Memories of a Stranger

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic


A story about a profound feeling of longing that never leaves, and missing someone you cannot remember. Ever since a car accident that occurred three years ago, Julian cannot shake the feeling that
there is someone out there that he is supposed to remember.

Submitted: July 09, 2018

A A A | A A A

Submitted: July 09, 2018

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Memories of a Stranger

 

Julian

 

The feeling never really went away.

It curled around Julian’s lungs, entwining itself with his heart and his throat. It was in every breath he took, in every drop of blood his heart pumped. And every time he thought he saw her eyes in the face of a passing stranger or caught a coffee and vanilla scent on a wandering breeze, the feeling would tighten his lungs, choking him, and would send his heart into a frenzy. For one brief second his hope would surge—hope that this was the person he had been searching for, the answer to the puzzle he had been trying to solve for two years. But the feeling would deflate, leaving him with a buzzing shot of adrenaline and a numb, gaping hole in his chest.

It was not Julian’s fault that he felt empty most of the time. It was not his fault that the feeling that he was forgetting something important never left him. And it was not his fault that on a cold December afternoon on 2002, on the day of his sixteenth birthday, he was run over by a drunk driver while on his way home from the town’s only train station.

He woke up a year later alone in a hospital bed, panicking, not comprehending where he was and what he was doing there. It had taken three nurses, a doctor, and his mother—who by then was just as much of a hospital resident as he was—to calm him down. Dr. Charles explained everything to him: how he had been in an accident and had already recovered from three broken ribs and a cracked skull while in coma, but had sustained grave brain injury.

“What year are we in, Julian?” the doctor asked him. Julian closed his eyes and thought. The last thing he remembered was a few days before Christmas, and he had just turned fifteen.

“It’s 2001.”

Dr. Charles gave a pained sigh and his mother sobbed next to him. “I’m sorry Julian,” the doctor said, “But we are in 2003.”

The more questions the doctor asked, the more apparent Julian’s amnesia became. The impact from the accident had caused trauma to the temporal lobes in his brain, damaging the recollection of his episodic memory. He could not remember the entire year of his life that took place before the accident. The doctor tried to be optimistic after conducting more tests and finally sending him home, saying that given time his memories might return. Julian doubted it; he had lost one year of his life while in coma, and now he had lost two.

But he had lost more than that. From the moment when he first opened his eyes, the feeling settled in his chest. It tugged at his spine, gnawed at the back of his head, yawned open like a bottomless abyss. It made him long for something—what? He did not know. It reminded him that there was someone important, someone he was supposed to know, supposed to remember. Two years after waking up, the feeling still hadn’t left him.

It was not his fault he did not remember her.

 

 

?

 

July 21, 2005

 

I was nervous and terrified to be the new girl in school.

I’d just moved into town for my dad’s job and would be staying there only for a couple of months.  At lunch period I sat alone, trying not to think about how lonely I felt; and then, there you were, sitting next to me and asking what my name was. We talked until lunch was over, but to me it was like we had talked for hours. Time seemed to stop mattering, because in a span of a few minutes I felt like I’d known you all my life.

Now, ever since the accident I’ve had these memories about you. They’ve been resurfacing little by little over the past three years, thanks to the therapy I've been undergoing, but I’m still recovering from amnesia and don’t know what to make of them. I asked my dad several times to tell me about you, but he didn’t know anything, only that you were a friend I used to spend my time with. He was never very present in my life, always busy with his work.

My doctor told me that writing about these memories would help. I remember a blurry mirage of what you look like (or used to look like): a scraggly boy with messy brown hair and wide honey-colored eyes. I remember we met on the first day of school, on January 2002. I can recall some small flashes and events, your face, your voice, but I don’t remember you. I don’t remember your likes and dislikes, what makes you happy, or angry, or sad, what you do in your free time. I remember the shell, not the substance. I don’t even remember your name, but I desperately want to. For three whole years it’s all I’ve been trying to do. When I think about you, there is always this emptiness, this feeling that I’ve lost something. I feel like I’m writing about memories of a stranger.

You were important to me once, and still are. Even if I don’t get my memories back I want to know you. I want to find you.

Who are you?

Where are you?

What is your name?

