About a girl who's stuck inside her own mind and has no idea why.
My name is Emily Brenton. Emily Brenton, I know my name. I know my name, but I don’t remember how to speak it. I don’t remember how to do anything. But my heart does. My heart and soul remember, but I can’t find the words. I remember every touch, laugh, let down, success, and love of my life. But I have nothing to do with these memories.
I can’t tell my family I love them. I can’t tell them that I’m here, that I’m really okay. I can’t even walk on my own. I’m stuck in a wheelchair being pushed by someone in white. I can’t move. I’m planted in my chair all day, and laid to rest in my dismally white bed at night. All I can do all day is dream.
“Come on, Em! I’m gonna be so late!”
My older brother’s shouting never ceased to annoy the crap out of me. Even though we were just twelve and sixteen, we had already established a steadily violent rivalry between the two of us. He was measurably bigger and stronger than me. He was about 5'10" with big muscles and a lot of brown curly head on his square head. I was approximately 5'2". I had thin blond hair, and I possessed hardly any muscle on my skinny preteen body. Still, I did try to take him on whenever the opportunity arose. It never seemed to come out in my favor.
“I’m coming, I’m coming,” I mumbled under my breath, though I thoroughly enjoyed thwarting his plans to be early. We were heading to his basketball game. He was a varsity member as a sophomore. Even though I liked to tease him and tell him it was because of all the sucking up he had done to the coach throughout his middle school years, he did have some genuine talent. He also liked to be extremely early to each game, so he could have some one-on-one practice time with the coach before to the big game.
And tonight was the big game. We were playing our rivals, the Franklin Tigers. We always lose, every year, against the Tigers. It did get old, but I wasn’t that into basketball. I was volleyball and track, through and through. I was good at basketball, but I never really loved it like I did volleyball or track.
“Emily,” my brother whispered angrily from my bedroom doorway.
I jumped and let out a little scream, I hadn’t seen him standing there in my mirror’s reflection. I had also been concentrating on straightening the same piece of hair for about ten minutes.
“You look fine,” he fumed. “And if you don’t get your butt downstairs in t-minus 30 seconds, I will get it there for you.”
“Is that a threat, Benjamin Brenton?”
“Oh no, I am way past threatening you. This one is a definite promise,” he growled.
“Okay, Ben. Just one second,” I muttered as I reached for a hair clip painfully slow.
I huffed out my entire lungs’ capacity when something bulldozed me from the side. I was gasping for air as my brother threw me over his shoulder. He left my room and started down the hallway. Once he turned the corner for the stairs, I dug my teeth into his big arm as hard as I could.
“EMILY!” he screamed as he dropped me to the ground.
I landed with a loud thud on the wooden floor, but was quick to compose myself. Ben reached to nurse his slightly bleeding arm.
“Holy crap, Em, you broke the skin!”
“And now I’m gonna break you good!” I shouted as a wrapped my little body around the back of his legs.
“Oh, what are you gonna do, huh?”
He could make fun all he wanted. I knew his weaknesses. I grabbed the back of his calves and squeezed.
He fell to the ground laughing, somewhat landing on top of me. He was one of the weirdest ticklish people I knew.
But then I was trapped under some of his big, brawny body. He was still laughing, but I knew it wouldn’t last long. I struggled to escape as quickly as I could. On my way out, he grabbed my ankle with his iron-clad grip.
“Don’t think so, Emily Jane,” he grunted as he pulled me towards him.
I yelped playfully when he flipped me over in a wrestling position. My flimsy and weak little arms could do nothing to stop his strong arms from pinning me to the floor.
“Tell me I’m awesome,” he blurted in my face.
He was crushing me slowly, I could feel my face turning red.
“Tic-Tac. . .” was all I could muster.
He crushed me harder and his smile widened.
“Tell me that I am awesome, Emily,” he demanded.
“You’re flipping awesome, okay!” I gasped.
“Thank you, I know it.”
I looked up at his cheerful eyes with pure hatred. I spit in his face.
He immediately released me and rolled over.
“Yuck, Em!” he groaned.
I got up and ran away screaming and laughing.
It was lunchtime. Beef stew again. I hate beef stew. Couldn’t anyone see my eyes crying in revulsion every time a spoonful was brought up to my mouth? Probably not, I guess. I still couldn’t figure out if I had any control over them. Much less could I make myself look in the mirror to check. I was a prisoner in my own body. It was stuck in the basic-needs-for-survival-only mode, it seemed. I hated every second.
I saw one of my friends, Angela was her name, walk over to me.
“Hiiii, Emmily,” she crowed as she stressed the “m” in my name.
