Friday, March 1, 2013

Forget You! (Chapter 1)



Today is the best day of my life.

Hands down.  I can’t imagine anything more perfect at this moment than being fifteen minutes away from walking down the aisle toward the man I love in order to pledge my everlasting love.  It’s taken me 35 years and a lot of snarky comments from my friends/parents about being too picky, but I’ve finally met a man that I know for certain will make me happy.  He’s wonderful.  He’s absolutely perfect.

“You look beautiful, Maggie,” says Jill, my best friend and maid of honor, as we sit in the dressing room, waiting for the signal to come out.

Not to toot my own horn, but I do look beautiful at this moment.  In general, I don’t consider myself beautiful.  My lips are a little too narrow, the color of my eyes sort of resembles what a dog would do on a curb, and I seem to be perpetually stuck in the middle of one continuous bad hair day.  But that’s the wonderful thing about marrying a man like Walter, who is a big cheese lawyer.  Unlike me and all the other tenure-track hopefuls at my university, he’s got money.  So he could pay for this beautiful Vera Wang a-line gown with hand-beaded floral lace details along the skirt and bodice.  This dress would make anyone look good, even me. 

In the vanity mirror, Jill is fussing over my hair.  Like my make-up, I had my hair professionally done a few hours ago.  At the time, it looked completely amazing—swept up in a perfect chignon with little curled tendrils around my face.  But the hairdresser had underestimated the stubbornness of my hair, and now the little curled tendrils have gone straight.

“I have some hair gel in my purse,” Jill offers.  “Do you want to try it?”

Don’t get me wrong.  I love Jill and I’m so happy she’s here for me on my big day.  But I don’t trust her with my hair. 

For starters, she may be seeking a little bit of revenge over her bridesmaid dress.  Don’t hate me for saying so, but I didn’t choose the most flattering bridesmaid dresses in the world.  Who does?  The point of a wedding is for the bride to look beautiful, not the bridesmaids.  Yes, Jill’s dress is orange and has more frills than a five year old playing princess dress-up.  But this isn’t Jill’s day.  It’s mine.  Plus some of my own bridesmaids deserve some serious payback for what they made me wear to their weddings.

Jill rifles around in her knock-off Gucci purse and pulls out a small travel bottle of hair gel.  She squeezes a pea-sized amount into her palm and holds it out to me like I’m a goat she’s feeding at a petting zoo.

I think I’ve known Jill would be my maid of honor from practically the day we first met.  We were both 22 year old first year graduate students in the English department at Ohio State.  (God, I can’t even fathom being that young anymore.)  Jill is one of the nicest people I know, but between you and me, she has absolutely no sense of style.  She’s stuck in the eighties, style-wise, wearing clothes that are reminiscent of Working Girl or Wall Street.  Her jackets still have shoulder pads, for Christ’s sake.

Two years ago, Jill and I were both single and made a pact that if we were 38 and still both single (which seemed like a strong possibility at the time), we’d move in together and start having kids as a two-mom heterosexual family.  It wasn’t ideal obviously, but we both desperately wanted to have kids at some point, and there was nobody in the world that I liked more than Jill, so who better to become my partner in motherhood?  Then of course, I met Walt and the rest is history.

I hope Jill finds a nice guy in the next few years, but I’m beginning to wonder if she will.  She’s a wonderful person, but let’s face it, there’s a reason for being 35 and still single.  She’s a bit of snob, incredibly picky about men, and not pretty enough to justify how picky she is.  Not that you can’t say the same about me, but maybe I’m a little less picky and slightly prettier, so it all worked out.  Or more likely, I just got lucky with Walt.

In any case, like I said, I don’t entirely trust Jill with my hair, so I take the bottle of gel from her and dab a very tiny amount onto my own palm.  I gently rub the gel into straight locks of hair at the sides of my face, then use my finger to curl them.  It sort of works.  A little.

“How do I look?” I ask Jill, turning away from the vanity mirror to face her.

“Really beautiful,” she says earnestly.

I take a calming breath, repeating to myself silently that everything will be okay.  When the door to the dressing room turns, I nearly jump out of my skin.  And I don’t feel a bit better when I see my fiance’s tall, broad frame at the entrance to the doorway.  “What are you doing here?!” I scream at him.  “Don’t you know it’s bad luck to see the bride right before the wedding?”

