The echo of each step I take resounds loudly in the dark, damp hall. I’m frantically looking around, ignoring the pain in my sides while my lungs burn with each exhausting breath I take. I don’t see anyone behind me but I know that they’re close.
I continue to run down the long passageway, ignoring all the doors that come into view as none of them seem right. Ahead, a staircase becomes visible in the darkness and relief washes through me. I rush up the zig-zag pattern that just goes up and up knowing that what I’m looking for is at the end of those stairs. When I reach the top level, all that stands, a plane stone wall with a single knob on it. I desperately grab and turn it only to find that it doesn’t move and I’m stuck at a dead end!
There are others coming up the stairs and I quickly look around for another escape, anything that will be me out of here before I’m found. I try the knob again, feeling around to see if there is a secret button or a certain way to turn it but it’s immovable. My pursuers are behind me and-
A sudden whooshing sound startles me awake! Even with my eyes close, the harsh light coming through the window diminishes my ability to fall back asleep. I make a grab for the covers blindly, feeling for the soft duvet since I stubbornly keep my eyes shut. Once my hand finds what searching for, I quickly pull it over my head.
“Get up, sleepyhead, it’s 11:30.” The familiar voice of my aunt is a little too cheerful for me at this ungodly time in the morning. I grumble my response but that doesn’t deter her from trying to be the ray of sunshine she loves to be, 24/7.
Honestly, how anyone be this happy in the morning is beyond me!
A bit of light leaks into my blanket shield where my aunt lifts it a smidgen and peers at me. “Come one, dear. I know it’s been tough since you came back home but I think if we get you to keep simple a routine, you’ll be back to your old self again.”
I purse my lips at her comment because even in my sleepy stupor, I can tell she worries about my well being. I groggily sit up and glare at my aunt for her overly sunny demeanor. She offers me a bright smile despite my dour mood but I just sigh and make my way to the shower to prepare for my day.
All a part of the ‘routine’.
I wonder if she’s always this happy and cheerful person: From time I’ve met her or if she created that persona for my benefit because she thinks it’s what I need to see because of my situation.
‘Your old self,’ she says. I don’t even remember my old self and every time I try and think about the person I used to be before...this, I only find a huge blank void with random bits of social and cultural references.
I turn on the hot water, strip, and make my way to the basin but I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. As I look at my reflection, I question who is it I see staring straight back at me. I recognize my face. Even when you forget yourself, I guess you remember a face that you’ve seen for twenty-seven years of your life.
“I am Amber Atoa. 27 years old and I live with Cissy and George Benson.” I usually state what I know about myself first thing in the morning as a reminder of how little I know about me and how much more I need to learn.
When I look closer, I see scars and pockmarks on my back, legs and arms that I know I wasn’t born with or even acquired as a child. I step into the shower and try to relax under the tepid water yet for some reason, as I think about those marks, I’m sure most of these are pretty recent. Moments when I try and reflect upon my life before, I imagine what I may have done or thought about in similar mundane routines. I wonder if my old self would also look at her reflections and what she thought about herself. Did my disfigurements bother me? Maybe I didn’t think about my life like I do now because life was normal.
It’s mid-October and the air is brisk. The cold weather is shifting and winter is just around the corner. I dress warmly for the occasion in jeans, three-quarter sleeve shirt, woolly socks, and shove my gloves into my pocket as head down stairs. Donning a cardigan I left on the coat rack by the door, I greet my uncle George as reads his newspaper at the kitchen table and next to him is my aunt Cissy, fully engrossed in her trashy tabloids. She reminds me that there is breakfast but I tell her I’ll eat it when I return. She proceeds to finish her celebrity gossip as I wave to them goodbye and walk away from the warm house.
Three months ago, I was released from the hospital and diagnosed with retrograde amnesia, hence the lack of memory and a past. I don’t recall how long I was there but they tell me I was in a coma for almost two months and my injures 'necessitated that I stay there yet another month for recovery and some physical therapy.' Uncle George's words, not mine. Since my return, I’ve taken to walking around the neighborhood that I apparently grew up in when my parents were alive.
It’s sad that I don’t recall them and my only reference to who they were as people is through my aunt and uncle’s recollection and photo albums. My father died in a work related accident as a mechanic and some malfunction on a project he was contracted on cost him his life when I was only three. My mother had a weak constitution health wise and after I was born, she never recovered from the physical and emotional trauma and became susceptible to common illnesses. She died a year after my father had passed.
I came to live with my aunt Cissy and uncle George when I was four, grew up in this house and attended a nearby school until I was admitted into a private school through my teenage years and left for college. Apparently, I didn’t visit often when I went off to college and even less when I got a job as a consultant abroad. Consulting what? I haven't the foggiest and neither did they.
There isn’t much detail out there about the event that got me hospitalized, other than I was visiting a third-world country advising a Non-Profit Organization (NGO) on local affairs when a series of explosions collapsed the building I was in. I was fortunate to be alive but now I have amnesia as a result and I’ve slowly been working on my motor skills to get it back to the way it was before the incident. Maybe it was for the best that I don’t remember my past as it seems to be filled with so much loss.
My daily routine at my aunt and uncle’s house is humdrum. I try and walk about to rebuild my muscles from atrophy while laying in a hospital bed but also to see if there is any spark of recognition; nothing comes to me. There is no nostalgia or feeling of wonder as I rediscover my old stomping grounds. All I feel is empty. For all I know, aunt Cissy and uncle George are only my aunt and uncle because that’s what they told me when I woke up. I can’t say if I truly love them or enjoy their company before the accident other than what I’ve experienced for the past three months. Without who I was, why does this place or anyone matter to me.
