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Letter to Lethe

Just so you know, my beloved daughter, they tell me I was a charming man, the kind of witty rascal whose arms women had the bad habit of throwing themselves into. “You would have liked yourself,” I’m often told. “It was impossible to be bored in your company.” On the other hand, they also say that I was a compulsive Don Juan, that erotic conquests were as natural and indispensable to me as reading is to a bookworm.

I’ve heard other things about me, too. I have a notebook where I’ve collected anecdotes about myself, which I use to study the past. Some of them make me wish that I had known myself. Some don’t.

I was married for many years. Evidently I didn’t let this circumstance interfere with my active love life, for which my first wife more or less paid the price. Back then I felt like she had deceived me—or us—in the worst possible way.

So in the beginning I was what I was. Then, when I turned thirty-four, I tasted the waters of Lethe and my self was washed away.

What I’m going to tell you is based on my notes. The notes are based mainly on what I’ve been told and what I’m going to be told. Some of it I managed to write down between my diagnosis and eventual breakdown. I’ve tried to fill the numerous holes in my story with more-or-less educated guesses. Partly it is pure fiction and fabulation. I might have literature in my genes, you know. You might one day be a beloved and respected author whose works will live in literary history. That’s the poeme I’ve written for myself, to remember, although I ought not succumb to that urge. Poemes come and poemes go, and it isn’t wise to cling to them.

More about that later.

The emptying of my memory began almost imperceptibly. The first phase was something familiar from patients’ histories in magazines: names that escaped me, expectant, unfamiliar faces followed by offended expressions, lost glasses, keys and wallets. The postman brought magazines and packages that I couldn’t remember ordering. At work I was tripped up by words and numbers I was supposed to have at hand. The people around me were behaving strangely. I found reminders on my calendar that I hadn’t written. People had stopped telling me things. I couldn’t understand what everyone was talking about.

I blamed the computer. Obviously there was some mix-up with the software. I was constantly apologizing for errors large and small. My boss and workmates first suggested, then insisted, that I go to the health clinic. I made jokes through gritted teeth about my absentmindedness; I blamed stress.

I read the papers, and I thought for a long time that I might be the victim of an unusually broad and well-organized bullying campaign.

But after hundreds of newspaper and Internet articles, I came to the conclusion that the problem wasn’t in the computer system or the office staff, but in myself. The dreaded diagnosis was obviously just one doctor’s visit away. Alzheimer’s. Stroke. Something wrong with my frontal lobe.

I didn’t want to go to the doctor. Self-deception isn’t such a bad a way to keep up your hopes when the truth in its detestable inescapability would crush them. Besides, when I thought about the matter it seemed that it might simply be due to fatigue, or a vitamin B deficiency. I bought a large selection of vitamins. For a while I felt better.

Then one evening I happened to look through some photo albums. My forehead broke out in a sweat and my stomach tied in knots. I didn’t recognize the events in the photos, and nowhere near all of the people. The sunny child in the old black-and-whites was me, but who were the man and woman with me, the ones who looked like that boy’s parents? Who was the tall woman who seemed often to be around when pictures were taken? A friend of the family? An aunt, or perhaps a big sister? I realized that I wasn’t even sure whether I had any siblings.

In several of the pictures there were a disturbingly large number of strangers.

I started to sense the approach of the darkness. The first time I’d encountered it was in high school. It was during a long, tedious lesson on Greek mythology. I’d come to school in spite of a fever. The world slipped farther away and then the darkness fell and its sharp edge cut me loose from everything.

The Lethe was one of the five rivers of Hades, the teacher said, her voice a thousand miles away. As I sank, I grabbed onto the word like someone drowning.

Lethe . . .

When I came to on the classroom floor, all I remembered was a vast coldness and darkness, and that I had imagined a little hand suddenly grabbing my own, as if to console me.

Two decades later the series of changes that had taken place in my brain came to a head when my home began to teeter like a ship run aground. I think I was sitting on the toilet when suddenly my whole life began to sink into a river of oblivion. It was as if cold water was seeping into my consciousness and covering things that I’d had in my mind just a moment before.