I smiled and tried to look at her, but my eyes couldn’t find hers.
“How are you today?” she asked as she reached to pet my face.
My lady in white that was feeding me reached and grabbed Angela’s arm before she could touch my face.
“Hi Angela, Emily’s doing very well today, aren’t you Emily?” she smiled at me happily.
The smile left my face. I wanted to talk to Angela. Why was the lady in white doing it for me?
“That good, really really really good,” Angela exclaimed as she beamed at me.
I wanted to reach out my hand and hold Angela’s. She was always so nice to me, and I couldn’t show her how much it meant to me.
One of the other attendants came by and guided Angela away. She walked away happily with a smile still spread across her face. She was the first person who had talked to me all day.
“Stupid retard,” my lady in white muttered under her breath.
I wanted nothing more than to punch her in the face. She was the meanest person here. She was fake with smiles whenever anyone came around, but as soon as they left, she was rough with me and took joy out of teasing me. And who could I report her to? I mostly just endured her and waited impatiently for the days she had off.
“Well, looks like you’re gonna have some company later, so let’s get you cleaned up.”
Company? Company! No one had visited me for a whole week. My heart picked up as I wondered who it would be, but it was also painful to look at the very few options of who would come.
At first, I had a crowd of visitors. They would come with bouquets of flowers and cards, hoping to cheer me up in some way. If I could be cheered up, that is. Classmates, aunts and uncles, my dad, my best friends. Everyone that had been a part of my life. But as the months passed, fewer and fewer began to show. They slowly gave up, one by one. This hurt me more than I thought possible.
Eric, my boyfriend, was there nearly every day. Day, day, and day again. He would come hold my hand, and I would lay there limply. Somedays he asked me a million questions, refusing to accept that I would never be able to answer him again. I answered every single one of his questions in my head, loving the silent communication.
But it wasn’t enough for either of us. One day he asked me his final question.
Eric walked in with a determined look on his face. He grabbed the chair next to the bed and whipped it around to sit in it backwards. He had a somewhat panicked look in his eyes, very unusual for him. His blond, wavy hair was unkempt; it looked like he hadn’t slept for hours. He stared at me intently then took my hand in both of his. He played with my lifeless fingers for a little bit, and I wished so badly that I could hold his back. He bent forward and kissed my forehead.
He leaned back and stared at me for a good ten minutes. I stared about the wall, my eyes searching, but they couldn’t find his.
Finally, he leaned forward again and his eyes blazed into mine.
“Emily, do you love me?” he asked in a torn whisper.
My heart raced as I failed to find my lips. Yes, of course I love you, I thought over and over again. I always have, and I always will. No matter what.
His lips started to quiver as tears started to form in his already red eyes. He tried one more time.
“Emily Brenton, it’s Eric. Do you love me?” his voice shook with emotion as his trembling hands reached for my face.
He rested his hand on my cheek, but I could do nothing but stare at the wall. My vacant eyes searched the room uselessly, maybe they were looking for a way to find my lips. I couldn’t respond, no matter how hard I tried.
Eric cried for hours on end. Many people came in and tried to get him to leave, visitor hours were long over. He shouted at them until they left us alone.
He never asked me again. He just stared at my face and cried for what must have been all night. When the dim morning sun started to shine into my barred window, he stood up.
He leaned over and kissed my forehead one last time.
“I’m sorry, Em. I can’t do it,” he whispered painfully.
With one last look from the doorway, he was gone. He never came back.
That was two years ago. I hardly remember what his face looked like now. That hurt so much, forgetting how he looked, and knowing I would never be able to find out again.
Ben was furious with Eric for giving up on me. Ben was here whenever he could be, but he was so busy. I felt guilty for occupying all his time. But he told stories to me like no one else could. Stories about everything. Stories about the world outside these colorless walls, stories about him, his family, how everyone was doing. And he was so good at them. He spoke animatedly and used his arms, always all smiles. He was the highlight of my every day.
Not all stories were good, though. Some brought him to tears. Like when he had to tell me about our father’s death. Dad’s death wasn’t involuntary. He had hung himself two years after my brother got married. Ben tried to tell me happy stories about dad’s life, about the many adventures and family vacations we had. Still, every one ended in him crying. My silent tears raved in my mind, but couldn’t breech the surface.
“Now. I know you hate this, but we do need to talk, Emmy Jane,” my dad said with a meaningful look in his eyes.
I couldn’t help but to laugh and try to walk away.
He grabbed me around the waist and set me back in front of him. My fifteen-year-old body had a few more muscle improvements, but still couldn’t fend off my dad’s strong arms.
