My eyelids fluttered open to reveal a plain, white room, which I soon realised must be in a hospital as I glanced down to see that I was lying in a bed with my leg wrapped in a cast. I stared at it in confusion, trying to remember what happened to cause it to be broken, though no matter how hard I tried, my memory remained blank and unyielding.
Just then, a nurse entered the room, staring down at a clipboard in her hands, and I opened my mouth to speak, but my voice came out as a raspy whisper, so I cleared my throat and tried again, “Wh-What happened to me?” My voice sounded shaky and weak.
She glanced up at me in surprise, before smiling warmly, “Don’t you remember?”
I slowly shook my head, fear filling me as I realised that it wasn’t just the recent events that were lost to my memory, my whole life seemed to have been wiped from my mind... I couldn’t remember a single thing before waking up in this room.
The smile on her face faded into a serious expression as she gazed at me carefully, “You were found unconscious in your house, with a fractured leg and a serious head injury. Your Uncle Chase did this to you, you were lucky Jack managed to get out and get your neighbours, or he’d probably have done a lot worse to both you and your brother.” She sat down on my bed as she gazed at me sympathetically, smiling sadly. “Why didn’t you tell anyone he was doing this to you, honey? You could have prevented this all from happening.”
Tears filled my eyes, but it wasn’t because of what she was saying. I still couldn’t remember anything, not even after everything she told me. “Why can’t I remember anything?” I asked as the tears began to stream down my face, my voice cracking on the last word.
The nurse reached over to me and pulled me into a hug, “It’s okay, honey. It’s probably just temporary amnesia because of the shock of what happened. Everything’s going to be fine.”
A sob racked my chest as I shook my head frantically, “N-No, you don’t understand. I can’t remember anything, I don’t even know who Jack and Chase are!”
She gasped slightly and her eyes widened as she stared at me worriedly, “You don’t remember your brother?”
“I didn’t even remember that I had a brother.” I whispered, softly. I knew this couldn’t have been my fault, but I couldn’t stop the guilt consuming me as I thought about what I said. How could I just forget people I must have loved, so easily, as if they didn’t matter at all?
But more than anything, I felt lost. Utterly and completely lost. My mind was a blank void, and it made me feel so empty inside, so hollow. And it felt like that void would remain inside me for the rest of my life, never to be filled with the memories of the past or the people within it. I shrank into myself, bringing my one good knee up to my chest and wrapping my arms tightly around it.
The nurse stood up suddenly, “I’ll be right back, honey. Don’t worry about it, okay? Everything will be all right.” She told me, gently, before rushing out of the room.
The tears had stopped streaming now, as I stared ahead into nothing, wishing with everything in me that I would remember something. Anything. Just one little memory that I could cling onto, that I could call my own, that would give me some semblance of who I was.
Some time later – it could have been anything between a minute and an hour – the door burst open and the nurse rushed back inside the room, followed immediately by a man I assumed must have been a doctor, judging by the white coat he was wearing.
His eyes softened when he saw the dried tears on my face, and he walked towards me, pulling out a chair to sit on in front of me. “Try not to worry about this too much, okay? It’s probably just temporary amnesia because of where you were hit on the head, but we just need to ask you a few questions to make sure, all right?”
I nodded, quickly, hoping he was right and this was really all just temporary.
“Okay, so first of all, what’s your name?”
My mouth opened to respond, but as soon as I did I frowned and closed it again, my hope fading as my eyes once again glassed over with tears, “I...I don’t know,” The words felt dry and horrid as I choked them out, and I felt the tears begin to overflow and stream down my cheeks once again, so I quickly reached a hand up to wipe them away.
The doctor’s eyes clouded over with concern as he sucked a breath in through his teeth, and I felt as though I was shrinking into myself, as the hope I felt dissipated completely at his expression. He wrote something down on the clipboard he was holding before glancing back up at me. “Okay, next question, can you still do simple calculations like 9 + 7?”
