Written in 63 minutes. And you guys, listen, I think this might be the best thing I’ve ever written in an hour.
They had told him his name was Jason.
That’s where the anger had begun, of course, though he wouldn’t have recognized it at the time. He’d opened his eyes to nothing. A blank slate. A room he didn’t recognize. People he didn’t know.
“You’re Jason,” a tearful woman with blonde hair had told him, her hands clutched in front of her, raised to her mouth as her blue eyes had shimmered with tears. “You’re Jason, and it’s okay. We’ll make it okay.” She’d clung to a man next to her with salt and pepper hair who had also been emotional, though there were no tears. “We’re your parents, and we love you. You’re Jason. It’s all going to be okay now.”
It was a lie, though he couldn’t have known it then. He knew things of course. He could walk, talk, eat, dress himself — all the functions of everyday life required for survival, but people meant nothing to him and he didn’t understand them.
He knew that the word parents meant he’d been raised by them and these people had served some sort of authoritative function in his life. Just like he understood what grandfather and sister and brother — he understand that the terms referred to biology and legal obligations. He could have accepted that.
He liked facts. Liked the certainty of information that couldn’t be changed. The man — Alan he’d called himself — was his biological father, and the woman — Monica — had adopted him. There’d been some twisted story about an affair that Monica had tried to explain to him, but he had mostly ignored it. That had nothing to do with him. He had a brother who was older from Alan. A sister who was younger — she’d been adopted by both of them as a toddler.
There were grandparents — Alan’s parents. Both biological, he’d noted. And a cousin, Ned, with his wife, Lois. Ned was Alan’s nephew, another biological and legal term. They were nice enough. A different cousin, Justus, who was tolerable enough.
At first, he’d accepted all of these facts because there didn’t seem to be a point in refuting them. And his name was Jason, which they said over and over again. He was Jason Morgan Quartermaine, medical student and favored son — or so the bitter older brother, AJ, proclaimed.
In the hospital, it hadn’t been so bad at first. People had left him alone sometimes, and they seemed to understand he didn’t know them. There were doctors which he’d hated because they kept looking at him like an insect, like something under a microscope they didn’t understand. A miracle, one of them had said. Dr. Jones.
“You suffered such damage to that frontal lobe,” the doctor had told him. “And yet all that seems to be impacted is your long-term personal memories.” Other memories were there — he knew algebra and geometry and the French national anthem — he knew how to fix a leak in a sink, though no one could explain how the pampered rich son knew that.
But he knew that Dr. Jones was wrong — that was something else missing in him. He didn’t know how to talk to people. Or how to make the thoughts in his head come out right. He’d think one thing, and then he’d open his mouth, and words would fall out, and they’d always be the wrong ones.
Right after he’d left the hospital and gone to the big house, he’d gone downstairs for breakfast and had been disgusted when they’d given him a bowl of oatmeal. He’d made a face, and the butler (what a strange way to live your life, serving other people) had explained with a patient smile that he always ate the oatmeal because it made the grandmother happy. And he couldn’t understand why anyone would eat anything so disgusting just to make someone happy — which he’d said in front of everyone including the grandmother. The grandmother — Lila — hadn’t seemed offended, but the grandfather had been furious.
He hadn’t cared for the grandfather almost from the beginning. His name was Edward, and he’d seemed disappointed in the lack of memories, though cheered when they all decided he wasn’t too damaged and could go back to medical school.
“You’ll only have to miss this semester,” Edward had declared over a dinner a week after he’d left the hospital. “You’ll get your life back on track like this never happened.”
And this had made him mad. Because he hated hospitals and didn’t want to go anywhere near them. But when he told them this, they’d laughed. The father, Alan, had just grinned liked he’d told a job. “You’ll hate it during your internship, too,” he’d said. “But you’ll get over it—”
And maybe that hadn’t been such a big deal, but it felt like one. It felt like every time he tried to say anything that didn’t fall in line with their vision for what his life looked like, they just laughed and waved it away. Explained how he was wrong. But that wasn’t fair. How he felt wasn’t a fact you could be certain about and the first time he exploded after one of these conversations, the grandfather had raged back —
But the second and third time, when he’d sent the mother crying back to her room, they’d started to talk in hush tones about maybe he needed more help, maybe there was more tests, more studies —
They talked about sending him away.
So he’d left because another fact he knew was that he was over eighteen and they couldn’t do anything to him if he did that. They kept controlling him — he couldn’t keep a job, couldn’t find a place to live — everyone seemed to answer to this family —
But he was still free in his own way, and he thought things were starting to look up.