“Emily, this is your first date. As your father, I can’t have any peace unless I know everything that is happening and everything that you’re, er, doing,” he said as he flushed a slight red.
“Dad. . .” I groaned as I let my head fall back.
“I’m not joking Emily, you’re not getting in that car until you tell me where you’re all going,” he replaced his embarrassed look with one of total seriousness.
“Dad, it’s Eric,” I emphasized each consonant.
“I know it’s Eric, and I don’t care! You, young lady, are going on a D-A-T-E, and my parental instincts are kicking in,” he smiled at me.
“Alright, dad! We’re going to go E-A-T F-O-O-D, then we’re going to a M-O-V-I-E, is that okay with your new found parental authority?” I challenged.
“The first part, yes, but your ‘new found’ attitude is not much appreciated,” he answered as he raised his furry eyebrows at me. He looked so much like Ben. Less curly brown hair, but definitely the same texture. Same square face, same body shape. The one thing the three of us shared was the deep brown eyes, almost a shade of black. They contrasted well with my dad and brother’s dark hair and complexion, but I always thought they looked odd against my pale-white skin and white-blond hair.
“New found? I don’t think so,” I teased.
“Yeah, isn’t that the truth,” he mumbled.
I reached up and pecked his cheek.
“I love you dad. Don’t worry, I’ll be a good girl,” I smiled at his unbelieving face.
I turned for the door but he grabbed my arm.
“You better be,” he said as his eyes tore into mine.
“I will, now let me go!” I whined.
He roughed up my hair then gave me a little push toward the door.
He yelled something as I rushed for the exit, it sounded something along the lines of, “Don’t go making me a grandpa too early...” I ignored his taunting.
Ben walked into the room with a big smile on his tired face. He was wearing blue jeans and a plain white t-shirt, typical Ben wear. He was only twenty-five, but he already had some gray spots scattered about his hair. I couldn’t help but feel slightly guilty for that. I couldn’t even begin to imagine how much stress I had caused him.
Behind him trailed his wife, Olivia, and their toddler son, Brayden. Olivia had long, wavy blond hair to her waist. She had soft blue eyes that echoed kindness. It was easy to see how my brother had fallen in love with her. She was wearing tan dress pants, a flowing, flowery shirt and high heels, looking like she had just left her office job. Olivia smiled at me, but Brayden kept his face tucked into his mom’s pant leg. He was scared of me. My only nephew was afraid of me.
“Hey there, Em!” Ben called as he reached for a few chairs.
I stared vacantly at the wall, trying to form a smile on my face.
“Hello, Emily!” Olivia addressed me like she would a patient. She was a nurse at a local hospital, from what Ben had told me. She had never known me before I came here.
The corners of my mouth turned up a little bit. I knew these people, they were my family. The only family I had left, the only family I would ever have.
Ben set up three chairs for them to sit around me. Ben took Brayden in his lap and bounced him up and down.
“Brayden, do you wanna say hi to Auntie Emily?” Ben asked his son gently.
Brayden looked over at me apprehensively. He stared with big brown eyes, and I stared back. My uncontrollable mouth let out a little moan, and it scared him back into his father’s shoulder.
Olivia reached over to comfort Brayden while Ben reached over to comfort me.
“You alright, Em? You seem kinda worked up today,” he asked sincerely as he rubbed his hand up and down my forearm.
My panicked eyes went from Ben to the wall, Ben to the wall. The little boy hadn’t really scared me, but it scared my body. I wasn’t used to little kids being around me. Mostly it was just Ben who came to visit.
“It’s okay hun, you’re alright,” he cooed until I calmed down.
Olivia stared at me, confused. I always caught her doing that at some point or another whenever she visited. It was like she was searching to find something more, some sign I had control. I wanted to show her that I did, I wanted to show myself so badly. But my body wouldn’t let me.
“We all came here for a reason, Em,” Ben smiled, “Do you know what day it is today?”
I saw Olivia glance at her husband with a look I couldn’t place. I guess she was probably surprised that he had addressed me with a direct question and expected a response.
As usual, I couldn’t answer, nor did I have any idea what he was talking about.
“It’s your birthday, Emily! Your 21st!” he beamed at me.
Something in the back of my mind told me this birthday was an important one. One that I would have lots of fun with if I weren’t being held prisoner here in this brightly-lit dungeon.
Olivia reached into her purse and pulled out a pink card that read “Happy Birthday” on the front. She gave is to me hesitantly, not knowing how to hand it over.
I couldn’t reach for it, so she laid it on my lap. Ben reached over and opened it up. On the inside was what looked like a calender with the numbers marked off until it reached 21, which was circled with a red marker. The right side read, “Happy 21st, hope it’s a great one!”