I nodded and answered, “16.” At least I could do something, right?
“Good, how about 9 x 7? Although, that one mi-”
“Okay, now what do you remember since you woke up?”
“I remember the nurse coming in and I asked her what happened, and she told me that I had a broken leg and head injury from my Uncle Chase, and that my brother Jack managed to get the neighbours before he did worse. And then I told her I didn’t remember Jack or Chase and she rushed out and came back with you.” I stared at him, waiting for his response, feeling the hope rise again even though I tried hard to stop it.
He sighed and stared down at his notes for a while before finally meeting my gaze, “Well, I’ll have to do some more tests before I confirm anything, but from what you’ve said it seems you have a case of Isolated Retrograde Amnesia. It’s when a patient is unable to remember anything before the brain damage occurred but is still able to develop new memories. It’s quite rare and in some ways you are very lucky, because most patients that suffer from amnesia are unable to develop and remember new memories for more than very short periods. It is possible that you will remember your past, or at least parts of it, but it could take any length of time between a day and many years. I’m sorry there isn’t much I can do to help, but if you return to where you used to live, it is likely there will be triggers there that may bring back some of your memories.”
He sighed again and stood up, and I kept my expression neutral even though I felt like I was falling apart inside. He turned and walked towards the door, but just before he opened it I called out, “Doctor?”
He glanced back at me, smiling sadly, “Yes?”
“What is my name?”
“Maia Rivers. Your name is Maia Rivers.” He replied softly, before he stepped out the room and gently shut the door.
“Wake up, honey. Maia? There’s someone here to see you.” I stirred slightly as the nurse’s voice drifted through my ears, my eyes opening slowly to see her smiling down at me.“I know you don’t remember him, but seeing your brother might help to trigger your memory in some way and it’s important to be around family after something traumatic has happened to you. Is it okay if I let him in?”
I hesitated slightly, what if seeing him didn’t help at all? It seemed like before all this happened he was the most important thing in the world to me and I couldn’t bear the thought that I could forget him just like that. If seeing him didn’t help, then that would probably mean there really was no hope of getting my memory back, and I wasn’t sure I was ready to accept that just yet. “I don’t know... I mean-I don’t want to upset him if I don’t...” I trailed off, unable to say the words out loud, but still feeling the effect of them as though I had.
She smiled at me in understanding, “It’s okay, we’ve explained everything to him as best we can, he knows that you don’t remember him. I think he just needs to see that you’re alright.”
“Okay then, I guess,” I breathed out, feeling strangely nervous all of a sudden, my hands turning to fists in the sheets underneath me.
The nurse’s expression lit up as though I had said something incredible before she swiftly turned and left the room. Less than a second later, the door burst open and a blur of limbs flew across the room before a tiny pair of arms were clinging to my neck and a small face was pressed into my neck, his body shaking slightly from his silent sobs. My heart clenched from the sudden feeling of home that washed over me as I wrapped my arms around him tightly, running a hand gently through his dark hair and before I knew it tears were streaming down my cheeks all over again as his pain all at once became my own and because of knowing and loving him so absolutely despite the certainty that I’d never seen him before in my life.
We stayed like that for a few minutes before I pulled back suddenly as I realised something. “The nurse said our uncle did this, did he hurt you too? Are you okay?” I pulled back and asked him urgently, looking over him quickly for any obvious injuries. He was wearing a blue t-shirt that seemed far too big for him, and there were a few plasters covering cuts on his face and arms, but apart from that he seemed fine.
He stared back at me with bright blue eyes the colour of the sky in that brief moment between day and night, and shook his head slowly. “I’m okay, the doctor said I might have a crack in my rib because I have a big bruise over here,” He said, while lifting up his shirt slightly to show me and making me gasp at the aggressive shade of purple that covered part of his chest. “But that’s it, he hurt you much worse. He always hurts you worse ’cause you make me hide in our room before he gets home.” His chin trembled slightly as his eyes filled with tears again, but then he seemed to shake it off and he sat up straight as something occurred to him. “Do you really not remember anything?”
