By: Ginger Simons
I knew that the wind was shaking the windows. From the low light seeping in from behind the curtains, I knew that it was either early morning, or dusk. I knew that I was lying in a bed, not necessarily mine.
This was all that I knew.
To my senses, I was called into existence at this very moment, a doll, fresh of fingerprints. Unmarked, at least in the mind. I tried to remember where I was, who I was, how I got to be where I was. In the dimness of the bedroom, everything beyond the sheets at my fingertips was empty. The bed beneath me, and the sunlight cascading upon it, was the only thing in my life that existed, for it was the only thing I had ever known.
I stood up and felt my way around the room. Locating a switch on the far wall, I called the rest of the bedroom into being, flooding it with buzzing light. Magazines lay strewn about the floor, piles of clothes forming heaps that lined the walls. Besides chaos, the room was largely empty. The walls were a blank slate, and the bed was the only piece of furniture. Perhaps this was my room. Perhaps that is why I am here. Who I am, of course, was still a matter under questioning.
The thought of leaving the room frightened me. I did not know what sat outside of the door. However, in life, I had always been one to strive to broaden my horizons, and I knew that I could not stay inside of this room forever. I was unsure of how long I had even been in this room in the first place. I didn’t think that I was born there. I had little evidence to suggest otherwise, but a lifetime in a single room seemed like a very long time. I could tell by my hands that I was not particularly young. They were not wrinkled, nor aged in any way, but they were adult hands. Somehow I had become an adult without knowing or remembering it.
I opened the door to realize that I was not in a house; I was in an apartment complex. Doors lined hallways, each one identical. I must live here. I went back into the room, searching the floor. I finally found a pen, and with it, I picked a Post-It note off of a nearby stack. I peered my head outside of the door, and found three numbers etched into a gold plate right next to the door frame. I scribbled “562” onto the note, folded it into my pocket, and the door, sealing myself back inside my small pod.
I sat down on the bed. I tried to think. Of what, I was not sure. I tried to remember, but I did not know what I did not remember.
A dizziness overcame me. The world seemed to lilt to one side and the other, like a boat upon a feverish sea. I lay down, and succumbed to a darkness that lay upon my eyes, making my limbs numb, my body still.
I fell into some sea of strange dreams, then. They seemed more like colors than images. Swirling, like clouds of a thousand different shades of purples and greens and pinks and blues, a cauldron being mixed without the colors merging together into a dull brown. In the dream, I tried to reach out my hands into the iridescent fog and scoop up a handful, so that I may bring it to my face and breathe in the colors. But I was unable to bring my hands into view, as if I had none. As if this dream was happening without me, and I was forced to watch it from the outside.
When consciousness reentered me, the sunlight had faded into night. Disoriented, I tried to remember where I was. I was in the room. The room with the magazines on the floor. In the apartment complex. The one that is probably mine.
From the corner of my eye, I saw a flashing red light, dully pulsing upon the walls like a strange heartbeat. Dragging myself from the bed, I realized that it came from a phone that I had not noticed before. Sitting on the floor was a receiver resting on a small grey box with a red light blinking. I pressed the button that said “voicemail,” wondering who on Earth would be calling me, and if they perhaps know more about myself that I did.
Beep. Hello there, Jenna. This is Dr. Cameron’s office. It’s currently Wednesday, at 5:46 p.m. We’re calling to check in on you and see how you’re adjusting following your treatment. If at any time, you would like to make a follow-up appointment with Dr. Cameron, you may call (555) 456 – 3459, extension 3028. For any general questions, you may call our main line. Our offices are open weekdays from 8:00am until 8:00pm. Please schedule an appointment if you would like to come in to one of our offices, as we do not accept walk-ins. Thank you. Beep.
My name is Jenna. My name is Jenna. My name is Jenna. This did not ring any bells. However, it seemed fitting. I repeated it to myself, hoping to recall some memory of an introduction from long ago. Hello, my name is Jenna. Nice to meet you, my name is Jenna. I’m Jenna. What’s your name?
A surge of adrenaline shot through me. I needed to know what time it was. Perhaps I could call the office. Perhaps I could figure out what was going on. I needed answers. I needed them immediately.
I replayed the voicemail, and dialed the number, my heart racing. It rang four times, and the same voice I had just heard seeped through the receiver.
Hello, this is Dr. Cameron’s office. Our line is currently busy. You may remain on hold until a representative is available to speak with you, or you may hang up and try again later. Thank you.
I stayed on the line for two rotations of indistinct elevator music, and then slammed down the phone. This was a waste of time. I needed to talk to someone. I couldn’t stay in this room for another minute.
