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A Life Forgotten

Robert, originally uploaded by elefanterosado.

My neighbor R is 63 years old. For the past 43 years he has suffered from extreme amnesia brought on by encephalitis. He spent forty grueling years in a state hospital where he was bullied and straight jacketed and stripped of any shred of self respect he had left.

Life was not always so trying. At the age of 20 the world was R’s oyster. He lived in NYC’s East Village and attended Parsons School of Design. He was such an excellent artist that he was soon offered a job as a commercial illustrator. He dropped out of Parsons to begin the job of a life time. During off hours he entertained his friends with his concert level piano playing and hung out with pals such as Andy Warhol.

A vacation to Jamaica and a mosquito bite wiped clean the slate of his life. He was left for dead in a coffin and woke up screaming for his life. He claims he saw Jesus.

He exerts a great deal of effort trying to get to “the train station.” His amnesia prevents him from understanding that he lives in the woods, and that the nearest train station is 15 miles away.

He hasn’t driven a car since 1965. (The year I was born.) It was a VW Bug, and he still remembers the feel of the pedals and the way the clutch crunched when he shifted gears.

Although we’ve been neighbors for several years, I reintroduce myself each time we meet. He wears a band around his wrist which tells him who he is.

Even so, he remembers the important things. Like what it felt like to tinkle the ivories for Andy Warhol and smoke a cigarette on Bleecker Street.

And those things are, after all, the ones that matter.