NDJ:4 Doris Frydman, MD


My brain has a mind of its own.

In the black forest. Lie still. Frozen.  Seeing nothing, though not blind. Trapped. Empty place, barren.

There is nothing, no awareness, no connection to the world around. After the electrical storm of a seizure, hanging like cut power lines. Sitting in the dark and emerging slowly. I am a worm. Digesting nothing. Feeling every shift, every sound in the forest. Comprehending none of it, no thing and no sound.

My pulse quivers in my ears. A miner in a long tunnel with a dull forehead light. The scope widens at a snail’s pace. I would run, but I am lassoed and bound by a coarse rope. So I wait. Slowly an awareness of waiting evolves. Just waiting. I do not know where I am. Fear grows and sits on my chest. It flies away, returning with its massive wings, a looming vulture. I never know when it will return.

I hear a sound without knowing that I hear, clickety-clickety-clack  I wait and attempt to camouflage my vulnerability. Clickety-clack  I wait. Impatiently, but a paralyzed woman cannot dance. I have no choice. No choices at all. The fear remains and mutates as my awareness sharpens. I want to understand without drawing the attention of the forest beasts around me. Intermittently I hear a shout that is followed by activity, clickety-clack Waiting. Constantly waiting. Terrified, I still have to wait. My light is narrow. Now broadening, I see that I do NOT understand. In a way, I find that comforting. Images of landscapes, cars, buildings slide by on both sides.

I am on a train. The tracks click beneath me like a ticking clock. I see an arm. It is disconnected from me. It is mine. I recognize nothing. There is a shine on the wrist. It is from a watch. I cannot read time. I do not remember how. I have no concept of time or its passage coinciding with each clickety-clack.

I am confused. I am afraid something will happen. The thought is menacing. I am alone and afraid something will happen and that I will not be ready…. Like the water level of a slowly flooding cavern, my understanding rises. Language is now recognized in the noise; human form is recognized in the activity. This and time’s passing are concepts that link me to a past, clickety-clickety-clack  I am a floating table in a flooded basement. Temporarily useless. I am locked, wordlessly trapped inside. I am locked outside also, unconnected, isolated, because I have no memory. I have only emotion. I am immersed in terror that flies off. Again. But I know it will return.

I am aware of time moving, of train stops and feeling lost. This ride I have taken before, but it is never familiar. I am back on the DisOrientExpress. Some hands and legs swing past me, and towards me comes a stream of red nail polish and rings and gold bands and clutched brief cases and I lurch in my plastic seat again. Where am I going?   I do not want to be late, but.. .for what? Then more gears engage.  Still, I am beyond telling myself to wait but I do not have even a primitive way to soothe myself. I am panicked, clickety-clickety-clickety-clack

I am in a train. I cannot talk. I am in a train and I do not speak or understand language. Trains are powerful, dangerous machines. Almost magically, the train takes me back to someone else’s memory.   Where is the train taking me? Where? Where will I end up? There is no one to ask for help despite being surrounded. No one will help. It is a conviction. Stay camouflaged, I warn myself. And you, don’t notice me, alone, as I keep my head low. Don’t notice me! Don’t notice my yellow star. I cannot fight back right now.

Every seizure is an arrest. It is a capture beyond my neurons. I have been seized. One more time. An ankle-high, black SS boot has kicked down my frail door. I am dead. Annihilated. One more time. Like possum that feign death in situations fraught with danger and fear, my consciousness rolls on its back. Belly up. I sit up. No one would know but the lines on my EEG.

My star is not sewn on the left side of my clothes, above my heart. Jude. It is not removable with my coat. It is in my heart, part of my being. It is my childhood, and my parents’.   Its’ yellow runs through me, wet, mildly blotted but permanent. It is the Holocaust, whole and singular. It is silence and mystery, my unanswered questions to my father and my mother’s endless rumination and uncensored details. My yellow star is not about religion or prejudice. It is about fear in my parents’ house.

There is constant grief, mourning for dead I did not know. My star and seizures are linked with lines of passively waiting people at the local train station and large groups. I see it with screams at carnival rides. The dead were always lurking, casting their shadow. Ghosts have shadows.

The SS boot is deeply creased with brutality and has a well-used heel. It is heavy, vicious and silent. Another neurologic ambush. I am stormed over, roped and bound.

A while back, I had most of my seizures on the commuter train. More than any other place or activity. I was not afraid of the train derailing. I was not afraid of strangers with whom I may have to sit. I was not afraid of being late; the train ran in and out of the city on time. I checked on the shiny watch on my wrist. It was a gift from my mother. What I feared was memories. Trains brimmed with symbolic helplessness. The moving train potently accelerates beneath me, while I can merely stare out without say. clickety-clickety-clack

Forget The Little Engine That Could and Thomas the Tank Engine and my son’s train sets. Forget the sleek Metroliner with its cozy seats and the businessman’s fast Acela. Forget that I ride the commuter train only five hours in a week.

Trains hold memories that are not mine but that I cannot forget. I swell with emotions as pure as if they were.   “Melancholia-by-proxy”.   Memories of black and white photos and families being ordered with ‘you-go-here-but-you-go-there’. The chosen one.   My scouring Holocaust texts as a child, searching photographs for lost relatives I might resemble, people who were never discussed. I had hoped to present my parents with good news and initiate a reunion. I found no one. Now the ghost that rides the train is mine.

Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.