Meeting Anna

When Vitali walked into the college cafeteria it was almost entirely empty. He much preferred it when it was like that. The only time it was ever really full was at lunch, so he usually avoided it then. First he went to get a coffee. Normally he would have just bought a cheap one from a vending machine but he decided he wanted to buy a proper coffee from the coffee shop that they had in the cafeteria. A cappucino, to celebrate the fact that he had finally made a decision about his plans for the next couple of years. Once he’d paid for it he turned to leave the counter and almost bumped into someone who was also carrying a hot drink.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“It’s fine,” she replied.
“Did I make you spill any of your… whatever that is?”
“Hot chocolate, and no, you didn’t.”
For a moment Vitali stared at her, trying to work out where he remembered her from. He didn’t think it was from a class but there was definitely something familiar about her. It wasn’t until she turned slightly that he remembered because there was a cut down the left hand side of her face. She had been in what had looked like a very nasty car accident so her picture had been put in the newspaper.
“Do I know you?” she asked.
“No, we’ve never met before. I saw your picture in the paper.”
She nodded. “I suppose most people have. It’s to be expected considering what happened.”
“I’m Vitali.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Vitali. Call me Anna.”
“Were you going to get sugar, Anna?”
She glanced at where the sugar was kept before shaking her head. “I don’t even know if I like this so I should really try it without sugar first.” Vitali must have looked confused as she smiled at him and then continued. “I have amnesia. At the moment everything is a bit of a guessing game.” She sighed. “My brother said I liked hot chocolate before. All I can do is hope I still like it now.”
They both started moving at the same time. “Is it likely that your likes and dislikes will have changed?” he asked, as they walked towards one of the free tables.
“I don’t think they will have but you never know. It’s also possible my brother might have been wrong.” She sat down. “Apparently we haven’t been close recently.”
Vitali also sat down. “What happened to cause the amnesia?”
“The doctor thinks that my memory loss was caused by being hit in the head by a speaker that was in the boot but it’s not definite exactly what the cause was. It could also have been caused by the psychological trauma of the accident, although that usually only affects the time around the accident, or something else that happened that I have no memory of.” She shrugged. “I just got unlucky because I’m one of the few people who actually loses all personal memories. I can’t remember who any of my friends are or my family, and really it’s more difficult for them than it is for me.”
“What’s it like?”
“I don’t know how to describe it.” She looked down into her hot chocolate. “At first I was terrified because I didn’t have any idea who I was or anyone who would know who I was. That lasted about an hour, maybe a little more, and that was when I choose a name for myself. I felt better when I knew something about myself even if it was something I’d made up. Once that happened it was like I started to know who I was. My personality didn’t get damaged by the accident. It took me a little while to convince other people to call me Anna, but my brother Lloyd understood and helped me.” She looked back up at Vitali and smiled. “Now if I’m by myself then I don’t notice all that much because there’s no one around that I need to recognise or anything that I need to remember. What’s really strange is sitting and looking at the books on the bookcase because I can remember the storyline to almost every single one of them. It’s only when I’m with someone who says that they know me that I realise that I don’t know them and then I force myself to try to remember, which I think actually makes it worse. Given time my memories should come back.”
“You don’t have to worry about that with me.”
“It is nice to be around someone I don’t know. I feel better right now that I have done in the last few days. The only other person I don’t feel like I have to try to remember for is Lloyd. He’s really been fantastic and I don’t know how I would have coped without him. It’s still hard for him when he’s around me because he knows me and I don’t know him, but I think if we put a little time in then our relationship will be better than it was before.” Anna sipped her hot chocolate and wrinkled her nose. “Tell me about you.”
“There’s not really much to tell. After a year of classes that I cared nothing about I’m planning on taking some that I am actually interested in next year. My two best friends Oliver and Megan also go to this college, but they’re not friends with each other. I’m currently single.” He shrugged. “That’s about it.”
“What about the necklace?”
Vitali hadn’t realised his necklace was showing. “It’s nothing.”
