She had become clumsy. She’d dropped the mug she loved, the green one the color of an aspen leaf, with its fluted skirt at the bottom. Either she’d knocked it to the floor, or worse, forgotten it was in…
I watched my father lose his mind. The terror, the covering, the anger, the obfuscation. He collapsed out of English into the language of his childhood and eventually fell into silence. I was his caretaker and pray that my children will not have to be mine.
I wrote this piece in a sitting after returning from an evaluation at The Women’s Brain Health Clinic at Stanford. It got shaped some, but unlike so much of my other writing, woven and unraveled again and again, it came out whole, an elegy for my mind.
You could say, though, that it was written over a period of years. The years in which I have found myself groping for words, curiously more in speaking than in writing. An experience that I have found horrifying, humiliating, and frightening.
My focus was on compression. The piece is about constriction; I felt it had to be terse. Each word had to count. And the ideas had to be grabbed as they disappeared and anchored in the physical detail.
It is not surprising that it is written in third person. First person would be a wail or a complaint. I did not want to write an exegesis or a medical history. It is terrifying to lose linguistic fluency if you are a person who has lived by the word, experienced your existence through the sieve of language. In this piece I wanted every word to count. And I wanted to leave space for the reader.
The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis suggests that the structure of language shapes cognition. That if you have language for a hundred shades of blue you will have the capacity to see them, each different, each distinct. I don’t know if that is true. But words are the butter on our bread.
What I have lost infers what I remember. It is like a figure ground image, I see the gaps but I can’t fill them. We tell ourselves stories, we narrate our lives. There’s what happens of course, but that’s in no way the totality. It’s the way we frame and shape experience, what we allow to be significant and what we shed, shred, or otherwise obscure that constitutes a life.
What is the story of a life without words? Only the indescribable present or nothing at all.
SUSAN EVE HAAR is a lawyer and writer. Her work has been primarily in theater. A member of the Writer’s Guild East and Ensemble Studio Theater, her plays have been published and produced at a variety of venues. Recent prose has appeared in The North Dakota Quarterly, The Columbia Journal, bioStories, and the Breakwater Review. susanevehaar.com