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Memories of Forgotten Love
I have been in hospital now for almost a year. Hell...until now I hadn't realised, hadn't thought about it. A year. One seventeenth of my life so far. That's a long time. A very long time to be lying here, staring at the patch of damp on the ceiling. Not that it has been the same patch of damp, or the same ceiling, nor have I spent that whole time staring; no, I have spent a good deal of it sleeping.
This is the third hospital, well, the fourth if you don't count the fact that it's the same one I started off in. Different ward though. I don't remember being here the first time, not any of it, not at all. I was only here for a few days, until they were fairly sure I wasn't going to die...fairly sure. I was in a coma by then, but comas are stable, right?
Apparently I have 'died' a dozen times, and not only in those first few days. Think of a complication and I've had it. Brain swelling, pneumonia, infection...I haven't asked for a complete list, what I've gathered from throwaway comments has been enough...more than enough. I'm somewhat disappointed about the near death experiences though, with the amount of times I've wandered towards the light you'd think I'd have come back with something...but no. I have no memory of those times, no lingering ghosts.
I don't have much recollection of the second hospital either. It was a specialist unit within a large teaching hospital. Full of people like me, people with severe trauma, mainly brain and spinal injuries. Most of the time I was there I was asleep, well, in a coma to be exact, and therefore, as you would imagine, not accumulating memories.
Ahhh...memories. My first memory...and I mean that literally, is not of waking up from the coma, I don't recall that at all, and, from what I'm told, that is something of a mercy. I fought hard by all accounts. No one had expected me to wake then...at all. After more than three months, my chances of recovery were getting pretty slim, but I surprised them all. Not only did I come back but I came back fighting.
They had to sedate me three times before it was safe to let me wake properly, because I was fighting so hard I would've hurt myself. They had to wait until I was able to have some awareness of my surroundings, of myself. Even then they had to restrain me for almost a week because I kept trying to get up and pull out all the tubes.
No, my first memory kicks in about eight days later, after the drugs had worn off and they had taken the tube out of my throat...but not out of other places that were equally unpleasant.
That first memory was one of enormous frustration. My mind was still very confused, very much under a blanket so to speak, but it was important to me that I made someone understand that I needed--I so badly needed--something. I still don't know what it was, but at the time it was a burning need, an itch I couldn't scratch. That was when it first hit me that, although my mind was awake--kind of--my body was taking some time to catch up.
After all that time my muscles, which previously had been toned and primed, had become severely wasted, and I could barely manage to move my head and hand, let alone the rest of me. Not only that but, when I tried to speak, I found my throat sore and constricted, and I seemed to have forgotten how to form words.
Words, sentences, thoughts, and ideas, which all seemed perfectly formed and sensible inside my head, came out as a jumble of incoherent grunts and sounds which, frankly, scared me. I had no idea at the time this was because of my head injury, or that I even had a head injury. I was only partially convinced I existed at all, although the pain helped with that. No one who didn't exist could possibly be in so much pain. I hurt everywhere.
Gradually, as the days and then weeks passed, I began to make more sense of the world. I learned that I'd been in an accident, suffered an injury to my brain, and been in a coma for three months. For much of that time, at least in the early days, I'd hovered on the point of death, tipping over more than once. No one had expected me to wake up. But I had and, more than that, I was beginning to recover. My brain was slowly coming back to life, but there were parts of it that were damaged beyond repair. I was going to have to relearn a lot of things I'd previously taken for granted, like speaking, walking, reading, and writing.
The injury had been mainly to the right side of my brain which had resulted, strangely, in a considerable amount of weakness on my left side. My left arm and leg were useless for weeks and, in the beginning, it had seemed that I might have been permanently paralysed. Apparently though, I was too stubborn, too much of a fighter to let that happen and very, very gradually it all started coming to life again. In those early weeks I didn't really understand what was happening, which was a blessing.
