Stars have always been there. I watch as they sparkle in the ebony blanket above me. I sit here and rub my cold feet. Fall is just around the corner. It crawls through the trees slowly, claiming every leaf in its path. No one knows where it comes from; but it changes everything. It would be the first Fall of my life. That I could remember, anyway.
Today is my 37th birthday. I have lived almost four decades on this Earth, but I can only remember the past 10 months. The accident took my memory; memories of childhood, adolescence, high school prom (they tell me I had a date), and even marriage and children. I’ve heard many say that memories are eternal. Should I buy that car, or take that trip to Europe with the kids? Europe, they say. Memories are sure to last.
I went to Europe, apparently. I was an art history major and I took my passion all the way to Rome. I guess I saw everything there was to see. I probably spent a lot of money, too.
Seems to me that memories are more like pictures; one exposure can ruin the whole roll.
It happened last November. Our house sits on a hill, very high up. There are two porches, one on top and one on bottom. They tell me that I really loved to sit on the top porch at night. That hasn’t changed. My daughter says that I was “reaching for the stars.” She is five years old.
No one knows how I really fell.
When I woke up, strange people were crowded around me. I squinted against the fluorescent light, having no idea where I was. A dull panic sat in the deep of my stomach; where was I? Why did these people call me Lauren and why did this little girl call me mommy? A doctor came in and asked me my name. My head was spinning and strange feelings started to surface. Suddenly, out of the deep recesses of my mind came one word. It fell from my mouth, and into the room. “Carla.”
The room grew quiet and a man in the corner winced, looking extremely fearful. “No, Lauren. Carla was your mother,” a woman says to me.
I cannot remember my mother, Carla. I only remember the name. It seems strange to me that I would remember the name of someone who died when I was ten years old. The doctor says it is very rare to lose all of your memory. Maybe there was something I was trying to forget.
Just the other day I found myself staring at pictures of my wedding day. No emotion, no recollection- only criticism over the dress I’d been wearing, longing to look that young again, and a feeling of dread when looking at the husband standing next to me. That man. I have no idea who he is, what I’d ever seen in him. He scares me. I sit there, in the house that I had allegedly loved on sight, and hate the minute he walks into the room. He wants to be close to me; I don’t know him. He looks at me with eyes full of intimacy that I do not share. He expects me to be her again. He expects me to love him like she did. I don’t know her. The feeling of loss that I experience when with him is too much for me to handle. I avoid him when I can.
I refuse to sleep with him. He has an unfamiliar smell and tends to snore when he’s sick. He also taps his foot when he’s nervous, and strokes his hair when he speaks. I know that these are qualities the woman before me cherished; but for that very reason I hate them now. I’m living in a shadow of a woman that everyone expects to reappear.
I have a five year old little girl named Meredith. I find comfort in the fact that she resembles the face that I see in the mirror. She looks at me with fear in her eyes. I guess I look at her with the same. I truly feel sorry for her. It must be bad enough to lose a mother, but even worse when someone else is occupying her body. Everyone thinks that I will eventually start to remember. Every time I see a family member, they always start the conversation by saying, “Do you remember when…” I hate them for that. Every single one assumes that I want to know them, except this little girl. She looks at me and knows I’m not her mother. She’ll cry if I even pretend.
An old man lives across the street, surrounded by pictures of his dead wife. It’s funny the way he stares at me. His gray eyes rest on me as I sit on the top porch every night. Worried that I might fall again? Maybe. But why do I get déjà vu each time I see him staring, every time his eyes meet mine?
I went to see him three weeks after the fall. I walked up to his cute house, surrounded by a white picket fence. As I stepped on the front porch I heard the dog run to the door, barking at my arrival. I watched as the door handle started to jiggle. He’s unlocking the door. Why am I here, I asked myself. I desperately wanted to leave. At that moment, the door opened.
His face lit up with recognition at the sight of my face. I felt embarrassed that my face did not do the same. “Lauren,” he says. “What a pleasant surprise.”
I learned that his name is Nicholas, and I heard the stories of how he met both his wife and his dog. He offered me coffee, and when I refused he looked at me quizzically. I must have loved coffee before.
“Did you see me,” I asked.
He stared at me, surprised. I watched his pupils dilate, and soon they resembled black marbles.
“The night you fell?”
I nodded yes.
He opened his mouth, but silence came out. He was petrified, but why? We stood at opposite ends of the room, creating an invisible wall between us.
I walked out the door, and have never gone back.
Do I want to remember? Not really. Something caused me to fall off that porch, I know that now. It was no accident. I wonder if my husband pushed me. Maybe that could explain the hate and fear that I experience each time I see him. Maybe it’s just the thought that he’s capable of murder that scares me. Or maybe I simply jumped.
The life of the woman before me is not a life I want to re-enter. Though I don’t know the circumstance surrounding the fall, I feel a dark presence there. I can feel it coming closer to me, and I run from it. I shiver and remember that Fall is coming soon. I can feel it creeping towards me, bringing orange and red and unwanted memories.
I choose to spend my 37th birthday alone. I stare at the stars again, and watch one start to fall.
Once it hits Earth, it will never be the same.