She had been struggling lately, feeling tired more than usual. The world felt devoid of joy, as though a big cloud had descended upon her and rained out her plans. Her sleep was disturbed by nightmares and getting up at all seemed to be a colossal effort.
She walked past many stores, taking in few details, but she did remember seeing a tiny, shaggy puppy that sat curled by a book in a corner window. She realised she must look like that pup, her own hair neglected, glossy curls now turned into oily matts. She felt uncomfortable, dizzy, not quite certain on why she had left the house but badly wishing she was still curled in bed.
The street was long and passed busy intersections, and the beeping and fast cars made her anxious. She felt her heart race, and she tried to breathe it out. It was winter and she loved the way the ground looked this time of year, puddles reflecting trees in dying browns, still beautiful. She stepped onto a tube, swiping her wrist and realising she was in negative credit. She felt the air change as she stepped inside, the pressure whistling quietly, as suction pulled the tube through the tunnel. She put a palm on the frosted glass and lost herself into numbness. The final stop came and she stepped off, unsure of exactly where she was going.
She looked up, noticing an electric panel, announcing a welcome to ‘The Beach’. The sand felt strange under her feet, cliffs jutted out ahead of her like mountains, and she kept walking. She kicked the sand occasionally, felt the water lap at her ankles, and yet she still felt a sense of hopelessness and despair. It always felt as though she couldn’t quite breathe, as though she was in a fishbowl, watching the world without being quite real or a part of it. Here, standing at the edge of the ocean, the place she could always rely on calming her nerves, seemed to punch home. If all couldn’t be right here, it was not to be right anywhere.
The wind howled around her but she stood steady. The rocks beneath her crumbled a bit, falling into the ocean as it crashed against the rocks. It was quiet in her head for once, a numbness had fallen over her heart.
It was just a step, but suddenly she was falling. It all went black.
The Other Side
The sides of the globe were shiny and glinting, a kind of iridescent shimmer, bouncing the smiles of strangers and colours of flowers into its mirror. It was a new form of architecture, a silver bubble on the outside, a fully flourishing garden and hospital inside. He hated how pretty the place was, when it brought him so much pain.
The hospital was spread across a huge campus, artificial lawn covered in seating arrangements, accompanied long vines that stretched over the walls, making it seem endless more than box like.. It seemed almost inviting, sitting here by a large pond filled with goldfish and the occasional turtle, coffee in hand. Here was the line though, where things could still be seen as fine. Beyond the glass doors lay the cold white rooms, tubes and forms and rubber soled shoes that spelt out reality harshly and never fairly. The medical wards were separated from the psychiatric one he had come to visit, and the air indeed felt different here. The cameras were not hidden, nor were the guards, but the environment and been designed to be tranquil, almost condescendingly so. He felt bad, ignoring his partner, while she lay in that world and he sat throwing pieces of his sandwich crust to an over eager turtle who had accidentally managed to hit a particularly large fish in the face with his teeny webbed foot.
In his hand held his wallet open to a photo of him and Kara, just a few years ago. It was the perfect kodak moment, both blissfully unaware of the camera, laughing and twirling amongst falling autumn leaves. He remembered a stranger handing them the polaroid, and finding it so strange and kind, that someone else was also delighted by their happiness. Everything was on the cloud now, every image, happy or not, all streamed to his phone for him to replay, and yet, there was something incredibly special about that polaroid.
Those days weren’t around so much now. When Kara first got sick it was okay, they shared things together and made it work, but it had been a long downhill slope – and now… Well now, she was here. He dusted the remaining crumbs off his jacket and the turtle crawled clumsily onto the rock to delight on them. Coffee in hand, he proceeded to the automatic doors and felt the familiar unwelcoming chill as he followed his usual route to the clinic.
The doctor stood by the nurses’ station. It was unusual for him to be around, usually it took numerous requests and phone calls to get a meeting, but today the doctor greeted him with a smile, and invited him into his office. He had never been comfortable around white coats. He could see Kara behind the glass room opposite them. Machines beeped and hummed. It was cold, white, clean – the smell of bleach and citrus, not of comfort, but as though all the good had been cleaned away. The doctor put a hand on his shoulder, and guided him down the corridor.
Pickling jars filled the right wall, odd glass tubes attached to the floor on the left. The purpose of either wasn’t really clear, but it gave a sense of discomfort and scientific thought to the place. A large chair stood before a digital wall, and a small Perspex table proffered a single mug of espresso and a stack of legal documents. One side of his screen had bubbles of Kara’s memories, the other notes that had been transcribed and noted—therapy notes, he assumed.
The doctor sat, his face unrevealing, his hands folded in his lap.
“I wanted to speak to you, about a new… treatment option. It’s experimental, at best. I know you are feeling defeated, and out of options, and I think Kara would benefit greatly.”
He explained in technical terms, that didn’t quite sink in, but essentially meant a new form of stress recognition that could be applied to memory, sorting and erasing traumatic incidents completely. The risk was minimal, even completely reversable, the doctor said, just the process of working through the discomfort of being unable to remember pieces of her past. It seemed like a no brainer, and looking through the glass entrance into the clinic, he could imagine seeing the old Kara, the one that laughed and felt joy. A scribble of a pen, and it was done.
She woke, yawning. It felt as though she had been asleep a long while.
The wall of her room played her single memory, over and over. She sat on one side of her bed and she recognised herself, twirling around and around, giggling happily as golden leaves cascaded around her. She watched herself fall into a pile of leaves, the joy bursting from her face as she lay watching the clouds form bunnies in the sky. A stranger watched, capturing a single polaroid, and handing it to her, his cheeks flushed, and beaming.
He sat across from the doctor, but his eye followed Kara, sitting quietly in the garden outside their window. The rest of the room was white, sanitised. It was silent.
Time passed and became uncomfortable. He expected the doctor to speak, to apologise, to offer a solution, to explain how this could possibly have happened. Why didn’t Kara remember him? Why didn’t she know who she was?
He felt so angry, and scared, and infuriated, that it was hard to think. He felt like his partner had been taken from him, and he didn’t understand why they hadn’t brought her back again.
The doctor sighed, his face unsettled. His hand supported his head, and finally he said,
“There are two options, we can restore her memory – it’s still stored on the drive and it’s completely able to reintegrated. Or…”
“Or?” he interjected.
“We can leave her the way she is.” The doctors face relaxed slightly, the elephant in the room finally breaking free.
The silence resumed, this time feeling much like a wet blanket had been dropped over his head. Behind the glass window they could see Kara, happily playing with a butterfly in the flower bed. She seemed so much happier, her cheeks pink, hair glossy, so full, finally.
He looked at the polaroid in his hand. “I need to think.” He said it quietly.