 

Julian

 

It was chilly for a summer night. Julian stood still in the middle of his backyard, listening to the midnight breeze move the leaves and branches of the trees nearby, a bow and arrow held steadily in his hands. Crickets chirped, owls hooted. He couldn’t sleep. He never could, not after waking up after a dream about her and being unable to remember even the most insignificant detail. So he spent these nights out in the open, finding solace in one of the things his amnesia hadn’t robbed him of: archery. The stars glowed like miniature candles in the vast sky, blinking in and out of existence. Julian inhaled and nocked his arrow. With a flicker of his fingers and an exhale, the arrow flew from his bow and into the target with a thump.

After waking up from the coma, many changes had come into his life. He had to deal with an entire year lost in coma, and an additional year’s worth of lost memories. Following Dr. Charles’ recommendations, he’d started home school with a private tutor. Quitting normal high school hadn’t bothered him; he had never been much of a social butterfly anyways. He’d graduated a month ago.

But after waking up he had felt that something was missing. He was always searching for something, someone. This had become a habit for him over the past two years. He searched stranger’s faces while walking around town, carved deeply into his own memories to try to remember something until he was left exhausted, but nothing ever worked.

It had begun slow but persistent, and now this feeling pervaded every aspect of his life, making him long for something he didn’t understand, chase around a hollow clue that lead to no answers. There were days when he thought something funny or saw something beautiful, and would then turn to share it with…empty air. The feeling would hit him hard; a mix of confusion, and sadness, and anger, and a longing so profound it left him breathless. And so he knew that he had lost something, someone, someone important to him, someone he had forgotten. Someone that was supposed to be there and that he needed to find.

Julian inhaled and nocked another arrow. Flicker of his fingers. Exhale. Thump. The breeze ruffled his brown hair and his red jacket, his most overused and prized possession. It was not exactly red, more like wine colored, he remembered a voice saying, red is way too bright for that. But this color suits you. Inhale. Nock. Flicker of his fingers. Exhale. Thump.

Thump.

Thump.

Some months after the coma, he had woken up to her vanilla and coffee scent still in his nose and her name at the tip of his tongue. He had screamed in frustration into his pillow, holding back tears and not understanding why this feeling haunted him, why it gnawed at him like a dog with a bone and never left him in peace. Julian went to his mother that morning, and asked her if there was any girl he had met before the accident, anyone he might have forgotten thanks to his amnesia.

“I’m sorry, Julie, but no,” she’d said with a tight smile, “There was nobody. I would’ve told you if I knew, you know I wouldn’t keep such things from you. Why don’t you help me with breakfast?”

Julian lowered his bow, basking in the calm silence of the night. He had accepted this growing madness a long time ago. Because if this girl was not real, then the accident had damaged more than his memory and he was slowly going crazy, searching for some made up phantom in a wild goose chase. He remembered small details and flashes lost in time and space: gray eyes that crinkled when she smiled, the feeling of her fingertips as her hand touched his, her scent of vanilla and coffee—but these were all probably a figment of his imagination, something he had made up in a delusional bout of madness.

The breeze stopped, ending the trees’ dance. Everything was quiet, everyone was asleep. Julian stood still, clinging to the feeling of longing that expanded from his chest to every pore and crevice of his body. And he thought of her, of the girl that had once meant the world to him, even if he could not remember her now. The world was silent as he stood amongst the trees, his existence only a whisper between stars, and called out to the universe, to anyone that might hear him, saying

Who are you?

Are you real?

What is your name?

 

 

?

 

August 30, 2005

 

I’ve been continuing the therapy for my memory loss over the past months, and it’s been helping me greatly. More memories are coming back to me and it is like I’m staring down at a glass filled with murky water, only that it is now getting clearer and in a while I will be able to see the bottom. I’m getting to know you again, little by little.

You love drinking tea, and even more so if it is any type of black tea. I tried getting you to drink coffee once, but you said it tasted bitter and didn’t like it. Your favorite season is fall, and you have a surprisingly large collection of fallen leaves in shades of yellow, red, orange, and brown. You like waking up to a rainy day. You hate sports, but are great in archery. You once told me your dream job was to be an architect for wildlife habitat design. You always wear this wine colored jacket you keep insisting is red, but I beg to differ.

You were there for me in the second anniversary of my mother’s death. We had only known each other for a month, yet you comforted me and hugged me while I cried and wet your shirt. I guess you understood me, after all your own father died when you were four. When I finished crying, you gave me a piece of chocolate, saying it would make me feel better. You didn’t even mind the large, wet spot on your shoulder full of snot and tears. I tried to apologize for it, but you waved me away with a smile and said, “Well, that’s what shoulders are for, right?”

