Sweat poured off his face as his back peeled away from the bed sheets. The pounding in his chest sent a reverberation to his extremities. His eyes burned as tears rolled down his face. And there was a fog that simply wasn’t lifting. But the lavender fragrance of his wife’s hair conditioner, while she lay next to him, assured him that he was now safe. He sat awake for a while. His eyes adjusted and scanned the pitch-black bedroom for clues. For what clues he wasn’t sure. The bedroom seemed foreign to him.
Lost, he made his way to the bathroom. The bathroom was his haven when he couldn’t sleep. Insomnia had a way of leading him either there or to the kitchen. This night was a bathroom night.
To wake up, he splashed water on his face, but no matter how much water he splashed on his face, he couldn’t remember what had happened to him the night before. He huddled over the sink and let the cool water run over his fingertips. All the time, he didn’t dare take his eyes off what he saw in the mirror. It was a blur, but only where his face belonged. Blinking a few times to squeeze out the last tear drops from his eyes, he wondered if his vision was impaired. The cloudiness was still there. His reflection was of a man with no face. He began to wave his left hand slowly in front of his face. Like a pendulum his hand passed back and forth between him and the faceless blur that was staring right back at him. Whenever his hand intercepted the view of the blurry face, he could clearly see every freckle on the back of his hand. Then the smudge that was his face came back into view. Clear, fuzzy, clear, fuzzy.
Confused, he opened his hand wide. Staring at his palm he slapped himself in the face as hard as he could. The slap left a throbbing in his jaw that he had only felt once before. It had been years since he felt a hit like that, fifth grade to be exact. Adam Schneider, the biggest bully in the fifth grade punched his lights out. Why can I remember that?
“What the hell honey? What are you doing? It is 3 in the morning!” his wife yelled.
“Who am I?” he asked her as he continued to look at the blur in the mirror.
“Quit messing with me.”
“What’s my name? I’m not joking.”
“You’re an idiot.”
“No, really. I just need some assurance.”
“Assurance that you are not losing your mind? Are you ok?” she looked him in the eyes like he was joking.
Maybe I have lost my mind, he thought.
“Just say it,” he said.
“Ok, ********, can I go back to bed now? Please don’t stay up too long honey. We have a long day ahead of us tomorrow. And please quit being so weird.”
She walked back to the bedroom and shut the door behind her. He heard everything except his name. Like popcorn popping in a microwave, it made it completely inaudible.
Maybe I need a shower to realize this is all a nightmare. I have no idea who I am. I do know that she is my wife. He pointed to the door of the bedroom to reassure himself of this. That is the room that my wife is actually in. I look like a crazy person. Then he looked back at the shower. Not even remembering turning it on, a cloud of steam was already emerging over the top of the glass shower door.
With the steam came a vision, another memory. An amusement park ride that he loved as a child. How could he remember the water ride that began with a dragon breathing steam if he had lost his memory? Opening the shower door invited the vapor deep into his lungs. He allowed the hot water to scald his skin. As it ran over his back it made him feel awake. Even after all of that, his reflection in the shower door was still distorted just as it was in the mirror. His reflection was like a terrified child hiding from an imaginary monster.
From his toes to his neck, everything felt normal. Freckles were everywhere — even the diamond shaped birthmark on his shoulder was visible. But his face remained out of focus.
He suddenly went white and dropped to his knees. A light dizziness followed. The weight on his chest caused him to breathe faster and heavier. It was a marathon of the mind and he knew he was nowhere near the finish line. They would all think he was crazy. They would want to lock him away. He would surely be committed to a mental health facility. He barely knew that woman in the other room, but he knew everything about her at the same time. Contemplating his next move, he slowly got back to his feet and turned off the water. Coffee, I need coffee.
He dried off with a fancy cotton towel, the softest one he had ever felt, slipped into his pajamas, and looked down at some slippers. His vision failed him again. There must be a name or something written on them. Who has their name inscribed on their slippers? Rich people, important people, that’s who. Am I rich or important?
He hoped the woman — his wife — would remain in bed for the rest of the night. She would only talk about things he couldn’t remember. He knew it would take some time to remember his identity. If it were a dream, waking up could take even longer. There was a set of keys on the nightstand. He grabbed them, looked back at his wife lying in bed and made his way outside. No alarm was set. Maybe he forgot to set it.
He repeatedly pressed the lock and unlock buttons on the key until he heard a chirping coming from the street. The chirping grew louder until he paired the vehicle with his keys. It was a black sports utility vehicle. Inside the SUV, he checked the center console. There, he found a cell phone and a wallet. Immediately, he rummaged through all the cards in this wallet, leaving them scattered on the passenger seat. One was a state issued driver’s license. He focused on the picture. It was dark at first, but then he pressed the button that turned the overhead light on, above the center console. Once again, the photo and the name wasn’t visible. Dammit. It has to be mine.