Walt’s blue eyes widen and he looks properly startled by my outburst.  “I didn’t know that,” he says.

Jill shakes her head.  “Seriously?  How is it possible not to know that?”

As brilliant as he is with contracts and the law, Walt can be a little dense sometimes.  But I can forgive that, considering he’s absolutely perfect in every other way.  I’ve always been attracted to blond-haired men, so Walt’s sand-colored hair was the first thing that caught my attention when we first met two years ago at a party at a friend’s house.  It’s slightly thinner than it was two years ago and receded just slightly at the temples, but he still looks pretty amazing for going-on-40.  His height was the second thing that caught my attention—being 5’9” myself, I’ve always been loath to date men who were shorter than me.  Even when a guy is 5’10”, it feels like he’s shorter than I am, so my lower limit has always been six feet.  Walt is a full two inches above that limit.

I still vividly remember the night I met Walt.  I spent half the night at that party staring at him, keeping my fingers crossed he’d come over and talk to me.  I kept positioning myself by the wine bottles, hoping he’d be forced to say, “Excuse me,” and I’d have an opening to strike up a conversation, intermittently wondering if I should go over and introduce myself already.  But it was finally him who approached me.  He walked right up to me and said, “So you’re the famous Margaret McDaniels.”  I wasn’t famous by any means, but when he said it, he flashed me this grin that made my knees go weak.  I know “knees go weak” is such a cliché, but I literally had to grab on to a nearby couch to keep from wilting to the ground.  You could say it was love at first sight.

And now we’re getting married.

“What are you here for anyway?” I ask Walt, softening as I take in how gorgeous he looks in his black tuxedo.  Walt is the kind of guy who looks amazing in a suit.  That’s why he’s so successful during his court appearances.

“Five minute warning,” Walt says.

I nod, feeling a knot tighten in my stomach.  In five minutes, I’m going to walk down the aisle, on the path to becoming Mrs. Walter Sneed.  (Okay, one thing I do not love about Walt is his last name.  I don’t want to be Mrs. Sneed or Dr. Sneed.  I think I’m going to stick with McDaniels.  I’ve got my degree under that name, so that’s my official excuse for not making the change.)

Walt’s eyes run over my painted face and my white dress.  “You look so beautiful, Margaret,” he says and grins.  “Is it also bad luck for the bride to give the groom a kiss before the wedding?”

I’d imagine that if you’re not allowed to see the bride, kissing her is a definite no-no.  But what the hell.  “Can’t hurt,” I say.

Walt leans in to kiss me and it’s all I can do to keep from sighing with happiness.  He whispers in my ear: “I love you, Margaret.”

This is my one other weird reservation about Walt: he calls me Margaret.  Nothing wrong with that exactly, since that’s my name and all.  I used to go by Maggie when I was young, but when I got to graduate school, I started making everyone call me Margaret, thinking it was a name that commanded more respect than Little Maggie.  But sooner or later, everyone who’s close to me starts calling me Maggie.  My parents call me Maggie, Jill calls me Maggie, and most of my boyfriends did eventually.  But somehow, Walt never made the leap.

Now that we’ve been together for two years, it’s not like I can suddenly say to him, “Hey, call me Maggie.”  It’s just… odd.  I’m sure I’m making too much of it though.

As Walt pulls away from him, Jill hastily ushers him out the door.  When he’s gone, she turns to me with an anxious expression on her face.  “We’ve got to undo the bad luck!” she says.

“Oh, stop it.”  I shrug, to show I don’t care.  Although I admit, I’m a little nervous.  “I’m sure it will be fine.”

“Well,” Jill says thoughtfully.  “At least you’ve got something borrowed, right?”

I nod and hold out my wrist, where Jill’s silver bracelet is dangling loosely.  “Your bracelet.”

“And something blue?”

“My panties,” I say, thinking of the scraggly cotton panties I dug out of the bottom of my underwear drawer this morning, in my desperation to find an item of blue clothing.

“Something new?”

“Earrings,” I say.  I purchased my diamond studs just last week.  Or should I say, my generous fiancé purchased them.

