When my parents walked into my room at the asylum, some motor in my brain spun and sparked a blue arc of electricity between two exiled neurons in my brain. They were my parents; they looked like shit. We made a little tent over the bed with our bodies and wept. I smelled the humid travel smell of them. I was instantly nostalgic for the moment when they walked in. There was a light in that moment, a shaft of pure promise. We let go of the hug and I was happy but confused again.

My mom said she was sorry. I said that I was sorry. My dad pushed his glasses up in what I knew was a famous way of his when he squinted back tears. The doctor was with them.

My mom sat on the edge of my bed and smoothed my hair as the doctor talked quietly with my dad. She pushed her thumb into the space between my eyebrows and I recognized that gesture, something she’d done my whole life, telling me not to worry so much. I still didn’t have my memory, but I now had an idea of the outline of myself, like a tin form ready for batter to be poured into it.

My eyes hurt. My parents in the room with me was doing things to my brain. I was groggy with all of the medications, so the emotions I was feeling felt like they were smothered in layers of Saran wrap, but I could feel the rightness of them. These people fit in my life. My mom hugged me again, careful of the IV.

“We’re going to get you home,” she said, touching my forehead, my cheeks, the sides of my neck. She reached down into a bag and pulled out a shoebox. “Betsy sent these along.”

Inside the box were two dozen cookies wrapped in wax paper. I munched one. It was cranberries and chocolate and walnuts, a universe of taste away from the curd rice the nurses served me. At the bottom of the box, insufficiently shielded by the wax paper, was a manila envelope spotted with cookie grease. I shook the contents of the envelope out.

There were dozens of photographs. All of them with me somewhere in them. If each photograph represents 1/64th of a second, I held maybe two seconds of my life there in my hands in that hospital bed.

Nothing was jarred by the pictures. I never had that moment of everything rushing back to me in a flash. Amnesiac Fred Flintstone gets hit on the head again and he’s back to normal, a little woozy, but normal. Instead, I was fascinated with these pictures. Completely engrossed, like someone who had been doing research on flowers his whole life and then suddenly a botanical library opens up down the street from him. I studied them.

There was a picture of me, my blond hair sticking up in a thousand directions, I had two black empty garbage cans in my hands, my mouth was wide open like I was howling. There was a picture of me, legs crossed, in a suit jacket and a kilt. There was a black and white picture of me caught in the middle of a pirouette on the hood of a Toyota station wagon. There was a picture of me hugging a black-haired woman with an amazing nose. There was a picture of me in a tux with a Frisbee tucked under my arm.

I held up a picture and asked my mom what I was doing with my face like that: my eyes bugged out, my mouth screwed up.

“That’s just something you do, David.”

Amol came over from his dad’s side of the bed and introduced himself to my mother and then to my father. He shook their hands in an overly courtly manner and said to each that it was very nice to have made their acquaintance.

“I’m helping him with his English,” I said to mom. “He wants to come to America someday and visit us.”

Amol turned to my mother. “David tells me that you are working with education. I am very interested in education. David has also said that you might be able to help me with coming to America?”

I tapped out a cigarette from the pack on the little table and lit it, sucking in the smoke like a pro.

My mom immediately stopped talking with Amol. “What in the world are you doing?”

I told her that it was no big deal. That this guy was always bringing them by for me, so it wasn’t like I was spending any money or anything.

She explained that I’d been diagnosed with asthma while I was still in the crib and had struggled with it my entire life. “We used to send you to asthma camp in the summers.” She caught herself being exasperated. “We’ll talk about it later.”

The doctor had cornered my father. It was a Monday afternoon and the call to worship rang out from tinny speakers in three mosques surrounding us and the world had come to furrow concernedly by my bedside in the asylum. The room buzzed with conversation all the while each one of them kept one eye on me as I flipped through the pictures: me, the glazed subtext to every conversation. Amol squirreled up next to me on the bed, careful of my IV.

“Who is this?” He pushed his finger on the face of the girl with the great nose. We were in a parking lot. She carried an SLR camera and had sunglasses perched on her head. My hands were jammed deep in my pockets in a cool boy pose.

“I don’t know.”

I flipped to another picture. In this one I had my arms around a woman with piercingly blue eyes. She had a pixie haircut and a purple cardigan and I was acting like I was about to bite her neck.

“Who is she?”

“I don’t know,” I repeated.

He asked again and again. Each time placing his finger on a face adjacent to mine. Smiling faces. Beautiful faces. Girlfriends, cousins, college roommates. Perhaps those. A constellation of loved ones, and like constellations they all had names that I did not know.

“I don’t know,” I’d repeat to every one of Amol’s queries.

It was like he was lancing abscesses in my memory. Each face he poked with his finger caused a pop in my head. Where a memory might then cohere, instead there was nothing. The nothing seeped out and was worse than any infection.