Unforgettable: Becoming an Amnesiac’s Memory

by Caitlin Myer

In the fall of 2013, my beloved lost his memory. This was not a slow decline. It was a sudden disaster, like losing control of your car on an icy road.

Memory loss! What a story!

I had just arrived in New Orleans, Beloved was in the Bay Area. I was traveling. I am always traveling, always between one place and another, always my suitcase at the ready, no apartment, no home, my mail gathered by colleagues at an office in San Francisco.

***

You begin telling a story, a small one with a beginning, middle, end. But then you realize you have to expand on one of the characters, explain another, tell how everybody got here in the first place. The story grows out on all sides.

This is part of the story: I was once a wife, wannabe mother, faithful employee. Struggled to make monthly bills. Loved waking up next to my husband. Defeated by housework. Then I got sick. Nearly died. Three surgeries later, it was final, no babies would ever be housed in this body. And still I kept getting sick.

I told the woman, “I don’t want a boyfriend or a husband. I want lovers.” She said, “Be careful what you wish for.”

The story also needs this: my mother was sick my whole life, hammered into her bed for years at a time, and then she died.

And then the turn: my way out of sickness was to go. I took up my bed, left my husband. Over the next few years I quit my job, gave away or sold or packed up almost everything I owned, and became a nomad. Freelanced for the company whose employee I used to be. Today I make half what I made before, still white-knuckling it between checks, like you, like most of us, but in the meantime I get to live in Montevideo, Istanbul, Kathmandu, New Orleans.

“Took up my bed” is Beloved’s phrase.

Picture this moment: in the middle of all this packing up and shucking off, on a nighttime bus in San Francisco, only me and an elegant white-haired woman in a black turtleneck, silver pendant. One of those unexpected conversations, night creating an intimate space in the back of a city bus.

I told the woman, “I don’t want a boyfriend or a husband. I want lovers.”

She said, “Be careful what you wish for.”

***

In the fall of 2013, I had what I wished for. I had lived in many places, had work I could do from anywhere, just enough to keep me in plane tickets and food, and Beloved. Beloved, who gave great email, words that zipped through my veins, who talked to me on the phone almost every day, long absorbing talks about writing and ethics and fucking me blue. Beloved, who called himself Brandi from the song, you know the one, You’re a fine girl, what a good wife you would be, this man who knew how to walk like a thug, who intimidated violent men, he called himself Brandi. Identified with the woman waiting at home for the sailor, the sailor with a woman in every port. Let’s follow that all the way back to the earliest of stories: I was Odysseus, he the faithful Penelope. I loved the silliness of this, but there was a serious foundation. My life, he was telling me, was my voyage, and my work.

A love story.

In this story, I was staying with friends in Chicago. I had spoken with Beloved on Monday. On Tuesday I spent the afternoon reading Curious George to my friends’ five-year-old son, and no call. I did not permit myself to worry, it sometimes happened, he couldn’t always call. He would call on Wednesday, or email; he always sent a traveling mercies message.

Nothing on Wednesday. I got on the plane. I told myself not to worry. Worried anyway. Maybe something had happened. In my little notebook I wrote, What is the point of loving someone if you aren’t with them in extremis? On the plane, I imagined him in the hospital, and felt that I must be with him, no matter what. Was it a premonition? Or just the dark way my mind turns.

I’d told the woman on the bus that I wanted lovers, and now I had lovers.

I landed in New Orleans. I’d told the woman on the bus that I wanted lovers, and now I had lovers. Nola met me at the curb outside the airport, in his new little blue car. The last time I’d seen him he was too thin. His hair thin, the veins on his hands stood out. He’d looked like a college kid when I met him three years before, but between one visit and the next, he got clobbered by old man.

In the fall of 2013 he looked better, healthier. He opened the trunk for my suitcase, kissed me.

