“You don’t recognize me at all, do you?” she asked and I hate it when a woman asks that question in that tone of voice. But no. There wasn’t anything familiar about the woman at all. I didn’t just not remember her name I couldn’t remember anything at all about her.
“I’m Donna Lewis, from the gym”
I hadn’t seen Donna Lewis in the last five or so years. I had left one gym where she worked out and joined another across town. But there was Donna, in her sweats and an old tee shirt, and at first I didn’t recognize her at all. When she said her name it clicked and then I realize she had gained weight. Wow. So the gym wasn’t working? Geez, it’s a death sentence for a man to mention a woman’s weight.
“Yeah, I know, I got fat.” She said.
Now I hated it even worse because either she saw that look on my face or she has really let herself go and hates herself for it, or both. My mind searched for something, anything, to change the subject.
“Hey!” Thank dog almighty there was an out! “You’re wearing a ring! Who did you get married to? And I remember she had a son. She and a friend of hers were always talking about what weird things their sons got into. Both were eighteen at the time and…
“I uh,” and she looked away, and then got a little red in the face. “Norma and I got married a year ago or so.”
That would be her friend with the son. Well, Mike, a woman who didn’t recognize at all because of her weight gain is coming out to her apparent switch in the batter’s box. I tried to think of another subject, like maybe the Ebola virus.
“She gained weight too.” Donna blurts out and I can see she wished she had never said that either.
I hear the sound of dogs barking and I wake up. I was asleep. All of this was a dream. I never knew anyone named Donna Lewis who had a friend named Norma.
Donna Lewis is the name of a Welch singer who had a hit that played on the radio for a while in the late 90’s. I remember the song because of the lyrics, “you’ve got…the most unbelievable blue eyes I’ve ever seen” and don’t ask me why that stuck in my head. But that Donna Lewis is real. The Donna Lewis in the store isn’t.
I remember there being two women in the gym who hung out together and they were always talking about, Paul, the son one of them had. He had a friend who was a train wreck of a teenager who was always coming up with some scheme to win the battle of wits with the law, even though he was unarmed. He surmised the best way to get out of a DUI was to leap out of his car as soon as the cops stopped and immediately start guzzling whiskey straight out of the bottle in full view of their dashboard camera. The thought here was they couldn’t prove he was drunk before he started drinking right there on the spot.
I think the dream was based on those people from that time period of my life, but the physical appearance of the woman, the name, the relationship with the other woman, none of the details were right. Yet in the dream I “remembered” her. There was a reference to her in my mind. There was a shared past between us in the gym and memories of other people. I knew who Norma was. I remembered who they both were.
As disconcerting as it might be neither of these women exist outside my mind, it was just a dream, so I do realize my mind invented them for reasons I cannot explain. We accept this sort of hallucinations because we aren’t walking around in the grocery store having memories that aren’t there. But sometimes people do that sort of thing and the rest of us think they’re totally nuts.
I’m fairly sure I don’t talk in my sleep so the vocalization part of a dream doesn’t occur in that regions of the brain governing speech. There is a clear difference in most of us between dreaming and being awake, and that difference is more than just the sleep mode. Yet we all know our minds do not work in the “normal” manner in which we believe the mind should work. We see things that are not there, we cannot remember names, we lost our train of thought and cannot through any sort of effort, remember why we walked into a room. These are not personal quirks but rather the human condition. At the same time, while recognizing all of this as true, we still cling to what is “normal” as a whole, even though we experience abnormal mind activity on a near hourly basis.
As you read this you might agree with what I am saying or you might disagree with what I’m saying, but at the same time you do understand the words you’re reading. My mind has laid out in, I hope, an orderly fashion words that will convey what I am thinking. If I have done my job then your mind will be able to take these symbols and you’ll be able to think, “Gee, how many times have a forgotten a name, or lost my glasses while wearing them, or couldn’t remember something I knew I knew?” and we can have a discussion as to why this is and what it might mean.
Suppose we were to invent a new word. This word was to describe a slight and temporary mental illness which causes the sufferer to totally be unable to recall names, numbers, and the location of eyewear. “Pseudo-amnesia” which would mean “false Amnesia” might be a nice term, but in this sense, why don’t we call it “Norma”? We shall have everything right in the mind with the word “Normal” and when things go missing we lose the “l” and things are “Norma” Of course, those women, and likely a man or two with the name Norma might object but I suspect they are a minority and historically speaking, they’re going to lose this battle. Likely, somewhere in history, the Normas will rise up against the oppression and be free, but not until I stop walking around the house looking for my glasses while they are hiding on top of my head.
You know I am not serious in this but at the same time you do understand that Norma is a condition we all suffer from. Memory can be invented as well as deleted or hidden. What is supposed to be there isn’t and what is there is fiction of the most bizarre form. We cannot tell one from the other without help from other people who are suffering from Norma also.
Can you remember the name of the singer who I mentioned earlier? Can you remember the name of the son? What name popped into your head as you tried to remember? If you closed the window on this essay and did not return to it until you remembered both names could you remember to return here to report how long it took?
We are Norma.