I imagine I was awfully frightened. I stumbled out of the bathroom to look for my wife, Leila. I was terrified and alone. I wanted to see her sweet face and feel her soothing touch. It was night. I’m sure I wondered why she wasn’t there. I tried hard to remember whether she had gone out for some reason. I called her. To my relief, she answered right away.

When I started explaining my situation, the call was cut off.

I called again five or six times. Finally she agreed to listen. The fear in my voice told her that I wasn’t making this up.

She reminded me that we didn’t live together anymore. She had moved away six months ago, surely I remembered that? We’d filed for divorce. Apparently I knew very well why.

I didn’t remember and I didn’t know why. All I knew was that I wanted to lay my head in her lap and be comforted.

My wife’s voice on the phone explained that I should get some rest now and go see the doctor in the morning. I wasn’t able to bring her face to mind. The cold waters of the Lethe had washed her features away.

Delfoilic dementia.

A white room. A woman who smelled of cigarette smoke, wearing a white coat, and a man in a shabby coat. The doctor smiled uncomfortably. I struggled to appear politely interested, hiding my panic. They’d done more tests than I cared to count. The diagnosis hung between us like a bizarre joke.

She handed me a booklet describing my illness, and explained.

It was a relatively rare brain disorder associated with the déjà vu phenomenon. The past would be lost, because part of my memory was breaking down, but in its place I would remember the future. Or I would believe I was remembering the future, she hastened to clarify, laughing drily. The mind is flexible, and compensates for its injury. Medical science naturally did not recommend putting any faith in these delusions.

I nodded. A memory arose in my mind of calling her at home and telling her she was wrong, that I really can remember the future, that there’s proof if she wants it. A moment’s silence, and then she says in a broken voice that it certainly seems I was right. Then she thanks me for the call and apologizes for not believing me at the time. Before hanging up she adds that she won’t be working anymore because her lung cancer is in the terminal stage.

The doctor looked at me searchingly, had a coughing fit, and smiled. A bit of smoker’s cough. I really ought to quit, it’s such a bad habit, especially for a doctor, but . . . Right. If you have any questions, call me.

I thought for a moment and then said, “I’m sorry, but if you don’t quit, you really will get cancer. I seem to remember something like that.”

She wrinkled her brow, wrote down her name and a number I would call one night months or perhaps years later, if my memory of the future was to be believed.

I decided to write the conversation down before I forgot it, and apparently I did write it down. I thanked her and left with the nurse.

I spent the next day at home watching helplessly as the waters of Lethe wreaked their destruction. My past broke apart, crumbled, and collapsed as I was writing and dictating reminders as fast as I could. A large portion of recent years was already lost. Only the happy beginnings of my marriage were left. But I still remembered an amazing amount. I had never thought about what a massive construct an entire thirty-year past is, but of course a healthy person doesn’t think about such things. People, places, events. Trips to Paris, Stockholm, Prague. College romances. Classroom insights. All the places of my childhood. A fight with the neighbor boy who mocked my beautiful, sad aunt. My father’s anger and his occasional good moments. Talking for hours with my mother at night, her gentle touch on my hair, while I pretended to sleep. Reading Donald Duck, Tarzan, and Reader’s Digest in my grandmother’s attic. Card games with Grandma. Picnics and trips with my aunts to the theater. Books they read to me. My first kiss. My first sexual experiences.

I wanted to record all of it, but I was too slow.

I was revealing intimate details of a boyhood experience on the dictaphone when the girl’s name and face suddenly slipped away. As I groped for memories of my life I realized that I couldn’t reach any of my other women, either. Not their names, faces, bodies, or touch. None of the pleasure. The memories of my sexual experiences had run off the road like wild geese.

I can’t say how I reacted. Maybe I was mute with sadness. Maybe I cried. I may have thrown things. When I think about it now, I see myself with a sob in my voice, like a lost child.

A thirty-four-year empty space had opened up inside me. The past had been excised. A hole had been carved out of me. My soul had been quarried, crushed, and scattered on the wind.

