It began on April 4th 1984. I was in the doctor’s office getting my arm x-rayed. I was 3 months from my 8th birthday, and had been wearing my cast for 10 weeks. The doctor insisted I had to have a follow up x-ray to be sure the bones were properly set after I fell out of the tree in our backyard.
There was a click as the X-ray happened, and I felt a massive dizzy disorientation. Vomit happened. Voices shouting in my head. The X-ray tech rushed into the room, and i threw up again, in her. There was screaming. Not me, my mom.
The voices shouted one thing over and over. You are allergic to eggs!
The vomiting stopped, I looked at my mom, and told her “I think I might be allergic to eggs.” She looked around, and noticed that my breakfast was everywhere.
She was now in mother mode. “I rarely make you eggs. Do you usually feel sick when you eat them?”
I nodded. The X-ray tech returned. She had towels. I was mostly safe, but Mom cleaned up a bit that was on my shoe and we returned to the lobby.
Half an hour later they removed my cast, and on the way home mom got us take out at the local Sonic. I ate on the way home. When we got in Mom insisted I shower so she could wash my clothes, and I claimed the need for a nap.
Lying in bed, in my room I closed my eyes. Memories sprang forth. My memories. From tomorrow. And the day after. And on and on. I began to panic. My heart beating wildly. The voices, a chorus of them.
Be calm John. Everything will be ok.
I recognized the voices. Some sounded like me, others were deeper. I could sense somehow that these were all my voice. My voice from tomorrow, the day after, and more.
We are you. But you are not us. You are but a single instance. A collapsed probability. We are potential. The infinite possibilities. Every possibility explored, mapped and catalogued.
How? I thought to them.
An experiment gone awry. There in a distance future, a group of people tried to reach back. They had records that showed you would be there, in the doctor’s office, on that day and time. They tried to send you knowledge of the future, how to make advanced technology.
Why, why me?
Your medical records, including future brain scans after years of migraine headaches. You were who they selected as the best candidate.
Your brain is different. It likely would have worked with other candidates. But that doesn’t matter. What happened is better. We know everything. You will learn to access this knowledge. The result will be the same. They wanted to save Earth from destruction. You will do so.
Do I have a choice?
The choice will always be yours. But if you knew the result of every choice before making it, would you make anything other than the most perfect choice? If you could remember the consequences, and experience of every wrong choice without having to make it, would you need to do so?
How do I do this?
Think about a perfect future. Concentrate on it. Remember the events that come.
The world unfolded in my mind. Infinite possibilities, coalesced to a single shining path. The universe met my mind, and my mind met the universe. Knowledge, experience, training. Anything I could ever learn was there waiting for me with perfect recall.
A lifetime studying piano. Following Mom’s lost dream of being a concert pianist. Other instruments. Making instruments, performing concerts. It began to spiral out of control.
Be calm, John. You have touched the edge of the infinite. Relax, be in the now.
I know so much! I can play the piano, and the guitar, and the violin, and the base, and drums! I can play drums!
Be calm, John. There is much space between can and should. Your future selves, variations of them have studied hard, worked hard. Their skills are yours without effort, without cost. But that effortless ability comes with grave dangers. Those who learn of your abilities and try to force you under their control. We will be careful, and avoid them. It means your life! The life of your family!
I heard them, but I was still overwhelmed by the first real instance of power I had ever tasted. Power I wanted to display. I wanted to show off!
I could hear the soft music of Mom’s daily piano practice. Normally she would play for an hour or two until my sister and I got home from school. Today was Wednesday. Mattie was at school. I was home because of my doctor appointment that morning. She had intended that I go to school after my appointment, but my vomit had ended that.
“Did I wake you?” She asked as I walked into the room.
“No, I woke me. Can I play?”
She stood up from the bench and waved me into her seat. It was an older piano, an upright, but sturdy, and comfortable. Mom gave us weekly lessons every Friday. She taught a few other people too at various days and times.
