It had gotten cold the night before we left. A bad cold, piercing through your skin as you expose yourself to the outdoors. A forgotten rain had turned to unforeseen ice, slithering as a snake under last year’s winter boots. I trudged over to the edge of the garage. If I could have had it my way, I wouldn’t have even left the house that morning. But I suppose it’s a little late to try to turn back time, to before we got onto the highway, back when we had a choice.
There was barely any green left of the lawn, as a late December snowfall covered the house in little white specks. The blanket of winter had turned everything a dull black and white. I stood at the head of the driveway as my dad and his wife loaded our Volvo Station Wagon. Old grey suitcases simply tossed into a car, looking at the ends of its days. I climbed into the back seat and got as comfortable as one could on the stiff leather.
My step-mother Jennifer turned and smiled back at me.
“Are you excited?”, she asked. I rolled my eyes at her. “Avery you could at least pretend to want to go on this trip”
“Oh yeah Jennifer, I’m so excited. I would much rather be here than with my friends”, I faked an overly aggressive smile. I usually do well with just going with the flow. But to be completely frank, the last place I wanted to be at 5:00 in the morning was in that car.
“Watch it.” She replied, a stone cold harshness to her voice. As we slowly pulled out of the driveway, a subtle creak of the engine filled the silence before I could snap back.
“Or what, you're going to ‘turn this car around’? By all means, please do!” My voice got louder and louder as we made our way farther and farther up the road. My dad looked at me through the rearview mirror. This past year, he's been the only one who understands me, as much as he could at least. My dad got together with Jennifer after my mom left. He was the only one to hold our “family” together. At least he tried when he could.
“Alright alright, lets just keep the peace shall we?” He smiled and winked at me. It was always hard for me to stay mad at him. But just this once, I could.
“ What peace even is there to keep?”, I mumbled as I stared out the window. It felt as if the car was drowning in a sea of bland. White waves crashing into the dark sky. But this bland had become beautiful, like I was in a trance. The falling snow had lined up with the glowing stars as we drove. We approached the entrance to the highway.
“Here we go, I can’t wait to see the—“, Jennifer turns to me, “ Oh come on Avery we have been waiting for this all year, you and I will finally get to connect as mother and daughter, sharing journeys, experiences and—“ I cut her off abruptly.
“Please just leave me alone for like once on this so greatly anticipated trip. Please I beg of you, just give me some peace and quiet.” I looked at Jennifer, then to my dad, then gestured back at Jennifer, followed by quick back and forth looks to the both of them. They might not have realized that I was asking for them to stop badgering me for once. My dad just laughed. Did it not occur to him that this is serious?
“Ok Avery, I’ll just leave you alone forever, huh”, he smiled at me, and I smiled back. Suddenly, we hit our brakes, hard. I felt like I had flown out of the car, but my seatbelt kept my body glued down. My head whipped forward then slammed back with a clunk. My calm sea of black and white had turned into a hurricane of red.
* * *
I paced around the waiting room. There were seven families in here earlier but they were gone by the time it was my turn. The white walls only made me feel worse. A little colder, guiltier on the inside. The guilt of getting out alive when Lloyd and Avery were left behind like they were nothing. The door swung open.
“Excuse me, are you Jennifer Greene?” A doctor in light blue scrubs leaned into the doorway, but didn't step in.
“Yes, that’s me”, I wiped a tear away then stood up, “Is there any news?” She entered slowly and walked over.
“ Why don't we sit down” She gestured towards the chairs behind me. As we sat down, she handed me a box of tissues. I knew where this is going.
I could see people walking by as I bawled my eyes out. The doctor left so I could be by myself. The white walls were caving in on me. I had nowhere to go. There were too many things going through my mind. How could this have happened?
* * *
I could hear them around me but I didn’t know what they were saying. I knew I heard one of them say my name. I tried to speak but nothing came out. I couldn’t see them but I knew they were there. They used big words. I didn’t know what they meant. All the confusion made me forget where I was. Where was I anyways? I tried to ask one of the people I heard next to me, but I couldn't connect any words to make a sentence, I couldn't even speak. I couldn't do anything. What has happened to me?
Their talking was washed out by a loud ringing and all I could see was a flashing light. The next thing I knew, we were moving, fast. We hit a bump and I felt like I was going to fly away. The dizzy feeling in my head quickly turned to pain. I thought I was fine one minute, and then, I was about to burst.
I was going about a million different directions at once, when suddenly, I saw someone. I looked out to whoever it was, and they saw me. It was my dad. He put his hands out to mine and smiled. I held his hand and smiled back. I could never stay mad at him.
* * *
I got off the elevator to the ICU. When I finally saw Avery, I couldn't help but start crying again. She was hooked up to a number of machines that were keeping her alive.
“A medically induced coma? I don't understand.” There were so many things I didn’t understand, but I guess this was a good place to start.
“Her brain is extremely swollen, this will give her some time before we can go to different treatment plans.” The doctor said. I couldn’t focus. It was the doctor from the waiting room that just kept bringing all of this most wonderful news. I didn't even want to look at her. This was all too much for me to handle. They said she would most likely have severe memory loss because of the accident. She wouldn't even know what happened. How was I supposed to do this?