I was in New Orleans with the intention of gently disentangling from Nola. Seemed simple enough, we were never all that entangled to begin with. We saw each other maybe once a year, never longer than a couple of weeks. Early on he wrote me that he preferred to float. Float was the word he used. I was never sure what to call him. He wasn’t a boyfriend. He laughed at the word lover. Lovah, he said, turning it purple. Your lovah.

I opened my purse, kept the phone inside to look. It was a text from Beloved. Call me when you can.

We stopped for lunch, and Nola took my picture. My elbows are on the table and I’m smiling at him. At that moment, the phone dinged in my purse. I opened my purse, kept the phone inside to look. It was a text from Beloved. Call me when you can. My phone rang then, and I sent it to voice mail. Beloved, again. I got up from the table, went to the bathroom, listened to his voice mail:

“I have something to share with you. Give me a call.”

The diction of this sentence stuck in my brain oddly. Something to share with you. What a therapist might say, or an elementary school teacher. Do you have something to share with the class?

I sat down across from Nola, finished lunch. Beloved was why I planned to disengage from Nola. There was no expectation of fidelity with either of them, but my connection with Beloved was waking me up to the realization that maybe I wasn’t suited to this floating thing. Nola and I got back in the car and drove to his uptown railroad apartment. We brought in my bags and then I told him I was going out for a walk, I needed to make a call. My brother called, I lied, and I need to call him back.

Maybe you’ve been here, been divided. You muddle through the best you can, your heart lost in the moment.

I walked outside, turned the corner, remembered my way to the backside of Audubon Park. There is a tree at the edge of the park whose roots break up the pavement underfoot, where cement peters out to dirt and grass and those roots pushing up, a giant’s knuckles.

I called Beloved.

“Hi.” The word was empty. No joking: Who may I say is calling? No Hello youngster. Just, Hi.

“I have some bad news,” he said.

I looked at the low branches of the tree spreading out all around me. It started to rain, and I watched raindrops slap into leaves, no sound but rain and Beloved’s voice.

“I’ve lost my memory,” he said.

Here we go.

***

When I first met Beloved, I told him I was looking for a Rilkean connection, someone to protect my solitude. Someone who wouldn’t make a claim on me. Beloved seemed perfectly suited. He was already married. He and his wife were friends and co-parents, the romance long over. A shared house but separate bedrooms, private lives. The wish I’d made to the woman on the bus made real.

***

Three, four days are gone, he told me. The first thing I remember was when I went to pick my son up at school. This was yesterday? Yesterday. The principal took one look at me and told me I wasn’t driving anywhere. She took me back to her office and called the doctor. I started to remember things about myself. I said to her, I used to be smart! I used to be a writer!

“I’m a memoirist with no memory!”

“I’m a memoirist,” he said to me on the phone. “I’m a memoirist with no memory!”

He told me that he remembered facts, but couldn’t visualize his memories, couldn’t connect to them emotionally.

“I’ve been going down the list of people in my phone, my recent calls,” he said. “You’re in my phone, so I called you.”

“Do you remember us,” I asked. I was conscious of my voice. It failed, just a bit, on that “us,” but I was trying to keep the terror to myself.

“Technically, yes,” he said.

He said technically, and it was a slow hit. A slow, blunt blow. I did not freak out. He did not need me to freak out. I kept my voice light.

“I’ve been going down the list of people in my phone, my recent calls,” he said. “You’re in my phone, so I called you.”

We talked, I walked. He sounded fine, but skittering along the surface. I was going to say like he was playing a part, but that’s not it. Like he’d been emptied out. A big clean space in his head gave him room to breathe. Still, he didn’t quite know how peaceful it was, he had no basis for comparison.

“Plot is a trick to keep you interested,” said David Byrne. Beloved had lost the plot.

***

Nola cured me of my aversion to being called Baby. “Everybody in New Orleans,” said Nola, “calls everybody else Baby, Baby.”

When I got back to the house, I told him that a friend had lost his memory, that I was terrified for him. Nola said, “I thought it was your brother, Baby.”

“So did I. I thought that was who called. They have the same name,” I said.

This was a lie.

