First Day Of School After A Traumatic Head Injury

Image from

Daily Post Prompt: Tell us about your first day at something — your first day of school, first day of work, first day living on your own, first day blogging, first day as a parent, whatever.

When I was a youngun, I was hit on the head with a stage light. It changed everything about me forever, particularly my memory. I was just over twenty years old and had the memory of an eighty year old with Alzheimer’s.

My memory was such that I could recall my first phone number and address right off of the top of my head, but if you asked me where I currently lived, I couldn’t tell you. If I saw one thought through to completion, which was a difficult task in and of itself, I would forget where I was and what I was doing. I literally had a one-track mind and it would get derailed often. I could recite an unimportant conversation from five years prior nearly word for word, but if I talked to someone five minutes ago, not only would I forget what they said, but I’d forget that I had even talked to them.

My language and speech centers were also affected. At first, I had a slight slur. I couldn’t put complete sentences together. I would have trouble remembering words. I don’t mean complicated words; I mean simple, everyday words. I still forget simple words to this day. The other day, I couldn’t remember the word “greenhouse” even though I came up with “hothouse.”

I have permanent long-term memory damage. I lost most of my childhood. I could only recall bits and pieces, and I could not put them in any sort of order. My timeline was gone forever.

Say, for example, you had a billion-piece jigsaw puzzle of a person’s childhood, which was all nice and neatly assembled into the picture on the box. If you violently flipped the whole thing onto the floor, some of the pieces would land right-side up and still be connected to each other, but most of them would end up in a big jumbled mess of disconnected pieces; some right-side up, some sideways, some upside-down. Some of those pieces would slide under the sofa with the dust bunnies, never to be seen again. That’s what happened to the memories I had stored in my brainpan.

I worked out a complicated system of writing things down. It was the only way. I used sticky notes, carried a little spiral notebook everywhere, and would write in pen on my hands and arms. If I was driving somewhere, I’d write the address, the time I had to be there and the reason why I was going there in the first place on a sticky note and put it on the dashboard.  Even on the shortest trip, I would forget where I was going. When I was going home, I’d simply write HOME on the note. In all honesty, they probably should have taken my driver’s license away.

During this period of maximum goldfishness, I was enrolled in college. Incredibly optimistically, I tried to go back to school a few weeks after the accident. It was October and the semester had just started in September. I walked into the class and made a beeline for the very back of the room. I didn’t want anyone to see me.

In the days following the accident, my entire face and neck was one giant bruise. I had two black eyes and I looked like I had been slammed face first into a wall. I always thought it was strange that my face was bruised when it was the top of my head that was hit. Head traumas are weird.

A week or two later, when I went to school, the bruises had abated somewhat, but I still had a sickly, yellow pallor on my face where they had been. I was extremely self-conscious because my head felt about five times bigger than normal. The wound covering my dented skull was throbbing. I could feel it rise and fall every time my heart beat. If I just sat at the back, maybe nobody would notice.

Class started and suddenly, I could not remember where I was or why I was there. I panicked. I looked down at the notebook in front of me to see if there were any clues. English, it said, in what appeared to be my handwriting. English. OK, I can do English. I speak it pretty well and I know a lot of its words. Cool.

Now, what is that teacher saying? I can’t quite understand. What book? I looked down again, but there were no books in front of me besides the spiral notebook with the word English scrawled on the cover. I panicked again. I looked over at my neighbors and they all had little paperbacks in their hands that they seemed to be turning to a particular page. I looked down again, there was still no paperback on my desk. I sunk lower in my chair, completely deflated. I started to think about how I was never going to make it through school if I couldn’t even remember to bring my English book to class. When I finished that thought, I had forgotten where I was again.

I had no choice but to drop out of school. Unfortunately, it was a week or two too far into the semester to get any money back. I forfeited not only the tuition I had paid for that semester, but my formal education as well. I was two semesters shy of getting a degree. I’ve still never gone back to school because that first day was enough to terrify me forever. Formal education still scares the bejeezus out of me. Hold me.

My short-term memory slowly got better with time and use, but I still have issues with it. The brain can only recover so much. I have to be very careful about following thoughts through to completion. If I start thinking about sometime else, I’ll forget what I was doing in the first place. It’s sheer chaos if I have to remember more than one thing at a time. I think everyone has that happen to them now and again. It’s just that it happens more frequently to me and it started at a much younger age.

I’ve learned to adjust. Most people I meet today say they’d never know that I have a memory problem. I always tell them anyway, partly out of habit and partly so that they don’t get offended when I can’t remember who they are the next time we meet. The only good thing about having a memory problem is that you can’t remember what you were like before.