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Who Is Su

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The entire family in 2010, celebrating Kassidy’s high-school graduation.  

Su was taught to braid and make a tuna-fish sandwich and Jazzercise, all of which she picked up quickly. She passed a “safety evaluation” that involved crossing a street, walking in a crowd, and riding a bike. On June 7, she was deemed “severely impaired” in attention, language comprehension, abstract reasoning, and judgment and “moderately impaired” in memory and calculation. Three days later and just 19 days after sustaining her injury, with an IQ assessed at somewhere between 70 and 100 and the visual and spatial skills of a 6-year-old, having made “remarkable improvement in all areas,” her deficits “resolved,” and all skills apparently “within normal limits,” at least “80 percent back to normal,” she was discharged, with no additional therapies or rehabilitation recommended, save psychological assessments to address lingering issues deemed “nonorganic.” In a blue Chevy Malibu driven by the man who’d been introduced as her “husband,” she sat silently, looking out the window at each piece of the almost everything she did not know, including, as they pulled into the driveway of the one said to be hers, inside of which waited the two little people said to be her “children,” to whom she was said to be their “mother”—home.

“You might wonder how it feels to wake up one morning and not know who you are,” she wrote in her book. “I don’t know. The accident didn’t just wipe out all my memories; it hindered me from making new ones for quite some time. I awoke each day to a house full of strangers. Every morning began with a lesson: Welcome to your new life. And this wasn’t just a few days. It was weeks before I recognized my boys when they toddled into the room, months before I knew my own telephone number, years before I was able to find my way home from anywhere.”

Within days of her discharge, having used his vacation as well as personal and bereavement time, Jim felt he had to return to work. He left his two young sons at home with his wife, a child, essentially, in her own right. What went on there—for days, for months, and then for years—is forgotten by all.

A year after the accident, Jim accepted a job with a software company in Baltimore, and he moved the family to the Maryland suburbs. The relocation was so traumatic that Su spent at least a weekend in a psychiatric hospital. She cannot imagine, now, how her children survived. All she knows is that Benjamin, whose precociousness then bordered on genius, became something of the default “head of household” when Jim was at work, and was taught to tell time and read a map before he could read.

Su has no earliest single memory and resents the question (it is the one she’s asked most frequently). She begins remembering around 1992, when she was roughly three months pregnant with Kassidy and a friend who was aware of her condition explained why her period had likely ceased, and went with her to a drugstore to buy a test.

The experience of being pregnant, initially “gross,” was what allowed Su not only the understanding but ultimately the feeling of love for the first time. (It also helped explain concepts she’d not properly grasped, like how she could be both a “mother” and someone’s “child.”) She acknowledges a different relationship with Kassidy. “And it’s not that I love Benjamin or Patrick any worse or less or whatever,” she told me in Northampton. “It’s just, as ridiculous as it sounds, I can’t remember them needing me the way Kassidy did. In my mind, I needed them. That’s why I literally see them as being older than me.” The children grew up thinking of their mother’s injury as unexceptional, and her lack of a past similar to the genealogical blanks of their father’s. “The same place in my head as Dad was adopted, you don’t have a memory,” Kassidy said to her mother when I asked her about it. “Your head injury isn’t more or less weight than Dad’s adopted.”

Moira LaVeck and her husband were the Mecks’ next-door neighbors in Maryland, with two children around the same age. She has remained friendly with Su and remembers a somewhat unorthodox mother wholly immersed in her children’s lives. “Within a couple months of them moving in,” she recalls, “we were talking about certain things, and she said, ‘Oh, well, I don’t remember any of my childhood because I had a ceiling fan fall on my head.’ And it was like, ‘Oh, okay, we’ll work around it.’ ”

Su was also determined not to belabor it: “My No. 1 goal was to fit in,” she wrote. “I mimicked movements, activities, gestures, speech patterns, and facial expressions. If all the mothers at the park were sitting with their legs crossed and flipping through magazines, I would cross my legs and flip through a magazine. If people in church were standing and singing a hymn, I would stand with my hymnal open and pretend to sing the same hymn.”


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