If it actually occurred, the first flashback I experienced in late 1994 or early 1995 must have derived from a experience that occurred in an eleven-month period bridging when I was of the ages of five and six. I know this because of the presence of my leg braces.
One of the curious things about the time in which I constituted a cripple is that I never recall a single occasion in which someone made fun of me, at least within earshot. In general, people either felt sorry for me or were fascinated. There was only one incident I recall in which I was picked on during that period, as a matter of fact, and I don’t believe that it had anything to do with my braces.
My mother belonged to a rabbit club, and every Christmas they would hold a meeting, usually at a church, where all the families would bring food and have a gift exchange. That Christmas of 1984, Eve and I drifted from the room full of grown-ups, who were all hanging out, chatting, and listening to music, and prowled the dark and vacant chapel together. We went about chasing each other around the pews, laughing and having a good time. Then we heard a bellowing voice yell. I looked up to see a tall, overweight guy considerably older than me. From the distance, he began chastising us aggressively for running around, telling us that we weren’t allowed to play in here.
That immediately rubbed me the wrong way. From the distance, I told him he wasn’t our boss and couldn’t tell us what to do. Needless to say, he didn’t like my rebellion any more than I had appreciated his illusions of authority, and he was bigger, and so when he approached me I took off like a hyped-up duck from straight out of hell, tail feathers aflame. Eve quickly escaped, likely taking off towards our parents in the other room, but I remained crawling beneath the dark pews, expertly escaping him again and again like a crippled ninja. So began an enduring game in which I was the Road-runner and he, Wylie Coyote. Though we shared breakneck speed through which we escaped our opponents, I was not nearly as confident and calm as that cartoon bird, as however entertaining the chase I could not overlook the fact that it had a certain edge to it. I knew if this guy caught me the result would not be pretty in the least.
When I felt confident he was no longer hot on my tail feathers, I emerged from my hiding place and ran into another room, through a door with a small window to the right. Inside, I found a small group of older kids sitting at a bunch of desks, just talking, writing and reading books. When they asked me who I was running from, I told them about who I then called “The Fat Guy.” They knew exactly who I was talking about, explaining him as the typical bully. As one kid kept a look-out through the porthole window in the door, the others politely engaged me in conversation, asking me about why I was wearing the leg braces. I gave them the whole ball-and-mitt, ice-cream-and-cone routine. They seemed like the nicest group of kids I had ever encountered, and I took them to be some reclusive group of intellectuals. They reminded me in many ways of the empathic, intelligent older kids who I talked to while riding the short bus to school.
Suddenly the kid who was functioning as the lookout told me that The Fat Guy was coming, and they all prompted me in desperate whispers to hide. On instinct and in the grips of sudden terror, I dropped to the floor and tried to scoot myself beneath a large bench. In the swift moment I was there, on the ground, scooting beneath that bench, I was flooded with a profound fear that seemed to propel me, for a moment, to another time and place. It was a terrorizing, lucid flash that seemed to last for the blink of an eye. Perhaps I may have had the full-sensory flashback right then and there, only a short time before that bizarre incident occurred, rather than over a decade later — but the frantic calls of the older kids in the room snapped me out of it. They told me that hiding under the bench wasn’t good enough, that he would see me, and they directed me towards a nearby closet.
That wasn’t the only time my unconscious seemed to be trying to send these memories back to me, either. At some point during the second grade year, our teacher had to take a leave of absence, at which time a substitute teacher came in to replace her for what I believe was the remainder of the year. It was a maternity leave, though so far as I know it was an unscheduled one, which seems strange, considering it should have been anticipated. Regardless, at some point after she took her leave I remember feeling ill during school. When I went down to the nurse’s office, however, I seemed incapable of describing to her what the problem was. I was only able to convey to her that my head felt strange, that I felt dizzy and confused and was unable to walk straight. Quickly, I picked up on the fact that this was not enough for her, and that she suspected that I was only faking an illness to get out of class, but she nonetheless permitted me to lay down on the cot she had in her office. Grabbing the white curtain around the cot, she drew it around me, concealing me from the office and the rest of the world, and there I lay alone, the nauseous feeling escalating, my mind spinning like a top. Though I would have no way of knowing it back then, what I was experiencing was almost drug-like, almost like a psychedelic experience. In tandem with the symptoms previously described, I began seeing strange, spinning visions in my head that were frighteningly vivid and horribly perplexing. In these visions, I found myself running around in this room at high speed, trying to find a way out. The room was dark and everything was draped in this eerie, red highlight. Chasing me around in the room were these creatures, these little monsters, that looked like demented versions of the Muppets, and one of them in particular I recall staring down at me with its big, buggy eyes, beneath which it wore a long, unearthly frown.
