Piercing the Veil

When what's past is present

Carol Jacobs-Carre/Flickr
Carol Jacobs-Carre/Flickr

I’ve already written a column about prolonged déjà vu, but I feel the urge to write about it again because I’m waiting in a hospital room in Lubbock, Texas—waiting for it to happen again.

In June 2013, I suffered a closed head injury during a Syrian government offensive in the city of Aleppo. When I returned to the States, my best friend noticed that I couldn’t walk upstairs unaided or sign my name.

After my symptoms continued to worsen, I underwent emergency brain surgery. Subsequent tests indicated minor seizure activity in my temporal lobe, so my neurologist prescribed an anti-seizure medication. I seemed fine after that. But two years later, things started to take a turn.

I began having prolonged sessions of déjà vu.

According to a 2004 article by psychologist Alan S. Brown in the journal Psychological Science, two-thirds of us have experienced that brief moment we’re sure we’ve already experienced before, but I was starting to have episodes that might last an hour, four hours, or even an entire day.

I spent two days in a town I knew, but had never been to before, saying the same things to people I’d never talked to before, eating the same food I’d never eaten before, walking the same sidewalks, petting the same retrievers, all the time unable to tell my former wife over the phone what town I was in, who I was talking to, or when I planned on hitting the road back to Lubbock.

I told her I’d know it when it happened, because it had already happened before.

When I got back to Lubbock, my neurologist increased my anti-seizure medicine.

Again, things seemed fine for a while, but when I came back from a two-month trip to Alabama and Florida, I saw the huge windmill the power company had erected before I left. I remembered having thought that it spoiled the view.

I now know that the windmill wasn’t there on the day I left for Florida. I’ve checked photos I took of the horizon right before I got on the road. No windmill.

So here I sit in my hospital room, the one I was in before, the one with the green sofa whose vinyl was split down the middle. Except I’ve never been in this room before. At my feet is the plastic bag of dirty pajama bottoms that they can’t wash here because they don’t have a washing machine. They didn’t have one the last time either.

My head looks like a pork roast with 27 battery terminals taped to it and multicolored wires sprouting every which way.

My neurologist has cut off my anti-seizure medicine. I’ve had to stay up all night. In an hour, they’ll bombard me with flashing white lights. The goal, my neurologist says, is to induce one of those seizures responsible for prolonged déjà vu.

But one of my daughter’s friends has suggested a term for seizure that I like better. I’m looking forward to piercing the veil.

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Dennis Covington, who died in April 2024, was the author of six books, including Salvation on Sand Mountain, a finalist for the National Book Award. His final book was Revelation: A Search for Faith in a Violent Religious World.


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