The Man Without a Shadow
The Man Without a Shadow
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This eBook first published in Great Britain by 4th Estate in 2016
First published in the United States by Ecco in 2016
Copyright © 2016 by The Ontario Review, Inc.
Cover photographs © Stephen Carroll / Trevillion Images
Joyce Carol Oates asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work
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Source ISBN: 9780008165383
Ebook Edition © January 2016 ISBN: 9780008165406
TO MY HUSBAND CHARLIE GROSS,
MY FIRST READER
The annihilation is not the terror.
The journey is the terror.
NOTES ON AMNESIA: PROJECT “E.H.” (1965–1996)
She meets him, she falls in love. He forgets her.
She meets him, she falls in love. He forgets her.
She meets him, she falls in love. He forgets her.
At last she says good-bye to him, thirty-one years after they’ve first met. On his deathbed, he has forgotten her.
HE IS STANDING on a plank bridge in a low-lying marshy place with his feet just slightly apart and firmly on his heels to brace himself against a sudden gust of wind.
He is standing on a plank bridge in this place that is new to him and wondrous in beauty. He knows he must brace himself, he grips the railing with both hands, tight.
In this place new to him and wondrous in beauty yet he is fearful of turning to see, in the shallow stream flowing beneath the bridge, behind his back, the drowned girl.
… naked, about eleven years old, a child. Eyes open and sightless, shimmering in water. Rippling-water, that makes it seem that the girl’s face is shuddering. Her slender white body, long white tremulous legs and bare feet. Splotches of sunshine, “water-skaters” magnified in shadow on the girl’s face.
SHE WILL CONFIDE in no one: “On his deathbed, he didn’t recognize me.”
She will confide in no one: “On his deathbed, he didn’t recognize me but he spoke eagerly to me as he’d always done, as if I were the one bringing him hope—‘Hel-lo?’”
BRAVELY AND VERY publicly she will acknowledge—He is my life. Without E.H., my life would have been to no purpose.
All that I have achieved as a scientist, the reason you have summoned me here to honor me this evening, is a consequence of E.H. in my life.
I am speaking the frankest truth as a scientist and as a woman.
She speaks passionately, yet haltingly. She seems to be catching at her breath, no longer reading from her prepared speech but staring out into the audience with moist eyes—blinded by lights, puzzled and blinking, she can’t see individual faces and so might imagine his face among them.
In his name, I accept this great honor. In memory of Elihu Hoopes.
At last to the vast relief of the audience the speech given by this year’s recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award of the American Psychological Association has ended. Applause is quick and scattered through the large amphitheater like small flags flapping in a weak, wayward wind. And then, as the recipient turns from the podium, uncertain, confused—in belated sympathy the applause gathers and builds into a wave, very loud, thunderous.
She is startled. Almost for a moment she is frightened.
Are they mocking her? Do they—know?
Stepping blindly away from the podium she stumbles. She has left behind the heavy and unwieldy eighteen-inch cut-crystal trophy in the shape of a pyramid, engraved with her name. Quickly a young person comes to take the trophy for her, and to steady her.
“Professor Sharpe! Watch that step.”
Here is the first surprise: Elihu Hoopes greets Margot Sharpe with such eager warmth, it’s as if he has known her for years. As if there is a profound emotional attachment between them.
The second surprise: Elihu Hoopes himself, who is nothing like Margot Sharpe has expected.
It is 9:07 A.M., October 17, 1965. The single defining moment of Margot Sharpe’s life as it will be the single defining moment of Margot Sharpe’s career.
Purely coincidentally it is the eve of Margot Sharpe’s twenty-fourth birthday—(about which no one here in Darven Park, Pennsylvania, knows, for Margot has uprooted her midwestern life and cast it among strangers)—when she is introduced by Professor Milton Ferris to the amnesiac patient Elihu Hoopes as a student in Professor Ferris’s neuropsychology laboratory at the university. Margot is the youngest and most recent addition to the renowned “memory” laboratory; she has been accepted by Ferris as a first-year graduate student, out of numerous applicants, and she is dry-mouthed with anticipation. For weeks, she has been reading material pertinent to Project E.H.
Yet, the amnesiac E.H. is so friendly, and so gentlemanly, Margot feels comforted at once.
The man is unexpectedly tall—at least six feet two. He is straight-backed, vigorous. His skin exudes a warm glow and his eyes appear to be normal though Margot knows that the vision in his left eye is very poor. He is not at all the impaired individual Margot has expected to meet, who had to relearn a number of basic physical skills since the devastating injury to his brain just fifteen months before, when he was thirty-seven.
Margot thinks that E.H. emanates an air of manly charisma—that mysterious quality to which we respond instinctively without being able to explain. He is even well dressed, preppy-style, in clean khakis, a long-sleeved linen shirt, oxblood moccasins with patterned cotton socks—in contrast to other patients at the Institute whom Margot has glimpsed lolling about in hospital gowns or rumpled civilian wear. She has been told that E.H. is a descendant of an old, distinguished Philadelphia family named Hoopes, onetime Quakers who were central to the Underground Railway in the years preceding the Civil War; E.H. has a large, extended family in the area, but no wife, children, parents.
Elihu Hoopes is something of an artist, Margot has learned. He has sketchbooks, he keeps a journal. In his former lifetime he’d been a partner in a family-owned investment firm in Philadelphia but before that he’d been a student at Union Theological Seminary and a civil rights activist and supporter. Is it strange that Elihu Hoopes is unmarried, at nearly forty? Margot wonders if this somewhat patrician individual has had a history of relationships with women in which the women were found wanting, and cast aside—never guessing that his time for love, marriage, fathering children would come so abruptly to an end.
Camping alone on an island in Lake George, New York, the previous summer, E.H. was infected by a particularly virulent strain of herpes simplex encephalitis, that usually manifests itself as a cold sore on a lip, and fades within a few days; in E.H.’s case, the viral infection traveled along his optic nerve and into his brain, resulting in a prolonged high fever that ravaged his memory.
Unfortunately E.H. lingered too long before calling for help. Like a morbidly curious scientist he’d recorded his temperature in a notebook, in pencil—(the highest recorded reading was 103.1 degrees F)—before he’d collapsed.
This was ironic: a macho self-destructiveness. Like the premature death of the painter George Bellows who’d been reluctant to leave his studio to get help, though stricken by appendicitis.
In the vast Adirondack region there’d been no first-rate hospital, no adequate medical treatment for such a rare and catastrophic infection. By the time the delirious and convulsing man had been brought by ambulance to the Albany Medical Center Hospital where emergency surgery was performed to reduce the swelling in his brain it was already too late. Something essential had been destroyed in his brain, and the damage appears to be irreversible. (It is Milton Ferris’s hypothesis that the damaged region is the small seahorse-shaped structure called the hippocampus, located just above the brain stem and contiguous with the cerebral cortex, about which not much is yet known, but which seems to be essential for the consolidation and storage of memory.) And so, E.H. can form no new memories, and his memories of the past are erratic and uncertain; in clinical terms E.H. suffers from partial retrograde amnesia, and total anterograde amnesia. Though he continues to test high on standardized I.Q. tests, and despite his seemingly normal appearance and manner, E.H. is incapable of “remembering” new information for more than seventy seconds; often, it is less than seventy seconds.
Seventy seconds! A nightmare to contemplate.
The only consolation, Margot thinks, is that E.H. is a highly congenial person, and seems to thrive upon the attentions of strangers. The nature of his affliction at least precludes mental anguish—(so Margot thinks). His memories of the distant past are sometimes vividly detailed and oneiric; more recent memories (for approximately eighteen months preceding his illness) are likely to be cloudy and indistinct; both have been described as “mildly dissociative”—as if belonging to another person, not E.H. The subject is susceptible to moods, but a very limited range of moods; his affect has flattened, as a caricature is a flattened portrait of the complexity of human personality.
(Uncannily, E.H. will always recall events out of his past in the same way, using the same vocabulary; but he is never altogether certain if he is remembering correctly, even when external verification confirms that he is remembering correctly.)
Though E.H. doesn’t consistently remember certain of his relatives (whose faces are altering with time), he can identify the faces of famous people in photographs (if they predate his illness). At times, he demonstrates a remarkable, savant-like memory for recitations: statistics, historical dates, song lyrics, comic-strip characters and film dialogue (he is said to have memorized the entirety of the silent film Potemkin), passages from poems memorized in school (Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” is his favorite) and from revered American speeches (Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself and Four Freedoms, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I Have a Dream). He retains curiosity for “news”—watches TV news, each day reads at least two newspapers including the New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer—without the ability to remember any of it. Each day he completes the New York Times crossword puzzle as (his family has attested) he’d only occasionally taken time to complete the puzzle before his illness. (“Eli didn’t have that kind of time to waste.”)
Without seeming to think at all E.H. can recite multiplication tables, solve algebra problems without using a pencil, add up lengthy columns of numbers. It isn’t a surprise to learn that “Elihu Hoopes” had been a successful businessman in a highly competitive field.
Margot thinks that it is difficult to feel for this healthy-seeming man the visceral pity one might feel for a (visibly) handicapped person, for E.H.’s loss is far more subtle. In fact, though E.H. has been told repeatedly that he has a severe neurological deficit, it doesn’t seem that he quite understands that there is anything significant wrong with him—why he feels compelled to keep a notebook, for instance, as he’d begun to do after his illness.
Already Margot Sharpe has begun to keep a notebook herself. This will be a quasi-private document, primarily scientific, but partially a diary and journal, stimulated by her participation in Milton Ferris’s memory lab; through her career she will draw upon the material of the notebook, or rather notebooks, for her scientific papers and publications. “Notes on Amnesia: Project E.H.” will run into many notebooks to be eventually transcribed into a computer file to be continued to the very day of E.H.’s death (November 26, 1996) and beyond charting the fate of the amnesiac’s posthumous brain after it has been removed—very carefully!—from its skull.
But on this morning in October 1965 in the University Neurological Institute at Darven Park, Pennsylvania, all of Margot Sharpe’s life as a scientist lies before her. Introduced to “E.H.” she is dry-mouthed and tremulous as one who has been brought to the edge of a precipice to see a sight that dazzles her eyes.
Will my life begin, at last? My true life.
IN SCIENCE IT is understood that there are significant matters, and there are trivial matters.
So too in the matter of lives.
For it is a fact not generally, not publicly acknowledged: we have lives that are true lives, and we have lives that are accidental lives.
Perhaps it is rare that an individual discovers his true life at any age. Perhaps it is usually the case that an individual lives accidentally through an entire life. In terms of its consequence to what is called society or posterity, the accidental life is scarcely more than an addition of zeroes.
This is not to suggest that an accidental life is equivalent to a trivial life. Such lives may be enjoyable, and fulfilling: we all want to love and to be loved and within our families, and within a small circle of friends, we may feel ourselves cherished, thus exalted. But such lives pass away leaving the larger world untouched. There is scarcely a ripple, there is no shadow. There will be no memory of the merely accidental.
Margot Sharpe has come from a family of accidental lives. This family, in semi-rural north-central Ojibway County, Michigan, in a region of accidental lives. Yet already as a child of twelve she’d determined that she would not live so uncalculated a life as the lives of those who surrounded her and her way of discovering her true life would be through leaving her hometown Orion Falls, and her family, as soon as that was possible.
In Orion Falls young people may go away—to enlist in the armed forces, to branches of the state university, to nursing school, and so forth; but they all return. Margot Sharpe knows that she will not return.
Margot has always been curious, highly inquisitive. Her first, favorite book was the illustrated Darwin for Beginners which she’d discovered on a library shelf, aged eleven. Here was a book with a magical story—“evolution.” Another favorite book of her childhood was Marie Curie: A Woman in Physics. In high school she’d happened to read an article on B. F. Skinner and “behaviorism” that had intrigued and excited her. She has always asked questions for which there are not ready answers. To be a scientist, Margot thinks, is to know which questions to ask.
From the great Darwin she learned that the visible world is an accumulation of facts, conditions: results. To understand the world you must reverse course, to discover the processes by which these results come into being.
By reversing the course of time (so to speak) you acquire mastery over time (so to speak). You learn that “laws” of nature are not mysteries but knowable as the exits on Interstate 75 traversing the State of Michigan north and south.
Is it unjust, ironic?—that catastrophe in one life (the ruin of E.H.) precipitates hope and anticipation in others (Milton Ferris’s “memory” lab)? The possibility of career advancement, success?
It is the way of science, Margot thinks. A scientist searches for her subject as a predator searches for her prey.
At least, no one had introduced the encephalitis virus into Elihu Hoopes’s brain with the intention of studying its terrible consequences, as Nazi doctors might have done; or performed radical psychosurgery on him for some presumably beneficial purpose. Chimps and dogs, cats and rats have been so experimented upon, in great numbers, and for a while in the 1940s and 1950s there’d been a vogue of prefrontal lobotomies on hapless human beings, with frequently catastrophic (if not very accurately recorded) results.
Sometimes the radical changes caused by lobotomies were perceived, by the families of the patients at least, to be “beneficial.” A rebellious adolescent becomes abruptly tractable. A sexually adventurous adolescent (usually female) becomes passive, pliant, asexual. An individual prone to outbursts of temper and obstinacy becomes childlike, docile. “Beneficial” for family and for society is not always so for the individual.
In the case of Elihu Hoopes it seems likely that a personality change of a radical sort had been precipitated by his illness, for no adult male of E.H.’s achievement and stature would be so trusting and childlike, so touchingly and naively hopeful. You have the uneasy feeling, in E.H.’s presence, that here is a man desperate to sell himself—to be liked. The change in E.H. is allegedly so extreme that his fiancée broke off their engagement within a few months of his illness, and E.H.’s family, relatives, friends visit him ever less frequently. He lives in the affluent Philadelphia suburb Gladwyne with an aunt, the younger sister of his (deceased) father, herself a “rich” widow.
From personal experience Margot knows that it is far easier to accept a person ravaged by physical illness than one ravaged by memory loss. Far easier to continue to love the one than the other.
Even Margot who’d loved her “great-grannie” so much as a little girl had balked at being taken to visit the elderly woman in a nursing home. This is not something of which Margot is particularly proud, and so she has begun a process of forgetting.
But E.H. is very different from her elderly relative suffering from (it would be diagnosed after her death) Alzheimer’s. If you didn’t know the condition of E.H. you would not immediately guess the severity of his neural deficit.
Margot wonders: Was E.H.’s encephalitis caused by a mosquito bite? Was it a particular species of mosquito? Or—is it a common mosquito, itself infected? In what other ways is herpes simplex encephalitis transmitted? Have there been other instances of such infections in the Lake George, New York, region? In the Adirondacks? She supposes that research scientists in the Albany area are investigating the case.
“How horrible! The poor man …”
It is the first thing you say, regarding E.H. When you are safely out of his earshot.
Or rather, it is the first thing Margot Sharpe says. Her lab colleagues are more adjusted to E.H. for they have been working with him for some time.
