I spin the volume up all the way, so it’s blasting even my battle-worn eardrums. That, along with the racket of downtown Brooklyn waking up—metal grates grinding and buses chugging—is pretty damn loud. So when a voice pierces the din, I almost don’t hear it. But there it is, the voice I’ve been listening for all these years.
“Adam!” it screams.
I don’t believe it at first. I turn off Sufjan. I look around. And then there she is, in front of me now, her face streaked with tears. Saying my name again, like it’s the first word I’ve ever heard.
I let go. I truly did. But there she is. Right in front of me.
“I thought I’d lost you. I went back and looked for you on the bridge but I didn’t see you and I figured you’d walked back to the Manhattan side and I got this dumb idea that I could beat you over in a cab and ambush you on the other side. I know this is selfish. I heard what you said up there on the bridge, but we can’t leave it like that. I can’t. Not again. We have to say good-bye differently. Bet—”
“Mia?” I interrupt. My voice is a question mark and a caress. It stops her babbling cold. “How did you know?”
The question is out of the blue. Yet she seems to know exactly what I’m asking about. “Oh. That,” she says. “That’s complicated.”
I start to back away from her. I have no right to ask her, and she isn’t under any obligation to tell me. “It’s okay. We’re good now. I’m good now.”
“No, Adam, stop,” Mia says.
“I want to tell you. I need to tell you everything. I just think I need some coffee before I can get it together enough to explain.”
She leads me out of downtown into a historic district to a bakery on a cobblestoned street. Its windows are darkened, the door locked, by all signs the place is closed. But Mia knocks and within a minute a bushyhaired man with flour clinging to his unruly beard swings open the door and shouts bonjour to Mia and kisses her on both cheeks. Mia introduces me to Hassan, who disappears into the bakery, leaving the door open so that the warm aroma of butter and vanilla waft into the morning air. He returns with two large cups of coffee and a brown paper bag, already staining dark with butter. She hands me my coffee, and I open it to see it’s steaming and black just like I like it.
It’s morning now. We find a bench on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, another one of Mia’s favorite New York spots, she tells me. It’s right on the East River, with Manhattan so close you can almost touch it. We sit in companionable silence, sipping our coffee, eating Hassan’s still-warm croissants. And it feels so good, so like old times that part of me would like to just click a magic stopwatch, exist in this moment forever. Except there are no magic stopwatches and there are questions that need to be answered. Mia, however, seems in no rush. She sips, she chews, she looks out at the city. Finally, when she’s drained her coffee, she turns to me.
“I didn’t lie before when I said I didn’t remember anything about the accident or after,” she begins. “But then I did start remembering things. Not exactly remembering, but hearing details of things and having them feel intensely familiar. I told myself it was because I’d heard the stories over and over, but that wasn’t it.
“Fast-forward about a year and a half. I’m on my seventh or eighth therapist.”
“So you are in therapy?”
She gives me a cockeyed look. “Of course I am. I used to go through shrinks like shoes. They all told me the same thing.”
“That I was angry. That I was angry the accident happened. That I was angry I was the only survivor. That I was angry at you.” She turns to me with an apologetic grimace. “The other stuff all made sense, but you I didn’t get. I mean, why you? But I was. I could feel how . . .” she trails off for a second, “furious I was,” she finishes quietly. “There were all the obvious reasons, how you withdrew from me, how much the accident changed us. But it didn’t add up to this lethal fury I suddenly felt once I got away. I think really, somewhere in me, I must’ve known all along that you asked me to stay—way before I actually remembered it. Does that make any sense?”
No. Yes. I don’t know. “None of this makes sense,” I say.
“I know. So, I was angry with you. I didn’t know why. I was angry with the world. I did know why. I hated all my therapists for being useless. I was this little ball of self-destructive fury, and none of them could do anything but tell me that I was a little ball of self-destructive fury. Until I found Nancy, not one of them helped me as much as my Juilliard profs did. I mean, hello! I knew I was angry. Tell me what to do with the anger, please. Anyhow, Ernesto suggested hypnotherapy. It helped him quit smoking, I guess.” She elbows me in the ribs.
Of course Mr. Perfect wouldn’t smoke. And of course, he’d be the one who helped Mia unearth the reason she hates me.
“It was kind of risky,” Mia continues. “Hypnosis tends to unlock hidden memories. Some trauma is just too much for the conscious mind to handle and you have to go in through a back door to access it. So I reluctantly submitted to a few sessions. It wasn’t what I thought it would be. No swinging amulet, no metronome. It was more like those guided imagery exercises they’d sometimes have us do at camp. At first, nothing happened, and then I went to Vermont for the summer and quit.
“But a few weeks later, I started to get these flashes. Random flashes. Like I could remember a surgery, could actually hear the specific music the doctors played in the operating room. I thought about calling them to ask if what I remembered was true, but so much time had passed I doubted they’d remember. Besides, I didn’t really feel like I needed to ask them. My dad used to say that when I was born I looked so totally familiar to him, he was overwhelmed with this feeling that he’d known me all his life, which was funny, considering how little I looked like him or Mom. But when I had my first memories, I felt that same certainty, that they were real and mine. I didn’t put the pieces together fully until I was working on a cello piece—a lot of memories seem to hit when I’m playing—anyhow, it was Gershwin, Andante con moto e poco rubato.”
