She rarely smiled. But when she did, it was for me. It was always, only for me. The whispers of the indentation just on the corner of her right cheek, deep enough to bury every secret moment, every secret kiss. I remembered reaching out to study its secrets, to trace its outline, but it was not there. Or was it? But just then, everything eclipsed and I was gone.
The first thing I noticed was that everything was pristine white. It took a second before the pain hit; my head hurt, my limbs hurt, my heart hurt and try as I might to move, it was as if my mind and my limbs were not on speaking terms, like a connection had been severed. Everything hurt, and I just wanted it to stop hurting.
From the corner of my eyes, I saw a man advancing and it was as if the movement had shocked my senses into working. I heard the constant sounds of beeping, of shuffling, of murmuring, and everything was just so loud. But the pain was still there. The pain was always still there.
I looked at the face, inches away from mine. He looked worn out, exhausted and there was a name on the tip of my tongue, pushing itself to come out but nothing came out. My head hurt from thinking, and God, why must everything hurt so bad?
"Isaiah, it's Benjamin. Oh God, you had us worried sick for weeks. The doctors couldn't find anything wrong with you but you just didn't wake up, and we were so worried. It was just so worrying, oh God, how many times have I used the word, 'worry' and..."
I saw the photograph of a woman at the side of my bed and after a moment, realized I was staring at my wife. My wife. The only thing that mattered to me was my wife but where was she?
I grabbed the hand beside me and croaked, "Cass, where the hell is Cass?"
The colour from Benjamin's face drained and I could swear he looked whiter and paler than I probably was at that moment. I could not understand the hesitation, the silence; my mind was in a complete mess and all I wanted at that moment was my wife. I just wanted my wife.
Benjamin wrung his hands together and cleared his throat. "Listen to me, Isaiah. I can't... Oh God. Alright, what can you remember? About the night of the accident, anything."
Accident? Had he just said accident? What accident had there been? I tried to frantically remember but nothing came up. My mind had been wiped clean.
Benjamin sighed and ran his fingers through his hair, "Why don't you tell me what you do remember? Your name, everything. Let's just start from the basics." I remembered my name, my job, my father died when I was ten, marrying my childhood sweetheart six months ago...
"Hold up, hold up. You've been married for six months?"
Benjamin pinched the tip of his nose and squinted his eyes shut, something he always did when he wanted something to go away. Flashes of surprise, shock and something I could not quite catch, flew past his face. He exhaled loudly, "You've been married for a year, Isaiah. The night you were out with Cass, was the day of your anniversary. Oh God, I better get the doctor..."
No, no, there had to be some mistake. It was as if one of the pillars of belief that my world had been built upon had crumbled into dry sand.
"We have three different types of memory - semantic, procedural and episodic. Your semantic and procedural memory are intact, considering you are walking and talking but your episodic memory has been affected."
Flipping several pages, the doctor paused and pursed his lips and continue, "Such instances usually happen because of a blow to a head, coupled with psychological trauma. I'm guessing you believed you were going to die, which may have caused the trauma."
"There is no way to tell why your two-week long coma had caused you to lose your memory of the past six months, but maybe if you try to retrace your footsteps, you may find something. But amnesia is a tricky condition. It's hard to know for sure. I'll keep running tests but the brain is a complex muscle." The doctor hesitated, "Oh, and I am very sorry for your loss."
Benjamin explained everything that happened the night of the accident. I felt like my entire body was going to explode from the pain.
"It's late. Get some rest, Isaiah. I'll come back tomorrow. Don't think too much."
Think too much? What exactly had happened? I wanted Cassie. If she was really gone... How was I supposed to not think too much? Everything was so confusing and the worse part of it all was that Cass was not around to help me sort everything out. It scared me to remember life before Cassandra. Even now, my memory had the depth of a photograph, and without her, who was I?
Benjamin came back the next day. It felt good to have a best friend, someone who would always have your back, whom you could undoubtedly rely on. I had two best friends. Now I have one.
There was a knock, and I felt my heart jump at the noise. Everything was just so foreign, I felt like a stranger in my own body.
"Hi Isaiah, I'm Detective Jonathan. Do you feel well enough to answer a few questions?"
I nodded slowly, willing myself not to cry. How do I tell the detective that I will never be well enough for the rest of my life without my Cassie?
"Can you tell me what you do remember about the night of the accident? Even the smallest detail. Who you were with, where you were heading? Even the colour of your shirt, anything."