***

Was it the next day? Two days later? Walking through Audubon Park, again, talking to Beloved. He told me he was getting some memories back.

“Just pictures, they don’t move. Snapshots. I have all these pornographic pictures of us, like, wow! Really pornographic. We really did all that.”

I imagined this as he said it, flash pictures of us naked, his brown skin against my white skin.

“Right on,” he said. “I don’t say that, do I? Do I say that?”

He doesn’t.

I didn’t know how to tell him about this, the in-between moment that inspired me to borrow words from religion: sacred. Holy.

The pictures in my head moved on, alive with the sound of his voice beside me in bed, telling me a story about when he was a kid. I scratched his back the way I scratched my brother’s back when we were little, and I could see the narrative arc from birth to that moment, my nails on his back, the rest of the world dropping away, nothing in the whole wheeling universe but we two. I didn’t know how to tell him about this, the in-between moment that inspired me to borrow words from religion: sacred. Holy.

He sent me a text message, and it read like something from a fourteen-year-old boy.

You’re cool, he texted. A cool girl.

I think he was grateful that he could talk with me.

I don’t think I write this way, he texted. I spent a lot of time alone. I walked all over the neighborhood, into other neighborhoods. I watched my feet tread on cracks, tried to sense the crack in the arch of my foot. Then I avoided the cracks and felt myself sink into the middle of the square of concrete. I wanted to sink in. I wanted the sidewalk to pull me under.

The love of my life had lost his memory.

***

This is also part of the story: one month before, while still in the Bay Area, I had been sexually assaulted, in the apartment where I was staying. Beloved was the first person I told about it. He found me another place to stay. I thought I was fine, but I was like the cartoon character who is shattered and doesn’t realize it right away, not until he shivers into a thousand pieces. Beloved talked me through all of it, through black despair and a sense of fundamental unworthiness, a moral sickness that surely oozed from my pores and invited this violence.

I was like the cartoon character who is shattered and doesn’t realize it right away, not until he shivers into a thousand pieces.

Since the assault, I’d fallen back into an old way of magical thinking, a superstition, fed by religion plus novels. I was raised a Mormon girl, that most American of religions, a striving would-be intellectual who wished for sexy mystical Catholic signs and portents — I regressed, is what I’m saying. Since I handed my power so baldly to a man who so baldly used it, I fell back into that old feeling of powerlessness, unloveliness, and though I wasn’t getting tarot readings or scrutinizing horoscopes like I had when I was younger, I still invested symbolic power in jumbled thriftshop actions. If I said the right words, if I held my body in precisely the perfect attitude of love and release, providing comfort but never restraint, I would be rewarded. I could, by my faithfulness to the idea of emancipation, receive my dream of easy togetherness, a picture Beloved had described and that now lived in my heart: me living a block or two from him, morning walks and long afternoon sex and movies and breakfasts with his son.

I knew that he felt a certain pressure from me, knew that he, like me, didn’t want to be imprisoned in a traditional relationship. And so I left spaces between us, became a devotee of freedom, hoping to bring about a settled domestic future.

Odysseus ready at last to come home to Penelope, easier said than done, monsters between here and there.

***

Beloved asked me on the phone when we’d spoken last.

“Monday,” I said. He wanted to know what we talked about. I was embarrassed to say.

“We talked dirty,” I said. His memoryless self was so kidlike, so awed by the fact of sex, it didn’t seem right to tell him that he’d described my face when I came, the way I slapped my head with my hands. We’d laughed loud on the phone while he described fucking me into head-slapping delirium.

“I don’t remember that,” he said. He was quiet for a minute. “I remember having lunch with James Gandolfini.”

This wasn’t so far-fetched. Beloved had Hollywood friends, except:

“James Gandolfini is dead,” I said.

“I know,” he said. “I don’t think I knew him in real life.”

“No,” I said, “You didn’t.”

I sat on the curb, the phone at my ear.

“I’m coming to you. I should be with you. I can get on a plane and be there tomorrow,” I said.