“Something old?”

“My panties,” I say again.  Seriously, they’re pretty old.

“Okay,” Jill says grudgingly.  “I suppose that will do.”

Jill and I look at each other.  That tight little knot in my stomach has returned.  I can’t believe this is it, my wedding day.  I’m going to spend the rest of my freaking life with the man on the other side of this door.  I feel a little sick.

“Are you okay?” Jill asks me.  She squints at me through her heavily mascaraed lashes. 

“A little nervous,” I admit.  I add hastily, “Just a bit.”


Jill winks at me.  “I know what will help.” 

She tucks her permed hair behind her ear and shuffles through a cabinet next to the vanity table.  Triumphantly, she pulls out a bottle of champagne.  “Alcohol!”

I make a face.  “I don’t want to be drunk for my wedding, Jill.”

She rolls her eyes.  “I’m not saying to get drunk.  But one drink will loosen you up, right?”

Jill is making good sense.  A drink would definitely loosen me up a bit.  I’ve been told I have a tendency to be a little high strung, and alcohol might make this less stressful and more fun.  And anyway, she’s already pouring it into a glass and shoving it into my hand.

“Bottoms up!” Jill says.

I drink the champagne quickly, in practically a single gulp.  And oddly enough, it seems to work almost immediately.  I suddenly feel happier, lighter.  This is the best day of my life, after all.  What am I so worried about?

I face my reflection again in the vanity mirror.  Margaret McDaniels, soon to be Margaret Sneed.  As wonderful as this day is, it’s really just the beginning.  I try to imagine my life three years from now, waking up every day next to my handsome husband.  I’ll have finished my book by then, and hopefully been promoted from my current position of lowly instructor.  And of course, I’ll have a baby by then.  Maybe two.  But either way, I’ll be a mother.

“I think I’m ready,” I say to Jill.

She nods and accompanies me out into the hallway.  Even though I felt good in the dressing room, my knees start to wobble as I start walking toward the room where we’re having our ceremony.  This is it: I’m getting married!  I’m getting married.

I stand by the entrance to the room, the short trail of my dress making a scuffling noise against the floor.  I see Walt in the front, standing by the minister, looking so devastatingly handsome in his tuxedo.  The aisles are packed with guests and their heads collectively turn as they see me standing at the doorway.  The knot in my stomach tightens and I feel lightheaded.  What if I screw up?  What if I trip and fall flat on my face in front of all our family and friends?  What if people watching me don’t think I’m good enough to be marrying Walt?  What if…?

My forehead breaks out in a cold sweat and my heart starts to pound.  Oh Lord.  Either I shouldn’t have had that champagne or I should have had a lot more of it.

Keep it together, Maggie.  You’re going to be fine.  Just get through the next thirty minutes and then you and Walt will have the rest of your lives together.

And then right in the middle of reassuring myself, I pass out.

*

When I wake up, I’m somewhere entirely different.  Instead of being in the church, in my wedding dress, I’m in a sterile, white room.  I have no idea where I am or how I got here.  My vision is blurry, and I wonder if somehow my contacts popped out.  At this point, I’ll probably never find them and have to get married with everything all blurry.  No way I’m getting married with glasses on.

I try to sit up and that’s when I realize I’m in a bed.  An unfamiliar bed, one I’ve never slept in before.  And when I try to sit up, I feel an ache in my head that’s made worse by an awful beeping noise.  I groan and rub my temples.

“Maggie?”

My mother’s voice.  I squint and see that she’s sitting next to my bed, reading a magazine.  Probably People or Entertainment, or something vapid like that. 

She looks weird though.  That is, I remember she was wearing a green dress this morning.  She made a big deal out of it because she got it really cheap at Meijer, and I didn’t have the heart to tell her that it was pretty obvious how cheap it was.  But now she’s wearing a white blouse and jeans.

“Maggie!” Mom gushes.  “Thank heavens!  The doctors were saying you were fine but I was so worried.  You were so out of it!”

Doctors?  Oh lord.  That means I’m in the hospital.  It’s my wedding day and I’m in the freaking hospital!  Walt must hate me right now.  How could I pass out on my wedding day and end up in the hospital?  This is the worst thing imaginable.

