I’m not quite sure where I am. You know how if you’ve been in the dark for a long time, like measuring in days instead of hours, the dark stops registering as 000000 and starts being a sort of non-color, non-vision, just undefinable vagueness? Yeah. I’ve been here a while, wherever “here” is.
Not sure exactly how long, though. When I first became cognizant of the fact that vague darkness wasn’t exactly business as usual, I think I’d already been here a while. Things are coming back slowly. Things came back in this order: 1. I’m thinking, about myself. 2. I’m thinking in language: English. 3. I’m a human being. 4. This isn’t the way the world of human beings normally behaves.
I can’t feel any sense of weight or corporality, like I can’t bring my fingers together or lick my lips, or even determine for sure that I have lips. I can’t see, like I’ve said, or smell or taste or touch anything, and even thinking’s not been all that facile: as far as I know those four revelations above have taken as many days. Though I’m sure my internal clock is seriously out of whack as well.
So I haven’t salvaged any more knowledge that sounded significant enough to be number 5 on my list of vital recovered facts, but bits of human context are returning. I think, well I hope at least, that the pace of recovery is accelerating. On the other hand though if my senses and capacities aren’t waiting at the end of these recoveries, I might actually want to take a pass on getting back any more of my higher brain function.
But it might be too late already because I’ve made a list of the possible situations I’m in just now. I’m thinking A: maybe I’m dead. Sure this isn’t heaven, but it could easily be hell. I think it’s been like a week now and it is intensely unpleasant and getting more so. I’m consciously trying to avoid such admissions but okay, I will say it just this once: there comes a point when boredom is its own torture, and I would really like to talk to someone, and I’ve just remembered that I really like black cherry ice cream and I would seriously like to be certain that I have a stomach and am headed back to the ability to fill it. I would even appreciate the certainty that I never will regain such things, so I could know I should stop worrying about it and get down to the business at hand which would obviously be that of becoming a level-infinity Zen master. Anyway these musings sound an awful lot like something an open-minded, post-fire-and-brimstone-type Protestant minister would include in a depiction of Hell. Points to me for knowing about heaven, hell, Zen, and post-brimstone Protestantism.
I’m thinking B: maybe I’m in a coma. Maybe I’m paralyzed, maybe this is ultimate locked-in syndrome. I’m actually in a hospital somewhere with electrodes on my head and chest and little tubes going in and out of everything. The facts in favor of B are that I’m improving, I’m regaining the use of my own brain, and if this was hell then the fact that logically there would be a terminus to this reacquisition (brains being huge but finite) would be kind of contrary to the eternal sort of format Hell is supposed to have. Now I realize that this counters the assertion that I’m in a particular kind of hell, not fundamentally that I’m dead, but really I don’t think that this gradual memory recovery quite gels at all with what it means to be a denizen of the afterlife in any context. The facts against B are that I have never once heard of a person being totally conscious and yet totally insensate. Or at least I don’t think I have. It may have happened and I hadn’t heard of it. It may have happened and I might have written a book on it for all I know, as of yet. Anyway I’m not totally sure that I prefer B to A, but I am pretty close to that certainty.
I’m thinking C: this is a really bad dream or like drug-related thing, which C is probably more properly just a subset of B, but if I’m going to be making footnotes or like indented outline-format text when I’m not even properly writing I’ll be closer to truly crazy than I even have to be just now, so this is C. And I know for sure that this is what I would like most of all to be the truth.
It’s obvious to me now that without devoting my entire self to slow counting I have no hope of an accurate mark of time, but I feel like I’ve been like this for around ten to fourteen days.
In the interest of punctuating things, I’m going to add a new although relatively inconsequential element to my list of recovered facts. 5. I have now a single actual well-formed memory: of being in a large suburban shopping mall with someone, walking and carrying something, smelling food, and having in mind the goal of acquiring a customized stuffed bear toy, not for myself but for someone else of paramount importance who may or may not have been present. In the memory the legs which are mine are wearing loose blue jeans and the feet which are mine are wearing nondescript tennis sneakers, which information is surprisingly unfruitful. In the memory I think a piece of my hair is drooping down on the left side of my head and obscuring my peripheral vision, and this informs me that my hair is/was long enough to cause such obstruction.
