I wake with a start. My body is covered with a thin layer of sweat. I was having the nightmare again, but that isn't what woke me up.
Someone is in my apartment.
I creep out of my bed quietly. It’s mid-morning. I don't know what day it is. The pounding in my head and the wobbly sensation I feel when I stand up tells me that I have been drinking heavily; possibly for days. I squeeze my eyes shut to steady my vision and grab the bat that I keep by the door as I walk down the hall. I cock it over my shoulder and prepare to clean the clock of whatever bold soul is trying to rob me in broad daylight. But when I round the corner I see that it is a woman. And as I look closer, I see that it is Dana. Dana, naked in my kitchen, crouched on the floor, scooping coffee beans into her hands and putting them back in the can.
"Oh!" she squeaks, slightly startled. "I was trying to make some coffee and I spilled the beans…” Then she starts to laugh, snorting and covering her mouth."Get it? I spilled the beans?"
"No, I meant what are you doing here, in my kitchen, in my apartment?"
Dana frowns and stands up. She is painfully thin. I can see each rib pronounced and rigid under her skin. "I can leave if you want—“
"No!" I nearly shout, triggering a sharp, bright pain in my head. I press the heels of my hands into my eyes. They feel like they are trying to escape my skull. "I'm trying to ask you..." I begin very slowly, "...how you got here in the first place."
"You came looking for me, silly. Don't you remember?"
I shake my head and then laugh mirthlessly. "Of course not. But that's not really a surprise to you, is it?”
“Not really,” she says with a shrug. “You forget things a lot.”
I open the pantry and pull out the broom.
“I used to think you were just being an ass. You know how guys are. They love you when the lights are off, but when they see you in the street they act like they don’t know you.” She takes the broom out of my hands and starts sweeping up. “After a while I realized that you really weren’t being an ass. You just didn’t remember me. Did you get in a car accident or something?”
“No,” I mutter, shaking my head. But maybe it is time for me to acknowledge that something just as traumatic may have scarred my psyche.
More than anything I want to know what Dana knows about me. So after we shower and dress, I take her down to the diner on the corner to eat. I listen to her babble once again. This time her ramble has a little more direction. She questions why organic food is so much more expensive if they don't have to use all those pesticides to grow it. And she wonders if global warming is real or is it just a plot concocted by the government to get everyone to buy hybrids. I listen to her talk until the food comes and then I watch as this tiny, elf-like woman devours a burger the size of my hand.
"Dana," I begin, once she finally slows down and eats at a more human pace.
"Can I ask you something?"
I pause for a moment to find the right words. "How am I with you?"
"What do you mean?"she asks.
I struggle to find words that make sense. Words that don't make me sound like a lunatic.
"You mean when you're the other Joaquin?"
Her choice of words startles me. To my knowledge, I had never used this phrase in her presence.
"Yes," I answer breathlessly.
"Funny you should ask that, because I was thinking about it earlier in your kitchen." She gnaws on a rubbery french fry. "It's weird. This Joaquin right here doesn't seem to like me. I would even go so far as to say that he is disgusted by me."
I try my best to keep a straight face. I can't be sure how she would respond to me telling her that I find her repulsive. That the idea of having sex with her makes me feel like scrubbing my skin with a Brillo pad.
"But the other, Joaquin..." She suddenly goes all dreamy on me. "He's really sumthin'," she says nodding and smiling.
I roll my eyes."Could you elaborate?"
She leans forward on her elbows. "Well, the other Joaquin is really sort of passionate. Whenever I see him—or you, whatever—he'll just grab me and kiss me really hard. Like he could just eat me alive. And the sex...it's amazing. It's like violent and raw and delicious—“
"Stop." I demand, holding up my hand. I don't want to visualize us having sex anymore. The memory of the one encounter is more than enough. "Do we ever talk?"
"No, the other Joaquin doesn't talk much. Not since that first night when you found me." She tucks her stringy hair behind her ears and continues eating her fries."You have some wicked dreams, you know that?"
"What do you mean?"
She looks thoughtful—well, as thoughtful as Dana can look. "It's like you're awake. Your eyes are open, but you're clearly sleeping because you're talking to people who aren't in the room."
I frown, contemplating the truth in this. No one has ever told me I talk in my sleep before.
"You cry a lot, too."
"When I'm the other Joaquin or when I'm sleeping?"
"Both, but mostly when you're sleeping." She picks up her soda and sucks it down. "By the way, who's Lisette?"
I clench my teeth."What did you just ask me?"
Dana's eyes are like mine. They give away her emotions. Right now her eyes are telling me that she’s afraid, and she should be. She has just uttered the name I have spent most of my adult life trying to forget.
