Published on 2012/05/13

Remember the Day

Heather Quinlan

We never used to eat that kind of pecan. We always had honey roasted, not dry roasted. Honey roasted pecans, almonds, and peanuts and every other sort of nut, but never dry roasted. No, we never ate that kind of pecan. And for some reason when I woke up, that was the factoid of my life I chose to tell the doctor. Or maybe I was telling the bright surgical light that was blinding me. The only thing I was capable of saying after that was a garbled mess that sounded something like “Mmchugnimagah.” I meant to ask where I was.

The doctor just smiled at me and put a mask over my face. When I woke up, I was in a new room, no light glaring at me from above. Instead, there was a soft lit lamp in the corner, and it was illuminating a windowless set up that looked like it came straight from a catalog. My bed, however, was a standard hospital bed, and I was strung up to a multitude of machines beeping and buzzing away. An old hag of a nurse in a grotesque set of pink scrubs was checking my blood pressure.

“Well, well, it’s good to see you’re awake, Mr. Smith,” she croaked at me. I asked her where I was, but she was too busy dislodging whatever was living in her chest to hear me.

“Where am I?” I repeated once she was finished coughing.

“I’ll go get the doctor.” She flashed me a snaggletoothed grin and placed the chart on the end of my bed as she left, but obscured my view into the hallway when she shut the door behind her. The light started to pulse, or it seemed to. The pulsing matched my heart rate, which I felt steadily increase, and I heard the beeping on the machine accelerate. Just when I thought I was going to lose it, the door reopened, and a doctor walked in, and the pulsing stopped. Maybe it was the same doctor as before.

“Now, now, no need to get all worked up,” he smiled at me. He had a face anyone could love; he could be anyone’s friend. “Now, Nurse Kay says you don’t seem to know where you are, which is not at all surprising, or something to worry about. You are in a highly specialized neurological recovery facility located in the St. Mary’s Hospital of Chester, Pennsylvania. Does that seem to ring a bell?” I shook my head. “You see, about a month ago you were in an accident that involved your falling off a building, and taking quite a nasty knock to the head. All things considered, you are extraordinarily lucky to have this second shot at life.” He flashed me his movie star smile.

“What kind of accident? How did I fall off of a building?”

“The report itself is very vague and unfortunately we don’t have very much information on the incident. That is why I’m here. I’m going to try and help you regain your memory so we can all learn what happened to you. This leads me to my first matter of business. I would like to ask you some basic questions, background and that sort of thing, just to see exactly what damage we are dealing with. Sound good?” I nodded as he pulled a small notepad from his chest pocket. He ran his fingers through his cropped, sandy hair and pulled up a beige stool. “Excellent. First, could you tell me your name, age, and where you were born?”

“Yes, my name is Paul Smith, I’m thirty two, and I was born in San Francisco.” He scribbled madly into his notepad.

“Good, good. Can you name your immediate family members for me?”

“My father’s name is Carl, mother’s is Janice, and my sister is Kayla.” I noticed for the first time the blue scripted name on his coat. Jackson Lawrence, M.D.

“Very good. Let’s try something a little more trying now. I’d like you to pick and tell one childhood memory for me, if you can.” Jackson Lawrence, M.D. inched slightly closer as I furrow my brow in concentration. After a few long seconds, a memory crashed to the front of my mind.

“Right, so we were on our grandfather’s farm for maybe Christmas or Thanksgiving because it was cold. No, it must have been more around Thanksgiving because we were raking leaves. We would pile them under the tree as high as a pile as we could, and then we would climb up the tree and jump in. Each time, we went higher and higher up the tree, as far as we could, but where we wouldn’t hit the lower branches when we jumped, right? I mean, the leaves didn’t do much really, but it was better than hitting the cold ground. But one time, the last time I suppose, Gracie went up to high, or didn’t climb to the right branch or something. She hit her arm or leg on a lower branch and it spun her upside down and she broke her arm.” Suddenly, that didn’t sound right at all. “No, no. That wasn’t how she broke her arm. No, we were on our bikes. She fell funny. I don’t even think our grandfather had that kind of tree, the kind that loses its leaves. I think I maybe saw that in a film, I don’t know. But that’s definitely not right.” Jackson Lawrence, M.D. was frowning when I finally looked back to him.

“Gracie? Who was Gracie?”

“Gracie, my sister.” This guy was seriously an idiot, I told him that not even five minutes before.

“No, your sister’s name is Kayla. But that’s alright, it just means we have more work to do, but we’ll get your memories right in no time. For now, just rest up, I think we’ve strained your mind enough for the moment. I’ll be back shortly and we’ll give it another go.” Before I had a chance to respond, he left, disappointment carved on his face.