Nervously Margot smiles at the stricken man, who does not behave as if he understands that he is stricken. She smiles at him, which inspires him to smile at her, with a flash of something like familiarity. (She thinks: He isn’t sure if he should know me. He is looking for cues from me. I must not send him misleading cues.)
Margot is new to such a situation. She has never been in the presence of a living “subject.” She can’t help but feel pity for E.H., and horror at his predicament: how abruptly Elihu Hoopes was transformed from being an attractive, vigorous, healthy man in the prime of life to a man near death, losing more than twenty pounds, white blood count plummeting, extreme anemia, delirium. A herpes simplex infection resulting in encephalitis is so rare, E.H. might more readily have been struck by lightning.
Yet E.H.’s manner isn’t at all guarded, wary, or stiff; he might be a host welcoming guests to his home, whose names he doesn’t quite recall. Indeed he seems at home in the Institute setting—at least, he doesn’t seem disoriented. For these sessions at the Institute E.H. is brought from his aunt’s suburban home near Philadelphia by an attendant, in a private car; originally E.H. was a patient at the Institute, and then an outpatient; he is still under the medical care of Institute staff. Though E.H. recognizes no one, yet it is flattering to him, how so many people recognize him.
He seems to have little capacity for brooding, as he has lost his capacity for self-reflection. Margot is touched by the way he pronounces her name—“Mar-go”—as if it were a beautiful and unique name and not a harsh spondee that has always somewhat embarrassed her.
Though Milton Ferris hasn’t intended for the introduction of his youngest lab member to be anything more than a fleeting pro forma gesture, E.H. takes pleasure in drawing out the ritual. He shakes her hand in a way both courtly and caressing. And unmistakably he leans close to Margot as if inhaling her.
“Welcome—‘Margot Sharpe.’ You are a—new doctor?”
“No, Mr. Hoopes. I’m a graduate student in Professor Ferris’s lab.”
Quickly E.H. amends: “‘Graduate student—Professor Ferris’s lab.’ Yes. I knew that.”
In an enthusiastic voice E.H. repeats Margot’s words precisely, as if they were a riddle to be decoded.
Individuals who are memory-challenged can contend with the handicap by repeating facts or strings of words—“rehearsing.” But Margot wonders if E.H.’s repetitions carry with them comprehension, or only rote mimicry.
To the brain-damaged man, much in ordinary life must be fraught with mystery at all times—where is he? What is this place? Who are the people who surround him? Beyond these perplexities is the larger, greater mystery of his very existence, his survival after near-death, which is (Margot supposes) too profound for him to consider. The amnesiac with a very limited short-term memory is like one who stands so close to a mirror that his face is virtually pressed against it—he cannot “see” himself.
Margot wonders what E.H. sees, looking into a mirror. Is his face a surprise to him, each time? Whose face?
It is touching, too—(though this might be attributable to the man’s neurological deficit and not his gentlemanly nature)—that, in his attitude toward his visitors, E.H. makes no distinction between the least consequential person in the room (Margot Sharpe) and the most consequential (Milton Ferris); he has lost his instinctive capacity for ranking. It isn’t clear what he makes of Ferris’s other assistants, or rather “associates” (as Ferris would call them: de facto they are “assistants”) whom he has met before: another, older female graduate student, several postdoctoral fellows, and an allegedly brilliant young assistant professor who is Ferris’s protégé at the Institute and has published several important papers with him in neuroscience journals.
E.H. is slow to surrender Margot Sharpe’s hand. He continues to stand close beside Margot as if surreptitiously sniffing her hair, her body. Margot is uneasy, for she doesn’t want to annoy Milton Ferris; she knows that her supervisor is waiting for an opportunity to initiate the morning’s testing, which will require several hours in the Institute testing-room, even as E.H. in his concentration upon the young, black-haired, attractive woman seems to have forgotten the reason for his guests’ visit.
(It occurs to Margot to wonder if a brain-damaged person might be likely to compensate for memory loss with a heightened olfactory sense? A plausible and exciting possibility which she might one day explore, Margot thinks.)
(The amnesiac subject is clearly far more interested in Margot than in the others—she hopes that his interest isn’t just frankly sexual. It occurs to her to wonder if the subject’s sexuality has been affected by his amnesia, and in what way …)
But E.H. speaks to her in a kindly manner, as if she were a young girl.
“‘Mar-go.’ I think you were in my grade school class at Gladwyne Day—‘Mar-go Madden’—unless it was ‘Margaret Madden’ …”
“I’m afraid not, Mr. Hoopes.”
“No? Really? Are you sure? This would have been in the late 1930s. In Mrs. Scharlatt’s sixth-grade class you sat at the front, far left by the window. You had silver barrettes in your hair. Margie Madden.”
Margot feels her face heat. It is just not the flirtation that makes her uneasy but a kind of complicity of hers, as of the others who are listening, in their reluctance to tell E.H. frankly of his condition.
It would be Dr. Ferris’s obligation to tell him this; or rather, to tell him again. (For E.H. has been told many times.)
“I—I’m afraid not …”
“Well! Will you call me ‘Eli’? Please.”
“Thank you! That’s very kind.”
E.H. consults a little notebook he keeps in a pocket of his khakis, and jots down a note. He holds the notebook at a slight, subtle angle so that no one can see what he is writing; yet not so emphatically an angle that the gesture is insulting to Margot.
Margot has been told that the amnesiac has been keeping notebooks since he’d recovered from his illness and was strong enough to hold a pen in his hand. So far he has accumulated many dozens of these small notebooks as well as sketchbooks measuring forty-eight inches by thirty-six inches; he never arrives at the Institute without both of these. Apparently the notebook and the sketchbook serve different functions. In the notebooks E.H. jots down stray facts, names, times and dates; he inserts columns torn from magazines and newspapers from the fourth-floor lounge. (Male staffers who use the fourth-floor men’s restroom report finding such detritus there each day that E.H. is on the premises—that is how they know, they say, that “your fancy amnesiac” has been there.) The sketchbooks are for drawings.
The complex neurological skills needed for reading, writing, and mathematical calculation seem not to have been much affected by E.H.’s illness, as they were acquired before the infection. So E.H. reads brightly from the notebook: “‘Elihu Hoopes attended Amherst College and graduated summa cum laude with a double major in economics and mathematics … Elihu Hoopes has attended Union Theological Seminary and has a degree from the Wharton School of Business.’” E.H. reads this statement as if he has been asked to identify himself. Seeing his visitors’ carefully neutral expressions he regards them with a little tic of a smile as if, for just this moment, he understands the folly and pathos of his predicament, and is begging their indulgence. Forgive me! The amnesiac has learned to gauge the mood of his visitors, eager to engage and entertain them: “I know this. I know who I am. But it seems reasonable to check one’s identity frequently, to see if it is still there.” E.H. laughs as he snaps the little notebook shut and slips it back into his pocket, and the others laugh with him.
Only Margot can barely bring herself to laugh. It seems to her cruel somehow.
There is laughter, and there is laughter. Not all laughter is equal.
Laughter too depends upon memory—a memory of previous laughter.
Dr. Ferris has told his young associates that their subject “E.H.” will possibly be one of the most famous amnesiacs in the history of neuroscience; potentially he is another Phineas Gage, but in an era of advanced neuropsychological experimentation. In fact E.H. is far more interesting neurologically than Gage whose memory had not been severely affected by his famous head injury—the penetration of his left frontal lobe by an iron rod.
Dr. Ferris has cautioned them against too freely discussing E.H. outside their laboratory, at least initially; they should be aware of their “enormous good fortune” in being part of this research team.
Though she is only a first-year graduate student Margot Sharpe doesn’t have to be told that she is fortunate. Nor does Margot Sharpe need to be told not to discuss this remarkable amnesiac case with anyone. She does not intend to disappoint Milton Ferris.
Ferris and his assistants are preparing batteries of tests for E.H., of a kind that have never before been administered. The subject is to remain pseudonymous—“E.H.” will be his identity both inside and outside the Institute; and all who work with him at the Institute and care for him are pledged to confidentiality. The Hoopes family, which has donated millions of dollars to the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine, has given permission exclusively to the University Neurological Institute at Darven Park for such testing so long as E.H. is willing and cooperative—as indeed, he appears to be. Margot doesn’t like to think that a kicked dog, yearning for human approval and love, desperate for a connection with the “normal,” could not be more eagerly cooperative than the dignified Elihu Hoopes, son of a wealthy and socially prominent Philadelphia family.
Elihu Hoopes is trapped in a perpetual present, Margot thinks. Like a man wandering in circles in a twilit woods—a man without a shadow.
And so he is thrilled to be saved from such a twilight and made the center of attention even if he doesn’t know quite why. How otherwise does the amnesiac know that he exists? Alone, without the stimulation of attentive strangers asking him questions, even the twilight would fade, and he would be utterly lost.
“‘MARGO NOT-MADDEN’?—THAT is your name?”
At first Margot can’t comprehend this. Then, she sees that E.H. is attempting a sort of joke. He has taken out his little notebook again, and has painstakingly inscribed in it what appears to be a diagram in logic. One category, represented by a circle, is M M and a second category, also represented by a circle, is M Not-M. Between the two circles, which might also be balloons, since strings dangle from them, is a broken line.
“My days of mastering symbolic logic seem to have abandoned me,” E.H. says pleasantly, “but I think the situation is something like this.”
How readily one humors the impaired. Margot will come to see how, within the amnesiac’s orbit, as within the orbit of the blind or the deaf, there is a powerful sort of pull, depending upon the strength of will of the afflicted.
Still, Margot is uncertain how to respond. It is a feeble and somehow gallant attempt at humor but she doesn’t want to encourage the amnesiac subject in prevarication—she knows, without needing to be told, that her older colleagues, and Milton Ferris, will disapprove.
Also, an awkward social situation has evolved which involves caste: the (subordinate) Margot Sharpe has supplanted, in E.H.’s limited field of attention, the (predominant) Milton Ferris. It is even possible that the brain-damaged man (deliberately, craftily) has contrived to “neglect” Dr. Ferris who stands just at his elbow waiting to interrupt—(“neglect” is a neurological term referring to a pathological blindness caused by brain damage); and so it is imperative that Margot ease away from E.H. so that Ferris can reassert himself as the (obvious) person in authority. Margot hopes to execute this maneuver as inconspicuously as possible without either the impaired man or the distinguished neuropsychologist seeing what she is doing.
Margot doesn’t want to hurt E.H.’s feelings, even if his feelings are fleeting, and Margot doesn’t want to offend Milton Ferris, the most distinguished neuroscientist of his generation, for her scientific career depends upon this fiercely white-bearded individual in his late fifties about whom she has heard “conflicting” things. (Milton Ferris is the most brilliant of brilliant scientists at the Institute but Milton Ferris is also an individual whom “you don’t want to cross in any way, even inadvertently. Especially inadvertently.”) As a young woman scientist, one of very few in the Psychology Department at the University, Margot knows instinctively to efface herself in such circumstances; as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan with a particular interest in experimental cognitive psychology, she absorbed such wisdom through her pores.
Also, it was abundantly clear: there were virtually no women professors in the Psychology Department, and none at all in Neuroscience at U-M.
Margot is not a beautiful young woman, she is sure. She has a distrust of conventional “beauty”—her more attractive girl-classmates in school were distracted by the attention of boys, in several cases their lives altered (young love, early pregnancies, hasty marriages). But Margot considers herself a canny young woman, and she is determined not to make mistakes out of naïveté. If E.H. is a kind of dog in his eagerness to please, Margot is not unlike a dog rescued from a shelter by a magnanimous master—one who must be assured, at all times, in the most subtle ways possible, that he is indeed master.
In his steely jovial way Milton Ferris is explaining to E.H. that Margot is “too young” to have been a classmate of his in the late 1930s—“This young woman from Michigan is new to the university and new to our team at the Institute where she will be assisting us in our ‘memory project.’”
E.H. frowns thoughtfully as if he is absorbing the information packed into this sentence. Affably he concurs: “‘Michigan.’ Yes—that makes it unlikely that we were classmates at Gladwyne.”
In the same way E.H. is trying to behave as if the term “memory project” is familiar to him. (Margot wonders if this persuasive and congenial persona has been a nonconscious acquisition in the amnesiac. She wonders whether testing has been done in the acquisition of such “memory” by individuals as brain-damaged as E.H.)
As Milton Ferris speaks expansively of “testing,” E.H. exhibits eagerness and enthusiasm. Over the course of the past eighteen months he has been tested countless times by neurologists and psychologists but it isn’t likely that he can remember individual sessions or tests. From before his injury he retains a general knowledge of what a “test” is—he knows what an “I.Q. test” is. From before his injury he might know that his I.Q. was once tested at 153, when he was eighteen years old; but he can’t know that, after his injury, his I.Q. has been tested several times, and has been measured in the range of 149 to 157. Still of superior intelligence, at least theoretically.
This is fascinating to Margot: E.H.’s pre-injury vocabulary, language skills, and mathematical abilities have survived more or less intact but (it is said) he can’t retain new words, concepts, or facts even if they are embedded in familiar information. He has been observed taking notes on the financial section of his favorite newspapers but when asked about what he has been inscribing a few minutes later he shrugs disdainfully—“Homo sapiens is the species that ‘makes’ and ‘loses’ money. What else is new?” He has forgotten what had so engrossed him but he can readily invent a substitute with which to disguise his memory loss.
At times E.H. seems to know that John F. Kennedy was assassinated recently—(two years ago)—while at other times E.H. speaks of “President Kennedy” as if the man were still alive—“Kennedy will need to revise his position on Cuba. He will need to lead the country out of the quagmire of Vietnam.”
And, grandiloquently: “Some of us are hoping to get to Washington, to meet with the president. The situation is getting more and more urgent.”
It would seem delusional except, as Ferris has noted, the Hoopes family of Philadelphia has long had ties with state and federal politicians.
Like many brain-afflicted individuals E.H. carries with him dictionaries and other word-books; he keeps long lists of words in his notebooks alphabetically arranged—that is, there are pages of A’s, B’s, C’s, and so forth. (E.H. takes pleasure in consulting these when he does the Times crossword puzzle as, his family has attested, he’d never consulted a dictionary when doing the puzzle before his illness.) His proficiency in math is impressive. His knowledge of world geography is impressive. He can discuss rival economic theories—Keynesian, classical, Marxist; he likes to expound upon von Neumann’s Theory of Games and Economic Behavior, key lines of which he has memorized. But if questioned he can only repeat more or less what he has already said; his ideas are fixed, like his vocabulary. No new ideas or revisions of the past can penetrate. And if he is challenged his affable nature vanishes and he becomes irritable, ironic. He is adept at board games and puzzles of a kind he’d mastered when he was a boy but he can’t easily learn new games.
Margot supposes that if E.H. could reason more clearly he would assume that the repeated tests he undergoes constitute a kind of treatment or therapy that might allay his condition; but he can’t know his “condition” though it has been explained to him repeatedly; and he can’t know that the tests are in fact “repeated” or that they are for the sake of experimental research—that’s to say for the sake of neuroscience and not for the sake of the subject.