I played my week’s assignment flawlessly, without getting my practice book out of the bench. Mom applauded. Then I looked at her over my shoulder.
“I had dream about playing the piano. Can I try your song?”
“You’re welcome to try.” mom said, with a hint of amusement.
I played. It started rough, but improved. Some of my muscle memory was for grown up hands. As I reached the end of the first page Mom flipped the sheet music for me.
There was a pause as I finished. Then a big hug, and exclamations of disbelief, and praise. I explained that I had a dream and the piano made sense now.
She asked me to play again, so leaving the sheet music on the final page I performed a near perfect rendition of ‘Memory’.
She seemed even more shocked than before. So I played it a third time, this time perfectly while singing along to the music.
When I finished I asked her what that had to do with cats.
Her laughter broke her out of her daze. She explained it was a song sung by an old cat who wishes she could have a new life.
“What else do you have that I can play?”
She had me stand up, then played a song from memory, then turned to me and asked me to play it. So I sat down and played ‘Moonlight Sonata’. I even made the mistake she did, but mentioned that it didn’t sound right when I got to that part. She only played the first part, almost 6 minutes of the song, but I copied her note for note.
She was excited, and explained she had made that mistake on purpose. Then she pulled out the sheet music, asked me to look at it however long I thought it would take to be able to play the whole thing without the music.
I took a few minutes to read through it, my hands moving on invisible keys as I read the music. Then I handed her the book back, sat down and played it.
The eight minute mark gets difficult, and fast. I played well, almost perfect, but my hands were just a little too small. When I got thru the final pounding notes I jumped up, startling Mom.
“I got to pee!” I shouted as ran to the bathroom. I took my time to wash my hands and give Mom time to collect herself. Her mind was spinning.
I came back into the room to a thousand watt smile.
“Johnny. That was amazing. Not perfect but very, very good. I have some questions that I want you to think about before giving me the truest answer you can.”
This was a fall back phrase Mom liked to use when questioning my sister and I about mistakes. The truest answer was always the answer with hindsight, not excuses of what we were thinking and feeling at the time. No mention of why, just the answer that applied now.
“Am I in trouble?” I asked.
“Not at all, I’m just trying to understand. Are you ready?”
“Ok, question one. Have you ever played that song before today?”
“First time was today, just now with you.”
She nodded an acknowledgement, “Question two, when you copied me, did you copy by watching where my hands played, or the notes you heard.”
“Mostly notes, but I did watch where you started your hands, but I couldn’t see them the entire time you were playing.”
Another nod. “Question 3, do you remember everything you read?”
“I don’t understand, isn’t that why everyone reads to remember it?” I asked her.
“Not everyone can remember everything they read. Your Dad does pretty great, but he has an amazing memory. I remember the basic stuff of what I read, but not word for word. You remembered the notes after looking at them, and the words to the song ‘Memory’ after reading it while playing it the first time.”
“Well sure. I remember everything I read. I remember every word, even what page it’s on. You mean you don’t?” I asked her.
“No I don’t, it takes a special mind to be able to do that. It’s called a photographic memory, and very few people can do that.”
“Huh. I always thought that the kids in my class didn’t get perfect scores because their mom didn’t make them do the homework. I never thought that maybe they did their homework, but just couldn’t remember it!”
“Final question. Are you hurting at all? That was a lot of work your hands just did.”
“They feel warm, but they cooled off when I washed them.”
“Great your sister will be home in five minutes, run down to the bus stop and walk back with her please.”
Mattie was excited that the cast was off. She wanted to know where it was, she had been the first person to sign it. I explained about throwing up at the doctor’s office, and how they threw it away afterwards. She thought it was gross, but sad that I couldn’t keep it and the signatures of all my friends and family.
We came into the house together, and went to the dining table. Mom had me sit and do my homework with Mattie everyday after school. She made a snack for us, and Mattie gave me the school and homework assignments that Mom had the teacher give her before she left for the day.
