Authors: Minka Kent
Patient presents today as a twenty-seven-year-old female of Caucasian descent. She was referred by her family physician for an evaluation due to concerns of hallucinations and unstable emotional and cognitive status as reported by her husband, Niall . . .
Patient believes her name to be Brienne Dougray, whom her husband reports is a former personal assistant with whom she developed an intense fixation during a brief period of time in the last year . . .
Patient has no history of previous issues with identity disorders, and patient’s husband reports no known drug or alcohol abuse . . .
Patient was arrested for stalking; however, the victim agreed to drop charges in lieu of a voluntary committal to
Montblanc Psychiatric Hospital . . .
I cup my hand over my mouth, scanning through the remainder of the documents. But I might as well be reading about a stranger.
I don’t know this woman, this Kate Emberlin.
I have no recollection of stalking anyone, of obsessing over an employee, of voluntarily committing myself to an inpatient psychiatric center.
My lower lip trembles, and Niall places his hand on mine.
“I don’t understand,” I say. “I grew up in this house, Niall. As Brienne. My grandparents were the Dougrays. I remember them. I remember my childhood. And my friends. I remember the last time I spoke to each of them. I remember our girls’ trips . . .”
He squeezes my hand to quiet me. “False memories.”
I refuse to believe that something so real could be a false memory.
“It’s all there, in your records,” he adds.
“I remember my grandmother’s perfume,” I say. “And the other night? At Baru 46? I saw one of my old friends, and she was clearly uncomfortable when she saw me. If I remember her and she remembers me . . . how is that a false memory?”
“Amber,” I say.
“I’ve never heard of that friend before.” His admission is delivered with tenderness, but it doesn’t make it sting any less. “When you were Brienne the last time, you used to harass her friends. They almost got restraining orders against you until Brienne intervened. You’re really quite lucky in that aspect.”
If what he’s saying is true, it might make sense that none of them will speak to me anymore—I was nothing more to them than a crazy woman trying to infiltrate their group.
I rifle through the medical records, searching for the section on false memories. Sure enough, it’s all outlined in great detail.
“I know you’re scared, Kate.” His voice attempts to soothe, failing. And despite the fact that he’s looking straight at me, it feels like he’s speaking to someone who isn’t here. “I know this is a lot to process. And I know you must have a million questions. But I’m here for you. We’re going to get through this. I’m not going to leave your side. We’ll fix this. Together.”
Looking at him through damp lashes, I try to form some semblance of a sentence, but it’s a near impossible task.
I don’t want to believe any of this.
But Niall wouldn’t lie. He’s only ever had my best interests at heart. He’s proven that time and again.
“I love you,” he says, leaning in to press a hard if not desperate kiss against my mouth.
I don’t kiss him back. I’m too numb. Too shell-shocked. Too baked in unadulterated disbelief that runs so deep it becomes me.
How can I be Kate when I remember every last detail of Brienne’s life? Birthday parties. Vacations. Her first kiss with the red-haired boy across the street. An entire lifetime of vivid memories. Eyes closed, I think of my grandparents who raised me, the ones who left me this enormous house and a heart full of memories. I can still smell my grandmother’s lilac perfume if I try hard enough. I can still hear my grandfather’s voice, warm yet perpetually hoarse from his love affair with cigars.
“I’m not Kate,” I manage to say, my voice a bare whisper that floats between us.
Niall leans away. His fist clenches against the tabletop, and he scoots back in his chair, the feet grinding against the wood below. He moves to the window, seemingly lost in thought for a moment, and then he paces the room.
“That’s exactly what you said last time,” he says.
Perhaps this hits too close to home for him.
He stops wearing tracks into the floor and turns to me, elbows resting on the back of the chair across the table. Hunched over and defeated, he curves a palm against his forehead and exhales.