Ferris is speaking carefully to E.H.: “Mr. Hoopes—Eli—let me explain again that I am a neuropsychologist who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania and these are members of my lab. We’ve been working with you for the past fifteen weeks here at the Institute at Darven Park, each Wednesday, and we have made some exciting preliminary discoveries. You have met me before, and we have gotten along splendidly! I am ‘Milton Ferris’—”
E.H. nods vehemently, even a little impatiently, as if he knows all this: “‘Mil-ton Fer-ris’—yes. ‘Dr. Ferris.’”
“I am not a ‘doctor’—I am a professor. I have a Ph.D. of course but that is not essential! Please just call me—”
“‘Professor Fer-ris.’ Yes.”
“And I have explained—I am not a clinician.”
This is a way of telling the subject I am not a medical doctor. You are not my patient.
But E.H. seems to purposefully misunderstand, awkwardly joking: “Well, Professor—that makes two of us. I am not a clinician, either.”
E.H. has spoken a little too loudly. Is this a way of signaling irritation with Professor Ferris? Since his attention has been forcibly removed from black-haired Margot Sharpe?
(Margot wonders too if E.H. is speaking quickly as if to signal, subliminally, that he isn’t much interested in the information that Milton Ferris is providing him; despite his severe amnesia E.H. “remembers” enough from previous exchanges to know that he won’t remember this information, either, thus resents being given it.)
While his visitors look on E.H. leafs through his little notebook until he comes to a crucial page. He smiles, showing the page to Margot rather than to Ferris—a drawing of two tennis players, one of them wildly flailing with his racket as a ball sails over his head. (Is this player meant to be E.H.? The player’s hair and features suggest that this is so. And the other player, with a blurred face and exaggerated grin, is meant to be—Death?)
“This—‘tennis’—I used to play. Pretty damned good on the Amherst team. Are we going to play ‘tennis’ now?”
“Eli, you’re an excellent tennis player. You can play tennis another day. But right now, if you’d like to take a seat, and …”
“‘Excellent’? Is that so? But I have not played tennis in a long time, I think.”
“In fact, Eli, you played tennis just last week.”
Eli stares at Ferris. This is not what Eli has expected to hear and he seems incapable of absorbing it but without missing a beat Ferris says in a warm and uplifting voice, “Now, Eli, you’ve always trounced me. And it has been reported to me not only that you’d played with one of the best players on the staff but you’d won each game.”
E.H. laughs, faintly incredulous.
Margot sees: the poor man is feeling the unease of one being made to understand that the most complete knowledge of himself can come only from the outside—from strangers.
A melancholy conviction, Margot thinks, to realize that you can’t know yourself as reliably as strangers can know you!
Patiently Milton Ferris explains to E.H. why he has been brought to the Institute that morning, and why Ferris and his laboratory are going to be “testing” him—as they’d done in the past; E.H. listens politely at first, then becomes bemused and beguiled by Margot whom he has rediscovered: she is wearing a black wraparound skirt with black tights beneath, a black jersey pullover that fits her petite frame tightly, and black ballerina flats—the clothes of a schoolgirl dancer and not the crisp white lab coats of the medical staff or the dull-green uniforms of the nursing staff. There is no laminated ID on her lapel to inform him of her name.
Annoyed, Ferris says: “Whenever you’d like to begin, Mr. Hoopes—Eli. That’s why we’re here.”
“Why you are here, Doctor. But why am I here?”
“You’ve enjoyed our tests in the past, Eli, and I think you will again.”
“That’s why I am here—to ‘enjoy’ myself?”
“We are hoping to establish some facts concerning memory. We are hoping to explore the question of whether memory is ‘global’ in the brain—not localized; or whether it is localized. And you have been helping us, Eli.”
“Have they kicked me out of the office?—has someone taken my place? My brother Averill, and my uncle—” E.H. pauses as if, for a vexed moment, he can’t recall the name of one of his Hoopes relatives, an executive at Hoopes & Associates, Inc.; then he rallies, with one of his enigmatic remarks: “Where else would I be, if I could be somewhere else?”
Milton Ferris assures E.H. that he is in “just the right place, at just the right time to make history.”
“Did I tell you? I’ve heard Reverend King speak. Several times. That is ‘history.’”
“Yes. An extraordinary man, Reverend King …”
“He spoke in Philadelphia on the steps of the Free Library, and he spoke in Birmingham, Alabama, at a Negro church that was subsequently burnt to the ground by white racists. He is a very brave man, a saint. He is a saint of courage. I intend to march with him again when my condition improves—as I’ve been promised.”
“Of course, Eli. Maybe we can help arrange that.”
“It’s because I was clubbed on the head—billy clubbed—in Alabama. Did I show you? The scar, where my hair doesn’t grow …”
E.H. lowers his head, flattens his thick dark hair to show them a faint zigzag line in his scalp. Margot feels an impulse to reach out and touch it—to stroke the poor man’s head.
She understands—It’s loneliness he feels most.
“Yes, you did show us your scar, Eli. You’re a very lucky man to have escaped with your life.”
“Am I! You think that’s what I managed, Doctor—to ‘escape with my life.’” E.H. laughs sadly.
Milton Ferris continues to speak with E.H., humoring him even as he soothes him. Margot can imagine Ferris calming an excited laboratory animal, a monkey for instance, as it is about to be “sacrificed.”
For such is the euphemism in experimental science. The lab animals are not killed, certainly not murdered: they are sacrificed.
Shortly, in E.H.’s presence, you come to see that the amnesiac’s smiling is less childlike and eager than desperate, and piteous. His is the eagerness of a drowning person hoping to be rescued by someone, anyone, with no idea what rescue might be, or from what.
In me he sees—something. A hope of rescue.
In profound neural impairments there may yet be isolated islands of memory that emerge unpredictably; Margot wonders if her face, her voice, her very scent might trigger dim memories in E.H.’s ruin of a brain, so that he feels an emotion for her that is as inexplicable to him as it might be to anyone else. Even as he tries to listen to Dr. Ferris’s crisp speech he is looking longingly at Margot.
Margot has seen laboratory animals rendered helpless, though still living and sensate, after the surgical removal of parts of their brains. And she has read everything she could get her hands on, about amnesia in human beings. Still it is unnerving for her to witness such a condition firsthand, in a man who might pass, at a little distance, as normal-seeming—indeed, charismatic.
“Very good, Eli! Would you like to sit down at this table?”
E.H. smiles wryly. Clearly, he doesn’t want to sit down; he is most at ease on his feet, so that he can move freely about the room. Margot can imagine this able-bodied man on the tennis court, fluid in motion, not wanting to be fixed in place and so at a disadvantage.
“Here. At this table, please. Just take a seat …”
“‘Take a seat’—where take it?” E.H. smiles and winks. He makes a gesture as if about to lift a chair; his fingers flutter and flex. Ferris laughs extravagantly.
“I’d meant to suggest that you might sit in a chair. This chair.”
E.H. sighs. He has hoped to humor this stranger with the fiercely white short-trimmed beard and winking eyeglasses who speaks to him so familiarly.
“Heil yes—I mean, hell yes—Doctor!”
E.H.’s smile is so affable, he can’t have meant any insult.
As they prepare to begin the morning’s initial test E.H.’s attention is drawn away from Margot who plays no role at all except as observer. And Margot has eased into the periphery of the subject’s vision where probably he can’t see her except as a wraith. She assumes that he has forgotten the names of others in the room to whom he’d been introduced—Kaplan, Meltzer, Rubin, Schultz. It is a relief to her not to be competing with Milton Ferris for the amnesiac’s precarious attention.
After his illness E.H.’s performance on memory tests showed severe short-term loss. Asked by his testers to remember strings of digits, he wavered between five and seven. Now, months later, he can recall and recite nine numbers in succession, when required; sometimes, ten or eleven. Such a performance is within the normal range and one would think that E.H. is “normal”—his manner is calm, methodical, even rather robotic; then as complications are introduced, as lists become longer, and there are interruptions, E.H. becomes quickly confused.
The experiment becomes excruciating when lists of digits are interrupted by increasing intervals of silence, during which the subject is required to “remember”—not to allow the digits to slip out of consciousness. Margot imagines that she can feel the poor man straining not to lose hold—the effort of “rehearsing.” She would like to clasp his hand, to comfort and encourage him. I will help you. You will improve. This will not be your entire life!
Impairment is the great leveler, Margot thinks. Eighteen months ago, before his illness, Elihu Hoopes would scarcely have glanced twice at Margot Sharpe. She is moved to feel protective toward him, even pitying, and she senses that he would be grateful for her touch.
Forty intense minutes, then a break of ten minutes before tests continue at an ever-increasing pace. E.H. is eager and hopeful and cooperative but as the tests become more complicated, and accelerated, E.H. is thrown into confusion ever more quickly (though he tries, with extraordinary valor, to maintain his affable “gentlemanly” manner). As intervals grow longer, he seems to be flailing about like a drowning man. His short-term memory is terribly reduced—as short as forty seconds.
After two hours of tests Ferris declares a longer break. The examiners are as exhausted as the amnesiac subject.
E.H. is given a glass of orange juice, which is his favorite drink. He hasn’t been aware until now that he’s thirsty—he drinks the juice in several swallows.
It is Margot Sharpe who brings E.H. the orange juice. This female role of nurturer-server is deeply satisfying to her for E.H. smiles with particular warmth at her.
She feels a mild sensation of vertigo. Surely, the amnesiac subject is perceiving her.
Restless, exhausted without knowing (recalling) why, E.H. stands at a window and stares outside. Is he trying to determine where he is? Is he trying to determine who these strangers are, “testing” him? He is a proud man, he will not ask questions.
Like an athlete too long restrained in a cramped space or like a rebellious teenager E.H. begins to circle the room. This behavior is just short of annoying—perhaps it is indeed annoying. E.H. ignores the strangers in the room. E.H. flexes his fingers, shakes his arms. He stretches the tendons in his calves. He reaches for the ceiling—stretching his vertebrae. He mutters to himself—(is he cursing?)—yet his expression remains affable.
“Mr. Hoopes? Would you like your sketchbook?”—one of the Institute staff asks, handing the book to him.
E.H. is pleased to see the sketchbook. E.H. is (perhaps) surprised to see the sketchbook. He pages through it frowning, holding the book in such a way to prevent anyone else seeing its contents.
Then, he discovers his little notebook in a shirt pocket. This he opens eagerly, and peruses. He records something in the notebook, and slips it back into his pocket. He looks into the sketchbook again, discovers something he doesn’t like and tears it out, and crumples it in his hand. Margot is fascinated by the amnesiac’s behavior: Is it coherent, to him? Is there a purpose to it? She wonders if, before his illness, he’d kept a little notebook like this one, and carried an oversized sketchbook around with him; possibly he had. And so the effort of remembering these now is not unusual.
If he believes himself alone, with no one close to observe him, E.H. ceases smiling. He’s frowning and somber like one engrossed in the heart-straining effort of trying to figure things out.
Margot thinks how sad, how exhausting, the amnesiac can’t remember that he has been involved in this effort for any sustained period of time. He might have been in this place for a few minutes, or a few hours. He seems to know that he doesn’t live here, but he has no clear idea that he is living with a relative in Gladwyne and not by himself in Philadelphia as he’d been at the time of his illness.
No matter how many times a test involving rote memory is repeated, E.H. never improves. No matter how many times E.H. is given instructions, he has to be given the instructions yet another time.
The amnesiac’s brain resembles a colander through which water sifts continually, and never accumulates; those years before his illness, which constitute most of the man’s life of thirty-eight years, resemble a still, distant water glimpsed through dense foliage as in a hallucinatory landscape by Cézanne.
Margot wonders if there can be some residual, unfathomable memory in the part of E.H.’s brain that has been damaged? Whether, at the periphery of the damage, in adjoining tissue, some sort of neurogenesis, or brain repair, might take place? And could such neurogenesis be stimulated?
So relatively little is known of the human brain, after so many millennia! The brain is the only organ whose functions must be theorized from observed behavior, and whose basic physiology is scarcely comprehended at the present time—that is, 1965. Only animal brains can be examined “live”—primarily monkey brains. Invasive exploration of the (living, normal) human brain is forbidden. Margot wonders: Are complex memories distributed throughout the cerebral cortex, or localized?—and if localized, how? From what is known of E.H.’s brain, the hippocampus and adjacent tissue had been devastated by the viral infection—but have other parts of the brain remained unimpaired? Unless E.H. undergoes brain surgery, Margot thinks, or sophisticated scanning machines are developed to “X-ray” the brain, it isn’t likely that the precise anatomy of E.H.’s brain will be known until after his death when the brain can be autopsied.
In that instant Margot feels a glimmer of horror, and excitement. She sees E.H. on a marble slab in a morgue: a corpse, skull sawed open. The pathologist will remove the brain that will be fixed, sectioned, stained, examined and analyzed by the neuroscientist.
She will be the neuroscientist.
E.H. glances worriedly at her as if he can read her thoughts. Margot feels her face burn like one who has dared to touch another intimately, and has been detected.
But I will be your friend, Mr. Hoopes!—Eli.
I will be the one you can trust.
“Unlocking the mystery of memory”—Margot Sharpe will be among the first.
With an uplifted forefinger, to retain Margot’s attention, E.H. leafs through his little notebook in search of something significant. In his bright affable voice he reads:
“‘There is no journey, and there is no path. There is no wisdom, there is emptiness. There is no emptiness.’” He pauses to add, “This is the wisdom of the Buddha. But there is no wisdom, and there is no Buddha.” He laughs, with inexplicable good humor.
His examiners stare at him, unable to join in.
TESTING RESUMES. E.H. appears eager again, hopeful.
It is hard to comprehend: to the subject, the morning’s adventure is only now beginning. He has forgotten that he is “tired.”
Like appetite, “tiredness” depends much upon memory. Margot would not have believed this could be so—it seems unnatural!
A scientist soon learns: much in Nature is “unnatural.”
At this midpoint Milton Ferris departs. He has an appointment—a luncheon perhaps. The principal investigator entrusts his assistants to run the tests he has designed without his supervision.
Margot follows instructions diligently: even when she knows what to do next she waits for Alvin Kaplan, Ferris’s protégé, to instruct her. Testing E.H. is laborious, repetitive, yet fascinating—memory tests of various kinds, auditory and visual, of gradually increasing complexity.
One of the tests seems purposefully designed to frustrate and discourage the subject. E.H. is instructed by Kaplan to count “as high as you can without stopping.” E.H. begins counting and continues for an impressively long time, beyond seventy seconds; his counting is methodical, by rote. Then, at numeral eighty-nine, Kaplan interrupts, distracting E.H. by showing him a card with an elaborate geometrical design E.H. is asked to describe—“Looks like three pyramids upside down or maybe—pineapples?”