I quickly buzzed thru my homework, and then helped Mattie with her math homework. She was two years behind me, in the first grade. I was soon to graduate the third grade. I had so surpassed my fellow students in kindergarten that the teacher had decided early in the school year that I should move into first grade. Normally a kid my age is in the second grade.
I watched Mattie do her math homework, with her touch dot numbers as she added and subtracted. I did my math homework, multi digit division. It was easier, because I could just look at the problem now, see my work and just write the answer. Mom noticed and told me to show my work.
So I showed my work, but still showing off to Mom, I wrote my division work left to right, and top to bottom, beginning with the answer at the top. It took her a moment to realize that I was pulling the whole numbers from my mind, not working out one set of numbers at a time. I was showing my work, but writing it in a clear way to show that I was not doing the work.
Mom just smiled and went back into the kitchen. After homework was completed then it was off to our rooms to play. Mattie had her Barbies, I had my Legos. This time I wrote letters.
I wrote letters, and stamped envelopes. I finished just as it was time for dinner. I put the letters in my school bag so I could mail them tomorrow.
Dinner was nice, barbecue chicken. Which for Mom means baking chicken pieces on a rack in the oven after coating them with barbecue sauce. Of course there was a salad. I’m sure it’s the influence of growing up in California, but Mom considers salad an important part of every dinner.
Dad considers thousand island dressing an important part of every salad. But that probably because he grew up here in Oklahoma.
My two parents. Mom a Berkeley music Major, Dad a highschool dropout. Mom from a upper middle class suburban Bay Area family. Dad from a family of Arkansas and Oklahoma farmers. I guess I have to explain.
Dad is big. Tall, muscular, dark hair, blue eyes. He’s very strong, but also very gentle. He’s self educated. His school growing up was a one room schoolhouse, until he got to highschool. Highschool had not been fun for the two years he had of it. His one room school had taught him to sight read, that is to memorize what every word he learned looked like. He hadn’t learned many in that environment.
Today that’s inconceivable. Today we learn phonics, and sounding out words. Highschool taught Dad he had missed out on a big leg up on education. So he quit school when his dad asked him to work full time on the family farm. When he had the money he ordered a phonics learning program. Then he taught himself to really read.
It’s an accomplishment he is proud of. When he could read, he bought more books. He set about learning everything he could, about every subject he could find a book on. He eventually got his GED. Then, having mastered self learning, he proceeded to get himself certified.
He’s smart. There is nothing that he doesn’t believe he can learn. He’s passed state exams and holds dozens of licenses for various skills and activities. He discovered if there was a license for something, there was a training manual. The exams were just his way of proving he could learn, and certify that he really knows it.
He spent some time working on a horse ranch in California 12 years ago. He had just been licensed as a welder, and got a job building steel corral fences. He happened to have the day off so was taking the opportunity to go for a bit of a horse ride. He’s from Oklahoma, so cowboy is in his genes, and Mom thinks he looks great in his jeans.
That’s how they met. Mom was there with friends to go riding and camping in the coastal hills near Monterey. She saw Dad, in his full cowboy outfit, and fell hard. She said he looked like a young John Wayne.
Mom had just finished her third year at Berkeley in their music program. She was training as a concert pianist, and as a music teacher. She convinced Dad to join her group of weekend campers. He accepted, and Mom never finished her degree.
By the time summer was over, Dad and Mom were married, and back in Oklahoma. Mom’s parents had a fit. Their daughter had been seduced by some backwoods bumpkin cowboy.
It took a couple years. But Dad eventually won them over. Mostly because there’s not a mean bone in his body, but also because he knew how to make money and friends. Mom’s parents respect that almost as much they respect how kind of a person he is.
He put his skills to use in first the town government, as a city works foreman, then department head. Later he moved to the county government, doing much the same in the planning and permit office. Finally at the big electric co-op that serves our section of the state, where he manages the entire line construction and maintenance department.
