I’ve spent well over a year writing a two-book series about two brothers who grow up in the fifties and sixties, serve in Vietnam at different times, and are both affected strongly by their experiences. Jake, the younger, is injured in a helicopter crash and as a result suffers from severe retrograde amnesia. He loses his autobiographical memory … and it seems he may never recover it.
In the second of these books, Man with No Yesterdays, I follow Jake on an odyssey to find some way to learn who he was for the first twenty-two years of his life … a period which has been basically wiped out. He recovers a few brief childhood memories, just enough to make him even more aware of what he’s lost.
Trying to get into Jake’s head has been a real challenge and has made me dig into my own memories. What’s your earliest childhood memory? Is it really something you’ve recalled, or is it an experience your family has told you about frequently? How can you tell the difference? I’ve been in touch with some high school friends from the mid-nineteen-fifties and compared notes about experiences we shared. Some things we both remember. Some things only one of us remembers.
One memory that brought me up short and gave me a sense of what Jake’s going through was a day trip to the village of Cherokee, North Carolina. This would have been in the summer of 1954, when I was sixteen. Audrey and I had compared notes on other events during our high school days, but when she commented on this trip, I had absolutely no recall. Admittedly, that’s a lifetime ago. But even when she sent me photos of this trip … of me, her, and our mutual friend Anita … I didn’t remember anything about this. The photos didn’t bring any memory of the actual event.
On the other hand, I vividly remember other events from that year of my life. I’ve asked yet another friend if she recalled some of those and she did not. Most of my memories are pictures I can bring up in my “mind’s eye,” and they have a sound track as well. Recollections from my past I can pull up at will.
When I’ve considered what my character Jake Cameron has had to deal with, it’s no wonder he makes some bad choices as he seeks to learn more about the person he was before his traumatic brain injury. Just my inability to recall that one event … even staring at photos … made me realize how Jake must have felt, seeing pictures of himself in a football uniform, in an Army uniform, and yet unable to recall anything connected with those times in his life. And unlike the vast span of time between my sixteenth year of life and where I am now, over sixty years later. Jake is a young man when he is injured, and these are recent memories for him. Or they should be.
Jake’s story is due to be released this fall. Memories of Jake is his brother Andrew’s story, and when Jake disappears Andrew is devastated. You can pick up a copy of Memories of Jake while you’re waiting for Man with No Yesterdays. People who read it have good things to say! Check out the reviews on Amazon. The Kindle edition is offered currently at a reduced price, through the end of July.