“No,” he said. Unequivocal. “I need you there. Do not come here. I have people to take care of me. That isn’t your job,” he said.

I wasn’t a mistress, I was unkept.

He had a community, first among them his wife and son. A family of people who recognized his wife’s connection to him, her right to worry, and if the worst happened, her right to mourn. I’d placed myself outside community. First by packing my bag and stepping on the road, and second by making myself — I wasn’t sure what. I wasn’t a mistress, I was unkept. “Other woman” was inaccurate. His wife was not my rival. I was almost sure of that.

I didn’t want to be claimed.

***

When I talked to Beloved on the phone, his high infected me. The release from responsibility. I remembered this feeling from the year I was rolling through hospitals and surgeries, nothing to do but watch the scenery.

I called a friend in California, the kind of friend I can talk to about anything. We talked and I walked through the neighborhoods. I told her that I needed to tell Nola the truth.

Not just Nola. The story grows complications, tentacles. There was another person in New Orleans. Nola introduced me to her on my last visit. We met at an art museum, and I remember her in a suit, although she was likely in jeans; still, in my head she was in a suit, slim and laughing at a sculpture of a giant chair, the trail of an accent in her voice, Iron Curtain childhood slipping off her tongue. Giraffe was an almost-love, a could-have-been. A single evening drinking wine and making costumes, a single day beside her in a phantasmagoric Mardi Gras parade. Nola almost too avid to see something bloom with Giraffe; she was not interested in men, but he could dream. Giraffe and I realized early that it couldn’t work. She needed and deserved someone who would be only hers, and that trip was when I began to understand this division, this scattered attention, would eat my heart until nothing was left. Since then, we’d exchanged tender messages, for my birthday she drew me a cartoon of Audubon Park giraffes, their faces open and trusting.

There was another person in New Orleans. Nola introduced me to her on my last visit.

I had to let her know. Couldn’t appear at her door brimful of grief and no explanation.

I told Giraffe, and her face went unfocused for only a second. Her cheeks pinked up. She put her feet up on her couch and asked me about Beloved. We told each other stories, killed a bottle of wine — Ménage à Trois, our little joke.

***

I am scraping up against some idealized picture of romance in my head. A togetherness collage, but Beloved and I only ever met in bedrooms.

My parents had a great love, passionate connection that persisted for fifty years, through too many kids, an affair, depression, addiction, psychosis. They adored each other to the last moment of Mom’s life.

***

I wondered if Beloved had that creepy feeling of not knowing what you’ve done, like the morning after a bad drunk. But his missing days must have been typical, normal. He must have made breakfast for his son, dropped him off at school, picked him up — at least this. He talked to me on the phone on Monday, one of the missing days, and I try to remember our conversation, try to remember if he sounded strange. But memory loss happens after the fact. He was aware of himself while he was doing these things, one assumes, it’s only that the days have been wiped from his hard drive. Or maybe he was absent in some sense for part of that time. I know he didn’t call me after Monday. And then, he “came to” when picking up his son from school. Returned to himself, but imperfectly, wearing his life like a stranger’s jacket.

***

I told Nola.

“You loved him before you came here?” he said. “And you came anyway? What did you think would happen?”

He didn’t ask this in an angry way. He was curious, gentle as a soft-hearted boy.

“I was always free,” I said. This was true. Nola’s life turned on the fulcrum of the day he walked away from his good boy college life and decided to wander. He got on a ship to South America, and though he had lived in New Orleans for more than twenty years, he was still floating. I heard it in his rare emails, a distant melancholy but unrisked, unbloodied. Early loss drove him to hold nothing, love was light to him, seen from a distance, down there beneath the clouds.

“We’re both free. I always assumed you have other women.”

He had told me stories of one woman walking in the front door of a café while he escaped out the back door with another.

I had no clear plan, coming to New Orleans. Only, I knew I didn’t want to be divided anymore. Beloved may have been married, but he was still the love of my life.