“I’m so sorry, Mom,” I murmur.  “Were the guests really upset at me?  Did the reception still go on?”

My mother gives me this perplexed look.  “What guests, honey?”

“The wedding guests,” I say.  Sometimes my mother is a little slow.  “They must have been upset that they ceremony didn’t take place, right?”  Something else suddenly occurs to me: “They don’t want the presents back, do they?”

Mom is just staring at me, not saying anything.

“Walt apologized for me, I guess,” I say.  I imagine him having to explain to all the guests that his bride-to-be passed out and face-planted on the floor.  Shit.  I hope he still wants to marry me.  I almost wouldn’t blame him if he doesn’t. 

In any case, next time we’re going to have a small ceremony.  Just the two of us in front of a judge.

“Maggie,” Mom says slowly.  Like I’m some sort of mental patient.  “What wedding are you talking about exactly?”

I roll my eyes at her.  “Fine.  Obviously it’s not a wedding if I didn’t get married.  But it was a wedding up until the point I fainted, right?”

It’s hard to see my mother’s expression without my contacts in.  And I’ll never find the contacts now.  Probably a hundred people have walked on them now and they’re covered in footprints.  Note to self: get laser eye surgery. 

Before Mom can ask me any more questions, I’m treated to a sight that fills me with relief.  Walt.  Even with my blurry vision, I can recognize his broad frame and blond hair across the room.  He’s changed out of his tux, into a suit and tie like he usually wears for work.  I noticed he’s holding a cell phone in his hand and his blue eyes seem to widen when he sees me sitting up, but I have to squint.  I really do have crap vision.

“Margaret,” he says breathlessly.

My eyes fill with tears.  “Walt,” I whimper.  “I’m so sorry.  I ruined our perfect wedding.  You must completely hate me.”

Walt’s hand holding the phone falls to his side.  He looks… well, mostly blurry.  But also a little befuddled.  “Our… what?”

“She keeps talking about your wedding,” Mom murmurs to Walt.  I’m pretty sure she didn’t mean for me to hear that.  She needs to work on her whispering skills.

“Of course I’m talking about the wedding!” I say.  “I pass out and ruin my wedding and I’m not supposed to talk about it?”

“Maggie,” Mom says.  “What day do you think it is?”

“It’s June 29th,” I say.  Then a horrible thought occurs to me.  “It’s not June 30th, is it?  It’s not a whole day after the wedding, is it?”

“No, it’s not,” Mom says.  Then she asks: “What year is it?”

Okay, that’s an odd question.  But I suppose when someone faints and gets a bump on the head, it’s only natural to make sure they know the date and year.  “It’s 2009,” I say.

Walt and my mother keep looking at each other, then looking back at me.  It’s then that I turn my head to the side and notice a pair of glasses on the bedside table, right next to the IV pole that’s hooked up to my arm.  I don’t recognize the glasses though.  I usually wear contacts, but when I do wear glasses, mine are cute Tina Fey lenses, while these are a little bulky and schoolmarmish.  But my mother is already wearing her glasses, so it stands to reason that they must be mine, right? 

I reach over with my hand not attached to the IV pole and scoop up the lenses.  I slide them onto the bridge of my nose and the world jumps into focus, which sets off another brief jab of pain in my head.  I look up and my mother and Walt, and that’s when I get the first inkling that something is really wrong.

First off, they look different.  Really different.  Not like they changed clothes or took a shower or whatever.  They look completely different than they did this very morning.  For example, my mother had her hair colored yesterday for the wedding (chestnut brown, like mine), but now I can very clearly see several millimeters of gray roots.

And Walt looks different too.  His blond hair is much thinner than it was this morning and his hair has receded another inch.  And he looks… I don’t know, doughier, I guess would be the right term for it.  It’s like he’s gained twenty pounds since this morning.  Way to pig out on the buffet, I guess.  Except there was no buffet because the wedding never happened. 

Or did it?

“I think we should call the doctor,” Mom says to Walt. 

He nods and rushes out of the room, almost too fast, like he’s grateful for an excuse to leave.  I feel that familiar tight knot in my stomach and look at my mother.  “What’s going on?” I ask her.

