It was getting worse every day. His wife would wake up and scream when she saw him. He had gotten used to it, or gotten good at seeming like he didn’t take offense. Recently he had started waking up early to take a run and get a coffee. That would give her some time to wake up and read the notes she left for herself the night before. By the time he got back, he had some time to help her through the fact that she couldn’t remember she was married to him before going to work. It’s strange when the sick have to take care of the healthy, but he loved his wife.
You’ve probably read about him. If you can’t remember doing it, you’re not alone. There’s no official name for his condition, but it is known to be chronic and degenerative. Symptoms first appeared when he was six. He was sitting at his kitchen table working on his homework when his mother went to ask him what he wanted for dinner. When she did, she found his name escaped her. She laughed it off at first as exhaustion, but found that she had to strain to finally remember. Afraid that she was experiencing a stroke or similar affliction, she had her sister come and take her to the hospital. With his mother being kept overnight for observation, he stayed with his aunt. Wishing him goodnight, the aunt also found she had to struggle to remember his name. Fearing a gas leak or some kind of poison, she too went to the hospital. It took about three different contacts, including his father, uncle, and best friend before anyone realized that it was the boy who had something wrong with him. He was being forgotten.
He was studied for most of his childhood. There were several theories on why he was becoming increasingly hard to remember. Some thought he secreted something that numbed certain parts of the brain. Others believed he had a unique frequency that interfered with other human’s morphogenetic field. While the cause was never found, the result was clear. As he aged, he became a harder and harder to remember. By 15, his classmates and teachers saw him as a new student every three days. This isolated him through most of school, though it must be said that his coping skills were something to be admired. He made it on the varsity soccer team his Junior year and got used to having to wait for the coach to find his name on the roster when he showed up to practice. Paperwork became his saving grace. As long as the teachers, government, and employers had his name written down he would get his paychecks, taxes, and grades just like everyone else.
For his closer relations, a system was worked out. The person involved would write themselves a note, which he could point them to when he faded out enough to become a burden. Through his twenties, people close to him needed the note about once every two weeks. By the time he was 37, his wife needed a note every day. She kept it on her nightstand in a red envelope so she wouldn’t miss it in the morning. She made him promise every night that he’d stay in bed until she woke up. He usually did, but now he was getting tired of having the police called on him. He woke up early to go running and by the time he got back she would have read the letter. Some days she would accept the marriage, as no other explanation for why her house had pictures of him all over it sufficed. There were bad days though, when she would come up with large conspiracies and improbable ideas on who he was. As time went on his runs lasted longer and longer. He told himself it was good for his health.
The reason he liked running so much was that the people who were out that early were the only ones he saw every day and didn’t have to explain anything to. Fellow runners, landscapers, people waiting in line for coffee, these were his constants who didn’t know him but didn’t find it strange that he was there. He had great affection for the baristas who served him in the morning. They always smiled and asked him how his day was going.
He woke up earlier than usual today, though he hadn’t slept well the night before. He and his wife had a fight. It was becoming a more common occurrence as she began to forget him in the nine hours between him leaving for work and him getting home. He couldn’t remember what last night’s had been about, but he was anxious to get out of the house. He got out of bed quietly. The summer morning cast a bright twilight through the room, which meant he had another twenty minutes before the sun came up. He changed into shorts and a t-shirt and went downstairs.
The boy was sitting at the kitchen table eating cereal. Besides the fact that he didn’t know the who the boy was, it looked like a completely natural scene. The boy looked tired, or maybe more complacent. He wore flannel pants and a t-shirt that he had clearly slept in. He was in his early teens. He didn’t look dirty or desperate like a runaway. He didn’t look out of place at all. The boy looked at him with alarm.
“Who are you?” the boy asked, more unsure than frightened. The man felt the same way, like the boy was fine where he was, though he didn’t know why he should be there.
“I live here.” the man said. They eyed each other a while longer. It was a strange change of pace, him not being able to recognize someone. It wasn’t altogether unpleasant.
“I live here.” the boy said breaking the silence.
As they waited to see what the other one was going to do, the man noticed something. On the refrigerator, attached by Disney World magnet, was a red envelope with his name written on it in bold black letters. He walked over to it, the boy at the table watching him. He pulled the letter off of the refrigerator and opened it. It was his handwriting.
“His is worse than yours.” the letter said. “It started at two and has progressed much faster. Instead of writing down everything about him, talk to him every day and get to know him. His name is Walt.”
It didn’t all come back to him, but small recollections did. He saw Walt going to school and the bus driver asking in a friendly way “Hey, what’s your name.” every day. Remembered that fourth grade was the worst of it so they home schooled him for a year but decided he had to get used to being around people. The rest was mostly a blur.
“Walt, huh?” he said to his son. The boy at the table nodded. The man smiled and sat down across from him at the table.
“Tell me about yourself.”