When Anne receives a video of herself that she doesn't remember recording, doing things she doesn't remember doing, her whole world starts to change.
I hit play and watch myself in the recording. But what I see isn't what I remember. All I can remember is being knocked down after seeing a wide shouldered shadow following me. Was it a man or a woman? I can't even tell. I sit back in my living room, curled up on my couch, trying to catch my breath after what I just saw.
I re-watch the video, hoping that it will help reality sink in. The video starts with my face, a faint smile lies over it that can barely be seen, but my eyes clearly show that I'm just not there. Then a little child comes into the picture, wearing ragged clothes. He hugs me and calls me Mama. And the video stops. But there must be a mistake because I'm no body's Mama! I've never even seen this kid in my entire life. But who am I to say what's real and what's not? Right now, I'm not even sure of my own name. I throw my phone away because this doesn't make any sense. Why would anyone claim that I have a child? What do they gain?
I turn on the T.V and pretend everything is normal until I fall asleep.
I wake up screaming, the events of that night keep getting into my sleep. Minute by minute I start remembering more pieces yet many are still blacked out. I remember getting ready for the big party at Dalia's house. I remember going there and finding the crowd too overwhelming so I silently go out for some fresh air. I go for a walk in their backyard, I keep walking into the open gates to the woods. And just as I was mesmerizing the ancient trees stretching its branches to the deep blue sky, I hear a muffled sound of footsteps.
“It's probably just a rabbit” I say to stop myself from panicking. I have never wished for anything in life more than for this to be true, but clearly, I was wrong. A few seconds later I see the shadow, it looks so big I don't even dare to look back. I tried to run away as I saw a shovel in its hand. And right at that moment I felt it smash my skull. I fell to the ground and that was it. The next thing I knew I'm in my own bed. Wearing that same dress I wore to the party and the calendar says it's been two days since the incident.
I completely ignore what happened and stick to my daily routine, I wake up early to run before going to work. I started this habit to help me clear my mind before tackling the day ahead of me. While I intended for running to be an act of solitude, it helped me make the strongest relationship I have so far. I remember noticing Will for the first time when I changed my route to a longer one, his fast running and muscular body was hard to miss. I was in a competitive mood that day so I tried to race him unconsciously, until I got my ankle sprained.
It was embarrassing and awkward and we still laugh about it. He noticed my sudden stopping and approached to see if I’m ok. “What a run, huh? Mind if check your foot?” with the jolting pain I had, all I could do was pull up the hem of my pants so he can take a better look at my injured foot. “A sprained ankle, looks like it’s a nasty one though. Try not to step on it” he said while I leaned on his shoulder for balance. “That’s my shop right there, if you want you can get some rest and then take a cab home. I’m Will, by the way.” “Yeah, that sounds good. I’m Anne.” I nodded while checking the shop he pointed at, it was a toy shop, and for a second I was just watching him and the shop’s pink sign with pictures of cartoons on it and couldn’t believe that he owned it. I sat on a little chair inside and watched him guide the delighted kids who entered the shop. I thanked him for his hospitality and went home. From that day onwards, I’ve always took that route to run and what started as an accident turned to a strong friendship.
For my case, work is a welcome distraction from all the wreck I’m going through. I’m a graphic designer at a small advertising agency. When I work, I shut the whole world around me and completely focus on the project ahead of me. I hardly ever talk about anything but work with the clients and co-workers. I come on time, I sit on the computer screen for hours, and then I go home. So I can say I’m good at avoiding people, but what I’m really avoiding is their questions. What did you do before you come here? Where’s your family? Why are you so pale today? I don’t know.
Waking up in the middle of the night gasping for air has become a habit of mine. I try to recall pieces of my last dream. It’s fairly easy because it's the same every night. A younger version of that kid keeps creeping into my sleep. Whether it's him as a toddler taking his first steps or playing with his kite, or a gathering for his birthday party. It's always him, and just like that video, the dream always ends when he calls me Mama. This has to stop, I think as I drink water to calm myself down. I call the only friend I trust, Will. I don't expect him to pick up since his probably deep asleep, but he does.
