Past Forgetting: My Memory Lost and Found

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  • Edition: 1st
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2009-12-31
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications

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The author of the bestselling "Bed/Time/Story" offers a powerful account of restoring memory after almost total amnesia. "Past Forgetting" is a guide to memory's trails and canyons and shows a determination not only to retrieve, but also to rehabilitate and redefine a life.


Past Forgetting
My Memory Lost and Found

Chapter One

It begins like this. I am awake. Sunlight comes through the window. A warm body sits next to me on the bed. A firm torso or arm, pressing close, male or female. Not sure. The sun frames the blond hair. Solid presence-stability.

Crisp, heavy sheets. This is a hospital somewhere. And I'm in it.

Looking hard against the sun, I can see the face. "So, you're captivating," I say, "and who are you?"

"I'm your husband," he says. "I'm Stuart."

"That's a beginning," I laugh, "and who am I?" I'd like to ask, "And where are we," but that's too much to know just now.

"You're Jill. You're a writer."

He's scared, I can hear that. But at the same time he's able to be reassuring. "You're going to be just fine."

I can tell he's lying. "I didn't ask."

He takes my hand. "But you will. Do you remember climbing out of the pool?"

"Yes," I say. Can he tell when I'm lying?

I remember swimming. I am stretching every muscle to match the drive of the woman leading aerobics before this--collar blade outlined in sweat, thigh bones shadowed like the ridge under Ava Gardner's brows. Am I in Palm Springs? Twenty laps. I've got nineteen. "You're there," I urge myself on, "just one more."

Now I'm here in this hospital. "So, did I hit my head?" I don't wait for an answer. "How long have I been out?"

"A while," he says.

I lean against his arm.

It is night. Someone brawny is sitting beside me. "Hello . . ."--male voice--"now have some soup." He tries to feed me. I can't taste the name of it. "You could have drowned," he's telling me, "but you got out of the pool somehow."

I touch his forearm lightly. "This is very patient, nice of you to sit here with me."

"I'm your husband."

"I know--but I don't know." Tears. "If you know what I mean."

Here's the next banner of time I catch hold of. A man in white comes in. He puts up the shade. Behind him the world is flat, plain, and soft green, like a land in an old-fashioned children's book. I've never been out of America. Our family doesn't fly. Not since Carole Lombard was killed in the plane crash.

"It's sweet outside," I say.

"Are you asking where you are?"


He's great looking. Blond, built like Spencer Tracy, he'll charm my father. "Are you my doctor?" I look him up and down.

He sits down next to me on the bed and puts his hand over mine. "I'm your husband, Jill. You're at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital near Tring."

Mandeville. That's familiar, I think.

"In England," he says.

"You know, I thought England looked like this." I don't want to ask how I got here. Not yet. My head's splitting. "The kids--is there a phone I can use? I have to call my kids." I look him over. I can't make any connection here between him and my kids, Jeremy and Johanna. "Who's with them?"

"Jill." He's trying to get me to pay attention, to see how long I can hold onto what he tells me. "You've been in a coma and you've forgotten things. It's only temporary." He hopes. "Jeremy and Johanna are grown."

"I've been out so long?" I try to sit up.

"It will all come back." He's trying to reassure both of us. He sounds English. My life is over and I've come back in an old war movie.

"There's a piece missing," I explain. I touch his hand and I'm gone again.

I'm leaning against a man's chest. I'm seriously unhappy. "You'll remember soon."

Anger is the last thing I remembered before the seizure, which put me into the coma, shattered my ability to remember and erased years of recollection.

My husband and I had come to a spa outside London, where we live. We made a pact to get fit, he reminds me now.

"You didn't want to rush dressing to go in for breakfast. You were trying on outfits. So I went back to bed to read until you decided you were ready. Then you discovered I'd brought chocolate with me to the spa. You put on your bathing suit, said, 'Forget breakfast, I'm going swimming.'"

"So I was the one who was angry."


Is his voice appealing because it's familiar, or because the tone, the rhythm, appeals to my taste? Do I remember my taste? What if I've forgotten how I dress? It's okay. He won't mind. Maybe.

We're searching each other's faces. He's trying to see if I don't remember. I'm trying to show I do. "So we'd been away a while."

"Only a couple of days," he says.

"It just feels like forever," I say.

"You're playing it well." He strokes my hand.

I rub my eyes to blank out tears.

"After you went off to swim," he says, "I got up and went in for my circuit training. I was on my way when they called me."

"Have you told me what happened each time you've visited?"

"Yes," he says, "more or less."

"What about telling me more."

"A maid discovered you in a seizure at ten. You'd made it to our room," he's stroking my hand with his forefinger and leaning towards me with his head down, "at five minutes after ten, that is, you were still convulsing, half on the bed, half on the floor, when the housekeeper came in. They called me." He looks at his watch now. "I came in at ten-ten and you were still in the condition they call stasis."

Past Forgetting
My Memory Lost and Found
. Copyright © by Jill Robinson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from Past Forgetting: My Memory Lost and Found by Jill Robinson
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