And now when Kaplan asks E.H. to continue with his counting, E.H. is utterly baffled. He has no idea how to proceed.
“‘Counting’—what? What was I ‘counting’?”
“You were counting numbers ‘as high as you can’—then you stopped to describe this card. But now, Eli, you can continue.”
“You don’t remember the count?”
“‘Count’—? No. I don’t remember.”
E.H. stares at the illustrated card that has distracted him, registering now that it is a trick.
“I played cards when I was a little boy. I played checkers and chess, too.” E.H. glances about as if looking for more cards, or game boards.
E.H.’s fingers twitch. His usually affable eyes glare with fury. How he would like to tear into bits the stupid card with a picture of pyramids, or pineapples!
Seeing the look in E.H.’s face Margot feels a twinge of guilt. She wonders if the test isn’t cruel after all—mental cruelty. Though E.H. has clearly enjoyed being the epicenter of attention until now.
Margot thinks—But he won’t remember! He will forget.
She thinks of those laboratory animals of decades past whose vocal cords were sometimes cut—monkeys, dogs, cats. So that their cries of pain and terror could not be expressed; their torturers were spared hearing, and did not need to register their suffering. Before a new and more humane era of animal experimentation but well within the memory of Milton Ferris, she is sure.
Ferris has often joked of the new “humane” era—its restrictions on animal research, the zealotry of “animal terrorists” protesting experiments of the kind he’d done himself not long ago with splendid results.
Margot does not like to speculate how she would have behaved in such laboratories, in the past. Would she have protested the suffering of animals? Or would she have silently, shamefully concurred?—for to have objected would have been tantamount to being expelled from the great man’s lab, and from a career in neuroscience itself.
Margot tells herself it is all science: a quest for the truth that is elusive, deep-lying.
For truth is not lying on the surface of the earth, scattered bits of fossil you might fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. Truth is buried, hidden, labyrinthine. What others see is likely to be surface—superficial. The scientist is one who delves deeper.
E.H. is looking blankly about the examining room, which has become an unknown place to him. It’s as if a stage set has been dismantled and all that remains are barren walls. The bright eager smile has faded from his lips. Elihu Hoopes is a marooned man who has suffered a grievous loss; his manner exudes, not charisma, but desperation. “You were at eighty-nine, Mr. Hoopes,” Margot says gently, to comfort the forlorn man. “You were doing very well when you were interrupted.” She ignores the stares of Kaplan and the others which are an indication to her that she has misspoken.
Hearing Margot’s soft but insistent voice behind him E.H. turns to her in surprise. He has been focusing his attention upon Kaplan and he has totally forgotten Margot—he registers surprise that there are several others in the room, and Margot behind him, sitting in a corner like a schoolgirl, observing and taking notes.
It is clear that E.H. has never seen Margot Sharpe before: she is a diminutive young woman with unusually pale skin, black eyebrows and lashes, glossy black bangs hiding much of her forehead; her almond-shaped eyes would be beautiful if not so narrowed in thought.
She is eccentrically dressed in black, layers of black like a dancer. Notebook on her lap, pen in hand, frowning, yet smiling, she is—very likely—a young doctor? medical student? (Not a nurse. He knows that she is not a nurse.) Yet, she isn’t wearing a white lab coat. There is no ID on her lapel which vexes and intrigues E.H.
Ignoring Kaplan and the others E.H. extends his hand to shake the young woman’s hand. “Hel-lo! I think we know each other—we went to school together—did we? In Gladwyne?”
The black-haired young woman hesitates. Then gracefully rises from her seat and comes to him, to slip her hand into his, with a smile.
“Hello, Mr. Hoopes—‘Eli.’ I am Margot Sharpe—whom you have never met before today.”
ACROSS THE GIRL’S white face beneath the rippling water are shadows of dragonflies and “skaters.” It is strange to see, the shadows of the insects are larger than the living insects
He has discovered her, in the stream. No one else knows—he is alone in this place.
But he doesn’t look, he has not (yet) seen the drowned girl. He was not there, so he cannot see. He cannot remember what he has not seen.
On the plank bridge in this strange place so many years later he does not turn his head. He does not glance around. He grips the railing tight in both his hands, bravely he steels himself against the anticipated wind.
Mr. Hoopes? Eli?”
“My name is Margot Sharpe. I’m Professor Ferris’s associate. We’ve met before. We’ve come to take up a little of your time this morning …”
Light coming up in his eyes. That leap of hope in his eyes.
Her hand gripped in his, a clasp of recognition.
He does remember me. Not consciously—but he remembers.
She can’t write about this, yet. She has no scientific proof, yet.
The amnesiac will discover ways of “remembering.” It is a non-declarative memory, it bypasses the conscious mind altogether.
For there is emotional memory, as there is declarative memory.
There is a memory deep-embedded in the body—a memory generated by passion.
Suffused with happiness, Margot Sharpe feels like a balloon rapidly, giddily filling with helium.
“MR. HOOPES? ELI?”
He has not ever seen her before. Eagerly he smiles at her, leans close to her, to shake her hand.
In his large, strong hand, Margot Sharpe’s small hand.
“You may not recall, we’ve met before—‘Margot Sharpe.’ I’m one of Professor Ferris’s research associates. We’ve been working together for—well, some time.”
“‘Mar-got Sharpe.’ Yes. We’ve been working together for—some time.” E.H. smiles gallantly as if he knows very well how long they’ve been working together, but it is a secret between them.
Today E.H. has the larger of his sketchbooks with him. He has finished the New York Times crossword puzzle—the newspaper page is discarded as usual, on the floor.
E.H. has been sketching with a stick of charcoal, seated beside a window in the anterior of the fourth-floor testing-room. He appears to be oblivious of the plate glass window that is dramatically lashed with rain, as he is oblivious of his clinical surroundings; the objects of E.H.’s art, which excite his fierce attention, are almost exclusively interior, and he does not care to share them with others.
(Except sometimes, Margot Sharpe.)
(Though Margot knows not to ask E.H. to see his drawings but to wait for E.H. to offer to show her. The offer, if it comes, will come spontaneously.)
“Do you have any idea how long we’ve been working together, Eli?”—Margot always asks.
E.H.’s smile wavers. He speaks thoughtfully, gravely.
“Well—I think—maybe—six weeks.”
“Maybe more, or maybe less. You know, I have some problem with what is called ‘memory.’”
“How long have you had this problem, Eli?”
“How long have I had this problem? Well—I think—maybe—six weeks.” E.H. smiles at Margot, with a pleading expression. He is still gripping Margot’s hand; gently, she has to detach it.
“Do you know what has caused this problem, Eli?”
“Well, it’s ‘neurological.’ I suppose they’ve done X-rays. I think I remember my head shaved. My skull was fractured in Birmingham, Alabama—no one knew at the time. A ‘hairline’ fracture. But then, at the lake back in July, a few months ago, there was a fire. I think that’s what they told me—a fire. Hard to believe that I was careless leaving burning embers in the fireplace but—something happened.” E.H. pauses, frowning like one who is struggling to pull up, from the depths of a well, something unwieldy, very heavy that is straining every muscle in his body. “A fire, that burnt up my damned brain.”
“A fever, maybe?”
“A fever is a fire. In the damned brain.”
It is a wet windy overcast morning in March 1969.
SHE THINKS, HIS name has been eerily prescient—Hoopes.
For Elihu Hoopes has lived, for the past four and a half years, in an indefinable present-tense. A kind of time-hoop, a Möbius strip that turns upon itself, to infinity.
Except “infinity” is less than seventy seconds.
There is no was in Elihu Hoopes’s life, there is only is.
Forever he will be thirty-seven years old. Forever, he will be confused about where he is, and what has happened to him.
A fire? I think it was a fire. Or, Granddaddy’s two-passenger single-prop plane crash-landed on the island, and burst into flames. And later in the hospital, I think there was a fire, too. My clothes and hair were wet, but smoldering. I could smell my hair singed. I may have breathed in some of the fire, and burnt my lungs.
They said that I had a high fever but—it was a fire, I could see and smell.
The girl was not found. There were rescue parties searching for her. In the woods around Lake George. On the islands.
If someone had taken her, it was believed he might’ve taken her to one of the islands. If he had a boat. If no one saw.
In his little, light Beechcraft aircraft painted bright chrome yellow like a giant bird Granddaddy flew above the lake. Many times Granddaddy flew above the lake, you would hear the prop-plane engine passing low over the roof of the house.
Granddaddy said, Come with me, Eli! We will search together for your lost cousin.
Not the first time the little boy had flown in the plane with his grandfather but it would be the last.
IN HIS BRIGHT affable voice E.H. begins to read from his notebook.
“‘There is no journey, and there is no path. There is no wisdom, there is emptiness. There is no emptiness.’”
Pausing to add, “This is the wisdom of the Buddha. But there is no wisdom, and there is no Buddha.”
He laughs, sadly.
“There is no test, and there is no ‘testes.’”
And he laughs again. Sadly.
SHE HAS BEEN instructed: to discover, you have to destroy.
To locate the source of behavior in the brain, you have to destroy much of the brain.
Monkey-, cat-and rat-brains. In search of elusive and mysterious memory. Years, decades, thousands of animal-brains, hundreds of thousands of hours of surgery. Systematically, methodically. Meticulous lab records. Unyielding cruelty of the research scientist to whom no (living) specimen is an end in itself but a (possible) means to a greater end. Hundreds of thousands of animals sacrificed in the pursuit of the “engram”—the brain’s ostensible record of memory.
A principle of experimental neuroscience.
No one can surgically explore a (living, normal) human brain, only just animal-brains. And all these decades, results have been inconclusive. Margot Sharpe notes in her amnesia logbook the (famous/infamous) conclusion of the great experimental psychologist Karl Lashley:
This series of experiments has yielded a good bit of information about what and where the memory trace is not. I sometimes feel … the necessary conclusion is that (memory) is just not possible.
THE CHASTE DAUGHTER. How lucky Margot Sharpe has been! And she wants to think—My career—my life—lies all before me.
By 1969 the phenomenon of the amnesiac “E.H.” is beginning to be known in scientific circles.
An extraordinary case of total anterograde amnesia! And the subject otherwise in good health, intelligent, cooperative, sane—a rarity in brain pathology research where living patients are likely to be psychotic, moribund, or brain-rotted alcoholics.
Articles by Milton Ferris of the University Neurological Institute at Darven Park on “E.H.” have begun to appear in the most prestigious neuroscience journals; usually these articles list Ferris’s research associates as co-authors, and Margot Sharpe is among them. Seeing her name in print, in such company, has been deeply gratifying to Margot, and it has happened with surprising swiftness.
Rich with data, graphs, statistics, and citations, the articles bear such titles as “Losses in Recent Memory Following Infectious Encephalitis”—“Retention of ‘Declarative’ and ‘Non-declarative’ Memory in Amnesia: A History of ‘E.H.’”—“Short-Term Retention of Verbal, Visual, Auditory and Olfactory Items in Amnesia”—“Encoding, Storing, and Retrieval of Information in Anterograde Amnesia.” Their preparation is a lengthy, collaborative effort of months, or even years, with Milton Ferris overseeing the process. No paper can be submitted to any journal, of course, without Ferris’s imprimatur, no matter who has actually designed and executed the experiments, and who has done most of the research and writing. Recently, Margot has been given permission by Ferris to design experiments of her own involving sensory modality, and the possibility of “non-declarative” learning and memory. In the prestigious Journal of American Experimental Psychology a paper will soon appear with just the names of Milton Ferris and Margot Sharpe as authors; this is a forty-page extract from Margot’s dissertation titled “Short-Term and Consolidated Memory in Retrograde and Anterograde Amnesia: A Brief History of ‘E.H.’” It is, Milton Ferris has told Margot, the most ambitious and thoroughly researched paper of its kind he has ever received from a female graduate student—“Or any female colleague, for that matter.”
(Ferris’s praise is sincere. No irony is intended. It is 1969—it is not an age of gender irony in scientific circles, where few women, and virtually no feminists, have penetrated. To her shame, Margot has been thrilled to hear Milton Ferris spread the word of her to his colleagues, who’ve made a show of being impressed. Margot doesn’t want to think that her mentor’s praise is somewhat mitigated by the fact that there are only two women professors in the Psychology Department at the university, both “social psychologists” whom the experimental psychologists and neuroscientists treat with barely concealed scorn.)
That the lengthy article has been accepted so relatively quickly after Margot submitted it to the Journal of American Experimental Psychology must have something to do with Ferris’s intervention, Margot thinks. It has not escaped her notice that one of the editors of the journal is a protégé of Ferris of the late 1940s; Ferris himself is listed among numerous names on the masthead, as an “advisory editor.”
In any case, she has thanked Ferris.
She has thanked Ferris more than once.
Margot is conscious of her very, very good luck. Margot is anxious to sustain this luck.
It isn’t enough to be brilliant, if you are a woman. You must be demonstrably more brilliant than your male rivals—your “brilliance” is your masculine attribute. And so, to balance this, you must be suitably feminine—which isn’t to say emotionally unstable, volatile, “soft” in any way, only just quiet, watchful, quick to absorb information, nonoppositional, self-effacing.
Margot thinks—It is not difficult to be self-effacing, if you have a face at which no one looks.
“Hello, Mr. Hoopes—‘Eli.’ How are you?”
“Very good, thanks. How are you?”
In the vicinity of E.H. you feel the gravitational tug of the present tense.
In the vicinity of E.H., you glance about anxiously for your own shadow, as if you might have lost it.
Margot is very lonely except—Margot is not lonely when she is with E.H. Others in Ferris’s lab would be astonished to learn that Margot Sharpe who is so stiffly quiet in their presence speaks impulsively at times to the amnesiac subject E.H.; she has confided in him, as to a close and trusted friend, when they are alone together and no one else can hear.
She has volunteered to take E.H. for walks in the parkland behind the Institute. She has volunteered to take E.H. downstairs to the first-floor cafeteria, for lunch. If E.H. is scheduled for medical tests she volunteers to take him.
She is cheerful in E.H.’s company, as E.H. is cheerful in hers. She has boasted to E.H. of her academic successes, as one might boast to an older relative, a father perhaps. (Though Margot doesn’t think of Elihu Hoopes as fatherly: she is too much attracted to him as a man.) She has admitted to him that she is, at times, very lonely here in eastern Pennsylvania, where she knows no one—“Except you, Eli. You are my only friend.” E.H. smiles at this revelation as if their exchange was a part of a test and he is expected to speak on cue: “Yes—‘my only friend.’ You are, too.”
Margot knows that E.H. lives with an aunt, and assumes that he must see family members from time to time. She knows that his engagement was broken off a few months after E.H.’s recovery from surgery, and that his fiancée never visits him. What of his other friends? Have they all abandoned him? Has E.H. abandoned them? The impaired subject will wish to retreat, to avoid situations that exacerbate stress and anxiety; E.H. is safest and most secure at the Institute perhaps, where he can’t fail to be, almost continuously, the center of attention.
