Addressed to Me
By: Mackenzie M. Hebner
I woke up to a new setting that morning. I didn’t quite recognize the sheets hovering over me, or the drapes through which the morning sun rays were protruding. There were small lines of dust collecting in the beams of light now illuminating what seems like an alloy of my former room.
I could have sworn that the hard wood was a lighter stain, and the windows had white trim not brown. I could almost guarantee it. Maybe I’m just out of it this morning. After all, I tossed and turned all night. I don’t know why but I couldn’t get Annette off of my mind. It’s rare I jump back to memories of that part of my life, what feels like ages ago. It was a different world back then. Annette and I haven’t spoken in almost seven years. It’s crazy really, how someone can go from being hypnotized by love, to woken up to reality so suddenly. I barely even remember how things ended between us. I just remember being madly in love and then there was some fight that wound up with us not speaking for seven years. I supposed it’s a time I’d rather not go back to. We both have made mistakes, and by now I’m sure we have both grown, left it in the past, smiled and moved on. Perhaps I still toss and turn here and there, but it was a healthy relationship, and we were happy, and now we are older and wiser and apart. And that’s okay. The past is past.
I shake away the still encroaching murmurs of Annette’s memory, along with the suggestive unfamiliarity of my home setting, and roll out of bed to try and find a sense of peace through my daily routine.
There is a tape on my dresser. I don’t recognize it. A VHS no less, something I haven’t come across since tea time with Gramma Andie. As I step closer to further analyze this mysterious object only adding to the uncomfortable lack of normality within my barely begun morning, my eyes go wide and my stomach drops as I see the label adorned on it’s dusty surface: For Tyler’s Eyes Only. How was it addressed to me? Had someone broken into my apartment? Was someone there? Was it a tape of a kidnapped loved one waiting for ransom to be paid? I can barely afford my electric bills, let alone ransom. My head is spinning and everything in reach along with it. My breathing slows to an almost stop and I collapse onto the ground, black abyss now all I see.
When my senses finally regain control and my eyes dare to open, the unfamiliarity still reigns supreme, but there is a newfound purpose in my mind: to take back my morning, my apartment, my conscience. So, I push myself onto my feet, shoving away all the notions of disbelief, trying simply to just indulge this moment, hoping my cooperation will lead to some means of an end.
With shaky hands, I pick up the VHS tape. I’m not sure how I am supposed to watch it. Gramma Andie is the only person I know who still has one, and I’m pretty sure she threw it away when I moved out. I shake my head, still trying to remind myself I can’t freak out, that I’m probably just dreaming or hallucinating and nothing can hurt me if it’s not real.
Making my way to the living room, I keep noticing small characteristics that don’t fit in in my apartment. The table used to be bigger. There was a loveseat over there. That coffee stain on the carpet is new. My sister, Hannah’s, wedding invitation is pinned to my disorganized bulletin board, though the disorganization is not out of the ordinary. Wait, my sister is getting married? She’s nineteen. She just graduated high school. Where is her grad announcement? It used to be where the wedding one is now. And who is Kyle Martin? I’ve never met him. She looks so much older. Has she really grown that much since I’ve seen her? I can’t believe I’ve been gone for four years.
There is another note left on my Blu-ray player. Tyler. I walk over to it, snatching the paper away to find my Blu-ray player missing and a slot for a VHS tape situated perfecting in its place. My already throbbing head, consequence of my fall, is now doubled in power as everything around me elevates my blood pressure. At this point I am half convinced that there are hidden cameras tracking my every move to make sure I watch the ransom tape and don’t procrastinate or call the cops or have time to think rationally.
With that newly motivated fear in mind, I slip the VHS into the player I now apparently own, shaking violently as I do, my breaths becoming more shallow as I watch the tape disappear into the clutches of yet another obstacle in the game of my growing nightmare. Lacking the emotional or physical strength to stand, I submit to my now tainted hardwood flooring as the video begins to load, the tape wheels turning and the TV powering on. Terror and suspense consume me as I prepare to see Gramma Andie or Hannah tied to some chair being forced to demand money I don’t have. So, I am even more shocked to see the following words flash onto the screen:
Session 18 - September 1, 2034 - Annette Tayler
Annette? I haven’t spoken to Annette in seven years. And then suddenly something even more horrifyingly peculiar pops into my mind. I stand up before the tape has a chance to continue and bolt to my room, grabbing my phone with such a force it propels to the ground before I can adjust my grasp. I reach for it desperately, unlocking it and swiping as fast as I can to the calendar app. Today. What’s today? What’s today?
Today: September 1, 2034
What? I’m going crazy. I must be dreaming. I’m insane. I always knew I would spiral into insanity, I just didn’t think it’d be so soon. It couldn’t possibly be 2034. It’s 2020. It’s September 1, 2020. I am twenty-three years old. I turn twenty-four in one month and three days. It’s September 1, 2020. I haven’t talked to Annette in seven years.
I repeat the words over and over again until they seem to gain a sense of control over my mind and I’m hoping subsequently over my current unreal reality.
“Hi, Annette, how are you doing today?”
The TV rings out as I am desperately avoiding eye contact with my calendar. The tape is still playing. I am still in this dream. I take a deep breath, inhaling everything in a ten yard proximity to the point I almost collapse a second time. I inhale with all I have, and commit to enduring the rest of this dream, accepting its separation from reality. I’m not crazy; I’m just in a deep sleep.
“I’m alright.” I hear her voice echo through my living room. It’s been seven years since I’ve heard her voice. It’s older now, more exhausted, the fervor I remember as if it were yesterday seems to have slipped away with time.