He tried not to look upset as he said it, but I could see the hurt look in his eyes, so I reached up quickly and gripped his shoulders. “I don’t remember my life or anyone that I knew, but I do remember that I love you more than anything else in the world, so never forget that, okay?” I told him firmly, and his lips stretched into a huge smile in response while he nodded enthusiastically. “Good. But what did you mean when you said he always hurt me worse? He’s done this before?” I chewed my lip anxiously as his smile disappeared.
“Yeah. You said we couldn’t go to the police because then we might get separated and sent to different places and that you didn’t mind getting hurt once in a while as long as we could stay together. But you also said that if he ever hurt me we wouldn’t stay with him anymore because that means you can’t protect me properly anymore but that’s not true because you’re the best protector ever and you’ve always kept me safe before and I didn’t get hurt too bad. I don’t want us to get separroted!” I chuckled slightly at his mispronunciation but then sighed sadly. There was no way I could let us go back to stay with our uncle after this, but maybe there would be a way for us to stay together, I just had to figure out how. Right now I was lost in the vast ocean that is this world and he was my only anchor. I couldn’t lose him.
Wait, why were we staying with our uncle in the first place? “Why weren’t we living with our parents, Jack? Did something happen to them?”
He shifted uncomfortably under my confused gaze, his eyes dropping to look at the floor before finding mine again. “They died when I was seven and you were fifteen. So... two years ago. I don’t really remember them.” He said slowly, sadly. Though I guess now that’s something we have in common because I have no memory of them whatsoever. Just like everything else. What were we going to do?
Jack suddenly jumped off the bed and started clapping his hands excitedly while bouncing on his feet, and I stared at him in part shock and part utter confusion. “I have an idea!” He exclaimed, grinning like an insane fool, “We can stay with Nathan and his parents! They’re really nice and you and Nathan used to be friends so I’m sure they won’t mind. I think they’re still in the waiting room. Can I go and get them?”
I stared back into his wide, hopeful eyes, even more confused now than I was two minutes ago. “Wait, hold on a second, who are they exactly? And what are they doing here?” I frowned as I tried to work out who they could be based on what little information I’d been told so far.
“Oh yeah! I forgot that you wouldn’t remember them! They live in the house next to ours and they were friends with mum and dad, but then after they died you stopped speaking to them because you said it was easier that way.” Oh, so they were the neighbours that Jack ran to get after I went unconscious.
I tried to word my answer carefully so as not to get his hopes up, “I guess it wouldn’t do any harm to meet them, but that doesn’t mean...” I trailed off with a sigh because Jack had already dashed out the room before I could even finish my sentence. That kid had way too much energy; it was making me exhausted!
Butterflies turned to bats inside my stomach now that I had to meet even more people that I couldn’t remember and so would probably hurt or disappoint in some way. Even more than that, I was starting to feel pretty self-conscious given that I almost certainly looked slightly terrifying from being beaten up by my uncle. I froze suddenly as I realised something that I couldn’t believe hadn’t occurred to me yet: I had absolutely no idea what I looked like, with or without bruises. Okay that’s wasn’t completely true, I guess I did have some idea. I wasn’t blind so I could see my body from my shoulders down, but I’d been in too much shock to really take in my appearance earlier. I looked down at myself lying on top of the crisp white bed sheets, taking note of my slim figure draped in a pale blue hospital gown with my left leg covered in a matching blue cast, as well as the pale beige coloured skin of my arms and the light dusting of golden brown hairs that covered them. It looked like my hair was a slightly darker golden brown from the few strands that kept falling into my eyes. Speaking of my eyes, I looked up to glance around the room in search of a mirror to try to see the rest of my face, but the only decorations on the walls were a couple of paintings of landscapes and one large abstract painting on the opposite wall that consisted of a splodge of red and another slightly smaller splodge of blue. Even with no memory it would be pretty damn hard to convince me that’s art. I mean, seriously?
