Tick. Near the corner of my room, an analog clock read 2:14 am, the long hands casting shadows against the thick numbers and causing me to drift from my thoughts for the time being. Tick. I hadn't been able to sleep for days now, the nights dragging on endlessly as I waited, nothing else sensible to do but stare at the wall. Tick. I supposed I could have gotten up to fetch a book, or a notebook, or a drawing pad, or anything else to keep me occupied, but for some reason I felt as if I was glued to my mattress. Tick. I still tasted the mint of my toothpaste as I ran my tongue across the smooth surfaces of my teeth, my eyes wandering to the empty spot on the wall where a TV had been not a month earlier. That would have been a nice pass-time, though apparently I had lost my privileges to own a television. Tick. I clenched my fists, balling up my comforter between my fingers in annoyance as I let my attention stray from the wall, instead focusing it on the dark wood night table by the side of my bed. It was clean and organized, down to every drawer, the only things on the surface being a glass of water, a lamp, two sleeping pills, and a picture frame. Tick. The lamp was turned on, bathing the room in soft, dim light. I strained my eyes to make out the figures in the picture within the frame, the light of the lamp reflecting directly off the face of the person I wanted to see. I unclenched my fist and stretched my hand out to pinch the edge of the frame, turning it a few inches until the reflection had moved. Tick.
The woman in the photo was my late mother, the picture taken in an October about twenty six years ago, in a dense wooded area. The beautifully colored fall leaves fell around her face and body, the picture captured before any of them could drift to the ground. They were stuck in a frozen fragment of time. Tick. The shot was snapped when she wasn't fully paying attention, her features bright as she did her best to smile through her laughter. She looked beautiful, in a way that I had never been able to see her. Tick.
My father was the one who had taken the picture, determined to log all of the time he spent with my mother in the days they first met. There were several other snapshots similar to this, but this was my favorite by far out of the bunch. Her olive skin was glowing with health, her deep chocolate brown hair blown in wisps in every direction. A leaf had lodged itself in that tangled mess, the color mirroring that of her hazel eyes almost perfectly. The picture itself was slightly blurry with movement, my father's finger covering the top left corner. It was so imperfect; It had been shunned out of my father's collection of photos. But, I loved it.
My mother and father had married two years after this picture was taken. They moved to a place in southern Germany, and a year later had a little girl. If it wasn't obvious, that little girl was me. I was lucky enough to be blessed with many of my mother's features, except for the fact that my eyes were a mossy green, inherited from my father, and my hair fell in dark, curly waves. My skin was the same olive as hers, though slightly paler due to my lack of exposure to the sun. She had been a short woman, always looking so small when standing next to the towering frame of my father, who was nearly six foot two. I fell at a height between the two of them, barely reaching five-six. I wasn't short, necessarily, but I wasn't tall either. I was just average. There was nothing special about me. Tick.
It wasn't long after I was born that my mother became sick, her smile fading faster as the days rushed forward, until she was far too weak to smile much at all. None the less, she always stayed positive no matter what she faced. When I was five we moved to Tokyo, Japan, settling into a large house nearly forty minutes away from the city. The building itself had been granted to my father through his business. He was a scientist, and his experiments on enhancing the productivity of cells had made headlines all over the world, catching the attention of a philanthropist and fellow scientist in Tokyo named Dr. Nagisa Yashimoto. She was the one who had given the grant to my father, and while she was a very stern woman, I found she was fairly pleasant to be around. Tick. After we moved she visited often, checking in on my father and pressing him to do better than he ever had before. My mother didn't like Nagisa, though, due to what she called her 'abruptness and rash personality'. So, during Nagisa's weekly visits to our household, my mother stayed secluded in her room, awaiting the moment when I would gently rap my knuckles against her door to tell her that Nagisa had left. Week after week I would receive my mother's grand smile as she opened the door and celebrated the scientist's absence, to the point where it became almost a joke for us. My mother would make ridiculous excuses to leave as soon as she stepped in the door, never failing to making me laugh, especially with her semi-broken English.
'The potbellied pig in my room needs to be fed.' '
'I have to check on my closet door hinges.'
'Did you hear that? I should go check that. I hope it is not the madman rummaging around again...'
No matter what, she always managed to come up with a different excuse every time, always lightening the mood, even though Nagisa usually got frustrated. Soon, though, my mother began to retire to her room even without the presence of Nagisa, disappearing and not returning sometimes for hours. Tick. Those hours melded into days, and eventually she didn't come out at all. It became a rarity to see my mother out around the house. When she did come out I cherished my time with her as much as I possibly could before she disappeared again. My mother was the most important thing to me, especially at that young age. Tick.