I sprang from the floor and charged out of the door, finding myself once again in the hallway, with rows and rows of doors stretching out from me, seemingly endless in either direction. I took a chance, and began running left.
As I made my way down the hallway, a door opened, and a men stepped out, holding a set of keys and a bag. I stopped.
“Hello,” I choked out. He looked at me and jumped.
“Hi there,” he said. “Are you alright?”
“What time is it?”
He looked at his watch. “About ten after seven.”
He stared at me, puzzled. I realized that I did not know what I looked like. I wondered if I looked strange. “How do I get out of here?” I asked, after a pause.
He pointed down the hallway. “Well, the closest exit is the fire escape down at the end of the hall. The main entrance is back the other way, down the stairs. That’ll take you to the lobby.”
I began sprinting towards the fire escape, forgetting to thank him.
The door at the end of the hallway took me down a rickety flight of stairs, and onto the street. I did not know where I was going. I didn’t think ahead this far. Standing near the curb, I hailed a cab, without a moment to take in my surroundings. I jumped in the backseat.
A gruff, disembodied voice came from the darkness of the front seat. “Where to?”
“I… I need to get to… to Dr. Cameron’s office.”
“Dr. Cameron’s office? That’s an awful funny name for a bar.”
“No… no… I need to get to… to a hospital. I need to get to a doctor’s office. Fast.”
“I can get you to a hospital, but I can’t run no red lights or nothin’. Wouldn’t you rather call an ambulance, if you’re in such a hurry?”
“No, no… I need to get to a doctor’s office.”
“Alright, toots. Hang on.”
He stepped on the gas, and we were off. Buildings passed by the window, one after another, all the same, all still. I felt like a traveler in a strange town, barely able to speak the language of the locals. Suddenly, an image popped into my head. I was standing behind two figures, much taller than myself. One of them, a female, took my hand, and led me across a street. We walked into a hotel. The concierge behind the desk uttered something in a language I did not recognize. The man to my left asked him if he spoke English. The concierge nodded, and muttered, “Do you have a room?” The woman let go of my hand, responding that we would like one. He asked for our names. The memory ended there, and I was back in the taxi cab, watching the streets pass by. I felt uneasy. The cab came to a stop.
“Here’s your hospital, miss. That’ll be three bucks.”
I did not have any money. Fumbling through my pockets, I found nothing.
“Oh, good,” the voice in the driver seat mumbled. “I know what this is. ‘Frantic woman doesn’t have any money to pay for a cab, and hopes that her apparent distress will get her a free ride.’ Listen Ma’am, a ride from Meadowview Apartments to Morristown Medical Center is more than a couple bucks, and certainly ain’t free.”
“No… No… I swear… I…” Adrenaline. Hands fumbling for a handle. The noise of the street. The sound of yelling, growing faint, as the sound of running footsteps grew louder.
I pushed open glass doors into a clean lobby, practically heaving. A woman behind the front desk looked at me.
“Ma’am… Are you alright?” She touched a pen to her lips.
“I… I need Doctor Cameron. I… I…”
“There isn’t a Doctor Cameron who works here, Miss.”
My head began swirling. “I… I need help. I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know who I am. I don’t know what’s going on. I need help.”
She stood up at her desk, at a 45 degree angle. The room was moving, circling around me. I fell to the floor, grabbing it with my hands, hanging on for dear life. I was going to fall to the ceiling.
She came out from behind the desk, and grew larger and larger and larger. “Stay calm, Miss. We’re going to get you help.”
I think I began to cry. I couldn’t tell. My entire body felt like it was underwater. Things underwater cannot be wet.
The door burst open behind me, and an army of two sets of footsteps came for me. Hands grabbed me. I tried to shake them off, but I was weak. I let myself become limp as they picked me up from the ground, a string of saliva the only thing connecting me to the ground. The woman behind the desk yelled at the men in a muffled whisper.
“I think she’s hurt. I think there’s something wrong with her.”
“She’s probably a homeless degenerate. Happens all the time on this side of town.”
What town, I thought. What town, what town, what town. These were the last words I remember thinking before the darkness overtook me once again.
I was somewhere else. I could feel fluorescent lights beating at the outside of my eyelids, teasing my headache. I opened my eyes. A white brick ceiling stretched over my vision.
I sat up. I was in a… room? A… a cell? It was a cell. I was in a cell. A holding cell.
“Hello?” I could not tell if a sound came out.
A police officer stepped into the room, right outside of my enclosure.
“How are you feeling, ma’am?”
I felt wretched. “I feel okay.”
“What’s your name?”
“I’m… not sure.”
