One day I woke up and I didn’t remember. It was like someone had wiped clean the blackboard of my mind. I did not know my name or anything that had happened before the minute I was in. I didn’t know who I loved. Who had hurt me or helped me, who had painted their colours on the canvas of my life.
I vaguely recognized the faces of those around me, as you might recognize an acquaintance on the street…whose name you can’t quite place.
I had forgotten everything. At first I did not even have any words….and when after weeks some of them returned, I didn’t know what kind of person I was, and I had no instances or memories to tell me. Did I like books? Or soup? Or baked beans? Or the colour blue? And when these people I didn’t know, my parents, told me I did or I didn’t, how could I trust them? They were strangers!
All I had left was the frantic pain of the present moment and a kind of horror that I might never remember again. Because, in a kick of fate, I knew that I had forgotten. I knew I had forgetten things that mattered. It was like a loss, as though someone had come along and ripped out the core of who I was and I was left trying to piece it back together with no clues and no knowledge of who I would discover myself to be if I succeeded.
I don’t know when I first began to remember but I do know that it was confusing and upsetting. I would glimpse things, it almost seemed like dreaming while awake, and know with a sudden certainty that “that happened to me”. I would have flashbacks and like little blocks falling into place I would know things again. Little things sometimes, I might recall a face and know what name that person had and how they walked, or how they smiled or what they meant to me!
It took time, great chunks came back, and great chunks stayed away. Memories gone missing, absent without leave.
Even now I don’t remember everything, one grandparent- my dad’s mum, has been whitewashed from my mind. I catch glimpses of her but I only know really what I’ve been told about her.
And two memories of her that I can summon- one of her giving me lace handkerchiefs with flowers on them and another of visiting her in hospital one christmas when I was about six. There was a band there and I was allowed to have a go on one of the player’s trumpets. I don’t remember a single word she ever spoke, or a single moment of holding her hand or sitting beside her.
But I do remember my lovely, very deaf Aunt Kit who died long before she did….there is no sensible logic to what my mind has salvaged from the wreckage of forgetting.
Sometimes I think I remember everything else, but I am still surprised by things that come back. Lately I’ve been having flashes of little moments….you know when someone says something and it takes you back to a day? Or to a moment? Until a couple of years ago I didn’t have that correlation, that feeling of joy at remembering something gorgeous or that sudden pang at remembering something sad.
One of the things I treasure most is my memories of my childhood, in all their glorious refocused technicolour, and of my time at secondary school. I’ve thought of the girls who were in my class, everyday, since they came back to me. It gives me peace. Its gives me hope.
For a long time I was a sketched charcoal outline, black and white, no light or shade or colour. Very slowly all of those things have been added again and I have also found that things like the way I laugh and the way I sing in a hopelessly out of tune way whenever I have the energy, have been coming back. Did I just forget how to do those? Or does everything that’s ever happened us make us so much who we are that I need my memories to be completely me? I don’t know. But I do know that remembering, even sad things, is a gift.