The Trouble with Paper PlanesBy: Amanda Dick
for all the stuff we’ve seen and all the stuff we’ve yet to see
OUTSIDE MY WORLD, the rain fell from concrete-coloured skies. Inside, I stood in the bathroom, staring at a face I didn’t recognise. My own.
The girl in the mirror stared back at me, silently taunting me. She looked like something out of a horror movie. Pallid skin, blue-tinged lips, hollow eyes. An ugly purple and blue bruise crawled up her cheekbone and spread like a disease up one side of her forehead. Her hair was gone, shaved clean off, with a ragged scar cutting a raised, red path across her scalp.
She held the secrets of my past somewhere inside her head, I know she did – if only I could crack the code and get her to talk. Panic whirled inside of me, setting fire to my insides.
The bright, white light above the bathroom mirror illuminated the fear in her eyes. My eyes. I was a floating head, disconnected from the rest of the world.
I wanted to scream, but I’d done that yesterday and it hadn’t made any difference. The longer I stared at her, the more separated from her I felt. I talked to her as if she was someone else. I pleaded with her silently, but it didn’t do any good. She held all the knowledge I craved inside her head, but she wasn’t saying anything.
It didn’t help that each day, she looked a little different. Her wounds were healing. Every time I looked at her in the mirror, something had changed. She was a watercolour, melting in the rain. Every day that passed left another drop of water behind, obliterating a feature. The bruising was less obvious. The scar wasn’t quite so red. The one constant seemed to be the eyes. They showed the fear inside, and that wasn’t diminishing.
Somewhere in the distance, there was crying. Someone rushed past my room, calling out instructions in a calm, measured voice. A meal would arrive soon, brought in on a spotless, white tray. Everything is orderly and pristine here, even the food.
I have no idea how long I’ve been here. The days and nights seem to have blended into each other until time was immaterial. I was here. Whoever ‘I’ was.
People came and went. I have learnt to be grateful for the simple things. A clean bed with crisp, white sheets. A kind word. A view over the car park from the window of my room. Three meals a day.
I had everything I needed to be physically sustained, yet the one thing I craved was denied me.
Instead, I was a question mark. A Jane Doe. A puzzle without all the pieces. A mystery no one had solved.
And the worst part was, I felt it.
I could feel the missing pieces, buzzing around just outside of my grasp. I reached for them, grabbing nothing but empty air. I floated on a sea of whats and whys, hows and whos. The questions were like post-it notes, pinned to a large, black board that separated my past from my present. The frustration was beginning to settle in my bones like a virus, gnawing away at me. I felt like an interloper, an intruder. I had a nagging feeling, clawing away at me from deep inside, that I was meant to be somewhere else.
But where? What’s my name? How old am I? Where do I live? How did I get that scar on my scalp?
The void was impenetrable. Insurmountable. Absolute.
The harder I tried to remember, the more it hurt. The pain was more than physical, it reached down deep into my soul, hollowing me out. I felt like a shadow, half a person, here but not here. My reality was like a nightmare.
They told me to relax, but how could I?
I had to try, had to reach, had to pick away at the scab that had formed over my memory. How else would I get any answers? How could I not try to break down that wall in my mind that separated the self of before from the self of right now?
I stared harder at the face in the mirror, willing some ray of light to shine out of the darkness. Give me something, anything. A name. A place. A memory, even a small one.
But there was nothing.
Why can’t I remember where I was born, yet I can remember how to use a knife and fork? How can I not remember my name, yet I can remember how to read? Why don’t I remember how old I am, yet I can remember I don’t like cucumber?
I studied my hands, front and back (short nails, long fingers). I was of average height, if comparisons were anything to go by. My eyes were hazel, but more brown than green. I had no tattoos, no other scars except for the fresh railroad track across my scalp. No moles, no birthmarks - no distinguishing marks at all, anywhere. I could roll my tongue to make an ‘o’ shape.
The list of things I knew about myself was pitifully short, limited only to what I could see.
I could feel myself tipping over the edge again. My head throbbed as I drew in a slow breath, exhaling through my teeth. I would try again tomorrow, just like I had tried yesterday and today. The answers to all my questions had to be out there, somewhere.
I turned off the light above the mirror and climbed back into bed, exhausted. I pulled the sheet up taut under my breasts and folded my arms across it, trying to barricade myself in. I needed to keep it together, somehow.
Rain battered against the window outside. Beyond the glass, the day was grey and cold, but inside it was neither one thing nor the other. I wasn’t cold, I wasn’t hot. I was lost.
Why wasn’t anyone looking for me?