Even with such a mental image of myself, I can’t yet recall or deduce if I was/am male or female. I think that’s because I only just recovered the fact of gender just today, inasmuch as I can say “today.” But I think maybe I can use this lack of knowledge to inform myself, like I’m pretty sure that I’d remember I was female if I was female. Like I don’t think I would’ve been allowed to forget, I would’ve had that grafted pretty deeply into my “I” right from the get-go. But then again I did just posit that whole not-allowed-to-forget-female-gender thing, which strikes me as something a male human being might not generally posit, as does that last observation.
I think the best hypothesis is that I’m a pretty high-quality male human being. Like I’ve taken a gender-studies course, or something, so I’m not a jerk, and probably kind of an intellectual. And in retrospect over the course of my thoughts I can see that I’ve got a rather non-shabby vocabulary and probably know my way around a computer. That’s good to know, or at least it’s good to guess.
Oh shit actually no, it isn’t good at all. I can’t go being all happy I’m not a jerk while in this state, I mean how can that in itself even mean anything if I don’t even have a body or the ability to be or not be a jerk? I mean those good things are all things that work together with other people to create their goodness, and otherwise they can’t be good things because the “good” hasn’t been activated. It’s fundamentally stupid to be happy about having a big vocabulary for communication even while you don’t have a mouth. It’s pure crazy to feel pleased that I could ask “have you tried the wireless switch?” when computers and unicorns and cute sophomores across the IT help desk are all on a conceptual par for me right now. If those things are good, they’re good purely in a sense of hope and future, and all they really do right now is make the waiting and the uncertainty that much more urgent and excruciating, and show it up even more in all its empty horror. Don’t you think I want to know who that was, walking along beside me? Don’t you think I want nothing more than to figure out just who the customized bear was for? I loved somebody. I want that back. Or just anybody. It doesn’t even matter—well, obviously I’ve preserved and reacquired more information about myself than about them, so even back in normal life I mattered more to myself than they did. But that’s not okay, and I know that now, and I’d do anything just to do anything, just to be with someone and mean something and be alive to someone, because that’s the only real way of being alive and it’s obvious to anything borderline conscious that being alive is all that matters. And even my impaired semi-soul can sense the disingenuousness of vowing unselfishness for the sake of a hope of relief, but it’s not like I have a choice, or any control. I mean how can I even know I exist, except that I observe that I suffer from loneliness and loss, and what’s the value in that? None, neither to me nor to anyone else, and it goes beyond painful into the bizarre to exist without value. And like fundamentally how can I be here, existing only in loneliness and loss, with no counterbalance and no other evidence for my own presence in any respect other than my own sensibility of being tortured? How, except that someone or something in or out of the universe is potent and malevolent. Haven’t I suffered enough? Isn’t this enough?
It’s obvious to me that I can’t let that happen again. Interior musing: yes, fine, that’s the province of sane people. Self-address in the second person, or (worse) second-person address of someone for whose existence I have no empirical evidence: no, bad, that’s the province of the insane and the really stupid, and my sanity and my intelligence are literally all I have. Interior musing. I am not going to let that slide again.
Purposefully being conservative, I think it’s been about twenty days.
More proper memories, “today.” One was just a long-ago childhood-type one, of being on a swing set at a playground and being terrified of a huge and vocal German-shepherd dog which was being walked along a path perpendicular to the trajectory of rapidly-oscillating me, and which dog increased its barkings and strainings-against-collar at every point at which my path brought me nearest to his. Rapidly-oscillating me wet his pants. His: I'm pretty sure now; this memory seemed to contain this detail.
The rest of the memories are much less narrative and seem less significant, but might have more genuine import. Altogether it seems I am/was a university student, I work/ed at the campus center, am/was a senior in the history department with a minor in computer science. I have/had a close-knit family and a vague relationship with a girl I met in a class. There’s no more detail than that, because even this I’ve had to piece together by inferences from vague scraps or intense but random scenes, and a lot of the memories haven’t helped at all. There’s this one, for instance, where I’m just sitting shotgun in a car that’s driving along a little suburban road. It’s more vivid than most, which makes me think that other memories are about to agglomerate around it or something, or that somehow it’s otherwise important. But at least I’ve been able to place myself in a world, a context, which is on the one hand really enlightening and on the other hand kind of infuriating, because I am not there right now and don’t feel any closer to genuinely being fixed, and the contrast’s brightening is more depressing than you might expect.
About twenty-two days.
