One day I woke up and pretended not to remember my mother and father. I refused to get out of bed. I was a poet, that’s all I knew. My mother came in. She was wearing her usual denim skirt and blouse buttoned up to her chin. That was my uniform too, how everyone in our little community of homeschoolers had to dress. My mother used to be pretty—I had a picture of her I took from an old photo album and kept hidden in my poetry notebook. She was young and beautiful and had long black hair and was wearing a man’s button down shirt, the top three buttons undone so you could see a glimpse of her bra. Very seductive, my mother. But when she asked Jesus into her heart, Jesus asked her to wear ugly and uncomfortable clothing.
Do you have a fever? my mother said.
Who are you? I said. Some sort of nurse. Am I in a hospital?
I don’t have time for that this morning. Are you sick?
Are you my nanny? I said. I don’t remember my age but I’m probably too old to need a nanny. Can I walk? Am I paralyzed? I moved my legs. Thank God, it’s not that, I said and closed my eyes, as if I was exhausted.
Don’t say that, she said. Why would you say that?
She studied me, preparing for a plan of attack.
Listen, Ana, she said. This is not the morning to be difficult. You have the state tests today. Don’t try to get out of this.
At that moment, I don’t know how I did it because my stomach had felt fine when I woke up that morning, but I threw up, all over my bed. I think I had willed it somehow. I had imaged being sick and I had wanted it to happen so badly, it did.
After my mother cleaned it up and changed my bedspread, she said, Baby, are you absolutely sure it’s not just nerves, do you feel truly sick? I know how nervous you get with tests.
If you tell me who you are perhaps I can help you, I said.
Ana! she said. Don’t talk to your mother that way.
Oh my mother, I said softly, as if trying to remember.
I was going to write up this experience, I knew. It was going to be a poem titled Fugue, because I liked the way that word sounded.
What’s your problem, freak? Toby said. He's my adopted brother. His birth mother lives in Arkansas. It sounded exotic to me when I found out. Arkansas. The South seemed full of adventure, not like the Northeast where nothing happened. I liked the way that sounded: Arkansas. He later met his birth mother, who had been an alcoholic but had since gone to AA and was sober. She was a Christian now.
Who are you? I said
I’m your brother, he said, you idiot. Who are you?
I don’t know, I said. I have amnesia.
Did you hit your head? he said.
I don’t remember, I said. Maybe you hit me. Maybe you hit my head to cause this massive memory loss.
I didn’t touch you, he said, suddenly defensive. He broke my arm once, when we were roughhousing when we were younger, and we weren’t allowed to do that anymore.
My parents thought he did it because he was jealous, because he knew he wasn’t their biological child and was jealous of me and trying to hurt me. But he was just strong, and I had weak bones. I also broke my other arm when I fell in a canoe, and broke my leg skiing one winter. Delicate bones.
When I was in bed with that broken leg I had begun writing. My uncle had given me a journal, and so I started writing about what was happening to me, what it felt like to have a broken leg. I wrote about the doctors and nurses and which ones I liked and which ones I hated and how hard it was to get up and go pee. I decided I was going to be completely honest about my experiences, to hold nothing back.
You’re weird, Toby said before he left.
I heard my dad come upstairs. He was wearing khakis, a short sleeve shirt, and a red tie, his usual work outfit. He worked for a church as their accountant. It was a large church we went to and they had a school attached, but we didn't go to that school.
What’s wrong? My father said. He came into the room, all authority and discipline. Disobedience was the worst sin one could commit in our household. Disobedience against my parents equaled disobedience against God. Who would want to disobey God? He could throw you in hell, just like that. You couldn’t question God, you couldn’t disobey God, you couldn’t make fun of God, or else he’d destroy you, and maybe your family too.
Who are you? I said.
Stop this game, Ana. These tests are only once a year. Stop this nonsense and get out of bed.
I threw up, I said. I’m sick.
You’re just nervous, he said. Get out of bed right now.
I got out of bed. As soon as I got up, I felt dizzy and fell over. That was when I hit my head for real on the corner of my side table, when I knocked myself out, when I got blood all over the carpet—the stains are still there, I looked when I visited my parents last week—and I woke up in the hospital, where my little game became more real.
The doctors looked at me. They were examining me. I was awake but I couldn't move, couldn't speak. I heard the doctors and my parents talking, just the individual sentences, not the conversation.
