I have written here before about memory’s unreliability, so I thought I should give props when props are due.
A few weeks ago, I received a message from a Nmadi Ndinge (not her real name), who identified herself as having been a client in a workers’ compensation claim handled by my former associate 20 years ago. She was, she said, in need of medical treatment and wanted to know whom to contact. But when I checked the index cards I keep for closed files, I found nothing for Ms. Ndinge. I then e-mailed Beth, the associate in question, and asked if the file was one I had given her to store. When I returned from a 10-day vacation, there was another beseeching message from Ms. Ndinge and one from Beth, saying she had no record of this file either. Damn, I thought, I probably stuck it in a banker’s box without making a card. The year the case had closed would narrow my search but still... It meant a lot of time bent over in my basement.
I delayed, and a few days later, lying in bed pre-sleep, the thought occurred to me that Nmadi Ndinge might have changed her name. In fact, I was certain she had. In fact, I believed I knew what her name had been. The next morning I checked my cards: "Nmadi Nelson."
Now, is that amazing? I had never met the woman. I had never spoken to her. I knew nothing about her case. There are dozens of my own clients whose names I do not recognize when I see them again. But Beth must have mentioned her, and something – the unusual first name, perhaps – had caused it to lodge some place where my mind, unasked, undirected, could cast and hook and strike and reel her in.
When I found the file, I also learned that my memory had been better than the client’s. It turned out Nmadi Nelson Ndinge had resolved her case by way of compromise and release for $14,000 and had no right to further medical care. But her mind, wishing to believe something different, had recalled something else.
Now I had to break the news.
Causes Bob Levin Supports
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, ACLU, PEN, Berkeley Emergency Food & Housing Project.