 

Julian

 

Julian paced the room in desperate circles. The frustration was growing greater with each passing day. The feeling had been tugging on his shoulder and making his fingertips itch since some months ago, shouting at him to do something. He couldn’t take it anymore. It was now November, and the trees adorned the town like fiery jewels.

What did this blasted feeling want? He was sad all the time, he searched a face he did not remember, he longed for someone that did not exist, so what else did this feeling want from him?! His sanity? He had lost it a long time ago. It was gone. Gone. Gone.

Julian pressed his hands into his face and remembered another set of hands that would grab his own whenever he was upset, and a voice filled with laughter that said now Julian, stop pouting like that or you’re gonna look like a wrinkled old man when you’re twenty-five.

What did this feeling want?

What did it want?

What did it want?!

With bitterness, he thought that he might just have to go search for her to get the feeling to quiet down. The thought stopped him short. It wasn’t the first time he had thought about this, but whenever the idea had surfaced, he had shoved it down immediately. His own mother had said the girl wasn’t real. She was only someone he had conjured in his imagination to fill in the gap his amnesia had left behind. Julian had never allowed himself to recognize that this person was real, because the knowledge that he had forgotten someone important to him would break him. That he had loved someone so profoundly that his soul refused to forget her when his own mind did.

But what if she were real? She could be out there somewhere, living her life after all these years he had spent believing her to be some made up fantasy. And if he went searching for her, where would he start? He didn’t know her name, didn’t know where she lived, didn’t even know what she looked like. But he had nothing to lose.

Julian sat down on his bed and forced himself to think. If she were real, there should be something with proof of her existence, proof that she had been a part of his life. He had spent an entire year in coma, and during that time anything could have happened. If she had been someone important to him, why hadn’t he heard anything about her these past two years? Someone should have mentioned her by now, so why hadn’t anyone? Why hadn’t she? It just didn’t make sense.

Concentrate, he thought. Maybe she had visited him, he just hadn’t known it. There were many things he did not know, but there was a place that recorded every single detail, and might just have the answers he needed.

Some hours later, Julian found himself visiting the secretary at the hospital’s recovery wing.

“Hi Mrs. Johan, how are you?” he said.

“Oh Julian, it’s been ages since I last saw you!”

“It’s only been three months Mrs. Johan.”

“An eternity. What can I help you with?

“It’s a strange request, but I want to see my list of visitors for the year I was in coma.”

The elderly woman smiled at him affectionately. “Alright dear. Please sit down and have a cookie, it might take me a while.”

It was no surprise that the secretary was so nice to him. Julian was a well-known patient at the hospital. He had frequented it often for his checkups after being released two years ago. At first he had come once a week for a couple of months, then once a month, and now he only had to go there every six months. Mrs. Johan was like his adopted grandmother.

She came back about twenty minutes later, a folder with a couple of papers inside. “Here you go, sweetie.” She said. Julian took the folder, feeling excited and nervous at the same time. He opened it and read the names carefully, searching for any person he might not recognize. But there was none. Only his mother, his cousin, and a few of his aunts had come to see him, but there was no mystery girl. He sighed. What was he expecting, anyways? He was a fool for having thought that this girl was anything more than a delusion. He should have known that—

“Hello, Julian,” Dr. Charles said, leaning over the counter. “Is everything okay? I wasn’t expecting you for another three months.”

“Hi, doctor. Everything’s fine, I was just looking for something.” Dr. Charles scanned the papers Julian held in his hands, and raised his brows in surprise.

“The visitors list, huh? That’s interesting. What’s it for?”

Julian debated with himself for a moment, not sure if he should tell the doctor the reason for his search. The truth just might land him in an asylum. But he was tired of dealing with all this by himself, tired of doubting his sanity and feeling so lost all the time.

“I’ve had this feeling ever since waking up from the coma,” he told Dr. Charles, adding,”this feeling that I’ve forgotten someone important to me. A girl, more exactly. I just wanted to know if there was someone who could be her in the records so that I could find her, but there is nothing.”

The doctor was pensive for a moment. “You know, if I remember correctly, there was a girl that was brought in with you. She had a severe head injury, but with all the commotion and you almost dying I couldn’t examine her very well. Her father ordered for her to be transported to a hospital in the city. I don’t know the details exactly, but I believe she was with you in the accident. Didn’t your mother tell you?”

 

?