Margot thinks how for the amnesiac subject, are not all exchanges part of a test? Is not life itself a vast, continuous test?
It isn’t clear during their intimate exchanges if E.H. remembers Margot’s name—(frequently, he confuses her with his childhood classmate)—but unmistakably, he remembers her.
He understands that she is a person of some authority: a “doctor” or a “scientist.” He respects her, and relates to her in a way he doesn’t relate to the nursing staff, so far as Margot has observed.
Of course, you can say anything to E.H. He will be certain to forget it within seventy seconds.
And how difficult this is to comprehend, even for the “scientist”: what Margot has confided in E.H. is inextricably part of her memory of him, but it is not part of his memory of her.
Margot confides in E.H.: her imagination is so aflame she has trouble sleeping through the night. She wakes every two or three hours, excited and anxious. New ideas! New ideas for tests! New theories about the human brain!
She tells E.H. how badly she wants to please Milton Ferris; how fearful she is of disappointing the man—(who is frequently disappointed with young colleagues and associates, and has a reputation for running through them, and dismissing them); she wants to think that Ferris’s assessment of her “brain for science” is accurate, and not exaggerated. It’s her fear that Ferris has made her one of his protégées because she is a young woman of extreme docility and subservience to him.
Margot confesses to E.H. how sometimes she falls into bed without removing her clothing—“Without showering. Sleeping in my own smell.”
(So that E.H. is moved to say, “But your smell is very nice, my dear!”)
She confesses how exhausted she makes herself working late at the lab as if in some way unknown to her she disapproves of and dislikes herself—can’t bear herself except as a vessel of work; for she will not be loved if she doesn’t excel, and there is no way for her to excel except by working and pleasing her elders, like Milton Ferris. She recalls from a literature class at the University of Michigan a nightmarish short story in which the body of a condemned man is tattooed with the law he’d broken, which he is supposed to “read”—she doesn’t recall the author’s name but has never forgotten the story.
E.H. says, with an air of affectionate rebuke, “No one forgets Franz Kafka’s ‘In the Penal Colony.’”
He too had read it as an undergraduate—at Amherst.
Margot is surprised, and touched. “You remember it, Eli? That’s—of course, that’s …” It is utterly normal and natural for E.H. to remember a story he’d read years before his illness. Yet, Margot who’d read the story not nearly so long ago, could not recall the title.
E.H. begins to recite: “‘“It’s a peculiar apparatus,” said the Officer to the Traveler, gazing with a certain admiration at the device … It appeared that the Traveler had responded to the invitation of the Commandant only out of politeness, when he’d been invited to witness the execution of a soldier condemned to death for disobeying and insulting his superior … Guilt is always beyond doubt.’”
E.H. laughs, strangely. Margot has no idea why.
Something about the man without a shadow reciting these lines makes her fearful—I don’t want to know. Oh please!—I don’t want to know.
THEY HAVE NEVER told him—Your cousin is dead. Your cousin was dead as soon as she disappeared.
No one saw. No one knows.
Wake up, Eli! Silly Eli, it’s only a dream.
So much Eli has seen that summer, only a dream.
SHE RENTS A single-bedroom unit in dreary university graduate housing, overlooking a rock-filled ravine at the edge of the sprawling campus. (The University Neurological Institute at Darven Park is several miles away in an upscale Philadelphia suburb.) She avoids her neighbors, who seem so much less serious than she, given to playing music loudly, and talking and laughing loudly; especially, she avoids married couples—the thought of marital intimacy, the pettiness of domestic life and sheer waste of time required for such a life, makes her feel faint. She has no time for friends—she has ceased writing to her friends from college; they seem diminished to her now, like pygmies. One or two of the men in Ferris’s lab have—(she thinks, she isn’t absolutely sure)—have made sexual advances to her, awkwardly and obliquely; with similar awkwardness, and much embarrassment, she has discouraged them—No I don’t think so. I—I don’t think—it’s a good idea to see each other outside the lab … Seeing her fellow researchers in such relentless intimacy, day following day, for hours each day, it is not possible for Margot to harbor romantic feelings toward the men, or feelings of friendship for the other women; like rivalrous siblings they are easily irritated by one another, and easily provoked to jealousy, for each is vying with the others continuously—(how fatiguing this is!)—for admiration, approval, affection from Milton Ferris.
Work has become her addiction, as work has become her salvation. In human relations you never know where you stand; in your work you can mark progress clearly, and your progress will be noted by others—your distinguished elders.
It is slightly shameful to Margot, how she lives for Milton Ferris’s praise—Good work, Margot!—a murmur like a caress along the length of her body.
At times she is sure that there is an (implicit, unstated) promise between her and Ferris, like a match not yet struck.
At other times, seeing how Ferris’s interest waxes, wanes, waxes, she is sure of nothing.
He, Ferris, with his wiry white beard, bristling manner and sharp-glinting eyeglasses, his flashes of wit, sarcasm, insight, and frequent brilliance—(all who work with the man are convinced of his genius)—has become a figure of considerable (if forbidden) romance to Margot Sharpe. He is fifty-seven years old, he has become famous in the field of neuropsychology; he has long been a member of the National Academy of Science. He is (said to be) happily married, or in any case stolidly married. Yet—We are special to each other.
Margot feels a sensation of weakness, faintness—when Ferris singles her out for praise in the lab. Her face flushes with blood, her heart beats with great happiness. It has often been so, for Margot has been, through her life, the exemplary good-girl student: the Daughter.
She is the Chaste Daughter. She is the one who, if you believe in her, will never betray you.
Yet Margot thinks—I am not in love with Milton Ferris.
Then—I must never allow him to know.
In the night in her bed. In this strange darkness, in her bed. Sometimes she slides her arm around her waist, in mimicry of an embrace. Sometimes she caresses her ribs through her skin, taking a kind of mournful pleasure in so intimate (and unthreatening) a touch. Shuts her eyes tight to summon sleep. And there is Elihu Hoopes standing before her with his eager, hopeful smile and stricken eyes—Margot? Hel-lo.
E.H. says—Margot? I am so lonely.
(IN LIFE, MARGOT knows that E.H. will never say these words. For E.H. will never remember Margot from one encounter to another.)
“He is our ‘amnesiac’—his identity must be kept absolutely confidential.”
Milton Ferris speaks lightly—there is something meant to be playful about the words our amnesiac—but of course he is utterly serious. Everyone at the Institute who comes into contact with Elihu Hoopes, who knows his identity, is sworn to secrecy; others are not told his name—“For legal reasons.”
Since Ferris has begun to publish his “exciting” and “controversial” research on E.H., scientists at other universities have contacted him with requests for interviews with the amnesiac subject. Ferris has refused most of these requests as impractical, since, as he says, he and his researchers are currently studying E.H., and it is not possible to subject E.H. to further testing.
“He is our subject, exclusively. That is the agreement.”
Milton Ferris has become vehement on the subject. Exclusively is an unmistakable claim.
PROFESSOR SHARPE, DID you ever consider at any time that you and your fellow researchers were exploiting the individual known in scientific literature as “E.H.”?
No. I did not.
Really? At no time, Professor Sharpe, during the thirty-one years you studied him, did it occur to you that you might be behaving unethically, in exploiting his handicap? His “amnesia”?
I said no. I did not.
And do you speak for your fellow researchers, as well? Do you speak for the neuroscientific community?
I speak for myself. The others can speak for themselves.
But “E.H.” could not speak for himself—could he? Did “E.H.” ever comprehend the nature of his affliction?
I’ve told you, I speak for myself. That is all.
“That is all”—Professor Sharpe? After thirty-one years?
HE IS NOT being exploited, he is being protected from exploitation!
Margot Sharpe wants to protest. In time, Margot Sharpe will protest publicly.
For E.H. is a neurological wonder, capable of odd, unpredictable feats of memory while incapable of remembering “familiar” faces or what he has just eaten for lunch, or whether he has eaten at all. He has astonished observers by interrupting a rote-memory test to recite the names of his grade school classmates at Gladwyne Elementary School in 1935, desk by desk. On other occasions E.H. has recited Major League Baseball statistics, dialogue from favored comic strips Dick Tracy, Terry and the Pirates, Little Orphan Annie, and song lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein. He can recite passages from speeches by Lincoln, Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr. By heart he knows the entirety of the American Declaration of Independence and portions of John Locke’s The Rights of Man. He knows passages from Thoreau’s Walden, Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Jean Toomer’s Cane. On the Institute court he plays tennis with zest and cunning; he can play piano by “sight” reading—some classics, some American popular songs, and Czerny exercises to grade eight. He is remarkably gifted at jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, plastic puzzles of the kind that fit in the palm of the hand and involve moving numbered squares about in a specific pattern. (How Margot hates those damned plastic puzzles!—she’d never been able to do these with the skill of her brothers, whose grades in school were always inferior to hers; when E.H. offers his puzzle for her to try she pushes it away.) If journalists hear of E.H., Margot can imagine sensational TV coverage, articles in People, Time, and Newsweek, the Philadelphia Inquirer and other local publications. Neighbors, acquaintances, medical workers and researchers who know E.H. would be plied with interview requests. Fortunately the Hoopes family isn’t in need of money, so there is little likelihood of E.H. being exploited by his own relatives.
Margot thinks—I vow, I will protect Elihu Hoopes from exploitation.
These syllables, he hears murmured aloud. The sounds seem to come out of the air about his head.
The strangeness of the proposition—(he cannot think it is a fact)—that these syllables, these sounds, four stresses, constitute a “name”—and the name is “his.”
His body, his brain. His name. Yet, where is he?
It is a peculiar way of speaking, he’d thought long ago as a child—before the fever burnt up his brain. Why would anyone say—I am Elihu Hoopes.
Again he hears the syllables, in a hoarse, slightly derisive voice.
“‘Elihu Hoopes’—who was.”
IS HE AT Lake George? But where? Not on one of the islands, which have no trails so clearly defined as the trail he sees here, leading through a pinewoods, and out of sight.
Nor is there a plank bridge at the lake quite like this bridge, so far as he can recall.
How lost he feels! No idea how old he is, or where the others are. No idea if he is hungry, if he has eaten recently or not for a very long time.
The others. Scarcely knows what this means: parents, grandparents, adult relatives, young and elder cousins. A child has but a vague sense of others. Apart from relatives, many adults seem interchangeable—faces, names. Ages.
So many adults, in a child’s life! Children nearer his age, for instance young cousins, are more vividly delineated and named.
Where is Gretchen?—she has gone away.
When will you see Gretchen again?—maybe not for a while.
He is trying to recall if this is before the “search party”—(but why would there be a “party”—in the woods? Why a “party” when the girl is gone away somewhere, and the adults are sad?)—or after; if this is before Granddaddy insisted upon taking up the Beechcraft, and had to make an emergency landing on one of the islands.
Trying to recall if the fever in his brain is the fire from the crash, or the fire in the hospital.
Beyond the plank railing is a shallow stream. He has been hearing the murmurous sound of the flowing water for some time, without realizing. Only when he sees the stream, and identifies the flowing water, does he hear it.
Gripping the railing tightly in both hands. Standing with his feet apart, to brace himself against a sudden wind. (Though there is no wind.) Facing a marshy area dense with swamp grasses, tall reeds, pussy willows and cattails. Trees denuded of bark, hunched over like elderly figures, choked with vines. A smell of wet, rotted things. And everywhere, strips of shimmering water like strips of phosphorescence that glow in the dark as warnings.
Below the plank bridge—so loosely fitted, you can see between the boards—is the shallow stream that flows so slowly you can scarcely determine in which direction water is flowing.
And on the water’s surface he sees something curious, that makes him smile: small antic winged insects—“dragonflies.”
He has not seen these glittery insects until now, leaning over the railing. And there are others—“skaters.” (How does he know these names? Effortless as the meandering stream, and as near-imperceptible, “skaters” and “dragonflies” float into his thoughts.)
He has heard of “dragon”—and he has heard of “fly.” It is a novel thing, to put them together: “dragonfly.” He did not do this, he thinks. But someone did.
He has been leaning over the plank railing, staring down. His mouth is slightly open, he breathes quickly and anxiously. For he is in the presence of something profoundly significant whose meaning is hidden to him—which causes him to think that he must be very young. He is not the other, older Elihu—that has not happened yet.
This is a relief! (Is this a relief? For whatever will happen, will happen.)
He sees: what is arresting about the insects is that their shadows are magnified in the streambed a few inches below the surface of the water upon which they swim. If you observe the shadows that are rounded and soft-seeming you could not deduce that they have been cast by the insects with their sharply-delineated wings.
If you observe the shadows below, you can’t observe the insects. If you observe the insects, you can’t observe the shadows.
He is beginning to feel a mild anxiety in the region of his chest—he does not know why.
He sees, beyond the marsh are low-lying shapes—“hills.” Though these could be stage sets, painted to resemble “hills.”
He has not turned to look around, to see what is behind him. It is crucial, he must not look behind him. That is why he is gripping the plank railing so tightly, and why he stands with his feet apart, to steady himself.
Will not look. Has not (yet) seen the girl’s body in the shallow stream.
“ELI, THANK YOU!”
Carefully, Margot spreads E.H.’s most recent drawings and charcoal sketches on a table.
Dozens of pages from E.H.’s oversized sketchbook.
Dark, shadowed scenes—it isn’t clear what their subjects are—interiors? forests? caves? Here and there, a barely recognizable human figure, crouching in darkness.
In admiring silence Margot stares at the pages from E.H.’s sketchbook. The pencil drawings are meticulously drawn, the charcoal sketches light and feathery. Margot has learned to be cautious in her response to E.H.’s art—the man’s affable manner can alter swiftly at such times. (There is a side to E.H. few have seen: sudden fury, unexpressed except by a tightening of facial muscles, a clenching of fists.) In fact, Margot Sharpe is the only person she knows, including Milton Ferris himself, who has been allowed by E.H. to see his art. This is flattering—E.H. trusts her.
Unlike her fellow researchers, who’ve become accustomed to their eccentric amnesiac subject over the months and years, Margot often discovers something about E.H. that deepens her respect for him, even as it’s likely to heighten her sense of the distance between them. She wants to think that she is the man’s friend, not just the amnesiac’s researcher. She wants to think that there is a special rapport between them—from their very first meeting, this has been evident. If others humor him, or scarcely listen to his meandering remarks, Margot makes a point of listening, and replying; often, she lingers to talk with E.H. after the testing session is over for the day, and her lab partners have left. She never becomes impatient with the amnesiac subject, and she never becomes bored with administering tests though some of the tests are needlessly repetitive.
Experimental psychology is in itself repetitive, and overall not so very inspired as Margot had thought at the outset of graduate school. Scientific “truth” is more likely to be discovered by slow increments than by sudden lightning-flashes. Experimenting—assembling data—“evidence.” This is the collaborative effort of the lab assistants who prepare reports for the principal investigator Milton Ferris to analyze, assess, and consolidate.
