Have you ever gone to the movies and had to use the bathroom during the middle of it? You arrived early and got your snacks and found the best seats, only to have to sneak out because you chugged a gallon of soda with your large, buttered popcorn. Then you find that there's a line at the bathroom and you need to make sure your lipstick is still perfect while you’re there. By the time you sneak back into the theater, everything is happening so fast and you have no idea what happened that caused the events you see in front of you.
That is my life now. It's a movie that I'm trying to watch and keep up with, but I have no idea what is going on. I missed a crucial part, and even though I was told what I missed, I'm still lost. Now, I have to wait for it to come out on DVD to see the rest. I only know what I was told, but it doesn't feel like nearly enough.
"So, you are going home today, Willow. How do you feel about that?" Dr. Mason asks me.
He is using his gentle voice with me, as usual. Dr. Mason is an older man with graying hair and thick glasses. He watches me from across his large, mahogany desk. Every day for the last four weeks, I’ve come to this office, sat in this chair, and listened to him talk and drill me with questions about my feelings.
"Relieved," I answer. "I just want to get home and back to normal."
This is my least favorite room in the world. It's too dark, gloomy, and cluttered. There is one small window, barely allowing in any light from outside. The walls that are lined with framed certificates and shelves holding thick books feel like they are closing in on me. I have to hold my breath so I don’t smell the wood polish and dust.
"Will Noah be picking you up?"
"Yes," I say with a tight nod. "He will take me home."
When I woke up in a hospital bed six weeks before, I met Noah. It wasn't the first time we met, but it was the first time I remembered meeting him. He is apparently my boyfriend of three years now. The nurses in the Intensive Care Unit told me he never left my side for the entire eight days I was in the coma.
When I woke up, I felt nothing but pain and thirst. While nurses and doctors rushed around me, I only cared for a drink of water. I answered all their questions about my name, birth date, and social security number. I couldn't answer where I lived, what year it was, or what happened to me. As hard as I grasped for the answers, they were just out of reach.
"Do you trust Noah?"
"I guess so," I tell him. I don't have any reason not to yet. Or at least no reason that I can remember. The concern and relief in his eyes when I looked at him from the hospital bed when I first woke up told me he must care deeply for me. I don't have anyone else in Georgia I know—both of my parents passed in a car accident when I was seventeen. After high school, I left it all behind to start over in another state. I wanted to be an adult and make them proud by becoming something and never letting anything keep me down.
Dr. Mason nods. "Good. You will need to count on him when you leave here. Noah will be your support system. Since you don't have any family here, he will need to walk you back into returning to your life."
My life. I don't know what that consists of anymore. Anything past graduating high school is gone. I have fuzzy memories of my last summer with my best friends before we went off to college. I was leaving Montana to go to school in Atlanta. I can still picture the tearful goodbye with my friends when I left home. I remember the fear and excitement of starting school far away. The rest is an empty hole. Even my short-term memory has been flaky at times.
Anything I do know has come from whatever Noah has told me. For two weeks, while they ran dozens of tests on my head, he sat and filled me in on what I didn't know. My bruises and cuts slowly healed while doctors poked and prodded. Specialists came in to examine me and found no permanent damage to my brain. No clots, tumors, or strokes. My amnesia was psychological, not caused by brain damage or the attack itself.
When I was healthy enough, they eventually transferred me to the psychiatric hospital where they tried to help me regain my memory with therapy and counseling. It didn't take too long before the doctors changed tracks and focused on helping me cope with the amnesia. They lost all hope I would make a full recovery and that my memories would all come back to me. It was frustrating to feel like I was giving up. Little snippets come back here and there, but most of my mind remains blank.
"What if I never remember?" I ask in a whisper. The question has played on my mind on repeat lately.
Dr. Mason lets out a sigh and folds his hands in front of him. "It is a possibility. The brain is complex and mostly unpredictable. Whatever it is blocking out, it's not ready to think about yet."
I nod and swallow the lump in my throat. The only thing more terrifying than never regaining my lost memories is what happened to me. With no recollection of what I was doing for the past three years, I was no help to the police about who hurt me. Who should I be hiding from? Is there still reason to worry?
"Willow," Dr. Mason starts, pulling me from my obsessive worries, "I feel confident that you will remember. You're a physically healthy twenty-one-year-old. There is no reason for me to believe that you won't make it through this. It just takes time. I think you will slowly regain your past. You may never remember the trauma, though."
He is the one person who hasn't lost faith in me. I try to believe him. An image of a concrete wall forms in my mind. I imagine a tiny man with a hammer, chipping away at the rock, letting little pieces of my life filter through the cracks. On the other side of the wall is everything from the last few years, including who attacked me and the reason why. It's piled up and ready to rush through like an avalanche.
"You know you can call anytime if you need anything. And you have my emergency number as well," the doctor promises.
I nod. Walking into my home could trigger everything I don't remember. I was told the smallest stimulant could unlock what my brain is hiding from me. Part of me hopes it all comes back, and yet the other part, the weak and scared part, wishes I would stay in this blissful ignorance. I'm terrified the most to find out what my brain thought was too devastating for me to handle, choosing to block the memories instead.
"Well, Willow," Dr. Mason says as he stands to shake my hand, "I will see you next week for our scheduled visit. Good luck."
"Thank you," I say to him with a polite smile. I am going to need all the luck I can get.
I leave his office and make my way through the quiet halls to the front reception area. My usual headache starts to form. To ease the throb, I rub my forehead with my fingers on my way to freedom. Only a few more feet and I am out of here for good. With my eyes closed, I slam right into a wall.
