I stared at the card as the specialist held it up for me. I concentrated really hard. Really, really hard. My eyes were beginning to blur and the lines and dashes on the card only melted together in a pool of black confusion. What did this mean, he had asked. The question echoed in my mind.
I gave up when I started to shake and I could no longer see with all the tears pooled in my eyes. I sat back and took a deep breath, relaxing into the chair I was sitting in. I hated those little symbols. I hated cards. I hated being asked questions. "I don't know," I finally answered, and with those three words my heart sank.
The specialist, a stinky old man with a large nose, scribbled more of those symbols on his paper. I waited, knowing full well the outcome of my test. I had failed. I didn't know what the consequences of failing would be, but I figured it wasn't good. At least I was dead.
But, that was only what I had assumed.
I didn't know how long exactly I had been in the hospital. Apparently for a long time, because I kept asking. I was beginning to think I was getting quite forgetful. The doctors reminded me over and over that I kept asking them the same questions, but in my defense, they asked me the same questions too. They asked me over and over to do this and that, testing my brain for some sort of malfunction. I didn't know what they're looking for. It obviously wasn't there.
The specialist set down his pen. He looked straight into my eyes with burning blue ones, as if reading my mind. I tried to avoid his gaze, looking around, searching for anything other than his blue irises and bulbous nose. Finally the guy leaned forward, placed his fingers together, and spoke.
"Mrs. Greene. I want you to listen very closely to me. I'm not going to ask you any more questions. Instead, I want you to do what I tell you. You have some very severe memory loss, and I'm going to help you get past it. Neurons are malleable little cells, so your brain should be able to recover some of what it lost. Unfortunately, you have also lost some linguistic and semantic memory which means you no longer know how to read, write or understand meanings of certain words. The good news is that can all be relearned... if you get your memory back in shape and working.
"The first thing I want you to do is repeat after me: 'I have amnesia. Amnesia is memory loss. I lost my memory.' Okay?"
I nodded. This seemed a little silly, but he was the specialist. "I have amnesia. Amnesia is memory loss. I lost my memory."
"I have amnesia. Amnesia is memory loss. I lost my memory."
I sighed out of frustration. I knew he was going to make me continue this until I had the phrase glued to my head. Still, I didn't ask any questions. "I have amnesia. Amnesia is memory loss. I lost my memory."
"Okay, you get the gist of it. Repeat that to yourself every few minutes until you feel like you know it inside and out. Then, repeat it every few hours. Eventually your short term memory should come back to you and you'll be making new memories in no time."
"Is that all?"
The specialist smiled at my quip. "No, I wouldn't be paid so much if that were all. Anyway, normally I give memory loss patients a journal to write in, but seeing as you cannot write, that would be illogical. Instead, I'm going to give you a recorder device. I'm also going to have my therapist, Dr. Schacter, work with you. She'll teach you how to read and write again."
I felt dread seep into my face. It seemed like I had an awful lot to learn. I would have much rather simply earned my angle wings. If you don't mind, I'm going to just skip this nonsense and go find God, thank you very much, I thought. But of course, I wasn't going to say that aloud. This man looked just like the type of person who would mind. Who knew it would be so difficult to get into heaven?
The man sitting in front of me seemed to read my mind. "Don't worry, most of it should come back fairly easy." He paused. "Linda? Linda, what did I say about your first task? I have amnesia. Amnesia is memory loss. I lost my memory. Repeat."
I nearly hit myself in the face. Of course, I almost forgot again! "I have amnesia. Amnesia is memory loss. I lost my memory."
Of course with these three sentences disappointment always followed. I was really excited for heaven. Every time I forgot, I was left with blissful ignorance. Every time I forgot, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. But no. I was stuck on earth with a mental ailment and man who smelled like peas.