Useless. I felt utterly useless. I did not remember anything. Not even the date of the accident. I shook my head, in hopes that shaking my head may rattle something inside me to awaken but nothing. All I heard was the hollow sound of my heart, missing something important.
"Well, from what we know, on the night of the accident, your neighbours complained about shouts. You and your wife have been quarrelling quite a fair bit the past few months. Remember anything?" I shook my head. I did not want to think about the fact that the last thing I may have said was something I would regret for the rest of my life. Oh God, the last thing. Did I tell her I loved her?
"According to witnesses, both of you were seen arguing rather heatedly all the way to the car. The accident occurred because the driver had crashed into the tree. The reason you're here and your wife isn't, is because of the seatbelt and airbag. She flew out and smashed her head into the tree." He paused and frowned, staring at me like he was interrogating a criminal.
"What I'm wondering is, could you have crashed into the tree intentionally, knowing that your side had the airbag while hers didn't. Maybe you had an argument, and you didn't mean it but you were so angry, and you lost control. Now, if you remember the events I had told you, I can talk to the attorney-general about cutting you some slack in your sentence. If we find you guilty, you go away for good. But if you plead guilty, the word manslaughter will never be brought up. How's that sound?"
I scrunched my eyebrows together, certain I had misheard, but judging by Benjamin's face, I had not lost my sense of hearing.
"Get. Out. Before I call my lawyer and sue you for slander." Benjamin slammed the door and punched the wall. The sound echoed throughout my body like an electric shock. I did not want to stay a minute longer in this place of death, I did not want to see my wife's lifeless body on a slab with a sheet covered over her face. I wanted to see my wife, smiling and dancing and singing and living.
I needed to find out what had happened that night, and I needed to do it now. I yanked the needles from my arms, and ignored the world spinning. Benjamin glanced at me, and his eyebrow arched like a question mark. Without wasting another second, he packed my things into a bag.
I tried to process the events that had just occurred, pressed my fingers to my temple, trying to squeeze out something that would help me remember. But I was so lost. Everything was gone. I had nowhere to go but home. An empty home without a wife, without love, without happiness.
The house was exactly the way I had remembered it, but without Cass, it no longer felt like home. She was my home. I looked at the pictures on the mantelpiece and wondered what we had been fighting about. What had happened recently, and why could I not remember?
Benjamin went home after I had made a thousand promises to call if anything. The bedroom felt cold and lifeless, and I was overwhelmed with the gaping hole where my heart should have been.
I laid on the bed and ran my fingers along the ghost of what should have been. But there was only a void on the other side of the bed, a cosmic black hole, one that I could not roll too close to without falling into a chasm of memories. I closed my eyes crying, and I pushed my face against the pillow and tried to let the silence put things where they were supposed to be. The only thing worse than not feeling anything, was feeling everything at once - physically, mentally and emotionally.
The next day, I was sleeping when I twisted and turned, and before I knew it, hit my head against the bedside table and felt a throbbing pain. Suddenly, something flashed before me.
Cass was screaming, "I have done everything for you. Why can't you just love me? WHY?" Crying, she wiped the blood from my lips and whispered, "I love you more than she ever could. You know I never meant it." In that moment I knew, she was not the woman I had fallen in love with.
Cringing in pain, I struggled to get up. What had I just seen? What... What had I remembered? Was that a memory or was that a figment of my imagination? I closed my eyes. Everything was a confusing mess. Had Cassandra always been that way?
Half an hour later, Benjamin arrived with a thick envelope tucked inside his jacket like it was some trade secret he had to keep hidden.
"Apparently, two months ago, you gave this envelope to your lawyers, saying that if anything were to happen, they had to ensure that I would get this. It'll explain everything. Almost, I think."
In the kitchen, Benjamin busied himself with the coffee machine. The aroma of the coffee flooded the kitchen and I was hit with a wave of nostalgia. Coffee had always been Cass's one true love, she joked. Only coffee could keep her up all night. Oh God, I missed her so much it hurt.
I took the warm cup in my hands and breathed in the smell, desperate to cling onto another reminder of Cassandra. Just one more second with her, what I would not do.
"Now, before you open this, I need you to prepare yourself. I know you just came out from a coma but there are things you need to know. But I must warn you, once you know this, you cannot un-know it. You need to accept this. It'll be difficult, but I'm here for you. Are you ready?"
My hands trembled as I unwound the string. Was I ready for what was inside? Why had I asked my lawyers to deliver this to Benjamin? I shook the envelope, and photographs and letters streamed out. The photographs were surveillance pictures of Cassandra with another person. The dates were stamped on the photographs, and with each updated one, the other person looked different. She looked more and more like Cassandra: her hair dyed blonde, her face looked like she had gotten surgery, her makeup looked more natural, like Cassie's.
