May 1, 2011
Coming into being
The door exploded inward to the sound of rupturing wood and torn hinges.
“Police! Throw down your weapons! Get down on the floor! Get down now!
I moved in line behind the point men whose vests, close in front of my face, read, 'TACTICAL UNIT'. My movements were sluggish, the vest and and padding inhibiting me and the assault weapon in my gloved hands entirely unfamiliar.
I had, after all, no idea how I here.
The nasty looking men in the large apartment, evidently set up as a chemical lab, also had, evidently, no intension of complying with the orders imparted. One of them raised his weapon and fired. The officer in front of me returned and the guy's knee shattered, instantly painting the leg of his jeans with seeping, viscous wetness. He went down, screaming in pain.
My breath came with panicked quickness, fogging the inside of my mask. I looked for a place to conceal myself, not knowing which way to turn. Gunfire was erupting in short bursts all around me. I was feeling dizzy and disoriented. My right leg seemed to be going numb.
In my panic, I hadn't felt the bullet pass into the side of my hip and lodge there. I was passing out. My leg collapsed and, with a cry of pain, I hit the floor. The shouts were immediate.
“Officer down! We've got an officer down!”
My vision was fading and my breath was the short gasps of shock. Three officers surrounded me – two in battle stance and one kneeling close. His face, as mine, was hidden behind his mask.
“We're gonna get you out of here,” he said, his voice muffled. “You hang in there, buddy!”
He knocked forcefully on the side of my helmet with his knuckles as a sign of reassurance.
“Am I?” I said to the faceless man and, then, blacked out.
That is my life and all that I remember. I do not know who or what I am – whether a man living some disjointed, nightmare existence or, as a plaything of demons, created anew each time and dropped into some poor soul's life unexpectedly co-opting all that they have become in a much more linear fashion.
I come into being and consciousness with little awareness and no history other than confused shadows of a past that may or may not be my own; when I awake, it is with no concept of time or place, only the knowledge that I must react immediately or risk the impact of an onrushing train.
“You lookin' for some company, hun?”
I look up from my hands wrapped tightly around a glass tumbler filled with amber liquid. She is dark skinned, ample and curvaceous, leaning on the bar beside me in such a way as to present her exaggerated breasts as a sort of welcome mat. I shake my head.
“No, thanks, beautiful.” I smile briefly, unsure of the actions of my own face. She pouts and walks away. As she turns, I detect a second glance from her; a questioning, uncomfortable look as though there is something wrong with me – something alien and strange.
I raise my hand to my face and rub it as though tired or thoughtful. There, I find eyes, nose and mouth, chin and forehead all in their correct configuration. I am relieved. The bartender approaches, wiping his hands with a towel. I acknowledge his presence and he grins at me.
“You're quiet tonight,” he prompts me.
“Do you think so?” I prompt back. I have become a master of the open-ended interrogative.
“Yeah,” he says. He seems like a personable fellow. He leans on his elbows a couple feet away. He must know me slightly or, at least, who I was before.
“You'd usually be chatting up the girls. I think they are missing your attention tonight!” His laugh is a short bark but shows no malice.
“Oh?” I suggest. “Why is that?” I take a casual sip from my glass. It is a harsh whiskey, I think.
“Oh come on,” he answers with a shade of exasperation. “There's no one in here who doesn't like to talk to you, John – or watch the game or shoot some pool. I think you're good for my business – that's why I give you so many freebies!” Again comes that barking laugh. I smile, attempting to look game.
C'mon my friend, get your chin up!” He reaches across the bar and claps my shoulder with a large hand and, then, with a wink and a smile at me, strides down the bar to serve some other patrons.
John. I am John.
Unsure if it is helpful or even useful, I check my pockets. There are keys but I do not know what they fit. The wallet is in my back pocket. I lift it, feeling guilty for my intrusion into someone else's personal papers.
There is cash and some documents. I find a drivers license. 'John Smith' it tells me and I note the date of birth but, without knowing the current year, that information offers me no substance or reliability.
I do not know what it is to recognise my own face for, any time that my consciousness appears, I do not have that assuredness and familiarity of solid past experience. I am left, staring at the reflection of 'a man' who, while I occupy him, I do not know if he and I are one.
The bathroom is small, white and immaculately clean. The steam from the shower behind me alternately clouds and clears from the mirror with the draw from the vent above my head. I watch my own reflection – a sturdy, mature man with short, curly brown hair touched with grey and matching brown eyes stares back. The face shows character but I do not know whose character it is.
“Baby?” A female voice intrudes through the closed door and I jump.
“Yeah?” I offer, tentatively.