When she woke up this morning she didn’t know who we were. She does that, she makes things up, she pretends, she has an overactive imagination. She’s done this since she was a little girl. Her imagination is much more active than what is normal. Is that normal, doctor? She tells lies. She tells lies to us so we don’t know when to believe her. I don’t believe anything she says. No, Charles, that’s not true. She has a big imagination but that’s a good thing, it’s good to have imagination. When you use it correctly. But she’s using it for evil. Remember when she was a little girl. She was so good. So full of energy and life. Now she just says no to everything. No, no, no, that's all she says. It's rebellion. Against God. Do you want food? I'm not hungry. I'll stay with her, in case she wakes up. What if she never wakes up, what if she's like this forever. How can you say that? I'm going to get some food for Toby. It's going to be okay.
It was night when I woke up. I got out of my bed. My father was sleeping on a cot in the bedroom. He was snoring. I realized I hadn't seen him sleep in years. His mouth was open. He was snoring loudly. He looked a little helpless, like a kid almost. The wrinkles in his face were gone. He looked peaceful. I wondered if that was how he'd look when he was dead. I wondered what he'd die of. I wanted to write a poem about it. I was trying to. The Death of My Father Charles, I was calling it. I imagined he'd die of a heart attack. His father died of a heart attack. His mother had died of cancer. I wondered if you could die of two things at the same time. Cancer and a heart attack. Both things just creeping up on you.
My friend Marisa's father died in a sky diving accident. He was an instructor but even so he died. He went splat. It was a closed casket. Marisa and her mother went to live in Florida. She had a new father now. A multi-millionaire named George who owned a Volvo car dealership and had a house on the beach in Miami. I wanted to visit. Maybe I'd run away and visit her. She wouldn't tell my parents. We snuck her mom's cigarettes once and got sick trying to smoke them. I wondered if my father ever smoked a cigarette. Probably not. He knew they were evil and of the devil when he was a young boy. His father beat him, mom said. He beat him so hard once that he couldn't walk for a week. You should be happy he doesn't do the same to you, my mom said. He's trying, he's trying so hard to be a good father. I walked out to the nurse's station but it was empty. The hallways were empty. I walked down toward the cafeteria. A woman was there sitting behind the cashier, reading a book. She didn't even look up. A few med students were eating. I looked at the food. Eggs were congealed next to a few lonely strips of bacon.
There was a brownie. I took it when the cashier wasn't looking and I went back in the hallway. As I ate the brownie I thought of what I wanted to do. What did the doctors think? Did they know I was faking it? Did they know I could remember? They had taken an X-ray and wanted to do a Cat scan. I went back into my room but there was another girl there with my father sleeping in the room. I went up to the bed real quietly and I looked at the girl. The girl looked like me only she wasn't as pretty or interesting. I wondered what she was dreaming about. I wondered if it was a good dream. The nurse came in but she didn't say anything to me.
She looked at the girl on the bed and said, You're really too much work for your parents, aren't you? The nurse took out a pillow. She put the pillow over the girl's mouth and nose and started pushing down, suffocating her. The girl's legs were kicking, she was struggling, she didn't want to die. I was yelling, screaming for the sleeping man to do something, but he wouldn't wake up. After the girl was dead, the nurse took the blood pressure of the girl and then went to the father's wallet that was on the counter and opened it and took a twenty out. She didn't even notice me, even though I was screaming and crying.
I looked back at the girl and she looked really familiar even though she was dead. Maybe I knew her. I mean we didn't know hardly anyone because were homeschooled but she looked really familiar. Maybe we were friends in a different lifetime. I was reading about reincarnation and I liked that idea. I wanted to have previous lives because the life I had now was boring to me. Maybe I was a princess in India and I rode elephants and I hunted lions. Princesses weren't normally allowed to hunt but because I was so strong and intelligent and brave I was allowed to hunt and I shot one and killed it. It was a rug now in my palace. She was in my royal court.
I saw the IV in the girl's arm. I didn't like the IV in my arm and so I'd pulled it out. If the nurse tried to put it back in I was going to kick her. I went back to the man’s wallet on the shelf and looked in it. There was a picture of the man's wife and a boy and a girl. The mother came in. She didn't see me either. She went and put her hand on her daughter and was crying. As she felt the child's forehead suddenly I felt a cold hand on my own forehead. I felt very sleepy and went back to the hallway and found my own room. My father was still sleeping. I got back into my bed and fell asleep. When I woke up Toby was there and he said, You almost died. Did you see heaven? And I said God is dead, didn't he know anything about anything, but if he wanted to give me a hug I wouldn't object at all because I just had the most terrible night of my life.