Was my sister really Kayla? Was she Gracie? Did my grandfather a tree like that? I stared at the slanted ceiling trying to recall anything besides the memory of the tree, the knowledge of a bike crash. There was nothing. I felt like I had no history, but I also felt it lurking in the shadows of my brain. They were the words on the tip of my tongue, the memories on the edge of my brain. Suddenly, right as my temples started to ache from the effort of memory, I started seeing flashes. I was in a classroom, surrounded by blurred faced children. Then I was in a field with Gracie playing a mock sword fight, which transformed into Kayla and me playing tag with more blurred children. Gracie was crying on my shoulder in front of the grave of my parents. My parents were taking pictures of Kayla, myself and our dates before a school dance. More and more memories followed, blurred and mixing, my sisters changing mid scene. Marriages, funerals, graduations, parties, they all came rushing to me in a vivid blur. Then, blackness.

I dreamt that it was my eleventh birthday, and Gracie and I were at our parent’s grave again. We told them of school, of living with grandfather. I stood up and I was laughing with Kayla as we walked home from our high school. We get home and our house smelled of honey roasted nuts. I leave Kayla and walk from the kitchen into my grandfather’s study; I can still smell the nuts. My sisters are dancing to music I cannot hear around the surgical light. Jackson Lawrence, M.D. walks in wearing fatigues and I wake up. The real Jackson Lawrence, M.D. has resumed his seat next to my bed and is scribbling in his notebook. He glanced over at me, noticed that I was awake and flashed that same brotherly smile from before.

“Sorry for waking you, but I would like to try another approach, a little something to maybe clear up the confusion in your mind. I would like to tell you what we know of your past. How does that sound?” I nodded groggily in agreement. “Your sister’s name is Kayla. She lives in the same town as your parents, just a little north from here. You spent the holidays at your grandfather’s farm in Iowa. When you were eleven, your sister fell from the tree in his yard and broke her arm. You attended John Hopkins University and graduated with a degree in Political Science. A year later, after being unable to find a job, you joined the Marine Corps. You were married to Grace Phillips, which is perhaps where your confusion stems from, but the two of you were divorced after three years. You have spent the past seven years as a peace negotiator, up to the point of your accident a few months ago.” He stopped and seemed to be gauging my reaction. The more he talked, the more I realized this was not my life. I was never married. I knew without a doubt that there never was a Kayla. I was never in the military.

“That just…” I struggle to find the words to tell this man. “That is not my life. My parents died when I was ten, my sister is Gracie. I don’t know whose life you have tried to give me, but I know that it is not mine. I’m sorry Dr. Lawrence.” He smiled at me, actually seeming slightly pleased.

“Can you remember anything from right before the accident, Mr. Smith?”

“No. All I can remember from recently is this place.”

“Well, I guess it is irrelevant. What is relevant is the fact that you provided a perfect opportunity for science, Mr. Smith. Science knows very little about memory, about how it works, why we forget some things and remember others.” He drifted off and fiddled with some of the machines on the wall closest to the foot of my bed. It didn’t feel right, being there, and an overwhelming sense of dread crept inside my chest. I had to leave. He was too involved with whatever he was doing to notice that I had pulled the IV and wires from my arm. I had pulled my feet over the edge of my bed and was almost standing before he noticed me. I stood and sprinted to the door, the edges of my hospital gown flapping wildly. The other side of the door revealed a typical, although windowless, hospital hallway. I chose a direction and started running. I ran by, among other doctors and nurses, the snaggletoothed Nurse Kay who seemed mildly amused at my frantic escape. The end of the hall sported two large metal doors and I burst through, expecting them to be locked. I was in a stairwell, and the only direction was up. Taking the stairs two by two, I reached the top after about two flights. The doors were identical to the ones below, but I opened them with more caution this time.

I was on the roof, middle class suburbia sprawled out around the building. I moved to the edge in hopes there was a magical crash pad that would soften the four story fall that was my only escape. The doctor was on the roof only seconds later.

“Paul, you cannot win, you understand that, right? Nothing you do will change a thing,” the man panted wildly and took a few steps towards me. With my heels on the edge of the building, my bare ass on display for the world below, Jackson Lawrence, M.D. tackled me.

When I woke, I smelled dry roasted pecans. At first, I was reminded of my youth, but then I realized we never ate dry roasted pecans, we always had honey roasted. I told the sandy haired doctor, and the light he held, this fact from my past, and they seemed glad to know.


Heather is currently a senior at the University of Colorado studying creative writing and psychology.