Anna raised an eyebrow. “No, it’s a pentacle. Witch, Wiccan, general everyday Pagan, or are you just wearing it because it’s ‘cool’?” He stared at her. “I didn’t lose any of the knowledge I already had, Vitali, and one of the things I know about is Paganism.”
“How come?”
“I think someone taught me or at least showed me a book on the subject because that’s a little blurry. So, are you going to tell me what you are or are you going to keep avoiding the question?”
He smiled at her. “Tact isn’t a strong point of yours, is it?” She shook her head without saying anything so he knew that she was waiting for an answer. “I guess I’d say Witch, but I’m not sure it’s an entirely accurate description.”
“Why?” Anna asked, sounding truly interested.
Vitali stared down into his coffee as he tried to find the words he needed to explain it to her. He’d never spoken to anyone else about it before and he wasn’t quite sure why he was opening up to a stranger. It wasn’t something he’d ever done before but there was something about Anna that made him want to talk to her.
Finally he looked at her and said, “There are certain things that I am interested in that make me feel like I’m not a Witch in a way, but at the same time it’s the word I have always felt resonates with what I am.” He sighed. “I’m at that point where there are paths that feel right to me and that I want to travel. At the same time I don’t want to because I know that it will mean change and I’m not sure if I’m ready for that change.”
“Change is terrifying. I understand how you must be feeling about the paths you want to travel at the same time as not wanting to travel them. It’s something I’m dealing with right now because I know I’m pagan in some way, I feel it in my soul, but I can’t find out exactly how I’m pagan.”
“Your problem might be that you’re trying to work out who you were before when you should be focusing on who you are now.” He sipped his coffee. “If you need some help researching things then I could loan you some books. I’ve had a lot of time to collect them over the years.”
“We barely know each other.”
“Sometimes you just have to go with your intuition. Mine is saying that you’re a person I want to get to know better.”
Anna smiled. “I’d like to get to know me better too.” She shook her head, laughing. “If you don’t mind having to deal with my amnesia then it would be good to spend some more time with you. I will admit my main reason is selfish.”
“I don’t mind if part of the reason is because of a lack of expectations. That’s partly why I want to be friends with you too. My friends all have specific expectations of me too and I think that you will help me get out of the box they’ve put me in.”
“It’s strange how expectations have such an effect. When I’m around someone who expects me to be the girl I always was I feel like I have a weight around my neck that’s helping to drown me in confusion. There are very few people I can spend time with comfortably.”
Vitali sipped his coffee again. “I feel like the expectations people have of me make me more scared of change than I would be normally. I worry that the changes in my life may make my friends dislike me.” He shrugged. “It’s hard to correlate the want to change and grow with the need to have those friends in my life. I know that I can make new friends but they’ve been with me through such important things that I don’t want to lose them.”
“If they’re really your friends, Vitali, then they’ll understand why you’ve changed.”
“I think I’m probably scared that I’ll find out that they aren’t my friends.”
Anna nodded. “That makes sense. My fear is that the people who expect me to be like I was before won’t accept me if I never become that person.”
“Do you think that you really can become that person?” Vitali asked. “Even if you regain your memories you will have lived for however long as Anna and that may have changed your outlook on life.”
Anna sipped her hot chocolate. “I honestly don’t think it is possible to go back to who I was before, but there’s a part of me that wishes I could. When I’m not with someone who knew me then I feel free and then I go home to parents who only want their daughter back, so it’s as though their incapable of seeing that, no matter what I do or say, in some way I am their daughter.” She sighed. “I want people to understand that I will have changed in some way even if I get my memory back, but I don’t think they want to.”
“I take it talking to them hasn’t worked.”
“It’s very much like talking to a brick wall some days, especially when I try to talk to the male parent. He doesn’t seem to want to understand, and he’s still calling me by my other name, so I’ve just stopped trying.”
Vitali could see the tears in Anna’s eyes and all he wanted to do was give her a hug. “I hope things will get better with him.”
