I used to be someone.
Someone named Jenna Fox.
That’s what they tell me. But I am more than a name. More than they tell me. More than the facts and statistics they fill me with. More than the video clips they make me watch.
More. But I’m not sure what.
‘Jenna, come sit over here. You don’t want to miss this.’ The woman I am supposed to call Mother pats the cushion next to her. ‘Come,’ she says again.
‘This is an historic moment,’ she says. She puts her arm around me and squeezes. I lift the corner of my mouth. Then the other: a smile. Because I know I am supposed to. It is what she wants.
‘It’s a first,’ she says. ‘We’ve never had a woman president of Nigerian descent before.’
‘A first,’ I say. I watch the monitor. I watch Mother’s face. I’ve only just learned how to smile. I don’t know how to match her other expressions. I should.
‘Mom, come sit with us,’ she calls out toward the kitchen. ‘It’s about to start.’
I know she won’t come. She doesn’t like me. I don’t know how I know. Her face is as plain and expressionless to me as everyone else’s. It is not her face. It is something else.
‘I’m doing a few dishes. I’ll watch from the monitor in here,’ she calls back.
I stand. ‘I can leave, Lily,’ I offer.
She comes and stands in the arched doorway. She looks at Mother. They exchange an expression I try to understand. Mother’s face drops into her hands. ‘She’s your nana, Jenna. You’ve always called her Nana.’
‘That’s all right. She can call me Lily,’ she says and sits down on the other side of Mother.
There is a dark place.
A place where I have no eyes, no mouth. No words.
I can’t cry out because I have no breath. The silence is so deep I want to die.
But I can’t.
The darkness and silence go on forever.
It is not a dream.
I don’t dream.
The accident was over a year ago. I’ve been awake for two weeks. Over a year has vanished. I’ve gone from sixteen to seventeen. A second woman has been elected president. A twelfth planet has been named in the solar system. The last wild polar bear has died. Headline news that couldn’t stir me. I slept through it all.
I cried on waking. That’s what they tell me. I don’t remember the first day. Later I heard Lily whisper to Mother in the kitchen that my cries frightened her. ‘It sounds like an animal,’ she said.
I still cry on waking. I’m not sure why. I feel nothing. Nothing I can name, anyway. It’s like breathing—something that happens over which I have no control. Father was here for my waking. He called it a beginning. He said it was good. I think he may have thought that anything I did was good. The first few days were difficult. My mind and body thrashed out of control. My mind settled first. They kept my arms strapped. By the second day my arms had settled, too. The house seemed busy. They checked me, probed, checked again and again, Father scanning my symptoms into the Netbook several times a day, someone relaying back treatment. But there was no treatment that I could see. Each day I improved. That was it. One day I couldn’t walk. The next day I could. One day my right eyelid drooped. The next it didn’t. One day my tongue lay like a lump of meat in my mouth, the next day it was articulating words that hadn’t been spoken in over a year.
On the fifth day, when I walked out onto the veranda without stumbling, Mother cried and said, ‘It’s a miracle. An absolute miracle.’
‘Her gait is still not natural. Can’t you see that?’ Lily said.
Mother didn’t answer.
On the eighth day Father had to return to work in Boston. He and Mother whispered, but I still heard. Risky … have to get back … you’ll be fine. Before he left he cupped my face in both of his hands. ‘Little by little, Angel,’ he said. ‘Be patient. Everything will come back. Over time all the connections will be made.’ I think my gait is normal now. My memory is not. I don’t remember my mother, my father, or Lily. I don’t remember that I once lived in Boston. I don’t remember the accident. I don’t remember Jenna Fox.
Father says it will come in time. ‘Time heals,’ he says.
I don’t tell him that I don’t know what time is.
There are words.
Words I don’t remember.
Not obscure words that I wouldn’t be expected to know.
But simple ones.
Jump. Hot. Apple.
I look them up. I will never forget them again.
Where did those words go,
those words that were once in my head?
Curious adj. 1. Eager to learn or to know, inquisitive. 2. Prying or meddlesome. 3. Inexplicable, highly unusual, odd, strange.
The first week, Mother pored over the details of my life. My name. Childhood pets. Favorite books. Family vacations. And after each scene she described, she would ask, ‘Remember?’ Each time I said no, I saw her eyes change. They seemed to get smaller. Is that possible? I tried to say the nos more softly. I tried to make each one sound different than the one before. But on Day Six her voice cracked as she told me about my last ballet recital. Remember?
On Day Seven, Mother handed me a small box. ‘I don’t want to pressure you,’ she said. ‘They’re in order. Mostly all labeled. Maybe watching them will help bring things back.’ She hugged me. I felt her fuzzy sweater. I felt the coolness of her cheek. Things I can feel. Hard. Soft. Rough. Smooth. But the inside kind of feel, it is all the same, like foggy mush. Is that the part of me that is still asleep? I had moved my arms around her and tried to mimic her squeeze. She seemed pleased. ‘I love you, Jenna,’ she said. ‘Anything you want to ask me, I’m here. I want you to know that.’
Thank you was the right response, so I said it. I don’t know if that was something I remembered or something I had just learned. I don’t love her. I sensed that I should, but how can you love someone you don’t know? But I did feel something in that foggy mush. Devotion? Obligation? I wanted her to be pleased. I thought about her offer, anything you want to ask me. I had nothing to ask. The questions hadn’t come yet.
So I watched the first disc. It seemed logical to go in order. It was of me in utero. Hours of me in utero. I was the first, I learned. There had been two boy babies before me, but they didn’t live past the first trimester. With me, Mother and Father took extra measures, and they worked. I was the one and only. Their miracle child. I watched the fetus that was me, floating in a dark watery world, and wondered if I should remember that, too.
Each day I watch more discs, trying to regain who I was. Some are stills, some are movies. There are dozens of the two-inch discs. Maybe a hundred. Thousands of hours of me.
I settle on the large sofa. Today I watch Year Three / Jenna Fox. It begins with my third birthday party. A small girl runs, laughing at nothing at all, and is finally stopped by a tall, weathered stone wall. She slaps tiny starburst hands against the stone and looks back at the camera. I pause the scene. I scan the smile. The face. She has something. Something I don’t see in my own face, but I don’t know what it is. Maybe just a word I have lost? Maybe more. I scan the large rough stones her hands rest against. It is the small enclosed garden of the brownstone where we once lived. I remember it from yesterday on Disc Eighteen.
‘Play,’ I say, and the scene moves forward. I watch the golden-haired girl squeal and run and hide her face b
etween two trousered legs. Then the three-year-old is scooped upside down into the air and the view zooms up to Father’s face laughing and nuzzling into her belly. My belly. The three-year-old laughs. She seems to like it. I walk over to the mirror that hangs near the bookcase. I am seventeen now, but I see a resemblance. Same blond hair. Same blue eyes. But the teeth are different. Three-year-old teeth are so small. My fingers. My hands. All much larger now. Almost a whole different person. And yet that is me. At least that is what they say. I return to watch the rest of the party, the bath time, the ballet lesson, the finger painting, the temper tantrum, the story time, the everything of three-year-old Jenna Fox’s life that mattered to Mother and Father.
I hear footsteps behind me. I don’t turn. They are Lily’s. Her feet make a different sound on the floor than Mother’s. Movement is crisp, distinct. I hear every nuance. Was I always this sensitive to sound? She stands somewhere behind me. I wait for her to speak. She doesn’t. I’m not sure what she wants.