The Happiness Hospital
A Short Story by Jonathan Chew
Shelley opened her eyes. The haze of laughter, warmness, fond memories, and happiness drifted slowly away as the world came into focus.
At first she saw some bright fluorescent lights straight above her. But they were mixed with a blue tinge from a nearby open window that had a nice afternoon breeze wafting in. What she thought were white delicate curtains came further into focus as she noticed they were very much like hospital curtains. Wait… they WERE hospital curtains…
She opened her eyes fully and looked at the far wall. There was a big yellow happy face staring back at her with a slogan beneath it that read, “Happiness is a present when the past is forgotten.” And noticed that “present” was italicized like it had a double entendre.
A person who looked like a nurse walked in.
“OH! Your’e awake! That was quick!” said the nurse. “Usually it takes a few days for patients to…”
Shelley cut her off… “What am I in a hospital for Miss? I’ve never been sick in my life. In fact, the last thing I remember was having a fantastic Thanksgiving turkey dinner with my mom and my family. I really haven’t a clue how I got here!”
The nurses face went white and suddenly had a horrified look upon it.
“Uh, stay right there, ummm…” she looked at her nameplate, “Shelley… I have to page the doctor.”
She quickly disappeared out the door but Shelley could hear her faintly in the distance as she walked away…
“We have a code 204 doctor, you need to come right away, the procedure seems to have erased not only her childhood memories, but also her recent memories as well…”
Memories… wait… what was she talking about? Childhood memories?
Everything she could remember seemed in order. She had had a beautiful wonderful childhood. Her mom had raised her and also been her teacher. Her dad was an engineer, a strong faithful reliable man filled with good values and treated women with the utmost respect. They had built a beautiful home filled with beautiful memories and she was so proud to have been raised by such loving parents.
But then again, it almost seemed a little too perfect… but she felt like she wouldn’t trade in for anything in the world. The students in her middle school and high schools were always jealous at how picture perfect their family was, and how she was always top of her class to boot! Those were good days…
The doctor came rushing in.
“Shelley, I’m Dr. Stanton, tell me what year you think it is.”
“Hmmm, I see.” He looked down at his notepad….
“So, this happens in less than 1% of patients, but somehow the brain intakes the new data incorrectly and readjusts the date by fudging one of the numbers… see… it’s actually 2083, and you’re inside a Happiness Hospital where we replace your traumatic childhood experiences with more desirable ones…”
“Unfortunately the only way to reverse this, is to basically wipe the mind and start all over again… which, uhhhh, could have a nasty side effect of, ummmm, changing your entire personality a little bit. But… the risk is less than 5% of that happening. Would you be okay with that?”
Shelley paused… wait… was he implying that the wonderful childhood memories she remembered weren’t real?!… and from what she did remember… they were over a century old?
But who was she? She was finding all of this really hard to swallow, but if she accepted what he said as true, …and if they did reboot and wipe and retry the procedure, would she even know who she was anymore?
And actually, was she the same person now as she was before she entered the hospital and chose this procedure? She couldn’t remember. Was who she was based on past memories of who she defined herself to be? Or how she felt in the moment? Or based on a fabricated backstory?
Would she be okay with that? Was she just a product of her society? A culmination of memories that amounted to nothing? An empty shell that could be so easily reprogrammed?
An internal scream came up to her mind and in her ears and shouted, “WHO AM I?!?!?!”
She pictured herself going home staying exactly as she was. But wait, if her memories were from a 100 years ago, would there even be a home to go back to? And what about her family? Her two kids and her wonderful husband.
A burning feeling suddenly welled up inside her, her face got hot, her palms sweaty, and a drop in her stomach.
A quick twitch in her neck, and suddenly, memories started shifting in her head. Out of the two children, she was one of the two kids… and her “husband” became her dad… who flashed in her mind from being a loving father to suddenly a drunk haggard one with bags under his eyes and zombie like haziness in his gaze. Then she remembered the other of the 2 kids was her brother, dead, after being thrown against the wall by her dad in a rage, his lifeless body crumpled on the floor and her mom running down the stairs… and then another quick twitch, and suddenly her mom changed from tattered clothes to a perfect prim housewife dress and was serving her a delicious warm baked pot pie and they were all laughing around a beautiful family dinner table.
She looked at the doctor, put on a sweet smile and coming back to his initial question said, “Yes, please proceed with the operation.”