Aveny was required to meet with both a social worker and a psychiatrist before they let Brand in. The psychiatrist was a kindly, albeit harried woman with brown hair and bright purple glasses who asked Aveny a series of questions.
Had this ever happened before? “No.” (Yes.)
Did she remember anything? “No.” (Yes – almost everything.)
What was the last thing she remembered? “Going to sleep in my own bed.” (Falling out the window of an animal rescue center, fighting with a gas station attendant, and limping through town with the wind blowing up my blanket-skirt.)
Did she ever get headaches? “Sure, but who doesn’t?” (Especially after getting hit by a boat.)
Did the headaches get worse after her last accident?
Of course they’d know about that, now that they knew who she was, she realized.
She paused, then nodded. Answering in the affirmative seemed like the better option somehow – even though it wasn’t strictly speaking (or any form of speaking) true.
Did mental illness run in her family? Does the Nile run through Egypt? “Yes.” That, at least, was true.
What kinds of mental illness? “All the usual things – depression, anxiety.” (And something much worse.)
Had anyone ever been committed? “Yes.”
She saw a knowing gleam in the psychiatrist’s eye. She’s got me figured, Aveny thought, maybe even better than I do.
They ran Aveny through a CAT scan to check her brain and drew more blood than she would have guessed swam in her veins.
The social worker asked her if Brand ever hurt her or the kids. Oh God, Aveny thought. They think Brand did this. Her stomach twisted at the thought. “No. Never,” she replied. But I can’t seem to stop hurting him.
The social worker gazed at Aveny intently. “Are you sure? Has he ever threatened you? Did you have a fight?”
She felt sick. “No. Absolutely not. He would never do anything to me or the kids.”
It went on for hours – and that was before the police arrived. They knew she’d been at the marine rescue center. Brand had filed a missing person report. When Aveny called, he reported it immediately and they traced the number.
The police wanted to know how she’d gotten in and what she knew about the missing seal. She claimed ignorance. What else was there to do?
They took the lab coat as evidence. Thank God I hid the skin under the mattress, she thought.
At every turn, she said the only thing she could say – aside from the truth – which was that she didn’t remember anything – nothing at all. Then, and only then, was she allowed to see her husband.
Unlike everyone else, when Brand finally stepped through the door, he said nothing. He didn’t ask where she’d been or what had happened. The doctors had already told him everything; she knew by the way he looked at her, askance, as if searching to see if she was, in fact, the same person he’d once known and loved.
“I’m so sorry.”
He gave a curt nod. “I’m glad you’re safe.”
“How long …?” she trailed off, unable to finish.
The words rang with heart wrenching finality. Thirteen days… Thirteen days.
Tears burned under her eyelids and threatened to spill onto her cheeks. Thirteen days.
“They’re with Miriam. They’re really upset.”
She nodded. “I’m so sorry.”
“What happened?” he asked, desperation finally breaking through his exhausted facade.
Her soul screamed to tell him everything – to finally share it all. But it was just too fantastical and even she wasn’t even sure if it was true. She didn’t trust herself anymore. “I don’t know,” she replied, her eyes pleading. “I’m so, so sorry.”
He stared at her, betrayal etched in every feature.
What else could she say? “I don’t remember anything,” she said. “I’m so sorry.”
He ran a heavy hand across his face, nodded and sat – silently, stoically – next to the bed. She let him have his momentary peace. There was nothing left to say but everything, anyway.
The hospital discharged her to Brand’s care with an imposing regimen of pills – for infection, for inflammation, for clotting, for being crazy. She took them all while Brand dutifully watched. He had to – it was part of the discharge orders. He even checked the inside of her mouth to make sure they were gone.
He took her to her psychiatry appointments and other follow-ups as well. But he didn’t reach out. He didn’t connect. He was perhaps even more wounded than she.
Aveny bore it all as penance. She wanted only to make it right. She stayed home. She took her medication. She didn’t say a word.
The kids were afraid of her at first. “You look different, Mommy,” Tali whispered. “Your eyes are so dark.”
Aveny had never felt so sad.
Miriam overheard and said, “Guess what, Tali? I got you a new book from the library. Would you like to read it?”
Tali nodded excitedly.
“Excellent,” she replied. “How about we have mom read it to you and me together.” She sat down on the couch next to Aveny and pulled Tali onto her lap.
Tears welled in Aveny’s eyes and then poured down her cheeks. Miriam wrapped one arm around her and pulled her in close. “It’s all right. You’re home now. You’re safe.”
Aveny cried until she’d run out of tears, until she felt Tali’s small hand gently brushing the side of her face. “It’s ok momma. We’ll take care of you.”
Eventually the kids grew brave enough to crawl up and sit next to Aveny on their own, to timidly reach out and touch her arm, to allow her to run her fingers through their hair.
She reveled in each encounter. But they still seemed farther away every day. She longed to reach through the fog and embrace them but it only grew thicker and thicker around them. Aveny was simultaneously exhausted and jittery. Her muscles twitched involuntarily. And no matter how much she slept or what she did, she always felt like she’d just stepped off the Gravitron.
Miriam plied her with so many teas and tinctures, she rarely left the bathroom, but they were no match for all the pharmaceutical drugs. Aveny hated feeling this way but she’d promised to take them and she wasn’t willing to sever the one tiny thread of hope Brand had left.