discuss their progress.
‘We have informed the dendrites that control the synapse to send an electrical message to the synapses of all the other Neurons, to tell them what we have found. The decay of memories has taught us that we cannot remember every single thing we know, and we will lose certain memories along the way, but this only makes it more vital to treasure the memories that are important to us. These moments are fleeting, so we must remember the good times we have, think often about the things that make us happy, and never forget the things we love, most of all.’