She doesn’t answer me.  She just looks down at her magazine, which, like I guessed, is People magazine.  It has some celebrity grinning on the cover, except I have no idea who that person is.

“Mom,” I say, struggling to keep my voice under control.  “Tell me what’s going on.”

Mom looks at me for a minute, as if debating what to do.  “Maggie,” she says finally.  “Your wedding was three years ago.”

I laugh.  Of all the things I expected her to say, it wasn’t that.  I know that’s not true.  “Don’t be silly.  My wedding was this morning.  Or it would have been if I hadn’t fainted.”

“It was,” Mom insists.  “And you did get faint for a few seconds, but then you said you were fine and we went ahead with the ceremony.  It was… beautiful.  You and Walt went on your honeymoon to Hawaii… you brought me back one of those necklaces made of flowers.”

I know she must be messing with me.  There’s no way that my wedding was three years ago.  No.  Way.  How could I have just forgotten the last three years of my life?

Then my mother’s People magazine catches my eye again.  Next to the smiling face of the celebrity I don’t recognize is the date of the magazine’s publication:

October 10th, 2012.

Three years after my wedding.

I feel sick, even worse than the nagging headache I’ve had since I opened my eyes.  How could it be three years after my wedding?  My wedding was this morning.  I remember it like it was… this morning.  None of this makes any sense.  I’d say this must be some kind of elaborate prank, but that doesn’t explain why Walt looks so different and my mother’s gray roots.

Walt returns to my hospital room with a middle aged man wearing a long white coat with a stethoscope slung around his neck and a concerned expression causing a crease between his brows.  Actually, my mother, Walt, and this doctor all have identical expressions on their faces.  It’s the “I’m worried Maggie is crazy” expression.

“My name is Dr. Vance,” the man tells me.  “Mrs. Sneed, your husband is telling me that you’re feeling a little disoriented.”

Mrs. Sneed.  Your husband.  This is all so surreal.

“She can’t remember anything since our wedding, Doctor,” Walt says.  “And that was three years ago.”

Dr. Vance nods, the concerned look on his face deepening further.  Boy, he has mastered the art of looking concerned, that’s for sure.  “Mrs. Sneed,” he says.  “Can you tell me what date you think it is?”

“Please call me Margaret,” I say, because I think I’ll throw up if he calls me Mrs. Sneed again.  (And in any case, it should be Dr. Sneed.  But that’s a whole other issue.)

“Fine,” Dr. Vance says, a small smile emerging on his lips.  “Margaret, what is the date today?”

I don’t know what to say.  I know the date it said on that magazine.  But I still feel convinced that must be wrong.  Finally, I say, “June 29th, 2009.”

“That’s the day we got married,” Walt says.

“And where are we?” Dr. Vance asks me.

“In a hospital,” I say confidently, and he nods.  Whew, at least I got one right.

“Do you know why?” he asks.

“Because I fainted,” I say, although I realize that it’s only a guess at this point.

“Margaret,” Dr. Vance says in a firm voice.  “Today is October 12th, 2012.  The reason you’re in the hospital is because you were in a car accident.  You hit a tree earlier today.  Initially we thought you just had a mild concussion, but I suppose now we need to rethink that.”

At this moment, I know that it’s real.  I know that this doctor isn’t messing with me, it’s not some elaborate joke—it’s really three years after my wedding day.  And I hit a tree while driving?  That doesn’t sound like something I would do.  I’m the most responsible driver ever.  I mean, how do you hit a tree?  Trees don’t even move.

Dr. Vance starts asking me a bunch more questions about myself and other things.  He makes me spell a few words backwards, which I do no problem, and count backwards by 7’s, also no problem.  He gives me a list of words to remember and I think I’m able to do it fairly easily.  “How did I do?” I ask him at the end of his test.

“Surprisingly well,” Dr. Vance says, as if he doesn’t entirely understand me.  Welcome to the club.

“Then why can’t she remember the last three years?” Walt demands. 

“It’s awfully strange,” the doctor says.  He scratches his head.  “I’d like to get an MRI of her brain.  We don’t generally do that for concussions, but this is an extraordinary case, obviously.”

