Cat Pierro

In the Event of the Unexpected Onset of Retrograde Amnesia


This file contains the proximate will and testament of Jaime Amanda Fuller, to be delivered to her in the event of an onset of retrograde amnesia.

— PRIVATE DOCUMENT: For no other eyes but hers! —

Chapter One: Introduction, and Allegory

1. Regarding the Reader's Birth, Family, Education, Email

Jaime, you were born on November 11, 1984, in Bethesda, Maryland. You have two parents and an older sister. You have a B.A. in English from Oberlin College. You have a Gmail address where you check your email. The address is and the password is ilovecourtney5. You do not, however, love Courtney. She’s just a friend.

2. Regarding the Author’s Identity and Purpose

You wrote this. You wrote a first copy in 2003 and then you revised/expanded it regularly right up until the day when you were presumably in some terrible accident which caused you to lose your memory. You wrote it because you thought it might answer some of the burning questions that amnesia would bring about, as you imagined them. That’s the purpose of this document, to predict and answer your questions. Also to impart certain values that you spent your whole life learning. Certain things seemed important to you, and you thought you might want to know about that.

3. Answers to What Must Be Pressing Questions (In No Particular Order)

a. Orientation. You are heterosexual. That’s not important.

b. Home address. You live in Queens (New York City) with Rick Madden. Find his contact information in your email if you need help getting home/warm/fed.

c. Money. Don’t worry about money. You have enough stored up to last you a few years. For details, search your inbox for the phrase “bank info.” You worked most recently as a waitress in Midtown, but you were thinking of quitting anyway. It’s important to think about money as little as possible. Many people would disagree with me, but I think you will come to the same conclusion if you give it some thought.

d. Marital status. You are married. You married Rick Madden in 2007. You loved him very much–obviously. I assume you will divorce him immediately, since you’ve never met him. Do it quickly, don’t hesitate. It’s important that you do not live out the rest of your life just trying to recover the past (i.e., you have to make your own life). Maybe you already understand how important that is. Maybe not. When I explain that something is “important” I am trying to give you a sense of my values. But you shouldn’t take anything I say on authority; rather, you should reflect on these values until they themselves convince you. Or if they don’t, you should ignore them. That’s very important. Anyway, I think you will agree in this case, because it’s completely possible to divorce Rick without entirely cutting him off. I assume you will direct a significant portion of your inquisitive energies toward him, knowing he was your husband. You may as well get to know him. I would be curious to learn how the two of you would interact.

Illustration by Tom Tian

4. A Brief Digression Regarding What to Expect from Your Ex-Husband

I should warn you that it will be impossible to find out what your marriage was like from Rick: in the very act of trying to find out you will puncture it unknowingly. That’s fine, of course—you will have a new dynamic. He may enjoy your attention and your ignorance; possibly he will like you better than he likes me. In fact I suspect he will want to get back together with you. Beware of letting something you don’t remember corrupt your judgment.

I write this in the attempt to temper the effect this word “marriage” must have upon you. I am convinced you will overestimate the desirability of unlocking its secret; I would like to make you understand that it was neither idyllic nor tragic. In chapter three of this document I describe your history with Rick more fully. If nothing else, this description aims to disabuse you of the notion that the story of you and Rick was even much of a story at all.

To say it another way, while if you really wanted you could make Rick an important part of your future, he won’t be able to help you find your past. I believe there’s only one person who can help you with this, other than myself.

5. Why It Won’t Help to Talk to Anyone but Eliot

Knowing who to talk to is essential. First, you have to know who to trust—and I have included a comprehensive list of all the people closest to you at the end of chapter five, so that if anyone not on that list tries to convince you that the two of you were once very good friends, or hopelessly in love or whatever, you will know not to believe them. But on top of that, few people can be good translators of experience. Even I may not be that helpful. I am trying my best to bring clarity rather than add confusion or entice you to seek out ever more secrets in all the wrong places. But I’m sure I am misleading you in some ways, and so it pains me to imagine how much more damage other people’s stories could do.