I’m getting back so much memory now that I am almost certain I’m really going to emerge back into life. I, for instance, worry about the number of classes I’ve missed and know the names of each. I know the names and birthdays of all my family and most of my friends. I know my address, my phone number, and my social. I know I don’t have a driver’s license. I remember my favorite books, and their contents. I don’t really know why, but the clarity and detail have tipped over from tantalizing to reassuring; I mean I feel so oriented, so close now to the world, that in a particular frame of mind the memory can become immersive. And that combines with the projections I’ve made of my progress (which hasn’t slowed and which I think continues to accelerate) to produce a general uptick in the degree to which I can handle this. I’m positive that before long there won’t be much more progress possible before things cross over into the physical, and a shaft of light appears before my eyes or something.
I’m even starting to be able to put together the most recent events leading up to my oblivion. I think that’s where the car ride comes in. I remember getting out of class, hitting the library to pick up the minor texts for the next segment of one of my seminars. Then on my way back to my room, running into my friend Steve. Steve’s making a grocery/beer run would I like to go along. Dropping my backpack off in my room. That’s it, basically. Sometimes a little flash of getting into the car, but I’m getting almost nothing but car-ride memories now. Lush maple trees flank both sides of the road. It’s late afternoon in early fall, so the sun hangs low to the west but the sunset hasn’t begun yet, so with that angle there are these brilliant random flashes of light between the trees. It’s actually really pretty, or maybe I just appreciate it so much because it’s so vivid. It’s like really seeing, or at least I think it is. A bit ago I almost thought I really was seeing with my actual eyes, but that faded again. But it’s strong enough to stoke my hope.
I think I’m closing in on a month.
I’ve figured it out. I’ve gotten my memory back, pretty much all of it I think, plus a bit more, and that bit’s the kicker. I guess the truth is unimaginably good, in comparison to the possibilities. I’m totally ungrateful and deeply relieved. Anyway: this isn’t the first time this has happened to me. It’s happened about once every three weeks in the past three and a half years I’ve spent at school. You’d think that doesn’t make sense, because for sure I’ve been here more than three weeks.
Here I am knowing that every time I’ve ridden down this particular stretch of road it has taken anywhere from a week to a year. It’s the worst kind of reminiscence: oh, there was that time I remembered everything so fast at first and then it slowed down to nothing for like two solid weeks, like a ship caught in a calm. Oh now I remember the time I spent the whole two months or whatever gibbering and ranting incoherently; maybe something I learned about self-control managed to stick it out in my subconscious through the memory wipe. Oh now I remember the time I tried not to think, the time without words, the one that felt like a year and I was sure I was dead. Good times.
Here I am knowing that I am still on that road. I still can’t see anything, but I know that the past thirty days have all fit snugly into the same thirty seconds or so it takes to traverse that diabolical asphalt at thirty-five miles per hour. I still can’t feel it, but I know we’re driving along uneventfully in Steve’s car, somehow functioning on some animal level that can operate a vehicle regardless of comatose consciousness. Well, I’m pretty sure it can operate a vehicle. The road’s just about a straightaway, so it’s not like you actually have to be conscious to take an automatic transmission down it.
It can’t be long now. Pretty soon I’ll blink, with my actual eyes, and I’ll see the ordinary world around the corner. Life all of a sudden will be congruent and normal, like there wasn’t just a thirty-day lacuna in there, and like this little charming allée of maple trees totally doesn’t have the ability to suck your consciousness into oblivion for as long as you’re in here. I hope I never go in here on foot. I think I’d rather out-and-out die. I hope we really can drive, I mean what happens if you crash in here?
But if only I could remember it this time, even though it’s hands down the worst thing I’ve ever experienced. I want to remember, not just because the forgetting is the reason I haven’t been able to avoid this place, although I am pretty sure I would never come back here, not unless it were for some kind of investigation and I’d put some serious precautions in place. No, it’s more because I’ve spent probably around three years here in total, having been here like thirty-five times, and by the end of each time I’d arrived at the same level of cohesive awareness I feel right now. If I could keep that, if it were allowed to remain cumulative, I’d be a wiser person. I’ve had a lot of intense life, and it just seems to me that I have the right to my own experiences.
The worst thing, or at least what seems just now to be the worst, is going over my plans for the near future. In one and one-half actual human months I will be going home for Thanksgiving break, and I’ll be taking this same road off campus. Four days later I’ll be taking it back in, which I usually don’t do. All I want to do is tell my future self to take the north exit or someth