But every once in a while, he remembered that every fact that he knew about himself was something he’d been told from someone else.
Including his own name. They’d told him he was Jason, and the only reason he had decided to keep the name was the grandmother who had patiently smiled, and said, well, the first time she’d heard her own name was from her mother. Everyone’s name was a fact decided by someone else.
This had made him feel better, and so he’d decided to keep being Jason but it still made him angry every time someone told him something about the person he’d used to be, another fact that he didn’t know —
He thought of it now, standing in Luke’s blues and jazz club, staring at the woman in front of him with tears in her eyes. Just like the mother, Jason thought. Monica had cried when she’d told him who she was supposed to be, and now—
He hated when people looked at him like this, like he was causing them pain, like it was his fault when he hadn’t done anything wrong—
Except get into a car with a brother who was nothing more than a drunk who’d been shipped off to some rehab clinic where Jason didn’t have to think about him anymore. Which he liked.
Now this woman was telling him another set of facts he didn’t know — facts that she didn’t even know like why he’d gotten in the car — and he didn’t want her to tell him anything. He’d just wanted to know why his name was next to hers on a telephone bill—
He hadn’t asked for all the other burdens that came with it. Just like the rest of the family he didn’t know, she’d thrown all of it at him once — “We’re your parents,” Monica had said that day in the hospital. “You’re Jason, our son. And we love you. You were in an accident, and we thought you would never wake up. But now you’re awake and you’ve come back to us—”
All those words had obligations tied to it, and he didn’t even really know his name yet. He still didn’t quite have a handle on any of it—
And in his head, in his mind where things made sense, Jason had the right words. He could see her pain, maybe he could even understand that she wasn’t trying to make her pain his problem, but it was, wasn’t it? She was telling him about a life he didn’t remember—
A whole person he didn’t know except he’d never know them. And somehow that cut through the rest of it. He didn’t remember the grandparents or the parents. The siblings. He didn’t know them. And this—he didn’t know the wife. But they were all flesh and blood people that he could see in front of him. Monica with her tearful pleas, Alan with his dismissive certainty, Edward with the arrogant commands, Lila with the kindness understanding, and Emily with the sparkling laughter. And now Elizabeth with her shattered eyes.
But there was another person in this conversation that wasn’t here anymore, and he’d never know them. The wife had come with the daughter. The daughter who had died the way Jason had almost. A car accident. A drunk driver.
All of this was in his head, and he wanted to say it, because maybe it would make sense out in the world. How could you feel sad about a person you didn’t know? That you didn’t remember? And the word daughter came with another word — father. And wife — that had a matching term, too.
And that was another word that described him. He knew he was Jason, the son, the brother, the grandson, the disappointment, the damaged freak — but he didn’t know Jason the husband, the father, and no one had told him. That family had fallen over themselves to tell him all the stories about Jason the medical student, Jason the hockey player, Jason the great, the wonderful —
But no one ever told him everything and it was exhausting, and infuriating that at the end of it all there was still more he had to find out because when would it end—
So every word he spoke came out angry and bitter and furious because it was days and weeks and months of never knowing what was coming next —
And then she’d stopped, and she’d summed up all of the information in three simple sentences, and his brain had shut down.
We were married. We had a daughter. And now I’m the only one who remembers.
Elizabeth, this stranger, who looked at him with tears staining her cheeks, folded her arms. “Are you going to say anything?”
“I don’t—” Jason stopped. “Was it all a lie?” He hadn’t meant to say that. It hadn’t even been in his head.
She furrowed her brows, with bewilderment now, something he was familiar with because everyone always looked at him like he was stupid. Insane. Damaged. Broken. One step away from losing it— “What? You think I’m lying about—”
“The job. The room.” His tongue felt thick in his mouth now, and he couldn’t quite form the words around it, but now he had something to say. “Luke. Sonny. You sent them, didn’t you? Did you wait until I had no other choice?”
Her arms fell to her side. “What? What? Are you kidding me? I tell you all of that—”
It was a set-up. All of it. It made so much sense right now. He’d come here yesterday, and she’d pretended to be surprised, and then she’d made him feel sorry for her because he was creating more work for her — just another burden. She’d made him feel like he was a problem for her to solve, and he hated that — and she’d dropped mail in front of him — and now she was tearfully telling him about their past together —
Just like the parents and the grandfather and the cousins — and all the people who weren’t happy enough for him to admit the biological or legal times — no, they all were demanding more from him — they wanted him to pretend that the emotions were there, too, and pretend that he had any goddamn clue what was going on around him—
“You knew I had nowhere else to go —”
“Do you think I’m lying?” she bit out, and now her eyes were different. They’d narrowed into little pinpoints of fury, her cheeks flushed. Good, he liked that better. He could handle angry. He didn’t like tears. They felt like weapons, and he didn’t know how to defend against them.
