Jon Smith squirmed uncomfortably in his seat.
The woman across the aisle from him insisted on staring at him almost the whole flight. Early on, she had called over the steward and whispered fiercely into his ear at length. There was some sort of hushed argument between them, before the steward shrugged, and returned to the galley.
And the woman continued to glare at him.
Jon was uncomfortable for a lot of reasons.
It seemed that he was always pinching pennies, trying to save up enough INF, the trade script often used in Paragon City as a payment system for the many Heroes that lived and worked there, for ordinary expenses, and the plane tickets to San Francisco had put him deeply in debt. He was not at all happy about the situation. But he didn't see that he had much choice.
The situation at the airport would have been ludicrous, if it hadn't also been so tragic.
He had arrived several hours early, knowing that there would be trouble. He carried his Hero Corps ID card in a holder around his neck for all to see, and had letters of introduction vouching for him from every Paragon City official that he could get an audience with.
At the airport, he went immediately to Security, and explained his situation to them.
They didn't believe him, of course.
He offered to disrobe for them, so that they could see that he was telling the truth. He offered to submit to any search they wanted to do, voluntarily.
The uniformed man and woman behind the Security desk looked at each other, then at him, and told him it wouldn't be necessary.
At the metal detector, Jon explained his situation again, and showed the man his letters and ID.
The man held out a basket and told Jon to remove all metal and put it in the basket.
Jon stared at him, completely at a loss.
He told him again that he *couldn't* remove all metal from his body. The uniformed man asked if he had a truss or a plate in his head.
Jon said no.
The man held up the basket again.
A teenager 20 bodies further back in line catcalled and yelled at Jon to get out of the way.
Feeling his face flush, Jon pulled off first one glove....
.....and then the other.....
....and while the uniformed man was looking at his hands with a puzzled expression, he unbuttoned his jacket and shirt, and pulled them both off in one motion.
"I can't *take* all the metal off my body...." he said quietly to the dumbstruck guard.
Whereupon the guard picked up his walkie-talkie and called the Security office for backup.
An hour later, he was still sitting in a waiting area in Security, while they argued over him and whether he was, in and of himself, a danger to the flight he was booked on.
One supervisor was arguing, loudly, that if a pocketknife was a weapon, then Jon's whole *body* was a potential weapon, too, and he shouldn't be allowed to board. Jon wondered briefly what he would have thought had he seen the foot-long knives currently hidden inside his metal forearms, had to stifle the near-hysterical giggle that image caused him before the others in the room noticed.
Jon finally resorted to calling Rachel Torres, who called David Wincott, who called someone else.....he lost track of the chain of phone calls, and began swallowing his headache pills as if they were M&Ms.
The phone calls had reached the West Coast (and Jon was cringing with each long distance second he knew he would end up paying for), before a higher-up made a decision to personally escort Jon to his seat on his plane, calling ahead for Security to meet him in San Francisco and escort him off the airport premises.
And the woman across the aisle wouldn't stop glaring at him.
He turned and stared out the window, trying to avoid her gaze.
At first it was all grey light and cottony whiteness, and he had difficulty keeping up the pretense. The only thing to look at was the wing of the plane, and he stared at it, feigning fascination. He took the wing apart with his vision, and found himself wondering what all the different pieces and parts were, what they were called, what they did, why they were there.
Much as someone else might wonder why he was there.
Then the plane broke through the cloud cover. Below was an alien landscape of greens and browns, unrecognizable at their current scale. Above was pearlescent blue darkening to azure overhead; where the two met, pale green sky and pink, purple, and orange clouds tumbled over each other at the horizon line.
He stared, entranced, the woman across the aisle forgotten.
"Thank you for meeting with me, Dr. Frankel," Jon said, extending his gloved hand.
"I'm sorry you had to fly out here, Mr. Smith, but I simply don't have the time to travel around the country meeting with amnesia victims like yourself," Frankel said, gripping Jon's gloved hand......and then looking very startled.
At least he made an effort to cover it up, Jon thought to himself. He didn't even glance down at my hands.
"Detective Torres told me that you have worked with a lot of amnesia victims, and that you were the person I needed to talk to."
Frankel waved a hand in invitation at a chair, seated himself behind a large mahogany desk. "Did she explain the process?"
"Yes, but I'd appreciate it if you'd explain it again, from your point of view. You're the expert."
"Very well." He smiled, looking inexplicably pleased with the suggestion. "Amnesia is a complex phenomenon, just as memory is a very complex process. There are many different kinds of memory. Amnesia can be caused by a number of different conditions, ranging from the organic, such as brain tumors, to injury, including stroke, to illness, to emotional shock such as post traumatic stress syndrome. The part of the brain affected can vary widely, and therefore, the particular type of memories lost can vary widely as well. According to the file your doctor sent me, you are a "classic" amnesiac, which means that while you have lost your personal life memories, all your functional memories, how to walk, how to speak, and so on, appear to be entirely intact."
Jon nodded understanding, waited for Frankel to continue.
"In classic cases, there is another kind of memory that is normally preserved. We here refer to this as 'cultural memory'. Those are the things that you learn merely through being a part of a particular culture, in a particular place and time. What we are going to do is test to find out what remains of your cultural memory, and see if that can pin down any facts or dates about you, such as your age, since that seems to be a big issue in your case."
