"If we wish to forget anything on the spot,
make a note that this thing is to be remembered."
- EDGAR ALLEN POE
For Brad, who always knew.
Brown eyes. Both devoid of light and projecting their own brightness, impossibly and endlessly.
This is the last thing I see before the world changes in a flash of whiteness.
The whiteness—the terrible void of it. It’s whiteness like you’ve never seen and could never fully describe. This whiteness isn’t a light. There isn’t anything bright or radiating about it. Nothing warm or glowing in it. It’s just white. Completely still, all inhabiting whiteness. It’s a cleansing whiteness—that’s the only way I can get myself to really describe it. A whiteness that seems to strip away my skin, my mind, layer by layer by layer until it’s embraced my core into it’s void. Like a sunburn in hyper speed. A sunburn you can’t feel or see, but you know is happening.
And then it disappears.
Maybe I blink or maybe it just vanishes because one second all I can see is white and the next, I’m lying on the floor. On my back in the middle of the floor of a room I don’t recognize. The light above me isn’t white. It’s red—terribly, terribly red—and it washes over the entire room. I blink again just to see if it changes again. I blink and blink and blink until I’m sure the whiteness won’t come back and then it finally feels safe enough to sit up.
Or at least that’s what I try to do. It’s like I’ve become a part of the floor and it’s afraid to let me go. I fight against hands that feel stuck into my skin, peeling myself away in slow, painful increments. With every movement comes a joint creaking so loud I swear the popping echoes off the walls and ricochets right back, attacking me with my own sound. When I’m sitting up finally, with my elbows resting on my knees, I’m too elated to stifle a smile. My face resists when I do though, too stiff, too rigid for the action. More muscles that have gone rigid.
I take the second to look around the room while I stretch my crackling limbs—only there isn’t much to look at. It’s a small square-shaped room with nothing in it occupying space except for the red bulb of light and me. I run my finger on the floor and it comes back clean. There isn’t even a speck of dust to keep me company.
Well, there is one other thing in the room with me, but it takes me a second to place what exactly it is.
On the wall, from the floor to the ceiling is a long, reflective thing. I find myself staring at it for a long time, staring at myself trapped inside, just under the surface. My eyes won’t leave my own, looking back like two great spheres of longing. I think to myself how I wouldn’t know it was there if I wasn’t right in front of it, if I wasn’t in it. In the plain red room, I wouldn’t see any way out.
Why would I think that? I ask myself. What is this?
And then, out of nowhere, the answer finds me.
A mirror. Of course that’s what it is.
Alright, that’s one answer. I scoot myself closer to the mirror, even venturing to touch it. The surface is smooth and cold against the heat of my skin and I’m not sure I like the feeling. When I take my hand away, it leaves a print where I’d just touched it. I try it again and again across the width of the mirror, alternating hands and different fingers until there’s no space left. That’s when I notice a hidden hinge along the side of the mirror. I run my finger over it too, making sure it’s really there. I look up and there’s another one identical to it by the top corner.
It’s a door! I actually laugh loudly to myself, the noise echoing into the little room. I can’t help it. The discovery’s sent my chest pulsing wildly and my head buzzing with questions.
How do I open it? I think, curiosity coursing through me now. Where does it go?
Then another question comes in before I’m ready for it. And my whole body goes still, my hands fall to my lap.
Where am I?
Suddenly I can’t look into the mirror anymore. Without thinking I’m scooting away from the mirror, scooting on my rear until my back hits the cold wall.
With the red light overhead and my reflection staring back, the only safe things to look are my own hands, resting motionless in my lap. It’s strange. I can’t remember the last time I looked at my hands. I think they’re weird looking. Somehow they manage to be both long and stubby, with square shaped nails that are chewed down way too short and too unevenly to ever look nice. That weird, hard skin on the edges of the nails is all white and dry with that weird peeling look that makes me want to pick at them. When I clench my fists, my knuckles look as sharp as razors, going bright white in just a few seconds and making my veins look almost black in comparison. I trace the veins going down my wrist, traveling from my callous palms to the soft, baby skin of my inner arm. The touch sends crackles of energy up my arm, like I’m not the one really touching my arm. It’s someone else sneaking up on my nerves. But no, it’s really me. My touch is too gentle, too careful, and I’m not sure why. I rub my hands together, feeling the rough skin, the little mountains of callous that mean my hands are used to working but I don’t remember what they went through to get that way.
Then it hits me. The realization of it floods in suddenly, nearly knocking me back from the sheer weight of it. I think I would have if my back wasn’t already pressed against the wall.
Then I pause because it makes no sense.
Absolutely no sense.
I look at my hands, with my fingers spread wide so I can see every crease, every rough patch, every inch of them.
And I don’t remember.
I don’t remember them outside this room.
I don’t remember ever using them.
I don’t remember anything.
No, no, no.
No, that’s not right.
I know what they’re called. Hands. That’s what they are. I know that.