The police officer sighed. “Typical. Ma’am, I’m going to let you off with a warning, because I couldn’t confirm the presence of any alcohol in your system. If I let you out of here, will you stay out of trouble?”
I was tired. I didn’t want to deal with this. “Yes, sir.”
He opened up the cell, freeing me. “Sir, I don’t have a way to get home.”
“You’re asking me for an escort?”
“I suppose so.”
He rubbed his temples. “Where do you live?”
I searched my mind. I had heard the name of the apartment complex. The cab driver said it. “Uh… Meadowview. Meadowview Apartments.”
“Alright. Come with me.”
I didn’t understand how anyone could find their way around the city. We drove down what had to have been twenty blocks, and though it was daylight now, I couldn’t tell where one began and one ended, every column of buildings looking nearly identical to the last. The thought that I once knew this place churned my stomach. There was so much that I would have to relearn. I didn’t know the full extent of what I had to relearn. I just knew that there was a lifetime of images, memories, information that once so breathlessly swirled around inside of my head, and now had been wiped clean. I wondered if my life would always feel as though it had been cut in half, and if I would always be a partial lifetime behind everyone that I met. I wanted to catch up.
Guided only by a Post-It, I navigated my way through the hallways of the apartment complex, venturing down several hallways before finding room 562. I cracked open the door slowly, realizing that I hadn’t locked it before I left. When the coast was clear and I knew there was nobody in the room, I entered and sat down on the floor. My arms wrapped themselves around my knees, and I buried my head into my body, trying to feel myself. Know myself. I breathed in. The air didn’t feel like it was mine to breathe.
With a new day in my hands, I realized that I could try to call the office again. For all that I knew, it could have been any day of the week, but I had nothing to lose, and far less to do. I dialed the number, and every buzz of the phone felt heavier than the last. After a crackle, and the sound of phlegm being cleared from a dry throat, a woman’s voice filled me.
“This is the Encephalon Institute. How can I help you?”
“Yes,” I choked out. “Yes, hello. My name is Jenna. I’m one of Dr. Cameron’s patients. And I need help.”
“Hello, Jenna. I’m glad you received our call yesterday. What can we do for you?”
“I… I don’t know… I don’t know anything. I… I… I don’t know… I don’t know who I am, or what’s… what’s… going…” I regained my composure. “Essentially, I woke up yesterday, and had no memories, and have no idea of who I am. I only know that my name is Jenna, and that I’m somehow involved with your medical office, from the voicemail. I don’t know anything else.”
Her voice was warm and understanding. “I’m terribly sorry to hear that, Jenna. You’re still in recovery from your treatments. I’m sorry that you’re having trouble adjusting.” I could feel her pursing her lips over the phone. “Why don’t you come into our office today. We’re open until 8:00pm.”
“What time is it now?”
She gave me the address of the building, and very specific instructions on how to get there. She told me to call back if I had any other questions. I thanked her, and hung up the phone.
A small glow of pride ignited within me when I navigated my way out of the building with no difficulty. Emerging onto the street, I decided not to take a cab. I feared I would run into the same cab driver, though the statistical likelihood of that was slim. The directions that I had scrawled onto another Post-It note seemed enough for me to guide myself through the hustle and bustle of the labyrinthian city. Perhaps I could trigger a memory by walking past a familiar convenience store from my past life.
The sidewalks ticked by with the seconds, like clockwork. For such a vibrant, moving organism, everything around me felt unnatural. The stench of gasoline and cigarettes, the cracking bricks, the rusty structures. I felt like an infant taking her first steps outside of her cozy home into the vast infinity of a world that would prove unkind to her, time and time again. After what must have been only twenty minutes or so of walking, a familiar dizziness came over me, and the streetlamps and parked cars and dirty windows began to blur into a hazy tunnel that I fell into, arms outstretched.
I had reached the scribbled address that I was holding in my hand.
Opening the door, a sense of deja vu overcame me. I got the sense that all medical buildings looked exactly alike, all with their clean floors, white walls, and the pervasive smell of chemical cleaner, such a stark contrast to the outside. I approached the front desk.
“Hello, my name is–”
“Jenna! How are you doing?” This was a different woman than I talked to on the phone, She sounded younger. And yet, she knew who I was.
“Hi, there. I’m here, to… um… well, talk about some problems I’ve been having. Uh… post… treatment.”
“Of course. Janine put a note in for you to see your practitioner. You can have a seat. It’ll only be a minute.”
