How would you describe amnesia to someone who’s never experienced it? It’s a conundrum, a riddle with no answer, a Chinese puzzle box that never quite opens no matter how hard you pick at it. For the first few years of my own amnesia, the only reason I knew I had it was because everyone around me kept telling me that I did. For the few weeks that I wandered from place to place after the accident that supposedly caused the condition, I was blissfully unaware that I’d forgotten huge swaths of my life. I’d given myself a new name, Charles, though everyone insisted on calling me Rick, and demanded that I re-adopt my so-called birth name. I knew how to do basic things, like feed myself and look after my personal hygiene. I could do simple labor, and I’d managed to land a job and find a cheap place to live before anyone who’d been a part of my forgotten life had found me.
The doctors said that my total acceptance of the situation was a stress response, like how you go into shock after a traumatic experience. It never felt like that to me. If anything, it was a basic survival instinct. Maybe my amnesia hadn’t been total. How else could you explain the ability to get back on my feet as quickly as I did? But whatever had happened to me had wiped away huge chunks of specific information. For example, I could remember going to school, all the way from kindergarten up to some technical postgraduate studies in electronics. I knew how to drive, and I remembered owning a series of Honda Civics, a broken-down ’91 being the first and a just-leased ’13 the most recent. But I couldn’t remember those people who’d come to me, begging me to tell them that I knew them.
A thing like that can make a person right paranoid, so it can. How can you trust anyone who’s telling you that you meant something to them, and yet you have zero recollection of them? Not even an empty space where the memory should be, like when you forget a word or a street name, that frustration of having known something and forgotten it—I didn’t have any of that. Those people were strangers. It didn’t help that they couldn’t produce any photographs of us together, as I’d supposedly been camera shy. There were some baby pictures, but that could’ve been anybody’s baby. If you look at an infant picture of yourself, do you see yourself staring back?
In time all but the ones who claimed to be my parents gave up. John, the man who calls himself my father, still sends me e-mail from time to time. I can’t bring myself to visit him, though. I don’t feel any connection, and the desperation in his eyes when he looks at me creeps me out. I know I must have a father, though. There’s the biological certainty of it. I didn’t just spring from thin air.
2015.02.08 – 2023.09.05