 

October 1, 2005

 

I moved back to the city in October. I didn’t want to leave you, but my father gave me no choice. Before I entered the car you gave me a hug, and told me that this wasn’t goodbye. “We’ll visit each other, and talk every day, don’t worry,” you said.

We spoke often, mostly by phone, but what I liked the most was sending you letters. It was fall, so all the trees in the city were colored in astonishing hues of red, gold, and pink. I went to the park every time I could to gather the most beautiful leaves and send them to you, accompanied by a letter. Even though it was the most inefficient way of communication, I loved it. I guess I wanted you to have something real to remember me by, not just some text or call.

Once, you sent me one of your leaves. You told me it was your favorite one, and you wanted me to have it. It was bright red at the center, and yellow at the edges that curled in slightly. I framed it, and still have it placed in the wall next to my bed. But I can’t find your letters. I can’t remember where I put them, even though I’ve turned my room upside down several times to find them. I wish I could remember where they are.

We went on like this for two months. I desperately wanted to see you, and so we made plans so that I could visit you on your birthday, which was on December 16, 2002.

 

Julian

 

Julian sat before the kitchen table of his house, waiting for his mother to arrive from work. He felt betrayed; he could not believe that his mother had kept something so important from him, and even worse, that she had lied. Because in her version of the story, he was always alone in the accident. And all those months ago when he had first asked her, she had outright denied the girl’s existence.

The car pulled in the driveway, and some minutes later the house’s door opened, followed by his mother’s voice saying, “I’m home!” She walked in the kitchen, a bright smile on her face.

“Hi Julie, how was your day?” Her question was met with silence. 

She noticed her son’s somber mood and rigid posture. His face was set in a scowl, and his arms were crossed, hands fisted.

“What’s wrong? Is something the matter?” She asked.

“There was a girl in the accident with me, right, mom?” His mother’s smile dropped at his question.

“What do you mean?”

“What I mean,” Julian said, “is that there was a girl—someone that was important to me—in my life and she was with me in the accident. Is that true?”

His mother smiled, but her smile seemed strained. She clenched her fists, something he knew she did when she was nervous.

“Of course not. I have told you several times; you were hit by a drunk driver when coming from the train station. I have no idea what you were doing there. The driver didn’t even stop. It was only thanks to a witness that we got you to the hospital.”

Julian had heard this story many times, but it no longer sat well with him. Because she had to be real, she had to be. There was no other explanation to this feeling that had nestled in his life since he first opened his eyes after the accident.  

“You’re lying,” he said. “I spoke to the doctor today, and he said he remembers there was a girl in the accident with me. Why are you lying to me?”

His mother leaned against the table, bewildered, no longer putting on an act. “Because it is her fault that I almost lost my son! The girl came to visit you and you went to get her at the train station. When you were coming back home, you were hit by that drunk driver. I arrived at the hospital as soon as I received the news. And she had only some head injury and a few scratches, but you? You had a cracked skull, three broken ribs that for some miracle did not pierce your lungs, giant bruises all over your body, and a major brain injury. You almost died! And I couldn’t have borne it. I already lost my husband, I didn’t want to lose my son, too. So, I didn’t want you to see her again. When you woke up and didn’t seem to remember her, I discarded anything that could remind you of her.”

Julian stayed silent, taking everything in. His head was spinning, his heart beat a kilometer per second, and his hands were clammy and cold. The feeling was in every part of his body, drowning all sound and sensation. He could only think one thing.

She was real. The girl was real. After all this time, she was a real person. Sheisrealsheisrealsheisreal. He wanted to shout in joy, to cry, to at the very least say something, but the words got stuck in his throat and wouldn’t come out.

“Who,” he croaked, “who is she? What was she to me?

His mother sighed and sagged, defeated. “She was a friend of yours. You only knew her for the few months she lived here, but became fast friends with her. She moved out to the city after a while, and came to visit you for your birthday. After the accident, her father took her back to the city.”

“You—you lied to me all this time. I’ve spent the past two years thinking I was going crazy. I thought I was insane. Why did you do that?

Tears streamed down her cheeks as she covered her face with her hands. “I’m sorry Julie, I thought I was protecting you. I-I didn’t want to lose you.”

She was quiet for a moment, and after a while, she added, “She used to send you letters. I hid them, afraid that you would find them and start asking questions. But I still have them. Do you want to see them?”

His heart stopped beating, his body froze, and he only had the ability to nod. She came back a few moments later holding an old shoe box that Julian grabbed with shaking hands. She looked into her son’s eyes and said, “I’m sorry.”

