This time it happened without much warning. I had to jump quickly in Quincy Market, at a shoe store. The switch was much faster than usual. I didn’t have
much time to choose.
It’s been about a minute since the transition. I feel dizzy and a little off balance as I stand among shoppers who are focused on a man lying on the floor. Damian Murdoch had lost consciousness and collapsed. His wife, Carrie, is frantic and screaming for someone to call 9-1-1. There’s chaos in the store.
I feel something in my back pocket; it must be a wallet. The distraction gives me time to quickly take it out and look through its contents. There’s a Massachusetts driver’s license in Jeremy Roberts’ name with a home address shown as Heath Street in Brookline. There are some credit cards, cash, a few business cards, and an emergency contact card with a name, Jennifer Roberts, her phone number, and an e-mail address containing the name Jen.
The ambulance arrives in minutes, followed by the police. The woman standing beside me must be Jennifer, or maybe she calls herself Jen. Before the switch, she and Jeremy were talking to each other in a way that couples do in stores. I had sensed a profound grief within them.
The paramedics ask for everyone to clear the area as they tend to Damian.
As he starts to come to, he mumbles something to Carrie, who is bending over beside him, crying. I had loved Carrie deeply. Damian will be okay.
Jennifer whispers to me, “Come on, let’s go home.”
I hesitate. I don’t want to leave Carrie. I won’t see her again. Jennifer takes my numb hand and starts to lead me away. I stumble, almost falling to the floor as I experience initial coordination problems. Jennifer tries to grab me as my hand slips from hers. She calls out my name with a gasp. I regain my balance and reach for her hand.
“What’s the matter?” she asks.
“I’m not sure, I feel a little dizzy.” In actual fact, much of my body has no feeling. As usual, for the first few moments of a transition, the neural messages being exchanged between my body and brain are not fully engaged.
“Do you want to sit down for a bit?”
“No, it’s ok, I don’t think it’s anything, Jen. Maybe that guy falling to the floor got me a little woozy.” Hopefully, she is Jennifer.
“Why are you calling me Jen?” She seems surprised.
I have nothing. I often have nothing at the beginning. I’ve learned that silence gets filled with information. Silence is powerful. Moments pass. Jennifer gives me more information.
“You haven’t called me Jen for years. What’s with you?” It is her.
I remain silent. Jennifer continues. “Are you okay? Do you think another migraine’s coming on?”
The opportunity. “Yes.”
“I better drive home,” she says firmly.
I’m relieved. At this point, I wouldn’t know where to go. She puts her arm
around my waist, trying to give me support as we start to slowly walk out of the store. With each step, the neural pathways are connecting and I’m beginning to feel sensations in my limbs.
I do not know my name; I do not know how old I am. I have memories of thousands of people from countries and cultures around the world, but I can’t remember anything about me. As I often do at the beginning of a transition, I start asking the questions that I can never answer. How did all of this start? Who am I? Where is home? Where is my family? Do I even have a family? It’s all a puzzle and I am no closer to the answer than I ever was.
The one thing I do know is that today, and for some time to come, I am Jeremy Roberts. This morning, the tingling in my hands was the sign that the process was beginning. As always, I was not sure when or where it would occur, but I knew I had to act quickly. I needed to get to a busy place with many people. I asked Carrie if she wanted to go with me to the market.
For some reason, this time I felt that I wouldn’t have much control over timing. As soon as we arrived, it began. Carrie wanted to go to the shoe store. I followed her in. As she was paying for her sandals, the tingling—which feels like a very mild electrical shock that starts in my hands—encompassed my entire body. It can happen very quickly.
During a transition, for a brief period of time, I feel compassion for everyone physically near me. The feeling takes over my mind and body as if I’m in a thousand places at the same time. This morning I could clearly hear all the noise, conversations, and even whispers around me. I could see everything in my surroundings and smell the scents of Quincy Market: the food, perfume, body odor, garbage, Boston harbor, and even the rotting spills on the sidewalk. I took it all in.