Memory won't be weighed or measured
That hospital may have been a ghost but it hadn’t realised it was dead. Outside, an enclosed courtyard and rusting window grills added to a sense that we and our notions, our fripperies, our art, were unwelcome intruders. I could feel the brickwork’s mockery; it would take more than a two-act drama to shake its great institutional authority.
One lunchtime I returned from buying a sandwich and found my friend standing in the empty rehearsal room. We were nearing the first night of the production and she was wearing pieces of her costume: the slippers, a baggy washed-out cardigan. She looked shaken.
“I was walking along the corridor,” she explained, “running my lines to myself, and all of a sudden I wasn’t sure who I was. I had stepped outside of myself. I was looking at a woman in a baggy cardigan and ragged slippers pacing up and down a corridor, mumbling to herself, the same speech over and over. And the awful sadness was that the woman, the me, thought she was an actor rehearsing a play in a disused hospital. She thought that she could leave. And I didn’t know who I was. Was I me or was I her? We were indistinguishable.”
“You are an actor,” I told her. “You are rehearsing a play in a disused hospital. Those aren’t your slippers; they belong to wardrobe.”
She smiled at me, my old friend.
“You are you,” I reassured her.
When I last saw her, there was a moment when the skein of her disease evaporated. She looked at me with her penetratingly blue eyes and became, momentarily, entirely present.
“Were we marvellous friends?” she asked as I was leaving.
“Yes,” I answered, “we were. We are.”
How can you test memory? Memory won’t be corralled. Memory has no time for being weighed and measured. Memory is its own kingdom and if it feels like dancing on the table tops or disregarding the occasional number 11 or being a tad premature with a revolution, so what? Memory has got more important things to do than form-filling.
Hell, if the nurse had asked my mother what colour shoes she wore at a dinner dance in 1957, she could probably have recited the menu as well.