Julian closed the door to his room and placed the box tenderly in his bed. With trembling hands, body, and soul, he opened it. There were about ten envelopes inside forming a neat pile. He took the first one and looked it over. His name was there, as well as his address. And on the corner, her address, as well. Julian sucked in his breath, and opened the letter.

 

Julian,

 

I bought the train tickets yesterday. My father wasn’t thrilled about it, but I don’t care. I am so excited to see you! I can’t believe we haven’t seen each other in two months, and I really miss you. On your last letter you said there was something you wanted to tell me. Well, there is something I want to tell you, too, but you’ll have to wait until I get there.

I also bought you a birthday present, but it is a surprise. Knowing you, you’ll like it. There isn’t much happening in my life at the moment, I’ll just say that what’s keeping me happy is counting the days until I see you.

I should be arriving at the train station around 3:30 pm, so be there on time! And brace yourself because I might just start crying (you know I’m a huge crybaby). I can’t wait to see you.

 

With love,

Emma

 

He finished reading the letter, stunned. She had a name. Emma. Emma. Emma. He chanted her name, at first in his mind and then out loud. Emma, Emma, Emma. And she had an address! She had a name and an address, and she was real. Here was tangible proof that this feeling that had haunted him for so long was leading him to her, that he was not crazy. He crushed the letter to his chest and sobbed, because he finally knew that she was real and he would find her.

Sometime later he calmed down and straightened the crumpled letter, setting it next to him. He read the next one, and then the one after that, until he had read every single one of them. He cherished every letter, admiring her calligraphy, getting to know her little by little again with every sentence and paragraph. The feeling in his chest expanded in longing with every word, but this time a welcome pain. And he understood then that he had loved her with a fierceness that was greater than life, and not even amnesia could make him forget her.

He put the letters back in the box and wrote down her address in a paper. He grabbed his wine colored jacket and car keys, wasting no time. He needed to find her.

 

Emma

 

November 15, 2005

 

You were there at the train station when I arrived, and enveloped me in a hug as soon as you saw me. I was laughing and crying at the same time, I had missed you so much. We started walking towards your house, talking about all that had happened in the past two months. I missed hearing your voice.

Instead of going through the main street, we took one of the more deserted side streets. You wanted to tell me something, and the main street was too crowded. Besides, this way was faster, according to you. The day was cold and snow was piled along the sidewalk.

We stopped talking for a while, and for some reason you seemed nervous. You took my hand as we crossed the street and opened your mouth to say something, but a loud honking interrupted you. A car was coming fast at us, and the slippery ground impeded it from halting completely. It was going to hit us both. At the very last second before the impact, you pushed me hard out of the way.

I remember flying through the air and then hitting the back of my head against the sidewalk, then darkness. Days later, I woke up at a hospital in the city with almost no recollection of you. I never knew what happened to you in the accident, or if you are all right now, but I do know this: you saved my life. For this I am eternally grateful.

 

Julian

 

Julian stood in front of the apartment complex in the city, the paper with the address clutched in his hands. It was only a matter of crossing the double doors and going up a few floors, and he would find her. But his feet refused to move. The night was cold and windy. He had traveled over three hours by car, and trekked across the city to find this place.

A woman walked past him and opened the door, giving him access to the building. It was now or never. He walked quickly inside after the woman and went directly to the stairs, taking them two at a time, propelled by his fast beating heart and his earlier momentum. He reached her floor and searched desperately for her door. Without thinking twice about it, he pressed the doorbell.

Seconds later, a woman his age opened the door. His heart froze. Wide, gray eyes looked at him in stunned silence, framed by waves of dark brown hair. The smell of coffee and vanilla invaded his nostrils. He took her sight in, combining it with the words and emotions she had written in her letters, and he knew it was her. Emma, Emma, Emma. The feeling in his chest did not choke him, did not make his heart beat into a frenzy, did not make his hands shake uncontrollably. It went silent, extinguishing like the flame of a candle after two years of burning like a forest fire. For he had finally found her.

 

“It’s you,” she said at a loss for words, tears glistening in her eyes.

 

And Julian would never know that on that cold December day right before the car had hit him, right before he pushed her away and took the brunt of the impact alone, right before losing all memory of her, he was going to tell her he loved her.

 

“Hi,” he said. “I’ve been looking for you.”

 

She smiled.

 


© Copyright 2018 Rage. All rights reserved.

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