Today is the only day I remember. Waking up in that ocean is all I have. The rest is empty space. Although I don’t know how far back that space goes—how many years it spans. That’s the thing about voids: they can be as short as the blink of an eye, or they can be infinite. Consuming your entire existence in a flash of meaningless white. Leaving you with nothing.
Every second that ticks by is new. Every feeling that pulses through me is foreign. Every thought in my brain is like nothing I’ve ever thought before. And all I can hope for is one moment that mirrors an absent one. One fleeting glimpse of familiarity.
Something that makes me … me.
Otherwise, I could be anyone.
Forgetting who you are is so much more complicated than simply forgetting your name. It’s also forgetting your dreams. Your aspirations. What makes you happy. What you pray you’ll never have to live without. It’s meeting yourself for the first time, and not being sure of your first impression.
After the rescue boat docked, I was brought here. To this room. Men and women in white coats flutter in and out. They stick sharp things in my arm. They study charts and scratch their heads. They poke and prod and watch me for a reaction. They want something to be wrong with me. But I assure them that I’m fine. That I feel no pain.
The fog around me has finally lifted. Objects are crisp and detailed. My head no longer feels as though it weighs a hundred pounds. In fact, I feel strong. Capable. Anxious to get out of this bed. Out of this room with its unfamiliar chemical smells. But they won’t let me. They insist I need more time.
From the confusion I see etched into their faces, I’m pretty sure it’s they who need the time.
They won’t allow me to eat any real food. Instead they deliver nutrients through a tube in my arm. It’s inserted directly into my vein. Inches above a thick white plastic bracelet with the words Jane Doe printed on it in crisp black letters.
I ask them why I need to be here when I’m clearly not injured. I have no visible wounds. No broken bones. I wave my arms and turn my wrists and ankles in wide circles to prove my claim. But they don’t respond. And this infuriates me.
After a few hours, they determine that I’m sixteen years old. I’m not sure how I’m supposed to react to this information. I don’t feel sixteen. But then again, how do I know what sixteen feels like? How do I know what any age feels like?
And how can I be sure that they’re right? For all I know, they could have just made up that number. But they assure me that they have qualified tests. Specialists. Experts. And they all say the same thing.
That I’m sixteen.
The tests can’t tell me my name, though. They can’t tell me where I’m from. Where I live. Who my family is. Or even my favorite color.
And no matter how many “experts” they shuttle in and out of this room, no one can seem to explain why I’m the only survivor of the kind of plane crash no one survives.
They talk about something called a passenger manifest. I’ve deduced that it’s a kind of master list. A register of everyone who boarded the plane.
I’ve also deduced that I’m not on it.
And that doesn’t seem to be going over very well with anyone.
A man in a gray suit, who identifies himself as Mr. Rayunas from Social Services, says he’s trying to locate my next of kin. He carries around a strange-looking metal device that he calls a cell phone. He holds it up to his ear and talks. He also likes to stare at it and stab at tiny buttons on its surface. I don’t know what my “next of kin” is, but by the look on his face, he’s having trouble locating it.
He whispers things to the others. Things I’m assuming he doesn’t want me to hear. But I hear them anyway. Foreign, unfamiliar words like “foster care” and “the press” and “minor.” Every so often they all pause and glance over at me. They shake their heads. Then they continue whispering.
There’s a woman named Kiyana who comes in every hour. She has dark skin and speaks with an accent that makes it sound like she’s singing. She wears pink. She smiles and fluffs my pillow. Presses two fingers against my wrist. Writes stuff down on a clipboard. I’ve come to look forward to her visits. She’s kinder than the others. She takes the time to talk to me. Ask me questions. Real ones. Even though she knows I don’t have any of the answers.
“You’re jus’ so beautiful,” she says to me, tapping her finger tenderly against my cheek. “Like one of those pictures they airbrush for the fashion magazines, you know?”
I don’t know. But I offer her a weak smile regardless. For some reason, it feels like an appropriate response.
“Not a blemish,” she goes on. “Not one flaw. When you get your memory back, you’re gonna have to tell me your secret, love.” Then she winks at me.
I like that she says when and not if.
Even though I don’t remember learning those words, I understand the difference.
“And those eyes,” she croons, moving in closer. “I’ve never seen sucha color. Lavender, almos’.” She pauses, thinking, and leans closer still. “No. Violet.” She smiles like she’s stumbled upon a long-lost secret. “I bet that’s your name. Violet. Ring any bells?”
I shake my head. Of course it doesn’t.
“Well,” she says, straightening the sheets around my bed, “I’m gonna call you that anyway. Jus’ until you remember the real one. Much nicer soundin’ than Jane Doe.”
She takes a step back, tilts her head to the side. “Sucha pretty girl. Do you even remember whatcha look like, love?”
I shake my head again.
She smiles softly. Her eyes crinkle at the corners. “Hang on then. I’ll show you.”