I do love them, by the way: Aunt Cissy's motherly attention and Uncle George's quirky sense of humor have definitely endeared me to them since I woke up.
I innately know I should feel bad about my current train of thought but at this point, I don’t really care about anything because caring means I have attachments and...how can you have attachments without memories.
My outlook is bleak. I don’t think I’ll ever get my memories back and what else am I supposed to do. I feel as though the world has defeated me as I’m in a constant state of being lost and confused. Heck, my routine did not help one bit over the last three months, so I did the only thing I could do and I started the long trek back home.
Forever and ever, stuck in purgatory, in a loop that never ends.
Granted, I must have some recollection of this neighborhood because I don’t get lost heading back. I keep my field of vision down looking at the pavement leading me back to my comfort zone. My feet know where to go.
Something, white and furry comes in at the top of my field of vision and I stop now because it completely blocks the walkway. I actually do a double take as I look down at the fuzzy creature before me. A very sleek, flaxen blonde, Weimaraner lays in my path and looks right at me. Its eyes, wide open, as though it isn't expecting to see me as I didn't expect to see it.
"Oh," Now, that I’m in front of the dog, I try and tiptoe around it, not sure what to make of its sudden appearance. I start walking away when I hear the dog get up and think its follow me from the sound of its claws scraping on the pavement. I turn back to confirm that it is definitely trailing behind me.
"I can't take care of you, buddy. I can barely take care of myself." I simply say to the dog and continue onward.
Auntie Cissy is probably waiting for me to return because she opens the door just as I was reaching for the doorknob. "You seemed to have made a friend." she comments on the dog that is now sitting at the base of my porch steps.
"It just followed me home. The dog will probably get bored and wander off somewhere." I say offhand as I close the door behind me and start to take off my cardigan and gloves.
It's funny, I have never seen this dog on my walks before and I’ve been doing this everyday for a few months now. I would have seen it or so I so I thought but I do live in a rather large area. Its sudden appearance is strange and oddly familiar.
I was told I had a cat named Isis when I was really young. Isis was a very clean and pampered Siamese, but I loved her all the same. Losing her was very hard for me and so I don’t know if owning another pet seems too much for me to handle at this point in time. I do feel that familiar tug at my heartstrings as I look at the poor canine, slightly skinnier than would normally be considered to be healthy and fur that is dirty if not matted.
I don't want to think about such things so I do what I'm told is my normal hobby; pick up the book. It isn’t long before I fall asleep and my dreams bring images similar to a familiar movie to me. Like a spectator to my own dream watching, someone I know is standing by a stranger that is badly injured. I watch as the uninjured one - possibly me - helps by bringing supplies and works on a fellow comrade. Yet, as I look around, I see there are many others, in the same, if not worse, condition all strewn on the floor around us. It’s overwhelming to feel like you know these people and there is nothing I can do to help their situation. Innately, I know a few will die from their injuries but I scramble from person to person, trying to ease their pains and comfort them in whatever way I can. After a loud boom in my dream detonates once again and startles me, I wake up groggy me with my book on my face.
I have no idea what time it is at the moment so I look outside my window to confirm that it is indeed dark. It seems I was sleep for a few hours. There are times when I sleep and my mind conjures up a scene - such as the I just saw - one I’m actively a part of or that I’m watching from an outsider’s perspective but each one seems vivid, almost like memories. Disturbing memories. I don't know what to make of it right now. I will probably never know but I can't shake the images of all those bodies from my mind.
I walk downstairs and realize it is a lot later in the evening than I thought. Both auntie Cissy and uncle George are nowhere to be found: no television and very few lights on on the first floor. I walk into the kitchen and see what must be the night's dinner in a tupperware on the table waiting for me. I don't feel the least bit hungry at the moment and a bit restless after sleeping that long.
God, there must be something wrong with me. I'm complaining about too much sleep.
I grab a thicker coat for the night, put on my gloves and beanie to take a walk outside. I know it's late but something about those dreams are very unsettling to me.
I swing open the door and close my eyes as the cool air hits my face. Taking a nice deep breath inhaling the brisk Autumn air, as I exhale and look down at the base of the porch steps, I see the same white Weimaraner laying there from this evening. It must have heard me exhale because it startles awake and looks straight at me. The dog’s eyes seem to pierce right into my soul and I am a bit unnerved by its very perceptive gaze. The scrutiny from the large white beast is as though it knows how upset I am from the dream this evening. I can’t help but feel like the dog puts on a show to throw others off its scent from knowing how perceptive it really is.
That's crazy! Having quite the dialogue with myself about the dog. This must be part of my late night delirium. I shake off my former thoughts about the canine because a dog can't know what you're dreaming and what you're thinking about!
I huff the cold air deep into my chest to clear my head and march down the stoop, still tip-toeing around the sleepy canine to start walking again. Behind me, I hear the dog get up to trail behind me as I shove my hands in my jacket pockets and walk on. I look up at the nightscape and see the crescent moon hanging with bright stars speckling the skyline. Those stars have witnessed all of earth's history including my own. They must have seen as civilizations come and go just as their people do.
Just like those of my dream.
Just like those I left behind and wherever my memories are.
A single tears slip from my eyes and an overwhelming sadness grips me. I can't remember anything from before the incident but I do know that I have suffered a great loss from a time not so long ago. Sometimes, my emotions are so strong, it can cross barriers such as time, and its force, so prominent that it breaches my amnesia and bleeds onto my very soul.
I hear a low pitch whine from the dog behind me, whose presence I forgot all about, breaks me away from the sudden tidal wave of emotions that overtook me. I look at that dog as it tilts its head at me almost as though asking me, "what is the matter?"
I wish I knew.