SEATTLE — Snippets of memories have been coming back to the man who now calls himself Jon Doe: being treated in Shanghai for a kidney stone, a high school girlfriend, a wife who died while pregnant.
But he doesn’t remember much else and still hasn’t embraced the identity he was given after readers saw his story in the Seattle Times about a man who emerged from a city park with $600 stuffed in his sock but no clue as to who he was. For now, he’ll stick with Jon Doe and not Edward Lighthart.
He spends his days mostly inside the hospital keeping a notebook to jot down the fleeting names and places, passing along the information to police who are trying to help him track down his past.
“It’s like a jigsaw puzzle, with pieces all over the place that don’t have any interlocking joints,” he said at a news conference at Seattle’s Swedish Medical Center, where he was been since July 30 after walking out of Seattle’s Discovery Park and flagging down a bus driver for help.
Some of the memories have been upsetting, including learning that he had an estranged sister in Las Vegas or being told by police that he may have been assaulted while in New York, he said.
His sister in Las Vegas told the Seattle Times he had been staying with her for the past year and half before she asked him to leave in May because he wasn’t working or paying rent.
“There are still things I have to get through, and I’m not sure how I’m going to do it,” he said.
Wearing a navy blazer, blue dress shirt and khakis, the man spoke articulately, his language revealing a highly educated background and a flair for foreign languages. He speaks French, German and understands Spanish, and has traveled extensively to cities like Bratislava and Vienna. He discovered he was fluent in French when he tried to explain something to a French-speaking social worker and found it easier to speak to her in French than English.
He recalls addresses in Sydney, Australia, streets in Paris, that he was married November 1984 and his wife died while pregnant. He still wears his wife’s wedding ring on his pinky finger.
But he doesn’t remember Tucson, where police believe Edward Lighthart’s family lives, or childhood memories. American TV shows are alien to him and he doesn’t understand cultural references in crossword puzzles.
“The curious thing about this is I’m able to see it from a subjective and objective standpoint,” the man said. “From an objective standpoint, it’s absolutely fascinating. From a subjective standpoint, it’s absolutely terrifying.”
He accepts that he could be Edward Lighthart, the man identified by readers after the Seattle Times published a story Thursday. But he still prefers to be called Jon. The Times said that based on public records, he’s 53. Police report he’s in his 50s.
Doctors have told him he has a rare form of dissociative amnesia, and he fears that he may not be able to regain all of his memory.
He said the past few weeks have been lonely, frightening and overwhelming.
“This is definitely not a hoax,” said the man. “This is one of the most hellish experiences that anybody can go through.”
Dr. William Likosky, a neurologist with Swedish’s Neuroscience Institute who has not treated him, said his experience seems genuine.
“I don’t think he’s making it up at all,” the doctor said at Friday’s news conference.
The doctor said it could be either a physical or emotional trauma that causes a level of anxiety that’s difficult to deal with.
“One does this kind of thing to protect oneself,” he said. “There may be along the way some novelty to it. … But I think underneath this is a very frightening experience.”
Likosky said dissociative reactions are person’s way of dealing with stress or a disturbing event. He could be in a very fragile state, particularly as he has been bombarded with information about himself through the newspapers and Internet.
Doctors at Swedish have examined him for head injuries and conducted a battery of tests, including brain scans, and have ruled out a stroke or other “organic problem,” the Likosky said.