What did all these things mean? Who was this other girl? Benjamin looked over my shoulder, "Isn't that Mandy?" Mandy? Who was Mandy? Mandy... Was that not Cassandra's best friend? Why were there surveillance pictures of them? I needed to know what was going on.
Benjamin put his hands up in mock surrender, "Don't look at me. I'm just as puzzled. All I know is that you told me that there was something off about the way Mandy kept coming on to you, and that something felt different with Cass lately. But you eventually managed to brush Mandy aside. Cass... Well, you were trying for a kid so I'd imagined that put some pressure on the marriage."
I remembered looking through baby photographs with Cassandra, wondering if our children would look more like her or more like me. A girl. She had hoped for a girl.
Sifting through the documents, I grabbed one of the letters. But it was not a letter. It was a diary entry dated August 10.
I was wrong. I thought that I could get used to the idea of Cassandra being gone but one can never get used to it. Just when I thought I had reconciled with the fact, it hits me in the darkest of nights, that numbing pain that throbs deep within my soul. I dread the nights I had to sleep with her, curl into someone that is not her and listen to sounds that were not her breathing. She was gone, and I simply had to embrace the idea of her instead. But things rarely get fixed the way they need to be.
No, no, what was I reading? If Cassie was gone, who was the dead woman in the hospital? How did Cassie die? How could I not have known it was not Cassie all these months? Or had I known? How could I have known and said nothing? Cassie had told me something, about how Mandy looked more and more like her but I had brushed her off as being paranoid. Did she know?
I picked up another piece dated July 27.
I confronted 'Cassandra' today. Even as I'm writing this in the toilet, I know I have to hurry and hide this well or I will be dead. Just like my sweet Cass who is gone because her psychopath best friend killed her. I stared at her - the manifestation of a lie and was seized by the sudden sensation that perhaps she did not exist. Perhaps none of this existed, for the inches between us seemed to divide into two entirely different realities. Because to her, this is heaven and to me, this is hell.
Oh God, what was I reading? Was she the psychological trauma that had caused me to lose those painful six months of memory? Why could I not remember? Reading the letters, I felt like I was losing my wife all over again. I was right. The numbing pain does indeed throb deep within my soul.
There must have been something more I could remember, something that would help this all make sense. I needed to think, to remember. I looked through more photographs. It was a photograph of a woman, wearing a sleeveless tank top, climbing into Cassie's car. I remembered taking that picture because Cassie had been so different the past few days and I wanted to find out why.
The woman was Mandy. I remembered it now. I remembered the tattoo that Cassie had on her right shoulder - a butterfly. I was still a little fuzzy on the details of the tattoo, but I remembered because it had caught my eye the first time we met.
This woman, who looked exactly like my wife, did not have that tattoo.
Maybe Mandy didn't know, or she hadn't gotten around to getting the tattoo. But Cassie seldom liked wearing sleeveless tops, so it might have been the former. Shuffling through more documents, I came across the first diary entry I had written, the one with the earliest date - April 16.
Things feel different. Cassandra feels different. Recently, it seems that we have been fighting more than usual. In fact, she does not seem like herself. It all started that one night when she did not come home. Every time I try to bring up that night, she becomes defensive, dismissing it like it is nothing when we both know she has never spent a night away from home. Things she used to enjoy, now become a chore to her. Some events, some secrets, she does not even seem to remember. It is like she is totally different, and I cannot reach wherever she is. At least her crazy best friend Mandy has stopped coming round. Note to self: Stay the hell away from that one. She is nothing but trouble.
I gripped the table top till my knuckles turned white and I willed myself to try, to try for Heaven's sake, to remember anything about the last six months but I came up empty. The woman in the car with me that night was not Cassandra. She was long gone.
Was it really Mandy? How could I have kept quiet the entire time then? And yet, who would have believed me? Mandy was an orphan, with not many friends. Cassie's parents had moved to some godforsaken island with hardly any communication services, and she had been an only child. We did not have many friends, it had been just the both of us. And we were happy. For a time.
Was that the reason why I could not remember? Because I was traumatized by the game, by the events that Mandy had put me through? But looking at these photographs and reading these entries, things were starting to make sense. Images were becoming less distorted. But oh, did my head hurt.
I was in a whirlwind of emotions, thoughts, and I needed to sort my head. But I also needed to remember more. Things would be so much easier if I could just remember everything.