He’s well liked there, cause when we get bad weather, and here in Oklahoma bad weather really is bad, he is fully qualified to go out on the repair crews with the same guys who normally think of him as the office boss.
Mom is just happy to have a cowboy. She teaches piano still, but says she has no regrets. She has a garden, and where most of her old friends have a family and work she gets to be home with us kids.
The secret is that Mom loves cowboys. Always had, even as a little girl. There’s a reason my name is John Wayne Cook. My sister is Mattie Ross Cook. Dad’s Mom convinced her that using her mom’s middle name for her daughter would help mend fences. Mom found a way to honor both her mother, and her love of cowboys. Dad’s nickname for my sister is ‘little grit’ for more than one reason. It could be worse, my name could be Liberty Valance, and with my birthday on July 4th I’m sure my parents considered it.
After dinner Mom told the story of my X-ray, and then my piano recital. I was asked to play, and Mattie was given permission to select any song Mom had music for. While Mattie searched I played the first half of ‘Moonlight Sonata’.
Mattie found two she liked. One was a book of songs from Hello Dolly, the Broadway musical. The other was sheet music for the Beatles ‘Let It Be’ which Mattie picked because Mom’s name is Mary, and she thinks the song is about her. I grabbed the Hello Dolly book, as Mom had played this many times, and called out to Dad for a duet.
I played ‘It Takes A Woman’, which is a funny funny song, if you’re a guy. Dad’s voice is deep, he sang Vandergelder’s part. I sang Barnaby’s part.
Mattie was laughing hysterically, and Mom had a big smile when we finished. The she told Dad to ask how many times I had practiced.
He seemed a little disbelieving when I told him I had never practiced, and this was my first time playing it. Mom confirmed that I had never played that song before, but that we had all sung it together many times.
I flipped to ‘It Only Takes A Moment’ called out, “your turn guys” and began to play. It took Dad a second to switch gears, but he and Mom slipped into an easy well practiced duet. I took the part of the clerk, and Mattie joined in for the everybody chorus, as she remembered in time that she got to sing too.
As my parents were now holding hands, I grabbed Mattie’s second selection and began to play. I played it twice, the second time I gave the music to Mattie and told her to sing it with me, and we sang it to Mom. Dad didn’t notice at first that I played it without the music.
Mom asked if I thought I could play a song I heard on the radio. I said, “probably.”
Mom turned on the radio, and switched to a country station. There were a few commercials, then ‘Let’s Stop Talking About It’ came on. Mom started to change the station, then saw dad’s grin and left it. After the song ended she turned the radio off. I took a deep breath and played.
My dad was clapping and whistling his approval when I finished. Mom gave me a congratulatory hug, and Dad gave me a big pat on the back. Mattie gave me a hug too, though she didn’t know what was so special.
Soon we were sent to bed, the sparkle in Moms eyes let Dad know he was getting lucky that night. I went to sleep quickly, but my dreams were full of strange memories.
Following a breakfast of cereal we headed to school. I turned in my missed work. That afternoon I had GT. Gifted and Talented. It was basically an extra class that the smart kids in each grade got to attend for 45 minutes on Thursdays. We worked together in the school library on the school newspaper.
I had most of the students trying to trip me up, as I casually mentioned that I had read every book in the school library. They didn’t believe me, but when I challenged them to find a book, open it and tell me the page number, I would quote that page.
It caused a massive flurry of people grabbing random books off the shelves. The librarian, who was editor of the newspaper was a little unhappy at the mess we were making, until she caught on to what I was doing. Then she stepped back and quietly called the Principal.
Seeing what she was doing, I started directing the students to put the books back on the shelf, pointing out it’s location after each quote. Just as the last few kids got their turn, the Principal stepped in to observe. The kids were excited, and getting loud, so I started grabbing the books that hasn’t gotten put back handing them to different students, and pointing to their shelf location.
The grade school library is a room the size of a classroom. It has shelves with books only mostly along the walls, tables and chairs in the middle. It’s a cozy space designed for half a class to come at once for story time, or an entire class just for a weekly library visit.
The Principal talked to the librarian for a bit, then when GT was over, and we were sent back to our classrooms, he asked me to stay. He asked about my demonstration, so I offered to do the same for him. He took me up on it, selecting a random book, a random page, and I quoted the page.
In explained to him that I only recently learned that most people couldn’t remember exactly what they read. He asked me if I was interested in taking an IQ test. I told him I was, but I was more interested in taking a test for fourth grade. I told him I had borrowed the school books from a fourth grader to see how hard the material was, and was sure I could pass any test for it.
That surprised him, so he asked about 3rd grade, and I assured him that I would pass any test on the third grade material as well. He thanked me for my time, then sent me back to class.
The teacher had been told by the other students that I was talking to the Principal, so there was no question as to why I was returning late. There was some conversation about my display of memory. I haven’t actually read all those books, but then again I remember reading them. Future me’s had all picked a different book, and read it. I could remember the individual page from when that other me read it.
Maybe you understand, and it’s not as complicated as it feels inside my head. I have memories of things that have never happened, will never happen. There is no subject, no question, no skill that some me, or group of me’s can’t pursue to completion and mastery so I have the information and skill now.
After dinner that night, after Mom discussed with Dad the phone call she had from the Principal, she let me know that I would be taking a few tests at the school the following day. It was exactly what I had wanted to happen when I ran my demonstration the previous afternoon.
Friday soon after arriving, I was informed by my teacher that I needed to go to the main office. The Principal met me and guided me past the secretaries to his office. He explained he would be administering the tests. He had a small student desk set up in one corner of the room.
I asked him, “How many tests will you be giving me?”
“Before lunch we will do two tests. We are going to do an IQ test first, then I have the third grade final exams. After lunch we will do the fourth grade exam if you passed the third.”
“That sounds good. Let’s get started.” I told him.
He gave me the test, explained how it was time, gave me a pencil, and told me to begin.
There are three ways for me to do a multiple choice type of test.
Way one: a billion other me’s take the test, and all do different random answers, and whomever gets a perfect score, I copy his answers.
Way two: I use the knowledge of a few hundred others to actually answer the questions.
Way three: I copy the answers from the me that used way two to answer the questions, and got a perfect score.
I used way two. This ensured that when the Principal quizzed me to verify I really understood the material I would really understand the material. Still, way two was very fast. Each question was accompanied by a flood of experience, research, and knowledge.
A seventy five minute test was done in twenty minutes. The Principal didn’t believe me.
“Mr. Lewiston. Please ask me any questions from the test you wish. Or even a variation of any question. I know this stuff. This is not a knowledge test, it’s vocabulary, logic, reasoning, and some math. It’s for kids near my age. I got a perfect score.”
He reluctantly asked me a variation of a math question, so I gave him the answer. He acknowledged that I was right. I told him that it was a variation of question 54. He looked down, and again acknowledged I was right.
“Ok, if you got a perfect score, then that changes everything.” He told me. “We will plan on doing the other two tests still today to be sure you’ve mastered third and fourth grade skills. Provided you pass them, I see no reason not to accelerate you forward.” He glanced at his wall calendar. “We have 6 weeks of school left. I’ll arrange to get the school books, and course work for the next few grades from the Middle School. We can set you up here, or in the library for self study. When you are ready I’ll give you the end of year tests, and if you pass move you into the next grade, and the next grade’s course work.”
“Provided I pass the tests, how much forward are you wanting to accelerate me?”
“Either till you can’t do it on your own, the school year ends, or you finish high school. Once the school year ends, then you will be somebody else’s responsibility, I won’t have any control over that. I’ll bring in the district Superintendent on this tonight. I’ll need his help to get the school materials.”
“Ok let’s do the next test. You keep the learnin coming, and I’ll keep giving you my best!” I told him with my best Okie drawl, and a big grin.
He gave me the test, it took thirty minutes. Normally it’s again an hour test. It wasn’t multiple choice, and there was a lot of writing.
Because there was time, he scored it right then. He mentioned that I missed only two answers. I asked him what question.
“Number 42 and 43, the math problems.”
“Those answers are correct, check my work.” I told him.
He looked at the problem, grabbed his own pen and paper doing the multiplication long hand himself.
“Perfect score, looks like somebody transposed two answers on the answer key, I’ll have to make a note on that for the teachers.”
I did a little cheer, “I’m a fourth grader!”
He smiled, then invited me to get an early lunch with him at the cafeteria. I accepted and we walked down to the end of the building. Reaching the cafeteria required stepping outside the classroom block. It was only a few feet, under a covered awning for when it rained, to a large building that was technically multi use. Except for the occasional assembly or school event, it was just the cafeteria for most of us.
This time, we went back into the kitchen where the cooks served us directly onto our trays, and then I followed him back to a room I had never seen before. It was a small eating area for teachers and other faculty.
We talked as we ate. He asked about what things I liked most. I told him about my favorite books, playing with Legos, my current interest in chemistry and the way atoms fit together. I told him how cool I thought it was that we could make molecules from specific atoms, and that the molecules would be very different depending on just a tiny change in makeup.
I asked him about being a teacher and a principal, where he went to school, and other questions so it wasn’t a one sided grilling. Eventually the lunch bell rang and the cafeteria filled with bubbling voices. They were audible even from this distant adult lunch room.
Teachers began coming in with their trays, though a few had bagged lunches. They seemed caught off guard to find me at the table with the principal. I nudged him, “They don’t approve of you consorting with the enemy, sir.”
He laughed, as did the teachers around us who heard me. One teacher spoke up. “You’re Johnny Cook right? Your sister Mattie is in my class. She has been talking about you a lot. Says you’re a very good piano player, and very smart.”
“Yes, my Mom is a gifted player and teaches us, and a few other students too. I put on a show for the family Wednesday night to celebrate the removal of my cast. This morning I passed the test to graduate the third grade. After lunch I plan to do the same for fourth grade!”
That caught their attention. The Principal agreed that what I had said was true. Another teacher mentioned she has heard about my demonstration in the library the day before. A few teachers looked at each other as they had heard the same story from their students.
I was asked a few questions, then was asked for a demonstration.
“No books here to check me against, but I have read the collected works of William Shakespeare at the downtown library. If you’d like to give me a play, and an act and scene number I’d be happy to recite for you.”
When the questioning teacher said, “I’m sure that’s not necessary.” The Principal spoke up.
“I think this young man will be very famous someday. Why not let him give a demonstration of his amazing brain. You’ll regret not having a story to tell when people learn he went to school here.”
“I don’t know the act or scene, but there is a monologue in Antony and Cleopatra that begins with ‘All is lost!’ that I’ve always liked.”
“Not suitable for a seven year old I think.” I replied, “Do you but not object, I shall the piece recite.” with my best English accent.
The room broke into laughter. The Principal did object, but said he’d have to look up the piece later to see why. The challenging teacher declared herself convinced I knew it well enough to not recite it.
Another teacher asked for ‘all the world’s a stage’ there was general agreement, so I began.
“As you like it, by William Shakespeare, Act 2 Scene 7:
Jaques to Duke Senior
All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant, Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms. Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel And shining morning face, creeping like snail Unwillingly to school. And then the lover, Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier, Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard, Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel, Seeking the bubble reputation Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice, In fair round belly with good capon lined, With eyes severe and beard of formal cut, Full of wise saws and modern instances; And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts Into the lean and slippered pantaloon, With spectacles on nose and pouch on side; His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice, Turning again toward childish treble, pipes And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all, That ends this strange eventful history, Is second childishness and mere oblivion, Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”