The first thing they said when I opened my eyes was that I’d been in a coma for thirty years, and a lot has changed since the late twenty-tens. I had closed my eyes as a 23-year-old and reopened them on my fifty-third birthday, but for me, it was day-one.
Today Rocko, my twenty-something-year-old social caretaker is taking me for a stroll outside the hospital and my first glimpse at the new world. Long hair, scraggly stubble on his face, Rocko is a jazz musician by choice and a social-worker specializing in cultural reentry by necessity. He’s been assigned to my “case” and is getting ready to tell me the story of where I am and how I got here.
After months of physical and occupational therapy, Rocko’s arm in mine, I take my first shaky steps into the sunlight. “Welcome to Freeland 40N 95W” announces Rocko.
Adjusting to the light, focusing on what lays beyond the hospital grounds, I see a tree-lined street with a diversity of small houses in varying states of disrepair, a few micro cars with solar-paneled spoilers buzzing around in a way that suggests they may be electric, and an armed man patrolling the sidewalk in a red-white-and-blue military uniform giving the uncanny impression of an old-school cop walking his beat.
“Rocko, where am I?”
“I told you; Freeland 40N 95W” he answers politely.
“No, I mean where in the United States am I?” I persisted. “What state is this?”
Calmly, Rocko replies, “There is no United States man. No Canada or Mexico either. Those countries all fell in the early twenty-twenties.
“What???” My eyes fix on his with a look that must have conveyed “OK. Joke’s over. Now tell me where I really am.”
“You’re in a country called Freeland 40N 95W”, Rocko begins. “The forty-north and ninety-five-west are the approximate latitude and longitude of the geographical center of the country’s land mass. Countries are no longer delimited by borderlines drawn on maps; in fact, most of the symbolism and labels of your generation are no longer used. While in some areas technology has advanced in ways that will astound you, we as a society have stepped back to a more physical reality. More hands-on you might say. Less complicated, less imaginary grids, and more of a see-it-believe-it way of life.”
Rocko continues, “Freeland is bordered by an 18-foot-high guarded double-wall. No one gets in or out without due process. It’s kinda like a gigantic gated community. Oh… and before you ask…. No, it wasn’t zombies.”
End of chapter one