That was a long time ago. It seemed so at the time too, but I still had the pinch in my neck from Barron’s teeth when I awoke in a place that seemed greatly familiar. I strained to remember what had happened to me. The dream was what seemed real, even more than the foggy bus ride home the day before. I sat up in my bed and I noticed right away that the sheets were different than when I’d crawled into bed the night before. Somehow, these thick square sheets had appeared under me. That was the first thing I noticed. Then I realized I was wearing a nightgown that I hadn’t put on, and, even stranger than that, an adult diaper. This had to be a nightmare. I managed to swing my legs to the side of the bed, but everything was sore, aching like my bones had grown old overnight. The sunlight peeking around the edges of the curtains sliced into the dim shade of my room, and when the shine hit my eyes – even indirectly – it was painful. My head was so foggy I thought I must be having another strange dream, but then I smelled the lavender from the candle on my desk – someone had been burning it. I rocked forward and managed to come to my feet, and for a few moments, I saw stars and felt heat rushing to my head. I heard a car drive past the house. The sound of the wheels on the pavement was raw, and it was the first thing I knew to be real. I was awake, and now I noticed that I was starving.
Everything was so bright. I got dressed and put on sunglasses so I could leave my room. As I was dressing, I took inventory. Things seemed to be where I’d left them – diary, schoolbooks, magazines, all the posters on the walls – Leo, Nick Carter, and Buffy.
Everything seemed right except me.
It took me a few steps before my legs were in working order again. I was awkward and rangy, like a toddler is, unable to keep to a straight path while stepping forward. When I got to the stairs, I figured I should grab the railing.
I heard the TV from all the way up here – that too was strange, because Mom would never spend a precious Saturday morning watching television. Then I remembered that they were supposed to be in Florida. So who the hell could be in the house? I stopped halfway down the stairs. Who would break into somebody’s house and sit there and watch TV? Then I had this other thought, like what the hell was with the diaper, and maybe whoever was responsible for that was sitting there watching TV. Maybe it was some creep who’d drugged me or something. So many weird things were happening. If I’d been in my right mind I’d have stopped right there and gone back upstairs to Mom and Dad’s room and called 911. But I was starving. I had this definite conflict between fear of bodily harm and ravaging hunger. And hunger won. I decided I would sneak into the refrigerator, get as much food as I could carry, sneak back upstairs, and then call Mom at work.
I crept through the kitchen and opened the fridge as quietly as I could, taking out bread, sandwich meat, cheese, yogurt, and a bunch of other stuff. Before I realized it, I’d piled half the contents of the fridge onto the counter and had no way to carry it all.
“Aah!” I heard a woman shriek behind me. “You scared the shit out of me, Riley!”
I whipped around at her, even more startled than she was, my back up against the counter. I heard my voice tremor like my shaky legs when I tried to speak, “Wh – ” it sounded like a bark, and I had to clear my throat, because my tongue didn’t seem to want to work right. I almost fell over. “Who are you? And what are you doing in my house?”
I realized she didn’t look like a burglar. She was in her late twenties maybe, and was dressed like a nurse, wearing those loose-fitting pajamas that nurses always wore.
“My name’s Jacqueline,” she said. “You don’t remember me?”
“You’re not going to hurt me, are you?”
“No. Of course not, Riley. I’m here to help you. Your parents hired me to take care of you. Don’t you remember meeting me?”
“I’ve never seen you before in my life. Where are my parents? Are they still in Florida?”
“In Florida?” she said.
At that moment I wasn’t sure who was more confused, because she sure looked confused. All I knew was that I fell asleep after school and woke up with this strange woman in my house telling me things I knew couldn’t be true.
“You don’t remember last night?” she asked me, and I shook my head no. “Well, you bit me when I got you up to use the bathroom, and I’m pretty sure you thought you were four years old, because you were acting like it. You seemed to know my name then.”
“I’m really really hungry right now. I feel like I’m going to starve to death if I don’t eat something.”
“I can see,” she said, looking at all the food on the counter and smiling at me like she knew me. I didn’t smile back.
“Do you know where Mom and Dad are?”
“Your dad’s at work, and your mom’s probably on her way home right now. The ambulance was going to be here at two to pick you up for the MRI, and your mom was going to ride with you.”
“If you are who you say you are, you should be able to tell me what my parents’ names are.”
The alarm on the refrigerator door started to beep because I’d been standing there with the door open the whole time. The woman started to inch closer; I thought perhaps to shut the refrigerator door.
“No!” I said, trying to back up even further, but I couldn’t because my back was already to the counter.
“Their names are Paul and Carol Basile. You’re Riley Kate Basile. Your birthday is January 28, 1982. You’re fifteen years old and a sophomore at Alexander Hamilton High School. You play the french horn in the band. You’re in the school play. Your mother also told me you were going to go out for the basketball cheer team this month. I’ve been caring for you while your parents are at work this past week, Riley. You really don’t remember anything?”
“I’m not dreaming this too, am I?”
“No, Riley, this is really happening.”
The refrigerator kept beeping – so loud.
“What day is it today?”
“No that’s impossible. You’re lying to me.”
