A driver’s licence is a wonderful thing. Everything you could ever want to know about someone’s vital statistics was left on one little laminated card just in case someone wished to take a peek. That little card was the most unassuming piece of plastic out there. It was small, official looking, and pretty bland. It was no amazing thing, seeing as how everyone had one once they managed to pass a driver’s test. Sixteen year olds probably thought that it was amazing, but he wasn’t sixteen, at least not according to his very own shiny piece of plastic.
John Howard Gibson was apparently forty two years old, six foot two, and had hazel eyes. Hazel was a cheap way of saying that you couldn’t remember your eye color or didn’t feel like putting down puke brown on a form. He lived in the great state of New York and probably liked things like Pina Coladas and getting caught in the rain. Six two wasn’t a bad height, though, and forty two wasn’t terribly old...not young, but not over the hill or rickety. He was sure that he had a life somewhere.
Sighing, the man tossed the licence onto the peach-ish colored bedding in front of him, ignoring how his own face was smiling back. Yeah, he was this John Gibson guy with puke colored eyes and forty two years under his belt. The name didn’t ring any bells, though. Heck, even the face was hard to come to terms with. He didn’t look familiar, even to himself. It had taken ten minutes of staring at a mirror before he decided he did look an awful lot like this guy, though. However, he was still having trouble making himself believe it. The doctor claimed it was normal. People with hypothermia did have memory issues, and memory issues apparently made it so that you disassociated from your sense of self and some other blah blah blah. He may not have been able to have recognise himself, and he may not have remembered his last name or his middle name, but he did know that full amnesia was unlikely. The fact that he’d had it for a week was even less likely. Whatever happened to him went beyond some farce of an urban myth. The doctors knew something from the way that they looked at him, but damned if they were sharing. Every time he asked, it was just the same answer. He had amnesia, it would go away eventually, blah blah blah. He’d honestly lost interest after the guy had told him that there was nothing he could do to help him get his memory back. It was something that would have to happen in time, apparently.
Yeah, that was real reassuring.
John didn’t know much about himself, but he did know that he didn’t like being told he had to wait, and he especially did not like to hear that there was no guarantee on things. It was irritating and he wouldn’t accept that. The doctor did say that being around familiar things and people would help, so as soon as he got out of the hospital, he was going to make his way to Ballston Lake, New York and figure things out from there. All he had to do was get out of the hospital.
Apparently, that was easier said than done.
As it turns out, when you’re amnesic, the doctors really didn’t want to leave you to your own devices. He couldn’t even walk down to the nurses’ station without an escort trailing after him. It wasn’t like he was going to run off. He had nowhere to go, but there was no convincing anyone of that. Apparently finding a next of kin to take him home was proving to be difficult and he was starting to feel like the dog at the pound no one wanted. He knew what happened to those dogs, even if he couldn’t remember his own name without looking at it every few minutes.
“Hey there, Jack.”
Glancing up from his card, John smirked at the orderly standing in his doorway. The guy’s name was Isaac and he was nice enough. He’d dubbed John as ‘Jack’ when he’d started taking care of his room. It was a spin on ‘hijack’, seeing as how he nearly got his organs stolen from him. He hadn’t believed that until they showed him pictures of where they’d found him and then what he’d looked like when he was laying on a bed in the emergency room. He still shuddered to think about how the pale version of himself had been in a tub full of ice, his skin traced in blue ink where his organs were. Why his organs were still nice and cozy in his body was a mystery, even more so than how he’d ended up in the tub. Still, the point was that he liked being called Jack more than he liked being called John. There was just something more carefree about it. It didn’t sound like a name where someone was rolling their tongue. He knew he was being overly critical about something so petty, but as long as he was called something he didn’t mind, well, that was progress in his books.
“So, any word on when they’re lettin’ you out of here?” he asked, tidying up the breakfast dishes that Jack had left still half full of food.
“Nope. They seem to think I need a babysitter.”
Isaac snorted, wiping down his tray table. “As long as no one lets you near their daughters, I’m sure you’ll be just fine.”
Jack rolled his eyes. So he’d flirted with one visitor. She was sister of one of the patients a couple doors down from him. There’d been nothing to it – just a bit of harmless fun. It had agitated the other guy, though, and ever since Jack had been allocated to his room unless he was accompanied by a babysitter. Really, he had no real interest in doing more than flirting. Something inside him thought it was kind of cheap to pick up a date in the hospital’s mental health ward when you didn’t know who you were or if you had someone out there. For all he knew, John Gibson was married with six kids. His wife could be a trained Russian assassin who’d hand his ass to him if she found out that he’d been hitting on other women. There were just too many things to consider about a life he couldn’t remember. It was in his best interests to sit and behave, even if he didn’t like that idea. He was already going stir crazy in the mental health ward. You’d think that on a floor full of crazies there’d be more excitement, but he’d had a more interesting time when he’d been on one of the hospital’s regular floors. He kind of missed the regular floors, but even he knew there was no excuse for him to take up space when someone else needed it. Seeing as how they’d managed to save him from hypothermia with nothing more than a couple areas that were frostbit, there was nothing physically wrong with him now. It was his mental health that needed attention, so here he was. He probably would have been better off in a hotel or something, seeing as how they couldn’t do anything for amnesia in the mental health ward, either. But every time he argued that, the doctors shut him down and gave him another pill to swallow.