I told him I could find another place to stay.

“Don’t be silly,” he said. Nola is easy, like his city.

***

Beloved told me on the phone that his sense of humor was returning. His vulgarity. He made a fatly vulgar joke with another friend and realized it was back. I was oddly, briefly jealous of this other friend, a man, because I love Beloved’s humor. I love his untethered, rich, gutter hilarity.

He wrote to me once:

“When I fuck you I feel like I have the biggest dick in three counties. I clearly don’t. But my heart’s dick is the one that’s really fucking you and that one is huge. The biggest in thirteen counties.”

That’s the man I love!

***

It was hot in New Orleans. I walked and sweat ran down the center of my back. It gathered in my crotch. I walked down Magazine Street from coffee shop to restaurant to park bench to coffee shop and back.

Maybe it wasn’t hot after all. Maybe I’ve created heat in my memory, to fit the story.

At the coffee shop, the man at the counter asked, “Can I help you?”

The love of my life has lost his memory, I wanted to say. He’s lost his memory and doesn’t remember how it feels to love me.

Instead I asked for coffee.

***

A love story is a myth that lovers tell each other. A creation myth, How We Met, the falling-in-love myth, the hardship-overcome-in-order-to-stay-together myth.

I told Beloved early on that I hated talking on the phone, but his voice compelled me, he would ask a question nobody else would think to ask and then wait while my thoughts slugged through gray matter and I’d stutter, stop, reformulate, stutter, and then find my thread. He loved my voice, the voice that knew more than I believed it did, that had its own opinions, he coaxed it from hiding and cheered when it emerged, I never talked more fluently on the phone than I did with him.

I came late to my voice, my writer’s voice, forty-six and only now beginning to claim it, now in my second life, the life after the wife life, the life after the belief that I would be a mother, after the grief of my body giving all of that up.

Was ready for mothering, might have been a good one, but there’s something in me that wants to go, chafes at what Rilke called hemming-in, romantic though I’ve always been, I’m not made for the flowering cage of marriage, for the meat-circling of arms holding me in and back, admit it now, I was never meant for it.

I took the path clearly marked HAZARD. My eyes were open, is what I’m saying.

Well, I’m not convinced. I write down what sort of person I am but a person is fluid. Now, in my mid-forties, I’m supposed to be able to say, I am this sort of person, but it seems I know less and less, lucky to have a second and third life to try on different sorts of person-ness.

This is the life I chose, the life I wished into existence, and while I could never have imagined that one day the man I love would tell me that he doesn’t remember how it feels to love me, still, I took the path clearly marked HAZARD. My eyes were open, is what I’m saying.

***

My own memory folds in on itself. I might think all I did was walk, but I see in my journal that I did other things. I went out for live music with Nola and friends, but grief rose in me. I took a cab home early. The cabbie told me about another cabbie, a friend, who was killed on the job, just two days before. How do we go on living, I wondered. I watched out the window, and when I got home I climbed into bed.

***

Beloved and I had a thing we did. Tell me something beautiful, one would say. And the other took time, thought carefully, said something genuinely thoughtful about the other.

This was my inspiration. I found a coffee shop with wifi, and wrote Beloved an email. I told him I loved him, even if he fell in love with his wife all over again, even if he fell in love with his nurse, even if our love was at an end, I was happy I got to know him. I sent him at least one of these every day.

I read things in my journal that I’ve forgotten. I’d forgotten this: two days after he told me his news, he told me again — he can’t access the love.

The heart doesn’t break just once. It breaks a thousand times.

***

Plot is a trick, sure — a trick that moves every one of us through our days.

Our love had no past because it had been forgotten. No future, either, that could be seen or planned for. It lived and breathed in me, in the now, made up of long walking phone calls and small sensitivities to him.

Beloved told me that he had lunch with a friend. The friend got up to hug him after lunch. Beloved was slow to respond.

“We hug?” he said to me, about this friend. “We do that?”

I laughed. His hugs were well known. I mean, literally. His hug was described in the foreword to his book.