“So do I, Vitali, but I don’t think it will. He just can’t accept what has happened.”
“What’s it like talking to the other parent?”
“In some ways it’s better because she understands why I needed to use a different name. Then there are times, which are getting more regular, when she wants to spend hours going through old photo albums and talking about her memories as though it’s going to pull my memories out from wherever it is they are. I hate it.” Anna sighed. “The only person who really is helping is Lloyd, but even he can’t convince the parents to give me what I need.”
“If I was in that same situation, either as a friend or parent of a person with amnesia, I don’t know how I’d react, but I hope I wouldn’t act in a way that would make it harder for them. I can understand how difficult it could be though, to make sure that you didn’t push your expectations onto them.”
“The problem is I understand too. I have no idea how I’d react if I was in Lloyd’s shoes, or my parents’, or one of my old friends’, and I hate to think I might have been just like them. Pushing for memories to return or for someone to live up to a certain expectations is so hard to deal with for a person in my position, which isn’t something that anyone else could really understand. They haven’t wanted to remember something so much that it actually seems to push the memories further away, in part, I think, because I don’t want to have to remember. I want my memory to come back naturally.”
Vitali looked at Anna and wondered what he would do if he was in her position. Being the one with the amnesia rather than simply knowing someone who had lost all of their memories. It was difficult to imagine, but it made him feel grateful for the first time that he did have a memory. Like everyone he forgot things sometimes. That was a part of life. He’d just never stopped before to think what it would be like to not remember his sixth birthday party or the day he went to the beach and ended up with sunstroke.
“What exactly do you remember?” he asked, even though he was worried the question might be insulting. “Other than the storylines to all the books on your bookcase.”
Anna smiled. “I remember knowledge. It’s really weird because I can remember how to play the recorder, but I have no idea when I learnt to play it or when the last time I used one was.” She shrugged. “Sometimes I think that is what makes it so difficult for everyone. I can still recite nursery rhymes and talk to you about the formation of rocks, but I can’t remember the last party I went to or why my ‘best friend’ is my best friend.”
“Your ability to create new memories wasn’t affected?”
Anna shook her head. “I half wish it was, because then I wouldn’t have to remember all the difficult conversations I’ve had with people. At the same time I’m grateful for it, you know? Without being able to create memories now I think I would have trouble believing that I did have one, before the accident.”
“If you had the choice, would you move away and begin again so that you didn’t have to deal with the difficulties?”
“I don’t know.” Anna sipped her hot chocolate again and Vitali wondered what she thought of it. “It would be nice to not have to deal with everything, but running away from my problems seems counter-productive.” She smiled. “Having even an hour just to be me is enough to make me strong enough to cope with going home.”
“Is that why you came here?”
“It was part of the reason. I also needed to talk to my tutors about what I’m going to do.” She bit her lip. “Lloyd told me all about the plans I made for what I was going to do once I finished my exams and now I don’t know what I want. Taking time out until I’ve remembered who I am was one of the possibilities I thought about but I don’t want to do that. At the same time I can’t just follow Charlotte’s plan for her life. I’ve got some time to think about things, so that’s what I need to do.”
“Give yourself a break from thinking, just for a moment.” Vitali smiled. “You seem to have done a lot of it recently. If you were just letting yourself do what you want to do, what would your plan be?”
There was a moment of silence. “An art class would be interesting and I’ve been thinking about maybe trying out photography.” Anna smiled. “I was online a couple of days ago and there were some beautiful photos, so that’s become an interest.” She shrugged. “At the same time I still want to be doing the academic things, like law and psychology.”
“Do both. Where are you in your studies?”
“Charlotte was planning on taking some new classes this year because she decided that she didn’t want to do A2 this year. I have no idea why, but it does give me a tiny bit of leeway.”
Vitali nodded. “Well, that gives you a chance to do an art class, along with the academic things.”
“Maybe. I just worry that it will be too much work and I’ll end up failing or something.”