Dr. Vance leaves the room, and my mother follows him, presumably with more questions.  Walt takes a chair by my bed, and scoops up my hand in his.  I look down at his hand, see the familiar golden hairs, and something unfamiliar: a gold wedding band on his fourth digit.  I look down at my own left hand—next to my diamond engagement ring is a wedding band my own.

My heart is pounding as I look up and study the face of my husband (God, it feels weird to say that).  He has more lines than he did before, although he’s still very handsome.  He seems worried.  But there’s something else in his face that’s very hard to read.  “You really can’t remember anything, Margaret?” he asks me.

I feel a surge of anger.  Does he think this is some kind of joke I’m playing?  “Why would I make that up?”

“You wouldn’t,” he says and squeezes my hand in his.  “It’s just… strange, that’s all.”

Three years have passed since our wedding.  Three years.  A sudden thought occurs to me.  “Walt,” I say.  “Do we have kids?”

A sad expression comes over his face.  “No, Margaret,” he says.  “We don’t.”

I don’t ask him the story behind this.  Although for a single moment, I’m a little glad I can’t remember the last three years.

 *

I admit, I found it hard to calm down after discovering that I couldn’t remember the last three years of my life.  I started shaking and breathing fast until a nurse came and gave me a little white pill, and I fell into a restless sleep.  I know I had dreams, but I can’t remember them.  The only thing that was clear to me was a pair of kind eyes staring into my own.  The eyes were hazel: deep brown flecked with green.  When I looked into those eyes, for a moment, I felt like everything would be all right.

In the middle of that dream, I wake up.  And to my amazement, those same hazel eyes, rimmed with long dark eyelashes, are looking at me through a pair of wire-rimmed frames.  The eyes are so kind and so filled with unconditional love that a feeling of warmth and calm overtakes me, and for the first time since my accident, I feel completely at peace.

Until I realize that the face the eyes belong to is completely unfamiliar.

“Maggie...” It’s a man, that much I can tell you.  And he’s definitely not my husband.  He’s got short black hair that’s completely disheveled, sticking up every which way, as well as a day’s growth of a beard on his chin.  His hazel eyes are actually a little bloodshot and his dark eyebrows are bunched together in concern.  “Maggie, thank God.  Thank God.”

That’s when I notice he’s holding my hand.  Why in hell is this guy I never met before holding my hand?  He’s not just holding it either—he’s clutching my hand for dear life, like he’s afraid I’ll float away if he lets go.  This is... weird, to say the least.

“I was so worried,” he goes on, giving my hand a squeeze.  “They said you weren’t waking up, and I couldn’t get in here to see you till just a few minutes ago.  They said it was family only.”

So he’s not my long lost brother or anything.

“Are you okay?” he asks me, his intense hazel eyes meeting mine.

“More or less,” I say, pulling my hand out of his.

He reaches out as if to touch my face or my hair, which is just... no.  I pull back and he seems startled by my reaction.  I push myself into a sitting position in bed and that’s when I realize that this guy is hunched over in a wheelchair.  I didn’t think anything could make this situation any stranger, but there it is.  Is he, like, an escaped patient or something?

“Maggie?” he asks questioningly.

“Why do you keep calling me that?” I ask.  Nobody calls me Maggie without my explicit permission.  And this guy I don’t even know doesn’t have my permission, that’s for sure.

“Because... it’s your name?” He looks perplexed.  He scratches his dark hair, making it stand up even more, if that was possible.  

“Look,” I say.  “I don’t know who you are or what you’re doing here...”

He laughs.  “Yeah, right.”

I don’t join him in his laughter, and after a second, he looks worried again.  I can see it in those hazel eyes.  He grabs the wheels of his chair and moves back about a foot from the bed.  I really have no idea what his deal is.  “Maggie, what’s going on?” he asks me.  “If this is a joke or a game, it’s not funny anymore.”

At that moment, the door to my room bursts open and I see my beloved husband walk into the room.  My husband.  Husband.  Really, I’ll never get tired of saying that.  And he couldn’t have had better timing because this was getting more awkward by the minute.

Anyway, maybe I don’t know this mysterious stranger in the wheelchair, but Walt seems to know him.  The second they lay eyes on one another, Walt’s lips settle into a little angry line.  They’re basically glaring at one another.

“What are you doing here, Riley?” Walt says, his voice a low growl.

