Tell me where is fancy bred…

The last month of my life has been a strange one filled with obligations, proposals for PhD research, work and singing, but there was something more which made just being alive extremely difficult.  Even on days when it would seem that I had a reprieve of running hither and yon to do my work in Amsterdam, when all I had to do was sit at home and read articles for research that simple task was made unbearably difficult by an accident that happened on my birthday.

I had class that day and wanted another layer to wear, but the layer I wanted was in our storage closet inside the bag attached to my bike.  Right before it was time to leave for class I stopped in the basement to go get my serape.  When I opened the door and bent over the bike a box fell from the shelf above and landed on the back of my head .  In addition to being struck from above I was also hit from below as the falling box smashed my head into the bike frame.  I was knocked unconscious by it and woke, I know not how much later, but soon enough to actually think that I could go to class.  I remember nothing from that day from the time I left class.  I remember several times in class wondering why words didn’t make sense, why I was having trouble reading and I recall the horrendous head pain I endured.  After class I must have made it home and must have fallen asleep in the living room for I woke that evening in darkness.  It was long after supper time.

Even more disturbing was how tired I still felt, and worst of all, my fiancé was out of the country on a business trip.  It was plain as day to me (or as plain as anything could be in the mire that was now my consciousness) that I had sustained a concussion.  I went online when I finally felt like doing so wouldn’t cause the world to tilt sideways and with great difficulty read about the symptoms, what I should do, and whether or not I should go to the hospital.  I had all the symptoms of a concussion (and still do), but none of the emergency symptoms.  That I could tell, my sleep was only sleep for I did dream.  I called my fiancé, consulted with him about it and then went back to sleep.  Friday I did not wake for longer than an hour at a time and then only with great difficulty.  My muscles were starting to become sore from sustained periods of remaining still, but the dizziness and fatigue were enormous.  So I slept some more and that evening Bart came home.  I remember nothing of his return except that he arrived for I soon fell back to sleep.

Saturday was better, I was awake for much longer periods and I could eat almost normal food again.  The ringing in my head was gone and I started to leave behind that terrible sense of malaise that had so crippled me since the accident, but Sunday morning brought about a shock to my system even more dramatic than trying to survive a concussion.  After conversing with Bart he mentioned a name to which I could only ask, “Who?”  He tried to make me understand that he was naming a person I was familiar with, but it soon became clear that I had no memory of this person.  To own the truth, I’ve forgotten what name he said.  The morning progressed as an adventure in discovering what had been done to my memory.  I did not know which college I had graduated from (Bart showed me my diploma from Carthage College and resumé to prove it to me), nor did I (nor do I still) have any recollection of people whom I met after my first marriage whom I have not seen within the last seven months.  In that first week, I even had lapses whence I would forget that my mother was dead and think about calling her via skype when I got back to the apartment only to realize halfway through the thought that such a thing was no longer possible.

Some time during the week I called my general doctor to ask about this memory loss and was told that it’s not uncommon to have such symptoms attached to a concussion and that after 6 months if these symptoms persist they’ll do a brain scan of some kind to determine the extent of the damage.  It was in the course of the last few weeks that I read a passage in a book for my research that said, “The consistency of the human brain is the consistency of uncooked egg within the shell.”  I thought about what would happen to an egg if you shook it violently before cracking it open.  I began to realize that concussions are a bit more serious than I was prepared to understand, and especially since I’d had a concussion before.

It was two months before I was to be married to my first husband when he and I were in a horrific car accident, and miraculously were unharmed with the exception of road rash on his face and I sustained a concussion that was causing me trouble with my eyes especially when I would try to read musical scores because it required quickly moving between multiple lines of music.  Having had this happen before I took a rather more cavalier attitude towards my injury than I should have.  I have memories intact, fully alive and well in my head of all the people I’ve met and spoken with in the last seven months, but the people whom I have not met since then and whose acquaintance I made after my first marriage are gone from my mind for the foreseeable future, which frightens me.  Bart suggested I rejoin Facebook, but clean in my memory are the reasons I left it determined never to return, and what good would it do me to see photos of all these people I don’t know?  My sister has shown me photos of people she says that I know, and they stir nothing in my recollection capabilities.  A few days ago she said this of someone who was a mutual acquaintance of ours, “So what am I supposed to say to Andy when he says ‘Tell your sister I miss her.’?  Am I supposed to say, ‘Well she has no idea who you are so you can stop missing her now.’?”  It was funny at first, but that conversation is sticking with me like a distant alarm.  I can’t help the feelings of anxiety that ripple around like small waves hinting at something larger in my soul thinking of those words.

