"He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it..." The rhythmic voice pressed into her head, then droned on, buzzing in the cloud that surrounded her. And slowly the darkness lifted. Light crept through the haze, spreading with a pinkish glow, and then her eyes opened to life again.
As her vision found its focus she saw the shape of a woman, her face averted. Then the woman suddenly turned, looked right at her, and smiled warmly. The droning voice clicked off. The woman's voice was softer and richer. "Hello, honey. My name is Maria..."
She was in a hospital room, attached to beeping monitors and tubes poked into her arms. She did not remember how she had gotten here. She did not remember what had happened to her. The woman, Maria, told her that she had been in a fire, that she had saved Maria's daughter and had come back for Maria but was unable to free her and was knocked out when part of the ceiling fell on them. She had been fearless, the woman said. A hero. Firefighters had arrived in time to pull her and Maria out of the house, but they had a hard time reviving her. Maria had been praying for her life.
She tried to speak, croaking "I...," then stopped, surprised at the strange sound of her own voice. The older woman nodded, waiting. "Who...," she began again, then faltered, her voice dropping to a whisper, "do you know my name?"
Christie. Maria told her she overheard the paramedics asking many questions when they got her breathing again, to make sure her brain was okay, but she had only answered, "Christie, Christie." She didn't remember that name.
But when the orderly came and Maria had to leave, she saw it. The orderly removed her shirt to bathe her, and there on her arms were dark tattoos. On one arm a rose etched in red, drawn with blood dripping from the petals. And the other arm was wrapped with a band of thorny vines woven together, with elaborate lettering above and below: Domine Iesu Christe miserere mei peccatricis. She didn't understand the words. But she saw the name.
After her bath, she slept. When she awoke, Maria was there again. This time the older woman spoke of herself and her daughter. They were leaving soon, moving far away to live near Maria's relatives, where they would be safe. Maria was sure that the fire had been set by her ex-husband, and she wasn't going to give him another chance. They had nothing left here anyway.
"Where do you live, dear?"
She couldn't answer. She didn't know where she lived, or even if she had a family looking for her. It was a horrible feeling, as if she had been thrust into a place where she didn't belong... yet in some unknown way, she did. She needed a connection badly, a connection to her lost life. Something Maria couldn't give. Something the hospital couldn't give, either. The orderly had told her they had no identification for her, assuring her, though, that the memory almost always came back in time.
"I don't know." It was all she could say to Maria, her voice trembling.
"Oh honey, I'm sorry. Don't worry about that. I'm sure that will be taken care of. Someone's looking for you right now, you can be sure of that." Maria took her hand. "And you're always welcome with us, any time, for as long as you need. It's just me and my girl now. And we owe our lives to you." The older woman's eyes were wet. She began to look through her purse. "We're not leaving for a week, if I'm not here call me, for anything... you could even go with us. You're family now." Maria gave her a slip of paper with a phone number on it. "But I'm sure someone will come for you soon."
The days that followed were a blur of nurses and tests and no new information. She felt stronger and grew impatient with nothing to do but sleep and watch television. Her muscles itched to be used. And the hospital had no answers for her—no one had come for her. Maria was faithful, even bringing her daughter a few times, and she liked them both. Missed them when they weren't there. But she felt an increasingly urgent need to know more, to find her connection, her real life.
Then, the day after Maria brought her some clothes, she just got up and walked out of the hospital. The sunshine felt good. But she didn't know where she was going; she just followed the main street, hoping something would look familiar.
She hadn't walked five blocks when someone approached her. "Ange... Hey, Ange!" She didn't recognize the rough-looking woman, who was definitely talking to her. "Angel! Girl, where you been?" She didn't know how to respond. "And what you doin' out here? You gotta lay low, I thought thas what you were doin'. They's lookin' for you."
She finally found her voice. "Who?" The young woman stared at her, unbelieving. "Whatchoo mean who? You knifed their girl. She dead now. So now they want you dead." The woman looked around, then pulled her off the street into an alley. "But don' worry, we got you covered. There's a place you can go, jus' let me get holda K and we'll get you there. They won' be able to touch you."
She stepped back from the woman. "I don't know... I don't remember...." The woman had her phone out, making a call. "I got her. Yeah. Yeah, I know where it is. Okay." She took another step back, looking to see if anyone was nearby, and said again "I don't know...." "Angel, trust me. You gotta do this. I ever let you down before? C'mon." But when the woman took her arm, she pulled away. "Wait... hold on... who... I don't know you." That stopped the woman, her face darkening. "Angel, quit that shit. You known me since forever. I know you scared, but you gotta trust me." When she showed no sign of moving, the woman took a step closer, lowering her voice. "I took care a you when your momma flipped and killed your brother an' herself, and I'll take care a you now. We the only family you got. So c'mon, we gotta get outta here."
Her brother. Crying. Something stirred in the dark place inside her head. Slight at first, then rushing over her, pulling her in, gathering intensity until she thought she might throw up. She staggered a little, and the woman grabbed her. The grip was firm and sure. She felt power in the hands that held her, a fierce power in the gaze that urged her to follow. The only family you got. Momma flipped. You knifed their girl. She dead now. Your brother an' herself. Only family you got. Angel.
"Angel... Angel!" She looked into the eyes of someone who knew her, who was holding her up, who would protect her. Her friend. Her sister. Who knew her. "We gotta go. Now!" She felt like she was falling as they started to move, out of the alley and down the street. She stumbled, but the strong hand kept her upright and moving. They were falling together.
The cars and people and storefronts flashed by them, indistinct, a wash of color. They fell faster. Then a sudden cry startled her and she tripped hard and hit the pavement.
When she looked up there was a child. A young girl, with tears in her eyes, her mother bent over her. Lifting her and gently brushing the dirt from her dress. "It's okay, honey. See? Good as new." The girl wiped her eyes, then for a moment their eyes met.
"Ange, c'mon!" She was lifted from the pavement by the strong arms, but then she didn't move. She answered the questioning gaze with a shake of her head. "You got the wrong..." She pulled away from the insistent grip. "I'm not Angel." She turned and started the other way, ignoring the shouts.
Within a block, Christie found a pay phone. She pulled the slip of paper from her pocket.
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