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Mercury and Memory

January 21, 2011

I’ve been having variations of this conversation with my girlfriend a lot recently:

Her: “So remember that [book/movie] where the character goes and [vivid description of very memorable plot point]?”

Me: “No.”

Her: It was called [name of book/movie].

Me: I was looking at that on Amazon the other day. Looks interesting.

Her: You already found it interesting! We had several long conversations about it!

Me: Really? When was this?

Her: [Names a time during the two years I was sick]

Me: Oh, well, that explains it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to imply that mercury erased two years of my life. But my memory was not functioning optimally during that time, and evidence of it crops up at moments like this. My girlfriend and I have a shorthand for it now.

Her: Don’t you remember that movie we saw?

Me: Was it during the two years?

Her: Oh, okay, never mind.

None of this would really matter if I wasn’t a writer. In fact, it’s kind of a blessing to have indistinct memories of two years of feeling like crap. But when I was planning to write a memoir about those two years, I need to do some research.

If all I had to rely on were my memories of that time, I wouldn’t attempt to write a book at all. But I’ve always had backup memory storage in the form of extensive journals. I’ve been a journal keeper since I was 10 years old. I don’t always write every day, but every time I write, I fill in everything that has happened since last time.

Recently I opened up my trunk of journals, made a pile of all the ones I wrote while I was sick, and started research for my book. Facing them was a daunting task. Since I’d written them, I hadn’t gone back to read more than snippets of entries from that time. Why? Because it was to fresh. I had emerged too recently from that place of sickness, and I didn’t want to revisit it for nothing, no thank you, no sir.

But the time has come. I’m buried in those journals up to my elbows, learning about that person I was, the person who filled those books with thoughts and feelings and symptoms and doses and pain and grit and endurance and hope. I know there’s a story in here that needs to be told. It’s not always  a comfortable thing, to go in there and reanimate the gray landscape of sickness.

But I have a feeling  it will be worth it, to explain what it was like to others, and in a way, to explain what it was like to myself.

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