Saturday, February 04, 2006

Starting Over

*I posted this on the LPTJ site a while back, but figured I'd start out here in the lectern with it.
I write a lot, but I don't have a lot of completed short stories, so I'll share what I can.*

He had a perfectly photographic memory; only it was a bit too perfect. With the attention to detail paid not only to scenery, but also to emotion, stimulation of his sense of smell and taste and touch, orientation, feeling of warmth and of the beating of his heart in his chest, his memories left nothing out. He would have considered this a gift, were it not for the fact that this also meant his memories happened in real time. Every moment was relived precisely as it happened, in just as much time.

Doctors tried everything they could think of to treat the boy, to help him find a way to function in life without reality and memory blurring together into such a confusing mess. Finally, frustrated and out of ideas, they came up with a desperate plan. They would perform surgery on the boy's brain to shut off his memory altogether.

They knew this was the only way the boy would survive, but they also knew how devastated the boy would be to have the gift of a perfectly photographic memory taken from him forever, and they argued for two days straight about who was going to have to give the boy the news. Each and every one of them felt like they were about to do something terrible, though they hadn't much choice. In his condition, the boy would certainly go mad before long. But still, they all felt like what they were about to do was murderous and unforgivable.

On the second day of the argument, one of the doctors decided that maybe there was a way they could make this easier on the boy, and on themselves. He called for everyone to be silent, and he gave a presentation of his exciting idea. Everyone was in favor of the idea, and the doctors celebrated.

The next day, they all decided to give the boy the news together. They were no longer afraid to tell him, they no longer felt like they had blood on their hands, like they were participating in something tragic and unfair. They had balloons and cake, posters and charts explaining the surgical procedures, cigars to smoke as a toast to their wonderful solution to the boy's disability.

They all spoke excitedly, occasionally getting carried away and interrupting each other, as though they were in a race, and the first to tell the boy the whole story was the champion. They would perform this operation, and the boy would no longer be hindered by his overwhelming, all-inclusive, time-consuming memory. He would be free to live his life without interruption. Since he would be missing out on his ability to remember, the second half of his life would focus on compensating him for this. At the age of 36, he was to have a second operation, during which his memory would be reactivated. The doctors had all chipped in and worked out a deal with the hospital, and had a room reserved for him for the second 36 years of his life, where his body would be kept healthy and comfortable while the boy re-lived his 36 years in one perfect, streaming, real-time memory that left nothing out.

The boy agreed to the idea, and the surgery was a success. He had to undergo a bit of counseling at first to help him adjust to his loss of memory, but he was provided with everything he'd need to lead a mostly normal life.

On the day of his 36th birthday, he's readied for surgery and the final preparations for his room are made. i.v. stands and monitors and beeps. The doctors, much older now and brimming with excitement about the moment they'd been spending their lives eagerly awaiting, together with a few younger medical assistants, gave a final run-through about the surgery they were about to perform, explaining to the man for the umpteenth time that his memory was about to be reactivated, and that he would be spending the next 36 years reliving his entire life as though for the first time.

Knowing they would all be dead before he woke up, the doctors and the patient said their goodbyes, laughing and embracing and exchanging awkward but endearing last words.

The patient had tears welling up in his eyes, and he didn't know if he had ever been this happy before in his life. He didn't know, because he couldn't remember. But chances are, he thought, he'd never been quite this happy.

He was sedated, he thought of the prize he was about to receive as he drifted into a blurry and blissful half-sleep. He could see shapes silhouetted in the bright lights above him, and somewhere in some distant corner of his mind, he knew that these were the doctors standing around him, and that his new life was about to begin, that he was going to get to be a kid again, to grow up and go to school again, to kiss a girl for the first time again, to learn to drive again, all those wonderful things he couldn't remember, he'd get to have them all back again, and the light grew dimmer, and the shuffling of feet and machine blips and muffled voices all faded into complete silence.