I wasn’t exactly an invalid: I could still speak, move, count, use my home appliances. I knew who was president. I knew how to make salsa and when World War II ended. But everything personal was gone. I had knowledge, but no memories. I recognized the world around me, but it felt as if I had never lived there.

I lived for some days in a state of nonexistence. I don’t know whether family or friends came to see me. If they did, I’m sure I didn’t recognize them. A home-care nurse came over occasionally to make sure my body was still working.

The phantom of my mind wandered in the realm of the dead trying with all its might to feel something, even sorrow, frustration or anger, which I could sense flowing in floods of their own someplace near.

But how could I feel sorrow when I didn’t know what all I had lost? Even sorrows are riches, because they’re always connected with some longed-for, beautiful memory. Emptiness begets only emptiness.

I roamed back and forth on the shores of this internal Lethe in the hope that it might nevertheless offer something back up to me. I didn’t dare to hope for very much. Any small memory to cherish would have been enough.

Days passed. Then I found something. Like seashells on a deserted shore. Colorful, beautiful.

I picked them up to look at them.

What a thrilling discovery! Memories! Full of people and events!

And I was in them . . .

Gradually I realized that they weren’t about the past. In these unfolding memories I spoke to people about my condition in a lively tone, and I had clearly got through the worst. In one I was caressing a woman’s bare stomach, scratching my balls, sticky from lovemaking (sorry for the vulgarity, my dear daughter, but in a situation like mine one begins to value the details) and saying:

Don’t worry, sweetheart, I don’t have anything contagious—just delfoilic dementia. So I don’t remember my past for more than a few hours. Right now I don’t even know if we’ve ever met before, because if my poemes can be trusted, you will soon gather up your clothes and rush indignantly away, refusing to say anything, which is a pity, but I remember our subsequent meetings. There are just two at the moment, but my poemes often change. The first will happen in two weeks on a department store escalator. You’ll turn around and I’ll be behind you. You’ll look at me expectantly, but you won’t say anything. Don’t be offended, but I won’t recognize you—unless you put aside your disbelief and erase this poeme and create a new one by introducing yourself to me all over again on the escalator and reminding me of today and what we did here. If you do that, I’ll remember all of it now. What is a poeme? A pre-memory of a potential. It’s the word we use in the delfoilics’ support group. I’m sorry— I can see that this is baffling to you . . . No, I’m not trying to play a joke on you, I’m very sorry if you think . . . Go, then . . . It is confusing, I can’t deny that, but life is what it is.

I picked up my memory book.

Desperation was replaced by a growing excitement, a frenzy. I was on the verge of my own rebirth.

The memory book reminded me: According to the doctor, as the disease progresses, I will believe that I’m remembering the future. This, however, is just the mind’s way of compensating for the damage it has suffered. These thoughts are illusions. Don’t believe them.

But I didn’t want to disbelieve. All I had was these new . . . (I paused here to make some notes in my memory book. I put a large question mark over the doctor’s warning.)

New what?

My strange, new memories. My treasures. Fragments of the future that might come true as they were, or might not. My poemes. I wrote them down so I wouldn’t lose them, too.

I couldn’t see my entire future, of course. It was several decades long, after all. Too large to piece together all at once. I only remembered the most important things about my future and a varying assortment of more or less meaningless details. If I made an effort the images that arose in my mind would sharpen, become more complete, and sometimes more distorted. Memory has its limits, whether it’s aimed toward the past or the future. Which is good. A crueler fate than memory loss would be to possess a memory that never deceived you.

And so I got my life back, a very different life, but a workable one. I ventured out among people again. I went into town, shopping, to bars.

I taught myself to always take notes, because my working memory only reached a few minutes into the past. But remembering the future helped me to operate in the present.

It did take some getting used to. If I got caught up in a conversation at a bar, I noticed that I knew ahead of time how the discussion would progress. Everything anyone said would sound familiar the moment the words were spoken. Over the next few days I read and reread the doctor’s warning about the deceptiveness of memories having to do with the future and thought about it. Finally I decided to perform a test.

