Trigger Warning: This article contains instances of depression, suicide and loneliness.
Spoiler Warning: This article may contain spoilers for the book ‘Recursion’ written by Blake Crouch.
Recursion brings up a condition called ‘False Memory Syndrome’ or FMS. The plot of the book revolves around how a person’s memories can be used to map the situations they’ve been in. These mapped memories can be accessed through a device known as the Chair. With this invention, a person can relive any memory that holds value to them. This can be thought of as being given a second chance to right a wrong. As humans, we tend to focus on the situations in our lives that give rise to the questions that begin with ‘what if’. What if I had taken that job? What if I had reacted differently to that situation? What if I hadn’t messed up when it came to something I loved that much? With this device, there is no need to wonder. You could go back to an old memory and change the choice you had made then, with the knowledge that you have now. When a person does this, they create another timeline. The previous timeline disappears, but the memories of it remain. These dead memories come back at the point where the two timelines diverge. The only catch is that when we make a choice, its effect isn’t always limited to us. The book emphasises that our lives are intertwined; the choices we make may have unforeseeable consequences for the people in our lives.
This is one such example of how a person’s actions have a devastating effect on another person’s life.
Ann Voss Peters was a breathtaking vision of happiness. Her boyfriend of the last five years, Joe Behrman, had just asked her to marry him. Her eyes glistened with unshed tears and her throat was so clogged up with emotion, she could barely reply to him in words. They had met right after the death of his first wife. He had been unable to save his wife as she had jumped off of the roof of a building. Ann had comforted Joe at his worst, become his safe haven. Somewhere down the line, they had fallen in love with each other. As they held each other now, all she could think about was how incredibly lucky she was to have known him. His cologne smelled like home; a scent she had gotten used to since the time she had first become friends with him. Her racing heart calmed down as she concentrated on the steady beating of his heart. She pulled away to look into his eyes and she knew that this was the man she truly wanted to be with. She had everything she’d ever wanted.
The next few years passed by in a flurry. Ann and Joe had gotten married on a pleasant morning in late Spring and vacationed in Europe right after. They settled down in Vermont and started a landscaping business together. They lived in a beautiful Victorian suburban home. Work was good and so was their family life. They had a baby boy; a little angel they had created by themselves. Ann’s life was wonderful. When she wasn’t at work, she would spend most of her time with her husband and her son. They would often drive out to the countryside for their lovely family picnics. Ann woke up on most mornings with a smile on her face. Some days, she would turn around in bed and stare at her sleeping husband, still unable to believe that she had met someone as amazing as him.
Ann Voss Peters lived alone in a run-down loft in Brooklyn. She had been working as an investment banker for the last few years. Her days were more or less the same. Ann’s life revolved around waking up in the morning, getting dressed, and going to work. She stayed late in her office most days because she hated coming home to an empty apartment. She had friends, but lately, she had been feeling disconnected from everyone in her life. Waking up was a struggle. Ann had never imagined her life would turn out this way and she didn’t want to keep living like this. It felt like she had run out of options and had nowhere else to turn to for comfort. She was tired of her dreary existence and wanted a change in her life. That’s when her memories started coming back to her.
She woke up with a splitting headache one day. It felt almost as if she had been hit in the head with a sledgehammer. As she was hit with a barrage of memories, her heart shattered. She had a son. Ann remembered the day he was conceived and the day he was born. She could hear the pitter-patter his tiny feet had made on the wooden flooring of their home in Vermont. She remembered when she and her husband, Joe, had driven to a small cabin in the woods where they’d cuddled by the fireplace. She knew the sound of his voice, the way his eyes crinkled at the corners when he laughed. She could still feel his arms wrapped around her as he hugged her from behind.
Ann missed someone she never even knew. He was never real. Her son was never born.
She tried to go back to her daily routine while her memories were slowly morphing into one another. Some days, she came home early from work to spend time with her family only to realise they didn’t exist. Seeing the empty loft was a stab in her heart each time. One day, she drove all the way to Vermont, to see if he still lived in their old home. She was greeted at the door by Joe who pretended not to know her. This was a man she had known for more than ten years. She could see he recognised her. She couldn’t understand why he was pulling away from her. As a last-ditch effort, she told him she was going to the same building where his first wife had jumped from. She hoped he would save her the way he had not been able to save his deceased wife in her memories. Just before she left, she caught him looking at her with guilt and regret in his eyes. If she had stayed for a little while longer, she would’ve seen Joe’s first wife, Franny, come out the door. Franny, who was supposed to be dead, was as happy and healthy as Ann used to be.
Ann went to the roof of the building the way she had told Joe she would. She waited for him to turn up, but he never did. She gave up her life for a man who had never been there for her. A man who had chosen someone else over her.
The drastic change in these two timelines arose because of a choice that Joe made. After he’d been married to Ann for more than a decade, he chose to go back to the moment when his first wife had jumped. He had convinced Franny to live and they spent the rest of their lives together. This, in turn, meant that he had never met and fallen in love with Ann. After Ann’s old memories came back and she remembered what her life could have been like, it broke her mind. But Joe had no way of knowing the effect that his decision would have on Ann’s life. He wasn’t completely to blame for her death, but neither was she.
Very often, we choose what we want to do. At any given moment, there are at least two choices that we can make. And most of the time, the consequences of our choices are limited to us. I can either eat ice cream or I can choose not to. This doesn’t have a long-term effect and it doesn’t affect anyone but me. Most of our choices tend to be like this. But there are some which have far-reaching consequences in the lives of the people around us. We make decisions that we think are right for us without considering the extent of the repercussions. A general law of psychology states that a decision that seems right to us at a given moment won’t necessarily be the right action to take at another point in time. If this is the case, shouldn’t we be more careful, especially when the outcome can affect the people that we love? How do we continue to make decisions knowing that we might regret them at a future date? How can we know what the right choice is when we keep second-guessing ourselves?
“The choices that we make every minute of every day can contribute to making someone’s life a little better or worse without even intending it.”
(This article has been inspired by the book ‘Recursion’ written by Blake Crouch)