My parents were called and they took me home. I remember that I stayed in bed a lot, and my mother grew concerned due to the time I was taking off from school. I only recall that I felt depressed and frightened about something that seemed beyond my ability to explain. When my mother came into my room one day while I was in bed and confronted me, however, revealing that she knew I wasn’t sick and pressing me for some explanation, I didn’t know what to say. when she questioned as to whether it was the new substitute teacher I didn’t like, I figured that was as good an explanation as any, so I “confessed” to it. My mother seemed satisfied, and understanding, though she did say that I had to go back to school, and when I later asked her whether she told my teacher that I “hated” her, she said that she had told my teacher that I had problems adapting. That made me feel awkward for the rest of the time that we had her. What made matters worse was the fact that I couldn’t articulate what was truly wrong.
As a consequence of the Christmas memory, in the very least, I feel reasonably confident that the incident I would recall through a flashback must have occurred prior to that Christmas, and so sometime before December of 1984. I believe I can nail down an even more approximate time given what memories and emotions I’ve recalled when looking at two photographs from that time period.
In the first, I know I am at the house of my maternal uncle Fred, setting up where I’ll be sleeping on the one side of the bed of my Uncle’s stepson, pulling my comforter over what he designated to be my half of the bed. I’m wearing a matching black hooded sweat shirt and sweat pants, braces worn over them. Looking towards the camera, clearly not anticipating having a picture taken, what the photo caught like a fly in amber was this look in my eyes that has always haunted me. So much so, and for so long, that I can I recall the circumstances fairly well regarding the time it was taken, or at least have always suffered under the delusion that I do.
My sweat shirt and pants only reinforce my feeling that this scene took place before Halloween, as I remember having in mind how bitterly I had refused to go along with my mother and uncle’s suggestion that I dress up that year as a cowboy, and it was a conversation I believe they had that very day. I was already looking like a cowboy with that belt and the way I waddled around all bow-legged, and I knew that’s what they were both indicating. My feeling was that I did not want to draw attention, which seems at odds with the whole circumstance in kindergarten, which I would have been nearly two months into at the time. It would not have been the braces that would have put me in the intense, dark and withdrawn mood I remember having when that photo was taken. I know there was something plaguing me, something that I knew I could not share with anyone. Granted, this could have in fact been something mundane, such as the inability to communicate or connect at all with my mother or the fact that I had seen my friend and his siblings get beat by their father, both issues that were quite active at the time. It feels different, however.
The other photo was taken two weeks after Halloween, during my sixth birthday party in November. It was taken at Chuck E. Cheese and captured me and a classmate inside the mechanically lifting flying saucer with my friend Jimmy standing right beside it, looking at me warily as he toyed with his sleeve collar. I just feel a cloud hanging over my head that birthday. A dark uneasiness mixing together a certain fear and anger that separated me from everyone. It was the same feeling from the month before.
That was the same year, I believe, that I got permission to watch War of the Worlds, my favorite movie at the time. It was coming on television sometime just before Halloween, I remember, and I wanted desperately to watch it despite the fact that it was playing passed my usual bedtime. My father managed to talk my mother into allowing me to stay up to watch it as a sort of early birthday present. Often I’ve thought that if only I could gain access to a damned TV Guide archive, I could falsify or confirm this and, if confirmed, it could help me narrow down even further the date the incident may have occurred. Similarly, I cannot recall precisely when it was in 1994-1995 that I received a flashback of the incident in question. Strange indeed would it be if it were the case that I received the flashback on the anniversary of the actual incident, with exactly a decade between memory encoding and its retrieval.
It was either my birthday in November or that Christmas of 1994 when I received the lava lamp as a gift. By the time of the first two flashbacks, which came to me on a single night that autumn or winter, I had amassed quite a collection of peculiar memories from throughout my young life. They had begun flooding my young mind when reading the book Missing Time by Budd Hopkins, and they inspired several works of art in which I depicted various scenes from these memories and dreams. While these earlier memories are technically considered flashbacks, they were not nearly as intense. The flashbacks were of a qualitatively different nature. Less like spontaneous remembrances, these were more akin to re-experiences, almost as if some psychological form of time travel had come into play.