"Seriously Anne, who calls people at 2 am?" Will grumpily asks me with a sleepy voice. I tell him everything that happened to me this past week. I tell him how I feel lost, like another person has woken up inside of me. How I don't even feel like myself anymore, and how those nightmares are driving me crazy. I can feel how shocked he is even through the phone. While we’re talking I hear his car’s engine starts, and five minutes later he's ringing my doorbell.
He checks my head and my body like he's expecting to see a blood bath, he finds nothing but a few bruises and a scar. I give him the phone with shaking hands. He watches the recording carefully, repeating it several times. His face expressions are much calmer now. We’re both trying to give a logical explanation to all of this, with no luck. In this moment I feel like the world is spinning around me. But I realize that being confused with him by my side is much better than being confused alone.
My days go by fairly normal. Except that Will started visiting me every day. It's like he wants to guard me from that psycho, even if he knows there’s nothing he can do, and that's more than fine with me. I started sleeping better since I told him about the incident. I now know that I am not alone.
Just as I was checking my phone, I get a new message from an unknown number. I immediately know it's him. A paralyzing chill runs down my spine, but I manage to give the phone to Will and ask him to read the message. “Meet me at the park facing your house in an hour. I’ll explain everything. Don't call the police. I won't hurt you.” He read. “He’s insane to even think you’re meeting him. I'm calling the police!” He added with an angry frown that creased his forehead. “Didn't you just read what he said? I'm going to meet him. This might be my only chance at knowing what this is all about.” “It’s already late! This is dangerous and bluntly stupid.” he argued. I understand his frustration. I know he only want what’s best for me, and it’s probably a bad idea to go but I’m certain that I must go. “Can’t you see it's the only way to put an end to all this confusion? I don’t have an option here, I have to go.” “Then you're definitely not going alone, I'm coming with you.”
While I was changing my clothes I was also getting emotionally ready for the worst-case scenario. I kept telling myself that if he wanted to kill me he could've done that already, and if he wanted to hurt me he wouldn't meet me at a park. But meeting someone who've knocked you down with a shovel will never be a delightful idea. Through all of these emotions, my heart is filled with gratitude for Will, it feels like he paused his life to be by my side and I’ve never felt this kind of love from anyone else before. He's my rock that keeps me stable during all of this mess. “Ready?” Will asks while knocking on my bedroom's door.
It's the most horrifying walk I've ever had to take, thoughts rush into my mind like waves crashing onto the shore. I see a hooded man standing in the corner, I reach for Will's hand and clutch it with all my power. The hooded man approaches us and looks at Will with questioning eyes. “I want to talk to you alone, believe me, you don't want anyone to know what I'm about to tell you.” He muttered. I notice that he's much younger than what I've expected. He's a teenager with a familiar voice. “I trust him. Tell me everything and be quick!” I demanded.
“Have it your way, but don't tell me I didn't warn you. I want you to look at my face, don't you remember me? Doesn’t the name Jack ring a bell?” he asked while revealing his face. I look at him and for a second and it's like a hint of a memory flashes then disappears quickly in my brain. I feel Will's eyes reading me, trying to understand why I'd know this guy. “No.” is all I manage to say.
“Well, Once upon a time I was your beloved nephew” he stated sarcastically.
“I swear to God, if you don't talk straight I'm calling the police” threatened Will.
“It's hard to explain. I'm not lying when I say you are my aunt. Didn't you ever wonder where your family is? How your life was before you came here?”
I feel like my head is going to explode with the thoughts and memories that’re running through it all at once. I've always avoided thinking about my past because it feels vague and blurry. Instead, I focused on my future, my career. But that emptiness gave me a wall of insecurity that stopped me from forming deep connections with the people around me. I simply couldn't open up to someone when I’m not even comfortable with opening up to myself. It always felt like a piece of myself is missing, and I wasn’t planning on looking for it.
"This is how it all started. You, my mother, me and little Jacob. We used to live together and we all helped running our restaurant, we didn't have much money, but we were happy. Until you started complaining from severe headaches that kept you days with little or no sleep. We took you from one doctor to the other without any success with even getting an accurate diagnosis. Until we heard about a clinical trial for a new medicine that helped people with similar symptoms, so we sold our restaurant and moved in here. We didn't have a choice, you were getting a step closer every day to going insane and all we could do is watch. You were kept under their supervision and we were not allowed to visit you for two months where they gave you the medication that eventually cured you, but had one damaging side effect.”