When he awoke, he felt completely alive, refreshed, and healthy. He felt as though the world were his, as though he were made immortal, as though he were a god. He was quite drowsy, which he figured must have just been from the anesthetics used in the surgery, but he was awake enough to be startled when his eyes began to adjust to the light and things began to come into focus. He saw i.v. stands, a blue curtain that hung down from a track on the ceiling stretching all the way around a bed. Looking down, he saw himself in the bed. He noticed how thin he was, how wrinkled and aged his hands were, how frail his arms had become, yellow skin and varicose veins wrapped tightly around bone. Just seconds ago, he was 36 years old and drifting off to sleep, about to be a newborn child again.

Shortly after the man began screaming, an unfamiliar nurse hurried into the room, shouting over her shoulder for assistance. "The old man in 408 just woke up from his memory," the man heard her say.

He wasn't sure how this was possible. He didn't understand anything. He wanted the rebirth he'd been waiting so long for, and yet here he was, pale and shrunken and fragile, surrounded by a whole team of doctors and nurses, none of which he recognized, all of which were excited to talk to him. “How are you feeling? Do you know your name? Who you are? Who we are? For the past 36 years, you've been in a coma of sorts, right here in our hospital, while your memory ran its course from your birth to the day of your 36th birthday. Today, that memory came to an end, ran its course. Today is an exciting day indeed. Happy 72nd birthday, sir, and welcome back.”


Blogger sb said...

I remember reading this before. I really liked it. It's definitely allegorical. there's not a lot of details and I'm not sure if they'd help or hinder in the long run. I'm a fan of details. The man's name, etc. But at the same time there's something Kafka going on here. Good shit!

12:26 PM  
Blogger wally said...

I don't remember reading this before, but I've read it a few times now. It's certainly interesting and my thoughts on it change depending on the mood I'm in each time I read it. Don't know if this is a good or a bad thing. It's just the thing it is.

one reading, perhaps the first, left me cold, the story's interesting, but it felt so removed. the lack of details Milly pointed out, they stopped me seeing what was going on, and I felt as though I was just reading a clever idea that you had, and then wrote with really crisp prose. I wanted to be involved in this dudes nightmare, I wanted to care, but I didn't.

another reading, and I'd changed my mind. What was once remote and cold, suddenly hit me kinda fiercely, the stark lean horror of this situation, reported by someone who's paying little attention to anything but the facts. that was unnerving. I liked it a lot.

So, you know, I've noticed a lot of the writing you posted on the board has real emotion to it, and I was curious as to why you left that out in this story. perhaps you don't think you did, this is of course just my take on the thing.

"He could see shapes silhouetted in the bright lights above him, and somewhere in some distant corner of his mind, he knew that these were the doctors standing around him, and that his new life was about to begin," I liked this a lot, really the most affecting bit of the whole story.

"When he awoke, he felt completely alive, refreshed, and healthy. He felt as though the world were his, as though he were made immortal, as though he were a god" I wasn't sure where this came from, it seemed out of place, and tad of bombast to catch the readers eye, without really giving us much.

The middle of the story, the idea, the speed it's implemented and then operation itself. I was down with that, nice and quick, moving the story on with a little elegant flick of the wrist, and it really sucks the reader in. Sweet.

So though's are my thoughts. You've got a real sweet prose style, that's clean and enjoyable. Show us some more.

9:04 PM  
Blogger akhliber said...

I agree with both of you that the lack of detail, though it doesn't ruin the story altogether, didn't have the effect it was meant to.

Mostly when I write, everything is just pure emotion, no objectivity, no standing back and looking at things... for some reason I thought this particular story would work best a bit cold, trying to leave the reader somewhere between the experience of the man and the cold lack of understanding from the onlookers and nurses and such. Didn't come across quite as I'd have liked, but I'm glad it still has some affect :)

Wally, the "as though he were a god" business really was overkill, wasn't it? I love it when I read back on my own stuff and find things that come across as incredibly silly. I think this is one of them.

Glad you both enjoyed it. Life has been surprisingly busy lately, but I plan on posting more and responding some as well. I've read some great shit on here.

5:51 AM  

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