I just finished reading a novel in which the protagonist had just come out of a 6-year coma caused by a stroke – in his 30s – with very few memories of his former life. It is funny, insightful and has some very endearing characters. (Me Again by Keith Cronin)
There were several passages that made me stop in my tracks. At one point the hero, Jonny, says “ It’s hard – I’ve got to basically figure out who I am as a man, without the benefit of growing up.” That is just how I feel sometimes. It is as though I was a child up to age 5 ½ and then became an adult – and lots of the in-between stuff got skipped.
Jonny keeps discovering more about his past life – and doesn’t always like what he learns. He knows from the way people treat him and things they say that he is different from how he used to be. He says, “It’s like I’m not me anymore. And I don’t even think I’d want to be me, based on what I keep learning.” I know that feeling too. A friend replies, “You stopped being you many years ago. And it had nothing to do with any stroke.” I got chills at that one. I almost had to go back and re-read the first pages to make sure this was a stroke patient and not a survivor of CSA. He later learns what major event in his childhood had caused him to change – and asks- “Was I sad?” the answer is,”No, you didn’t seem to be particularly sad. You didn’t seem to be particularly anything. It was like you had just switched yourself off.” Bingo!
In another conversation – with a fellow-stroke patient he says about his family, “To be fair, I think they mean well. They know we each got sick and they want us to get better…. Better is a funny word. …When you’re dealing with things that you can cure, like an infection, or things you can accomplish, like learning to walk again, better is a positive thing. It’s a goal – something to aim for. So wanting to get better is good – at least in that situation…. But when you’re dealing with things that you can’t necessarily fix, … the idea of always trying to get better… well, it sort of implies that right now you’re not good enough.” The other character says later in the same passage, “We’re still not the people we used to be (my insertion: “or would have been”) … and I don’t think we ever can be.”
The biggest “AHA!” moment came when they were discussing his “amnesia” and I thought – “that’s funny – I feel exactly the same as if I had amnesia.” And then – nearly dumbstruck – “well, duh – that’s exactly what it was!” It wasn’t total amnesia – I remember selected safe parts of my childhood – even some unrelated things that happened while the abuse was going on – but not the unsafe parts. But I had never put that name on it. I knew I had forgotten or lost or repressed memories. But that label made it all make sense in a completely new way.
There’s more, if anyone is interested. To me it was BIG – but maybe not to anyone else.
A man talking sense to himself is no madder than a man talking nonsense to not himself.
Or just as mad.
So there you are.
Stark raving sane.
- Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead