Short Story: The Program

Memories make us what we are, who we are. They differentiate us from one another. They buoy us against the storm of moments where we feel life is least worth living; slogging through the daily grind, being stuck in traffic, waiting for our pills at the pharmacy; those things no amount of progress or technology can cut from the human experience. The memories are always there; smiles, tears, laughter. They bob about us just beneath the surface, acting as flotation devices. They are the record of our experiential datum, of our lives.

Sometimes, we need them more than ever. More than any time we have before. It’s in those moments their vigilance and strength ensures we ride the storm or sink beneath to its depths. Sometimes we do one. Sometimes the other. Sometimes though you can do only one or the other, never both.

Rare as it is, ludicrous as it seems to those with average lives and memories; sometimes there is only good. Or only bad. There are no hints of the other. Only a steady stream of one. The lives of these afflicted are imbalanced, abnormal, damaged. In a word, unique.

Almost invariably, that uniqueness leads to total, mental instability.

In a world where normality is sought, it is almost predictable such notoriety should be quashed. Recall that uniqueness is merely an adjective, not an identifier. It is a description, not a condemnation nor ambition. It just is, like us.

That’s what we’re taught, anyway. Where?The place isn’t given a name. They don’t want us identifying it afterward, drawing attention to it. We’re not supposed to want to anyhow. We’re only supposed to recognize it for what it is; a program for preparing our return to society. A return, I might add, that is meant as a rebirth.

As they say, “The Program” is gestation; the facility, the womb.

From the moment you’re discharged and step outside the facility’s doors, you’re born. Your life begins anew.When you have no memory of your life before, it’s easier to become what they want you to be, what you should be. Who are they, and why do they care about your functioning? You can’t remember. You do know however, that you’re comfortable with the idea. That they want to help, only for the sake of helping. After all, human beings can only learn so much when their established mnemonic processes align with the imbalances common to normality.

I was unique. Nothing sinister of course, it’s an adjective, not an identifier. A better term is aberration. We aren’t really unique, those of us in the program. Not in the grander sense, but in our narrower, social sense.

We were the worst of the worst. Socially. That’s why we’re here. There’s no other reason, no explanation. It was this or die. Losing one’s memories in hopes of becoming whole seems more sensible anyhow. Those were the stakes for all of us, they tell us. We’d had every chance, squandered it. So, we wound up here; memories wiped. Pasts forgotten. Futures cemented– the immediate ones anyway.

The Program itself is rather simple; we live our lives to our current age in an accelerated way. We play. Laugh. Love. Cry. Hurt. We’re given a free-reign of life from childhood to adulthood where only the worst kinds of mental scarring’s avoided so we don’t repeat our past.

In other words, we reform life by reliving life, if on fast-forward. Along the way, we establish new mnemonic patterns through an expressed understanding we’re doing so.

In this way, they say, growth’s facilitated. We can eventually re-enter society. Of course, that society’s wholly different and scarring in its own way. It has to be, otherwise we’d never’ve ended up here. Difference is, this time the Programs instilled us with an identity, an inner-peace, and the emotional fortitude we were lacking before hand. We leave new people, knowing our lives might then truly begin.

I do not remember my life before the Program, but I do remember my life during the program. Necessary as it is, I do wonder about that first life. We all do. It’s human nature to wonder, especially about the past, our past. It’s not important, we are continually taught. In fact, the importance is deliberately understated because it is so wholly important, we have no choice but to be left wondering. Knowing otherwise leads us back into old patterns, nullifying growth.

It’s doublespeak; the past’s unimportance is its importance.

In order to remember properly we must forget, let our pasts remain forgotten. We were all sent here for a reason. We’ve all progressed together. Some have paired off, in love with the world we’ve come to know. Others have gained a self-love they lacked.

Personally, I have only imagination fueled by wondering. I can’t know what life might was like before, but I can imagine it. That’s important, if nothing else.

I step through the facility’s front doors and am forced to pause:

This is the only home I’ve ever known. I know of no family outside, no friends. The Program gives us tools to handle this, but I can’t help wondering; maybe this isn’t the way things are meant to be. Even if by all, known accounts, I’ve come far and changed for the better the gut instinct exists.

Because those accounts may be dubious; I know only that I came from somewhere to live life over, gaining a supposed clarity. Yet somehow, everything seems muddier. I know I have a place to go, where I’m likely to live alongside others I “grew up” with, if only temporarily; all of it provided by the facility and The Program’s overseers.

But what of all the people that came before? I must have a mother, a father. Perhaps I disappeared to them, when I was sent here. Perhaps they sent me here. Perhaps not. After all would they not be here now, collecting me? Shouldn’t they have been part of this? I know they would have been, as I know everything else inside me, things sheer memory alone cannot affect.

I know too, something is deeply wrong with the Program, the facility. I feel it in my gut. I felt it before too; every moment, isolation. Every interaction, controlled. There’s no way to know what causes the feeling, nor what insidiousness lies beneath the Program’s seeming benevolence, if any. Still, I sense some things cannot be so, even if I’ve no real proof to it.

Nothing save a vivid memory; an older man, screaming terror in the night. He was part of the group, forced to grow with us. Something had frightened him so wholly he began screaming. The Program was a lie. A control. Meant to reign us all in socially.

I can’t attest to that, obviously, but we were told his outburst was the result of a brain aneurysm hemorrhaging. He was never seen again, and it fit their story, but I can’t help wondering, imagining.

Thinking of him, I remember something said often in reference to our pasts; we’d formed our past selves by deluding ourselves in degrees, through small doses of dark behaviors until wholly believing the growing lies we’d told ourselves. It was a psychological manipulation, our instructors said, done for the sake of our deepest darkness.

I can’t help wondering about that. Maybe the old man was right. After all, if the instructors knew of that manipulation, couldn’t they employ it? Wouldn’t they? Hadn’t they admitted to it already?If not directly,by virtue of the Program’s aims? If so, who was to say he wasn’t right? That the Program’s benevolence wasn’t just a lie, a control?Judging by what we were taught, and the supposed reasons for it, it’s no doubt our species is capable of extreme acts of darkness. So, what truth do we have to the Program’s benevolence then, but its own word?

None. Perhaps uniqueness isn’t an adjective. I aim to find out.

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