“When Brienne Dougray called me today and told me you showed up at her office,” he says, “a million thoughts ran through my head, Kate. First, I blamed myself for not recognizing that things were headed in this direction, for not seeing the signs. Then I thought about the last time you were charged with stalking. How Brienne was kind enough to drop the charges if you sought treatment. She took pity on you. I don’t know a lot of people who would be that kind, do you?” He winces. “What if she’s not feeling so merciful this time? You scared the hell out of that woman today. I mean, what were you thinking? Going to her work? I’m just grateful she called me first before calling the police. She could’ve had you arrested right there on the spot. And who knows, she might be thinking about filing a report as we speak.”
“I’m sorry you’re so upset . . . I don’t know what you want me to say.”
He buries his face in his hands. A pregnant pause situates between us. Outside, the Klingenbeards parade past, pointing at the house and talking among themselves as one of their silky dogs relieves itself on my lawn.
Looking back, I can’t think of a time they ever called me by any name: Kate or Brienne.
Same with Enid. She’s only ever called me “sweetheart” and “dear,” and I’ve never thought anything of it.
Reaching for the photo album, I tug it closer and flip to the first page.
On what appears to be our wedding day.
I’m dressed in a simple white sheath dress with lace sleeves, a bouquet of calla lilies in my hand. He’s in a black tux, his hand on the small of my back.
“One of the best days of my life right there,” Niall says, looking down from the other side of the table.
I flip to the next page and find a laminated marriage announcement, clipped from the
Quinnesec Daily Herald
We were married June 22, three years ago next month. I think of the journal entry of Kate’s when she mentioned the missed anniversary dinner.
“I wish I could remember,” I tell him. I wish I could absorb the pain in his voice, convince him not to blame himself.
I also wish I could believe any of this. Despite the evidence he’s laid out before me, I’m still unsure.
“And you will.” He makes his way around the table, returning to my side. Pushing the photo album away, he takes my hands in his.
“So . . . what now? I’m just supposed to go through all these records, and everything will magically come back to me?”
Niall shakes his head. “No, Kate. I’m afraid it’s going to be a bit more . . . involved than that.”
Maybe I should have adjusted my expectations, but when I woke up this morning and I was still “Brienne Dougray,” to say I was disappointed in myself would be an understatement. It turns out the human mind doesn’t work that way.
I’m perched at the foot of my bed, staring at a packed suitcase while Niall showers upstairs.
I spent all last night holed up in my room, going over every last document, every last photograph, fighting like hell to remember something. Anything. I asked Niall to give me some time alone, thinking it might help me to process this, but when he came in to check on me later, he found me in tears, and then he met my tears with tears of his own—a first, at least in recent memory. I might not be able to remember the love we had before, but I can feel it now; I can see it.
And that’s got to count for something.
In twenty minutes, we’re to leave for Old Hundred, South Dakota, where he’s managed to find me an inpatient room at the Crestview Psychiatric Center. It was the closest private-pay facility we could find that had immediate availability, and while the idea of leaving here for an undetermined amount of time isn’t anything I’m looking forward to, it’s the only way to fix this.
To become Kate again.
“You about ready?” Niall stands in my doorway a few minutes later, hair still wet from his shower, the clean scent of soap filling the air. He’s in faded blue jeans and a gray polo today, a color palette that matches the mood of the day.
I rise from my bed and check the zippers on my suitcase. “Yeah.”
He looks at his watch. “It’s about a two-hour drive. We’ve got time to stop for coffee on the way.”
He makes it sound like we’re going on a weekend getaway, a miniature road trip.
“I know you like that café on Porter Street,” he adds. But it doesn’t matter how he spins this; nothing’s going to make it easy for either one of us.
“Sure.” I let my hands fall to my sides, a gesture that matches the powerlessness of my mood this morning. I just want to get this over with. I just want to be me again. Whoever that is.
Niall takes my bag, wheeling it down the hall, and when we leave, he locks up. His car is already running, which tells me he’s anxious.
“Who’s seeing your patients today?” I ask.
“Locklear,” he says.
I wonder what he’s told his colleagues about me or if they know about my disorder.
I wonder if I knew them when I was Kate. Or if I cared what anyone thought. And when I’m Kate again, I wonder if they’ll be able to look me in the eye without judging me for my past.