Riley.  The name doesn’t sound familiar at all.  I’m not even sure if it’s his first name or his last.

“I was visiting Maggie,” Riley replies darkly, now wheeling back a fair distance from my bed.  There’s a part of me that’s a little scared that one of them might hit the other.  But I really can’t imagine Walt decking a guy in a wheelchair.

“Margaret’s not feeling well,” Walt says.  “It’s family only.  And you’re not family, are you?”

“What’s wrong with her?” Riley asks.  I notice a tremor in his voice when he asks the question.

“It’s not really any of your business.”  Walt looks very pleased to be the gatekeeper of information here. 

Riley looks at me as an appeal.  I guess I could tell him… I mean, he looks like he really wants to know.  But Walt’s right: it’s none of his business.  Honestly, it’s a little creepy that he wants to know so badly.  I barely know the guy and he’s acting like we’re best friends.

“Could you please let me be alone with my husband?” I say.  My husband.  My husband!  Still so amazing.

“Right,” Riley says, still looking a bit mystified.  “Of course.”

I watch him as he wheels himself out of the room, the muscles in his back tightening with each spin.  Just before he gets through the door, he turns and gives me a look that is just so sad, I almost feel like I’m going to cry.  But then a second later, he’s gone and Walt shuts the door behind him.

“What a tool,” Walt mutters. 

“Who is he?” I ask.

Walt looks at me in surprise, then he grins.  “Oh, right.  You didn’t know him three years ago.  Guess he didn’t make much of an impression.”

It’s irritating the way Walt is toying with me.  If he lost his memory, I wouldn’t do that.  I’d tell him everything straight away.  It’s just the right thing to do. 

“His name is Riley Samuels,” Walt explains.  “He works at Ohio State with you.  He’s this loser computer science professor.  Huge geek.”

“Oh,” I say.

Walt shakes his head.  “I’m pretty sure he’s got some pathetic crush on you.  I mean, he was around you all the time.  Pretty annoying, if you ask me.”

Well, that explains why he was acting like we were BFFs.  Is BFF still an expression people use?  Or is that totally 2009?

“Anyway, I got you something,” Walt says, and I suddenly notice he’s holding a Styrofoam coffee cup in his hand.  Despite the fact that I’m drugged and brain damaged, I get a craving at the site of the cup.  You know you’re addicted to coffee when just looking at a coffee cup makes your heart skip a few beats.

“Thank you so much,” I say, eagerly accepting the cup from my husband.  (My husband!)  I take a sip, and nearly spit it out.  I lift the lid of the cup and see a light brown liquid inside.  “How much cream did you put in this?”

“About a quarter of a cup,” Walt says, shrugging.

I wince.  “I like one cream, one sugar, that’s it.”

“What?”  Walt shakes his head at me.  “Margaret, this is the way you always drink it.”

I open my mouth to argue with him, then stop short.  Maybe this is the way I drink my coffee now?  Yes, it tastes way too creamy and disgusting, but maybe somehow I got to like it this way in my old life.  Maybe I just need to give it a chance.

I take another tentative sip. 

No way, this is awful.  I put it on my bedside table, trying to push away my disappointment.

“Dr. Vance scheduled you for a Brain MRI in the morning,” Walt says. 

“Lovely.”

“He’s going to observe you overnight, then we’ll decide what to do when we see the results,” Walt goes on.  “I called your boss this morning and explained about the accident, and how you’d be out a few days, but now I think we should ask if you could take an extended leave.”

“I guess it’s too much to hope for that I have tenure yet, huh?” I say.  I’m joking around, but also, I really hope Walt tells me I have tenure.  I’m certain that I’ve at least gotten a professorship though.

He shakes his head.  “No.  You’re still an instructor.”

His words hit me like a slug in the jaw.  What?  I’m still an instructor?  How is that possible?  I was practically promised a promotion as long as…

“You never finished your book,” Walt explains. 

Wow.  This really sucks.  When I got married three years ago, I’d expected to have a promotion and a baby by now.  Instead I have neither.  No wonder my brain decided to erase itself.

This has to change.  I have to do something to fix this somehow.  And it’s very clear that an extended leave for a brain injury is not going to get me the promotion that I want.  That I deserve.

