Gina couldn’t remember where she put her keys. It was happening with greater frequency, this inability to remember things—names, faces, names of spaces, routes to places. She could remember the name of the boy from her second grade class, the one with the hole in his heart, Michael Thorpe, with the ghostly skin and pale blue lips. She remembered his straight blond hair and crooked teeth and how hard she tried to be nice to him, not pity him, knowing that he knew he was dying. He died before he made it to third grade. She could remember these details without prompting, but 40 years later, she could not remember where she put her keys.
She had read about the brain and short-term memory loss; she had diagnosed herself as having persistent depressive disorder. She could name it. Naming this swirling pool of dark muck that tunneled her vision, blocked out the rest of the world, didn’t help.
“Can I help you with something?” the teenager behind the makeup counter asked.
Gina combed her hair with her fingers nervously. “I can’t find my keys.”
“Hmm. I think you were at the menswear counter across the aisle. Maybe check there?” The girl was polite but her mouth angled up on one end in a smirk. Gina had seen that expression on her own daughter’s face enough to know it was derisive.
“Of course. Thank you,” she said to the girl. Gina turned around and closed her eyes, pictured her hippocampus shrinking inside her head. Hippocampus, Greek for seahorse or sea monster, swimming in stasis within each hemisphere of her brain. Shouldn’t it be hippocampi? she thought to herself. Aren’t there two?
The department store’s fluorescent lights made her temples throb. Find your keys, go home, crawl into bed.
She walked to the menswear counter, abandoned now, the cashier folding sweaters in the boys’ section. Gina leaned over the counter to see if her keys were on the shelf with the register. She couldn’t reach far enough so she walked around to the other side, lifting the pile of hangers, looking on the shelves underneath the counter, running her hand along the side of the cash register. She had read about depression and the changes in the hippocampus, how neurons get blocked, fail to ignite the synapses. The studies done with rats that can’t make their way through the maze when the hippocampus is defective. They lose their energy, want to sleep all day, forget about cheese and sunlight and running on wheels.
Gina had tried antidepressants, mantras and aphorisms, talk therapy and group sessions, but nothing lifted her out of the miasma. It was dark and lonely here. Her thoughts were not her own – someone took them, reworded them, put them back in her brain where they echoed and pinged across the corpus callosum. Or so she imagined. Where else would her words go?
Gina wanted words to explain why she had lost her daughter, why Jamie had careened across the median, crashed through a windshield, hurled onto a field of black-eyed Susans on a hot August night.
“Ma’am? Ma’am,” said a security guard. The cashier and security guard stood over her as she rummaged through the sales receipts.
“I lost something. I lost my keys,” Gina said. She patted her coat pockets and heard the keys jingle. She thought about Mrs. Thorpe losing her son and wondered if she was with him now in the universe, somewhere. “Found.”