He woke to excruciating pain. It felt like an army of fire ants covered his body, stinging and biting. His yell brought a heavy-set nurse running to the side of the bed.
“You’re awake,” she said, and he grimaced at the obvious observation.
His eyes focused enough to recognize the sterile white walls and beeping machines of a hospital.
“Are you in pain?” she asked. Again, she had a real grasp of the obvious.
“I’ll get the doctor.” The nurse left, and he bit his tongue to keep from screaming out again. He hoped she wouldn’t take long.
Minutes that seemed like a lifetime passed, and the nurse returned with a ridiculously young doctor in tow. The doctor looked at his chart, and he couldn’t repress a moan from escaping his lips. The doctor glanced up.
“I’ll up your dosage of morphine,” he said. “But first — can you tell me your name?”
He felt annoyance rise in him, of course he knew his name. He opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. His mind was a blank, white canvas. He panicked, tried to sit up, and the pain sent him deep into a welcomed darkness.
* * *
When he next awoke, it was to the sensation of floating in water. He felt so grateful, he wanted to cry. But then his thoughts turned to his conversation with the doctor, and panic crept into his throat again. He forced himself to breathe, and as he calmed down, disjointed thoughts flitted into his mind.
Pictures of a woman he knew to be his mom…a younger sister in pigtails…the same girl, older, in a wedding dress…another woman in a wedding dress, next to him this time…a newborn boy held in his arms as tears fell down his face…then a girl, and another boy…and a goofy yellow lab…oh, my gosh, he loved that dog.
The images hurt, and one thought danced at the edge of his mind, just out of reach. Finally, it clarified.
David. My name is David.
* * *
By the time the doctor returned to check on him again, David remembered all of it. He and Rebecca had married too young. Three kids in close succession had caused him to feel suffocated. He drank too much, and he was, admittedly, a mean drunk. Then, he had met a woman at work, Angie, and well, one thing led to another. He’d been with her in the hotel the day the fire broke out. She had left, and he stayed to take a nap, for goodness’ sake.
“Don’t worry, temporary amnesia is common in cases like yours,” the doctor said. Everything will come back to you in a few days.”
David winced, opened his mouth to tell him that it already had, but stopped short. He said nothing and simply nodded.
“You’ve been in a fire. You have third degree burns over the left half of your face. Plastic surgery is possible in the future, but you will always have some degree of scarring.”
David barely listened as the doctor described a couple of weeks in the ICU, then another one or two in the burn unit followed by outpatient care.
The doctor paused.
“You’re lucky, actually. Second degree burns on your back and left arm, but otherwise you’re OK. You should be out of here within a month. A lot of the others weren’t so lucky.”
David closed his eyes.
“I’ll let you rest.”
Alone again, an idea took hold. David remembered 9/11 when the terrorists attacked the Twin Towers. His friend, Brian, was in the North tower when it happened. His body was never found; they assumed he had died.
But what if he hadn’t? What if he just, you know, left.
He could do that. No one at the hospital knew who he was, no one at home would know he was here.
Rebecca and the kids would be better off without him, he told himself. He could go somewhere, hitchhike, head to California. No one would recognize him. He could get work, dry out, start over. He could be a better man.
The nurse came into his room, a different one, young and kind of pretty. She noticed the tears in his eyes.
“Are you in pain? I can ask the doctor to up your dose.”
David smiled at her and shook his head.
“No, I’m fine. I think I’m going to be just fine.”
* * *
Today’s prompt: If your entire life burnt down, what aspects of yourself would you leave in the ashes?