“Please don’t call my boss,” I say.

Walt looks at me, startled.  “What are you talking about, Margaret?  You can’t go back to work.  You’re a mess.”

“Fine,” I say.  “Tell him I have the flu or something.  But don’t tell him I hurt my head.”

“Margaret…”

“Walt.”  I fold my arms across my chest.  “If you tell my boss that I have a brain injury, I am never going to get promoted.  Ever.  You’ll wreck my career.”

“That’s not…”

“I swear to God, Walt,” I say.  “If you tell him, I’ll never forgive you.”

Walt looks unhappy about it, but agrees to keep my secret.  My head is really spinning now.  I can’t believe I never finished writing that fucking book.  What the hell happened?  I was supposed to be on track for a tenure position right now.  The book was going great.  I had written a brilliant first chapter.

Somehow the small amount of coffee I drank suddenly hits my bladder and I need to pee very urgently.  “I need to use the bathroom,” I inform Walt.

“I’ll get the bedpan,” Walt offers.

I shake my head.  “No way.”  I tried using the bedpan earlier today.  I don’t know who invented the idea of trying to pee in a little tray while lying in bed.  Maybe it works for men, but not for women.  I practically spilled pee everywhere.

Again, Walt looks unhappy about it, but agrees to help me to the bathroom, where I pee for about five straight minutes.  Then as I’m washing my hands in the sink, I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror.  And I scream.

Walt yanks open the bathroom door, his blue eyes wide.  “Margaret, what’s wrong?”

I point at my reflection with a shaky finger: “What the hell happened to me?”

I hardly even recognize the person staring back at me in the mirror.  She’s certainly a far cry from the girl in the vanity mirror on my wedding day.  For starters, I’ve gotten fat.  I don’t know how I didn’t notice before now, but it’s pretty obvious from looking at my face, and easily confirmed by looking down at my belly, boobs, and legs.  I’m probably fifty pounds heavier than I was last time I saw myself. 

And the weight is the least of my problems.  I look old.  How did I suddenly get old in only three years?  Admittedly, I must be two years shy of forty, but still.  Where did all this gray hair come from?  Why don’t I at least dye it?  And why did I give up on contacts and decide to wear schoolmarm glasses all the time? 

It’s like I suddenly gave up on my appearance completely.

And you know what the worst part is?  When I point it out to Walt, he just shrugs and says, “What?  You look fine.”

“I look awful!” I almost scream at him.  “When did I get so fat?”

“Actually,” he says, “you lost a few pounds recently.”

You have got to be kidding me.

I sink down on the toilet seat, struggling not to cry.  I was so full of hope three years ago.  How did things get messed up so badly?  It’s so frustrating to know that things went wrong, but not know how or when.

“Margaret?”  Walt is hovering at the bathroom door, a worried expression permanently etched on his handsome features.  It pains me just to look at him right now.  How could he want to be with me when I look so disgusting?

“I’m tired,” I say.  I’m lying, but at the moment I say it, I do feel really tired all of a sudden.  “I think I’m going to go back to bed.”

“Are you… remembering anything?” Walt asks me.

I wish I could say yes, but all I can do is mutely shake my head.

To be continued...

11 comments:

  1. Couldn't wait for it to appear lengthier! I have read it on your homepage at least three times! Can you please update VERY SOON! Can't wait to find out more about this mystery!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ohhh! I like I like! More please!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I think this is a fantastic start! I can't wait for the next chapter, and hope you'll post soon!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Ooh, very intriguing beginning. I'm looking forward to seeing how all this unfolds.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Love how original this story is, can't wait to read more and find out about Riley. Please keep going, everything you write is so fun to read, I always love your characters.

    Kaya

    ReplyDelete
  6. So excited to see this chapter.Read it previously on your site and can`t wait to see what happens next. Thanks for posting!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Ah, the intrigue! Love the idea of this.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Very interesting first chapter, looking forward to more - thank you for posting it

    ReplyDelete
  9. Great first chapter. Am excited to read more... Thanks for posting!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Really gripping opening! I'm excited to see what happens next.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Please post an update soon, I'd love to know how this continues. The suspense is killing me! :)

    ReplyDelete