As my father's research progressed more and more, important figures became bored and unimpressed with his 'old fashioned' or 'ridiculous' ideas, one by one dropping their sponsors and grants until my father wasn't being paid at all. He pretended for a while, for my mother and I's sake, that everything was fine, and that he was only going through a short spurt of financial trouble. Tick. Soon, though, I began to notice the internal changes in my father, changes that were corrupting him from the inside out. He began to get angry with my mother and I more often, his temper easily sparked by ridiculously simple issues that he should have been able to brush off. But for whatever reason, my father became incapable of self control, disrupting our family life. I'd heard before that geniuses often went mad. I believed it. Tick.
I hated abuse more than I hated anything else in the world, not only because I had been through it, but because I had to watch my mother go through it. Even in her last few weeks of life my father wouldn't give her the break she deserved, shouting at her for ridiculous things. Even then I was too stupid to stand up to him...even to help my mother whom I loved more than anything. She died a few weeks after my twelfth birthday. My father told me she'd gone to see her mother in Russia, something that he advised against, and had died on the plane. Just like that, my mother was gone. And so was my happiness.
After mother died, my father began to use me as a test subject for his crazy experiments, sure that if he could prove that they worked on a human being someone would begin to sponsor him again. But he was wrong. No one even gave him a second glance, even though I was suffering through procedures and working as hard as I could to help him. He was cruel, driven completely by science. To him, I was nothing more than another Guinea pig for him to work with. Still...I couldn't stand up to him. I never could. There was something about the way he had always talked down to me, so bitter and disgusted, that made me believe I was worthless. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. TICK.
I fumbled around the top of my dresser with one shaky hand, wrapping my fingers around the edge of the picture frame and thrusting it off of the table, where it hit the clock on the wall before sending both of the objects to the ground with a great crash. I waited in the quiet for a few moments, awaiting yet another annoying tick from the clock. Nothing. I was in complete silence. And, as much as I thought I would enjoy it, I hated it. I let a faint sigh escape my lips as I collapsed against my pillow, tugging the sheets up and over my head until the soft fabric had almost completely drown out the light from my lamp, which I was far too upset to turn off. I felt much safer under the heavy comforter, just like a child who was afraid of the monsters under her bed. Except my monster wasn't under the bed; My monster was a few doors down, sleeping peacefully in his own room. I was twenty three years old, barely, and I was hiding from a monster. Sometimes I felt like such a baby. Squeezing my eyes shut, I plunged back into thinking about the details of my past, something I always did when I felt lost. I hoped that maybe the more I thought about it, the more I'd be able to understand. There were so many things I couldn't remember, memories that were just barely out of reach. Was it because they were too painful? Even if they were, I was determined. Maybe if I could continue to dwell on my past, the lost memories would just pop up again...or so I liked to believe. After all, those things that I couldn’t remember were only large black masses of missing space and time. If I could push the black away, clear the fog surrounding what was lost, I would be able to remember. And, just maybe, I'd be able to finally feel normal.
When I was about fourteen I developed an obsession with the supernatural. I'd discovered a set of comic books hidden away in our basement, and, after reading nothing but textbooks and other various schoolwork that my father forced upon me, it was a refreshing sight. I was completely consumed by comic heroes. The pages were so bright, the ideas so incredible that I almost felt I was there with the heroes and heroines, living a life I knew I could never have. There was something so spiritually lifting about each comic I read through, even when I ran out of new things to read. I'd spend hours rereading the same comic over and over again, twirling around my room, acting it out. I can remember that my father was angry, but for the first time in my life I didn't care. My cousin, daughter of my father's sister, would sneak new comic books every time she visited. Though it was only once or twice a year, it was still more than enough. She fed my addiction with comic after comic, sometimes not even in sequence, though it didn't matter to me. What mattered was the idea that there was a world where superheroes walked the streets, helping those in need. I often imagined myself being swept up by a handsome man in an outrageous uniform, spouting words of courage as he saved me from my awful existence.