I didn’t ask if his inability to access emotional connections extended to his son. His son’s humor is the kid version of Beloved’s. A handful. Beloved adores the kid and makes a practice of being mindful with him, being present.

I didn’t ask, because I didn’t know which answer would hurt more.

I didn’t ask, because I didn’t know which answer would hurt more. That he still had access to that love and no other, my ego shrinking me down to a hard and shining surface: he can still love, just not me. Or that he didn’t, that he couldn’t even connect to the love for his son, and here my heart expands with despair at this terrible shock, this mutilation.

One of the few times in my life I didn’t want to know.

“Take notes,” he said. “Take notes. You’re smart,” he said, in his strange new boylike diction. “You’re a writer, and I don’t know if I’ll get my brain back. Write about this.”

This was a gift. I had a purpose. More than just the secret lover, far away, the one he didn’t want by his bedside. I would have been a complication for him there. Here I had a job. I could write. I could remember. I could tell him things I remembered about him. We both thought it would be good for him, to hear details, stories about himself.

***

I pictured some future perfect state where Beloved will have left his wife and I live down the street with occasional trips abroad, where we could hold hands in daylight and our story could be told and told again, but that perfection never arrives, just like the future itself. It’s always running ahead; all you have is the mess of your now plus the glorious wreckage of the colliding stories that brought you here.

That tender future was where I imagined writing about this, but I may never reach it. All I have is this loose pile of moments, bits I’ve picked up along my road.

***

I wrote to him about the night we met. We knew each other on Facebook before then, had been introduced by a mutual friend, and for several months I’d paid attention to his updates, we’d exchanged a message or two. On one of my stops in the Bay Area, I learned he was speaking in my neighborhood, decided to go. I was early for the speech, the first audience member in the tiny theater. I had to go to the bathroom, which required passing the green room, backstage. I was embarrassed to be so early, to be going to the bathroom, so I walked quickly as possible past the green room, head down, doing my best to be invisible. On the way back to my seat, my not-yet-Beloved said from the green room, “Is that Caitlin Myer?”

I wrote to him how it amazed me, that he was able to assemble Facebook pictures of me into enough of a whole that he recognized me as I flashed by. His brain was capable of making those connections, I told him. It will be able to make itself whole again.

***

Imagine the one person you love most in the world — your child, your spouse, your parent — no longer recognizes you. Or, they know who you are: your daughter, say, knows you are her father, but the life of your connection, the tenderness of every goodnight kiss, the memory glow of her small hand slipping into yours, has disappeared. She looks at you and sees some guy, nice enough.

Maybe you don’t need to imagine it. In the last few years of her life, Mom started calling my dad “the man downstairs.” She didn’t have Alzheimer’s, she got there through her inhumanly vast pharmacopeia plus electroshock treatments, but the effects are familiar enough. Dad had a whole community around him, he had us to validate his grand love with Mom, we all knew and could repeat their story. But when the person you love looks at you like you’re some creep on the subway, that doesn’t give you much solace.

***

A stroke was suspected at first, but an MRI showed no damage. Beloved was instead diagnosed with TGA, Transient Global Amnesia. My internet searches turned up little. They don’t really know what it is. They have a name for it, can group together the experiences of different people to give it an acronym and classic symptoms, and a suspected culprit: stress. Not just stress. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Acute emotional distress, as might be provoked by bad news, conflict or overwork.”

Oh. Like having a relationship while married and raising a young child. Like loving a woman who keeps leaving, over and over. Like hustling and pushing for enough money to move out but still stay near enough to be as integral in the child’s life as before, enough money to keep him in private school, money the great stressor.

***

Can you love without memory, without a narrative?

I read the story of Clive Wearing, who, though he could not make new memories, never lost his passion for his wife: “Every time — every single time — she visits him at his nursing home, he erupts in joy. If she steps out to the ladies’ room, he crumbles — then erupts again when she returns.” (Sam Kean, The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons.)

