He could hear voices. It was the first thing that he could sense as he slowly started to regain consciousness. One of them sounded familiar, but he could not quite make out what was being said. It felt as if there was water stuck in his ears and all the vibrations were being filtered before hitting his eardrums.
The murmurs became louder and gradually, he could feel his other senses returning. He started to register the light entering his pupils through his eyelids, but everything felt too bright and he could not open them just yet. The sensations around his mouth came next and he could taste the disgusting stickiness of his dry mouth keeping his lips stuck where they were. He could tell that he was lying on a bed, with his torso raised slightly, but could not feel his arms or legs, which probably would have caused panic if it were not for the general haze surrounding all of his body. Lastly he began to smell the numbingly clean odor that was instantly recognizable as a hospital room. It entered his nostrils and further signaled his brain to wake up.
The sounds became clearer and he could just make out a woman talking softly yet with conviction to someone else in the room, “yes, he should wake up in the next few hours. I would recommend getting yourself something to eat and drink at the shop now before he wakes up. It would be best for you to be here to talk with him once he does.”
Before he could try and send a signal, a grunt, a wave, a shift in his body, to show that he was already awake, he heard the two sets of footsteps moving away. The sliding door lightly hit the frame and bounced open again, before someone made sure to seal it tight on their way out. The only sound now was the beeping of a vital signs monitor next to him. Disheartened, at being left alone, he gave himself a moment to sink into his skin. He couldn’t remember why he was in the hospital. In fact, it dawned on him that he couldn’t remember much of anything. Why was he here? Who were the people in the room with him just now? Where was this hospital? What was his name? A panic started to rise from his chest into his throat. How could he not remember his own name? He tried taking a deep breath to calm himself, and felt his lungs expand before a sharp pain in his left rib caused him to yelp. It helped to shift his attention momentarily away from the panic.
The vital signs monitor once again became the only sound in the room. With the pain in his ribs screaming out at him, he tried his best to gain control over the rest of his body. He opened his eyes and saw a blurry image of the television in front of him, as well as the window to his right, the lights of nearby high-rises shining brightly in the night sky. His neck was still sore, and even with the rush of adrenaline he was unable to twist it beyond a few inches. He rolled his eyeballs as far to the left as he could and saw a light blue curtain dividing his side of the room with what he assumed was a second bed.
As he took in his surroundings, the pain and panic he felt before subsided, but it was replaced instead by a feeling of utter solitude. He could not remember anyone. Not even himself. It was an absolute sense of loneliness that engulfed him inside this dreary hospital room. He longed for some company.
“Must have been a pretty bad fall,” a sudden voice shocked him, causing a sharp intake of breath, forcing him to yelp in pain for a second time.
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you,” the voice sounded worried.
His eyes darted around looking for a source. Oddly, he couldn’t pinpoint where it was coming from, but he again saw the curtain to his left and deduced that it must be coming from the bed behind it. He wasn’t sure who was talking, but at least he could direct his attention now to a specific area. He tried to respond, but at first all that came out was a faint scratchy noise. After a couple of tries, he managed to clear his throat and produce a tiny amount of saliva to produce a few words.
“Not great,” he managed to say.
“That’s a shame,” the voice expressed disappointment and continued, “I thought maybe we could have a chat, but perhaps another day.”
“No, no, please,” he urgently responded, grasping for company with his words. His vocal cords were starting to warm up.
“Oh, well, sure, if you’re up for it,” the voice cheerily said.
There was a pause. He couldn’t think of anything to talk about. After a moment, it was the voice that broke the ice.
“Well, perhaps we can talk about something pleasant. How about we share our dreams? Let me tell you mine. Ever since I was a child, I dreamt of being a lion tamer. I saw one when the circus came through town and I was absolutely floored by his charisma. Able to control a beast with just the crack of a whip. What about you? What was your dream?” the voice asked.
He thought this was an odd topic to chat about with a stranger, but decided to engage as he was appreciating the company. However, he realized that no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t access any of his memories. He still couldn’t remember his name, let alone his dreams.
“I... I can’t remember,” he said, slightly saddened and embarrassed.