On the evening the memory in question came back to me, I was restless and unable to sleep. I propped my chin on my pillow and gazed about my room until my eyes fell on the lamp, watching the red lava contort in the yellow oil within the inverse cone of glass, and after a time I became quite literally entranced and fascinated with its sudden effects on my perception. My field of vision suddenly became like disturbed fluid, waving and rippling like water’s skin, and I then returned to looking around my dark room, curious and amused, my eyes brushing across the array of things eerily lit by the red glow from the lamp. Having found myself in such an odd and relaxed state, I thought I might just drift off to sleep, but before I got the chance to close my eyes my vision rested upon one of the books on my book shelf. It was my paper-back copy of HG Well’s War of the Worlds, and at the moment I saw it my mind seemed to explode inside my skull. I was drawn completely within myself.
I find myself with my belly to the floor, my leg braces on, hiding in the shadows beneath a bed. As I stare out into the room from beneath an overhang of blankets, I watch as these strange creatures scurry all about the room. Though I can only see up to their lower legs, it provides enough data with which to deduce that they are in no way human. At least some of them seem to only have three toes. I can hear as their feet pitter-patter across the carpet at high-speed. It seems as though they are examining things, going through items in drawers, lifting up things and placing them back down again.
However certain I feel that they have not the foggiest notion I am here, it doesn’t take me long to put together the fact that this is but a temporary convenience. Their survey of the room would inevitably lead to their discovery of my presence, and that realization came the dawn of true terror. What brought it up to the blazing position of high noon in a cloudless sky was my leg. My braces held my left leg in position alongside a foot-and-a-half long, one foot wide, three-inch tall tan-colored box embroidered with rows of tiny flowers. It was also jutting out from beneath the curtain of covers. In a panic, I swiftly scoot myself further under the bed, unfortunately not taking the time to factor in the limits of my mobility due to the braces. In a sudden, swift movement, my leg hit the box. The noise seemed so loud to me. Instantly, all the pitter-patter of feet and scuffling about ceased. The silence was deafening, penetrating. It was as if the cosmos had suddenly been put on pause. My face was caught in a wince. I had stopped moving. The thought of exhaling was horrifying.
Turning my head around, I look back at my leg, now extended far out passed the veil of sheets that drape over the edge of the bed. I see a pair of brown feet very close by. Again, I think each foot has three toes; now, however, they are aimed in my direction. My heart feels as if it is about to burst out of my chest when I see a hand reach down from above. It is the creature’s hand. The fingers are so long and wiry, so clearly inhuman, that they become an almost obsessive fixation of my attention. As they reach ever downward, my young mind is instantly reminded of the closing scene of the 1953 movie, War of the Worlds, where the alien hand slowly crawled out of the hatch at the bottom of the downed spacecraft.
Once those fingers touch my braced leg my eyes trail upward, taking in all I can regarding his appearance. I put all my might into trying to burn every detail of him from his feet to his face into my memory for the explicit purpose of being able to draw this creature some day when my talents were good enough. For some reason I feel certain that if I survive this encounter they will somehow try to make me forget, so I make a promise to not let that happen, to never forget that they exist, to never forget how real they are.
Ultimately, my eyes meet with a frightening, and somehow frighteningly familiar, brown-colored face etched with wrinkles. With his bottom lip pressed so tightly up against that small, monkey-like nose, he wears a deep-set frown, almost cartoon-like in its appearance. It seems to extend further down his face with every passing second, the wrinkles around his lips stretching, deepening as his chin raises. A yellowish-brown iris serves as the moat between the dead-white of each wide eye and the two rich black pupils aimed unerringly, with full intensity, into my own with what seemed to me to be a most disapproving glare. His pupils seem to act as vortices, as black holes into which my mind is drawn.
My mind, or so it feels, is now transparent to him, accessible to him, and he proceeds to explore it with as much speed and thoroughness as they had all been exploring the room only a short time ago. As he does this, I become absorbed in my mind, unable to perceive what is going on around me, watching as high-speed imagery flashes before my inner eye. It is as if someone else is working the switches of my mind, leaving me conscious in the midst of it like some spectator. As this goes on, he seems to be communicating to me. Strong, distinct impressions blast through me; transmissions of intuitive knowledge complimented by flashes of associated imagery. He tells me that they are scientists. He tells me that he is The Doctor, and that he is very old and very wise. He says that in some way he serves as a grandfather to me.