She shoved past him, knocking him back a step, snagging her purse from beneath the bar. She ripped out her wallet, fingers trembling as she shoved it into his face. “Is this a lie?” she demanded, teeth clenched.
Jason tried to look at it, tried to make sense of the images swimming in front of him. He wasn’t always very good at seeing photographs, but he was better now than after the hospital — He took the wallet from her, carefully extracting the photo, taking it in.
Did she know he had trouble with this kind of things? That images on the screen and photos on the mantel or wall swam in front of him sometimes, and he didn’t always understand what he was looking at?
But maybe she really didn’t. She hadn’t been one of the people at the hospital. Hadn’t clung to him, crying when he didn’t know her —
She’d never been there at all.
The photo had people in it, that much he knew. There were colors — brown — which he thought was her hair. And that was…blond. That was him. Jason exhaled slowly as the image came into focus. If he was patient and he tried, if he pulled together some pieces, sometimes it formed and he could see it.
And he wanted to see it. He wanted to know what proof, what defense she’d thrown in his face —
Then he saw it. It was a small portrait of the woman in front of him, though she had more weight in her face, and she was smiling — he’d never seen that. He recognized his face, too…
They were standing — she was turned slightly into him, her hand on his shoulder, her head against his shoulder—
And he was holding a baby. Just a tiny little human with a green frothy dress, a matching headband with an orange flower around her head. And he saw he was smiling, too.
“I’m not lying,” she said, her voice dulled now. “Give me back my picture—”
“I didn’t…” His throat was tight as he looked up from the obvious truth. Somehow it was different when the facts were in front of him. And there were facts in this photograph that no one else had to tell him. Facts he could see though it had taken a lot, and maybe it was larger, he could see more —
He had facts now that weren’t from someone. She’d told him who this baby was to him in legal and biological terms, but she hadn’t told him that he’d loved the baby. That they’d all been happy.
He could see it. He didn’t remember it, but seeing it made it real.
“I didn’t think you were lying about this,” Jason said finally. “I don’t—I don’t know her name.”
“Her name. I should know it. I can’t see it in the picture, and I don’t want you to tell me. I don’t want anyone to tell me anything else.” He swallowed hard. Was he making sense? How could he? It felt like babbling, and he didn’t like that. “Do you—is there something I could look at? With her name.”
Her eyes wide, Elizabeth’s eyes dropped to her wrist. She licked her lips, and, with her other hand, undid the clasp of the bracelet she’d told him he’d given her the day this baby was born. She held it out, the little identification plate flat against her palm.
“Cadence Audrey Quartermaine,” Jason said, reading the words, and taking them in. He looked back at the photo, then at the name.
Elizabeth flipped the bracelet so that he could see the other side — where it was inscribed. He couldn’t read this aloud, didn’t want to.
To Elizabeth, for making me a father and a husband. I will always love you. Jason.
He’d had to be told his name, and all the important facts about himself. He was Jason Morgan Quartermaine, the brain-damaged son of Alan and Monica. But no one had ever told him he was a husband and father. Not even Elizabeth. She’d only told him the word that belonged to her.
But these facts belonged to him, and he had words now for himself that no one had told him. There was evidence that they were his, and he didn’t know why it mattered. Why there was a difference when he still didn’t remember anything and never would.
He could see the truth in these words and this photo. And now he wanted everything.
“Her name was Cadence,” Jason said, listening the way the word sounded, and felt on his tongue. “You…there are more? Photos? You have them?”
He hadn’t known you could see facts in photographs and that you could feel them — they’d always been so hard for him to understand that he’d never tried very hard.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner,” Elizabeth was saying when he focused on her again. “I’m sorry. It’s just so hard to talk about.” Her eyes shimmered again. “You don’t look mad anymore.”
He couldn’t find the anger he’d felt only minutes ago. “I’m not. But—” Jason looked at her again. “Where were you? You were never at the hospital. You never—why didn’t anyone tell me about her?”
“That—” Elizabeth took a deep breath as if she had to pull it from her soul. “That’s a long story.”