A FLASH of bright light in my eyes, a jumble of raised voices and hands pulling at my body—these are my first memories. Then the pain slicing through my skull, through my body, sharp as a knife, and bringing with it blessed darkness.
When my brain finally struggles up through the murky depths of consciousness, each sense slowly reawakens. Everything seems disjointed and muddled, and the first thing I hear is the raspy sound of my own breathing. The fingers of my right hand twitch; I feel warm skin gripping mine and the whisper of a soft breath across my knuckles. A heavy weight presses on my chest, making it difficult to breathe, and I want to push it away, but I can’t summon the strength to move. Slowly, I crack my eyes open a slit. They feel swollen, and the steady throbbing deep behind them means I can barely keep my eyelids open long enough to confirm that I am in a hospital room. There must be a nightlight somewhere, because the weak glow is just enough to illuminate the faded curtain enclosing my bed and the dark tousled hair of the man whose head rests by my hip on the mattress. Somewhere beyond the curtain, someone is snoring, but my companion is silent, slumped forward in a chair, clutching my hand as if, even in sleep, he can’t bear to let go. Good, I’m not alone. With that fleeting thought, unconsciousness pulls me under again.
The next time I resurface, it is daylight. I can feel the warmth of the sun on my face and see the soft golden glow bathing the room from beneath my lashes. But it’s too much when I try to open my eyes. The brightness stabs through my retinas. I roll my head on the pillow to escape, and explosions of pain go off in my skull. I can’t hold back my whimper. There is a sudden movement next to me, and then a gentle touch on my forehead, on my cheeks, wiping away the tears leaking out behind my closed eyelids.
“You’re awake,” whispers a man’s hoarse voice. “Oh God, Adam, you’re awake.”
“Sun,” I croak.
“What? Oh, it’s too bright?” My companion moves about, hurriedly closing the blinds. When the light dims, I cautiously open one eye, which gives me the chance to observe him unnoticed for a moment. He is young, in his late twenties, and attractive with chin-length dark curly hair that looks like it needs a good combing. When he turns and smiles, I’m struck by what a nice face he has, tired, but open and friendly, and full of so much raw emotion it almost hurts to see it. His eyes are red and swollen from crying, and even as I watch, fresh tears well in those brown velvet depths, spilling down round cheeks into the neatly trimmed stubble of his beard. I want to comfort him, but the pain radiating through my chest is driving out any other thoughts, driving out the air from my lungs.
“Can’t… breathe,” I gasp.
“Shh, calm down. I know it hurts. It’s your ribs, but the doctor says you have to try to breathe deep. Just look at me.” I focus on his face, the sound of his gentle voice. A small gold stud glints in each ear, and it’s so appropriate, because he reminds me of a gypsy I saw once. Somewhere. “That’s it. Just breathe in and out….”
There is dried blood on the front of his grey sweater, but he doesn’t seem injured. Mine? I struggle to recall how I got here. He must see the panic on my face because suddenly he asks, “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t remember.” My voice sounds hoarse and unused. I close my eyes and think. Think, I tell myself. But all there is, is blackness.
“Anything! I don’t remember anything.”
He pales visibly. “Where the hell is that nurse?” he mutters, fumbling with the call button beside the bed. He takes my hand. It’s the only part of my body that doesn’t hurt. “Do you know who I am?”
I shake my head, which makes the pain even worse. There is a brief moment where his face crumples. He seems wounded more than anything and, even though I hardly know this man, I would do anything not to upset him.
“I’m Joe,” he says and, once again, his calm voice pulls me back from the edge of panic. “You’re Adam. You were hit by a car.” He starts to pull away, but I refuse to let go. “It’s okay. I’ll be right back. I’m just going to get the doctor.”
He isn’t gone a minute before he’s back with a nurse. Then another arrives. Then one doctor and two, and within no time my side of the curtain is crowded with people poking and prodding and asking me questions, talking over each other when all I want to do is sleep. Someone blocks my view of Joe’s anxious face, and I can’t bear it. As if sensing my distress, he moves to my side and takes my hand again. The contact soothes me. It’s the only thing I can hang onto in a world that has suddenly been pulled out from under me.
They tell me I was hit by a car yesterday—SUV actually—while crossing the street. I have three cracked ribs, some bruising, and a concussion. Oh yeah, and I can’t remember shit. There’s a big black hole where my memories used to be.