Looking back now, it's like I was still asleep. I didn't wake up until a long time later...in some ways I still haven't. But then it was all very present, very intense. After the first couple of days when I seemed to forget things even as they happened, every day I learned something new, every day I pushed the limits a little further. It seemed that, although many of my abilities had waned, my capacity to learn had, if anything, increased exponentially. I only had to be told something once, shown something once and it was there forever. Of course the physical matters, learning to walk and talk, took time, but I picked up reading in no time and writing was a doddle.
People came to see me. They came all the time, every day, and I remember thinking it was very nice of them to spend all that time with me, a stranger. It didn't occur to me to ask why they came. A lot of things didn't occur to me at the time. And then someone mentioned that I was lucky to have such a devoted family. Family? I had a family? I could recall what a family was, but I didn't remember having one. It took another day or so to make the connection between the idea of having a family and realising that the people who came to see me were my family--my mother, my father, and my sister.
I'd already worked out that Noah was me. That had taken a while, but the sudden realisation that these kind people were actually connected to me, that the woman who stroked my hair and cried all the time was the one who had given birth to me...Wow, that was a shocker. It says a lot for my state of mind at the time that what shocked me was finding out these people were my family and not that I hadn't known that.
After the first few weeks, when my condition was deemed to be stable, I was off most of the drugs, well, apart from the painkillers. Oh my God, I would never have gone anywhere without those. When I was eating and actually able to pee by myself, although unfortunately not in a toilet, I was transferred to a rehabilitation centre and handed over to experts in the art of torture, who surely would have felt at home amongst the inquisitors in Spain during the Inquisition.
Every day my body was pummelled and pounded, twisted and bent, straightened and tortured in every possible way. I was also bombarded with stimulations of all kinds intended to seek out and wake up whatever parts of my brain still survived in suspended animation somewhere.
For the first couple of weeks I was there my 'family' didn't visit and, to be honest, I found that a relief. Most nights I cried myself to sleep from exhaustion and pain, my days passed in a blur of physiotherapy, speech and language therapy, massage, swimming, anything and everything to stretch my body and mind and build up what had been torn down.
By the time I was allowed visitors I could sit up in a chair and even manage a few simple sentences, more if I was writing. I was so proud of myself, my achievements, my pathetic stammering and feeble attempts to gain back control over my own body. My mother cried even more, my father was grim and somehow angry, and my sister wouldn't look at me. After that, they didn't come every day, and I was glad.
It was then that my 'friends' started coming. New people, all around my own age, bright and full of forced cheer and encouragement. They confused the hell out of me, talking about people I didn't know, things I had no concept of...like 'school' and 'sports' and 'boyfriends/girlfriends'. At first there were a lot of them. Some came only once or twice, and others for a couple of weeks, but there were three who kept on coming back. It was one of them who finally opened my mind to the biggest leap in understanding I'd yet undertaken.
We were sitting in the conservatory, the four of us...Beth, Aiden, Siona, and I. It was beautiful in there, very relaxed and calming, filled with pastel colours and cane furniture. The view overlooking the valley was stunning. Beth and Siona were perched on the window seat, gazing out over the trees at the summer-blue sky beyond, chattering away about something or other, their heads close together.
Aiden was sprawled in an armchair, one leg draped over the arm, and we were talking about football. Well, to be exact, he was talking and I was listening. He was on the school football team, and you would swear he was David Beckham the way he talked about himself. At least that's what Beth said. I had no idea who David Beckham was, and I had only the vaguest concept of what football was all about and only because Aiden had explained it to me about a hundred times.
"God, you should have seen us, Noah, we had them by the short and curlies. It was awesome. They didn't have a chance. That's the first time we've won the cup for years. Coach was made up. He took us all out for burgers, and you'll never guess who we bumped into."
"Erm, of course not...yeah...Well, anyhoo, it was Luke Farrell. You remember him, he...What?" He stopped, looking over my shoulder, and I turned my head to see Beth glaring at him, making a strange face. Her eyes flickered to me and turned soft, concerned.
"Nothing...nothing, Noah. Don't worry; it's just the idiot getting carried away as usual."