Consistent with the pattern up to this point in which every subsequent moment introduces something that trumps the strangeness of the last, my consciousness is suddenly thrust into what I can only describe as a virtual reality or waking dream. As certain as I am within this lucid dream, however, I am not the dreamer. I find myself on my back beside the edge of the bed, akin to the truth of the matter, though I am no longer looking up at the image of a frowning Doctor. While he still has that brown and wrinkly face of his, he now wears a pair of wide-rimmed glasses over his beady, raping eyes. In place of his long frown he now sports a smile, and it is exaggerated and creepy in a cartoon-like way. It could easily pass for the grin of the Cheshire Cat.
In his white lab coat, with a stethoscope around his neck and a clipboard in his long-fingered hands, the Smiley Doctor explains to me that they are just here to run some tests on me, just here to put me through a sort of check-up to make sure everything is going okay. Throughout it all, I am distracted by what he is saying, suspicious of him. Something in me knows this image of the Smiley Doctor is a facade; that it’s some image he has put in my mind to cover up for what it really going on. As realistic as the scenery seems, there is something off about it, some element that betrays it all. As he speaks to me mind-to-mind within the dream, through this phony image, I know that he is trying to distract me from what was going on behind him. Try as I might, however, I can see little more than a lot of movement, chatter and a lot of flashing points of light. The impression I get is that it isn’t for me to know or be concerned about. That I’m not supposed to see any of that.
It was at that point the first flashback ended, one of two I would have that same evening, ended, but I have come to wonder if there was more to that dream scenario with the Smiley Doctor; portions which may not have come along with the flashback because they were not subjected to amnesia but rather recalled shortly afterward in my youth, albeit in a form I labeled as a conventional dream at that time. Sometime after the flashback, I came across a small book which I had used as a dream diary when I was young. Upon its pages I found a number of the incidents I had already recalled, providing evidence that the incident had at least happened in my youth, if only as nothing more than dreams.
I also found three dreams in that dream diary which I had not yet recalled. In one of these dreams, I recorded that everything was pressed up against the wall, including myself, in the presence of this white, fluid light. In another, I described a shaft of light “from heaven” shot through my chest and began lifting me upwards, into the sky. Last but certainly not least, I recalled having a conversation with a “very old” and “very wise” being who, among other things, explained to me how he was several hundred years old.
Ever since I read it, I imagine the smiley Doctor sitting on a bench next to me in a park-like setting, talking with me like a friendly old man. Though I have long since lost the diary, I cannot be certain whether another element to it was recorded by me as a child or only remembered later, perhaps not reliably so. Regardless, my sense is that there was some discussion about a book he held in his hands and showed to me, a book entitled either The Book of Knowledge or The Book of Wisdom. I remember taking the book from the set of Encyclopedia Britannica Uncle Fred had gotten for us that was entitled, again, either The Book of Knowledge or The Book of Wisdom and carrying it around, trying to determine where my fascination with its title came from. Did this help form a false memory or was it an effect of implicit memory, residual “priming” effects from that dream scenario in my youth?
After this incident occurred in my youth, I seemed to have some residual sense that something particularly strange had occurred. It was sometime in the two-month period bracketing my birthday, Thanksgiving and Christmas, when my Uncle Fred came to visit. In a book I had gotten for either my birthday or Christmas, there was a short chapter on the War of the Worlds. I remember this dark, fearful, morbid feeling overwhelming me as I leaned on a step-ladder or something in the front room, staring at that photo in the book. I believe it depicted the interior of the craft from War of the Worlds, which was never seen in the movie, but the photo was in a blurry black-and-white. It seemed as if I was trying to discern something from it, or remember something associated with it that was dancing on the tip of my mental tongue.
This eventually led to asking my father and uncle a question that felt difficult for me, that took a lot for me to ask. I was quite nervous about it, and I specifically recall that this was because I was afraid of revealing the true reasons behind my asking. The question was what the aliens were supposed to look like, or whether they showed them in the movie, “as I could not remember”. They weren’t sure, and when they asked me why I wanted to know, I expressed to them, and very cautiously, that I thought I had seen the aliens in a dream. I certainly felt as though I were lying. What I do remember is an image in mind of a particularly vivid scene in which I observed this dark craft in space, so large that I could not see the sides of it or discern its shape. A long line of saucers, all in single file, enter the craft through a hole or doorway in its side.
I once put Dr. Nader, the only mental health professional in my life that I did not regret going to, on the spot in a moment of utter desperation. The man was well-versed in Jung and the Occult but skeptical of it, being a man of science, working as he did with brain-damaged and other such abnormalities alongside clinical psychology. Knowing he did not prefer to categorize me or give me any answer that did not have scientific support, I knew I had to corner him, and I did, insisting that he tell me what he thought that flashback was about. I finally got out of him a reluctant, “I think you had a confrontation with your Shadow.”
