He kept using my name because it was supposed to help us build rapport. It was having the opposite effect. “It’s Sal now, Doctor,” I said, keeping my voice as neutral I could. “I’ve been going by Sal for more than three years.”
“Ah, yes. Your continued efforts to distance yourself from your pre-coma identity.” He flipped to another page in my journal, quickly enough that I could tell he’d been waiting for the opportunity to drop this little bomb into the conversation. I braced myself, and he read:
Had another fight with parents last night. Want to move out, have own space, maybe find out if ready to move in with Nathan. They said wasn’t ready. Why not? Because Sally wasn’t ready? I am not her. I am me.
I will never be her again.
He lowered the book, looking at me expectantly. I looked back, and for almost a minute the two of us were locked in a battle of wills that had no possible winner, only a different order of losing. He wanted me to ask for his help. He wanted to heal me and turn me back into a woman I had no memory of being. I wanted him to let me be who I was, no matter how different I had become. Neither of us was getting what we wanted.
Finally, he broke. “This shows a worrisome trend toward disassociation, Sally. I’m concerned that—”
“Sal,” I said.
Dr. Morrison stopped, frowning at me. “What did you say?”
“I said, Sal, as in, ‘my name is.’ I’m not Sally anymore. It’s not disassociation if I say I’m not her, because I don’t remember her at all. I don’t even know who she is. No one will tell me the whole story. Everyone tries so hard not to say anything bad about her to me, even though I know better. It’s like they’re all afraid I’m pretending, like this is some big trick to catch them out.”
“Is it?” Dr. Morrison leaned forward. His smile was suddenly gone, replaced by an expression of predatory interest. “We’ve discussed your amnesia before, Sally. No one can deny that you sustained extensive trauma in the accident, but amnesia as extensive and prolonged as yours is extremely rare. I’m concerned there may be a mental block preventing your accessing your own memories. When this block inevitably degrades—if you’ve been feigning amnesia this whole time, it would be a great relief in some ways. It would indicate much better chances for your future mental stability.”
“Wouldn’t faking total memory loss for six years count as a sort of pathological lying, and prove I needed to stay in your care until I stopped doing it?” I asked.
Dr. Morrison frowned, leaning back again. “So you continue to insist that you have no memory prior to the accident.”
I shrugged. “We’ve been over this before. I have no memory of the accident itself. The first thing I remember is waking up in the hospital, surrounded by strangers.”
One of them had screamed and fainted when I sat up. I didn’t learn until later that she was my mother, or that she had been there—along with my father, my younger sister, and my boyfriend—to talk to my doctors about unplugging the life support systems keeping my body alive. My sister, Joyce, had just stared at me and started to cry. I didn’t understand what she was doing. I couldn’t remember ever having seen someone cry before. I couldn’t remember ever having seen a person before. I was a blank slate.
Then Joyce was throwing herself across me, and the feeling of pressure had been surprising enough that I hadn’t pushed her away. My father helped my mother off the floor, and they both joined my sister on the bed, all of them crying and talking at once.
It would be months before I understood English well enough to know what they were saying, much less to answer them. By the time I managed my first sentence—“Who I?”—the boyfriend was long gone, having chosen to run rather than spend the rest of his life with a potentially brain-damaged girlfriend. The fact that I still hadn’t recovered my memory six years later implied that he’d made the right decision. Even if he’d decided to stick around, there was no guarantee we’d have liked each other, much less loved each other. Leaving me was the best thing he could have done, for either one of us.
After all, I was a whole new person now.
“We were discussing your family. How are things going?”
“We’ve been working through some things,” I said. Things like their overprotectiveness, and the way they refused to treat me like a normal human being. “I think we’re doing pretty good. But thanks for asking.”
My mother thought I was a gift from God, since she hadn’t expected me to wake up. She also thought I would turn back into Sally any day, and was perpetually, politely confused when I didn’t. My father didn’t invoke God nearly as much, but he did like to say, frequently, that everything happens for a reason. Apparently, he and Sally hadn’t had a very good relationship. He and I were doing substantially better. It helped that we were both trying as hard as we could, because we both knew that things were tenuous.
Joyce was the only one who’d been willing to speak to me candidly, although she only did it when she was drunk. She didn’t drink often; I didn’t drink at all. “You were a real bitch, Sal,” she’d said. “I like you a lot better now. If you start turning into a bitch again, I’ll cut your brake lines.”
It was totally honest. It was totally sincere. The night she said that to me was the night I realized that I might not remember my sister, but I definitely loved her. On the balance of things, maybe I’d gotten off lightly. Maybe losing my memory was a blessing.