June 17, 1919
I woke up with my face down on a pile of hard, brown earth. “Woke” isn’t exactly the right word. Somehow, I slowly came to consciousness, country scents of sweet, moldering earth and grass filling my nostrils and teasing my eyes open. Green blades of grass swayed a few inches from my face. I stirred, and vague sizzling pain radiated down both legs. My teeth ached; my body throbbed. Am I alive? I wondered, trying to move my toes and various other appendages. Everything seemed to be in working order, though sore. I flexed my left leg and felt it shifting in the dirt. Right leg? Another positive response.
I pushed myself up to sitting and blinked a few times, trying to clear the vision in my left eye that registered only vague shapes and dark shadows. I sat there, rubbing my head and slowly taking stock of my strange surroundings. It appeared as though I was sitting in the middle of a corn row, clearly in a rural part of the world. America? I had no idea.
A black stiletto encased my left foot. A gleaming diamanté toe clip winked at me in the bright sunlight. My right foot was bare and muddied, toes still barking from the narrow shoe I’d clearly lost at some point during the night’s festivities. I rested my pounding head in both hands and racked the blank canvas of my mind for something—anything—that would help me understand why I was currently sitting in a corn patch, wearing a black chiffon ball gown and only one shoe.
My mind was as empty and as blank as the arctic tundra. I searched my person for any more clues about my current predicament. There was a diamond ring nestled on the third finger, left hand, but no wedding band. Was I married? Engaged? Or was the ring just a piece of costume jewelry to match my fancy dress?
I felt compression bands around both upper thighs. Rifling through my billowing skirts, I unearthed my bare legs and fought a surge of panic. An empty holster was strapped to my right thigh, and a cinched belt made of black webbing encircled the other. These aren’t party props, I thought warily.
Carefully, I climbed to my feet, hand pressed against my left temple, as if holding in my roiling brain matter, and I limped down the swaying green aisle of cornstalks. Must have been a big night, I thought to myself, promising to stay away from the booze for a long while. Did I have a drinking problem?
Blackouts, it seemed to me, wiped the memory clean of only a few reckless hours, though. In my case, I couldn’t recall a single fact about myself. Nothing. Not even a foggy childhood memory. With slow and painful progress, tripping often on my voluminous skirts, and with several long pauses next to wavering corn stalks, I finally emerged on the edge of the corn field. I almost cried with relief when I spotted two children playing a game of tag in front of a humble farmhouse.
At least my nightmare was populated with people—real people that could help me find my way back to wherever I’d come from. They could give me a glass of water and allow me to rest a moment while all the pertinent details of my life slowly floated to the surface like a waterlogged body. Soon, this frightening blank state of mind would pass.
I limped closer to the children, who stilled immediately when I came into view. They sidled close to one another, hands locked, staring at the approaching apparition that was me. I was aware that I formed an incongruous sight. A woman wearing a black ball gown, limping with a singular heel, emerging from the family corn field wasn’t your normal, everyday sighting.
I stopped just short of the kids. “Are your parents home?” I asked in a croaky whisper. As soon as the words left my lips, the swirled around me. My vision blurred into a speckled field of gray fuzzy splotches, and nausea raced up my throat. Suddenly, I was falling, falling through a dim aperture that was sucking me into it, and I wanted to go into it. Anything to escape this blank, horrible landscape of mind.
Sometime later, faint voices floated to my ears. “Her hair is smoking,” a voice said. “Honey? Honey, can you hear me?”
With some effort, my vision started to return in fuzzy patches. Two shapes hovered over my head: one encased in a kerchief and the other, a bright round shape that was slowly morphing into a kindly-looking man. “Are you all right?” he asked, his brow furrowed with worry.
I groaned, trying to slot the talking heads into some dim alcove of recognition. Is this home? I wondered. “Mom? Dad?” I asked weakly.
“Maybe she needs a glass of milk,” said the man. “Elaine, go get her one.” The kerchiefed shape detached from my field of vision and slipped away.
Elaine? I thought despairingly. That wasn’t my mother’s name. Well, what is your mother’s name, replied a voice in my head. I don’t know, I said to it testily. But I knew it wasn’t Elaine. Slowly, I rose onto an elbow, blinking. My head was clearing, though still frighteningly blank. Both children stood back a few paces, gaping at me.
“You look kind of messed up,” said one of the girls.
I felt kind of messed up. The attire of my new acquaintances brought fresh paroxysms of alarm. I just barely resisted the urge to ask: When am I? They wore simple cotton costumes that seemed to harken to historical times. This is an Amish community, I thought. Of course! The sudden surge of relief was so acute, I stifled the urge to giggle hysterically. The Amish were notoriously resistant to modernization, wearing the same dress style for generations, traveling in horses-drawn buggies. But how in the hell did I get to an Amish community? “Where am I?” I asked, looking around.
“Athens,” said the man.
“I thought the Amish lived mostly in New England,” I said, rubbing my eyes.
An awkward silence ensued, which brought my gaze right up to the man in question. “We ain’t Amish,” he said, shrugging. “We’re corn farmers. My name is Herb. This here is my daughter Barbara, and her friend Olive.”
Not Amish? Alarm spread through me in a slow precipitous climb. And then the words flashed in my mind: You’re not in Kansas anymore. “Kansas?” I asked.
Herb scoffed in a kindly manner. “Ohio. You must have had a real rough night.”
A strange feeling of discombobulation descended upon me, which didn’t help my underlying certainty that everything was wrong, very wrong. Of course everything felt wrong, I reassured myself, but everything felt so strange. Was I a madwoman? Freshly escaped from a sanitarium?
“Here, drink this.” The shape returned, and Herb pressed a glass of cold milk into my palm. “You reckon you’re from around here?”
I took a long drink from the glass. The milk tasted buttery smooth and so fresh—so farmy—that an image of a cow’s udder sprang to mind with creamy milk spurting from it. “I don’t know,” I said, putting the glass down as my stomach roiled. Then I looked into Herb’s kind eyes, hoping for a miracle, and asked, “Am I?”
“Shucks, lady. I sure don’t think so,” he said. “For one, I’ve never seen you before. And for two, that gown sure is a fancy number. People around these parts can’t afford a git-up like that. And even if they could, where would they wear it to? A harvesting get-together down at the town hall?”
He chuckled kindly at his own joke, and I smiled distractedly as the alarm bells in my head started to ring with renewed enthusiasm.
“Do you know your name?” Elaine asked in a delicate tone reserved for people in delicate states.
I looked away, probing the blank contents of my gray matter, praying desperately that a name would float to the surface, anything that would anchor me to an actual person with an actual name and an actual identity. But again my demand for information was met with frightening silence. Edith? I wondered, trying on different names. No that didn’t fit. Madeline? Too fancy. Jennifer? Too common. Elizabeth? Nice name, but it wasn’t mine. “I really don’t know,” I said at last.
“What about Emerald,” Herb said. “That’s the color of your eyes.”
I nodded absentmindedly. It wasn’t my name, but it would do.
“I think we ought to get her over to the hospital, Herb. They’ll be able to help better’n we can.”
There were doctors at the hospital, most likely doctors skilled with brain traumas, doctors who could help me. “That sounds like a great idea,” I replied and started to struggle up to standing. “Thank you.”
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