This story is by Denise Loper and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Caroline walked to the doctor’s office, almost skipping with happiness. She thought of her first day at the amnesia clinic, when she had explained she was fleeing from an abusive husband who had caused her amnesia. That day was the beginning of her fresh start. Now she just had to convince the doctor she was ready to move out on her own.
When she stepped into the office, the antiseptic odor of the clinic faded to a musty smell coming from books that filled the shelves. Dr. Theissen was sitting behind a massive oak desk. The doctor glanced up. “Come in, Caroline.”
She walked over to a dark leather chair and sat down. Taking a deep breath she started the speech she had rehearsed with her boyfriend Roger. “The receptionist job is working out fine. I’m best friends with my roommate Sara. I’ve managed my budget without any problems and I can make healthy meals.” She grimaced as she remembered how her first pot of spaghetti had burned. She looked at him, her stomach tightening. “Anyway, it’s been six months since coming here. I’ve learned a lot of things.” She paused, sitting up straighter. “I’m ready to move out. I have a place to go and with my job I can afford it.” She reached up to brush a stray hair out of her face.
The doctor tapped his finger on his chin. “You think you don’t need us anymore?”
She felt the tightness rising from her stomach into her throat, and willed it to stay down. She took a deep breath, deliberately relaxing her shoulders. “I think I’m okay with everything now. I’ve worked hard and come to accept how I am now. I’ve been focused on making a better future. Going to these meetings, trying to rehash stuff I don’t even remember, is not helping me.” She felt the tightness in her throat and realized she was looking down at the floor. She took another deep breath and looked at Dr. Theissen. “I’m ready to put all this behind me. I want to move out and stop coming to the therapy meetings.”
“You can’t just shut the door on your past. It will always be there and I don’t think you’ve adequately dealt with it.”
“There’s nothing to shut the door on. I don’t have any memories. I want to focus on the future and be a normal person. Starting now.” There, she had said it, just like she practiced with Roger. She slowly leaned back, wondering if the doctor really had the power to make her stay. Maybe it hadn’t been such a good idea to come here to get help.
His chair creaked as he shifted in it. “Your employer has given you glowing reports. But Sara ….” His voice trailed off, his eyes watching her. “Well, she says you’ve been struggling with the household chores. You leave things dirty.”
Caroline couldn’t believe Sara would say that. Dirty? What a traitor! And Sara had been her only friend here! Now Caroline was determined even more to move out with her boyfriend.
The doctor smiled at her. “I talked to Roger. It sounds like you two are getting pretty serious.“
Caroline looked at him and frowned. What was he doing talking to Roger? She said cautiously, “Yes, we are. He’s said I can move in with him.” She could feel the stiffness in the back of her neck, creeping up her scalp. She wondered if Roger had said how much she had to beg to get him to agree.
The doctor cleared his throat, the smile gone. She could feel her own smile fade as he picked up an envelope. “This is a letter from your husband. He’s coming here tomorrow to take you home.”
Caroline sat very still, her hands clenched, thinking fast. “My husband tried to kill me. He wouldn’t write a letter, it has to be fake.”
The doctor said, “Your husband is a very nice person. He says you were in a car wreck that broke your leg. You don’t have amnesia. Why did you lie to us?”
She shook her head, avoiding the memories. “He’s the liar. I definitely don’t want to see him!”
The doctor was frowning now. “This hospital report shows you were in a car wreck that broke your leg and caused temporary amnesia.” He tapped the envelope.
She looked up at the doctor and firmly said, “I don’t remember any of that. Tell him I won’t go with him. I have done fine here and I’m sticking with my plan. I want to move out in a couple of weeks.”
“Caroline, I don’t know what game you’re playing, but you can’t stay here. Your brain trauma is from a car accident and not domestic abuse so you no longer qualify for funds from the study grant. And I wonder just how much of your ‘amnesia’ is real. You have wasted the time and resources of many people. You will leave in the morning with your husband.” He dismissed her with a wave of his hand.
When Caroline got to her room, Roger came over and she told him what the doctor said. “I get to move in with you sooner than planned,” she said, snuggling up to him.
Roger looked uncomfortable, and asked what was in the envelope. Caroline opened it and silently read the letter while Roger looked over the hospital report.
When Caroline was done she said, “My husband just says that I didn’t like living on the ranch and left to start a new life.”
Roger frowned. “This report says you were the mistress of the driver who died in the accident. Did you know he had a wife and family?”
Caroline shook her head. “I don’t remember any of that. My phony husband must have made it up.”
Roger looked down at the report. “It says you pretended to have amnesia and then snuck out of the hospital in the middle of the night.” He shook his head at her. “Is this for real?”
“Don’t worry about it, I’m not going back to that old life. Come on,” she said, stroking his arm, “we’ve made our plans, so no big deal. I love you and you love me, right?”
“Cheating on your husband is a big deal. You’re not the person I thought I knew. I’ll bet you don’t even have amnesia.” When she didn’t say anything he got up and grabbed his jacket. “We’re through. Go home to your husband.” Roger walked out the door, closing it firmly behind him.
Caroline was still crying when Sara came in. Sara rushed over to comfort her, but Caroline pushed her away. “How could you tell the doctor I don’t do any chores! I thought you were my friend!”
“I am your friend, but you don’t help out around here. You trick everyone else into doing your chores. I’m surprised you don’t get caught at work with all the breaks you take.”
Caroline ran into her bedroom shouting, “You hate me, but I don’t care! I just want a fresh start without any of you!”
The next day Caroline reluctantly went to the office to meet with Jim and the doctor. She had barely sat down when Jim said, “I know you don’t want to come home. I brought the divorce papers you had started before you left. You just need to sign them and I’ll file them when I get back home.”
Dr. Theissen said to Jim, “I thought I was clear that Caroline can’t stay.”
Jim said, “I don’t know what you expect me to do, she left me for another man.” He turned to Caroline. “Don’t you have a boyfriend?”
Caroline said firmly, “Yes, I do. I’m going to move in with him.”
Dr. Theissen frowned but didn’t say anything.
Caroline was disappointed when Jim didn’t act jealous; he only pushed the papers towards her. After she signed, he gathered them up and left. Caroline got up, not even looking at the doctor, and went back to her apartment. Roger was there getting his stuff.
Caroline said, with tears in her eyes, “My ‘husband’ doesn’t want me. He gave me divorce papers, so I’m no longer married.” She waited for him to respond.
“Too bad. You belong with your husband.”
“I don’t belong anywhere, I’m homeless.”
“You left him to begin with.” Roger walked away.
Caroline yelled after him, “I only wanted a new start!”
“Well, I guess you got it now.” And Roger walked down the hallway.
Caroline muttered, “I’ll take care of myself and I’ll be just fine.” She packed a suitcase and left.
She wandered the streets for a while, then once it was dark she found a bar. She paused just inside the doorway, watching the men sitting on the barstools. She wondered which one would be more sympathetic to a woman who was fleeing an abusive husband that had burned down her home. That woman would definitely need a fresh start.