Most of your friends and acquaintances (excepting the one) are not used to talking about you directly. Under the circumstances, they will begin to say things you've never thought about before. It’s important not to take anything too much to heart. If they tell you, “You’ve always been weird,” don’t think that previously you could grasp your own weirdness; don’t think you became inaccessible to yourself only now. All people ask themselves what they are like, what people see in them, what the point of all this is, whether they’re missing something important, and so on and so forth. So in ten years when you still have unanswerable questions, don’t blame it on your amnesia.

6. Why It’s Immensely Important to Talk to Eliot

As I mentioned, there is one person who may be able to help you. Eliot knows you uncannily well and he is sufficiently patient, and intelligent, and articulate, and just with his emphases, and his mind is sufficiently similar to yours, that I think he will be able to give you a sense—if only a teensy sense—of how things were for you.

He might think the project basically futile, though, and not try very hard, so you have to ask pointed questions. He will be depressed to have lost your friendship, he will close up because of it, so you have to spark his interest in this project of telling you things. To do this you have to seem very interested and detached and fresh. Be a new friend to him. Tell him your thoughts and feelings without hiding anything, but in a detached way, so that you become an object of shared curiosity. That’s the only way to win him. It’s okay if you tell him I said that.

Do everything you can to win him; it’s worth your highest effort. Don’t you agree that it sounds like a rare and desirable thing, a friend who has the ability to present you with your own past? And I don’t mean just for the sake of your past. Hopefully you can see it already: something is truly mysterious here; something is worth seeking. Talk to him about it. Wonder about it. Make Eliot your new most pressing question.

7. How to Be Careful When You Talk to Eliot

If you want to win Eliot—and I’m sure you do—be careful. Certain mistakes could alienate him from you. First, keep in mind that unconditional friendship does not exist. If you are like me then it is deeply ingrained in you to think that once you and a friend are friends, nothing more could be needed. That all you have to do from then on is be in each other’s presence and soak each other up and revel in the shared knowledge that you are friends. If you expect this, other people will break your heart. They demand fun, conversation, and near-constant newness in order to stay interested. And they’re right. To be worthwhile, a friendship needs content.

Second, under no circumstances should you fall in love with Eliot. Not only because he is homosexual but also because he will disrespect you for falling victim to your romantic sensibilities. (This is presuming you have romantic sensibilities, which, for all I know, you've forgotten along with the plots of Hollywood movies.) Your friendship cannot rest upon contingencies; it must rest upon the most serious of abstract awakenings. Your common passion is impersonal. It is both of you before a great sky, showing each other the sky. Perhaps the best way to describe it is with an allegory. An allegory has a greater chance of making you understand than any jumbled account of remembered facts could.

8. The Allegory Of The Boy On The Island (A Meditation)

Imagine you’re a young girl living a life very much like everyone else’s. You live on the main continent which is where everyone lives. You have school and other things. There are minor conundrums. There are certain things you try to do. You choose what clothes to wear every morning. Your life is not totally without choice. Still, the whole of it gives off a particular hue: a very hazy muddled graying pink.

Just one thing differentiates you from everyone else. Every Saturday (beginning some Saturday or other) you paddle your canoe to an island out at sea. A person lives alone on this island. He is a boy. He is like you, young but not a child. He knows about the main continent but not very much about it. He has been there a few times. He found it not particularly worthwhile; he did not much like the people there. When you recount your experiences there he feels confirmed in his dislike. You tell him your minor conundrums. You teach him words: polite, normal, awkward. “Isn’t there an easy way out?” the boy asks, incredulous. “Why not simply explain...” “But they would find such an explanation strange,” you say; “they would think I had some hidden motive...” When he hears your elaborate defenses for the mainlanders the boy laughs: “But that’s ridiculous!” Over time he convincingly denounces every sentiment and habit of mainland culture. Their customs are arbitrary, their lifestyles unconsidered; muddiness is accepted as given. No leader seizes the opportunity to set an example in a meaningful, rational way. Indeed, every time you talk about the mainland the boy assures you that in an even marginally more thoughtful culture you would have an easier, more fulfilling, less hazy time. His views might strike you as extreme if they were not accompanied by remarkable acuity. In no time he gleans from you everything he needs to know to analyze the mainlanders’ attitudes; on some occasions he even gives you advice for dealing with them and predicts their reactions exactly. And every Saturday, for six or eight or even twelve hours, you and the boy walk around the island together exchanging stories and impressions, and meanwhile inventing a new culture, a new way of conversing, one with rules centered around real and good things only—beauty, pleasure, effort, progress, enrichment, honesty, and feedback. You invent and at the same time you enact this new culture. Meanwhile he lauds you for your thoughtfulness and thanks his atheist heavens that you and he, possibly the only thoughtful people in existence right now, have been united and can build this conversation together, once a week. He misunderstands you in ways that shame you into improvement. People on the mainland have friendships that center not on building something but on extracting bland approval and sleepy comfort from each other, on rubbing one another for warmth. Sometimes you protest that you yourself are no different from these people. After all, you are always complaining about your life to the boy, and he is always assuring you that you are in the right and everyone else is in the wrong—is that not a warm comfort? But he assures you that it is not just for the sake of assurance that you complain; you complain because you really want to learn about what it is to be right, you really want to generalize to a vision of right and wrong so that you can build something. Mere comfort would not be satisfying to you. You are higher and better than that, the boy says, and you believe him.

