You are my quantum leap, my mother said when I was born. In a jiffy, I was slapped, burped, swaddled and chipped. It was still a novelty back then although by now it’s standard practice. That way none of us would get lost—no more toddlers wandering off in malls or running amok in crowded places the way my mother had, vanishing in a Mexican market when she was two and nearly giving my grandmother a heart attack. It was a Sunday afternoon, when the market was thronged with buyers and sellers, and people said my mother was probably already in the arms of a bandit on horseback galloping to a distant village. My grandmother, guileless as a tourist by my mother’s account and naïve like all anthropologists, had left the child for a moment with a neighbor who ran one of the food stalls, but when the neighbor turned away to serve a customer, the little girl—my mother—was gone. Of course she turned up, or I wouldn’t be writing this. She was hiding in the embroidered skirts of a woman who sold earrings on the square.
Now, thanks to technology, no one can get lost. Tethered by invisible threads, we can be tracked no matter where we are. It’s completely natural for us, but in the old days people followed their whims or took wrong turns or simply dropped out of sight, like my friend Cinzia’s great-grandfather, who jumped on his bicycle one morning in Naples and instead of reporting to work apparently made his way by ship to Argentina. He returned thirty years later and was welcomed home as an old man, no questions asked, no answers provided. That’s what it was like then. Little children strayed without warning and people with dementia frequently went missing for days or weeks on end. Families posted pictures of their loved ones on trees or telephone poles, offering a reward if they were found. I even remember hearing about people who were dragged from their homes in certain countries and never seen again. Desaparecidos, they were called, but those days are long gone. Nowadays those who disappear live on in virtual form. No matter what, everyone remains what they call “discoverable,” although not everyone has equal access to the files or knows how to read them.
My mother must have had a premonition. Our years together were few, but I remember her hands, her face—especially her mouth, which overflowed with kisses—and much of what she said.
You will speak for us, she said. You will catapult us into the future. So she named me Quantum and prepared me.