“College is all about learning who you are, Anna. Whatever you do next is going to be affected by what you do while you’re here, and if you want my opinion right now you need the time to begin coming to terms with what happened.” He smiled at her. “Regaining your memory naturally isn’t something that can be rushed.”
“I know you’re right.” Anna sighed. “I think I’m letting other people’s expectations affect me too much. Charlotte’s father wants me to just follow the plan and take my AS exams this year, followed by doing A2 next year, but I can’t let him force me into doing things I don’t want to do or don’t feel ready to do.”
“No one can.” Vitali sipped his cappucino. “I’ve only just realised that myself.”
“Is that why you’re here?”
He nodded. “Yeah, I made the decision last night and come in to talk to my tutor today.”
“Who was effecting your choices?”
“Everyone, I think. When I came to college it was because my friends were and I didn’t want to be in sixth form by myself, so I just went for subjects that I’d taken at GCSE without stopping to think about what I actually wanted to do. I am sort of glad I did because if I hadn’t I wouldn’t have met Oliver and Megan, but I feel like I wasted a year, so I hope that I have made the right choices this time.” He smiled. “I honestly think I have.”
“I want to make the right choices, but I’m not sure if I can. How can I make them if I don’t know who I am?”
Vitali looked at her. “Make Anna’s choices, not Charlotte’s. I don’t know how many days of memory you have, but that is Anna, that is the person you chose to be and that is the person you should be. Charlotte is gone for now. Maybe she’ll come back, which is something you’ll have to deal with when it happens. There is the possibility that she won’t. If you cling on to what you feel you need to do for her then you’ll be doing yourself a disservice.”
“I feel like a twin.” Anna smiled wryly. “It’s like my twin, Charlotte, died in the accident and I’m trying to live her life for her.” She shook her head. “What I need to focus on is me, no matter what happens in the future, which is going to be difficult because neither of the parents accept that I am me rather than Charlotte.”
“It’s possible they never will.”
“I know. They just want their daughter and if I can never become that person it’s going to be very difficult. I feel like, if they don’t, I’m going to have to basically cut them out of my life, which is something I don’t want to do.”
“Give it some time and see what happens.” Vitali smiled. “You can’t make all these choices right now, because things can change, you will change, and it’s impossible to know for sure what might happen in a couple of months times.”
“With the parents I feel like I have to make the choice now. When I get home I will be asked if my memory has returned yet and when I say it hasn’t they’ll look all disappointed, which makes me feel like everything is my fault. From what I’ve heard the accident was just an accident, so nothing is my fault, but I hate feeling like I have to retrieve my memory. It’s like they seem to think I should be spending all my days just focusing on pulling it back from wherever it went and I can’t do that. If I did then I would end up wasting maybe a week, a month, a year, or more on something I have absolutely no control over.”
“Have you tried hitting your head on something to see if that knocks the memories back into place?”
Anna smiled. “I did actually think of that and then I realised that this is real life, so the likelihood of it working is probably nil.” She laughed. “I wish things were that easy.”
“It will get easier though, even if your memories don’t return. If you want I can introduce you to my friends and hopefully it will help to have a group of new friends who don’t expect anything from you.”
“That would be really nice.” She sipped her hot chocolate. “I just don’t know if that’s fair on your friends.”
Vitali shrugged. “I’ll give them the choice. I’m not going to make them meet you if they don’t want to, but I know that both of them will think seriously about what I’m asking them to do.” He smiled. “You’re going to need support in the weeks and months to come.”
“Thank you.”
“What for?”
“For not acting as though there’s something seriously wrong with me just because I lost my memory, giving me some time to talk to you about my life and how I feel, and being a nice person. I’ve needed someone like you in my life since the accident.”
“I’m simply being me, Anna, so there’s no need to thank me, but I do appreciate it.” Their eyes met, for a moment, before he glanced at the time. “I’ve got to get to class now, but I can give you my number. If you need anyone to talk to you can call me.”