There was a blonde woman sitting in the back of a bar. Not particularly beautiful. Closer to middle age than youth. Attractive enough to arouse my desires. Our eyes met. Brown eyes. I liked them. Her name came into my mind: Silja. I wrote down the name and a summary of what I remembered about the conversation we were about to have. Then I approached her. She introduced herself as Silja. I wrote it down.

She asked what I was writing.

On a momentary whim I told her that I was a writer and was working out a new novel. I thought I was behaving spontaneously. But when I looked at the previous page, I saw that I had written: S asks what I’m writing. I pretend to be a writer. This makes her interested.

Up to this point Silja seemed vaguely friendly. Now she was electrified and uttered the line that I had written on the previous page: A writer? Really? I never read books, but writers are interesting. Tell me: if we end up in bed and have unforgettable sex, might I find myself in one of your books later?

The question was a seemingly lighthearted one. But I remembered how desperately she would try to make an impression on me in bed. I answered in the affirmative. The poeme was irresistible.

And so we went to my apartment, and to bed. The experience may have been meant to be something to remember forever, but it faded from my mind as soon as it happened. I found myself lying naked in bed watching a blonde lazily get dressed. All I remembered about her was what she would say just before she left. I wrote it down: I hope you liked that. I’ve never done things like that before. What kinds of books did you say you write?

So remembering the future seemed to be a real phenomenon. This was a subject of vehement discussion in the delfoilic dementia support group where I found myself about six months later. Even before then I had written down a poeme about the group.

At that point there were about twenty members. Every week two or three more came. Some remembered that as the years went by the membership would grow into the hundreds and new groups would be founded. For one reason or another delfoilic dementia was becoming more common. Various reasons were given for this fact—food additives, sun spots, a virus, radiation from new electronic devices. There will be no complete consensus in my lifetime.

On my third visit I was vaguely nervous. My poemes slipped away like wet bars of soap. I tried to focus on my memory book. It seemed that after Silja I’d had sex with three other women. They were Anna, Helena, and Noriko. I made notes about them based on my poemes and also at the time of the experience or immediately afterward whenever I had an opportunity. I’d also started writing down memories of some things about Johanna and Birgitta, whom I would meet in the near future.

Anna. Chubby, curly-haired. Oral fixation, giggles and hums in bed, smells like candy. Bursts into tears when she comes, and can’t stop. We meet four or five times. After that she tells me she’s married and leaves.

Helena. Delicate, slender, and shy. Surprisingly hairy once she’s naked, almost like a female ape. Becomes aroused slowly but once she gets going she bites, scratches, and growls like a little monster. Demanding, probably impossible to satisfy completely. Scary. I don’t get in touch with her after the first time. She calls me about once a week. Finally throws a rock through my kitchen window.

Noriko. Japanese-born poetry lover. Passive in bed, keeps her eyes closed, permits anything and whispers that I should do all kinds of strange things, enjoys it, but doesn’t visibly react at all. Slips away without a word. Comes back two more times, then disappears.

The notes were horribly hollow attempts to describe nuanced experiences that I had, naturally, forgotten. I read through them over and over and struggled in my imagination to dramatize them into makeshift memories. But as a delfoilic I was only able to enjoy the memories of experiences still to come. The closer they came to fruition, the clearer they became.

Johanna and Birgitta, however, were still in the future, so I remembered them with photographic clarity. I reminisced about Johanna’s dark-tipped nipples standing stiff as soldiers and her violence in bed and Birgitta’s creamy pale playfulness and sweet ass. I enjoyed my poemes but at the same time it vexed me to think that when I finally actually met these women and left a mark on their memories I would lose my own memories of them. I tried fruitlessly to remember what it felt like not to remember them. The rules of delfoilic dementia aren’t easy to characterize, though a person suffering from it knows very well from his poemes almost everything he will ever learn about the disease.

This peculiar exchange of memory for experience, which is repeated every time a poeme comes true, is like Dante’s ironic punishment for my earlier life, when I thirsted for experience and collected memories of women like a philatelist collects stamps. Once again I wished that I was a better writer, or perhaps a painter or composer, so that I could capture something of the experiences to come.

