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Sunday, December 15, 2013

MAYBE IT IS MORNING (Life After my Major Stroke)




It is light when I wake up. Maybe it is morning. It was dark when I went to sleep, it is light now so it must be morning...maybe. How to dress now? I go outside and look around the front yard. There's no snow, so it isn't winter. The trees have no leaves so it isn't summer either. It feels kind of cold. I'll wear a coat and some gloves. But if I dress for winter and it's spring, people will stare and think me weird. If it is winter and I dress for spring, I'll also look strange. 

Since the sun is shining it is a good day to take a walk. I wear jeans, my flannel shirt and...just in case, pack a winter hat, scarf, and gloves in my shoulder bag. About a mile from home is my favorite bookstore and tobacco shop. Perched on a corner across from the campus, it is on the main drag through town. Two doors down is a cafe where I like to go and have my morning coffee while reading a book or newspaper. 

Dressed for all possible seasons, I leave the house and start walking. At the foot of the driveway I turn left, walk two blocks, turn left again and walk about five blocks. The air is cool and crisp. Maybe it is autumn. I reach the corner and am shocked to find there is no bookstore. There is no campus, no main street lined with shops and small cafes. My heart begins to race and I am sweating. There is no Charlottesville. 

I'm standing at the intersection of a busy highway. How did this happen? I don't know where I am or how I got to be here. I cannot remember how I got to this corner, I was home and now am on the corner of a strange highway. 
Where is it? Where am I? I can't remember! I just don't know! It dawns on me I must have had one of those "spells" and gotten lost. My eyes won't focus and the street sign is blurred to my vision. Drawing close, I can read it with my left eye. It says "Colorado Boulevard". 

Impossible. There's no Colorado Boulevard in Charlottesville, Virginia. By now, I know I've had a spell and don't know what to do. The fear is making me nauseated and I don't know where I am or what to do now. Just start walking. Walking and walking, I'm trying to get over the fear, it only makes the confusion worse. 

Walking, breathing deep and slow to quiet my racing heart, I am afraid to walk far from the street sign. It is a marker to give me some sense of where I am in relation to home. Where home is, where I came from, or why I am on this highway, I just don't know. 

Keeping the sign in sight, I walk until I come to a newspaper machine. I'll get a newspaper. It always has the name of the city and the date on it. Reaching for some coins I discover my left arm is paralyzed. I must have forgotten when I had the spell. With my right hand I manage to get some change out of my pocket.  I'm so scared now it isn't possible to figure out what kind of coins they are. I start putting them in the red machine until I succeed in getting a newspaper. 

I want to scream, cry, but something is wrong and all I can do is tremble and try to keep from falling down. I remember I cannot ask anyone for help because my speech is so slurred they will think I am drunk or crazy. I practice some deep breathing and pray my memory will come back and end this terror. 

After calming myself a bit it is possible to recall the brain surgery that leaves me so horribly confused at times. I tap my head. I am wearing the helmet protecting me if I have a seizure and fall--at least I remembered that. Maybe I had a seizure and that's why nothing looks familiar. 

When I feel steady enough, I risk a look at the paper. It is The Denver Post and is published in Denver, Colorado in 1983. Once more a wave of nausea and shock comes over me. 1983? Colorado? But it is 1970 and I'm in Charlottesville, Virginia. Or, I woke up in Charlottesville this morning. 

How can I be in Charlottesville, Virginia in 1970 and be looking at a newspaper from Denver, Colorado in 1983? I try to remember if I'd taken any LSD. No, haven't used drugs for years. What years, how many years? I can't remember. This confusion has happened before. If I just move around and stay calm my memory will come back. For some time I walk along the highway going about one block from the sign and back again. I know it is a landmark, pointing to where I came from this morning. 

After pacing for some time, how long will never be known, my memory slowly returns. I'm in Denver and I live at Joe's house. I think we're married. Nothing looks familiar to me, but Colorado Boulevardmay be near his house. In my wallet I find something with my name and address on it.   Maybe I live there. 

I'm sure I was too scared to cross the highway earlier and begin walking down the long street I think I'd been on when I got so confused. Nothing is familiar. This is not Virginia. After a while I go down another street and finally come across a street that seems a bit familiar. 

I find the address in my wallet. I swear I've never seen this house before.  The house number and street match what's on the card. Maybe it is where I live. I ring the doorbell but no one is at home. The keys in my pocket fit the door so it must be Joe's house.

I let myself in and sit down in the living room. This place is filthy. I'd never live like this. It smells like cat shit. This is not my apartment inCharlottesville. The newspaper reminds me I'm in 1983, in Denver, but place and year have no meaning. I walk around the house and find some things that seem to be mine. There's a book, "The Mind of a Mnemonist," by Luria. I'm reading that book, but where? And when, and why? The address matches, the keys match, and this is my book, so it must also be where I live. If this is Joe's house, he is a filthy pig. Those spells get me so confused. Maybe if I rest my memory will unscramble itself. 

I lay down in one of the two bedrooms and feel a little bit like Goldilocks. I wonder what will happen if the three bears come back while I'm resting. After napping I am a bit more oriented. This is Joe's house in Denver and it must be 1983 if that's what's on the newspaper. 

It is 1981. I live in Denver and write for a small newspaper. Joe's sister and I work together as waitresses in a restaurant on Colfax Avenue. I move to California. 

It is 1982. I am living with friends in Eureka, California and writing a book. I have a stroke and brain surgery. I go into surgery on October 27th. When I wake up it is November 3rd. They tell me I was in a coma and my left side is paralyzed. I cannot remember most of my life from age 18 to 31. 

My roommates and family abandon me at the hospital. I am placed in a nursing home and forced to take drugs that make me more confused. I run away to Ed's in Palo Alto. That afternoon I collapse and he rushes me to Stanford University Hospital. Spinal Meningitis. I nearly die a second time. 

Joe sends me some money and says I can stay at his house in Denver. As soon as I am strong enough I go Joe's. We have dated a few times but he is not my type, too passive. I haven't been there very long when he begins to tell me how expensive it is to feed me, he might have to put me in another state home. He is having trouble making his house payment. If he marries I become his legal dependent and he will get a few hundred dollars a month increase in his Air Force wages for having a dependent. 

Besides, he argues, he really hates sleeping alone, and being the only single guy at the officers' parties. If I will just keep quiet, he will get more money for his house payment, he won't have to sleep alone, and he won't be "forced" to call some authorities and have me taken to a state home like the one in California. 

I hate his guts. I was raped and strangled when I was seventeen, but it is not as sustained and brutal a violence as this. My speech is very slurred, and even if I could talk clearly there is no place to go for help, no one to call. So I marry him under threat of being sent to another nursing home and being force fed drugs that leave me more confused and disoriented. 

It is 1983. I am living in Joe's house. We are married and what happens at night can only be called rape. And I have to pretend I enjoy this, if I don't, he is holding this threat over my head. I must keep up the game until I have the strength to get away from him. 

Still, when I wake up it is morning. A morning like many others. But those other mornings are in 1970, in another state, another time. Somehow I've gotten from 1970 to 1983 and I can't remember how. I do remember I had brain surgery and was in a coma. I do remember my left side is paralyzed and it is hard for me to talk or think clearly. It is light when I wake up. Maybe it is morning. 

@1996, 1999, 2014 by Zoƫ L. Langley

Originally published in Synapse, Seattle, WA 1996

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