Without me telling them to, my hands go up and run themselves through my hair. Testing them, their touch, their senses. I can feel my hair, the texture of it. I feel it when my finger gets caught in a tangle and I feel it hurt when I yank it through the tangle. My hands. My hair. Hair. I know that that’s what that’s called too.
What color is my hair?
I risk a glance at my reflection in the door but I can’t tell the color in the red light. Everything just looks red. My skin. My hair. My everything. Red. Deep, all encompassing red. It’s a kind of color that no one should ever or could ever be.
I make myself breathe quick, sharp gulps of air until I can get my mind steady again. I know that I know what things are called. Hands are hands. Hair is hair. But what about the things other than hands or hair or colors or mirrors that are also doors? I know what these things are because I see them in front of me, because they’re here in this room.
Do I have anything else in my head other than what’s here with me now?
I try to imagine something…something…I don’t know. Something different. Something other. I shut my eyes tight and try to imagine and imagine and imagine until I can feel sweat dripping down from my hair, but it’s impossible. I don’t know what could be different from this room because I haven’t seen anything different.
To know something is different, I’d have to see it first.
And the second I see it, it’s not different. It’s familiar, known.
That’s complicated, I think to myself and at the back of my mind I also wonder if I even completely understand what I’m even thinking.
What is different? What does that mean?
How do I know what’s different?
Think. Think. Think.
I remember what colors are. Thank goodness.
Red. Orange. Yellow. Green. Blue. Purple.
I know what they are. I know that they exist.
So why can’t I remember what they look like?
I glance at myself in the door again then curse myself for doing it. Stupid. If I hadn’t already looked, I could have tried to see if I could remember my face on my own. But I just couldn’t help but find out what the door was. Stupid.
Stupid, curious me—
What is my name?
A moment of panic jolts through my core before the answer reveals itself.
Just Simon, but it’s not “just” anything. No, definitely not.
Because I remembered it.
Simon. I test the name—my name—in my head. I look at my face again, seeing if I look like a Simon. It’s a weird thought but somehow it also seems perfectly normal. If I don’t look like my name, if I don’t fit the only thing I know about myself, then what does that make me?
I decide that that makes me Simon.
Yeah, it’ll do.
I think my face is a good one. I mean, I know I have nothing to go off of, but my face just seems like it’s good. My hair’s a mess but maybe that makes it interesting. But I really think it’s my nose that makes me think this. It looks like it’s a good size for my face, not too big or too wide. It doesn’t try to take up more than the plot of space it’s been given. Doesn’t push my eyes or mouth out of the way to make more room for itself, no, it has just enough.
The longer I look at my face, the more I see the intricacies of it, the discoloration of my skin. I have an army of little flecks standing still on my face, arms—all over my body. That’s strange. And my hair actually has a strange wildness to it, a curl that may never be tamed. And maybe it’s not so interesting, just strange. And and and and.
The more I look at myself, the less I like.
There is something about my nose I don’t like, I realize. There’s a little bump on the bridge of it, like it’s been broken. I wonder how that happened. I even run a finger gingerly over the bump to make sure it’s not new. It doesn’t hurt so I press on it harder. I even tap it a couple times in succession but I still feel nothing apart from my finger pushing down on it. No strange pain or grievance or discovery comes with the touch. I’m left staring at it, the useless bump that’s flawed me in some strange way. I have to stop looking at myself again.
But I think about the bump on my nose, wondering how it got there, what that means for me now. Could it hold something important about who I am?
Or is it just a bump?
A time—I can’t tell if it’s a long one or a short one—passes and eventually, I lie back down with my eyes closed, wracking my empty head for something—anything—that could tell me who I am. Because I can’t shake the feeling that there’s more. There has to be. I think I’d go insane if there was nothing more to me than this little room. There has to be more than that. I have a name and rough hands and a nose with a weird bump on it and who knows what else.
There have to be more people too. People I know. People I care about.
People that care about me.
Do they remember my face?
Will I ever remember their faces again?
Then it happens again. As soon as I ask the question, the answer flashes in my mind but this time it isn’t a word. It’s a picture. It’s there just a second before disappearing but I’ve already grasped it. It’s—
I see her in my mind, over and over, the picture of her burned into my mind with no hope of ever leaving it. I know she’s a girl because…well, somehow I just know. She’s a girl. She’s beautiful. She’s sitting in front of me, looking right at me and smiling in a way that makes her nose crinkle a little. Her nose is a nice one. Much nicer than mine and I feel kind of stupid now for thinking of mine so highly. Her nose doesn’t have a bump on the bridge of it. It’s like a gentle ski slope that starts and ends in a perfect place.
I like her face a lot more than mine and it doesn’t hurt to admit that. It doesn’t take away from myself to say that I like something of hers more.
She is beautiful.
Her wavy locks are the same shade of brown as her eyes, both dark and light all at the same time depending on how the light touches it. Her eyes are familiar somehow and when I think this I’m vaguely reminded of the whiteness again. Her eyes, brown and endless.
