I have been in this room for one hundred and seventy-two days. I know this because the nurse gave me a notebook when I got here, and told me to write in it every day.
The early pages are headed with the date, written in an unknown hand. Underneath, my own scrawl, very shaky at first, records what I had for breakfast and whomever I spoke to that day.
“Write about what you can remember,” they said. “Not just what happened today.” But each page is filled with the minutiae of daily life, with not a single word about the past, or who I am, or how I came to be here. For a little while I continued putting the date at the top of the page, but this didn’t last. What was the point of recording whether it was April 17th or May 23rd? These are conventions for making appointments with friends or family, and I have none.
So I numbered the days, instead. And today is 172.
My injuries, although not life-threatening, were painful but have mostly healed. There are scars which you can see if you look carefully, but the hairdresser is skilful and they hardly show at all now. I appear to be normal, but I don’t feel that way. I’m not even sure what “normal” is, if truth be told.
And now you have come to tell me this news.
You are excited, as if you have solved some great puzzle, and it appears you are expecting me to join in your enthusiasm. Is that what I am to you – a conundrum to be cracked, like a crossword?
But if what you tell me is the truth, how can I have forgotten it?
It makes no sense.
You say I have a wife and a daughter, and that they want to see me. You tell me they thought I was dead, killed in an accident along with our son. My body assumed to have been swept away by the river into which my car descended.
This is madness: don’t you think I would remember something like that?
I tell you it’s not true; you have mixed me up with someone else. A man who looks a little bit like me, who had a dreadful accident at about the time I appeared here. You want to take a sample of my spit, to show that I am that person. Yes, I remember reading about DNA tests. I remember many things: I can remember words, and books, and almost everything I learned at school. Except geography, of course, no-one remembers geography.
You’re smiling. You think it’s good that I am able to tell a joke. Well, naturally I can tell a joke: I’m amnesiac, not stupid. I still know how language works and how to set up an unexpected ending to an amusing anecdote that will make people laugh. This is what we call a “joke”, and it requires no memory.
But if I am the same person as the man who drove into that river with his son in the back seat, surely I would remember the shriek of the brakes, the impact as the car crashed through the barrier, and again as it hit the water, as hard as a rock? Surely I would recall the icy torrent entering the cabin, filling it up to the roof, as I fought to release first myself and then my son? If I had escaped, while he remained inside, how could I not have burned into my memory the image of his sweet face, bubbles escaping from his nose, while I pulled in desperation and futility at his door? The sight of anguish in his eyes as he looked to the one man in the world whom he trusted always to keep him safe, failing him at the time he was really needed?
I would remember those things, and yet I do not.
So they did not happen.
I do not consent to you taking a sample from my mouth. You are mistaken. You must tell this woman I am not the man she is looking for; that her husband died in the river along with their son.
He cannot return, and neither can I.
First published in Unbroken Journal