I’m getting ahead of myself, I’m sorry. I didn’t want this to be confusing. Let’s go back to what the doctor said, “It’s a bit of a nuisance, but you’ll get used to it.”
“I’ve never fucking heard of it before now. How the fuck did this happen?” Apologies for the colourful language, but that was what I said, and in my own defence, I was justifiably upset.
“Just because you haven’t heard of it Mr Jenkins doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.” He was right, but he was also an opinionated arsehole, and it occurred to me that he had worked quite hard to perfect his arseholedness — probably picked it up in high school.
“Seriously Doc, this is insane. Am I the only person in the world with this disease?” I asked.
“It’s a syndrome, Mr Jenkins, not a disease.”
“Thanks for the correction Doc, that makes me feel a whole lot better.” Doctor Numbnuts was trying to be helpful, at least he thought he was. He’d even chosen his most helpful tie that morning. “The blue one or the green one with the spots?” he said to his wife. “The blue one says helpful, dear, the green one says I can get you a good deal on a used car.” She was right of course, so he wore the helpful blue one, but just at this moment, its magic did not seem to be working on Mr Jenkins.
“Your syndrome is progressive, so you will notice that you need to recharge more often as time goes by and the duration of the recharge will get longer as well, but on the bright side, you will probably have passed away from some serious disease by the time this gets really inconvenient. You are getting on a bit Mr Jenkins. Pretty soon you will enter that age group when men of your generation start to succumb to all sorts of fatal illnesses. So, buck up, you may not live long enough for this to bother you unduly.”
“How rare is this syndrome Doc?”
“Not very. It’s just that there is such a stigma attached to it that people tend not to discuss it. For decades, the media has been under a self-imposed ban on reporting about the effects. It’s felt that reporting it will encourage men to imitate the symptoms and take advantage of their wives.”
“What a load of bollocks!” My head was spinning from what seemed like a huge pile of horse manure masquerading as medical evidence.
“I see it all the time. Men holding their partner’s hand in public, unnecessarily.”
“I know you are angry Mr Jenkins, but this is getting us nowhere.”
“Okay, it’s Wednesday night, and I’m walking past McDonald’s, and I see an older couple walking towards me. They are taking their cute little dogs for a walk, and they are holding hands — on a Wednesday night! I ask you, do you need any more proof than that — a Wednesday night. Now, if it had been a Saturday night, I might have bought it, but a Wednesday night? I don’t think so. Obviously, the man had read about this syndrome, probably on the dark net, and had convinced his poor innocent wife that he needed to hold her hand — disgusting. Nothing but male violence in its basest form.”
“He’s holding her hand for fuck sake! Maybe she asked him to hold her hand! Did you ever think of that?”
“Ridiculous. Decent women don’t behave like that in public. You don’t have to believe me, Mr Jenkins, just read the research.”
“I’d love to. But as you so clearly pointed out, there isn’t any published research.”
“Not published for the likes of you Mr Jenkins, but for the medical profession, there are reams of the stuff. I’ll have my secretary copy some of the simpler case studies for you, but you must return them when you are finished. We can’t have this information falling into the wrong hands.”
“Precisely Mr Jenkins. You’re getting the hang of this, well done.”
“So what is it that I’m supposed to do in all of this?”
“Your role is very straight forward Mrs Jenkins. You hold his hand until his memories return.”
My wife had been sitting quietly listening to us talking, but she couldn’t hold her peace any longer.
“That’s it. That’s all I have to do?”
“That, and not die. If you suddenly died, he would be stranded. His memories would leak away like a bath with the plug pulled out. He would have no past. Ultimately he would forget the basics, like the need to eat and drink, brush his hair and take the rubbish out. As it got more tragic, he would forget why he loved watching reality television. When that happens, the end is not far away. Eventually, he would forget to put his lottery ticket in and, probably while abusing a politician on the television he would forget to breathe, and his life would come to an end.”
“So, hold his hand and don’t die — that’s your advice. That’s what we are paying a small fortune to hear?”
“I studied for seven years at university Mrs Jenkins, I know what I’m talking about.”
My wife gave the doctor one of those stares. She didn’t spend seven years at university, but she certainly had perfected that stare. He knew exactly what she meant — his wife had perfected a similar look.
My wife reached over and took me by the hand, and I remembered where I’d put my spare keys. As she held tightly and squeezed my fingers, I remembered why my son no longer talks to me, and it made me sad.
“Come my darling, we’re going home,” she said.
I didn’t argue. I let her lead me out of the room, past the pretty secretary with the red hair and the green eyes and out to where the elevators stood silently waiting. As we rode down to the ground floor, still clutching each others hand, I remembered the time I sat in the hospital waiting room praying that my wife would not bleed to death. I remembered the young doctor smiling at me as he strode towards my seat. The look on his face said ‘I’m the brightest young doctor in this hospital and I saved your wife from dying. Sure, a bunch of other people helped out a bit, but in the end, I saved her.’
We caught the number twelve tram, and my wife did not let go of my hand. We sat quietly and looked at the world go by. A small boy was sitting next to his mother absentmindedly playing with a battered toy car. It was a lovely autumn afternoon, and the leaves were swirly across the footpaths and into the path of oncoming traffic — the leaves did not seem to care about their fate, and neither did I — not anymore.
It’s only a short walk from the tram stop to our house, and my wife held my hand the whole way.
“Let’s get into bed and snuggle up and try and forget this awful day,” said my wife.
“It’s only half past four. Are you sure? You know you will be wide awake in the middle of the night?”
“Get into bed Michael. Hold me tight.”
“I did as I was told. It was not a difficult chore. We had been holding each other in this way for many a long year. When my father died, she held me until there were no more tears left to shed.
“I’m not going to die, Michael. I’ll always be here, and you can hold my hand every night when you get home from work, and the memories will all come flooding back. We will be okay. I’ll keep you whole. I love you very much. You are everything to me.”
She meant it, and I knew she did.
“I love you too Mary, and as long as I can hold your hand, everything will be fine. I always loved holding your hand. I remember the first time you let me. We were just kids, and I was nervous as hell. I remember thinking how tiny your hand was, and how warm. You have always had warm hands. There are other parts of you that I like better, but your hands are definitely on my best bits list.”
“You are a devil Michael, but I love you.”
“Mary, if you do die before me, I promise that I will forget almost everything else before I forget you. You will be the second last thing I forget — I promise.”
“Let’s not think about that now. Hold me tight.”
I fell asleep in her arms, and I remember thinking, just before I drifted off, this must be what it feels like to let go of Mary’s hand.