It’s been eleven years since you left this world. As I enter
middle age, you always remain 33 years old. Just like those
memories of mine, you have been ice-bound, forever sealed in
As I recall that phone call now, I can still feel the shock of
the news. You started to convulse in the middle of the night, and
you later lost consciousness. Leukemia leading to cerebral hemorrhage.
After the operation, your little sister told me over the
phone: “Brother is rather stable now but his linguistic nerve has
been damaged. He won’t be able to speak again. . . .” I listened
through the receiver, too stunned to fully comprehend her words.
Those days, I voraciously read books on sensory psychology,
scanning every line that explains the most basic cerebral
activity. I read about “receptive aphasia,” which results from damage to the temporal and parietal lobes of the left part of the
brain. In medical terms, that is the so-called Wernicke area,
which lies close to the auditory projection area. As this was the
spot where you were operated on, you will not be able to understand
anything we say. After undergoing the operation, have
you really lost your linguistic cognitive functions?
You were never good at language. Yet the first thing you
lost after that operation was your linguistic ability. How much
memory can you recover? Will you still be able to play the
I pushed the door of the hospital room open and saw your
dad, sister and brother. You were sound asleep.
They woke you up, saying it was time for physical therapy.
They made me come near you and asked whether you recognized
me or not.
You shook your head readily. Almost immediately, my
tears welled up and your little sister tapped my arm, saying: “Let
him take a good look at you. It’s the first time he has seen you
after the operation. He can’t even figure out who we are. But
since we have been at his bedside all the time, he knows we are
Little Sister prodded you to try by reminding you of my
name. “She’s your best friend. Think hard.” I couldn’t stand it
so I told them to stop forcing you to remember.
I brought a cassette tape of your favorite music out of my
Confluence by Yu Hsun-fa. After the first few notes wafted
in the air, your eyes brightened up. You began to hum with the music and your left hand moved about. Your little sister told me
with a laugh: “See? Give him some music and he’d start to conduct!”
I looked with amazement at your hands. They were those
of a musical conductor! You started playing the nanhu since
senior high school. Now, at a time when you have no full control
of yourself, you appear to wield your hands with even
Then I whispered behind your ears: “That’s Yu Hsun-fa
playing with the BCC Folk Music Ensemble, conducted by Peng
Hsiu-wen himself. It’s better than the version by Tangshan.”
But you appeared not to have understood what I said, still humming
the tune with total concentration. You even tried to mimic
the sound of water dropping silently with your lips. The music
stopped, and very naturally, you said: “Great music!”
I played Moon Hanging Up High, a tune you’ve always
liked, and you resumed the humming and the waving of your
hand. I heaved a sigh and told your folks: “His musical sense
and memory for tunes are intact. Unbelievable!” Little Sister
quipped: “Right! He should have pursued a career in music!”
She said these words with a tone of great admiration.
I found a tape of campus folk songs under the bed. How
could you be still listening to this stuff? It was the Little Wooden
Boat, a song I liked in senior high school and I used to sing the
song for you quite often in the past. Joining the singer, Chen
Ming-shao, I sang along the lyrics: “Little Boat, Little Boat!
Through rainy days and sunshine, we went through our life. . . .”
Suddenly, your brother interrupted my singing. “Your
voice is quite similar to hers!” he commented. Jolted from my
reverie, I noticed that you seemed to have been listening too, the
way you did when I sang songs for you before, and as if you were trying to recall something. Tears started to roll down my
cheeks once again and I couldn’t go on. At that instant, you
seemed to have remembered my voice. Have you really forgotten
all about how I looked, what type of a person I am, the little
details of our courtship, the love between us, the quarrels, or the
pain of separation? Is my voice the only thing you could
As I left the hospital that day, my mind was still ringing the
tune of Little Wooden Boat. Then I realized that maybe what
you still remember is the best part of me.
On that day in June, I was again on my way to the National
Taiwan University Hospital. Over the last six months, this
familiar stretch of road became harder and harder for me to tread
on. Events of the past, like accidentally having bumped on
something, creating sounds or scattering images on the floor,
were difficult to tidy up.
On that day, they wanted you to look at me. Your eyes
opened by reflex and all you could manage was a feeble grunt in
your throat. Your little sister told me that because of the medication,
you are not very lucid during daytime but at times you
could recognize people at night.
But in that afternoon you were scheduled to leave and
return home to Houli. I could somehow guess what they wanted
to convey. This was the last time I could see you. Eyes shut
tight, you lay in bed with that emaciated body of yours. Despite
the blanket covering, your whole body appeared shrunken. Your
left hand attached to the IV drip was exposed, thin and dry like
that of an old man. It was pockmarked with bruises and needle marks. Your lips were slightly parted, making your cheeks
appear more shrunken. Not far from the pillow, the ECG screen
showed faint and stable little waves. I stared at you and asked
myself. Will this be my last impression of you?
I never believed you would be so seriously ill,much less
For some time, I went to visit you at the hospital almost on
a weekly basis. In those days,...