Margot has discovered that E.H.’s art before his amnesia had been executed with a degree of skill and assurance that he seems to have lost, as he has certainly lost a wide range of subjects. Before the encephalitis, Elihu Hoopes had been a good enough amateur photographer to have exhibited his work in Philadelphia, including once in a group show titled “Young Philadelphia Photographers 1954” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. His subjects were various—portraits and close-ups, street scenes, river scenes, civil rights marches and demonstrations, uniformed policemen in riot gear. He’d never been a full-time artist but had developed a distinctive style of drawing, sketching, painting. Post-amnesia, E.H. was said to have lost interest in photography, as if he has forgotten entirely that he’d ever been a photographer or (Margot thinks) has repudiated an art that demands technical precision, and an ongoing interest in the outside world. (In an experiment of her own devising about which she hasn’t told Milton Ferris, Margot has shown E.H. reproductions of his photographs from the 1950s and early 1960s, and E.H. replied flippantly—“What’s this? Not bad.” He’d seemed to think that the portraits might be a trick—“Nobody I know, anymore.” He’d shown more interest in photography books Margot brought for him—black-and-white plates by Ansel Adams, Walker Evans, Imogen Cunningham—though even this interest was fleeting: Margot was likely to discover the expensive books left behind in the testing-room.)
Since his illness, E.H.’s talent for art seems much diminished. The post-amnesiac pencil drawings are fervid but amateurish: the artist compulsively fills in every square inch of the paper, leaving little that is blank or empty, to be filled in by the viewer’s imagination; the effort of studying a typical drawing of E.H.’s is considerable. You can see that the artist has taken time with the pencil drawings—too much time. Where Elihu Hoopes’s drawings were once lightly, deftly and minimally executed, now he meticulously shades in degrees of darkness, as if to suggest shadows within shadows; he is partial to cross-hatching, a visual cliché. Some of the drawings are so detailed and the pencil lines so faint, Margot can scarcely make out what they are supposed to represent. (Margot has given E.H. sets of pencils, and a pencil sharpener, as well as spray to preserve the charcoal, but it isn’t clear if he uses these.) The charcoal sketches are more accomplished, not so labored over and more resembling E.H.’s pre-amnesiac work, but have been carelessly preserved, smeared with fingerprints. As if, Margot thinks, the artist executes his work in a kind of trance and then, upon waking, forgets it.
Margot’s response is always enthusiastic—“Eli, so much fascinating work! You’ve been busy this week. You’ve been inspired.”
Inspired is not the right word. Haunted, more likely.
As Margot shifts the drawings slowly along the table from left to right, E.H. peers at them with a kind of perplexed pride. She understands that he doesn’t remember most of what he has done even as he tries to give no sign of surprise.
The charcoal drawings depict a marshland beneath a low, ominous sky. There are misshapen trees, fallen limbs, tall grasses and a shallow stream with a rippling surface. In one of the drawings you can see what appears to be a figure in the stream—a pale, naked figure, a child perhaps, with long flowing hair and opened and sightless eyes. (Margot feels her mouth go dry, seeing this.) E.H. makes a sound of impatience or disdain—he fumbles to take hold of the drawing, and jerks it along, replacing it with another. Margot can see that the charcoal is smearing, E.H. hasn’t sprayed fixative on it. As if nothing is wrong Margot continues as she’d been doing, shifting the drawings along the table … (E.H. is breathing quickly and shallowly. Margot is not sure what she has seen. The figure on its back in the stream was very impressionistic.) The last drawings in the group resemble the first drawings almost identically—more marshland scenes, and the stream; insects on the water’s surface casting small soft shadows below. And finally there is a vast lake or inland sea ringed with pine trees. The sky here is massive, like a canyon. The water’s surface here is rippling, tremulous. There is an atmosphere of tranquility that, the more closely you look, becomes an atmosphere of dread.
“Eli? Is this Lake George?”
“Such a beautiful lake, I know! I’ve never seen it.”
Margot always speaks brightly to E.H. It is her professional manner, worn like a shield.
“I’ve only seen pictures of Lake George—photographs. Some of these, Eli, you’d taken yourself, years ago …” Margot speaks carefully, but Eli does not respond.
“Eli, what has happened here at the lake? Has something happened here?”
E.H. stoops over the drawings, to stare at them. As if trying to recall them. He seems to be feeling pain, behind his eyes. Impulsively he says, “It did not happen yet.”
“What ‘did not happen yet’?”
E.H. shakes his head. How can he know, he seems to be pleading, when it hasn’t happened yet?
Margot has come to the end of the drawings. She’d like very much to turn back, to examine the (pale, naked?) figure in the stream. She isn’t even sure that this is what she saw—she is feeling uneasy, for E.H. is standing very close to her, his breath on the side of her face.
Apart from his firm and caressing handshake each time they meet, E.H. has never touched Margot Sharpe. He does not—(she has noticed)—touch anyone except to shake hands, and he is sensitive to being touched by medical staff. Yet, Margot has imagined that E.H. would often like to touch her.
She seems to recall that he has. He has touched her.
In a dream, possibly. One of her many dreams of Darven Park, that grip her intensely by night but fade upon waking, like pale smoke streaming upward.
It is déjà vu she feels, at such times. The most mysterious of quasi-memories.
E.H. is saying, “It did not happen—yet. It is the ‘safe time’—before.”
“Before what, Eli?”
E.H.’s face is shutting up. Like a grating being pulled down over a store window. Rudely abrupt, and Margot Sharpe is being excluded.
E.H. snatches up the drawings and sketches—shuffles them crudely together—returns them to their folder. He is hurried, harried—doesn’t seem to care if some of the pages are torn. Margot cries, “Oh! Eli. Let me help …” She would like to take the folder from him, to reassemble his art more carefully. She will bring waxed paper to insert between the charcoal drawings. But E.H. is finished with his art for the day.
Crudely he laughs—“Poor bastard whoever did this, his future is all used up.”
Alone with E.H. in the testing-room. In the corridor outside there are voices, but the door is shut.
Margot thinks—He could hurt me. Swiftly, his hands. His hands are so strong.
Margot thinks—What a ridiculous thought! Eli Hoopes is my friend, he would never hurt me.
She is ashamed of herself, thinking such a thing. She is utterly baffled and dismayed at having thought it.
“THE ARTIST PRE- and Post-Amnesia: A Study of ‘E.H.’”
This is the title of a slide presentation—(subject to Milton Ferris’s approval)—Margot Sharpe hopes to give at an upcoming meeting of the American Psychological Association in San Francisco, December 1970. Milton Ferris has read an early draft of the paper and has been guardedly enthusiastic—his concern is that Margot Sharpe, his Ph.D. student, may be “getting ahead of herself.”
Margot wants to protest, this is ridiculous! She has heard the cautionary expression more than once, applied to other young scientists who assist Ferris—“Getting ahead of himself.”
Though obviously it is more reprehensible for a woman—“Getting ahead of herself.”
What a long time it is taking Margot Sharpe, to complete requirements for her Ph.D.! Nearly five years.
Each time she has thought she might have finished, her advisor has further criticisms and suggestions. He is always (guardedly) enthusiastic about her work, it is clear that he likes and trusts her, appreciating (perhaps) her taciturnity in the lab, her somber and diligent way of implementing experiments, rarely questioning his judgment as others might—(Kaplan, for instance. There is a volatile paternal-filial relationship between Ferris and Kaplan, which Margot Sharpe envies; she knows that Kaplan is devoted to Ferris, with whom he has been working for nearly eight years). As Ferris is the chair of her Ph.D. committee, and has taken an avuncular, if not a paternal, interest in her since her arrival in his lab, Margot knows that she must placate him in every way—more than placate, she must please.
When she thinks of it, five years isn’t such a long time to acquire a Ph.D. with Milton Ferris who is known for helping his (handpicked, elite) former students throughout their professional careers.
THE SPECIAL CASE.“We’ll be famous one day, Eli! You and me.”
“Will we!”—E.H. smiles at Margot Sharpe affably if perplexedly.
“You are a ‘special case’—you must know. This is why we’ve been studying you for years. We are challenging the belief that complex memories are distributed throughout the cerebral cortex—not localized in a small area. We think that you suggest otherwise, Eli!”
“‘Memory’—‘cere-bral cor-tex.’” E.H. pronounces these words as if he has never heard them before. As if they are words in a foreign language, incomprehensible to him. He laughs at Margot with a kind of childlike delight which is troubling to Margot, who knows that the essential E.H. is a much more intelligent person, given to irony.
Is it a game he is playing with us, continuously inventing a personality like a shield?
A personality that does not offend. Inspires sympathy, not cruelty.
As if he can read Margot’s thoughts E.H. says, with a frown and a wink, “Well—if you think so, Doctor—I am happy for you. I am happy for the future of neuroscience.”
Of course—it is not advised to speak with subjects about the nature of the experiments in which they are involved. Such exchanges remind Margot uneasily of brain surgery: the skull sawed open, the living brain exposed, but since there is no pain (why no pain?—one has to marvel) the patient is kept conscious and the surgeon can speak to him during the operation.
Margot wonders: What is the protocol for such brain surgery? Do the surgeon and his assistants chat with the immobilized patient, or is the exchange elevated, grave? A patient so self-aware as Elihu Hoopes might wish to entertain with comical monologues, impersonations of Jimmy Durante, Jack Benny and Rochester, Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca—(as he has been doing lately at the Institute in the interstices of test-taking) …
Margot chooses to laugh at E.H.’s enigmatic remark. She is moved to touch E.H.’s striped-cotton dress-shirt sleeve, lightly. The most gossamer of touches, it is very possible to pass unnoticed by the amnesiac subject, as by anyone who happens to be observing.
“Eli, you are so very witty!”
Gentlemanly Elihu Hoopes certainly notices this touch, though he doesn’t respond—this, too, a gentlemanly gesture.
And Margot knows that, within seventy seconds, and long before he has been returned to his residence in suburban Philadelphia where he lives with a widowed aunt, E.H. will have totally forgotten their exchange and this lightest of touches.
LATE-WINTER/EARLY-SPRING 1974, a new battery of tests.
In these, E.H. is given varying lists of nonsense-terms to memorize. By degrees, the lists are lengthened. On the whole E.H. performs within the “normal” range—for this, he’s given a good deal of praise by the testers.
Until now, the test is more or less routine. E.H. is told that he is performing well, as he is frequently told. With a wink he asks, “Is there a test for ‘testes’? Is it a little weeny test-ie?”
Margot and others laugh, awkwardly. Is E.H. simulating a kind of dementia, as a (controlled) parody of his brain-damage?
As a man with a limp might exaggerate his limp, to arouse laughter and dispel pity.
The testing resumes. E.H. performs well.
Then in the midst of one of E.H.’s recitations there is an interruption, and another set of lists is introduced. This is a short list of only three items but when E.H. is instructed to return to the first list he is hopelessly lost. Within a few seconds his frail memory has been overturned—it isn’t just that E.H. can’t recall the items, he is unable even to recall that there was a test preceding the current test.
Margot thinks—It’s as if a shaky cart heaped with an unwieldy cargo has been pulled by an intrepid donkey up a steep and uneven hill—the cart topples over, the cargo falls to the ground.
“Eli, let’s try again. Take a deep breath. Relax …”
The test-with-interruptions is repeated several times. Each time E.H. performs very poorly. Though he has no memory beyond seventy seconds it seems clear that, with each test, he is becoming ever more frustrated and discouraged. It is noted by examiners that the amnesiac subject is “remembering” an upsetting emotion if not its precise origin.
By the end of the battery of tests E.H. is ashen-faced, sober. His smile has long since faded.
The test is a model of sadistic ingenuity. Margot Sharpe, a co-designer, feels a flush of shame.
“Eli? Mr. Hoopes?”
“Yes? Hel-lo …”
“Your work today has been very, very good. Outstanding, in fact. Thank you!”
Uncomprehendingly E.H. gazes at Margot Sharpe who has been designated to tell the amnesiac subject that, despite hours of a demonstration of severe memory loss, he has in fact done very well.
Weakly smiling E.H. rubs his jaw which is not quite so smooth-shaven as it had been when he’d first arrived at the Institute. “Well—thank you.” He gazes at Margot imploringly as if he has more to say to her—something to ask of her—but has lost heart, and does not ask.
THE CRUEL HANDSHAKE. Promptly at 10:30 A.M. Alvin Kaplan enters the testing-room. Margot Sharpe who has been working with the amnesiac subject on a series of tests involving visual cues for much of the morning introduces him to E.H. (Close by, unobtrusively with a small camera, a graduate student is filming the encounter.)
“Eli, I’d like you to meet my colleague Alvin Kaplan. He’s a professor of neuropsychology at the university and a member of Professor Ferris’s lab.”
E.H. rises to his feet. E.H. smiles brightly. That look of hope in the man’s eyes!—Margot never ceases to be moved.
Boldly E.H. extends his hand: “Hello, Professor!”
“Hello, Mr. Hoopes.”
E.H. has met Alvin Kaplan many times of course—(Margot might hazard a guess: approximately fifty times?)—but E.H. has no memory of the man.
It would be an ordinary exchange except as Kaplan shakes E.H.’s hand he squeezes the fingers, hard. E.H. reacts with surprise and pain, and disengages his hand.
Yet, Kaplan doesn’t betray any social cue that he has deliberately caused E.H. pain, nor even that he notices E.H.’s reaction. So far as you would guess, Kaplan has shaken E.H.’s hand “normally”—but E.H. has reacted “abnormally.”
Poor E.H. is so socialized, so eager to pass for normal, he disguises and minimizes his own pain. Taking his cues from Kaplan and Margot Sharpe (who is his “friend” in the testing-room, he thinks)—he “understands”—(mistakenly)—that the aggressive young Kaplan hasn’t intended any harm, nor is he aware of having afflicted harm. Post-handshake, Kaplan behaves entirely normally, speaking to E.H. as if nothing at all were amiss; nor does Margot Sharpe, smiling at both men, indicate that she has noticed—anything.
How can I do this to Eli! This is a terrible betrayal.
Fairly quickly, E.H. recovers from the surprise of the cruel handshake. If his fingers ache, after a few seconds he has no idea why; since he has no idea why, his fingers soon cease to ache.
In the original, classic experiment the French neuroscientist Édouard Claparède shook hands with his amnesiac subject with a pin between his fingers—so that there could have been no mistaking the intention of the experimenter to inflict pain. But Margot and Kaplan have devised a more subtle, possibly more cruel variant that involves, as well, a degree of social interaction as interesting in itself as the “memory” of pain.
After scarcely more than a minute E.H. is laughing and joking with his testers—Margot Sharpe, Alvin Kaplan. So long as both are in his presence E.H. is consciously aware of them. (Fascinating to Margot that the amnesiac’s seventy-second limit of short-term memory can be so extended, like water flowing into water—seamless, indivisible.) But then, a few minutes later, after the arrival of another member of the lab to distract the subject, Kaplan slips away unobtrusively—and “vanishes” from E.H.’s consciousness.
