Thought and memory are a writer’s stock in trade, and when something happens to them, it’s particularly sad and terrifying. Especially in the case of a certain great Colombian, who feared his own memory loss more than most:
The great Colombian writer, Gabriel García Márquez, no longer recognizes his closest friends, with whom he has travelled, grown literarily, and shared decades of life, including Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza.
The author of The Fragrance of Guava (1982), a book about recollections of childhood and youth, friends and literature, along with “Gabo”, expressed great worry “because his mother died of Alzheimer’s and his brother too”.
Eligio García Márquez, a physicist, writer and journalist, younger brother of the Nobel literary prizewinner, died at age 53 in 2001. “It was a terrible blow for Gabo,” commented Jaime, another of his brothers.
Mendoza admits he has not been able to speak with García Márquez for the past five years, but he did speak with Rodrigo, his godson, who told him: “He has to see you because if he doesn’t, he can’t tell by the voice with whom he is speaking.”
“The last time we spoke,” said the journalist, Mendoza, “he forgot certain things, and he asked me: ‘When did you arrive? Where are you staying?’, and repeated that. By contrast, we went out to lunch and when it came to remembering very old things, remote, from about 30 or 40 years ago, his memory functioned perfectly.”
Translation mine. Linkage added.
This short-term memory loss is typical of senile dementia; it’s not unusual for those who have it to have difficulty remembering the immediate past — what was just said, what they ate for breakfast that day, etc. — while retaining clear memories of seemingly minor details from decades ago. And “Gabo” is 85, so his memory definitely isn’t what it used to be, and can’t be expected to be, either. In fact, a few years ago he expressed preoccupation because he “hadn’t written a line all year”. Perhaps that was when his memory was starting to go, and his energy to flag?
More worrisome, and telling, is his inability to recognize people by their voices anymore. It’s hard to say for certain that he suffers from Alzheimer’s, since other symptoms weren’t discussed here. Either way, it’s painful for a writer with a long and sociable history of literary friendships to find them falling by the wayside because his health is slowly failing.
I don’t expect a happy ending to this story.