I had tried recording my experience in photographs. But the pictures were filled with people who were complete strangers. It was terrible to think that they remembered me, knew all sorts of intimate things about me, and could return to those shared moments whenever they wanted, like Peeping Toms, remembering my intimate habits, my nakedness.

The photos became hateful to me. I destroyed them and hid the camera.

I’ve also tried recording my life on video. Everyone in the support group has tried it at some point. Like many people, I found myself unable to look at the videos. The camera in its merciless reality was a paltry substitute for memory. And in any case the poemes, with all their vacillations, were more interesting than staring at the past. The delfoilics group had a saying: Why mourn for what you’ve left behind when you can focus on remembering the happiness to come!

Then a thin, brown-haired woman with an ironic smile on her lips stepped to the front of the group. As far as I knew we had never met before. Yet I had for some time known her better than I know myself. But I had imagined that we wouldn’t meet each other until years later.

“Hi everybody. As your poemes no doubt tell you, I’m Amalia and I suffer from delfoilic dementia. I was diagnosed two years ago. I’ve probably never been here before. I don’t know why or how I came here today – I don’t have any notes about this day—but here I am, I guess . . .”

“Hi, Amalia.”

They all greeted the newcomer and listened to her story.

She spoke until our eyes met. Her words became confused and she grew quiet. A poeme came into my mind of us kissing passionately in the rain. I looked out the window. The day had been sunny, and it was still sunny.

If a nondelfoilic person had been there they wouldn’t have had any conception of what was happening. The situation became even stranger when everyone turned to look at me and Amalia with beaming smiles.

Before anyone could say a word, I wrote in my memory book so I wouldn’t forget: They congratulate us. They all remember our engagement, a year from now, and the wedding a couple of months later. We’re going to be married.

There was a round of applause.

I felt dizzy. Something had changed. The poemes were in a whirl. Things were happening differently than I had remembered them.

The poemes about Johanna and Birgitta quickly faded away and were replaced by memories of Amalia. It was often said in the group that you shouldn’t count on poemes, because when causalities crash together in unexpected ways, they can come off the rails and cause a chain reaction, which also changes the future.

It is perhaps not hard to believe that predestination is a popular topic of discussion in delfoilic circles.

Amalia had been sitting in front of me. Now she came to the back row, where I was sitting. The others made space for her.

Our hands grasped each other. We couldn’t speak. The poemes crashed in rapids in both our minds as we adjusted to our new position.

The next person went to the front and began his story.

Gradually the window darkened. When the rain started to patter on the roof, Amalia and I looked at each other, stood up, and left.

That same evening she fetched her most important possessions from her apartment and moved in with me.

I don’t know what happened for the next week. Maybe we talked the whole time about the decades of shared future before us. Maybe we made love. Maybe we just watched television together. Something can be deduced from the fact that neither of us wrote any notes. When I picked up my memory book again a week later, I saw that I had written a poeme that said we had kissed just outside the support group meeting, in the rain, under a street lamp, and a yellow blimp had floated across the wet sky above us.

I showed the text to Amalia. Tears came to her eyes and she made me promise that I would remind her often.

A delfoilic dementia romance has its own set of challenges, but once love ignites, things progress quickly. Why dillydally once your shared future is clear in both your minds? There’s no need for a period of deliberation. The delfoilic partners know each other best at the very beginning of the relationship, because all their most important shared experiences are still more or less clearly ahead of them and haven’t yet been experienced and forgotten.

Every day lived together makes the two people a little less familiar to each other as their beautiful memories come true and are forgotten one by one. The depth of the relationship in its beginning phases gradually disappears and the warm togetherness is replaced by the kind of excitement the comes when two people no longer know each other through and through.

When their shared time comes to an end, delfoilics wake up and find themselves living with a stranger. It is then that they go their separate ways, without any memories. If the relationship ends with the death of one partner, the widowed person sits through the funeral dry-eyed, if they show up at all. The person lying in the coffin is a complete stranger. No memories, no emotions.

From my memory book I see that now and then I think about my life before the disease. The man I used to be was married for years. Lethe, have I told you that before he became ill your father was said to be charming company, the kind of witty rascal whose arms women had the bad habit of throwing themselves into, that I was sometimes even accused of being a Don Juan?