"What did I say? I was just testing. I just thought Noah might remember Luke, what with them having been so close." Aiden turned back to me, grinning, and I had to smile, I always did when Aiden smiled at me. I'd heard someone say once his smile was contagious. "You know what was weird? He didn't know about you, I mean, about you getting better. No one told him. I thought that was weird. He was your best friend so I thought someone might have told him. Mind you, he says he's been away. I haven't seen him for ages. He dropped out of school after...well...you know."
"Aiden," Beth hissed. "Shut up."
"You're just...you're so...Just shut up."
"What's the big problem? It's not as if you two haven't been talking to him incessantly about stuff that he doesn't remember." Aiden paused a moment. "It's not as if there is anything he does remember."
Siona appeared shocked, and Beth was completely irate, her face flushed and her eyes burning. I remember seeing her, almost as if it was the first time. She was outlined against the window, the sun lighting her red hair to flame, and I thought, in a completely dispassionate way, that she really was quite beautiful. I wondered if she was my girlfriend. Maybe that was why she was so upset...upset that...that...
Something went 'click' inside my head and everything became very, very clear.
"I...don't remember. I...don't...don't remember...anything. I...don't know who you are. I don't know...who I...who I am."
"Fuck, Aiden. Now look what you've done."
I don't know what Aiden said then; I don't know what any of them said because I was flooded with a sense of absolute panic that blotted out everything but a single, overwhelming truth. I didn't remember...anything.
I have a brief recollection of there being people around, lots of them. People talking, people touching me...I have no idea what they said, what they did. I was lost in the panic, in the sea of horrified understanding. I didn't know my own mother and father, I didn't know my friends, I didn't know myself. For me there was no life before I woke in the hospital, no existence other than the one I was experiencing right then and there. I was lost, completely lost.
In the end, they had to knock me out, and the next day, I spoke to a psychiatrist. He helped me a lot actually, helped me to see that things could be worse. I had family, I had friends...Okay, I didn't know who they were, but I could get to know them again. All my mistakes, my failures were wiped clean, and I got to start again. I was still the same person as I'd been before, and that meant the things my friends liked about me were still there. So what if I couldn't share the memories we once had of our times together, maybe I never would, but that didn't mean I couldn't make new ones.
Slowly, the panic subsided, and I grew to accept my condition. I stopped straining to see into the darkness behind and started moving towards the bright future ahead. I realised that I'm basically an optimistic person, and I don't let things bring me down for long. The psychiatrist only came three times, after that I didn't need him anymore, although he did make a strange comment about coming back to see me later when things settled down. I wondered why he would need to.
Aiden didn't come back either, not for a long time, weeks. Beth and Siona still came, just as much as before, and they were even more attentive, even more encouraging but always wary. In the end, it got to me and I grew angry with them, confronted them. I still remember and regret the hurt expression in their eyes when I shouted at them that I wasn't made of glass, not so fragile that they had to bite their tongues and be frightened every time they said something they thought might upset me.
I was immediately filled with remorse. They were my friends.
"I'm sorry. I sh-sh...shouldn't have s-said that. You are my f...my f...my friends, and i...if I don't remember what you were, I...I...know what you...what you have become. I didn't...didn't mean to hurt you."
"Please...please, don't say sorry," Beth said. "It's us. We don't know what to do for the best. We're so afraid of hurting you. You've been so hurt and we just want to make it better."
"You do. You help me, but...but I...I want to be...be normal. I want...things to be like...like they were before. Friends are not...not afraid of each other. Friends don't...don't...have to think...about every word they say." I grinned at them and their eyes went wide. "Okay...I do...I have to...to think...but...but I...I'm getting better, and...and one day...one day soon I won't. I don't want you to."
They glanced at each other and without a word both came and sat on the arms of my chair, one on each side, putting their arms around me. I rested my head on Beth's shoulder and smiled. She's so small, delicate like a doll. The thought came to me again that we might have been more than friends, although it was always a thought and never a feeling, if you know what I mean.