I sat near the window, and waited as minutes ticked by. It occurred to me that I had been in waiting rooms before. I could not remember what they looked like, but I knew that I always had to sit in them for a while before my name was called. A sense of familiarity coated the chairs, and I realized that perhaps I had sat here before. For a few minutes, I once again attempted to recall a memory out of thin air, but this proved to be draining, and instead I daydreamed about colorful clouds. This time, I could reach out my hands.
A man stood in the doorway to my right, tall, lean, nearly gaunt. I followed down a hallway and up a somewhat awkward elevator ride, given that I wasn’t sure if I had ever met him before. He spoke.
“Have you heard many elevator jokes?” he asked. In the few days since my memory began, I had indeed not heard a single elevator joke.
“Here’s a good one. A man exits an elevator, and the old elevator operator says, ‘Have a nice day, son.’ The man doesn’t take too kindly to that, and says ‘Don’t call me that. It’s patronizing. You’re not my dad.’ And so the old man says, ‘Well, I brought you up, didn’t I?’” He chuckled softly to himself. I tried to smile.
We navigated ourselves down a hallway of examination rooms, but to my surprise, we didn’t enter any of them. We walked past the hallway into another hallway, and he gestured me in through one of the doors. We were in a room furnished with a table, and padded chairs on either side. A couch and a fern sat over by a large window, overlooking the city street. We sat down at the table, facing each other.
“I would start by asking you what’s bothering you, but I think I already know the answer. Unless, of course, you need some vitamin supplements. We can help you with that too, of course.” He smiled, baring a set of crooked teeth. I think that was supposed to be a joke. I forced a smile.
“Well… yes, I…. I woke up yesterday, and it seemed as though…”
“As though it was the first time you had woken up in your entire life.”
“…That’s exactly right.”
He leaned back in his chair and smiled. “Hmm. Certainly not the best way to start the day, hmm?”
It was not. I said nothing.
“Well, Jenna, I can assure you that that’s perfectly normal. In fact, it means that everything has gone according to plan.”
“What do you mean?”
“As much as we like to think that our procedures are an exact science, we essentially just do our best with the guesses that we make about the compartments of your mind. Most patients are able to immediately resume living as normal, but sometimes there’s a bit of an adjustment period, depending on the particular case. You were aware of this when you filled out the initial paperwork, though you don’t remember it. You said that whatever it took, you wanted the past to be gone. You wanted to start fresh. That’s exactly what we’ve done for you.”
“I’m under a moral obligation not to reveal what you wanted removed. Wouldn’t want to have to undergo the procedure again, would you? However, I will tell you this: We’ve cleaned a skeleton out of your closet. You won’t ever have to think about it ever again. You can start a new life, without being plagued by the past. Once you get back on your feet, you can find a new job, make new acquaintances. Maybe even travel. You can do whatever it is that you want to do. You will be happy. I promise.”
“Won’t people wonder what’s happened to me?”
“No. You won’t have to worry about that. Leave it to the professionals.”
“What if I run into somebody?”
“You moved here from half-way across the country for treatment. Nobody knows that you’re here.”
“What about… what about my parents? Family?”
A strange shimmer streaked across his eyes. For a brief moment, he looked at me with the pity that one might have for a wayward child. In an instant, it was gone.
“You have nothing to worry about, dear. You have only the present and the future. Only a fresh new life stretching out ahead of you.”
From there, I had little else to say. I supposed that this was it. I hoped only that my previous self knew what she was doing, and that she was sure that this was fully necessary. For her, I decided, I would endure it. I would endure the emptiness and start anew, just as she had wanted.
Months passed. Rebuilding was not so difficult. I was able to find a job before my next month’s rent was due, answering phones for a local health clinic. After a few weeks of helping volatile customers redeem coupons and helping wandering children find their lost parents, I realized that I had a personality. I didn’t mind it. Sometimes I was funny. I seemed pretty nice. Perhaps I was funny and nice before. Maybe this was new. At the very least, it was all that mattered.
From the first moment I remember opening my eyes, my dreams had been clouds. Swirling and puffing and rolling, vibrant and glowing. This was all there ever was, for a while. Hours and hours of clouds, passing in just a few moments. However, after a while, the clouds sometimes waned and thinned, revealing strange images. In one, the clouds dissipated and revealed a small house, with red shutters and an unkempt yard. It lasted only for a second, and was soon covered again by the billowing brume. None of the images ever lasted long, and most of them seemed harmless. There is only one that makes me uneasy to think of. I’m standing in a darkened room, looking over a bed, wherein a man and a woman are wrapped up in the sheets. The woman sits up, looking towards me, and a look of dread creeps across her face.
“Jenna…? Honey, what are you doing in here? …Jenna?”
The vision cuts out there. I care not to think further on it. It’s only a dream, after all. Nothing but a dream.