“Could you just shut that,” she said, pointing to the refrigerator door that was still beeping. “I can see you’re upset and you don’t want me to come any closer, Riley. I won’t come near you if you just shut the door. The beeping is really annoying.”
I took a step forward and shut the door. It was killing me too, but I was scared of her.
“I don’t believe you. You’re not really a nurse.”
“I’ll show you,” she said, and she disappeared into the TV room, returning with her purse. “Here’s my ID.”
She slid it across the kitchen table and stepped back. I inched forward and picked it up. It read: Jacqueline Everett LPN, Hillcrest Home Health Services. It had her picture and it looked really real.
“What does LPN mean?”
“It means that I’m a nurse. It’s the same as RN except the things they allow me to do are different. It’s like a different rank of nurse, but I’m still a nurse.”
“You’re telling me I’ve been asleep since Friday – so five days?”
“When you woke up just now, Riley, what day did you think it was?”
“I thought it was Saturday.”
“Yesterday was the seventh, so the eighth.”
“It’s the eighteenth today, Riley.”
“No, no, no. You’re lying. That’s impossible. I don’t believe you. I want to talk to my mother right now, lady. You get her on the phone for me or I’ll call the cops.”
“That’s a good idea, sweetie, but like I said, she’s on her way home right now, so she won’t be in her office. Can I call your dad? Would you like to talk to him instead?”
I nodded, and I was starting to cry, because I wasn’t quite ready to believe it, but I knew something was wrong. It was impossible. Eleven days!
She picked up the cordless phone in the kitchen and dialed the number without looking it up, like she knew it by heart. She asked for Dad’s extension like she’d called him a hundred times before.
“Riley, honey, why don’t you sit down at the kitchen table, you’re making me nervous hanging onto the counter like that. You look like you’re going to fall over.”
“Where’s Dad?” I said, stepping toward table and sitting; she was right, I felt like I was going to fall over.
“The secretary just put me through,” she said. “It’s ringing now.”
Then she started talking to him. She was laughing, saying things like, “No, Paul, she seems lucid, but she doesn’t remember anything. Yeah. Yeah. No, she’s really scared. She doesn’t remember me at all. No. No. Hang on. I’ll put her on.”
She handed me the phone and I heard Dad’s voice, but I wasn’t sure at first if it was really him. Then he called me cupcake and I knew.
“Is it really true, Daddy? How could I sleep for that long?”
Then he told me the same thing Jacqueline had. I’d been asleep for eleven days. He told me that I’d been in the hospital for two days before they discharged me; that they’d woken me up several times, but I wasn’t acting like myself; that what Jacqueline had told me about biting her was true. The last thing that he told me scared me.
“How can they not know what it is? That doesn’t just happen to people, Dad. They don’t sleep for over a week for no reason.”
“That’s why you’re going to the neurologist with Mom, cupcake. They’re going to take a look at your brain and see what they can find out. He’s one of the top brain specialists in the world, and he’s going to find out what’s wrong. How do you feel right now, honey?”
“I’m really hungry. And scared. I didn’t know who this lady was, Dad.”
“She’s your nurse, Riley. It’s okay. She’s very nice. Everything’s going to be all right. Your mom’s on her way home right now. Why don’t you have something to eat.”
“I’m starving,” I said.
I crossed my arms on the table and put my head down on them. It all started to sink in. I’d missed a full week of practice for the play, another week of classes, at least three tests – cheerleading tryouts. It was a disaster! He could hear me crying now, and he was saying something, but I couldn’t hear the words. All I could think about was everything I’d missed, and how even Dad couldn’t explain what had happened to me. And the Homecoming dance! That was this week. Justin Bierman had probably already asked someone else. I dropped the phone on the table and Jacqueline picked it up. She talked with Dad for another minute or so before hanging up.
“What kind of sandwich would you like, Riley?” she said.
“Anything,” I said, sniffling and crying. “I’ll eat anything.”
“I see you got yourself dressed,” Jacqueline said as she was fixing the sandwich. “You look really cute. Maybe after you finish lunch we can clean you up and wash your hair.”
“I really smell that bad?”
“No, sweetie, you smell fine. I just thought you might like me to do your hair before you went out to the doctor’s – make you look pretty.”
“It’s okay. You don’t have to lie. I know I stink.”
“What makes you say that?”
“I just know it’s true.”
“How do you know that, Riley?”
“The bears told me. They all said it. I stink.”
Jacqueline looked at me like she thought I was crazy for a second, but then she smiled to hide it. She put the sandwich down and I started to eat like a starved animal. I put half the sandwich in my mouth in one bite.
“Careful now,” she said; she sounded like a kindergarten teacher. “Eat slow or you’re going to choke.”
I did almost choke at first, but I couldn’t help it. I savaged that first sandwich and was ready to lick the tiny little smear of mayonnaise left on the plate.
“I’ll make you another,” Jacqueline said.
This time she cut the sandwich into tiny bite-sized squares and fed them to me one by one like doggy treats. I was too hungry to protest. I couldn’t waste a breath on that. I needed to be eating food. And I felt it. Even though I felt like I was okay in that moment, somehow I knew how wrong my life had just gone. I felt like a baby, getting fed by a nurse bite by bite.