By this, of course, he meant the anti-ego in the unconscious, containing all we have repressed or have failed to bring out of latency in our conscious personality. The Doctor was evidently the leader for his pack of “scientists,” and I am clearly more of an artist, so perhaps he would represent the logical, rational, analytical, empirical part of me. I am Caucasian, he was a dark tan or brown. I was a young child, and he was several hundred years old. The Doctor and I, Navier seemed to be saying, were polar opposites, so he must represent what I have been repressing or failing to develop in my own, conscious personality. To be honest, the notion did not at all seem convincing to me.
There are, however, archetypes other than those usually focused on. Jung had spoken of another archetype that one encounters after an enduring period of “wrestling” with the anima, or female aspect of our psyche, and he called it the Wise Old Man: a kind, father-type figure distinguished in his great knowledge and wisdom. The Doctor claimed to be wise, to be old to the extent of centuries, and he also claimed that in some way he was in some way a grandfather figure to me. Friendly, though? In the dream scenario, he took on the appearance of kindness through a Cheshire grin and friendly conversation, but it was all transparent to me: the real Doctor wore a frown as exaggerated as this grin, though not so cartoon-like. So that element, perhaps, does not fit the bill. Description on the archetype also mentions that oftentimes the wise old man is of a foreign land, however, and that the Doctor seemed to be an alien does fit the bill, again to the extreme.
More interestingly, perhaps, is the polar opposite or “shadow” archetype of the wise old man. This is what Jung called puer aeternus, or the Child Archetype. A man in the grips of such an archetype bears emotions stunted at an adolescent level, detests restriction and oppression, and values liberty and independence. At age sixteen, when I remembered the Doctor (and one could certainly also say today, at age thirty-four), many would say quite confidently that this is me in a nutshell.
What could be implied here is that I had a psychotic break at age sixteen in which I experienced archetypal-infested spontaneous fantasies, delusions, and hallucinations, but the Shadow can also be confronted through projection of those repressed psychological contents, which leaves open the possibility that even if Navier is right, the flashback may have indeed been the reexperience of an authentic memory. Given this possibility, the psychological interpretation, however valid, would only be part of the story. It also may require explanation as an actual encounter.
Later I would subject the flashback to an agonizing degree of analysis, looking for context clues in what seemed so real to me that I had to operate on the notion that this may indeed be the case. Since I didn’t wear the braces while sleeping, this must have occurred before I had gone to bed, perhaps even during the day. I was clearly in my parent’s house, indicated if by nothing more than the box I had hit my leg on. My mother, in an effort to keep all of our drawings, writings and letters in a single place, had given each of us one of these boxes, which for a time we kept under our beds. When Lisa got old enough I moved into a room of my own, where I think I immediately got my loft bed. If I was just on the bridge of five and six, Lisa would have been about two, and it seems reasonable to assume that they were sharing a room at that time. There was no way to hide beneath my loft bed, so unless there was a period of time in which I had another bed before the loft bed, I must have been beneath one of my sister’s beds. In the flashback, I believe I was already under the bed when they came bursting into the room, which could make sense. I know I had the tendency when I was younger to hide under the beds of my sisters just before they came in to go to sleep and to wait for some time before creeping out and scaring them. It seems likely that I was already hiding, waiting to frighten my sisters when those creatures burst in the room.
Irony at its most surreal.
Some time after the two initial flashbacks, I had glanced at the wall in the room by my doorway, where I had stapled and taped various drawings I had made, and a specific drawing seemed to jump out at me. I could only vaguely recall drawing it my Freshman year of high school, referring to the creature as a “demented Muppet” to my friends in art class. It had huge, bugging eyes with pupils directed downward and a long, unearthly frown on its wrinkled face. It was, in other words, the spitting image of the Doctor — and, with the direction of his eyes, it seemed to be a portrait of him as he appeared during the flashback, looking down at me as I was under the bed. I had drawn it before the flashback, however, seemingly prompted by some subconscious need to express that dreadful face.
Maybe, unbeknownst to me consciously, I had drawn that creature in an attempt to fulfill part of the promise I had made to myself as a young boy in the flashback. Or perhaps the memory was actually a hallucination bearing a personalized mythical symbol that represented what I, due to the archetype that had ensnared me, had habitually left for dead within myself throughout my short life.