My father dropped his 'crazy' scientific ideas for medicinal research when I was sixteen, turning over a new leaf and letting hope into his life again. He couldn't shake his abusive habits, though, but I was slowly growing more used to them as the days went on. Another day, another bruise. That was how life worked, I thought. I continued to be tested on, but the fact that I was helping create medicine for the greater population eased my nerves a little. So long as I was helping someone else in the long run, I was content. Gaining the support of Dr. Yashimoto yet again, my father started the medical company 'TG Medicines', a medical supplier for nearby Japanese hospitals. The TG stood for Theodor Green, though his full name was Harold Theodor Green. Why my father chose to use his middle name instead of his first I never knew, but I guessed it was a way for him to detach himself from his old habits...most of them, at least. He didn't want to be the unpopular 'Dr. Harry Green' anymore. He wanted to start fresh.
You can imagine my absolute delight when real heroes started popping up on the news. I can remember I was eating a milk-less bowl of cereal when the headline 'Who is Iron Man?' flashed at the bottom of the morning weather report. I spilled my bowl, and cereal went in every direction. Needless to say, my father was irritated. I, however, was elated. Heroes were out there. My comic books were real. I tried to do as much research as I could on other heroes, looking up things when I knew my father wouldn't catch me. If he knew I was wasting my time on something so silly, he'd be furious for sure. As with before, my cousin helped me when she could. I can remember the last day she ever visited, when I was about twenty, holding a large box of pamphlets and magazine covers from the nineteen forties, decorated with faded red, white and blue words. Captain America. The war hero lost at sea. The man who'd paid the greatest price to save his country and his people. The soldier that my German ancestors fought so hard to defeat. A weak boy who became one of America's greatest fighters. Something about his story made me feel stronger. I, too, was weak. But so was he, and he still managed to push to the top and prove everyone wrong. I wanted so badly for that to be me. He gave me hope.
My cousin hasn't visited since.
Something happened when I was twenty one years old, though this is one of the memories that has been blacked out in my mind. I remembered taking a trip to New York for one of my father's business meetings - Was it really New York, though? - and I vaguely recalled some sort of struggle, though every time I tried to think of more details my head spun and ached. I wanted so badly to remember and fill the empty chunk of time that was missing from my memories, but I just didn't have the willpower to do it. I began to develop many health problems after that time, chronic headaches and an irregular heartbeat, along with extreme exhaustion. I couldn't sleep at night, yet I felt so tired during the day that it was hard to function. Something was wrong, and there was nothing I could do about it. I carried on day by day, trying to think of the positive things. My father had been using me less and less for experiments during the time, which was a plus. I could only hope that one day he would come up with something to help me in my ever weakening state.
No hero was coming for me. And, now, weaker than ever, the idea of becoming my own hero was very quickly dissipating.
I emerged from my sheets, glancing over at the night table and resting my eyes on the sleeping pills that were laying near the wooden edge. I contemplated taking them for a few moments and finally scooped them off the surface, sighing quietly as I slipped them into my mouth. I chased them down with a large gulp of water. I hated taking pills, but sometimes they were necessary. After not sleeping a wink in nearly three days, the sleep deprivation was starting to take its toll on me. I needed to sleep if I was ever going to get better. If. I settled into my pillow and pulled my covers over my head again, waiting as the pills slowly worked their magic and my eyelids began to grow heavy with much needed sleep.
“Tomorrow will be better.” I whispered to myself in Russian, my first language, my mother's language, just as I did every night. Deep inside I knew this wouldn't be true, but something about saying it made me feel like there was a chance it would be. I put a hand over my heart and thought the words over again in my head, the quick beats calming me down. I guess I was just an optimistic person...most of the time. And in my situation, I needed to be. I didn't know how I would survive if I wasn't. “Goodnight, mother.” I said into my sheets, my words so soft that I could barely hear them myself. Even though my mother was gone, this made me feel like she was here. Because in a way, she was still here watching me, protecting me. I knew that.
I woke up with a start in the middle of the afternoon the next day, sweat beading on my forehead and goosebumps running down my arms like little bugs crawling under my skin. I sat up and pulled my knees to my chest, waiting for the nausea that had suddenly settled over me to pass. “What is this?” I asked myself, quietly, my blood pulsing in my arms and legs. I turned my stiff neck to look at my night table, where a little sticky note had been tacked to the side. With one shaky hand I lifted the paper, reading the words over a few times. 'Going out for the day. Won't be home until late. Tell me how the pills worked out when I get back'. It was scribbled in German, messy handwriting that I knew too well. I crumpled the sheet in my fist and chucked it across the room, throwing my legs over the side of the bed and standing up. The pills had been a test; Just another experiment. And now, like always, I was suffering from the after effects. Why did this always happen? Why was this happening to me? Why couldn't I get away from this?
