Amnesia Nervosa

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Jon Ho

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I suffer from amnesia.

Hello, my name is Paul and I suffer from amnesia. I am not saying that to excuse little slips of memory or a slight awkwardness in the way things are retained. No, it is the total instantaneous loss of elements of time. The immediate disappears into a black hole, the present slips on the guise of the past, and steals incognito amongst the links of my memory.

Hello, my name is Paul. I have the memory of a goldfish and arms instead of fins. I am alone in my bowl. My friends have all left, wearied and driven half crazy, taking with them the little confidence I still had in myself. Or rather in that shadow of myself. I would like to tell you something I have on my mind. To put down on this piece of paper the shackles of my pain. I suffer from amnesia.

But first, the polite thing to do would be to introduce myself. I am called Paul, or Polo by my friends. Yes, I have lost all my acquaintances except one who can put up with my unbearable “systemato-symptomatic” repetitions. He is called Jack, and he suffers from amnesia like me. Last time, I invited him to my place for 2 pm. To have a coffee and enjoy my patio. Just before I was going to go out to do the shopping at the grocery store on the corner, Jack turned up at 2 pm precisely. I thought he had a nerve to just drop by when I was going out to collect shells with my nephew on the beach. The weather was beautiful, perfect for a walk in the forest, in the gentle shade of the great oaks. I remembered that Brice, my aunt’s son, had found girolle mushrooms or was it starfish, I’m not sure now. In any case, I remember waves nibbling away at our sandcastles among the ferns, carrying pretty pine cones towards us. My little nephew Louis could not get over the soft feel of the waves against his calves. He splashed the foam of the surf onto his face like a mischievous little girl and laughed at the marks of the salt on his fair skin. What a lovely morning we had.

I would like to know who stuck a piece of blank paper in front of me and put a pen in my right hand. I always thought I was left-handed. But my writing is legible. I will reread it later to check that I have not repeated myself and that it is all coherent. I can feel a violent headache coming on. Getting the words out will bring relief.

I would have liked to be a good old elephant that could keep each memory in a file as thick as life itself. With everything neatly arranged in pigeonholes, so that my brain just had to pick things out…

I know that you sometimes get up off your sofa to go and fetch something from the kitchen. Once the fridge is open, you haven’t the faintest idea what you are doing there. Just imagine that for me it’s like that everywhere and all the time. Sometimes my computer keyboard is set on qwerty although I am sure that I left it on yrteaz the night before. I don’t think my doctor has given me any medication for this illness, or else I have no idea where I could have put it. I remember that my family doctor, who is a good friend, panicked a bit when he heard me talking. It took me three hours to tell him about the most important moments of my life. It is always easier to confide in a complete stranger; you avoid the inhibition or emotions caused by the possibility of being judged. After a good fifteen minutes, the lady doctor readjusted her glasses with a serious expression and handed me a prescription covered in scribbles. I remember asking her if I had to take the scored pills before or after meals. She replied that the most important thing was to sift the sand well so that the castle stood up to the assault of the waves. Jack came into the room and slipped a 20-dollar bill into the health professional’s bra. She smiled at him, taking her hands off the wheel, and I went out to rob the pharmacy.

My name is Polo and I no longer really know if I suffer from amnesia or am just burned out from swimming round the bowl. In my brain I have a goldfish who swims round and round because of the shape of its prison.
I need a cigarette. I love feeling my lungs swelling with smoke, and also playing with the ash. Brice, my nephew, always asks me why I don’t come with him to chase monsters in his cupboard. I tell him, to hide the fact that I have no interest in doing that, that his clothes could catch fire from the cigarette in my mouth. She is adorable. It is wonderful to have a niece who is so patient and smiling. I can ask her what her name is every five minutes and she always replies with the same good humour, without ever getting irritated or calling me stupid.

Look, my pills were next to my packet of cigarettes. I’ll take a few, I like the blue ones, they take me far off into the distance. Far from what I am in the process of becoming. An empty mind in an unknown body.

Translated by Wendy Cross

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