In the Secure Observation Room, a carer helps Patient DG and I tandem up on the Virtual Retinal Display and begin the journey back, back to the Lower East Side where things began. As ever, the brain takes a few seconds to attune, but soon it's all as real as real can be.
To prepare the ground metaphysically, we visit the newly devised Museum of Misadventures on Canal Street and discuss the difference between natural and manmade disasters, for there are exhibits dedicated to both, from pollution caused by groundwater poisoning to hurricanes and failed crops. As agreed with Dr Interligator, this is to be exposure therapy using a flooding technique, given the failure of progressive desensitisation in DG's case, while remaining alert for any signs of recognition.
He is in contemplative mood, apparently open to new – and old – experiences.
After the Museum, cue Delancey Square in resplendent CGI. The pale gold autumn light seems to be trying to say something wistful and poetic about the world. We ambulate down Eldridge Street and come to the intersection where his life changed.
He jumped a red light and collided with a truck, killing his wife and two little girls. By some miracle DG came out unscathed
He jumped a red light and collided with a truck, killing his wife and two little girls. By some miracle DG came out unscathed, physically at least. His blood-alcohol level was four-and-a-half times the legal limit. I am familiar with the photos of the dead wife and kids and the trashed car. In all his therapy, he has never once acknowledged that the accident occurred, nor that he had a family. When we get to the corner, he stops abruptly and looks around.
"This place mean anything to you?" he says.
"Does it to you?"
"It's kinda familiar. One or both of us must've lived round here before the VMC."
He eyes me askance. "What more?"
"Something happened here, a while back – ten years ago, to be precise. Something bad."
"Tell me about it."
We take the drastic step of reliving the incident based on dashboard camera footage and police evidence, DG's very own bespoke memorial reconstruction. We stand on the corner of Eldridge and Broome and watch as the whole thing takes places in slow motion, to prompt his memory, though I must say the graphics guys have gone overboard on the gore. I tell him that normally with amnesic or repressive patients we try to elicit the truth, midwives to the past, rather than thrust it in their faces as we have just done, but desperate cases, desperate remedies… At least we presented things from an onlooker's perspective, rather than that of the driver. He listens attentively, a sadness in his eyes. We watch as his avatar climbs unharmed through the smashed windscreen of the car and staggers to the sidewalk. "Were you there when it happened, Arnaud de Villeneuve?"
He listens attentively, a sadness in his eyes. We watch as his avatar climbs unharmed through the smashed windscreen of the car and staggers to the sidewalk
"You wouldn't be in the Vehicular Manslaughter Clinic if you hadn't committed vehicular manslaughter."
"You're at the VMC and you claim you never killed anybody."
"I'm a psychiatrist."
That's what they all say."
"That’s what all the psychiatrists say, because it's true. I've seen the file, the photographs, police report, your detention order."
"Want to see my scars? I don't have any. Amazing after a smash-up like you describe." He leans in towards me, lowers his voice. "That museum, right? Old-time films, snapshots of people we don't know, footage of a hurricane. And what if none of it was true? The past is anything you want it to be and maybe a lot of things you don't want it to be as well. What happens after wars? Nations rewrite history the way they want it to sound, because the past is plastic. You can bend it any way you want. And if people can't quite remember things too far back, they're only too happy to have prefab collective memories to latch on to because that becomes their history, and their reassurance. I don't remember either, but as for why I'm in the VMC, maybe it's because I wonder why I don't remember and I refuse to remember things I'm told to remember that I can't remember because they never happened. I'm not playing the game."
Nations rewrite history the way they want it to sound, because the past is plastic. You can bend it any way you want
"Alternatively, maybe I'm one of the few who is playing the game, which is why I need expert supervision. Are you my game supervisor, Arnaud de Villeneuve?"
Remembering his paranoia, I tell him the other guy – an orderly at the clinic for whom DG has taken a marked dislike – may be his overseer, but not Arnaud de Villeneuve, then steer the conversation back to the issue that's perplexing me. I mention the theory that the function of memory is not to recall the past but to overwrite and conceal it.
"We need more theories," says D.G. "The more theories the better. Another example. Omega 3. Fish is rich in it, as we all know. Well tell me this. Whatever happened to Omega 1 and Omega 2? How come we jump straight to Omega 3, and nobody bats an eyelid? And what about Omega 4? Where is Omega 4 hiding?"
DG unplugs from the display and I follow suit. He looks triumphant in his deranged way.
"Keep those theories coming, Arnaud de Villeneuve. Now I want you to write this up. And when you’ve done so, look in the mirror. Describe the exact pattern of your scars as if you were describing a painting and tell me your theory about where on earth or in intergalactic space you think they may have come from."