Shaking my head to dislodge my thoughts, I considered getting up to look at the mirror in the bathroom before deciding against it when I remembered that I had a serious head injury which might have damaged more than just my memory, so it would probably be a good idea to wait till the nurse came back before trying to do anything that could potentially lead to further injuries.
I guess I’ll find out what colour my eyes are later.
I must have drifted off to sleep again because suddenly I was woken by the sound of the door opening and several warm and unfamiliar faces following uncertainly behind a somehow still bouncing-with-excitement Jack. The woman directly behind him had a face aged with smiles, sea-green eyes and a long, flowing waterfall of dark hair with a few streaks of grey, and I was struck by how easily I felt I could trust her given the distinct lack of even a flicker of recognition. Even the man behind her with his salt and pepper hair and the warm crinkles around his eyes did not invoke the same sense of fear I’d become accustomed to feeling every time I was introduced to someone old but new. But that didn’t stop me from flinching involuntarily when the woman gasped, ”Oh, honey!” and rushed towards me, gently taking my hand and enclosing it between both of hers. I immediately felt awful about my initial reaction when she started fussing over me, the way a mother would, and I realised that we must have been a lot closer to our neighbours than I initially assumed because the way she and her husband were looking at me was as if I was part of their family.
I felt a lump form in my throat, “I-I’m sorry… I don’t-“
“It’s okay, Maia, don’t worry, the doctors told us about your memory. I understand everything must be a lot for you to take in right now.” She reassured me quickly, and I sighed in relief because she really did seem to understand. I felt all the pressure that had been weighing down on me about behaving in the right way, in the way that people expected me to, slowly start to drift away as she continued speaking. “It’s important that you stay relaxed and don’t stress yourself too much, okay? None of this is your fault, so please try not to blame yourself. I know it must be difficult, but there’s no need for you to feel guilty if you can’t remember something, or someone, because it isn’t your fault.” She stared at me seriously, waiting for a response so she knew that I understood, and I smiled shakily and nodded, suddenly finding myself overwhelmed and unable to speak. My whole being felt like a mess of emotions.
After a few moments, I managed to blink away the tears that had started to form in my eyes and breathed out a tiny “Thank you,” in response to which she simply engulfed me in a hug. This time I couldn’t stop the tears from escaping as I pressed my face into her shoulder and breathed in her homey scent. I found myself smiling properly for the first time since waking up because my heart felt somehow lighter in my chest, and for the first time, I didn’t doubt that I belonged.
“Biiirrrrrr!!!! Maimai, biiirrrr!!” 1 year old Jacky screeched excitedly, while pointing at the extremely fat pigeon that was perched on our garden fence and cocking its head at him in confusion, and I giggled at the look of utter fascination on his face from seeing a boring old pigeon. Jacky looked at everything like it was the most amazing thing in the world.
I looked up and saw mummy and daddy sitting on the garden table drinking tea and watching us with smiles on their faces, so I ran over to them and asked curiously, “Why are babies so silly? Pigeons are super boring but Jacky gets so excited whenever he sees one! I bet I was never that silly!” I folded my arms over my chest as I said this with complete certainty, but frowned when they started laughing.
“Maia honey, you were even more silly than Jacky is! You were fascinated with snails, whenever you were in the garden you would go around and collect every snail you could find and put them in a bucket, and then you wanted to keep the bucket in your room! Don’t you think that’s silly?” Mum explained while still chuckling.
“Nooooo…” I tried to keep my frown on my face and not look sheepish while I answered, but I ended up grinning anyway. “Besides, it was Daddy’s idea to put them in the bucket, so he’s even sillier than me!” I exclaimed and then ran away quickly, giggling as I heard dad growling jokily.
Suddenly I was swept off my feet and I was flying and shrieking and laughing as dad swung me around shouting, “Aren’t you a cheeky monkey!”