One of the advantages of living alone is being able to go from bed, to the breakfast table, to the shower all without having to bother with complications like buttons and zippers. It's a wonderful bit of freedom. The morning sun feels invigorating as it touches the skin, even if the mind still lingers in a dreamy haze.
And so it was only when I returned to the bedroom to dress, almost stumbling over a pair of white, open-toed shoes, that I realized I had not been sleeping alone.
A skinny, thirty-something brunette lay there sound asleep. She seemed to be wearing standard office clothing; a white blouse, burgundy skirt, hose, and a little vest-like article that seemed entirely ornamental.
She was silent and lay there eerily still. I was very relieved to notice the slight inward and outward movements from her torso showing that she was breathing.
She woke up and looked at me. "Where am I?" she asked, profoundly confused.
"Who are you?" I asked, her question seeming obvious enough to me.
She bolted from the bed and then stopped. "Not again," she said. "Sometimes I lose track of who I am."
"You remember forgetting?"
She nodded her head. "There was the time," she began. "No, it's all very vague."
A good part of me was skeptical. While it was entirely possible that I had gone to sleep without locking the door, I did not see how someone would walk in, make their way to my bedroom, and fall asleep a foot or two from where I was slept.
The fact that she failed to wake me was not a great surprise. My bedroom faces the street and recently I slept through two hours of road construction. Her clothing seemed in good shape. Of course I am fairly confident that had anything happened to truly rumple them, that would have awakened me.
"Do you have ID?" I asked.
"If I had a purse," she said. "I don't seem to." Then she took hold of my shoulders and pleaded, "Please help me remember who I am."
"Could you at least let me get dressed?" I asked, starting to feel self-conscious. Then a weak joke slipped past my better judgment. "Or you could join me."
"Please no suggestions," she said, half whispering. "I'm too open to them in this state." She stared at me, her gaze turning lower, and then she ran from the bedroom.
I quickly slipped into a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. I found her in the living room examining my CD collection.
"Sometimes," she said, "music will trigger a memory."
"Good or bad memories?" I asked.
"Doesn't matter. If it jolts my memory, even something nasty is worth it."
I could think of a few memories I would not want to be sprung unexpected. I suppose that was the one advantage of remembering them. If she was to be believed, it would be like having the experience again for the first time.
"Maybe we can work this out," I suggested. "You're obviously dressed for work. Office job it seems."
"Desk," she said, making a mental inventory, "computer, coffee mug. That's all I remember."
"What's on the screen?"
"Numbers," she replied. "Rows and rows of freaking numbers. I hate them. These little squiggles that run my life. Every day they conspire to destroy me in some new devious way. All ten of them, they conspire against me."
I felt a sudden panic realizing this woman was becoming unhinged. "Most jobs are stressful," I said, trying to calm her.
"Stress," she repeated. "I have to deal with stress. But how?" She was silent as she considered this dilemma. "I used to be able to deal with them fine. Then they started the piss testing."
"Who are 'they'?" I asked.
She groaned. "I can almost see them, but it's too murky." She moved from the CD rack to the bookshelf. "So what about you?" she asked. "What do you do?"
"Currently on Disability," I said, uncomfortable sharing that information. "I was injured at work. We're still negotiating a settlement." I wondered if she might be an insurance investigator working for my former employer. But they lacked the imagination for anything this outlandish.
"Tendon damage," I continued. "I used to be able to bench press two hundred pounds. Now I have trouble lifting half of that."
"Factory?" she asked, sounding surprised.
"Yeah," I replied, nodding my head.
"Not what I would have imagined for you."
"Sometimes," I said, "life doesn't take our aspirations into account."
"I could imagine you with a big palette in your hand, stretched canvas on an easel."
Amusing image, I thought, once having dreamt of a career in the arts. "And what would I be painting?"
"I guess," she said with a giggle, "that would depend on what you suggested. I think I'd make a very good model."
"Actually," I said, smiling, imagining her in a particularly coquettish pose, "I'm more into photography."
"You're dangerous," she said, breaking into laughter.
I'm dangerous, and she's the one with amnesia freaking out over numbers. The laughter seemed to have a rejuvenating effect on her, making her look a good ten years younger.
Suddenly the laughter stopped and her smile disappeared. A sad, resigned look formed on her face, making her look older than her years. "Thank you for your time," she said, apologetically. "I'm going to have to hurry to get to work on time. Still on warning for the last time this happened."
She put on her shoes and then turned toward the door. Before leaving she looked back at me, wanting to say something, but unable to. Then she left.
I never saw her again. Maybe amnesia was her way of coping with her life. A dead-end job. Perhaps feeling trapped in a loveless marriage. Feeling that her life had not amounted to anything. But still holding on to a few dreams that refused to die.
I still wonder if I should have said anything and tried to stop her. Maybe I'm a little too content in my safe little world, too. Sometimes I'll look at my camera and think of her, wondering what might have been, had we had decided to try being a little more dangerous.
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