He emerged from the Las Vegas, Nevada desert in 1991, parched and confused, nameless and lost. He’d never be who he was again. Born again at 23, two decades of the drama of living was now erased from his mind.
Of course some think he was faking, including his own father. If he was, he’d still gone into the desert for three days to lose his mind in the punishing sand reflected sun. It was a rebirth no matter how you look at it.
The nurses at the hospital where he was treated for severe dehydration and exposure renamed him Tyler Doe. The diagnosis was psychogenic amnesia, perhaps caused by a traumatic experience. He remembered how to fly a plane, but said he’d lost his childhood and every shred of information that tethered him to a past, to anyone else in this world.
After nine months of floundering in a numberless existence as an alien in his own homeland, Tyler Doe sought help from the television show Unsolved Mysteries. Before his episode even aired information about the impending amnesia mystery spread, in those pre-Internet days, to Boise, Idaho, where Tyler’s father lived. A camera crew followed Tyler Doe as he confronted his past. He once was a man named Paul Arthur Beal, a Navy vet who had two children with an estranged wife.
Paul Arthur Beal was also a wanted man. Not long after the truth of Tyler’s past emerged, after he told his crying mother over the phone “I’m scared. I don’t remember you,” he was placed in handcuffs on camera. When he was still Paul Arthur Beal, Tyler had made the trip from Idaho to Nevada because he was hired to drive a truck full of frozen food. Once he got to Las Vegas, however, he disappeared.
A few days after a missing person’s report was filed, he turned up with the truck, but without the merchandise he was hired to deliver. He was arrested, and released on the agreement that he would face charges in Idaho. When he disappeared a second time no one bothered to issue a missing person’s report because it was assumed he was trying to dodge his rap.
He served 90 days in jail and had his charges erased because his father, the same father who didn’t believe he really suffered from amnesia, paid the company restitution. The years ticked on, but he never regained his memory. He had no stories to offer during nostalgic childhood reminisces. He said there was a blank screen for him where the rest of us play out those little precious and terrifying vignettes of time.
“This is the most horrifying nightmare anyone could go through, losing an identity,” he said at the time. “Losing every ounce and fiber of a person’s life and then, nine months later having it given back to you or have it presented to you, but you still don’t have it. I’d give anything in the world to remember right now.”
He kept the name Beal, but also the name Tyler, marrying his past and present identities together. He eventually settled in Danville, California, rebuilding a new life from the scraps of the old. Beal worked as a bartender and started a new family, and then lost himself once again.
In 2007, Tyler Beal suffered a heart attack that deprived oxygen to his brain for long enough to cause significant damage. He’s now living in an assisted care facility, unable to care for himself, or remember much of everything he reclaimed in the years since he came out of the desert.
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