When you return to the mainland the muddy pinkish gray color is so oppressive that you can hardly believe you barely noticed it before.

9. Some Irrelevant Observations That You May Nonetheless Find Interesting

It was never as easy for you as it was for Eliot to sift through muddle. You were not able to sweep it out of your marriage, for instance. It’s harder to take Eliot’s advice than he expects—and I’ve never figured out what makes it so hard. In some alternate reality things are different with Rick, but in this one what’s left for me is to envision that alternate reality, to lie awake while Rick is asleep and stare at those foregone possibilities. And I truly think, or maybe I am just lying to myself, but I almost think, that this is a worthwhile way to live, to gaze perpetually at some unfulfilled possibility, if only it is a sufficiently beautiful unfulfilled possibility.

Why do I suggest you divorce your husband but pursue a renewal of friendship with Eliot to the greatest possible extent? I think I can explain. It seems to me that in life there are certain contingencies which happen to occur, things which are not absolutely necessary but which nonetheless form the course of our lives. And perhaps these contingencies are to be given their due respect and the commitments in which they entangle us are to be honored. But certain other things, though begun by and made up of contingencies, escape the realm of contingency and become eternal, and show us what we needed to be all along, the highest fulfillment of our being. Now that you have lost your memory you can no longer be bound by the old commitments—you will come to be entangled in new ones and it’s important that you honor those. But certain things you are sure to find all over again. I only want to help you find them.

I can picture Eliot saying, “The scariest thing would be to learn that, starting over and in another life, we would not become thoughtful—” (“thoughtful” is just our word that means building an island culture, it’s like a shorthand) “—because having discovered this, that it’s even possible for us not to be thoughtful, we would have to abandon everything.” You didn’t understand him then. You disagreed; you said it was only all too clear to you that in another life you might never have woken up, you might have wandered through without ambition, continually lying to yourself and feeling mildly content. And how could you be afraid to learn something you already knew well? But now I see a little bit what he meant. I think he went too far by saying that any single instance of possible thoughtlessness would dismantle the whole enterprise—there can always be ignorance and neglect—but I do think that if you listen to what I tell you, if you have the opportunity to wake up, then in that case you absolutely have to wake up, it’s unthinkable that you wouldn’t, or else all of my beliefs are as contingent as anyone’s. I imagine you reading this and I imagine how you will live your life afterward, and I find myself deeply invested, as a point of honor. I flatter myself that my words will go straight to your heart, that you will admire them and see yourself in them.

10. Conclusion of Chapter One and Explanation of What’s Coming

I hope the size of this file excites and does not intimidate you. Chapters two through five continue to provide a skeletal narrative of your past, detailing your experiences with family and friends. Chapter six outlines three separate reading plans which require varying amounts of commitment. Chapters seven and eight express certain ideas which I doubt can be learned from books alone. I hope these will all be helpful to you.

But before you go on I would like to express one thing. I know that I am just enacting my own fantasy of amnesia. After all, I wrote this without having any reason to believe I would come to lose my memory. I understand that if you do exist, you must have many difficulties that are unknown to me. It must be very hard and complicated and I cannot anticipate how. Therefore, I apologize for all the ways in which this document misunderstands you. I am sure they are many. All I can really say in the fullest epistemological humility is that I love you and wish you luck.