She leaves the room. Returns a moment later with an oval-shaped mirror. Light bounces off it as she walks to my bedside. She holds it up.
A face appears in the light pink frame.
One with long and sleek honey-brown hair. Smooth golden skin. A small, straight nose. Heart-shaped mouth. High cheekbones. Large, almond-shaped purple eyes.
“Yes, that’s you,” she says. And then, “You musta been a model. Such perfection.”
But I don’t see what she sees. I only see a stranger. A person I don’t recognize. A face I don’t know. And behind those eyes are sixteen years of experiences I fear I’ll never be able to remember. A life held prisoner behind a locked door. And the only key has been lost at sea.
I watch purple tears form in the reflecting glass.
“Mystery continues to cloud the tragic crash of Freedom Airlines flight 121, which went down over the Pacific Ocean yesterday evening after taking off from Los Angeles International Airport on a nonstop journey to Tokyo, Japan. Experts are working around the clock to determine the identity of the flight’s only known survivor, a sixteen-year-old girl who was found floating among the wreckage, relatively unharmed. Doctors at UCLA Medical Center, where she’s being treated, confirm that the young woman has suffered severe amnesia and does not remember anything prior to the crash. There was no identification found on the girl and the Los Angeles Police have been unable to match her fingerprints or DNA to any government databases. According to a statement announced by the FAA earlier this morning, she was not believed to be traveling with family and no missing-persons reports matching her description have been filed.
“The hospital released this first photo of the girl just today, in the hope that someone with information will step forward. Authorities are optimistic that…”
I stare at my face on the screen of the thin black box that hangs above my bed. Kiyana says it’s called a television. The fact that I didn’t know this disturbs me. Especially when she tells me that there’s one in almost every household in the country.
The doctors say I should remember things like that. Although my personal memories seem to be “temporarily” lost, I should be familiar with everyday objects and brands and the names of celebrities. But I’m not.
I know words and cities and numbers. I like numbers. They feel real to me when everything around me is not. They are concrete. I can cling to them. I can’t remember my own face but I know that the digits between one and ten are the same now as they were before I lost everything. I know I must have learned them at some point in my eclipsed life. And that’s as close to a sense of familiarity as I’ve gotten.
I count to keep myself occupied. To keep my mind filled with something other than abandoned space. In counting I’m able to create facts. Items I can add to the paltry list of things that I know.
I know that someone named Dr. Schatzel visits my room every fifty-two minutes and carries a cup of coffee with him on every third visit. I know that the nurses’ station is twenty to twenty-four footsteps away from my room, depending on the height of the person on duty. I know that the female newscaster standing on the curb at Los Angeles International Airport blinks fifteen times per minute. Except when she’s responding to a question from the male newscaster back in the studio. Then her blinks increase by 133 percent.
I know that Tokyo, Japan, is a long way for a sixteen-year-old girl to be traveling by herself.
Kiyana enters my room and frowns at the screen. “Violet, baby,” she says, pressing a button on the bottom that causes my face to dissolve to black, “watchin’ that twenty-four-hour news coverage is not gonna do you any good. It’ll only upset you more. Besides, it’s gettin’ late. And you’ve been up for hours now. Why doncha try to get some sleep?”
Defiantly I press the button on the small device next to my bed and the image of my face reappears.
Kiyana lets out a buoyant singsongy laugh. “Whoever you are, Miss Violet, I have a feelin’ you were the feisty type.”
I watch the television in silence as live footage from the crash site is played. A large rounded piece—with tiny oval-shaped windows running across it—fills the screen. The Freedom Airlines logo painted onto the side slowly passes by. I lean forward and study it, scrutinizing the curved red-and-blue font. I try to convince myself that it means something. That somewhere in my blank slate of a brain, those letters hold some kind of significance. But I fail to come up with anything.
Like the slivers of my fragmented memory, the debris is just another shattered piece that once belonged to something whole. Something that had meaning. Purpose. Function.
Now it’s just a splinter of a larger picture that I can’t fit together.
I collapse back against my pillow with a sigh.
“What if no one comes?” I ask quietly, still cringing at the unfamiliar sound of my own voice. It’s like someone else in the room is speaking and I’m just mouthing the words.
Kiyana turns and looks at me, her eyes narrowed in confusion. “Whatcha talkin’ about, love?”
“What if…” The words feel crooked as they tumble out. “What if no one comes to get me? What if I don’t have anyone?”
Kiyana lets out a laugh through her nose. “Now that’s jus’ foolishness. And I don’t wanna hear it.”
I open my mouth to protest but Kiyana closes it with the tips of her fingers. “Now, listen here, Violet,” she says in a serious tone. “You’re the mos’ beautiful girl I’ve ever seen in all my life. And I’ve seen a lotta girls. You are special. And no one that special ever goes forgotten. It