"You know what that means right, Isaiah? The woman in the car with you that day has to be Mandy and she killed Cassandra. All these are evidence, all these are proof. We have to go to the police with this before they try you for the murder of your supposed wife. If they find Cass... Oh God, Isaiah. They will try you for two murders. Isaiah, say something. You're scaring me." I felt Benjamin grip my arms, trying to shake some sense into me but all I could sense was grief, shock, pain.
The walls closed around me, and I felt myself hyperventilating. You have got to be kidding me. I have not had an asthma attack since I was ten. Air. I needed air. God, I needed air. I pushed Benjamin away and felt myself fall, before scrambling up to get out.
Running out of the house, I did not know where I was going or what I was doing but I knew I needed to move to stop myself from thinking, from forgetting, and to start remembering. How was I supposed to remember what my mind most likely forgot in order to protect me?
Distant horns blared, and my eyes widened at the sight of oncoming bright lights. I was in the middle of the road. How had I gotten to the middle of the road? I felt a sudden force slam the air out of me and my head hit against the pavement. A wet, sticky liquid flowed down and I saw the ghost of my wife smiling with that dimple I loved, that dimple that was not there the night of the accident.
We were screaming and shouting, and I looked at what should have been my wife, but was not. "I really messed up, didn't I? I never meant to hurt Cassandra, not in that way, but I just wanted to be with you and Cass, she didn't let me. She told me she hated me and that you'd never love me... I just wanted her to SHUT UP! I didn't mean to." Mandy was all dressed up, ready to celebrate our wedding anniversary, mine and Cassandra's. But I was done with her. I was done pretending, I was done being scared, done playing her game. If that meant death, at least I would be with Cass. "You understand, don't you? Sometimes forgetting is the only way back to normality. Forget Cass, I'm tired of being Cassandra. I'll be your Mandy. No more torture, no more knives, just you and me."
"Where is Cassandra's body? Where did you dump my wife!" I demanded. Her face contorted into an ugly mess as she yelled, "I AM YOUR WIFE! You will never find her. I hid her body in my family's cabin up north. Promise me you will never look for it, and we can just forget everything." She stood in front of me, a spitting image of Cassandra. But she was not my Cassie. She quietened down and smoothed her skirt, and I knew that this relationship, or false relationship was only worsening her dissociative identity disorder. Her lips quivered and she held her fingers to her mouth, "I'm sorry, honey. I don't know what came over me. Let's celebrate our anniversary together, shall we?"
My hand hovered over the doorknob, "No Mandy, I am tired of denying myself the truth for fear of breaking things I cannot fix. They will break no matter what I choose." In the car, we were shouting and screaming and she kept crying, when another car suddenly appeared and I swerved to avoid it. Time slowed down as I turned to look at Mandy. How could I not have noticed the lack of that dimple at the corner of her cheek those earlier few months? How could I have overlooked the one thing I loved most about Cassandra?
When I came to, I noticed the same pristine white surroundings I had woken up to not too long ago. Benjamin had been the force that had knocked the air out of my lungs. But despite the bump on my head and minor blood loss, I would have died, had it not been for him.
I remembered the night of the accident, the quarrelling, the discovery, the hurt. Ben had notified the police and after taking my statement, they looked into the matter. Dental records confirmed that the woman in the car was Mandy, not Cass. Cass was found where Mandy had said.
I still could not remember the exact details of the past six months but flashes of memory do pop up once in a while. However, I thought it best if I had no memory of being in a loveless relationship with a woman who only pretended to be my wife.
Several days later, as I watched her body lowered to the ground, I felt the void in my heart sink into the ground. The days passed in a daze with speeches, shaking of hands, accepting condolences and all I could think about was how Cass would have laughed at the solemnity of it all. "People are in a better place," she would say. "Why do people look like someone just died? Oh wait, too soon?"
Because that was who she was. Someone who found joy in the darkest days, happiness in the deepest sorrow, who trusted too easily and gave too willingly. She was the complete opposite of me, the yin to my yang, because like she always said, "Don't opposites attract?"
As the sun set over the horizon, I realized that lost love is still love but in a different form. I may no longer be able to see her smile, hear her laugh or watch her dance; but when those senses weakened, another will heighten. Memory. Memory will become my partner, my laughter, my dancer.
I realized that I could not control or change the world I was in, could not walk away from the things or moments that had hurt me, but I could take joy in the things that made me happy, even if they were in the past. She was my life, and I would never be whole ever again, but I had to make do with that. I had to live for the memory of her.