This was why he didn’t like doctors...probably. For all he knew he had some irrational phobia or anyone with a medical degree. It was something he may never know for sure.
“You’re just jealous that the ladies like me better.”
“Yeah, it must be your impeccable memory,” Isaac chuckled, causing Jack to roll his eyes once more.
He had a memory for facts, as they’d discovered one night when Jeopardy had been on the TV. He’d gotten every clue right, but remembering his middle name...he glanced back down at the card, noting for the fifth or sixth time that morning that it was Howard. Yeah, some memory. The doctor said something about it being selective amnesia. Whatever it was, he would have rather known his name and been as dumb as a bag of rocks. At least then he could have happily sat in the loony bin and not been suspicious of everything being thrown at him.
“Yeah, must be,” Jack replied a bit absently. “You’re a real gift to the medical profession, you know?”
“Hey, man, I’m sorry. You’ll get your memory back. I’ve had guys through here who blew out half their brains with a shot gun and they still manage to tie their shoes after some healing time. You still got your whole brain, so I’m sure you’ll do fine there, Jacky.”
Jack winced at the imagery. That was the problem when you made friends with the staff of a hospital – they only ever shared the most gory and gruesome stories because those were the only ones that they found to be interesting. What he wouldn’t have given to have been locked up where the staff thought funny stories involved old people losing their teeth and grandchildren who came to visit pulling pranks. But he supposed he was twenty or thirty years too young for them to have placed him somewhere like that. Still, he knew that Isaac was trying, in his own way, to make Jack feel better. Optimism was key and other such bullshit remarks.
Speaking of people who said things he didn’t want to hear, Jack barely gave Doctor Jones the time of day when he came by. Right then, he had his head sticking through the door, glasses nearly falling off his round face as he smiled. The sweater vest and badge on the man’s belt let everyone know that he was just as lame as he really was. Isaac glanced at his superior, staying quiet. He always got like that when the doctors dropped by. Jack hated that. He’d been having a semi-pleasant conversation up until that point.
“So, how is my favorite patient doing today?”
Jack gave the man a look, hoping it got across how much he hated the bullshitting.
“Why don’t you go ask whoever that is and come back once you know,” Jack suggested, hand curling around the licence so that the other man wouldn’t know what Jack had been doing with his morning. That was his own business. Sure, he probably shouldn’t keep secrets from his doctors, but then again, they kept plenty from him and this wasn’t all that important. Should he start bleeding from his eye sockets or his fingernails started falling out – you know, the important stuff – he’d be sure to inform the man of it immediately.
The doctor sighed in some self-suffering manner, like he was hard put upon to talk to someone as sarcastic and bitter as Jack. Well, that just served him right. Jack was the one with a memory problem. He didn’t have to act grown up or pleasant. He was getting tired of being poked, prodded, and studied. This had been going on for nearly a week, after all. Three days of actual medical treatment, and then four of cooling his heels...yeah, he wasn’t all that cooperative.
“He’s in a mood, Doc,” Isaac excused, trying to buy him some leeway with the idiot doctor. “You’re gonna have to give him a break.”
“I wish I could,” the doctor offered. “The police called this morning. They still haven’t had any luck tracking down your next of kin. They also looked into your address on your licence.”
Jack clutched it a little tighter in response to it being mentioned. It was his. They’d found it in his wallet, along with the clothing he’d been cut out of before he’d been dumped in the tub and the cell phone that he’d been woken up by. Of course there were credit cards, insurance cards, money, and a grocery list in the wallet, but they seemed much more insignificant than the licence. That was the only thing he knew for sure was his own. His picture was on it, his stats were on it. This stranger was who he was. If the doctor tried to take it away from him, he’d break the man’s jaw. Fair warning. They’d already removed the cell phone after he’d used it for a couple 900 numbers. He’d been bored and it seemed like something to do. The phone had been a bust, anyway. It had no numbers in it and it was prepaid for the month by someone who’d only used cash, so there was no way of knowing who it actually belonged to. Still, he’d gotten his kicks while he could on that one.
“And?” Jack prompted.