“The coffee will be ready when you finish your shower,” she answers. Apparently, I was going to have a shower.
“Thank you,” I attempt.
“Love you,” she sings back.
I am naked and there are no clothes in the bathroom. I step into the shower and, standing under the hot stream, rub my temples, feeling exhausted and unwilling to adapt. Maybe I have become too old for this game that is being played on me.
The light shifts in the bathroom and my eyes snap open. A shadow falls across the steamed glass and then the door slowly slides open. A woman of a similar age to the man in the reflection steps into the shower. She is lean and attractive with a slight build and long, dark blonde hair tied up in a bun.
I am stunned and, as my body reacts to her presence, also embarrassed.
“Well,” she comments, smiling, “someone is feeling perky this morning.” She begins to laugh and it is musical, pleasing to my ears. I wish I knew who she was.
“I thought we could share the shower to save time,” she adds, “but maybe we'll need a few extra minutes.” She is biting her lower lip.
She places her hands on the sides of chest and, slicked by the steam and flowing water, slides them down and onto my hips. She stops abruptly, her fingers exploring.
“What's that?” she asks. Her face, spattered with water, turns up to mine. “I've never seen it before.”
“What's what?” I ask. I follow her gaze downward to where her fingers rest on the side of my right hip.
The scar is clearly old. It is pale white against my skin – deep, disfiguring and filled with puckered tissue. I become aware of a slight, radiating pain down the leg.
“It's just an old accident,” I offer her, unconvinced, ignorant and unconvincing but, somewhere in my mind, there is a flash – a sense of history and continuity. I grasp for it as I grasp for her.
Maybe, I think, pulling her against me, if I hold on tight enough – finding in her an anchor – I will be able to find where I came from. She is staring at me, concerned, but my mind is distant, searching for a past I have never known.
Coming into awareness
“You aren't going to figure out that paper trail by day-dreaming, Detective.”
The computer screen in front of my eyes is filled with figures. Maybe they are transactions. I really don't know. Feeling as though I am watching myself in a movie, my eyes rotate upward in their sockets to locate the source of the voice.
“No, I suppose I won't,” I offer, conciliatory.
He is leaning over the short wall of the work cubicle where I sit, his forearms, thick and muscled, crossed on the ledge. He is white haired, his face care-worn and severe but he is smiling amicably. He is wearing the white shirt of an officer and the epaulets are weighty with chevrons. Scanning quickly, I am relieved to find a name tag: Staff Sgt T. McAllister.
The hard, deep lines of his face soften and he speaks again, the tone almost paternal.
“You've been doing good work since you came to 'White Collar', son. I don't want to see that slide. If you are still having stress issues, make sure you come to me and we'll get you back into stress management. OK?”
“Yes, sir,” I say, hoping it has the right conviction and form of address. “Absolutely, sir.”
He nods, seeming convinced but, as he turns, I see that unsure, second glance that is the one thing in my life I recognise.
When I come into awareness, it is without history or memory. No, that is not exactly true. The memories seem to be there of something that went before but they are so disconnected, decontextualised and maddeningly distant that, were I to try to recover them, I would lose what I find each time I awake. My interactions are the same. I have no knowledge of the people I interact with – no cognizance of former relationships, habits or styles of communication. All I can do is try to rebut in a similar fashion as they address me; it inevitably leads to some awkward moments.
Something has changed. There seems to be someone I remember – perhaps it is myself but, strangely, this presence is female. Was I a female?
Not knowing how long I will be here, I decide to try to locate what it is that is disturbing my ether. I stand up, thinking to go to the washroom and rinse my face but then collapse to sitting again. My chair squeaks and complains as I fall heavily into it.
My right leg doesn't support my weight. Why? What happened to me – did it happen ... to me?
I look around for a solution but the contents of the cubicle are strangely spartan, impersonal and leave little indication of anything other than an organised mind but, beside the doorway, propped against a coat rack is a wooden cane. I use a cane to walk.
I have never, that I know, used a cane in my life and my efforts, ungainly, faltering and threatening to teeter from balance, must seem alarming to those I pass in the busy space. The place is full of men and women – clearly police officers – and, for some reason that feels right to me. Some of them look up from their work as I come abreast to offer a smile, a nod or a pleasantry. I do my best to respond in kind and in tone but, still, there are those second glances that indicate something about me is not quite right. Others are so mired in desks overflowing with papers and folders that they do not even notice me – I am thankful for it because I am, thusly, not offered a chance to blunder.
In the dilapidated washroom of the station, I lean the cane against the cracked and abused counter and, supporting myself carefully, run cold water, splashing it on my face. Drying myself with a hand towel, I am studying the man in the mirror just as his hazel eyes are fixing me, appraising, analysing.