He held it there until my eyes found it, then set it on my night stand.
Olivia and Brayden sat in silence as Ben began to tell me all about his day. Olivia stared at Ben in awe, apparently still amazed by his outstanding patience with me. But she knew not to say anything. She tried to convince Ben to give up on me once. They got into such a big fight they had to be escorted from the building, because they had me screaming up a storm.
So Ben went on telling me stories for a couple hours. Brayden had fallen asleep in the first ten minutes. Olivia was very quiet, keeping to herself and rocking Brayden back and forth. When the sun started to set, Ben got up and said his goodbyes.
He gave his farewell the same as every time he visited.
He leaned forward, kissed my forehead, then whispered in my ear, “I love you, Em. I’ll be back soon, you’ll get better tomorrow.”
I awoke to someone shaking my shoulders.
“Emily? Emily, hunny, wake up,” my mom whispered gently, but in a rush.
I heard thunder booming outside, rain pelted my window with increasing intensity.
“What mommy?” I mumbled as I tried to turn back over in my sheets.
I saw her beige work coat by the moonlight. I realized she was soaked from head to toe. I turned over to look at her. Her normally perfect hair was a tattered mess, and her entire body drenched with rain. Her tortured expression pierced through me.
“Emily, sweety, I have to go,” she croaked.
My eyes instantly swelled up in tears and a lump came to my throat.
“Why mommy? Where are you going? When are you coming back?” I cried as I reached for her arm.
She jerked her arm from my grip.
“Emily, this is not your fault! You can’t blame yourself for this!” She took a breath, “and you can’t blame me either! I can’t help it!”
A little cry escaped my lips.
“No, don’t leave mommy,” I begged quietly.
She leaned down and laid an urgent peck on my face.
“I love you,” she said very business-like, as if it were a requirement for her to say.
She half-smiled at my desperate face, then left the room.
I waited until I heard her tires squeal, then ran to my brother’s room and jumped into his bed.
He was only nine, but he seemed to know exactly what to do. Ben held me all night, waiting until I finally cried myself to sleep.
I wanted a drink of water. I wanted to walk over to the water fountain all on my own, and get a drink of water for myself. I knew that my body could do it, I was perfectly able. But my uncooperative mind couldn’t make myself do it. So I sat in agony, waiting for my careless lady in white to finally tend to my needs. The lady in white’s real name was Hope, but I refused to refer to her as that. The only tiny shred of hope I ever saw here was Ben. Death would be a better name for the terrible attendant.
I let my mind wander to a better time. One of my last happier times.
My knees were shaking. Uncontrollably. How could I walk in these stupid heels when I could hardly stand? I was panicking slightly, and Eric could see it on my face.
He leaned towards me and whispered in my ear,
“You’ll be fine, just watch your step.”
He laughed at my expression and I glowered at him.
“You, I believe, do not have a 200-pound dress on and four-inch heels!” I grumbled.
“This is true, do you wanna trade real quick? Maybe we could get away with it . . . ” he challenged.
This time I really stared him down.
He took my face in his hands.
“You’re going to be okay!” he chuckled.
I looked down at my midnight-blue dress in the darkness. I huffed quietly.
The announcer said our names.
“Emily Brenton, escorted by Eric Hansel,” she chimed melodically.
I picked up what I could of my giant dress then ventured, with Eric at my side, into the bright lights.
His arm was all that kept me steady when I was blinded by the sudden brightness.
“Smile,” he muttered quietly.
I did my best to show my teeth, thankful for the braces to finally be gone. I saw the huge crowd in the darkness that was the gym bleachers. I took Eric’s advice and looked down as we descended down the steps. Good thing, too. I probably would have gone toppling head over heels if I hadn’t taken a glance at the steps.
I will admit that after that first emersion in the light, it wasn’t so bad. We turned and faced the crowd with beaming smiles as they all clapped and ooed and awed. Though I’m sure my pounding heart had to have been visible through my dress, no one seemed to notice. I even made it the whole way without the slightest stumble.
I sat in the seats at the end of the aisle with relief. Eric sat next to me.
“See, that wasn’t so bad,” he teased.
I didn’t respond, I just smiled back as he put his arm around the back of my chair.
I searched the crowd for Ben and my dad. I spotted them almost instantly, they were staring at me. My dad was giving me the corny thumbs up while Ben was making faces behind his back. I rolled my eyes and looked away, but then turned back to smile.
After the grand march ended, everyone assembled in the school lobby for pictures and hugs. Eric and I were chatting with some friends when Ben came behind me with a giant bear hug. My dad snapped a picture just as my feet were lifted from the ground by his embrace.
