BY ROBYN MORRIS
Copyright is held by the author.
IT STARTED small, like a Pop! Tiny tremors in Sophie’s brain triggered mini earthquakes that sent words sliding into deep, shadowy cracks. They were arbitrary words, but hers all the same. The delicate axis on which her brain rested had shifted somehow. How, she didn’t know.
More recently, it was as though a giant sinkhole had appeared and swallowed part of her thinking brain. Her clever comebacks and her crossword clues were gone, leaving her powerless, desperate, embarrassed.
As the only woman in an all-male architecture firm, she relied on her usually quick and sharp tongue. Now, she noticed that friends and colleagues were filling in her blank spaces, keen to show off their own vocabulary prowess. She imagined they assumed she was searching for a superior word to describe a thing. She wasn’t.
There’s only one word for dynamite, really. Well, fine, an explosive, or — whatever. The point is, in that moment, all Sophie wanted to say was dynamite, but the word was gone. Vanished into another crevasse inside her brain. The question lingered: could it be retrieved?
When she first started taking the anti-depressant pills, she’d clung to them. They were a lifeline. After her husband left, she was so singularly focused on holding her little family together, she’d barely registered her words slipping, dismissing any deficiency in her lexicon to tiredness, distraction or grief. And it happens to mothers, right? Especially mothers who are unexpectedly left to cope alone in a too-big house with two know-it-all teenagers, and a job that, while paying handsomely, too often reminded her that she was only as good as her last project.
On the side of the fridge, she’d tucked a piece of graph paper under a magnet on which she tallied up the times she stumbled over a sentence, a strike for every time she fudged a forgotten word with a flick of the wrist or suffered a sting of shame as someone filled in her pauses as though she were a foreigner learning the language. Purposeful lines and angry crosses covered the paper, and she was loath to start a new one.
She studied it, counting and recounting the tallies of five as ice cold fear prickled at her hairline and seeped down through her body. Numbers don’t lie, though, and she couldn’t shake the sense she’d crossed a critical marker somewhere. It didn’t feel isolated anymore. On the contrary, it felt like an omen, foreshadowing a future that was all too familiar.
Sophie wanted to scream in frustration, she was too young to lose her memory, dammit! Her jaw ached from grinding her teeth down to smooth plains at night and she massaged the side of her face. She was determined not to throw herself at the mercy of Google. What would she type into the search bar anyway? 44-year-old woman losing her vocabulary and her mind? Instead, she examined the side effects of the medication. Apart from dry mouth, change in weight and pins and needles in the extremities, she didn’t find anything related to forgetfulness or memory.
Was that what she had? It wasn’t that she forgot where she lived or where she needed to be at a given time, more that pieces of her linguistic world fractured and fell. People suggested that she’d recall the word later, but she suspected it was said in an effort to lighten an awkward moment, rather than it being rooted in any scientific fact. It was a rare occasion that she’d drive home from work and a wayward word from earlier in the day would appear unbidden in her head, as though it had been waiting, just behind a curtain the whole time. Mostly the words slipped from view with a permanence that frightened her. Forgetfulness as a concept seemed kinder, something that befell white-haired grannies who forgot they’d already fed their cat or gifted their grandsons $20.
No, what Sophie was dealing with was a theft, an eerie stealth-like force against which she was helpless.
She couldn’t be certain the pills themselves weren’t responsible for her sinkhole-brain. So she decreased the dosage slowly as per the package instructions and flushed the rest of the pills down the toilet. But the words didn’t return. Nothing is recoverable from a sinkhole. She tried to picture what a person was like with half their vocabulary, at what point it would raise too much attention. What would happen then, would there be an intervention like when somebody needs to go to therapy or rehab? Did she need therapy? She also wondered whether she had lost not only the words themselves but the understanding of the words. In her mind’s eye, the object taunted itself before her, its shape dancing, spinning, before morphing into a colourless mound, the word in its letter form floating by like cloud through mist, impossible to grasp. More pills might be the answer but she was scared. Scared of what the answer meant.
The answer, though vague, arrived at a scheduled doctor’s appointment the following week.
The doctor readjusted his rimless glasses and turned back to the monitor, as though he too were hoping for something more tangible in the way of results.
“You may not have had a traditional head injury, but you’ve suffered a trauma all the same. A deep emotional shock. Husband left, you said?” He paused, waiting for her to acknowledge this, and when she didn’t, he continued. “We still know relatively little about the brain. Sometimes the brain can just shut down when it judges the outside pressure too stressful. A self-preservation mode, perhaps.” He watched her a moment longer and then glanced back at the monitor. It didn’t have a better answer.
“You could try yoga.”
“They say it relieves anxiety. And sleep. Get more sleep.”
Sophie stopped at the pharmacy to re-fill her prescription and passed by the bakery to collect cream eclairs and a hot tea for the road. She always drove out to see her mother on the last Friday of the month. It was upsetting for both of them to visit more often. Last month, her mother hadn’t remembered that cream eclairs were her favourite. This time, she hoped her mother would recognize her face, at the very least remember that she had a daughter named Sophie.