“I don’t know”.
The words were incredibly cathartic to say. My daughter thought I was just being my usual stubborn self, trying to push her away. I was known to do that when I was reading the newspaper. However, I was being completely honest. To hell with it!
“You don’t know?” A painfully slow expression of bewilderment and concern filled her pale little oval face.
“That’s right. I don’t know. I have little, or nomemory of that!” I stared back at her and nodded vigorously just in case my words hadn’t landed. I took the glass of sparking water off the table and sipped, my eyes never leaving hers. The poor little thing looked very worried about her dotty old mother. But my words were true and it was probably time she understood. Someone had to hear those words before I myself become just another casualty of the cortex, like the second day of primary school.
“How can you not know who you lived with in your first year of college? I don’t understand.” She was smiling now. Cue the awful nervous laughter. She thought I was joking. Wouldn’t that be a good one? if only I was!
*Well, there are lots of things I don’t remember about college or school. Actually, most things that happened before 1976 are either foggy or just… not there.” I looked at her with a face as blank as the topic.
I had never told anyone about my memory loss. My ex-husband knew alright, because apparently most of the memories that alluded me actually heavily featured him, and he was not a man that could bear to be forgotten. Our happiest years together were victims of my recovery. That probably hurt him more than I realized but I suffered from debilitating depression, and after a particularly agonizing episode in 1976, I underwent Electroconvulsive Therapy, which robbed me.
I had suffered from depression my entire life. I had been diagnosed with Seasonal Affected Disorder, which basically meant that certain parts of the earth’s orbit around the sun made me feel like utter shit. The autumn months were the worst. It was like a slow descent into the abyss of winter. I was forced to grit my teeth, squeeze my eyes shut and hang on in there until around April every year. Then, I knew it was safe when I saw the bluebells out in their brief, but fantastical bloom. A reprieve!
Perhaps, when I am gone, my children will understand why I got so excited by the bluebells each year, and why we had to take the scenic route through the school woods when we were going absolutely anywhere, or often nowhere in particular.
I do remember all of my pregnancies for some reason. I was pregnant nine times in my life, but only carried six to full-term. The first was when I was nineteen, in University and unmarried, although that soon changed. Before long, I wore a wedding dress with the tiniest little hint of a bump, while my parents looked on utterly wearing themselves out by not smiling and not wishing me well. That was normal. There was never much joy in my childhood home. I remember that much, sadly.
The morning of my wedding, pains started and then rapidly worsened and I began to bleed. I lost the baby that day, but still I went to the church and married that man that I loved so terribly.
The season of my sixth pregnancy was quite unfortunate. My daughter was born in March of 1976, a bad time of year for me, when nothing had yet lifted and there was no sign of the bluebells. It is always darkest before the dawn in a mind with a malady. That was the only baby I carried with me the entire way through the blackness, and that year I simply couldn’t hang on in. Somehow, she still became the best natured, gentlest child, a natural born healer before she even left the womb!
A few weeks after our daughter was born, I continued to spiral down the rabbit hole solo, finally tumbling in to a dead end. I could go no further, so I decided to put myself out of my misery. It was only when a kind old woman we had recently hired as our housekeeper, yanked me out of the bathwater, that I got some proper help. That woman was a proper motherly mother to me.
In the 1970s, mental help involved curious and wildly experimental men in lab coats inducing a seizure to jolt all the blackness away. It actually did help me. It helped me to snatch more frequent glimpses of light and enjoy my family, but as the years went on, I was slowly alerted to all that I had lost. I was robbed of myself and my memories. Children naturally asked thousands of questions about their parent’s past and about the “days of black and white” but I had no real answers for them because everything seemed truly grey and strangely vacant.
My daughter looked at me with tears in her eyes after I told her the story, about my missing stories…
“Mam, I’m so sorry. I can’t believe I never knew this before. How did I never know this?! I’ve asked you about your childhood before and school and everything! And you answered me. You alwaysgave me an answer!” She looked at the floor, and then back to me in shock and confusion.
“Yep, well…that’s just that!” I quickly picked up my newspaper again so that she knew we were finished talking about it for good. She became silent. She understood me.
Years from now, my family might grasp why I always had something to pick up and read while we sat by the fire on rainy evenings, I was simply avoiding difficult questions, passing the time, waiting for the bluebells.