It's a side-quest back in Detroit that leads you to Ms. Walthers. Alone in her well-furnished, but surprisingly bare apartment she waits, sitting on her couch, for the delivery of her dinner. The kitchen shows no signs of use, the trash no wrappers or other signs of habitation. You wonder how long it's been since she last ate, when she confuses a six-foot cyborg with her local friendly 'Rolling Meals' representative.
She speaks slowly, but gently, full of fondness for a child she once knew and the memories of him that must seem closer now she's in the ever-deepening mists of dementia. Photos spark more memories, of a child so beloved that, instead of killing him to stop his DNA from being used to inoculate another generation of children into super-soldiers-to-be, his parents set their own research, and all records of him, on fire. Ultimately, they died there, leaving their child in the arms of his nurse.
Here she pauses - there were other children, other infants who didn't survive. Other cribs that were already empty. Only Adam remained. Only Adam was able to be saved, in turn saving further rows of cribs from becoming empty. He was adopted, by a lovely couple who raised him as their own. Ms. Walthers has been saving money for him, for all the birthdays and Christmases she missed. He must be 12 or 13 by now. Buy him something nice, won't you?
Her story reminds me of another old woman I visited, in my guise as an investigative journalist. She couldn't remember what happened to her children, but she was worried they thought she had abandoned them. She would have liked a television in her room, but they told her she didn't have enough money. It's a shame. She likes television. She used to make origami dogs for her sons, and they would always be called Max. She loves orchids. Her sons used to bring them to her from the garden.
Why is it that these figures are so tragic? Surely they're happier in the worlds where their sons are alive and the boy they rescued is still whole. How can it be that we mourn them while they live, alone and alive in the memories that sustain them? Perhaps it's because they're not present, because they don't know what has happened, but I think, as is always the case, we mourn them for ourselves. These people loved us once, but they can't love us now. They don't know who we are. There's a power in that, in the duality of being remembered and being forgotten, all at once. It's a gap we can never cross, of time and neuroscience and an infinite field of yesterdays.
They're stuck in the past, and with every day we're leaving them further behind. We can't bring them with us. And always, as parallels real life, there comes a moment when you have to admit that sometimes there are people you just can't save.