Warmly Margot says: “Shall we continue, Eli? You’ve been doing exceptionally well.”
“Have I! Thank you for saying so—is it ‘Mar-gr’t’?”
“Margot. My name is Margot.”
E.H. winks at Margot. Sometimes, peering at Margot with a look of sly intimacy, if no one else is near E.H. draws his tongue along the surface of his lips in a way that is startling to Margot, and disturbing.
Sexual innuendo—is it? Or just—E.H.’s awkward humor?
It is believed that the injury to E.H.’s brain has radically reduced his sexual drive. In general there has been observed in the amnesiac subject a “flattening” of affect—as if the afflicted man, by nature sensitive and quick-witted, were forced to perceive the world through a bulky, swaddling scrim of some kind, or through a mask with raddled eye-holes. He tries to play a role of normalcy, but not always very skillfully. E.H. has been observed behaving in a way that might be described as warmly emotional—“affectionate and paternal”—with younger women medical workers and attendants, but no one has reported him behaving in an overtly sexual manner. Still less, in a way that might be described as sexually aggressive.
There is an essential restraint, a kind of emotional goodness in the man, Margot has thought.
This is nothing Margot Sharpe can ever “record”—unfortunately!
One hour and ten minutes later, at the conclusion of a battery of tests, when E.H. is resting in a chair by a window, carefully hand-printing in his little notebook, there is a knock at the door, and Margot Sharpe goes to open it—and Alvin Kaplan steps inside.
“Eli, I’d like you to meet my colleague Alvin Kaplan. He’s a professor of neuropsychology at the university and a member of Professor Ferris’s lab.”
E.H. rises to his feet. E.H. smiles brightly and puts away his little notebook. That look of hope in the man’s eyes!—Margot feels a pang of apprehension.
Boldly E.H. extends his hand: “Hello, Professor!”
“Hello, Mr. Hoopes.”
When Margot first met Alvin Kaplan in 1965, as a first-year graduate student, he’d been an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the university; young, without tenure, yet one of Milton Ferris’s “anointed”—already the recipient of a coveted research grant from the National Science Endowment. In the intervening years Kaplan has been promoted in the department, with tenure; he is still wiry-limbed and inclined to irony, though he has gained about fifteen pounds, and seems less uncertain of himself now that he has married, has become a father, and has begun to publish extensively. Margot never challenges Alvin Kaplan, whom she recognizes as very smart, and very shrewd; she guesses that he feels rivalrous toward her, as another of Milton Ferris’s protégés, his only serious competitor in the lab for the elder scientist’s admiration, favoritism, and affection. Yet Margot is self-effacing in Kaplan’s presence, and finds it easy to admire him—to praise him. For Kaplan does have very good ideas. She knows that it would be a terrible blunder to offend him.
Though E.H. has met Kaplan many times, he appears to have no memory of him, as usual.
Or does he? As Kaplan reaches out to shake E.H.’s hand, E.H. hesitates, as he has never hesitated previously; clearly, he is wary about shaking this stranger’s hand, assesses the situation and seems to make a stoic decision yes, he will shake Kaplan’s hand—and again, Kaplan squeezes his hand unnaturally hard, and E.H. reacts with surprise and pain, in wincing silence; and quickly disengages his hand.
Yet—once again—Kaplan doesn’t betray any social cue that he has deliberately caused E.H. pain, nor even that he notices E.H.’s reaction. So far as you would guess Kaplan has shaken E.H.’s hand “normally”—but E.H. has reacted “abnormally.”
After just a few minutes the encounter ends with a remark of Kaplan’s—a signal to the graduate student who has been filming.
“Very nice to meet you, Mr. Hoopes! I’ve heard much about you.”
E.H. smiles, guardedly. But doesn’t ask what the visitor has heard.
Kaplan and Margot exchange a glance—it is a fact, the amnesiac hasn’t reacted identically each time, with each handshake. His behavior has been modified by the “cruel handshake”—even as he has forgotten the specific circumstances of the handshake.
In the women’s restroom to which she flees as soon as she can, Margot trembles with excitement over this discovery. It is a profound discovery!
The amnesiac subject is “remembering”—in some way.
As a seemingly blind person may “see”—in some way.
Some part of the brain is functioning like memory. This is not supposed to be happening, yet it is happening.
Suddenly Margot is feeling nauseated. The very excitement she feels over her discovery is making her sick.
At the sink she bends double, and gags. Yet she does not vomit.
The sensation returns several times. She gags, but does not vomit. To the mirror-face she says, “Oh God. What are we doing to him. What am I doing to him. Eli! God forgive me.”
AS PLANNED KAPLAN enters the testing-room. It is 11:08 A.M. of the following Wednesday—a week after the most recent confrontation.
Margot Sharpe and two other researchers have been working with E.H. for much of the morning. The tests they’ve been administering to the amnesiac are variants of the “distraction” test, with visual, auditory, and olfactory cues and interruptions. Margot has remained in the room with E.H. more or less continuously through the morning, and he has not seemed to “forget” her; though, when she slips away to use a restroom, and returns, she half-suspects that the amnesiac is only just pretending he isn’t surprised to see her, a stranger close beside him, smiling at him as if she knows him.
He has learned to compensate for the mystery that surrounds him. Surprise to the amnesiac no longer registers as “surprise.”
Such observations and epiphanies, Margot Sharpe records in her log, still in notebook form. One day, these will be included in the appendix of her most acclaimed book—The Biology of Memory.
“Have we met before, Mr. Hoopes?” Kaplan asks.
E.H. shakes his head no. He looks to Margot Sharpe, his “friend” in the lab, who says, with a pause, “I don’t think so, Professor. I don’t think that you and Mr. Hoopes have met.”
Kaplan glances sidelong at Margot Sharpe. “Mr. Hoopes and I have not met—it isn’t a matter of what you think, Miss Sharpe, but of what I know.”
It’s as if Kaplan has struck Margot with the back of his hand, to discipline her. Margot feels a stab of rage. Tell your own lies, you bastard. Cold heartless unfeeling son of a bitch.
Of course, they have rehearsed the cruel handshake. It is not a very difficult experiment, if it’s even an “experiment”—Margot knows how she should behave.
Yet, what does it matter? E.H. will begin to forget within seconds.
“Eli, I’d like you to meet my colleague Professor Alvin Kaplan …”
But this time, as Kaplan approaches E.H. with his usual smile, the amnesiac stands very still, and visibly stiffens. E.H. is smiling a wide, forced smile even as his eyes glare.
Then, he extends his hand bravely to be shaken—but before Kaplan can squeeze his hand, E.H. squeezes Kaplan’s hand, very hard.
Kaplan winces, and jerks his hand away. For a moment he is too surprised to speak.
Then, red-faced and teary-eyed, he manages to laugh. He glances sidelong at Margot Sharpe, who is astonished as well.
“Mr. Hoopes, you’ve got a strong handshake! Man, that hurt.”
Kaplan is so stunned by the amnesiac’s unexpected reaction, he has reverted to a way of speaking that isn’t his own but copied from undergraduate speech. Margot laughs nervously, yet with relief.
Coolly, E.H. gives no sign that he has behaved out of character. His smile is less forced, you might say it is a triumphant smile, though much restrained.
And restrained too, E.H.’s ironic remark: “One of us is a tennis player, I guess—‘Professor.’ That’s how you get a ‘strong handshake.’”
MARGOT AND KAPLAN are impressed with E.H.’s most recent response to the handshake. The amnesiac seems to have learned without conscious memory; he has acted reflexively. Subject “remembers” pain. Behavior indicates non-declarative memory.
Their joint paper will be “Non-declarative Memory in Amnesia: The Case of E.H.” (1973–74). But the experiment is far from complete.
Next time the “visitor” returns to shake E.H.’s hand, a week later, the amnesiac subject behaves as if he is “trusting”—somewhat stoically, he extends his hand to be shaken, and endures the painful handshake without wincing.
Margot thinks that this is evidence of E.H. having retained some memory; Kaplan does not.
To Margot’s surprise Kaplan is dismissive of E.H. He has seen in the amnesiac virtually nothing of the subtlety of response Margot is certain she has seen and recorded in her meticulously kept notebook. (To Margot’s dismay this subtlety isn’t clear in the grainy video a graduate student provides.)
Kaplan says flatly, “The subject behaves mechanically. His reactions are programmed. He is almost exactly the same each time. Only if we shorten the interval to twenty-four hours does he ‘remember’ something. Otherwise, the neurons in his brain must be firing in precisely the same way each time. He’s a zombie—worse, a robot. He can’t change.”
Margot is dismayed to hear this and moved to protest. “Eli might be tempering his response because of his respect for the situation. His sense of what the Institute is—the fact that you are a ‘professor.’ He’d like to swear at you, strike you—at least, squeeze your hand in retaliation as he’d done last time—but he doesn’t dare. He suffers the squeezed hand in silence because he’s a socialized being. He has been schooled in non-violence, in the civil rights movement. He has been conditioned to be polite.”
“Bullshit! Poor bastard is a robot. There’s a key in his back we have to wind. He can’t ‘remember’ being hurt beyond a day or two. Even then, he doesn’t really ‘remember.’”
“He feels something like a premonition. That’s a kind of memory.”
“‘Premonition’—what is that? There is no neurological basis for ‘premonition.’”
“I don’t mean ‘premonition’ literally. You know that.”
Margot raises her hand as if to strike Kaplan in the face. Instantaneously Kaplan shrinks back, lifting an arm to protect himself. Margot cries in triumph, “You see? What you did just now? You protected yourself—it’s a reflex. That’s what E.H. has been doing—protecting himself against you.”
Kaplan is mildly shocked by Margot Sharpe. Indeed, it will not ever be quite forgotten by Kaplan that the subordinate Margot Sharpe actually “raised” her hand against him even to demonstrate the phenomenon of involuntary reflexive action.
“Look, the subject is brain-damaged. We’re experimenting to determine if there’s another avenue of ‘memory’ in amnesia. Why are you so protective of this poor guy? Are you in love with him?”
Kaplan laughs as if nothing can be more ridiculous, and more unlikely.
But Margot Sharpe has already turned, and is walking away.
Go to hell. We hate you. We wish you would die.
MARGOT DOWNS A shot of whiskey her lover has poured for her.
Fire-swift, her throat illuminated like a flare. Her chest, that seems to swell with elation—the thrill of despair.
I have abased myself before this man. My shame can go no further.
Yet, she is smiling. She sees in her lover’s eyes that he wants her, still—she is a young woman, in the eyes of this man who is thirty-two years her senior.
Their time together is hurried, like a watch running fast. He tells her of his early, combative life in science: his impatience with the limitations of behaviorism, his feuds with colleagues at Harvard (including the great B. F. Skinner himself), his eventual triumphs. The several men who were his mentors, and those who were his detractors and who tried to sabotage his career (again, the “tyrannical” Skinner). His first great discoveries in neuropsychology. His academic appointments, his research grants, his awards and election to the National Academy at the age of thirty-two—one of the youngest psychologists ever elected to the Academy. He tells her of his children’s accomplishments, and he tells her that his wife is a good, kind, decent woman, an “exemplary” woman whom he has nonetheless hurt, and continues to hurt. He tells Margot that he loves her, and does not intend to hurt her.
Is this a pledge? A vow? It is even true?
Another shot of whiskey?—her zealous lover pours her a drink without asking her, and Margot does not say no.
(Does he remember her? Margot is beginning to believe yes, the amnesiac definitely remembers her.)
“We have some very interesting tests for today, Eli. I think you will like them.”
“‘Tests’—yes. I am good at tests—it seems.”
E.H. rubs his hands together. His smile is both anxious-to-please and hopeful.
It is true, E.H. is very good at tests! And when E.H. fails a test, it is sometimes nearly as significant (in terms of the test) as if he had not failed.
Before they begin, however, E.H. insists that Margot try his favorite “brainteaser” puzzle, which fits in the palm of a hand, and consists of numbered, varicolored squares of plastic which you move around with a thumb until there is an ideal conjunction of numerals and colors. E.H. is something of a marvel at the Institute where no one on the staff, not even the younger, male attendants, can come near his speed in solving the puzzle; others, including most of the women, and certainly Margot Sharpe, are totally confused by the little puzzle, and made to feel like idiots desperately shoving squares about with their thumbs until E.H. takes it from them with a bemused chuckle—“Excuse me! Like this.”
And within seconds, E.H. has lined up the squares, to perfection.
Margot pleads with E.H., please no, she doesn’t want to try the maddening little thing, she knows there is a trick to it—(obviously: but what is the “trick”?)—and she doesn’t have time for such a silly game; but E.H. presses it on her like an eager boy, and so with a sigh Margot takes the palm-sized plastic puzzle from him and moves the little squares about with her thumb—tries, tries and tries—and fails, and fails—until her eyes fill with tears of vexation at the damned thing and E.H. takes it from her with a bemused chuckle—“Excuse me! Like this.”
And within seconds, E.H. has lined up the squares, to perfection.
His smile is that of the triumphant, just slightly mocking pubescent boy.
Does he remember her? Margot is certain that he does—in some way.
He doesn’t understand that he is an experimental subject. He is data. He thinks—
(But what does E.H. think? Even to herself Margot is reluctant to concede—The poor man thinks he is one like us.)
E.H. has been told many times that he is an “important” person. He believes that this fact—(if it is a fact)—both predates his illness (when he’d had a position of much responsibility in his family’s investment firm and had been a civil rights activist) and has something to do with his illness (if it is an “illness” and not rather a “condition”)—but he isn’t certain what it entails.
The “old” Elihu Hoopes—a man of considerably higher than average intelligence, achievement, and self-awareness—cohabits uneasily with the “new” Elihu Hoopes who feels keenly his disabilities without being able to comprehend them.
“Good that our hunting rifles and shotguns are kept at the lake,” E.H. has said to Margot Sharpe, with a sly wink. “And good that such weapons are not kept loaded.”
What does this mean? Margot feels a frisson of dread.
More than once the amnesiac subject has made this enigmatic remark to Margot Sharpe but when she asks him to explain it, E.H. simply smiles and shakes his head—“You’re the doctor, Doctor. You tell me.”
MARGOT REPORTS TO Milton Ferris: “I think that—sometimes—unpredictably—E.H. is ‘remembering’ things in little clusters that, so far as we know, he shouldn’t be able to remember. For instance, last week we watched a short film on Spain, and while E.H. has forgotten having seen the film, and has forgotten me, he seems to be remembering some fragments from the film. He’s been ‘thinking of Spain,’ he told me, out of nowhere. And I think he remembers some of the Spanish music from the film, I’ve heard him begin to hum when we’re working together. And he’s been making sketches that are different from his usual sketches—‘They just come to me, Doctor. Do you know what they are?’—and they are scenes that look vaguely Spanish. An exotic building or temple that resembles the Alhambra, for instance …”
It is like a tightrope performance, speaking to Milton Ferris.
There is the content of Margot’s words, and there is the tension of speaking to him.