Younger? Why do I seem younger? Do I have a memory of being older?
The guy is robust and wearing a nice but unexceptional suit. The jacket pocket has a name tag: Det J. Smith. That sounds like it must be right but I don't know why. The face of the man scrutinising me is unlined – unaffected by those changes that come in the forties and fifties. I guess he is in his late thirties. His hair, curly and dark brown, is close cropped and neatly groomed.
The tiles of the washroom here must have been white at one time. Now they are cracked and yellowed. There was a white bathroom. A woman was there.
There was a woman named Trisha.
I start to cry.
My heart sinks in my chest. It has happened again. I don't want to do this anymore. I put on my game face and stand from where I was leaning, flinching only slightly from a twinge in my right leg.
The man approaching me is young and eager, wearing a dark blue suit. He is clearly a lawyer. He holds out his hand and shakes mine, likewise offered.
“Good morning, John,” he says after the formality. He looks at his watch. “I was getting worried you weren't going to show up!”
We are standing in a broad, crowded plaza before an immense concrete edifice that, above the brass doors at the top of a long staircase dotted with planters filled with spring flowers, proclaims, in bold, gold lettering, 'Supreme Court'.
“Why would I not show up?” I am aware of a briefcase in my left hand. I scan the plaza and feel that something is right – that I have been here before. Perhaps it is the positive effect of the bright sun warming me through my own dark suit. The radiating heat feels good on my leg.
“It's just that I know this has been a long haul for you. Really, though, you have nothing to worry about.”
“You can get the charges against me dropped?”
He stops in mid blurb.
Then he bursts out laughing.
“You know,” he says between gasps for air, “one day you are going to kill me with your jokes!” He pauses and wipes his eyes. He is smiling and good natured.
“As I was saying, this is just a formality. We go in and Judge Chavez will ask for your testimony. You give the short version and keep it very pointed. It will be enough to get the laundering and collusion charges. That's what we're in this for. Are your notes ready?”
I look down at the briefcase. I hope to God that there are notes in there.
“Yeah,” I say. “Let's go.”
“You know, Captain,” he says to me. I begin to limp up the stairs. He continues.
“There are a lot of people that will never be able to thank you for the work you have done. I hope you realise that you have their thanks just the same. I'll add my own to theirs without regret.” He clasps my shoulder for a moment and then releases, returning to his professional persona.
I nod but have no concept of what I have done or what I am about to do.
The light was red long before my car entered the intersection. I had no time to think or to react. The cross-town traffic was thick and moving quickly.
The delivery van came from my right. I was moving too fast. It caught the front quarter of my car, shearing into the metal. My shoulder flew into the door and pain erupted. I had a moment to wonder if it shattered. I tried to deviate to the left but I was being dragged, locked to the van. The next impact came from the left. In the weight of two, the vehicles plowed into the rear of an SUV. The front of my car narrowed. The wind shield buckled and then exploded outward in a shower of sun-lit shards.
In a moment, less than seconds, everything came to a stop and all I could hear were car horns. I tottered on my seat, shocked and bewildered, attempting to control my breathing. There were sirens.
The driver door had popped and stood ajar. I leaned around and pushed it with my good arm and, fighting an urge to pass out or simply go to sleep, I extracted my legs from beneath the deformed dashboard. I stood, leaning against the side of the car, feeling weak. There was a weight on my left side – my arm hanging dislocated.
“What's wrong with you?” I heard someone shout.
“Are you OK?”
That voice was nearer.
“I saw what happened,” she said. “Are you unwell?”
I opened my eyes but still felt like I might pass out. I was dizzy and careful not to put too much weight on my right leg.
“I must have blacked out.” It is the only explanation which I can offer in a situation like this. What should I say? That I wasn't even here 30 seconds ago? I don't think that works in the real world.
She came into view and I was assaulted by the presence of her. She was wearing a business suit but its severity did nothing to conceal my recognition of her. Her long, dark blonde hair was tied into a tight tail from the back of her head.
“You're Trisha,” I said.
She took off her sunglasses and peered at me.
“Do we know each other?” she asked. It was not an accusation or a rebuff.
“Hun?” The voice startled me and I awoke.
“Sorry?” I said, still groggy. Trisha appeared from the kitchen and looked at me.
“Did I wake you, baby? I'm sorry.”
“What did you want,” I asked. I yawned and rubbed my eyes.
“It's the sixth tomorrow, right?” She laughed. I didn't laugh but my smile could not have been happier.
“Yes, it is, babe. Tomorrow is the sixth.”