"Dr. Frankel.....I do a lot of reading. Particularly about history. I know a lot about things that happened in modern history, but they're from my reading since my.....I guess I'll have to call it an 'accident', since I don't know what happened."
Frankel leaned back in his leather chair, pressed his fingertips together, and looked pleased with himself. "That won't be a problem, Mr. Smith, believe me. Allow me to give you an example.
"Just about everyone who was alive when President Kennedy was assassinated remembers where they were that day, and what they were doing. It's not even remotely like reading it from a book. Classic amnesiacs may not remember the event as a personal memory....but they will have associations with it, emotional ones, that someone who is too young to have experienced it and will have read about it from books will not have. There is emotional memory, as well as factual....and that is what we will be looking for here. Not the kinds of facts that you can read in a book, but the associations that people, universally within a culture, will make with an event. We find that people will pick up all kinds of cultural knowledge without ever realizing it, and much of that can be preserved in the classic amnesiac. Unless you were a cultural anthropologist, you wouldn't have had the opportunity to have read that type of information....it doesn't appear in newspaper articles." He opened a drawer in his desk, rummaged through it, slammed it shut as with his other hand he plunked a 6 inch tall statuette of a cartoon character on the top of his desk.
"Who is that?" he asked.
Jon looked his confusion. "Mickey Mouse, of course."
"Of course, Mr. Smith, of course. But stop and think.....have you ever *read* anything about Mickey Mouse, in the few months since your memory began?"
He thought....hard....as understanding gradually worked its way across his face. "No, I don't think I have."
"That's what cultural memory is all about, Mr. Smith. What we do is expose you to a vast complex of cultural information that we have catalogued by date and location, and see what you recognize, and what you don't. That should allow us to place you in time, at least. Had you not recognized Mickey, here, I would have had some real concerns."
"All right...." Jon still felt lost, but if the process worked, he wasn't going to argue with the method. "What do I do? You said on the phone that it would only take a couple of days...."
Frankel leaned in the direction of his phone, pressed a button, raised his voice. "Mrs. Whallen, Mr. Smith is ready, would you please come and get him?" He turned back to Jon. "Just go with her, she'll get you set up. You understand that there are no guarantees, but I have a lot of confidence from what I read in your file, I think this may very well give you a lot of the information you are looking for."
Jon nodded, soberly, stood up as the white-haired woman entered the room.
A week later, Jon was sitting in Detective Rachel Torres' office.
It was hard for him to sit still, he wanted to jump up, bang his fist on her desk, and demand that she tell him what Frankel's report said.
He gripped the arms of the chair, gritted his teeth, and forced himself to wait.
Torres smiled at him. "It's okay, Jon, I know you're all excited about this. And I'm happy to report that we do have some more information, although not as much as I'd hoped for."
He wanted to scream at her to get on with it, but he only nodded his head, tight-lipped, unable to force a smile.
She patted a file folder lying on her desk, but didn't bother opening it. It occured to him that she must have spent some time studying the papers inside it.
"All right, here it is in a nutshell," she began.
"Frankel's questionaires show that you have some remaining cultural memories from 1980. They are few and far between, and of a nature that he says are normal for a child to have. Toys, Saturday morning cartoons, a little later some stories that were published in some school readers. From that, we can make an assumption that you were probably born around 1975, give or take 3 to 5 years one way or the other."
Jon slumped in his chair, going sheet white.
"Jon?" she asked him, worry crossing her face.
"I'm fine...." he said in a strangled voice. "Please, don't mind me, just go on....go on...."
"You sure? You need some water?"
"No, please....just go on," he pleaded.
"All right....." she said, sounding unconvinced. "The bad news is this.....there is a complete break in your cultural memories starting with some time around 1990, and continuing up until this current year."
He stared at her, dumbfounded, his mouth dropped open. He closed it. "What on earth does that mean?"
"That's the bad news, Jon, we don't know."
He stared at her with a growing look of horror.
"You mean.....I was locked up."
"Jon, I said no such thing. You're jumping to conclusions."
"But what else could it mean?" He couldn't control the note of hysteria in his voice. "Either that or I was institutionalized....insane......"
"Jon," she said patiently, ".....there is no reason to jump to that conclusion. Even inmates in prison have contact with the outside world, through newspapers and television. What we don't understand, is how you could show no signs of any remaining memory of events like the World Trade Center bombing, other than what you've read about it. That particular event goes even beyond culture, Jon, beyond location. People who were on holiday in the South Pacific heard about that within hours of it happening. We live in an electronically connected world today.....we haven't been able to figure out how *anyone* might have been alive on nine-eleven of 2001, and yet have no apparent emotional memory of the event. We don't know....which means it's pointless to speculate at this point in time. And especially pointless to assume the worst that you can think of."
He slumped in his chair, refused to look up at her.
"Jon, try not to think the worst. Concentrate on the positives.......we now have a time period we can start investigating. And that memory gap may be a very good thing. If you were a missing person, perhaps your problems began at the same time that your cultural memory seems to have stopped. It gives us a date to start looking into. That's a very good thing, Jon. Try to keep that in mind."
"I'll try...." he whispered.
Copyright terraforming.com, November 26, 2012