Yes, I have seen this girl before.
How could I forget them?
A flash of them just before the whiteness engulfed everything.
No. I’ve seen her before. Before I even opened my eyes, she was there. Immediately, my happiness turns bitter in my mouth. She isn’t different—not in the way I’m looking for. She was already here with me in this little room, waiting for me to notice.
My mouth presses into an upset line and I start thinking, trying to pull new images from my mind. I try to sift blindly through the empty void in my head but I can’t focus now. I close my eyes and try and force myself to think of other things—different things—but despite my best efforts, I find her face over and over until I can’t see anything but her. I don’t tell it to, but the center of my chest tightens. There’s a tug on my face that’s too much and I find myself grinning back.
I can’t help that I feel happy when I think of her. I feel the emptiness inside me start to fill. It’s still empty, but less now. Suddenly, it feels like there’s more in the room than just me. The feeling, it’s something I can’t name and may never be able to, but it’s comforting and familiar and reminds me of something sweet and dim.
And it hurts. Along with the wonder, there’s a pulling inside of my chest, like I’m not where I’m supposed to be, where I want to be, and my body is trying to keep me connected to where that belonging place is. But the connection is strained. There’s a painful thumping in the center of the emptiness in my chest, stabbing at my insides with each beat. It’s torture. It’s torture to just have one piece when you want everything you’re missing. It’s more than what I had before but nothing near what I want. What I need. It’s a small taste that only leaves me starving.
This small memory is all I have right now. It’s everything I have and somehow nothing at all. I’m left wanting more. I want to know more.
I want to hear her laugh, not just what it looks like in a still frame. I want to know where she is, how to get to her.
I want to know her name.
I want to know her.
I want and I want and I want and it makes me wonder.
I wonder who she is.
I wonder where she is.
I wonder how she is.
I wonder who I am to her.
I wonder who she is to me.
I’m in the middle of wondering a mess of things when there’s a knock at the door.
I don’t think it’s a knock at first. I think it’s a storm, clanging and crashing just outside my door. Really, it’s just three quick, precise raps on the door, but I feel each one vibrate out into the small, red room and right into my chest. The vibrations collect and sit in the hollow spot in my chest, buzzing in the center of my personal emptiness.
I jolt upright, startled.
I feel afraid for the first time.
The first time I can remember.
But I don’t think there’s much difference anymore.
I don’t think anything but—
I am afraid.
The Storm knocks again and I feel myself shrink with each rapping.
Boom. Boom. Boom.
I don’t hear when The Storm, from the other side of the door, asks to come in. My head is spinning and my ears are roaring and my chest is heaving and my hands are shaking and my body is failing and—Boom. I’m afraid. It’s overwhelming and new and—Boom. It’s impossible. This feeling. It might just kill me.
This fear will be the first and last thing I ever feel.
I am afraid.
I don’t hear the door open because inside I’m screaming. I don’t see The Storm as it rolls into the room because I am petrified, my eyes stuck to one spot on the floor. I don’t realize I’m hunched over with my hands over my ears and my body roaring. Or that it—The Storm—is standing over me until I’m looking directly into a pair of it’s shiny, black boots. Just like the door, I can see my reflection in them. My strange, bulging reflection stares back.
I don’t dare too look any higher.
My breathing is ragged and fast and my shoulders are heaving up and down when The Storm places it’s hand on me. On my left shoulder with a touch so soft I barely know it’s there. It’s a touch that makes the world stop. I go still. Every part of me that was rattling a moment ago, every feeling that crashed inside me, ready to explode, has gone still. I don’t even dare to breathe. I don’t know if I can.
We stay like this, The Storm and I. Frozen in this moment, I realize I’m not afraid anymore.
I am terrified.
The Storm has left me completely and utterly petrified.
I am terrified.
I am helpless.
I am alone.
I am alone.
And I am going to end alone.
Then out from that familiar corner of my mind, almost as if to disagree with me, there she is.
I see her again, the girl from my memories, and immediately a wave of something washes over me. It’s both gentle and steadying. The tension in my neck eases and I let myself to swallow some of my fear. I let myself breathe. My shoulders go up and down slightly when I do and The Storm’s hand shudders away, surprised.
I make myself breathe again, in and out, calling my thoughts back to my mind. Slowly, they come from their hiding places, nestling into more familiar spaces, and I breathe until I can feel the beating in my chest again. It’s still loud in my ears but it’s steady.
I close my eyes a moment and I see her face grow clearer as my insides slowly come back to life. A warm spot in my chest flickers, small but bright, and I open my eyes feeling stronger.
My head feels impossibly heavy but I make myself lift it to look up at The Storm. It’s face is blocking the red light so all I can see is a silhouette of shadow, but I still look into it’s center—The Storm’s eye. My jaw sets itself. I feel my eyes narrow.
I look right into The Storm.
I speak for the first time.
“Hello,” I say.
I feel courage for the first time.