When Deborah Wearing walks in the room, her husband lights up and kisses her as though he hasn’t seen her in years. He often serenades her or cuddles her close.
“I adore everything about you,” he’ll whisper in her ear. “I could kiss you all day.”
Basically, every time Clive sees his wife, it’s like he’s falling in love with her all over again – because he is.
Clive Wearing, formerly an accomplished and sought-after musician, conductor and music expert, has a rare form of amnesia, which causes him to lose his memory every seven to 30 seconds. So, even when Deborah only leaves for a few minutes, it seems like an eternity to Clive.
Neither Deborah or Clive knew that March 26, 1985, would be the last day Clive would have conscious thought. When Clive woke up in the morning, he couldn’t answer simple questions. Deborah was concerned, but the doctor assured her that Clive’s confusion was caused by the flu. He prescribed sleep and told Deborah she might as well go to work. But when Deborah arrived home after work, she found Clive’s crumpled pajamas in the middle of the bed. Clive was gone.
After being found walking in the streets, Clive was taken to the hospital. There, the doctors discovered what they had mistaken for the flu was encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, which caused it to swell and become crushed against his skull. The encephalitis had been caused by the herpes simplex virus – a common cold sore virus that can, very rarely, attack the brain.
This had completely wiped out his hippocampus – the part of the brain responsible for memory.
Although Clive remembered few things,he did remember that Deborah was his wife, and he loved her.
A new life
Deborah said at first she was “stunned. In shock. Uncomprehending. It was like being under water: You are not in control of your movements, you can’t hear anything, you can’t understand the world. It was as though we were trapped below the surface and we didn’t know how to get out.”
When Deborah would return home from work, she’d find the answering machine full of messages from Clive who was calling her from the hospital:
“Hello, love, ’tis me, Clive. It’s five minutes past four, and I don’t know what’s going on here. I’m awake for the first time and I haven’t spoken to anyone … “
“Darling? Hello, it’s me, Clive. It’s a quarter past four and I’m awake now for the first time. It all just happened a minute ago, and I want to see you.”
“Darling? It’s me, Clive, and it’s 18 minutes past four and I’m awake. My eyes have just come on about a minute ago. I haven’t spoken to anyone yet, I just want to speak to you.”
Eventually, Deborah couldn’t do it anymore. She couldn’t live her life visiting a man in a care facility who couldn’t remember what she had said only several minutes before. So nine years after Clive fell ill with amnesia, Deborah filed for divorce and moved to the United States.
“I planned to stay away forever, make a new life,” she said.
It was her turn to forget. But could she?
Her one true love
In the United States, Deborah worked in art, met people and tried to move on with her life. She even had relationships, yet they could never go anywhere. Deborah could not forget that she had left her heart in England.
“I didn’t want to marry someone else because I could never have said, ‘Forsaking all others.’ But I wanted to be with someone else and have kids and a regular life. Yet how can you love somebody when you already love somebody? I loved Clive,” she said.
When she went back to England, Deborah visited Clive. He had always reacted passionately when Deborah would re-enter the room after even a brief task such as making tea. But this time his reaction was entirely different:
“When I put my head round his door, his face registered a rush of delight and surprise as if he were about to dash to me as usual and lift me up and swing me round, but then he checked himself. He stood where he was, diffident. He knew enough about himself to realise that although it might seem like months or years of absence to him, I might only have been to the bathroom. He seemed to be learning, through a kind of interior rehabilitation.”
Seeing that Clive had progressed even minutely gave Deborah the hope she needed to continue their relationship. Deborah decided to remarry Clive. Unaware of the original divorce, Clive whole-heartedly agreed to renewing their vows. So on an Easter morning, that is exactly what they did.
Their new marriage isn’t easy. For example, they must live apart; several years ago, however, Clive and Deborah spent Christmas in a hotel. The door alarm wasn’t working so Deborah piled up tables and chairs to prevent Clive from wandering out and getting lost.
Of her renewed marriage, Deborah said, “It’s still sad – that he’s like he is and that, apart from the heart-to-heart love, we have nothing resembling a regular marriage.”
Still, Deborah often tells Clive to remember that she loves him. He tells her: “I can never forget you for a moment. We’re not two people but one. You’re the raison d’être for my heartbeat, darling. I love you for e-ter-ni-ty.”