“I—I was just wondering. You're always saying her name in your sleep. I just wanted to know who she was—”
"Let's get something straight. We may have fucked, but you don't know me. And the next time you see me, it would behoove you to act appropriately." I stand up and leave, not really caring what Dana thinks or how she feels. How dare she speak that name to me as if she knows me? If she knew me at all, she would know she must never say that name to me. Ever. There is hurt and anger attached to that name that I will probably never resolve. When I went to see that psychiatrist a year ago, I was barely able to think of her without going into fits of anger or dissolving into tears. Now Dana tells me that I haven't given up that habit at all. I just cry in my sleep and take it out on her in bed.
I try to make a connection between what I can remember and what I am learning about myself. Then as I open the door, I remember the last thing I wanted to do before I blacked out again.
I take off my coat and head into the living room. All of my journals are on a bookshelf behind the couch. I grab all the ones labeled 2007 and sit them on the coffee table. I stare at them for a moment; feeling like I’m in possession of a handwritten copy of the book of Revelations. I fish a red ink pen out of the cup on the side table and pick up the book labeled January 2007. I circle poems or passages that don't seem familiar to me as I read each entry. In the end, I find that there aren't that many I don't recognize. Most of it can be chalked up to the passage of time. I do the same thing for all the journals. February, March, April, May, June, but when I get to July something strange happens to the entries. They are written in my handwriting, but as I start to read them I know they weren't written by me. Not just because of the content and subject matter, but also because it isn't my voice.
When I read these words, I can't hear myself saying them. I can't see myself writing them. The same is true for August and most of September. They speak of violent, sexual conquests that I don't remember having. The detail is so graphic that it makes pictures in my mind of women bound and contorted in ways that I would never even dream of doing.
I close my eyes and try to remember something, anything about last summer. Instead of my own memories, I catch snatches of memories that belong to the other Joaquin.
Is this possible? Have I really lost this big chunk of time? Am I some type of serial rapist during these black-outs? Did I really do all these things?
I am trying to sort this out when I feel my cell phone vibrate in my pocket. I pull it out reluctantly. I don't want to talk to anyone. The only person I want to talk to is this mysterious part of myself and I don't know how to reach him.
The number is unfamiliar to me, but I answer it anyway.
"Noor..." An unspeakable relief washes over me.
"How are you?"
“I don't know." I answer softly. "How long has it been since we last saw each other?"
"Two weeks." She sounds sure of it. But in my mind I just left her apartment yesterday morning.
"What has happened?"
I search for the words to tell her what I discovered about myself. I try to tell her that the Joaquin she knew is slowly disappearing and I don't know how to stop it. I open my mouth to say these things but all I manage to say is, "I need you."
I feel a peace and calm come over me the moment Noor steps through my door. She doesn't hesitate to embrace me. I can't imagine how I look to her. I’m hung over. I need to shave and probably a haircut, but she only looks in my eyes and says, "What can I do?"
I take her into the living room and hand over all of my journals. I show her the differences between the things I know I wrote and the things that were written by that other side of me. She pores over the words and after about an hour of going back and forth, she finally closes the books and sits back on the couch.
"I think it's time you told me about Lisette."
I flinch at hearing her name again. "I told you about her already."
"The whole story. Even the parts that you don’t want to talk about."
"She has nothing to do with it."
"I think she does."
"Well, I don't want to talk about it." I was trying hard not to get angry but I can feel the pressure building behind my eyes.
"I think you need to."
"Why do you care?"
"Because I love you, Joaquin."
Her words hang in the air between us and then seem to beat against my chest forcing their way in.
"How can you love me? You've only spoken to me or even been in the same room a handful of times."
"What does that mean? I don't need to see you everyday to be in love with you."
I stand up and start pacing. I didn’t intend for this to happen. I didn't sleep with her for this exact reason. Women are drawn to me. It’s something that I learned about myself early in life. There was a time when it felt empowering, but now that I know I can't or won’t fall in love, it just seems like a liability.
"Don't love me, Noor. You don't know me."
She laughs dispassionately then stands up and walks over to me. "You say, ‘don't love me’, as if I have a choice in the matter. You say, ‘you don't know me’, as if you know yourself." She rakes her fingers through her hair and looks up at me. Her eyes are full of longing. "In my dreams I am with you every night. You haunt me the way she haunts you."
I try to turn away from her.
"No," she says turning me toward her again. "I want to know about her. I want to know how I can help you forget her." She reaches out for me; her hands slip under my shirt searching for bare skin. Her fingers creep up my back like a timid child. I wonder if she can sense how much her touch grounds me. Can she possibly now how much I am beginning to need her?
"Sometimes I look in your eyes and I don't know who I'm seeing. Sometimes I look at you and I see all I could ever want." She presses her lips to my throat making me aware of how much my pulse has quickened with her in my arms. "I want to know what she did to you. I want to help you heal."
"Heal,” I echo softly. The word sounds good to me. I sigh and bury my face in her hair. "I moved here three years ago hoping to make a new start. But it seems all I've done is start over." I hold her closer until I feel safe and comforted. Until I feel I can trust her. "These are things that I've never told anyone," I whisper. "But I'll tell you."