“This is the vital thing,” I leaned forward and stared into Alain’s eyes. “I have to go home. I need to find my family. I need help remembering. Maybe if I can remember the specifics, I’ll be able to find them.” I sat back and drew a deep breath in through my nose.
“Memory is like a complex web,” Alain spoke gently. Though his face remained impassive, I heard a ‘but’ in his voice, “There’s no guarantee you’ll ever remember the specifics.”
“But I do remember,” I insisted. “When I’m really tired, I write in German. I only studied enough German to sing arias. I was never learned to write it. And my supervisor brought a German Struwwelpeter he had as a child and not only could I read it, I remembered my Papa reading it to me. All sorts of things trigger my memory.” Wrinkles had formed in my forehead. I tilted my head to one side like a puppy and pleaded in a small, high breathiness, “What can we do to trigger more memories?”
“We don’t know what will trigger it. The book connected you to a past experience. Tastes, smells, sights, sounds, tactile experiences will trigger memory. But I can’t sit here and determine which experiences will trigger specific memories.” He sighed, “Have you heard of PTSD?”
“Y-y-y-yes,” I stuttered. “I’ve read about it.”
“Why are you afraid?” Alain asked gently.
“I hate being labeled,” my shoulders rose and tightened. “And I don’t want medication!”
“You know I’m a CSW and can’t prescribe. If I thought you needed medication, I’d send you to a psychiatrist.” Alain waited as his words sank in; my shoulders relaxed. “The trauma you’ve experienced has left you with PTSD. You’re pretty good at handling it most of the time but you can’t control it’s affect on your memory. Your memories are so intertwined with the trauma, trying to force yourself to remember, no matter how vital, just won’t work.”
Energy drained out through my hands; in the silence, my fists slowly unclasped themselves. “So I just wait?” My voice was a small, plaintive wail.
“Yes,” Alain nodded his head. “You must continue on the long, slow path. Your hazy memory protects you from remembering too much too quickly. It’s a survival mechanism.”
“But I have an almost photographic memory!” I wailed.
“That’s part of the mechanism. You’re hyper alert and hyper aware,” he insisted. “You’ve told me you always know how to find your way out of any room and if there are no exits, you’re nervous and uncomfortable. That’s another survival mechanism.”
“Why couldn’t God have set a timer so I would remember when I was 20 years old? It really is vital. If either of them is alive, they might die before I find them,” my mouth was a small pout; a tear threatened to spill out of my left eye.
“I know it’s hard but this is the way God designed you. He gave the human brain the ability to protect itself. Your brain did exactly what it’s supposed to do. When you’re ready, you’ll remember what you need.” Then Alain added, “That might take some time.”
A sighing stream of air blew out of my nose. Head bowed, shoulders hunched, I examined my limp hands as they rested against my black linen trousers. After a moment, the corners of my mouth curled into a wry smile. My shoulders relaxed, my head lifted and gently nodded.