“Why just alright today?” a more peculiar voice coaxes. I re-enter the living room, my breathing now under control as I have convinced myself of the state which I am in. Annette is sitting there, on the TV screen, in some cushioned blue suede armchair, a white and yellow striped dress exposing her perfectly pale legs, white sandals highlighting her baby blue toenail color, her thin brunette hair resting over her shoulders in wavy curls, seemingly clinging to her. Her hazel eyes host a sadness, one that is suddenly all too familiar. One I forgot they held with me, all those years ago. There is a purple stain below each eye, as if she hasn’t slept for days. Her arms are strong, as usual, but somehow still entirely dainty in their posture. Her rounded chin is reaching for her neck as she bows her head to process an answer for the soothing, enigmatic voice behind the screen.
“Things just feel so off with Evan. I feel so out of place. So far from what I pictured my life as.” She admits humbly, defeated, twiddling with her wedding ring as she does. And as she does, I sink into the couch, newly consumed with certain intrigue. She’s married now?
“What about your life isn’t what you want?”
“I don’t know. Something just seems off, and I feel like I’m sitting in someone else’s world, and completely missing my own.”
“Does this have something to do with Evan? You said things were off with you two. How so?”
“I just feel like he doesn’t know me. Like I can’t be real with him because I don’t know how to explain myself, and I wish I didn’t feel like I had to explain myself to him. I wish he could just know, because I have no idea how to explain. I don’t even know. I want him to just tell me.”
“It sounds like you want Evan to fill a bigger void than he is supposed to in your life. Is there someone in particular you are thinking of that knew you the way you wish Evan did? Someone you maybe wish Evan was more like? Someone who you think defined you?” Annette looks off into the distance as the question is proposed to her. It’s as if she knows the answer, and it’s on the tip of her tongue, but she shouldn’t dare say it.
“I don’t know.”
“Oh, but I think you do, Annette.” The woman’s voice is understanding, loving. You can tell she only wants to help.
“But if there is, what does it matter?” Suddenly she is defensive, threatened.
“Maybe I’m way off here, but I’m thinking that there was a relationship in your past that you never received closure in, and that lack of peace of mind is causing you to deeply question and overanalyze things with Evan?” She poses it as a question, but there is confidence in her voice that I see both comforts and scares Annette. This woman can see her, which as nice as it is to feel seen, is equally as terrifying.
She doesn’t respond with words. A simple nod is all she needs to do, and as she nods I scooch closer to the TV, entirely enthralled in what is playing out before me, no more sure of what I am experiencing, but now utterly committed to its undeniable presence.
“So, tell me about this other relationship.” I hear a pen click open in the background as Annette readjusts herself to relay a story from her past.
“It was ages ago, but there was this boy. I was head over heels for him, and it seemed to be mutual. We were young and dumb, but completely infatuated with each other. He was tall with shaggy hair and kind eyes.” She pauses, trying to remain composed as memory lane seems to circle in her head. “We told each other everything. I was in such a bad place in life, that once we opened up to one another, it was like one of those moments where once something is spilled, it can never fully be put back. It went from this beautiful innocent childhood love to this hauntingly toxic situation. Before I knew it, he was gone.” She holds back a tear of pain as she concludes with what haunts her now. “The overarching memories he had of me were horrible, and now it’s like those memories define me to him, holding me captive to myself. Does that even begin to make sense?” At least she is aware that her explanation was a little jumbled and certainly confusing.
“Yes, I think it does very much so.” Really? “You are not who you used to be anymore and I’m guessing that as long as people who played a big role in your life see you as your old self you’ll never fully feel free to move on?”
“Exactly!” She exhales, relieved to be understood.
“I bet you that that’s not all he remembers of you. But, after working with you for a while I know how you are with these kinds of things. You need tangible closure.” Annette smiles admittedly, knowing she seems to be a rather unorthodox client. “Do you have a way to contact him?” Her eyes go wide, a mix of utter shock and mischievous excitement that her, who I assume is, therapist is willing to indulge her whims.
“If he hasn’t changed his number in the last decade.” She racks her brain for other possibilities, but seems to come up with no other alternative.
“Now, I’m never one for opening old wounds, but I also know you. I think you should reach out. Give him a call, leave a message if he doesn’t answer, and try to see if it’d be possible to Skype if you're far from each other, or meet up if you’re not. I think you need to talk with him.”
“Can I just call him now? While I’m here?”
The mysterious woman embodies a tone of pure compassion, “Of course.”
Annette pulls out her phone and scrolls through her contacts, a deep breath following as she seems to come across the name of her perpetrator. She looks up at the lady behind the screen, who judging by Annette’s reaction must have given a reassuring nod. I watch her finger descend upon what must be the call button, and as she lifts the phone to her ear, ringing fills the space around me. A sudden vibration startles me, and looking down to find the culprit of my scare, what I come upon instead leaves me with a ghost’s reflection in my eyes.
Incoming call from Annette Tayler.
It was me, the burden she needed to rid herself from, the one who was holding her back all these years later. It was me.
I shoot awake with such abruptness, whiplash and head rush meet me all at once. Familiarity has reentered my surroundings as my trim is back to being white and my wood floor lighter and chipping here and there. There is a late payment notice on my dresser where the tape once resided. In the living room, the coffee stain has vanished and my loveseat is piled high with moving boxes as I remember. Hannah’s wedding announcement is back to high school graduation. Things are normal, yet I am startled by my sudden sunken heart at returning to present, a sentence I never thought would enter my mind. I swipe into my phone, checking my calendar to find it is the morning of September 1, 2020. I was dreaming after all. But regardless, I know now there is something I have to do.
“Hello?” a familiar voice echoes through the phone.
“Hi, Annette. This is Tyler, Tyler Evans. I think we should talk…”