written by Su Meck with Daniel de Visé
Memoirs are usually written by people who have interesting stories to tell of their own life experiences. The root of the word means “memory,” after all, and most memoirists recount many of their harrowing or inspiring or fascinating memories, which will either ring true to readers or will be completely different to them, introducing them to very unusual situations. Su Meck’s memoir is even more unusual than most of that latter category, not because it’s not absolutely fascinating or that it’s not about her own life, but because she doesn’t actually remember many of the stories she relates.
Now nearly 50, Meck is a wife and mother of three who was hit on the head at age 22 and lost all her memories (retrograde amnesia) before that time, making her life a complete empty slate up until that point and rendering her in many ways like a newborn, but with certain skills, knowledge and muscle memory intact. She also suffered anterograde amnesia afterward for a long time, making it difficult for her to remember new experiences and to keep newly gained skills. Her experience was a unique one, at least as far as the medical community knows it, and some doctors even questioned how many of her problems were “real” (caused by the injury) and which were just psychological, in part because scans at the time didn’t reveal much damage.
Since Meck can’t actually remember many of the situations she describes in her book, it’s almost a biography, written with the help of many interviews with her family and close friends. She’s pieced together her life as others knew it. This then allows her to show readers how challenging it was for her emotionally to deal with things in so many ways over the years because she simply didn’t feel that she even knew who she was. Meck shares her feelings and struggles and the ways she tried to adapt and “fit in” for the past 25 years, knowing she was different from other adults but not knowing just how much so.
What is really interesting isn’t just Meck’s story but that of her whole family. She was married at a young age and had two small boys when she was injured, and she had to “raise herself” even as she tried to raise her children, fixing very basic meals for them and getting them to school and learning ABCs along with them, for example. Her husband was incredibly supportive and understanding in many ways, but he had his own problems, and the reader has to wonder if he would have ended up making some of the really bad decisions he did if he had had a “normal” wife and home life — or to what extent Su Meck’s brain injury changed Jim Meck and how he lived his life. We’ll never know.
I Forgot to Remember isn’t notable for its writing style, though it is well done considering how little Meck was able to write a couple of decades ago. What’s valuable are the story and her experiences, which are compelling and thought-provoking. I really had a hard time putting it down. Now I feel like cheering her on in all she does and giving her now-grown kids kudos for all they did and went through for her and along with her.
Rated: Moderate, for use of strong language: there are a total of five f-words, four in one small cluster. There is also some talk of sex and deviant behavior on the part of one player in the book, as well as some emotional abuse in a few spots. The instances of shocking behavior are just that: a bit jarring and intense, particularly because the victim is our author, who seems much like an innocent in some ways.