“What is it?” I asked with my heart filled with fear that it’s something deadly. “It left you with no memories of us, the only family you had. My mother was traumatized by your condition. She blamed herself for letting you suffer. She threatened to sue them even though she knows she has a lost case because she signed the consent, they agreed to a financial compensation and with that, she bought you this house and helped you have a decent life before you were well enough to get a job. My mother gave up all she had to help you but all you gave her back was rejection and bad temper. After a while, things started getting ugly, there was always fighting and screaming because she pushed you to remember our past and you wanted to be left alone. You got a job, and you seemed like you were doing great on your own, as long as we are not near you, even Jacob, your only son, who was too young to understand what you were going through. So for your sake and for ours, we went back to our hometown, and tried to re-build our lives.” The world around me felt hazy and all I could hear was the train of thoughts in my head. This can’t be true, can it? Do I want it to be true? This means I have a family, but it also means that I abandoned them. I can’t blink away the tears that’s blurring my vision, so I run away.
Tears poured down my cheeks even when I was running at full speed. With no other place in mind, I headed back to my house, locked the door behind me and wept. Shortly after, Will was knocking my door vigorously but I couldn’t open. Taking him with me was a mistake, getting attached to him was a mistake, going to that stupid party was a mistake, and even living seems now like a mistake.
Will stopped knocking at the door he simply said “Anne, please hear me out, let me help you. I know how lost you feel right now but we can find a solution to everything ok? He told me he can prove everything with documents but until now we’re not even sure he’s saying the truth.” I didn't need a proof to believe what I was told, the memories that's forming in my head were enough to trigger something in my brain that was long forgotten. “You’re not alone in this, whatever happens, whatever choice you make, just remember that you’re not alone.” And with those words I felt a part of my heart that was squeezed shut soften. I opened the door and threw my weight over him, I clung to him like I was sinking and he was my oxygen.
I feel like my heart is sagging down into an empty pit of darkness, it’s the guilt that’s crushing me. I knew I wasn’t normal and I didn’t go for help. I had a child, and I abandoned him. I had a family that sacrificed their entire life for me, but I didn’t even look for them. I’m also scared of what will happen now. I have to build a whole new life and I’m not sure if I’m ready for this.
I asked Will to give me Jack’s number and I called him to tell him that I want to meet Jacob.
Seven - Final
We met in his apartment, surrounded by dirty furniture and stained walls, it was hard not to notice his bad living conditions. I asked him why he didn’t approach me directly. “I swear I didn't want to meet you that way, I didn't want to hurt you, but that night you ran away from me and I was afraid you'll start screaming” he answered.
“I'm not angry. I'm just confused, what do you want from me?” “All I want is for Jacob to see you. He’s been asking a lot about you lately.” My raised brow showed him that I'm not buying this. “Honestly, I couldn't stand how you lived a happy simple life while we had to suffer every day because of what happened to you. We couldn't get over what we've lost. My mom had to work three jobs to take care of us yet there was always the question of whether we’ll have food for dinner or not. Wither she'll be able to pay the next month’s rent or not. Everything in our life was a challenge.”
"What does this have to do with me and Jacob?" I said with a shiver at saying his name for the first time.
“He doesn't have to live this way. You are his mother and I don't care if everyone tells me you’ve lost your mind, I've been watching you, and from what I've seen you're perfectly fine. Now take responsibility for your own child”
“Is he here with you?”
“Jacob, come here”
The boy entered the room shyly, his eyes on the floor and on his cousin but not on me.
“Hello Jacob, how are you?”
I had to fight the urge to hug him and hold him on my lap, to tell him how everything makes sense now. He was the missing piece in my life.
I know I have to take this slowly for his sake. The shy, skinny boy I'm seeing now doesn't seem to feel the same way and I don't blame him.
"Wanna get some ice cream?"
Jacob nodded with a wide smile on his face.