At this point, for whatever reason, I finally snapped. After all of the years of being patient, all of the years of listening and putting up with everything, I lost it. All of my sanity was gone. And so, knowing my father was gone for the time being, I tore through the house. Angry, upset, and very confused, I dug through all of my father's files and all of his things, leaving a mess in my path. I trudged down the hall towards his lab room, ready to do my worst. I was done. Maybe it was the insanity speaking, or maybe it was common sense, but when I entered the room and found all of his things I decided I had to leave, and take him down in the process. He had done so much to me and I had been so willing to receive it, like an innocent child. But I wasn't a child. Not anymore. I pulled out his drawers and ripped pages out of his journals, angry tears building in my eyes until I couldn't see anymore. Frustrated, I plopped myself down by the wall and put my head in my hands, sobbing uncontrollably. What was I doing? This was my home where I had lived my entire life. I wouldn't survive out in the world by myself. I couldn't possibly function in society. I didn't know anything about the world out there, aside from what I'd learned on the news. I knew so much about science, math, everything in between, but I didn't know the first thing about life. I'd been hidden in this stupid house, told to stay inside. This house was all I'd ever know.
A drawer to my left caught my eye, cracked open just enough for me to see a small stack of letters. The one on the top was addressed, neatly written in English lettering.
'To Captain America'
Another sob caught in my throat as I read the words over and over again, though I only needed to read it once to know who had written it. I had. I snatched it out of the drawer and held it to my chest as I glanced at the others in the pile, all written out in my same handwriting, and all addressed to the same person. None of them even had stamps. They had never been sent; they had never been opened. I wrote those letters at a time when I was desperate, pleading for a man stuck in ice to come save me. I was weak. I was ridiculous. He wasn't alive. Of course my father hadn't bothered to put a stamp on them and send them out. Who would get them? For some reason, some screwed up reason in the back of my mind that I couldn't find the logic for, I thought I had a chance of at least communicating with him. How idiotic.
That put me over the edge. I stuffed the one letter into my pocket and stood up, stomping towards my father's desk and grabbing a match that had been placed near the edge. In the corner of the room was some sort of device, something that my father had been working on for some time. I think it was a bomb of some sort, though I was never sure why he'd built it. He had long since given up on it, though, since he could never get it to detonate. I was going to try, and hopefully succeed. Lighting the match and tossing it halfheartedly at the bomb, I braced myself for explosion. I was faced with nothing. The match bounced off the edge of the metal case and fell to the floor, still lit somehow. I strode over to the bomb and screamed at it in anger, wild anger, as if the shrill sound of my voice alone would detonate it.
“Why don't you work!?” I screamed, my words a jumble of dialects, wanting so badly for this entire place, and myself, to be torn apart. Some things never belonged. I wanted everything to be gone...forever. Crying yet again, I grasped the sides of the bomb in my hands and held it tight to my chest, wailing up at the ceiling. I had truly lost my mind, so much so that I didn't even realize the detonation of the bomb in my hands until my back hit against the wall across from me, my ears ringing and my head spinning. Flashes of light spotted around my vision as the floor rumbled, the walls around me crumbling as the bomb set to work. It really was a brilliant design, triggering larger explosions after the initial one that had knocked me over. My father always had been one for flashy devices. I couldn't believe I was still awake enough to see it all. I let my head fall back against the wall as my world crashed around me, taking me with it. I waited for my death calmly. My crying subsided. My life had been a waste, and I didn't mind ending it...especially not like this. For once, I hurt my father as much as he had hurt me. All of his life work would be gone. I got a sick sort of satisfaction out of that. He deserved it. I was done with the torture and the sadness he brought upon me. I was only twenty three, yet I was ready to die. Still, I was doing this to get revenge for all of the things my father had done. I was doing this for my mother.
Dear Captain America,
There is so much I want to say to you, though I'm not exactly sure how. It may sound silly, but I think I need you. I don't know you, and you don't know me, but we're the same. You have been my inspiration, and my will to keep going. I know it isn't probable that you will even read this letter, but if you do...could you come see me? It's selfish of me to ask, but asking is the only way I can stay hopeful. I need a way out. If it isn't too much to ask, that is. I think of you a lot, and I hope you will at least remember this letter on the off chance you ever get it. After all, I don't think you're truly gone. Someone like you doesn't just stop existing. You'll come back. You have to. Please. That's all I can really ask for.
Sincerely, Annabelle Green.