The wall is actually a man with a wide, firm chest. Large hands grip my shoulders to keep me from falling back from the impact. I tilt my head back, looking up to see his face. I'm short, even in my heels, but he has to be over six feet tall. A guy about my age quickly glances down at me with dark brown eyes. When they finally focus on me, I feel my cheeks heat with embarrassment. I stand frozen as the stranger examines me, from head to toe, like some kind of obstacle that he's trying to figure out.
He's intimidating with strong facial features, black hair, and dark eyes. The way his stare drills into me makes me feel he can see all the things I can't remember. His grip is firm and steady, holding my body only inches from his own. I can feel the warmth from his wide chest, and I can't decide if it is fear or comfort washing over me. It's a heat that spreads over my entire body, leaving me stunned. The silence becomes suffocating, so I clear my throat and pull out of his hold.
"Sorry. I wasn't paying attention," I mumble as I slowly inch away from him. I worry that I may have just run into someone mentally unstable. I have seen people in here snap for less and his hard stare and tight jaw show no signs of forgiveness.
I step around him and keep walking, trying to shake the helpless and useless feelings eating at me. The heat of embarrassment creeps up my neck to my face. I'm just a young girl who has no idea where she is going, whether in this hallway or in life. When I enter the receptionist area, Noah stands from the chair where he had been waiting. I quickly sign all the necessary paperwork and agree to keep my scheduled appointments.
"Ready, darling?" Noah asks, taking my hand and leading me out of the glass revolving doors. His grip is gentle and warm. He is always lightly touching me or smiling softly, as if I will break apart from a strong wind.
I smile up at his golden-brown eyes and step into the suffocating heat of Atlanta. Inhaling deeply, I breathe in nothing but thick, humid air. I feel the sunshine touch my face, the heat welcoming. I hadn't left my room at the hospital before today—not because I wasn't allowed to like some of the other patients, but because I didn't want to.
"Our car," Noah points out. A black Cadillac is parked on the curb and he opens the back door for me. I slide in and across the leather seats as Noah follows. As we ease into the city traffic, I look out the tinted window from the comfort of the air conditioning.
As the city flashes by me, it all feels like scenes I've seen a billion times before. Although I can't remember moving to Atlanta, the buildings, shops, and streets are something I instinctively know. My own actions are all that are left my mind. I struggle to pull more memories to the forefront, but my head starts to ache even more, so I just close my eyes and give up.
It's like a nightmare where I'm underwater and trying to reach the surface. I am surrounded by darkness and frantically trying to force my way up to the surface. Instead of saving myself, I am swimming in place, reaching into nothing but darkness and coming up empty-handed.
I feel the car slow and I open my eyes. The massive sky scrapper reflects the sun's glare into my eyes. Made of glass and silver metal, it towers over the city. Noah gives my hand a gentle squeeze as the driver comes around to open our door.
"Home, sweet home," Noah announces as I step onto the sidewalk. I have to crane my neck back to look up to the top of the building before he pulls me forward. A doorman pulls the heavy glass doors open as he tips his head in greeting.
"I had the security doubled and installed new locks to your place," Noah tells me as we pass a security guard near the doorway. "I also changed your alarm code."
My heels echo off the marble flooring. My eyes widen as we approach the elevator. The lobby is a crisp white with gold molding and a fireplace that is large enough for me to stand in. Bright red chairs with black accent tables decorate the vast space. I grew up in a poor household and could never afford to live somewhere like this. Anything this luxurious I've only seen in magazines.
"You are on the fortieth floor," Noah whispers to me as he presses the button. "You chose this apartment while Dad and I were still in the building process. We specialize in real estate and development," he continues.
I want to roll my eyes, but instead I smile softly. He already told me what he did for a living. My issue is remembering the past, not the present. Noah did fail to mention how much he makes in the real estate business or that he owns and built the complex I currently live in.
When the elevator stops, I follow Noah down the hall, where he unlocks my door. After entering the code on the alarm system, he holds the door open to allow me to walk in. The apartment is massive with glass walls overlooking the city, white walls, light hardwood floors, and an open floor plan.
The kitchen is equipped with stainless steel appliances and black marble counters. The living room and dining area are lined with floor to ceiling windows, overlooking downtown Atlanta. A black couch faces a flat screen mounted on the wall. Everything is crisp, clean and expensive. Noah takes my hand, leading me down a short hallway and through a set of double doors into the bedroom.
"How do I afford this?" I ask. Noah told me I was still in school and wasn't working.
"It was an anniversary gift," he answers with a grin. "I always take care of you, sweetheart."
I stand awkwardly in the doorway while Noah puts my bag in the walk-in closet. The tall windows let the afternoon light pour in over the king-sized bed that sits in the center of the wall before me. It looks luxurious and romantic with a deep red comforter and black canopy tied at the four corners. I wipe my sweaty palms on my thighs as Noah approaches me slowly.
"You okay?" he asks me gently.
I nod, although okay is the furthest from what I feel.
"You sure you don't want me to stay with you tonight?"
"No," I rush. "I'll be fine."
Noah shouldn't be a stranger to me, but in my mind he is. When I am with him, it feels vaguely familiar, but I don't actually know anything about him. I obviously loved him at some point, but my heart doesn't know why. Sharing a bed with a practical stranger will be terrifying.
"Well, I'm only a few blocks away. If you need me, call me and I'll come running." He smiles at me and my muscles relax slightly. The light freckles across his cheeks and honey-brown eyes give him a boyish charm. The gentle way he looks and speaks to me is one of the only things that has calmed me in these past few weeks.
"Thank you," I tell him. "I'll probably just rest tonight."
Noah leans down and places a kiss on my cheek before letting himself out. I follow him to the door and lock it behind him. Turning, I press my back against the door and slide down to the floor. After weeks in the hospital, I was finally starting to get used to my surroundings. Now, I need to learn them all over again.