Saturday, 3 January 2015

Waking up with total memory loss

Stonehenge can wait. My goodness, that would make a good film title, wouldn't it? Anyway, I've only just finished processing my New Year's Day shots, and I now feel too tired to put together a post on what happened. Not tonight. Tomorrow. So I'll write instead about a film I saw on TV.

This film, The Bourne Identity, had been on TV many, many times in 2014, and here it was, on yet again tonight. It came out in 2002, and I'd never seen it before. That's completely typical of me. I hardly ever watch films on their release, or soon after. So it was with this one. Besides, I had a feeling I wouldn't like it. But there was nothing else I fancied watching, even remotely, so I gave it a go.

As you might guess, I'm not actually going to much discuss the film itself, but the train of thinking that it sparked.

I will admit that for a fast-paced action-packed thriller, with an intriguing premise, it turned out to be well worth watching. The hero, Jason Bourne, is fished out of the sea suffering from a total loss of memory. He can do all the usual instinctive things, and has all the skills he's been trained to use (he's really an assassin for a CIA-like organisation), but he has no recollection of what his life was like before rescued from the sea. And despite one fragmentary flashback, to a moment on his last assignment, he ends the film without remembering any more. The subsequent films in the Bourne series - I haven't yet seen any of them - may have exploited what happens when more of his memory comes back, or he is recognised by people from his veiled past, and they come after him with unpleasant intent.

I began to wonder how it might be if I woke up one morning - let's say tomorrow morning - with total amnesia.

That would be weird. I wouldn't recognise my bedroom. Nor any part of my house. Tentatively opening the curtains, the view outside would be completely unfamiliar. I'd have to accept my own reflection as being me, but I wouldn't know my name, nor anything about myself, not how old I was, nothing except the fact that the puzzled person looking into the mirror was a woman badly in need of a cup of tea and some answers. I'd be able to switch on the kettle and make a cup of tea, and unconsciously commence doing all the routine breakfast things, because like Jason Bourne I could function automatically. But I'd have no memory of doing these things before. All the time I'd be straining to remember, but failing.

However, I'd find my bag, and my phone, and within a few seconds I'd have established that they belonged to a certain Lucy Melford, whose face matched mine. But that would unlock nothing in my mind. It wouldn't necessarily occur to me at that point to search through the phone, and discover a lot of facts about myself. But I soon would, because consulting my phone first thing - to view my calendar and scheduled tasks for the day ahead - is an ingrained routine. I'm sure I would do this, even if I didn't know why I was doing it. Still, I might only be prompted to take my pills, and put out tomorrow's recycling bin. Or reply to an email from someone whose name would mean nothing to me - yet.

I really hope, if ever this amnesia scenario came true, that I would not examine the contents of my phone (or my PC) too soon. It would be so nice to live for at least a few hours in blissful ignorance of the Old Life. It would be so nice to be aware of only one life, my present one.

Assumimg that I discovered them, I wonder whether I would be tempted to delve into my documents and spreadsheets. Surely I would in any case look at the 'Lucy Melford' blog (clearly my own, and about me). And all my emails. I could hardly resist dipping into my paper files; and examining my photos, and my books, and my taste in paintings, and the clothes in my wardrobes, and the sort of food in my fridge and freezer. What would I think of myself?

How soon would I find out that the couple in that framed photo on the Welsh dresser, the only framed photo on display anywhere in the entire house, were in fact my parents? How do you think about your parents, when you can't remember anything about them, when they look like total strangers? And who was this Wayne? Who was this Julian? What would be my reaction when I found so many pictures of a woman named M---, who had clearly been in my life for so many years?

I am so well self-documented that I'd soon piece some of it together. But this would still be a cool, detached intellectual exercise, driven simply by curiosity. I would read things, and I would ponder photographs. But with no memory of the past, with nothing to fill in the gaps and provide context, how long would it take to reconstruct exactly who was related to who, and how I'd fitted into the broad picture. If indeed I had. Why did the 'Julian' records come to an end in 2008? Had he died? Why were there 'Lucy' records only from 2008? Was I a long-lost sister? Why did I look so odd in those 2008 photos?

It would all be very puzzling. I'm hoping that I'd have the patience to sort it out, enough hunger to know.

Perhaps eventually I'd read a post that explained exactly what had happened to me. What would I think then? If I still had no memory of any of it, so that it was like reading a story that might be true, or might not, would I feel any emotion about it? Or would it seem like a strange tale that obviously involved me, but didn't touch me at all, because I couldn't recall any of it.

And as the people who knew me gradually came back into my life, what would they make of my amnesia? Would I seem the same? How would not having a past, not being conscious of sixty-two years of accumulated experience good and bad, affect my personality and attitudes? Would I be a better person, without all that history in my recollection? Now that is an intriguing question!

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Lucy Melford