A few days later, the doctors prepared to bring Avery back. Was I ready for this? Yes. I had to be. I kept saying this to reassure myself. But it wasn't really working. I brought some things from home to cover up all the bland hospital furniture in the room, but it still made me feel sick. I looked out at the snow falling, and thought about that awful morning. But I couldn't do that anymore.
A doctor removed the tube down her throat and another one put some medicine in her IV. I couldn't watch anymore. I had bought all sorts of flowers to put by her bed to make it seem like people sent gifts. But I had chosen not to tell anyone. It was too much for me to have to tell the story time and time again. The doctors explained what they were doing but the words didn’t make sense to me. Something about barbiturates and thiopental, but I just went with it.
Her eyes fluttered open like a butterfly learning to spread its wings.
“Dad…” She could barely speak, “Dad, what happened” Her voice was scratchy, tired out. The hours without talking had rubbed her throat dry. How was I going to break the news, and tell her that she's stuck with me.
She looked around the room, just to find me sitting to her right. I reached out to hold her hand, but she slowly pulled it away.
“Avery”, I grabbed her hand this time so she can’t take it away. “ Avery there’s been an accident.”
* * *
She had long, orange hair that was simply too much for my weak eyes to bear. Her face was long, but I think it was just because of her sadness. There were dark circles surrounding her puffy eyes from the tears. She said her name was Jennifer, but I didn’t remember a Jennifer. Her presence here made me feel sick to my stomach, so I just looked out the window, the starry sky and the rough wind hitting the building. I would’ve rather been out there than in here with this Jennifer. She explained to me what had happened. The accident, the coma, then my dad. I didn’t remember much, but I remembered him.
“We will get through this”, she said. There was so much hope in her voice, but it was so fake. As we sat there, in complete silence, the dull hum of the nearby elevator filled the space. She glanced at the ticking clock constantly. There were a lot of nice flowers and gifts around me. I couldn’t quite see who they were from, but it was a nice gesture. I didn't know what to say to this person. I didn't know what to think.
* * *
There was no one in the cafeteria at 2:17 in the morning except for three staffers. All of the tables and chairs had been put away, so I grabbed my food and sat on the white tile flooring of the beige cafeteria to eat. Her surgeons said that Avery’s condition was improving, but that there was a slim-to-none chance of her getting any memory back. Maybe I could use this to my advantage. Would it be completely terrible to stretch the truth? I could make her believe that I was her real mother. All the experiences we were meant to have could have already happened. And she would never know. Lloyd would have wanted us to connect somehow. This isn’t exactly the traditional route, but if Avery will just treat me as a mother, then who cares how I do it.
* * *
After that first uncomfortable night, we talked for hours on end. We talked about everything we did as a happy family. She showed me pictures of us when I was really little, but she hadn’t died her hair orange back then. She even talked about my dad. I felt a little guilty, spending so much time without knowing who she was.
“Your father never understood you the way you and I understood each other, you know?” She explained how close we were, how we were in our own special world. But I still felt like we are so far apart.
“I, I don’t know enough about you, mom. I still don’t know who you are” I told her. She just smiled at me, and I smiled back.
* * *
Things were falling apart left and right. Not only did the doctors say that Avery’s neurological status was improving, but the lies were tangling up. I didn't know how long I’d be able to keep on like this, but I knew I just had to make it work.
“The swelling has decreased very well and her motor functions are improving nicely.” The doctor said. She looked at me funny though, possibly because of the slight look of terror in my eyes.
“Will I ever get my memory back?” Avery asked. I could feel my heart beating rapidly. Should her memory return, everything would be over. My cover will have been blown. The doctors said it was a possibility, but I had to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.
* * *
It hit me like gale force winds. It hit me so hard, the doctors had to put my oxygen mask back on. Everything was now clear, I remembered, and yet everything I thought I knew was a blur. The woman who claimed to be my mother walked in. She brought in a box of what was allegedly my favorite food, but how could I believe anything she said at this point.
“Avery, you’re barely eating, what’s going on sweetie?” She had such care in her voice. She was believing her own lies more than I ever would.
I had two choices in this situation, 1) simply say I wasn’t hungry or 2) come up with a witty remark related to how I got my memory back and that she was a liar.
“I guess I’m just not hungry today”. I made a bad choice under pressure. Besides, I was told that I was a very anxious person
“Avery you look sick, here let me feel”, She reached out to touch my forehead but I swatted her hand away. Again, I stress that I made some terrible choices under pressure, because I probably shouldn't have done that.
* * *
My hand had turned a fierce color of red. Something was definitely wrong here. I walked over to close the door and I pulled the blinds down. Avery’s eyes were scared behind her strong cover.
“Let’s talk Avery,” a tear trickled down her cheek. “I just want to talk to you”
“What about?” She asked. I can understand why she was so frightened. This had turned from a casual talking to, to a cold interrogation.
“Nothing much, you have no reason to be so scared my sweet.” Her hands were trembling. For a slight second, I felt a little guilty, for taking this so far. But this had to be done.
“If I don’t have a reason to be scared, why did you close the blinds?” she asked. Alright, she had a reason to be scared.
“Avery, I need you to be one hundred percent honest with me, and then I’ll just open the door and we will be fine, okay?” She just looked away from me. I went back to the door and put my fingers on the lock “Avery, how long has it been back?”