“Ben!” I nearly screamed as I turned around to punch his arm.
“You just look so cute!” he harassed, “my baby sister all grown up!”
He may be 21, but he was still a 16-year-old boy at heart.
He reached to ruffle my hair, but I smacked his hand away.
“Three and a half hours,” I threatened. The mountain of blond hair on my head had not been an easy task to accomplish.
He backed away slowly with a smirk on his face.
My dad approached me next.
“Oh, Em, I wish your mother could have seen you like this,” he thought out loud.
“Really, I don’t,” I retorted. I had come to hate her weakness.
He ignored my sudden anger.
“It doesn’t matter, you look great, kid,” he declared.
I couldn’t argue with him. Not to be arrogant, but with two months of tanning and a full day at the salon, I think I deserved some recognition for my hard work.
I sent them away as quickly as I could, not wanting the embarrassing moment to last one second longer. It surprised me later when I realized they had been the best part of my night.
My day-dreaming stopped short when I realized why I never tried to remember this story. I started screaming as loud as my lungs would allow. I was vaguely aware of the people turning to stare from around the cafeteria.
“Nurse!” my lady in white shouted.
Shouts were coming from my mouth that I didn’t recognize. I hadn’t heard myself speak for years.
“NO NO NO! NO, ERIC, LOOK OUT! ERIC, THE LIGHTS! NO, ERIC, NO NO NO!”
My voice cracked at my violent yells. Several people in white were rushing toward me, all carrying threatening points in their hands. I knew what the needles would do to me. But it was too late. I remembered.
Eric opened the passenger side door for me, and my poofy dress barely fit in the little car. He laughed when he got in and saw my dress take up half of the front seat.
“You are most definitely a driving hazard,” he taunted.
“You want me to walk?”
“Are you kidding me? You could barely make it down the grand march, and you think you could walk 15 miles to the dance?” he grinned at me.
“Hey, you said I did good! Besides, I think I could hitch a ride,” I teased.
“Oh, no you’re not,” he turned serious suddenly.
“Good. Then no more dress arguments.” I ended that on top, I thought.
The trip continued in silence as we pulled out from the school parking lot. I wasn’t the most talented dancer, and I wasn’t looking forward to it so much. Eric was a good dancer, though. Maybe he would make up for some of my clumsiness.
The roads were thick with ice, normal Wisconsin winter weather. Eric was a good driver. He handled the roads with ease. After a couple minutes, he started up the conversation again.
“So, your brother was in an awfully good mood tonight,” he commented.
“Yeah, he just started dating this girl from his college. Her name’s Olivia, I haven’t met her yet. He says she’s really nice, though.” I glanced out the window. Snow started to fill the night sky.
“Yeah, no death threats to me or anything tonight,” he smirked.
“So unlike him, isn’t it?” I added absentmindedly. I was watching a car coming from down the street. He looked like he was swerving slightly. I wondered if he was drunk.
“No doubt. Which makes everything a little easier. I even got a chance to talk to your dad . . .” his train of thought seemed to stop abruptly, like he had said too much.
I looked over at him questioningly.
He glanced at me nervously, then gripped the wheel and looked back at the road. He seemed to notice the car, too.
“What’s the matter?” I asked as I reached over to touch his shoulder.
He eased a little at my touch. He turned to look into my eyes.
“Emily, I love you. I love you more than anything, I have since we were kids,” he was struggling for words. “I love you Emily, will you marry me?”
His eyes bore into much with unimaginable power.
I stared, mouth agape, for what seemed like an eternity. Tears welled in my eyes. I didn’t notice the front of the car filling with light, Eric’s eyes didn’t leave mine.
I started bobbing my head up and down. I smiled widely and opened my mouth to speak.
My head was pounding. As soon as I realized I could, my eyes snapped open. Wait, I snapped them open. I looked up at the ceiling, I moved my eyes to the white walls, to the white sheets, to the hand holding mine. I looked at the mess of brown curly hair lying on my stomach.
I lifted, I lifted, my left hand and reached for his hair. He was startled at my touch, and jerked awake. His eyes were red, I wasn’t sure how long he had been lying there. I searched his face with my newly discovered eyesight, amazed that he still looked like my doofus of a brother.
His confused eyes turned wet. I could feel the sobs coming on. I smiled at his bewildered look, but my eyes were also filling with tears. I reached to touch his cheek. He leaned into my hand, overjoyed that it was the actual me touching him.
I laughed nervously. I laughed, something I hadn’t done in four years.
“Oh my God, Em, you scared the hell out of me,” he sighed as he buried his face in my stomach again.
I played with his brown curls as he cried silently, then took his face in my hands.