In Sickness and in Health: The bravery in trying to remember the bad times

I would have thought that hearing about what you can't remember must be like being told what horrors you got up to while drunk

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The Independent Online

Last year, Rebecca’s husband Nick was hit by a car and seriously injured. Here, in one of a series of columns, she writes about the aftermath of his accident.

From vintage cans to limited-edition bottles, branded ice buckets to framed artwork, Nick has quite the Coca-Cola collection. There are two big cardboard boxes that would have “Coca-Cola memorabilia” written on the side – if I could attempt the word without spellcheck – currently sitting in the spare room. So when I was buying clothes for Nick last summer, just as he’d graduated from hospital gowns, and I found a Coca-Cola T-shirt in Tesco, I thought it would be right up his street. It was for a fortnight, until he started talking again. Then he took such a violent dislike to the shirt that it wasn’t enough to hide it in his hospital room’s cupboard. No, it was banished back home.

I found it again a few weeks ago and took it to Nick. He was over the moon, and incredulous when I told him about his earlier antipathy towards it. Every time I get it out of the wardrobe, he asks me to tell him the story about how much he hated it. “I must have been mad,” he says, shaking his head. He laughs when I tell him about how, around the same time as T-shirtgate, he was shouting about something else: “My pants are so full,” he’d exclaim. “But you’ve just been changed,” I’d say. And he’d reply: “My pants are so full of pants!”

I tell him now about how he was convinced, for months, that he was in hospital in Los Angeles (“the hospital is in Harrow, poppet, which is why no one has an American accent”). I show him the pictures I took of him in intensive care, the ones with him holding a different cuddly animal each time that marked the changing days. He finds the fact that I brought a six-foot stuffed crocodile in to see him, to the embarrassment of his mum and brother, particularly entertaining. We were watching music videos on TV at the weekend and he frowned at a couple of them. “I don’t know these songs at all,” he said. “They were number ones last summer,” I explained.

I ask him if he minds me telling him about the year he can’t remember, about the weird things he said, about the tubes that used to sprout from all over his body, about the visits from friends that he can’t remember, about the dragons I slayed for him, about the face of fury he pulled almost constantly for a month that I found so funny (because it looked like his comedy cross face, not because I’m evil).

“I need to know all of these things,” he says. “It helps me understand.” I’m impressed by his curiosity, and his patience – I would have thought that hearing about all the lost times must be like being told what horrors you got up to while drunk, not something to dwell on by any means. He’s also brave – braver than I am. He wants to watch something that I haven’t had the stomach for. He wants to see the CCTV footage of the moment when he was hit by a car and his old life, the one he wants back so badly, disappeared. Despite my new role as Nick’s external memory drive, that’s the one thing I’d rather forget.

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