Timely Persuasion - Online Edition - Chapter 21


Now We Are Twenty-One

Years from now and years ago, my older counterpart had come to this hospital to participate in an experiment on memory, dreams, conscience, and superego.  He underwent a barrage of testing similar to what I had experienced, upon completion of which he was paid up front for a monthlong study.  He was to have no contact with the outside world, but he hardly gave it a thought since the money was good.  The possibility that this exercise might turn into captivity never occurred to him.

    He was hooked up to a sleeker, more compact version of the machine with the two IVs and suddenly found himself outside of the room and walking down a city street, just as I had experienced.  He agreed that stowaway was the perfect word.  Observing and along for the ride yet unable to drive, his body was a big free willed robot and he was in the passenger seat looking out the eyes as his window to the earth and sky.

    Several of these trips down memory lane were made each day.  At first they displayed random snippets from his personal history, but through gentle hypnotic persuasion the doctors could more specifically select his destinations.  Via this method he revisited his birth, his first steps, and his first day of school as an internal observer.  Though jarring at first, he came to enjoy living in these moments from such a unique perspective.

    The prevailing theory at the hospital speculated that he was tapping into the memories stored inside his brain.  Even though most people don’t remember day-to-day events of their infancy and early childhood, the brain has everything locked away somewhere.  Accessing that stored data was similar to playing a videotape or a DVD of a certain moment from the perspective of a specific camera.  Figuring out how to rouse any memory in perfect detail and at will was the purpose of this particular study.

    On one of these trips back, older me ended up in the tree house with the neighborhood girl.  It was replaying just as it had originally.  They used to laugh a lot, hanging out, smoking pot and talking.  He had always had a crush on her but was too shy to do anything about it until nearly two months into this nightly ritual.  While riding along in his head, he started reminiscing about the stoned make out sessions still to come.  He wished he could re-experience one of those good times on a future trip.  Then, almost on a whim, he thought to himself Don’t talk, just kiss her!  Kiss her! And right before his eyes, he did.

    Or at least he tried.  She pushed him away and ran off crying into the night.  He didn’t understand what had happened.  It was the first instance where what he had seen had deviated from what he had known.  The doctors were intrigued by this and tried to return him to the same memory again, but it wouldn’t work.  Since he still had total recall of numerous later occurrences with the same girl they tried to place him in a similar memory, but for some reason he couldn’t get there either.

    Having no shame, the doctors even went so far as to track down the girl in the name of science.  She was quite offended by both the call and the gossip, and said she never wanted to hear the name of that liar again.  They accused me of attempting to sabotage the study by substituting fantasies for memories, but he couldn’t get back to those memories because they were no longer real.  His confusion allowed them to entertain the possibility that this experiment was bigger than they originally thought.  If altering a memory also altered the experience, maybe it was more than just a memory.

    It was time for a new hypothesis.  The experiment was extended another month, older me was given the benefit of the doubt, and the next several rounds of memory trips focused on attempts to recreate a similar change.  It didn’t take long for him to accomplish that, but gaining acceptance was another story.

    Driving to his old part time job after school.  He had never missed a day of work and was always punctual, but today he convinced himself that he was craving a Town Spa pizza and watched as the driver veered off course to pick one up, causing him to be thirty minutes late.  Upon arriving he was promptly fired by the new manager.  But the way he remembered it, he’d kept that job on and off for years, right through college.

    Final game of the little league season.  Extra innings.  Bases loaded, down by two runs, full count.  He vividly remembered the shame and embarrassment of striking out looking on a perfect meatball straight down the middle.  Swing, dammit, swing!  Game winning triple off the top of the chain link fence in right field.

    Oasis concert at a small club in Providence near the start of the Morning Glory tour.  A triumphant show that lasted over two hours and kicked off the buzz that arguably allowed the band to equal their stadium rock status from across the pond.  Noel is a wanker said the voice in his head.  He took off his shoe and threw it on stage, striking Noel’s guitar just a handful of songs into the performance and pissing him off enough to cut the set short.

    The doctors would try to verify each of these events.  All records and memories of interviewed witnesses would show that things happened the way they played out the second time, not the way older me had remembered them.  Or at least not one of the ways he remembered.  He still remembered both versions of each and every instance.

    But at the same time, he didn’t remember everything.  The aftermath of his changes never caught up to him.  He could remember both the triple and the strikeout, but didn’t remember that the team then cruised through the playoffs and won the championship.  He remembered being fired, but couldn’t remember his subsequent job search or next employer.  He remembered throwing the shoe, but not the scuffle he got into with other fans on the way out of the club.

    “That was me,” I interrupted.  “The triple and the firing and the shoe, they all happened to me.  I don’t remember the alternatives.”

    “It may have been you they happened to, but they happened because of me.  We didn’t realize it at the time, but I was shaping your life by altering mine.”

    “But what about the girl.  Why do I remember both sides of that one?”

    He didn’t have an answer.  The only new memories he had were the ones he experienced firsthand.  Everything else was a hazy dream that he couldn’t quite put his finger on.  Most of the doctors thought it was nothing more than a dream he kept having that didn’t seem to mean anything.  But one doctor sensed they were breaking new ground and pushed to keep things on track.

    A newer, less popular theory at the hospital postulated that these trips were not being made into the memory, but actually through time using the subconscious of the mind as a conduit.  The little voice inside your head that advises you in times of need—traditionally referred to as your conscience—was really a telepathic message from your future self.  This SOS alternates in a continuous cycle of call and response.  You always ask yourself for help at the same point and always receive the same answer, thus never really altering the flow of time.  Each performance uses the same setlist and stage banter, and your past and future incarnations always chime in with the same requests and the same heckles.

    Sending subjects back within their minds was accomplished by stowing away on these brainwave transmissions.  Riding the waves allowed one to visualize this common cranial action.  Actually changing events came when the stowaway was able to break on through and take over as the conscience by sending a similar brainwave pattern at a stronger frequency, overpowering the incumbent message.  A personal radio transmitter of sorts, knocking out the real 89.9 and instead playing its own signal from a pirate radio station.

    The most thought-provoking facet of this theory was in how it made sense of a lot of the unexplainable, extending from conscience to include paranormal phenomena such as psychic ability and déjà vu.  You sensed that something was about to happen since it already had.  But it was still just a theory, and thus needed additional testing to find results that were both concrete and repeatable.  Intrigued, older me signed on for another round.

    This process of altering little pieces of his (or actually, my) life went on for years.  In search of substantiation, the experiment was expanded and now had a dozen subjects being sent back in pairs to keep track of each other.  Even with all of the extra help, older me was still the prized pupil.  Some travelers could transmit minor persuasions to themselves, giving the scientists enough anecdotal evidence to continue.  But old me was the only one with the unique (and dangerous) ability to make calculated changes to events of the past.  He was also the healthiest of the group, with no known side effects to his travels.  Other subjects often ended up comatose or worse, but the only thing I knew how to do was to keep on keepin’ on.