Sunday, June 28

The Man From Wisconsin, USA

I DIVIDE MY LUNCHBREAK into two: first, a walk around the city for half an hour, during which I cover approximately two miles; then I sit down at my desk to eat my lunch, with my headphones in, and watch a BBC documentary. The two things that I feel I should do during this hour’s reprieve is to stretch my legs & stretch my mind, both of which, I tend to find, set me up nicely for an afternoon’s labour. I watch documentaries on a wide range of subjects – such are the wonders of the BBC – from social issues to natural history, from political debate to portraits of artists.
The other day I was watching the second of a three-part series on the brain. This particular episode was focusing on emotions; I was immersed, ignoring my ringing phone and any colleague who came to talk to me, to whom I raised a finger and said—‘Fuck off, I’m eating my lunch… I don’t disturb you when you’re on your lunch and I’d appreciate you extend the same courtesy to me.’ They walk away angrily.
The areas of the brain that react to emotions looked like the silhouette of fruit, dates, in a pile. They were shown on a scan, the pile of dates; that is where emotions are from. A man from Wisconsin, USA, was introduced. He had had a number of brain tumours and during the removal of them the margin included these piles of dates. I shooed another colleague away and sipped from a can of drink. This was most interesting. The man from Wisconsin, USA, lost his ability to experience emotion. His blank face regarded the camera and he talked about it in a flat voice. A crying loved one stirred nothing in him, but he found that he had to remember what it was they were feeling. ‘Most of all,’ he said—‘I’m worried about forgetting what these emotions mean and how they felt.’
I did not know what to think as I sat there in the hot, crowded office.
There is surely a dark cloud hanging over me lately. The days are long, however the weeks are short, and constantly avoiding thinking about things is exhausting so that every night I drink until I can drink no more and then I collapse. The drink is to cloud out the longing and the memories. In the morning I do not feel good, not like the sun is shining, and that night I think I will stay sober enough to catch up on some rest, but the thoughts return and so does the discount red wine. It is going on & on. I was not even a very good record before I was stuck. Sunday afternoon I asked my friend if he would like a drink. We sat by the dock and were, both of us, in bad spirits. In very quiet voices we spoke while around us the crowds were talking loudly & laughing, their dogs running hither & thither, barking, sniffing, humping. Having myself not brought her up, he asked. ‘It’s dead now,’ I told him. We talked of the music we could no longer listen to. He could no longer listen to a song that I could no longer listen to. ‘You’ve told me that before,’ I said, remembering—‘And when you told me we were here with L—, and now look at us!’
Pause.
‘I’ve been thinking of trying to wean myself off antidepressants again.’ He said—‘I don’t feel anything on them, neither happy nor sad. I just feel separate from everything, you know?’
On the way back to the train, he bought some more booze. I had wine at home. We went our separate ways through the close Sunday afternoon.
The man from Wisconsin, USA, was married when he had the brain tumours removed. His wife, a beautiful lady with Greek hair and dark eyes, loved him dearly but his emotionless state smote the relationship and they divorced amicably. She still cared for him, she went round often to talk to him and help him with things. The documentary showed them together; he was sat on his living room floor and she was above him, forming the shape of a cradle, and talking softly in his ear as he stared into space, his eyes flickering.

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