I open my mouth to say something, but at first nothing comes out. “I played you that,” I finally say.
“I know.” She doesn’t seem surprised by my confirmation.
I lean forward, put my head between my knees, and take deep breaths. I feel Mia’s hand gently touch the back of my neck.
“Adam?” Her voice is tentative. “There’s more. And here’s where it gets a little freaky. It makes a certain sense to me that my mind somehow recorded the things that were happening around my body while I was unconscious. But there are other things, other memories. . . . ”
“Like what?” My voice is a whisper.
“Most of it is hazy, but I have certain strong memories of things I couldn’t know because I wasn’t there. I have this one memory. It’s of you. It’s dark out. And you’re standing outside the hospital entrance under the floodlights, waiting to come see me. You’re wearing your leather jacket, and looking up. Like you’re looking for me. Did you do that?”
Mia cups my chin up and lifts my face, this time apparently seeking some affirmation that this moment was real. I want to tell her that she’s right, but I’ve completely lost the ability to speak. My expression, however, seems to offer the validation she’s after. She nods her head slightly. “How? How, Adam? How could I know that?”
I’m not sure if the question’s rhetorical or if she thinks I have a clue to her metaphysical mystery. And I’m in no state to answer either way because I’m crying. I don’t realize it till I taste the salt against my lips. I can’t remember the last time I’ve cried but, once I accept the mortification of sniveling like a baby, the floodgates open and I’m sobbing now, in front of Mia. In front of the whole damn world.
The first time I ever saw Mia Hall was six years ago. Our high school had this arts program and if you chose music as your elective, you could take music classes or opt for independent study to practice in the studios. Mia and I both went for the independent study.
I’d seen her playing her cello a couple of times but nothing had really registered. I mean she was cute and all, but, not exactly my type. She was a classical musician. I was a rock guy. Oil and water and all that.
I didn’t really notice her until the day I saw her not playing. She was just sitting in one of the soundproof practice booths, her cello resting gently against her knees, her bow poised a few inches above the bridge. Her eyes were closed and her brow was a little furrowed. She was so still, it seemed like she’d taken a brief vacation from her body. And even though she wasn’t moving, even though her eyes were closed, I somehow knew that she was listening to music then, was grabbing the notes from the silence, like a squirrel gathering acorns for the winter, before she got down to the business of playing. I stood there, suddenly riveted by her, until she seemed to wake up and start playing with this intense concentration. When she finally looked at me, I hustled away.
After that, I became kind of fascinated by her and by what I guessed was her ability to hear music in the silence. Back then, I’d wanted to be able to do that, too. So I took to watching her play, and though I told myself the reason for my attention was because she was as dedicated a musician as I was and that she was cute, the truth was that I also wanted to understand what she heard in the silence.
During all the time we were together, I don’t think I ever found out. But once I was with her, I didn’t need to. We were both music-obsessed, each in our own way. If we didn’t entirely understand the other person’s obsession, it didn’t matter, because we understood our own.
I know the exact moment Mia is talking about. Kim and I had driven to the hospital in Sarah’s pink Dodge Dart. I don’t remember asking Liz’s girlfriend to borrow her car. I don’t remember driving it. I don’t remember piloting the car up into the hills where the hospital is or how I even knew the way. Just that one minute I was in a theater in downtown Portland, sound-checking for that night’s show when Kim showed up to deliver the awful news. And the next minute I was standing outside the hospital.
What Mia inexplicably remembers, it’s sort of the first pinpoint of clarity in that whole petri-dish blur between hearing the news and arriving at the trauma center. Kim and I had just parked the car and I’d walked out of the garage ahead of her. I’d needed a couple of seconds to gather my strength, to steel myself for what I was about to face. And I’d remembered looking at the hulking hospital building and wondering if Mia was somewhere in there, and feeling a heart-in-throat panic that she’d died in the time it had taken Kim to fetch me. But then I’d felt this wave of something, not really hope, not really relief, but just a sort of knowledge that Mia was still in there. And that had been enough to pull me through the doors.
They say that things happen for a reason, but I don’t know that I buy that. I don’t know that I’ll ever see a reason for what happened to Kat, Denny, and Teddy that day. But it took forever to get in to see Mia. I got turned away from the ICU by Mia’s nurses, and then Kim and I devised this whole plan to sneak in. I don’t think I realized it at the time, but I think in a weird way, I was probably stalling. I was gathering my strength. I didn’t want to lose it in front of her. I guess part of me somehow knew that Mia, deep in her coma, would be able to tell.
Of course, I ended up losing it in front of her anyway. When I finally saw her the first time, I almost blew chunks. Her skin looked like tissue paper. Her eyes were covered with tape. Tubes ran in and out of every part of her body, pumping liquids and blood in and draining some scary-ass shit out. I’m ashamed to say it, but when I first came in, I wanted to run away.