Clive Wearing, a 77-year-old musician, has been waking up for 31 years.
Have you ever been unable to recall where you were or what had just happened after regaining consciousness? Maybe you’ve been knocked out during soccer practice, or have woken up in a strange hotel room after a long day of travel. That is a minute form of retrograde amnesia—think Jason Bourne or Anastasia from the Disney movie: a tragic event results in the loss of a chunk of memory. A second less well-known type of amnesia happens when the ability to form new memories is lost, like Guy Pearce’s character in Memento or Drew Barrymore’s character in 50 First Dates. That’s called anterograde amnesia. Clive Wearing has both.
Having only been married a year before the virus began to eat away at his brain, Clive’s wife Deborah questions whether she can make any lasting impression on Clive’s consciousness. He cannot remember her name, nor those of his two children. When they go out to eat at a restaurant, he can name the food by sight but not by taste, and forgets what he is eating by the time it reaches his mouth.
Clive Wearing’s memory only lasts long enough for him to write a single sentence. During the early stages of the viral infection he became obsessed with trying to understand what was happening to him, but comprehension would be forever beyond his reach. His journal is filled with pages and pages of single line entries, from minute to minute:
7.46am: I wake for the first time.
7.47am: This illness has been like death till NOW. All senses work.
8.07am: I AM awake.
8.31am: Now I am really, completely awake.
9.06am: Now I am perfectly, overwhelmingly awake.
9.34am: Now I am superlatively, actually awake.
In Western thought the conscious being is often divided into two parts: mind, and body. Senses, and thoughts. Perception, and memory. It seems every conscious thought is rooted in either instantaneous perception or recall. What, then, can be said about a person’s soul if one side of that duality is completely destroyed?
There are few things Clive Wearing can remember. He still remembers his home phone number. He can brush his teeth. He can miraculously still play piano.
“There is still a Cliveness about Clive,” Deborah says.
And Clive knows that he is in love with Deborah. He leaves long messages on her phone. He does not always remember her name, but when Deborah opens the door to his room, he leaps from his chair and runs to embrace her as if she hadn’t just left a few moments ago for a glass of water. His thoughts last only a moment, and yet that moment lasts forever. When they walk together the garden, they dance and laugh as if they had just fallen in love for the first time. In a way, he has. He lives for that moment when Deborah Wearing enters.
9:40 am: My first thought – I adore Deborah for eternity.
This is a true story. Clive is a musician and, like me, he has unending love and support from people who care for him. When you’re depressed, you lose your sense of color. This song and video, “Deborah Wearing Enters”, is dedicated to my friends who have stuck with me through it all, to my girlfriend, to my sisters, and most of all to the world’s most loving and supportive parents.