Aug 13 2013

John’s mind ran as clear as the hot water rushing in the shower, but as he towelled off and then began brushing his teeth it dawned on him that it was not because he was at peace, but because he had amnesia. “Ah, that’s it!” he thought, “I have amnesia!” He flashed himself a grin in the mirror (“Nice Choppers”) before realising that there was something worrying about his memory loss. He could remember a vast range of details like his name and address and workplace, but nothing emotional came to him about who he really was, or had been. His first girlfriend? Or perhaps boyfriend? Had he ever been gay? He had no idea. What kind of family had he been brought up in? Had he been a good student, or had he made things difficult for his teachers?

At work, his colleagues wasted no time in remarking that they noticed something different about him. They told him that he was much quieter than usual, and that he seemed less stressed out. He hated to think how he normally behaved, because although he very gratefully felt no losses in his knowledge of his job, he was spending a great deal of effort to pretend to know these people, and felt very anxious that he would be exposed. A woman in another cubicle stared at him continuously, first with curiosity, and then with what seemed like anger, as he attempted to proceed with his work. Eventually she pretended to stop noticing him, and he pretended he hadn’t noticed her either.

In the evening, the phone rang. “John! Where have you been?” John asked who was calling, and then argued briefly with the caller about whether or not he recognised her voice, before she informed him that she was his mother. He asked her what her name was, and she told him he always called her Mum. “I can’t call you that,” he said, “I can’t remember you.” She told him that her name was Jane and she would be around right away.

He answered the door to a composed older lady who hesitated when he didn’t greet her warmly, and then informed him that she was his mother. She sat down calmly and began asking him questions about himself. She had some photo albums with her that she asked John to look through, but they didn’t have much effect. John only saw hazy images in his mind, so that he couldn’t tell whether or not they were real memories or only manufactured by the pictures in the books. At times Jane seemed to suppress anger, but gradually she appeared to accept that John had genuinely lost his memory.

“What kind of man am I?” he asked. “Am I a good man, or a bad man?”

Jane looked out the window, and smoothed her hair. “You are a good man, John,” she said, “You aren’t selfish. You work for other people, you don’t think about yourself.” John didn’t know what that meant exactly, since his work didn’t seem especially ethical to him. He supposed there was nothing particularly unethical about it, but he couldn’t see how it made him a good man. He suspected that his mother might be trying to direct his “new” life to a course she preferred. On the other hand, she might really have believed that John was a good man, better than the average man. Or maybe she was just trying to help.

But in any case, his performance in his work continued to improve. His office superiors behaved as though they had noticed, and people were talking about him in a favourable way. John hoped it might lead to a promotion, but apart from that he didn’t pay much attention, because he was enjoying his work too much. He experienced none of the interferences that seemed to plague others in achieving their goals, no crisis of situation or identity, so that when he applied his mind to a task it was easy to focus. All of the world around vanished as he did what needed to be done.

By the time his annual leave came around his life was going well. He had picked up enough information about the people who moved at the edges of his life to be able to get along with them in natural ways, but if any deeper subjects of conversation arose he always began to talk about other matters, because he felt no curiosity about the time before he lost his memory. And while he was away from work, he determined to go through all of his things and dispose of any useless articles that seemed to relate to his past life, “before I became who I really am,” he said to himself.

In the back of a drawer he discovered a portable hard drive, and when he loaded it up he found that it was filled with dated documents. Opening the most recent, he discovered that it was a diary that had been kept of the life he had lived and forgotten. He attempted to recognise himself in the notes, and at first could not; they were the words of an irritable, or even a troubled individual, fraught with anxieties and regrets, emotionally crippled by irrational contingencies. “but the problem is that ive poured my heart and soul into the writing of these journals,” he read, “it has all bled out of my fingers into them, so that theres nothing left,” and as he read more, he felt then that there was a true awareness hovering on the edges of his knowledge, and trying to creep back in to where he would become again what he once had been. So he closed the document, disconnected the hard drive, smashed it to pieces with a hammer, and dropped the fragments in the rubbish.

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