One of the reasons why I attend Smith College is a woman named Su Meck. It was at her side, as a guide, that I first toured Smith. It was by her words that I knew I should choose Smith. Last year we were the only Ada Comstock Scholars (Smith’s non-traditional students) that were in the Glee Club (she was president of the club), and my participation in Glee Club is due to her efforts (along with my daughter’s prodding) to hastily set up an audition while my daughter and I (in some very fun role reversal) were visiting for my admitted student reception weekend. It was terrifying. I only relate all of that personal information for three reasons—full disclosure, respectful admiration, and a shared love of doughnuts.
Last year Su published her memoir, I Forgot to Remember. Yesterday I belatedly got around to reading it. I knew the story, of course. I knew it from the first day I met Su when she mentioned she was writing it. And as far as stories go—it’s a doozy. At age twenty-two, Su was hit in the head with a ceiling fan and suffered complete “Hollywood” amnesia (so-called because of its rarity in real life and preponderance in Hollywood plot lines). The first fifty pages of the book, as she relates the story, is absolutely riveting. Through a random incident that could have resulted in a hundred different sorts of injuries, worse or better, Su was literally re-born into an adult’s body she knew nothing of, and an adult world she was clueless about. She didn’t just snap into it either, it took years, in the same way that an infant has years of development before consciousness, for her to begin to make sense of things. The extraordinary backwardness of living as an adult: caring for children, driving a MOVING vehicle, handling knives, matches, gas switches, and laundry while re-learning language, writing, reading, cooking, contending with frequent blackouts and continuing memory loss AND being told by an ignorant medical community that she was “fine,” with no visible damage to her brain, is tragic and harrowing. But it is what comes after that is truly moving.
We all have our story of ourselves and our lives. Among my peers at Smith, the “Adas” (as we are called and call ourselves), being “non-traditional” as we are, the stories are more often than not hard, long, and twisted. And while Su’s story obviously has an incredible plot twist of epic proportions, she never lets the reader forget that…well— life’s like that. Rather than lean on the tried and true theme of inspiration-porn, you can do it! memoir genre, in her typical forthright and bracingly honest way, she acknowledges the struggles. The frustration and collateral damage of a medical community that abandoned her, and a family, her lovely family, left to deal, in real time, with the disaster. The familial (cultural or sociological) proclivity to hide and repress problems rather than expose…what? Embarrassment? Weakness? We are all weak, and, yes, we all have things to be embarrassed about. That very fact is what makes empathy and true succor between each other— all of us flawed humans, possible. It is the very source of our love and sympathy for one another. So why do we do it? Why do we hide ourselves?
Compounding a medical tragedy is a sociological tragedy, which many of us are victims of as well in our own lives. What is truly inspiring about Su’s memoir is not that she’s an amazing survivor, or an incredible “success” story, it is that she is brave. She has learned the very hard and painful way that suppression and repression hurt a lot more than the plain old fucking truth. Like most people’s lives, in Su’s life no one has come out unscathed. In fact no one has come out! This is life. It goes on. Su has a remarkable ability to tell a complete story that is in no way complete. While she wishes to bring attention to traumatic brain injuries, she also makes a beautiful example of her very human self in calling bullshit on the societal norms that imprison us all. Going up or going down we are still going forward and I am honored to have bumped paths with such a woman.