I’ve had the other fun symptoms like extra fatigue when doing intensive reading/studying, and difficulty writing.  I’ve even had strange episodes where I’ll be writing at the computer for hours (preparing those PhD proposals) and go back to read what I’ve written to find passages in my writing that are filled with gibberish.  I can only describe them as a mix of languages creeping into my writing, and the most bizarre thing about this particular symptom is that when I go back and read it I recognize what I wrote, know what I wanted to write in English, but I have no idea how it came to be written in gibberish because I watch the screen when I type and not my hands.

At the end of this week is the end of a project which as filled this last month with quite a lot of work and that is the performance of Bach’s B minor mass.  I know that I’ve sung this work before and I’ve told people that I’ve sung it before, but since the accident, I have no memory of whom I performed it with.  The score is worn and the notes I’ve written in it (and had to scratch out some of them) are from an earlier performance.  I have two people from my time at Carthage whom I remember though only one is affiliated directly with the college.  I name the other as being “of that time” because it’s the time I can’t recall.  Sometime in the past (I’ve had to look it up on my resumé) I was hired by the Emmaus Lutheran Church in Racine, WI to be their choir director for the adult choir.  I know that it was after I graduated, but I was still affiliated with Carthage a lot because I was still studying conducting there with Dr. Eduardo Garcia-Novelli.  I have memories of Dr. Garcia-Novelli, of his choir in Wauwatosa and of the people there because of some fortunate things that happened this summer.  One of his sopranos whom I sang with there invited me to play and sing at her church.  Additionally, this last Christmas when I was in Wisconsin I performed at the Christmas Eve Mass at Dr. Garcia-Novelli’s church.  I am scared to admit this, but if those things had not happened, the last choir I remember singing with and the last educator I knew would have both been effaced from my memory by this accident, and I don’t want them to be.  I love people.  Very often it happens in my life that people have not known how much I loved them because I don’t always disclose how very dear they have become to me.  I take those risks with few enough souls, but this accident has made me understand how precious our connections really are.  Another fortunate thing happened to me this summer and because of it I have most of my memories of Emmaus Lutheran as well.  I was given the opportunity to work for them this summer with their children in their summer camp, and an extremely dear person to me who was in that choir also did something I’ll be eternally grateful to her for.

Claranna Vytlacil is a cherished friend of mine.  She once told me that she didn’t know whether I was the daughter she never had or what the reason was that she always felt a very strong connection with me.   My friend Natalie and I speak of being soul-mates and how we think of one another as family.  I have often thought of Claranna as part of that soul-family too.  This summer, being the loving person she is, she arranged a get-together at her house for our old choir to be together and eat and laugh and just have a chance to see one another.  This weekend, as I cleaned my apartment I ran across the going away cards these loving souls gave me.  If Claranna had not arranged that party, I would have read those words and have no memory of the faces attached, nor the joy they give me.  I sat there on Saturday alternately reading and weeping for joy that I’ve been so blessed with friends, but also filled with fear over the faces that are lost to me.  I had to submit my resumé for those PhD proposals, and I read it many times and have used it to scour my files.  I was a busy person from 2003-2011.  I sang in a superfluity of choirs and have memories of only one because of its director and one of its sopranos seeing me.  I have no memory of the classes and masterclasses I attended in those years and more than anything I cannot remember the faces of my teachers, my fellow singers, and many of the students.  I was also a choir teacher and have no memory of where I taught.  I can remember high school and many of my times at UW-Madison, but after that it’s a wash.  Lately I’ve begun wondering if the reason is because I went after an article of clothing that was from the time preceding my marriage, but then that just seems preposterous to me.

I’ve saved all my emails for years and years on four different email accounts.  My inbox may be empty but that’s because I have files and files of emails.  I went through those looking for correspondence with some of the names on my resumé and on my transcripts.  Some letters I found, but only some.  I must have had a student email account which I did not save the letters out of.  Even more saddening is that I read these letters, and find no solace because I have no face to put with those names, and no memories stir at reading the words.  One person on my resumé I have only one email from and it’s in connection with one of the choirs that vanished from my memory.  In response to something I sent, this person wrote back:

“You are a blessing.”

It scares me that someone who saw me as a blessing is no longer part of my life because I cannot remember them.  It also brings to my mind the question that was posed first by Shakespeare.  “Tell me where is fancy bred, or in the heart, or in the head?”  I have to say that the evidence of this last month, strange as it may seem, would point to its being that the “heart” is clearly lodged in our brains, and that a good knock on the skull can rearrange the heart so that forgets those it used to love entirely.  Perhaps the strangest memory symptom of all of this is that my memories of my childhood feel so near to me now, so close and so real.  Sometimes they are so present that I feel as though I’m living in two spaces and times at once, and that I could reach out with my hands and touch that past because its presence is so vivid to me now.

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~ by Rebecca Erickson on February 4, 2013.

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