“And unless you lived in your suit, you certainly didn’t call the dry cleaning shop located there home. In fact, I believe they said a very nice Vietnamese family owns and operates the place.”
A dry cleaners. Perfect.
“Why would my licence address be a dry cleaners?” Jack asked, wondering how that could be the case. “I thought the government was smarter than that.”
Isaac snorted. Loudly. Clearly the government wasn’t high in his opinion, either.
“The police are looking into it as we speak. It’s a newly issued licence that may have had an error in the printing process,” the doctor explained. “They believe it’ll be easy enough to find out where you came from if they dig around the area a bit.”
The doctor looked like he wanted to reach out a hand and pat his shoulder. Jack hoped he wouldn’t. The last thing he wanted right at that moment was human contact, especially from someone who reminded him so strongly of Mr. Rogers...whoever Mr. Rogers was.
“Where’s that leave me, Doc?” Jack asked.
“We’re still trying to work out what to do with you, I’m afraid.”
Jack sighed a bit, thinking that the hospital must make a pretty penny off the government by housing people like him or something. There was absolutely no reason to keep him there. It wasn’t like he was going to drop dead if he left the hospital or anything. Well, not anymore. The first time he’d gotten out of bed, he’d fallen on his face. That was something he wasn’t about to repeat.
“Listen, Doc. I’m just wasting hospital resources at this point. I’m healthy, I’m sane, and as far as I know, I’m not incapable of getting myself a hotel room,” Jack offered, thinking those credit cards could come in handy. “So what am I still doing here?”
“I...well...it’s not policy to let patients who can’t remember their own names leave the hospital when there’s no one to take custody of them,” Jones offered as if that was the most obvious thing in the world. “We’d feel terrible if anything happened to you.”
Isaac even cast the doctor a look there. Jack was done shooting him looks, though. The guy never got the hint. He flopped back against the pillows, looking up at the corkboard ceiling. Well, that was that, then. They wouldn’t let him go because he was about as responsible as an infant. It didn’t matter that he knew that Adolph Hitler was born the same year as the Eiffel Tower was erected or that Mark Twain was a pseudonym. None of that mattered when you couldn’t remember your own middle name.
Jack lifted up his licence again, sighing. Howard. Howard, Howard, Howard. Maybe one of these times he’d remember it.
“And if you never find one of my kin? What then?”
“Well, I suppose we’ll have to find you some transition housing. It’s something I can speak to your counsellor about,” Jones replied kindly.
The hospital’s counselor was yet another person Jack neither liked nor trusted. The guy liked to talk more than he liked to listen. Not that Jack had much as of personal experience to talk about, so he figured that was the only way to fill the time.
“Now, Nurse Smith is going to take another blood sample for me,” he explained, gesturing to where there was a familiar nurse in the doorway. “I have to continue on my rounds, but I’m sure we’ll talk later,” Jones assured him.
Jack didn’t bother looking at the man as he left. No, he only had eyes for the middle aged male nurse who was pushing the blood taking supplies into the room. The cart already held samples and he wasn’t the first one nurse prick had abused that day. Still, it always made him frown. They’d get samples from him multiple times a day. He wasn’t dying of cancer and he didn’t feel like he’d caught something in the tub. The whole thing made him highly suspicious. He’d asked too many questions to the other nurse and that was how he got stuck with mister muscles drawing his samples. After having the guy hand his ass to him (and to be fair, Jack was highly medicated at the time, so his pride didn’t hurt as much as it could) he’d learned not to mess with the man. So he obediently held out his arm when Smith reached for it and he didn’t even make a vampire joke. Not today, not when he was mad at the doctor for being a know-nothing twit. Again.
“Man, that doc needs to get his ducks in a row before he comes and talks to people,” Isaac offered. “I swear, if there’s one person in this place who knows less than the patients, it’s him.”
“Yeah,” Jack offered, wincing when the needle pierced his skin and started taking yet another sample.
“Don’t let him get you down, Jack. I know more about this stuff than most. They’ll get you into some transition program and before you know it, you’ll be right as rain in some one bedroom apartment somewhere. Or maybe they can get you a room in that dry cleaners, seein’ as how your credentials say you already apparently live there,” Isaac pointed out with a smile. “Do you speak Vietnamese?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Well, they prob’ly speak English. You’ll fit right in between the suits and the bedding,” Isaac laughed, making his way out of the room with a smile.
And wasn’t that the American dream. Smith removed the needle and undid the rubber tie that had brought his veins to the top of his skin. A cotton ball was pressed over the prick and his elbow was folded up so he had to hold it there. Smith did a lot of his talking with his muscles and Jack kept the position until the man was long out of the room.
Oh yeah, it was time he thought about blowing this popsicle stand. If the food didn’t kill him, the staff would.