Well, delfoilics hear all kinds of things about themselves. When your past is partly dependent on hearsay, it’s wise to be careful about whose stories you listen to. You need many points of view. I’ve even collected stories I’ve heard about myself in my memory book and used them to interpret the past. They include my former wife’s account of who I used to be.

One evening, after living with Amalia for several months, a beautiful, stylishly dressed woman appeared at our door.

I was home alone. I remembered that Amalia would come home late and tell me she got so involved in her shopping that she lost track of time. She would also have a surprise for me—an electronic smart journal designed for delfoilics. The idea of it had cheered me all day. It was a shame that in a few hours I would receive the gift and forget the happiness the surprise of it gave me.

The question of surprising delfoilics is of course problematic. We’re very hard to surprise. The joy that others take in gifts and other unexpected events isn’t diminished, however, by the fact that they are sometimes remembered years in advance. Human memory isn’t perfect, whether it reaches into the past or the future. We can be genuinely surprised if something completely slips our mind before it happens. That was how it was for me when this woman appeared at our door. She stared at me without speaking. The situation was awkward. Just a couple of seconds before the poeme came true, I had remembered her introducing herself as my ex-wife, Leila, and saying she had come for my signature on divorce papers.

We shook hands. When I said my own name, she laughed, sighed, and said there was no need to introduce myself; she remembered me very well from our many years of marriage.

I made some coffee and we chatted. With her permission, I recorded the conversation. I was curious to know for future reference what kind of man she felt she had been married to. The poeme about my wife’s account was in its clearest state, but it would soon disappear completely, and then I would have to rely on my notes.

The first few years were wonderful, full of happiness. You were wonderful. I guess I was too. We had dreams. I have wonderful memories of those years. Thank you for those! We talked about having children. You wanted to have children right away, while I wanted it one day. We agreed that it would be wise for us to build our careers first, so that when the time came we could provide a good, rich life for a child.

Then our life faded, somehow. Maybe I got a little depressed. The present seemed meaningless and the future gray. I thought I had a digestive disease. But I was pregnant. I didn’t say anything to you. I knew that it wasn’t the right time, not yet. I wasn’t ready, and the situation at work was such that there was just no way I could . . .

So I secretly ended the pregnancy. I thought I was saving your feelings by keeping the matter to myself. I felt terribly guilty. I imagined I would gradually forget the whole thing. But I told one of my girlfriends, and she got a little drunk at a party and let it slip out. Maybe it wasn’t an accident; she had always been jealous of my relationship with you. You turned to look at me and I felt myself turn to stone under your gaze. You said that you didn’t feel well, and you gave your apologies and went home to bed.

I remember the next morning. We were sitting at the breakfast table. I was waiting for you to yell at me. Wishing you would. I wanted you to hit me, make me bleed, break my bones; your look made me feel like I deserved it, or something even worse. But you didn’t. You just looked at me like you were seeing me clearly for the first time. Looking right down inside me, at the place that was left empty, which started to hurt. Then you asked me in an absolutely ordinary voice to pass the marmalade, and I knew that there was no going back.

Oh, God, you were so cruel! The worst part was that you kept being so kind to me. We stopped arguing completely. You were always distant, cool, and pleasant. If I tried to start an argument you would look at me and smile, and under that horrible smile, you hated me. At some point I realized that you had other women. You didn’t rub your whoring in my face but gradually it became clear. A couple of years went by. I closed my eyes to your affairs. I decided to let you have them. I thought my suffering would make up for what I’d done, a little at a time, and that eventually you would forgive me.

Then one day I was cleaning the house and I happened to open a drawer in your desk. I found a stack of letters. You had written them to your future daughter—you were convinced it would be a daughter. The first one was written when we had been together for three months. You told your future daughter that you’d found the woman who would be her mother. In later letters you described me in such wonderful words, the way only a man in love can describe a woman. You told your daughter that you had always admired women—your own mother, aunts, and grandmothers, with whom you’d had a warm relationship as a child—and that was the reason you wanted a daughter of your own, to take care of her, to watch her grow up, to protect her.

