Carry Me Away
WASHINGTON, D.C., MAY 2004
Finally, they painted these walls a different color. Pale green wouldn’t have been my first choice, but it beat hell out of the stark white from before, and it didn’t hurt so much to open my eyes this time. My throat burned. Talking was out of the question, but I could swallow so I knew they’d taken the tube out. That was a good sign – I hoped.
I traced the different tubes from my arm to the bags hanging overhead like following a roadmap, trying to find which highway goes to what city. Another led south, but I didn’t look at that one. A quick memory check of the past ten years as the cobwebs cleared. Were they all there? Or did they slip away again?
Mika sat on the pillow beside my head; nearly twenty-three years old and I still slept with my doll.
Life always begins as a crisis. Everything that came before fades in importance, fades from memory. For me, life began when I was twelve. I’ve lived a pretty full life in the decade since, so if Death came for me this time, I could live with that.
I didn’t remember much of my first dozen years. What I did recall didn’t feel like memories; more like looking at an ancient, dusty photo album. Was it the accident that left me with only a handful of snapshots? Or does everyone’s childhood turn into a shoebox of black and white Polaroids just out of reach on top of a cluttered closet shelf?
I could see the pictures in my mind, but that little girl could have been me or someone I didn’t even know. I didn’t remember how I felt or what I was thinking. I didn’t know what came before or after. Just flat, grainy pictures of people who looked vaguely familiar in foreign, exotic places I’d never visited. Did I really remember that white poodle I’d been told I loved so much? Or did I only know the photograph of her on my lap while I sat on the couch with my hair in pigtails, skinned knees peeking out from the blue sundress and my bare feet not quite reaching the floor? Did I remember when we gave her away because we weren’t allowed to bring pets to Turkey? Hell, I couldn’t even remember Turkey, and I’d lived there for three years.
Only three vivid childhood memories remained, as distinct as if I were still there. I could remember what I was thinking, how I felt. I remembered the smells. Those smells could still breach the levee and trigger the deluge. These three memories pretty well summed up my entire childhood, my entire existence up until the accident. Maybe that’s why these particular dreams didn’t fade with sunrise.
* * *
VIRGINIA, JULY 1990
“Carrie, don’t worry about your brother,” Daddy said. “He’s not your problem. Get in the car.”
My parents and I were going to another family’s home for dinner, someone from Daddy’s work, people I’d never met. Danny didn’t have to go. So why did I? We’d just moved from Turkey and I was still furious about moving again, having to start over, leaving my friends. The taste of anger lingered on my tongue.
“Why does he get to stay home?”
Daddy didn’t give me a choice. We left Turkey for the suburbs in Virginia, on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., with his latest military assignment. Now I had to go to dinner, and I would be a polite little lady. At nine, I wasn’t allowed to stay home alone, of course.
“Because he’s old enough to stay by himself and you’re not.”
Danny was thirteen, old enough to teach me to cuss and smoke and old enough to stay home by himself.
“Why can’t he watch me?”
“He’s not old enough to handle you yet.”
I doubted he’d ever reach that age.