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Who Is Su

She was 22 when her memory was obliterated. Twenty-six years later, Su Meck is still learning about the family she raised and the husband she has no recollection of marrying.


Four years ago, inside a classroom at Montgomery community college outside Washington, D.C., Susan Meck—who goes by Su and who was then, technically, legally, 44—quietly removed Dr. Seuss’s Hop on Pop from her bag. She was extremely nervous.

Su is often nervous—or, alternately, breath-taken-away mesmerized—so frequently does she find herself navigating a world she is, to a more profound degree than everyone around her, simultaneously perceiving. Her time at Montgomery was, technically, her third attempt at college, though she does not see it this way. The night before her first day of classes, she’d sat, sobbing, on the bed of her third and youngest child, Kassidy, asking, “What if I can’t find my classrooms?” She vomited twice on the way to campus. To everyone’s surprise, however, especially Su’s, she’d thrived. In her second year, she was named an officer of the school’s chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society. So that the society’s officers could get to know one another better, each was asked to bring to a meeting some object of personal significance. Su held Hop on Pop. It was, she explained, the first book she’d ever read. And she was, she said, 22 years old when she’d read it.

All that ensued did so as surreally and yet as normally as all that had preceded it; in many ways, the defining characteristic of Su Meck—or Su 2.0, as her longtime husband, Jim, sometimes calls her—has been her disinclination to wonder why things are the way they are, because for her they have always just been. A professor at Montgomery invited her to speak to his class, as did Dr. Alexandra Horowitz, a cognitive scientist with whom Kassidy was, by then, taking a seminar at Barnard (and who arranged a meeting with the famed neurologist Oliver Sacks). A counselor at Montgomery encouraged her to apply to a slate of first-tier schools, to which she was roundly accepted, ultimately choosing Smith College.

At church the Sunday following graduation from Montgomery, she was taken aback when a woman she knew came rushing at her, wielding a copy of the Washington Post. Sprawled across its front page was the headline “A Day to Remember,” and inside, surrounded by large photographs of Su and her family, was the tale of the Gaithersburg woman who had earned her college degree two decades after complete memory loss. The story, arranged by the college, gusted across the wire services and social media: The BBC called within minutes of her returning home. The Today show sent her a Town Car. Now everyone knew.

Or thought they knew. And included here, in many senses of the word know, was Su. Reading the Post article later that day was like reading another person’s story, not just for all the things in it she did not remember but also all that she did not recognize: the freak accident 23 years earlier that almost killed her; the “rebellious child” she was said to have been in her first life and the child she became again; the way she had “rebooted,” in the words of her husband; the attention her family, and especially Jim, had selflessly paid her as she recovered.

When book offers began arriving from New York, initially she balked. She was not at all confident in her language facility, or accustomed to talking about herself; she was heading off to Smith. But as strangers continued soliciting her to learn more, she had a change of heart and a swell of curiosity. She started asking Jim and her children about the huge gaps in her memory, a subject she had determined, very early in the life she remembers, to avoid. She secured assurances from them all that they would support her, whatever she discovered.

The story she pieced together disoriented her; finishing it brought her some mixture of clarity and unease. As Su readily concedes, a memoir told by a person unable to remember the bulk of her life is necessarily incomplete.

Inside the modest pale-blue cape cod on a side street in Northampton, Massachusetts, there was what sounded like pandemonium. Dogs bellowed and jumped. Humans clamored in reproach. There were pint glasses with images of the Beatles on shelves in the windows on either side of the door.

“So we’re gonna give you treats to give to Farley,” her son Benjamin announced before the door was fully open, extending his closed hand. He and Kassidy were holding down the black Labrador mix as Su held Farley’s sister Fern. “Oooh, look, Farley,” cooed Su, “look what he has.” Farley advanced slowly and began nibbling from my palm. Benjamin declared the situation defused: “Tail wagging, yeah, he’s good, come on in.” Su asked if I was ready for lunch.


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