You also said that you mourned the suffering of the women in your life. Your father was a depressive and an alcoholic and your mother had to take care of him, until he got a knife in the chest in a drunken fight. One of your aunts was married to a violent man and was always covered in bruises. Another was in a car accident and lost her husband and suffered from horrendous pain for the rest of her life. Your grandmother spent her last years languishing with cancer. In many of the letters you promised to do everything you could so that your daughter would never suffer like that.

The last letter was dated two days after the party where you learned what had happened.

All it said was: “Beloved Daughter.”

When I’d read it I realized that you could never forget what happened, never forgive me. I told you I wanted a divorce. You smiled at me over the newspaper and asked me to pass the marmalade.

My ex-wife’s story told me a lot about who I once was, and why. I might have felt regret if I really felt myself to be that man. But he had been washed away by the waters of Lethe.

In his defense it should be said that his cruelty toward his wife welled up from his love for his daughter—for you, a child who waited in nonexistence and had probably taken hold of your father’s hand as far back as his youth, that first time he sank into the river of Lethe.

That man who ended up with such a stony heart was your father just as much as I was, and if nothing else unites us, our love for you does.

Amalia finally came home and I got my electronic journal. The device made it easier to take notes in different situations. While writing this letter I’ve also been dictating both my old notes and those precious poemes that deal with mine and Amalia’s shared future. I’m trying to give them clarity as I make a decision about whether to be home when Amalia gets back from the support group.

Our future holds a lot of love, tenderness, and ecstasy. In a couple of years we’ll go to Paris. While we’re there we’ll experience all the things they talk about in love songs. We’ll live for each other, to the point of pain.

Naturally we’ll bicker about all kinds of little things. We have two or three really big fights ahead of us. But the reasons for them aren’t so serious that they’ll cast a shadow over our marriage. Delfoilics’ fights are forgotten as soon as they’re done, and we almost always laugh about them months before, though they tear us up when they’re happening.

If my memory is correct, then, we have many fantastic years ahead of us. We’ll try not to think too much about unpleasant things. Old hat for delfoilics.

Five years from now, you’ll be born. You’ll be a beautiful child. Really beautiful. I remember that your name will be Lethe, because that’s what your name is. It’s not just the river of forgetting, it’s also the name of a goddess. The same name every third daughter of delfoilics has, but so be it—there’s good reason for its popularity.

You’ll have the best possible childhood. You’ll lack for nothing. Not love, not attention. We’ll take you out wherever you want to go. But we won’t spoil you with toys. You’ll have safe boundaries. We’ll make sure of your welfare with regular trips to a therapist, since you will, after all, be the child of two delfoilics.

The only unpleasant event of your childhood will be when you’re hit by a car and have a cast on your leg for a summer. You won’t be able to go swimming and it will upset you, but we’ll read your favorite books to you.

In short, we’ll give you our all. You’ll be grateful for all of this and show it by being a perfect daughter in every way, although we’ll make it clear that you have a right to get into trouble if you feel like it.

When you’re twenty-one, you’ll become a writer. Praised around the world, beloved, successful. After just five years the critics will be unanimous in their opinion that your works will live in literary history. All three novels. They’ll call it The Agony Trilogy.

When you’re twenty-five, in a television interview, you’ll talk about your wonderful parents and the love they gave you and how guilty you felt about it. You’ll say that for as long as you can remember you’ve wanted to die. You’ll talk about how when you were a child you screwed up your courage and ran out in front of a car, and how disappointed you were that it didn’t kill you. After the interview you’ll go home and open the veins in your wrists. You’ll survive, because I’ll come home in time.

You’ll look at me. Your eyes will be empty and your words will stab me in the heart. I’ve written them down.

Dad, don’t let me suffer.

You would be a beautiful child that we would love so much. I’ve written this poeme to myself to remember it, but a person shouldn’t give in and do such a thing. Poemes come and poemes go. It isn’t wise to cling to them. 

"Kirje Lethelle" © Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2014 by Lola Rogers. All rights reserved.