He felt awake, but this could quite possibly be the worst dream he had ever experienced. The drive downtown felt like it took hours. There was a little coffee shop located between a pharmacy and a shoe store. There was familiarity to it. Maybe he was a regular. It opened at 5am and it was already five after. He walked inside and situated himself at a corner booth and stared at the front door like he was waiting for his answer to walk in. He tried to avoid all reflective surfaces. After scanning the room one more time, he relaxed his shoulders and slumped in the chair. He was exactly where he wanted to be until this episode passed, or he awoke, whichever came first.
“Are you going to order anything? If not I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” a waiter said.
“Yeah, here, coffee, black,” he said as he handed over the only card in his wallet that read debit on it, but his name was missing on that card as well.
“Nothing special? Extra whip? Shots of espresso?”
“Just black,” he said trying to get the worker to leave him alone. He ran his hands through his hair, grasping it in frustration.
“Ok, just like my dad,” the worker said as he took the card for payment.
Over the next few hours, the morning sun started shining through the front window of the business. There was heat on his face as he continued to sip on his now cold black coffee. Even after several hours, he had no answers to this nameless, faceless, mystery.
He watched as a towering middle-aged man wearing a nicely pressed black suit made his way into the coffee shop. The older man continued to walk straight to his table.
“Is anyone sitting here?” the older man asked. The older man wiggled into the chair opposite him.
“No, yes, I mean, you can sit there if you like.”
“I think I will. I’ve seen this all before son. You on drugs?” the older man asked as he framed him with his fingers and thumbs. The older man acted like a photographer trying to get the award-winning photo. He squinted his eyes for a moment, then he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a business card. He tossed it in front of him. “I can’t talk about it here,” he said. “You can call me James.”
“Memory specialist,” he read aloud to himself.
He couldn’t even ask one question before James silently stood up and walked back out the front door of the coffee shop. The tinkling of door chimes followed James’ exit from the shop.
Quickly running over to the door he peered outside, but there was no sign of James. He glanced up and down the street and as mysteriously as the night had begun, James was gone. He looked down at the business card in his hand and flipped it over. The back of the card had a date and time. Noon. July 6. You know the place. He sat there and stared at the message.
He was confused. He couldn’t even remember yesterday morning. How would he know “the place?” He sat in the coffee shop until he finished his cold black coffee and wondered if he had a head injury, a memory problem, or maybe a strange form of Alzheimer’s. It was sudden, and he was fairly sure that it wasn’t a dream anymore. If there was any way of regaining his memory, he knew he had to find it.
A few hours passed before he arrived at his home. The sun overhead was being covered by the clouds, and he saw his first airplane fly over for the day. Small things like that made him happy to be alive. For a moment he forgot his troubles.
“Where the hell have you been?” his wife screamed as he took one step onto the front porch. “The kids!” she shouted as she threw her hands up. “Are you ok? You missed taking them to school. I had to do it. I didn’t know where you were. I called and called. You didn’t answer. And you left the front door wide open. You never disappear like this! What the hell is wrong with you?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” he said.
He hadn’t thought about kids. He didn’t even know their names. Trying to zone her out, he pulled the business card out of his pocket and viewed the message again. He was now focused entirely on the message. His wife was just a blur, like his face in the mirror, or his name on the cards. I’m late.
“I have to go,” he said. It was almost noon. As soon as he got into the car, he drove to the outskirts of town. He was unsure of what made him stop. He looked at a sign on the street. Fredricksburg Park. He stopped there and noticed a trail that went right under a bridge, and under the bridge was a bench. The man parked his car and started walking toward the bench. Before he could sit, he could see James’ shadow coming toward him. He sat and waited for James to sit next to him.
“How is it going? Are you remembering anything yet?” James asked.
“I see you found the place. I had a feeling you knew where to find me.”
“Just came to me.”
“They really got you good, didn’t they?” James said.
“Lean your head back. This is going to hurt a little,” James said as he pulled a tiny device out of his back pocket.
Before he could even think, he felt his teeth clattering and a painful tingle running down the back of his head. The tingle quickly spread into his neck and upper back. The fog lifted slightly.
“What’s your name?” James asked.
“Thank god Gary!” James yelled in excitement. James gave him a huge hug. “I didn’t think it would work.”
“What? I know you?”
“Of course. You are my younger brother,” James said. “We’ve been trying for years to get you back. This time it might actually work!”
Copyright © 2020 by Ryan Barnard-Stoker