The man’s wife confessed to sometimes feeling “smothered,” but I wanted to know what she did every day, what she thought about, how she felt this experience in her body. Some days, I wished I could trade places with her. Still, I knew how it felt to be smothered. This was why I chose to love a man who had his own family.

I used to think about some disaster hitting him. Because I was secret, if he were to die, that part of myself would disintegrate. His wife would be the widow, and I would be some stranger who wandered into the funeral. I was aware this was narcissistic. I was glad, this time, for my phone number in his recent calls. My existence in his life hung on that slim fact.

***

Sometimes I was unsure who I was. All I could do was walk.

I came back into existence for a short time on Giraffe’s couch, telling stories, drinking wine. On the phone with my California friend. I was alive in those moments, blanked out again when my thumb hit the “End” button.

What we had was email, the phone. I was walking neighborhood streets in the dark, and he told me about a tall woman he saw walking in his own neighborhood. He described her as a broken-down dinosaur, and I chose to hear in this that his writing self would come back.

Still, I could not allow myself to fantasize about the moment his memory, and all his love for me, returned.

***

There are trees in New Orleans that drip with beads. Decades of bead necklaces hang from the trunk, branches, yet still the tree can breathe it seems, the lower layers faded to nothing, to tree-color. It looks as though beads are what this tree grows.

Beloved was free of all those layers of yesterday, free of conflict, free of regret, guilt, responsibility. We both went looking for emancipation, but he had stepped into whole new dimension of freedom.

You might imagine New Orleans lives in its own perpetual now, but it’s a now built on layers of yesterday. Like Nola, who watches Twilight Zone and Hitchcock Presents on his black and white TV, he swims in a gone place. Gone, Baby, gone.

Beloved was free of all those layers of yesterday, free of conflict, free of regret, guilt, responsibility. We both went looking for emancipation, but he had stepped into whole new dimension of freedom. Free, ultimately, of himself.

I was, shamefully, jealous. How many times have I wished my mind would crack under strain, responsibility leaking out through the breach. Still, my mind stays whole, stays aware at every moment.

***

One morning, his memory came back, all in a vicious heap. He wrote to me: “Never before have I understood more clearly Paul Valery’s maxim that illumination is associated with sorrow.”

All the memories crashed into his head without organization, without priority, and the weight was a horror. I felt the pain twanging out from his email, Adam ejected from the Garden. When he was memoryless, he didn’t know how free he was. Now, the chains were heavier than ever, and he longed for that pristine, blameless state. This was what I wished, what I’d longed for, but I never meant to call hell down onto his head.

All the memories crashed into his head without organization, without priority, and the weight was a horror.

When he was memoryless, he didn’t know how free he was. Now, the chains were heavier than ever.

The Perpetual Now, he called it. A state of bliss.

He went back to sleep. When he woke again, he was better able to organize his thoughts. His memory was back, and with it the understanding that there was a reason his mind had cracked. His brain was protecting itself.

Still, the love was inaccessible.

I don’t remember this day, I don’t remember what I did after he emailed me to say his memory was back. The day is blank, an empty space, suspended.

The next day, he called me. I was in a coffee shop.

“I remember,” he said. “I remember that you had been assaulted, and I found you a place to stay with friends,” he said.

“Because I love you.”

I put a space around the words.

“Say that again,” I said, very quietly.

“I love you,” he said.

***

Look at that: he told me a story.

What happened? You were assaulted.

And then? I found you a place to stay.

What does it mean? I love you.

You want to know what happened next. You want to hear And so they lived happily ever after, or even, And then they died.

I don’t have it. My story has no ending. I want to run ahead of myself and peer around the back of my future, find the message. We make stories so we can understand, but here is where my understanding stops short, shattered into fragments, each one reflecting back a dumb, disjointed image. Beloved and I fit together because of who we are, but because of who we are, we cannot be together, and there is no sense, no message in that.

How about this, then, the one truthful thing I can write:

And she went on loving him, and went on leaving.

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