Still, it bothered me. It occurred to me if that was the way it had been, if Beth had been my girlfriend, then it must be hard for her to be here with me...with me not remembering. A while later, Siona went to get some drinks and I asked Beth. There was no easy way to broach the subject, so I hit it as I usually do, head on.
"Beth...before...before this happened to me...were you...were we...were you my girlfriend?"
Beth appeared shocked, then smiled and shook her head, reaching out to take my hand. "No, Noah. I would have liked to have been, but it never happened, it couldn't."
"Why? I like you. You are...very...very ...pretty. Why not?"
"Because..." She frowned, biting her lip. "Because it just couldn't. I have a boyfriend now."
"It's Aiden, Noah."
"Oh. Where is Aiden? He hasn't been here...for a long time."
"I didn't want him to come. I was angry with him because of what happened last time. He's so thoughtless. He doesn't think before he says anything. He has no idea."
"That's okay. I like that. I don't want you...I don't...want...you to be...careful. Friends don't have to be...careful."
"No. No, they don't. I'll try, Noah. I'll try not to be so careful, but you have to understand. What happened...We..." She lowered her head. "We were so afraid. We thought you were going to die. We were told that you were going to die and then you were asleep for so long. It was hard. It was hard for all of us. We were afraid. Aiden was...He was great. He never lost faith. He always believed in you. He knew you would come through. He came to see you, talked to you, told you about us, about what was going on out there, and he was convinced that you could hear him, that you were listening, and that eventually you would come back to us.
"And then, when you did and we came to see you and you were so..." She raised her head and she was crying. "We're still afraid, Noah, still afraid that something is going to go wrong, that we're going to lose you after all. Your parents are...they have told us that we have to be careful, that we have to take care of you or they won't let us come anymore."
Something clicked. "Is it them? Yes. It is. It's them. Not you. They...they told Aiden not to come."
"How...? How did...?"
"I am...hurt. I...my mind is not...not working properly in some ways but...that doesn't me-mean that...that it isn't working at all. I know what...I know them." And I did. I realised that, even though I had no memories of my parents, I did know them, and so it didn't surprise me that they had forbidden my friend to come, just because he had upset me. Hell, it was that upset that had helped me take a significant step. Sometimes it seemed they didn't want me to get better.
"You always were a great judge of character. You always got the measure of people really quickly, you understand people. It was the best thing about you."
"Am I? Was it?"
"One of the best things."
"Will you ask Aiden to come?"
"Your father will be cross."
That made me frown. My father was always cross; at least that's how it seemed to me. He was cross with the nurses and doctors, with my mother and with me, but I hadn't been able to work out why. It was more than him being concerned and afraid, I could understand that but...oh well.
"I don't care."
Beth grinned. It made her eyes light up. They are green. "I'll bring him next time. He'll be so happy. He's angry and upset."
"Yes. I understand."
"I know you do. You always understand." There was something strange in her eyes, the gentleness of her touch.
"Are you sure you weren't my girlfriend? It's okay you're with Aiden now."
She smiled, tears sparkling in her eyelashes and shook her head again. "Never. I was never your girlfriend."
"I must have been a fool."
"No. You were not a fool. You were just..."
"Did I have a girlfriend?" It was strange that, until that moment I'd never wondered. It hadn't seemed important. There were so many other things racing around in my head. It was at that moment the blanket truly began to lift.
"No. No, you didn't."
"Oh. I think...I think that's good."
"It would have been hard...for her."
"Yes, it would. Noah..." I'll never know what she was about to say because at that moment Siona came back and she never said it. I did think about asking, but I was aware enough to realise it would have been a very bad idea, and I didn't get the chance again. Somehow, Beth always managed to make sure she was never alone with me again. In time I forgot.
Aiden came back again and it was all like it was before, except something indefinable had changed, somehow a barrier had fallen and things were easier between us. They were no longer careful and I was no longer cocooned. We laughed, we cried, we became friends all over again.
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