Monday, Jun. 27, 2005 - 7:48 a.m.
The woman faints because the man in the smart uniform has just told her that her son is dead.
He had brought her a loss. They had both been seated in the flat on the wooden-framed sofa, and he had not taken his drink. Condensed drops of water ran down the side of his glass. They were like the words he was speaking, rapidly escaping their meanings. Training accident. Tank overturned. Sorry. Very sorry.
The woman faints because she, like everyone else, is anatomical. The human being exists solely to comprehend the world around itself, and its body is built for that one purpose. The brain cortex, the cerebral hemispheres, are all anatomical structures evolved to understand and assimilate information. But there are also things too terrible for us to understand - things like loss. We would break if we fully understood these things. And so our bodies respond with another kind of loss, a loss of consciousness. Blood flow to the brain ceases, the understanding of information ceases. To limit our grief, this is the threshold of comprehension that we are unable to cross, a river beyond which nothing is understood. We evaporate - a solid drop of water turned into vapour. When that happens, we are not really here.
She dropped from the sofa to the floor with a hush. The one thing that the woman will remember keenly before the blackness - the black of imperfectly kiwi-ed marching boots, the infinite blackness inside a tank barrel, is opening the door for the smartly dressed man. It was a morning like any other morning inside the flat. There was the familiar rusted squeak as she pushed down on the door handle, and she will never forget the look on the man's face through the iron-grilled door.
The comatose patient isn't dead because his body is still filled with memories.
No new memories have formed since the onset of the coma, but his body is a store of old ones. The brain is somewhere unknown, but his hands, fingers, lips and feet remain little caches of the past. His son massages the wasted muscles of his forearms. They were strong once; the son remembers playing with his father in the garden as a young boy, being lifted, thrown up into the air, and then caught by his father's competent hands as he fell towards the ground. Ten thick fingers pressing against his small six-year old ribs. Even today, there is nothing more reassuring than the memory of being caught by the strength of his father's arms and hands.
The wife remembers all the different things he said to her. She touches a wet finger to his dry, purplish-white lips.
His unmoving body is not the projection of, but the actual receptacle of their memories. Memories are always co-owned (father-son, husband-wife) because they are the result of an interaction between two or more persons (memories of the self are always unreliable and thus considered fiction, not memory). Memories must also exist in a physical place, and both wife and son come back to this place to find them. They come to the same room in the hospital day after day, listening to the unchanging beep of the artificial respirator, massaging the wasted forearms of a still body, asking themselves: where has he gone?
They keep doing this, returning to this unconscious body, to this unconscious place for a singular purpose. Mother and son do not hope, because hope is merely one more pump of the artificial respirator. No, they come back to his supine body to leave a trail of thumbs on his forearms, a path of familiar, wet fingers on his lips. He is lost in the forest of the unconscious, and these are the individual trail-markers that will lead him back to the blinding love of the remembered awakening.
The girl kisses the unconscious boy.
There is a question hidden in the above sentence: why would she do this?
It cannot be to intrude on his dreams because he is not dreaming. Her kiss cannot reach him. He is not just asleep; he is passed out on the couch from too much wine in that black, dreamless state where no thoughts form. He will not know anything when he wakes. No photographs were taken and no one saw her do it. It was a short kiss on the cheek of a boy whom she does not even know that well. A small measure of pressure applied by her young lips that caused a brief and temporary indentation, on the cool skin of his unconscious cheek. He will not remember being kissed.
Then why did she do it, if what we do not remember does not exist? Why did she perform an act that will not exist?
Perhaps it is because when we are awake, we all lack courage to carry out the conscious, consequential things. We are a little less fearful when there is no possibility of resistance, and hence rejection. Or perhaps none of this really matters - it is one more insignificant, unrecorded human act as stars orbit each other and galaxies pull apart.
But Maybe. Just Maybe, in case all our acts are so insignificant, in case time really means nothing because our existences mean nothing, in case time itself does not exist. If this is so, maybe the trace of the kiss on the boy's cheek will linger when he wakes.
She leans into him, her long black hair falling across both their faces, curtaining them from the conscious plane. Her lips touch his cheek for a moment, which in that secret, lightless curtained place, is the same as eternity. And then the most insignificant act in the universe - of a girl kissing an unconscious boy, becomes the only evidence that we ever existed. She does not move and memorizes the closeness of their bodies.