“Very good, Margot. Good work. Keep records, we’ll see what develops.”
Laying his hand on Margot’s shoulder lightly, to thank her, and also to dismiss her. For Milton Ferris is a busy man, and has many distractions.
Margot pauses feeling a sensation like an electric current coursing through her body. Margot swallows hard, her mouth has gone dry.
Between them, a moment’s rapport—sexual, and covert.
But soon then, disappointingly, E.H. seems to forget Spain. He stops humming Spanish-sounding music when Margot is near, and he returns to his familiar sketch-subjects. When Margot carefully pronounces “Spain”—“Spanish”—“Alhambra”—E.H. regards her with a polite, quizzical smile and no particular recognition; when she shows him photographs of Spanish settings, he says, “Either Spain or a South American country—though I guess that must be the Alhambra.”
“Did you ever visit the Alhambra, Eli, that you can remember?”
“Well! I can hardly say that I’ve visited the Alhambra that I don’t remember.”
Pleasantly E.H. laughs. Margot sees the unease in his eyes.
In fact, Margot knows that E.H. has not visited Spain. Surprisingly for a man of his education, social class, and artistic interests, E.H. has not traveled extensively abroad; the energies of his young manhood were focused upon American settings.
“Were you there, with me? Are these photographs we took together?”—E.H.’s remark is startling, and difficult to interpret: flirtatious, belligerent, ironic, playful.
Margot understands that the amnesiac subject tries to determine the plausible answer to a question by questioning his interrogator. At such times his voice takes on an almost childlike mock-innocence as if (so Margot speculates) he knows that you are onto his ruse but, if you liked him, you might play along with it.
“Yes, Eli. We were there together, you and me. For three weeks in Spain, when …”
It is wrong of Margot Sharpe to speak in such a way, and she knows it. But the words leap from her, and cannot be retrieved.
“Were we! And were other travelers with us, or—”
E.H. gazes at her plaintively, yearningly.
Margot regrets her impulsive remark, and is grateful that no one is close by to overhear.
“—were you my ‘fiancée’—is that why we were together?”
“Yes, Eli. That is why.”
“Or was it our honeymoon? Was that it?”
“Yes. Our honeymoon.”
“Were we happy?”
“Oh, very happy!”—Margot feels tears flooding her eyes.
“And are we married now? Have you come to take me home?”
“Soon, Eli! When you’re discharged from this—clinic … Of course, I will take you home.”
“Do you love me? Do I love you?”
Margot is trembling with excitement, audacity. She has gone too far. She has no idea why she has said such things.
It is a Skinnerian experiment, Margot thinks: stimulus/response. Behavior/reward/reinforcement.
A Skinnerian experiment in which Margot Sharpe is the subject.
It is clear, and she should prevent it: when E.H. smiles at her in a way that suggests sexual craving, Margot feels a surge of visceral excitement, a thrill of happiness, and can barely restrain herself from smiling at him in turn.
Instinctively—unconsciously—the amnesiac subject is conditioning her, the neuropsychologist, to respond to his feeling for her; and as Margot responds, she is further conditioning him.
She has begun to notice a twinge of excitement, yearning, in the region of her heart when she enters the perimeter of E.H.’s awareness. He does not see Margot Sharpe, whose name he can’t remember, but he sees her: a young woman whose face he finds attractive partly or wholly because it reminds him of a face out of his childhood, a comfort to him in the terrible isolation of amnesia. He is looking at Margot with such yearning you would certainly think that he is, or has once been, her lover.
“Do you love me? Do I love you?”—it is a genuine question.
Margot feels a wave of guilt. And anxiety—for what if Milton Ferris were to know of her unprofessional behavior, her weakness!
She must break the transference—the “spell.” Quickly she calls over a nurse’s aide to watch over E.H. while she goes to use a restroom; and when she returns she sees E.H. in an animated conversation with the young female aide, who laughs at the handsome amnesiac’s witty remarks as if she has never heard anything quite so funny.
He has totally forgotten Margot Sharpe of course.
When Margot approaches he turns to her, with a quick courteous smile, like one who has become accustomed to being the center of attention without questioning why, only perceptibly annoyed at being interrupted—“Hello! Hel-lo!”
Does he remember her? It is very tempting for Margot Sharpe to think yes, he remembers her.
Though she knows better of course. As a scientist of the brain she knows that this terribly damaged man cannot truly remember her.
This is a day when Margot Sharpe has come to the Institute alone. She has driven alone in her own vehicle, a Volvo sedan; she has not ridden with the other lab colleagues, as usual; she is feeling somewhat agitated, after a night of disturbing dreams, and is grateful not to have to talk and relate to anyone else.
She is particularly grateful that she has been scheduled to work with the amnesiac subject alone that day. For being with the amnesiac subject as he takes his interminable tests is not like being with another person, even as it is not like being alone with oneself.
(It is not a very happy day in Margot Sharpe’s life. It has not been a very happy week in Margot Sharpe’s life, nor has it been a happy month in Margot Sharpe’s life. But Margot Sharpe is not one to acknowledge personal problems when she is performing professionally.)
More frequently in recent years, Milton Ferris has designated Margot Sharpe his surrogate in Project E.H. Ferris trusts Margot Sharpe “without qualification”—(he has told her, and this is greatly flattering to her)—and behaves as if she were now his favored protégée at the university; he has been responsible for Margot being hired in a tenure-track position in the Psychology Department, and at a good salary. Of his numerous younger colleagues, Margot Sharpe seems to be the one Milton Ferris trusts most in the wake of the departure of Alvin Kaplan.
There has been some good news for the university memory lab—a renewal and an expansion of their federal grant, the elaborate proposal for which Margot did much of the work. And now Milton Ferris has become a consultant for a popular PBS science program and is often in Washington, D.C., at the National Institutes of Health; and he is often traveling abroad, with a need for someone like Margot in the lab whom he can trust as his protégée, his emissary, his representative. At the present time, Milton Ferris has embarked upon an ambitious lecture tour in China under the auspices of the USIA.
Alvin Kaplan, Ferris’s male protégé, has recently left the university. He has been promoted to professor of experimental psychology at Rockefeller University—a remarkable position for one so young. Like Margot Sharpe, now assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at the university, Kaplan has co-published numerous papers with Milton Ferris.
Both Alvin Kaplan and Margot Sharpe delivered papers on their groundbreaking research in amnesia at the most recent American Association of Experimental Psychology conference in San Francisco.
Saw your name in the newspaper!—occasionally someone will call Margot Sharpe. Family member, relative, old friend from the University of Michigan. Sounds just fascinating, the work you are doing.
Sometimes, Margot will receive a call or a letter—Why don’t we ever hear from you any longer, Margot? Do I have the wrong address?
Once, Margot couldn’t resist showing E.H. a copy of the prestigious Journal of American Experimental Psychology in which the major article appeared under her name—“Distraction, Working Memory, and Memory Retention in the Amnesiac ‘E.H.’” Her heart beat rapidly as E.H. perused it with a small wondering smile.
(Was she behaving unprofessionally? She would have been devastated if a colleague found out.)
Gentlemanly E.H. reacted with bemusement, not resentment—
“Is ‘E.H.’ meant to be me? Never knew I was so important.” He asked if he might take the journal home with him so that he could read it carefully—to try to “understand what the hell is going on inside my ‘scrambled brains’”—and Margot said of course. And so Margot placed the journal on a table in the testing-room for E.H. to take home with him.
(Confident that the amnesiac would forget the journal within seventy seconds and she could easily slip it back into her bag without him noticing.)
Since then Margot has several times showed E.H. journals with articles about “E.H.”—some of them co-authored by Milton Ferris and his team of a half-dozen associates including Margot Sharpe, others by just Milton Ferris and Margot Sharpe.
By degrees, they have become associated with each other as scientists. Collaborators.
It has been years. Has it been years?
In the memory lab, time passes strangely.
It was only the other day (it seems) when Margot was first introduced to “Elihu Hoopes”—who’d stared at her with a kind of recognition, hungry, yearning, and squeezed her small pliant hand in his.
I know you. We know each other. Don’t we?
We were in grade school together …
E.H. squeezes Margot’s hand in his strong dry fingers. She has been anticipating this—she doesn’t pull her hand away from his grasp so quickly as she does when others are in the room with them.
“Mr. Hoopes—‘Eli.’ I’m so happy to see you.”
“I’m so happy to see you.”
There is something different about this morning, Margot thinks.
Margot thinks—But I can’t. It would be wrong.
Still they are clasping hands. With no one else in the testing-room to observe they are free of social restraint. Between them, there is but the residue of instinct.
“Do you remember me, Eli? ‘Margot.’”
“Yes, my friend—‘Mar-got.’”
Conscientiously, E.H. pronounces her name Mar-go. So quick at mimicry is E.H., one would think his skill a kind of memory.
“I think I knew you in—was it school? Grade school?”
We were close friends through school. Then you went to Amherst, and I went to Ann Arbor.
We were in love, but—something happened to part us …
(Wouldn’t Eli realize, Margot Sharpe is much younger than he is? At least seventeen years?)
(Yet: E.H. is a perpetual thirty-seven and Margot Sharpe is now thirty-four. If E.H. were capable of thinking in such terms he would be thinking that, magically, the young woman psychologist has caught up with him in age.)
“I’ve been looking forward to today since—last Wednesday. We’re doing such important work, Eli …”
“Yes. Yes we are, Mar-go.”
It is very exciting, their proximity. Their privacy. Margot can feel the man’s breath on her face as he leans over her.
E.H. seems to be inhaling Margot. She wants to think that her scent has become familiar to him. (She has conducted olfactory memory tests with him of her own invention indicating that yes, E.H. is more likely to remember smells than other sensory cues; his memory for smells of decades ago is more or less undiminished.)
E.H. is taller than Margot by at least five inches, so that she is forced to look up at him and this is pleasurable to her, as to him.
Is E.H. nearly forty-seven now? How quickly the years have passed! (For E.H. no time at all has passed.)
His hairline is receding from his high forehead, and his russet-brown hair is fading to a beautiful shade of pewter-gray, yet E.H. remains youthful, straight-backed. His forehead is lightly creased with bewilderment or worry that quickly eases away when he smiles at a visitor.
“Eli, how have you been?”
“Very good, thank you. And you?”
The question is genuine. E.H. is anxious to know.
All of the world is clues to the amnesiac. Like a box of jigsaw puzzle pieces that has been overturned, scattered. Through some effort—(a superhuman effort beyond the capacity of any normal individual)—these countless pieces might be fitted together again into a coherent and illuminating whole.
Is E.H. “very good”? Margot knows that the poor man had bronchitis for several weeks that winter. Terrible fits of coughing, that made testing impossible at times. Not only were short-term memories slipping out of the amnesiac’s brain as through a large-holed colander but the severe coughing seemed to exacerbate loss of memory.
(Margot has been concerned about E.H.’s health in recent years. She is assured that the amnesiac receives physical examinations at the Institute, that his blood, blood pressure, and other vital signs are routinely tested. In her own case, Margot often forgets to schedule dental appointments, gynecological appointments, eye examinations—and how much more likely to neglect himself is a man with memory deficits.)
E.H. has forgotten the bronchitis and its discomforts. E.H. has forgotten his original, devastating illness. E.H. quickly forgets all physical distress, maladies. He may be susceptible to moods—but E.H. quickly forgets all moods.
He has lost weight, Margot estimates about five to eight pounds. His face is the face of a handsome ascetic. He retains the alert and agile air of an ex-athlete but he has become an ex-athlete who anticipates pain.
Today he is wearing neatly pressed khakis, an English-looking striped shirt, and a dark green cashmere sweater. His socks are a very dark purple patterned in small yellow checks. All of his clothing is purchased at expensive men’s stores like J. Press, Ralph Lauren, Armani. Margot has seen these clothes before, she thinks, but not for some time. (Who assists E.H. with his wardrobe? Sees that his things are laundered, dry-cleaned? Margot supposes it must be the watchful and loving guardian-aunt with whom he lives.) Even in the throes of amnesia E.H. exhibits a touching masculine vanity. Margot always compliments him on his clothing, and E.H. always says, “Thank you!”—and pauses as if he has more to say, but can’t remember what it is.
Margot Sharpe has done what few of her science colleagues would do, or would consider it proper for a scientist to be doing: daringly, like an investigative reporter, or indeed a detective, she has looked into the background of the amnesiac subject E.H. In all she has spent several days in Philadelphia meeting with former associates of Elihu Hoopes including black community organizers who knew him in the late 1950s and 1960s as one of a very small number of white citizens who gave money to their causes, as well as to the NAACP and Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference; she has learned that, in some quarters, Eli Hoopes is considered a “hero”—that is, he’d behaved “heroically” in joining civil rights activists who’d picketed City Hall, protested Philadelphia police brutality and harassment, campaigned for better schools in South Philly, better health-care facilities, an end to discriminatory hiring in municipal government. He’d established a fund for university scholarships at Penn, earmarked for “disadvantaged youths.” He’d given money to Philadelphia Inquiry, a local version of Mother Jones that appeared sporadically during the 1960s. (In one of the issues, which the former editor passed on to Margot Sharpe, there appeared a personal account by Elihu Hoopes titled “Hiding in the Seminary & the Afterlife”—a provocative memoirist piece in which Elihu Hoopes speaks of his experience at Union Theological Seminary and why he’d dropped out after two years: “I felt that I was living in a cocoon of privilege. My eyes were opened by a black Christian who told me of lynchings in the South—following World War II.”)
As a way of being friendly and winning the amnesiac subject’s trust, Margot has several times asked E.H. about his “activist” life and his “seminary” life; E.H. is likely to become overexcited talking of these past lives which he seems to know are “past”—yet has no idea how he knows this, and what has happened in the interim. He has a vague understanding that he has not seen, for instance, the black community organizer with whom Margot had spoken, for some time; yet, since he believes himself to be thirty-seven years old, and living still in Philadelphia, he is confused about why he hasn’t seen the man—and whether the Philadelphia Civil Rights Coalition has disbanded. (Margot is hesitant to tell E.H. that the Coalition has not disbanded; she fears he would not understand why it isn’t possible for him to reconnect with it.) E.H.’s memories of the seminary are both vivid and vague as in a film that goes in and out of focus. And his memory of his recent past is becoming strangely riddled with blank spaces. He is beginning to forget proper names—a symptom, Margot doesn’t like to note, of the more general, inevitable amnesia of an aging brain.
So, Margot has learned that it is wisest to steer the amnesiac subject into activities and routines that don’t arouse his emotions, or provoke his memory. This morning she leads him through the first of a battery of tests designed to measure “working memory.” Initially E.H. performs well, like a bright twelve-year-old; these are complicated tests, tests of some ingenuity—(Margot designed them herself); yet as Margot works with E.H. she is less buoyant than usual.
She forgets to praise the amnesiac, who so yearns to be praised but will not recall what is missing if you don’t praise him; tears gather in her eyes and threaten to spill down her cheeks. She is so unhappy!
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