Niall takes us through the coffee drive-through on Porter Street, and within minutes we’re merging onto the highway, headed west toward South Dakota, the sun rising behind us.
Niall’s fingers are laced between mine as we ride in the loudest silence I’ve ever known. A steaming Styrofoam cup rests untouched in my right hand.
I think back to a handful of our recent conversations, when I’d asked him specifically about marriage and he’d reacted almost as though I should have known the answers to my questions. For instance, when
I asked if he liked being married, he almost scoffed, replying with a quick, “Of course.” And when I asked him if he ever thought he’d want to reconcile, he answered with, “More than anything.”
All those times, I thought he was referring to Kate.
And all those times, he thought I was referring to us.
My mind overflows with more questions, and each question begets another question.
“Why were we separated?” I ask Niall.
He doesn’t flinch, keeps his eyes on the road. “I don’t know, Kate. We’re like any other couple. We struggled to make time for ourselves. We fought over petty things, and we let them get the best of us.”
“That doesn’t seem like anything worth separating over.”
He offers a pained half smile. “That’s what I always tried to tell you, but you wouldn’t hear it. You’ve always been stubborn that way.”
“Why did you stay around?” I ask. “After we separated?”
He swallows, eyes squinting from behind his mirrored aviators. “I came back after your attack. You needed someone around, someone to help you just in case.”
It’s the strangest thing: I can recall the moment he showed up at my door with such vividness. He was wearing scrubs, his doctor’s badge still attached, and he introduced himself before I gave him a tour.
That, too, must be a false memory.
Niall gives my hand a lasting squeeze.
“Despite our problems at the time, I was still—am still—madly in love with you.” He takes his eyes off the road for a second, turning to me.
“You signed the divorce papers,” I say, remembering the day I stumbled upon them in his room.
“I signed them early on,” he says. “I suppose I thought if I could show you that I was taking you seriously, it might make you think twice. It was a juvenile, desperate move, and for that I’m sorry. But it worked. You asked for more time as long as I promised not to hound you about it. So I didn’t. I didn’t bring it up once. I let you go at your own pace.”
The more he talks about when I was Kate, the more I find my curiosity being piqued.
“My parents,” I say. “Do they know about this?”
His mouth forms a flat line, and he pushes a breath through flared nostrils. “I’m so sorry, Kate.”
My stomach sinks before he says another word.
“Your father passed shortly after our wedding. And you and your mother haven’t been on speaking terms for well over a year.” He pats my knee. “But I’ll make a call to her first chance I get. Fill her in on everything.”
“Why aren’t we on speaking terms?” I ask.
“Your mother . . . how do I say this? She’s a textbook narcissist.” He turns to me, watching for my reaction. “Forgive the bluntness.”
I try to picture her, wondering if we have the same eyes, the same nose. If our laughs are the same.
“She’s a very self-centered person, and she has a tendency to go on these power trips,” he explains. “The woman thrives on drama, and you made the decision to distance yourself from that. Just be prepared: once she knows about this, the rest of your family will know, and somehow she’ll find a way to make it all about her.”
“Do I have any friends?” I ask. “Of my own?”
His lips purse. “You had a few good friends. There was a falling-out. You never went into detail, and it was right about the time we separated.”
“Did they reach out?” I ask. “After the attack?”
He’s quiet for a beat. “Not that I’m aware of. But again, that was such a hectic and difficult time. There’s always a chance . . .”
“You don’t have to sugarcoat any of this,” I say. “If they stopped talking to me, I’m sure they had a good reason. Sounds like maybe I was on a bit of a warpath last year . . .”
“Kate, stop. Don’t blame yourself. People end friendships over trivial things every single day. In the end, it’s not worth dwelling on if you can’t do anything about it.”
I am curious, though.
“Do you have any theories?” I’m not sure why it matters so much at this point, but it does. We’ve got two hours of highway to go, and I’ve got nothing but missing mental pages to fill.