“Well, that’s alright. We forget our dreams all the time. And even if we remember them, they might not come true. That’s a disappointment we don’t want to face, right?” the voice chuckled. “How about something else? Something simpler. What about your favorite ice cream flavor? Or go-to movie? What are the simple pleasures in life you enjoy?”
It was no use, as he could not remember any of these details about his own life. It began to irritate him that he was being asked all of this. The sense of emptiness only seemed to widen as he faced the fact that he was without all of these memories.
“No, no, you need to stop asking me these questions. I can’t seem to remember anything. I can't even remember my name!” he cried out in frustration.
“Well, perhaps that’s for the best,” the voice mumbled.
Upon hearing those words, he felt an anger boil up from his gut. How could this stranger tell him that losing all of his memories was for the best? Was he somehow insinuating that his past was better forgotten?
“What do you mean by that?” he growled. The rage was numbing the pain in his ribs and throat. He continued, “are you saying that I’m better off not remembering my name? Or the memories of loved ones, of who might be waiting for me outside those doors?”
“Perhaps,” the voice seemed saddened by his anger.
“So you’re saying that I’m better off this way? Alone and without a single memory? You’re telling me that you aren’t proud of your own name? That you’d happily give up all of your memories and be like me?” he was shouting louder with each sentence.
He paused for a response, but there was none. As he waited, he listened to the steady beeping of the vital signs monitor which slowly brought him back to his natural state. The lights above him were illuminating the room in a bright artificial white. He was giving up on receiving a response when he heard the voice again.
“Nico. That’s the name. I have a beautiful wife, Emily, and two young daughters, Jess and Kate. A few friends and neighbors that we celebrated birthdays and holidays with, and a steady job that paid the bills,” the voice recounted.
“See, Nico, sounds like you have a pretty damn decent life you’d like to remember,” the anger had subsided enough, but he still felt the irritation. His hands twitched.
“But every evening,” the voice ignored his response and kept going. “Every evening after dinner as Emily started on the dishes, I would open the wooden cabinet that was right above the fridge. I would pull out the bottle of vodka I had restocked that morning. And I’d pour a glass. I’d take it to the living room, sit on the loveseat in front of the TV while some bullshit show played in the background and I’d down that first one. Instant. Every time. Then I’d pour out the next, and take the second one slowly. Each burning sensation as it went down my throat telling me that another day was here, same as the last. Another one that I’d like to forget. I’d pour out the next and before long the bottle would be half empty. And that’s about when I’d start to lose control. I’d let whatever I was feeling take over. Some nights would be somber. I’d wake up the next day grasping the cushion in between my arms and I could feel that it was still wet from the tears. Other nights I’d just fall asleep. Those were the good nights. And the worst nights, I’d know because it would be Emily waking up later than me. She’d come into the kitchen, as I’m making coffee covered up in the robe, hiding her body. She was distant, and I knew I’d done something bad. But I never brought it up. Because I knew that the guilt would be too much for me to handle. And for some reason she never did too. Or maybe she did and I didn’t listen. Either way when morning came I’d put my head down and chugged along until the evening came back again.”
The voice trailed off. Sitting in the bed and eyes fixated to the curtain on his left, all he could think of was what a fool he had been. He was about to muster up the courage to apologize when he felt a sharp pain run through the spot an inch above his left ear and behind his temple. It was the type of pain felt beneath the skin, like the blood vessels were contracting sharply.
“Ow,” he let out in a stifled yell.
“I told you, perhaps it was for the best that you forgot,” he heard the voice say. It did not sound like it was coming from behind the curtain. Suddenly another sharp pain hit, but this one made his body curl.
“OW!” he screamed. It was as if a vein ruptured in his head. He felt dizzy. He was about to throw up and the world around him spun around. It was a feeling he remembered from the last time he was at the hospital. When was that?
A familiar voice he knew called out from outside the door.
“Honey, is that you? Are you alright?”
The door rattled open and a woman rushed in. She grabbed him as he fell over to his left, grasping at his head.
“Doctor! Doctor!” the woman called out frantically.
A nurse heard the commotion and ran in, grabbing the light blue curtain and zipping it open to give the others rushing in more space. The bed behind them was empty.
He felt his consciousness leaving just as he heard the woman who held his hands frantically speak to him.
“Nico, are you alright? Can you hear me? It’s Emily! Nico, honey?”