To my daughter Elizabeth
My epilepsy warrior.
You have taught me about strength, tenacity, and grace.
Go forth and keep fighting.
The first time I lost all memory of Tucker, we had just met.
A nurse in pale pink scrubs led me to the disco room of the epilepsy ward of our children’s hospital, assuring me that the lights and dancing would help induce a seizure. Once the doctors had the data they needed, I could go home.
Colored starbursts cut through the semi-darkness, music pulsing from a speaker in the corner. A tall man in scrubs stood by the door and nodded at me as I stepped inside.
The nurse had assured me the disco room would be swarming with other teen patients, but at first it appeared completely empty.
Then I saw him.
A boy leaned against the far wall, a mirrored ball spinning confetti bits of light across his face. White gauze fastened with blue tape covered the electrodes glued to his head.
The colors muted and changed, breaking my view of him into fragmented pieces like a puzzle not yet put together. Even so, I could tell he was close to seventeen, same as me.
I never got to meet boys my age. Or any boys. Mother made sure of that.
My fingers trailed along the textured wall, my head angled down to conceal my interest. Music blasted through the space, thrashing like a mechanical monster trying to escape. I didn’t recognize the song, but that wasn’t unusual. I wasn’t allowed television, movies, or the internet. My mother controlled my home environment completely.
But not here.
I paused to adjust the cluster of wires snaking from my scalp to a backpack on my shoulder. There was no point in getting to know this boy, even if I dared to approach. Once the seizure struck, everything would be lost. My favorite food. The books I loved. My entire history. Even my name.
The person I knew as myself would be wiped, and I’d be transparent as newly Windexed glass. Vulnerable, too. My hard-won toughness would be replaced with confusion. The next iteration of Ava might be meek. She might even enjoy her mother’s company, at least for a while.
I’d been through this before.
I stole another glance. The boy tapped a glowing white shoe. I couldn’t tell if he was looking at me. We were supposed to dance, get overheated and tired. They needed data from our heads to flow down the wires to our backpacks. The disco room was the last resort for those of us whose brains weren’t cooperating. This boy was probably in the same boat.
We stood on opposite polarities, on the brink of the next terrible thing. Would we collapse at the same time, or would one bear witness to the other?
I began walking again. The two nurses remained near the door, one occasionally checking the bright rectangle of a phone. But they weren’t close to us, which meant I still had time.
Before today, I’d never known precisely when the erasure was coming. My seizures struck on their own schedule, often years apart. Scarcity was my condition’s only good point because it took weeks, sometimes months, to read my journals and reorient myself to the girl I once had been.
But this hospital visit was a planned reset. I’d prepared as best I could, spreading notes to myself throughout my room. My mother was undoubtedly searching for them while I was away, ready to remove any evidence of my past that she disliked. She had her reasons.
I left easy ones to fool her, placed between clothes in my suitcase or sticking out of books. But the good stuff would be impossible for her to find, words in Sharpie written along the edge of the shower curtain in the hospital bathroom. Others were bits of paper hidden in plain sight, tucked among the safety notices tacked on the bulletin board.
The absolutely critical information was written on my body, low enough on my belly to prevent easy detection. I’d been writing on myself since I was old enough to understand that I should.
Trust only this handwriting.
Find your notes.
Remember your life.
I moved within a few feet of the boy, and he looked right at me. I froze, not sure what I was doing. If I had no record of him, no notes or references, he’d be lost to me completely as quickly as he’d arrived.
But maybe that was good. I could live in this moment, only this very one.
His brown hair spilled out beneath the strips of gauze and covered the tops of his ears. I spotted a name stitched on an oval patch over the pocket of his shirt. I couldn’t read it from here, and I didn’t want to stare.
The song ended, and in the moment of quiet, I could almost hear his breathing. My heart thumped so loud it could have been the opening beats to the next melody.
But then another edgy pulse of notes filled the room, making my body vibrate.
The male nurse approached the boy and nudged his shoulder. They both looked at me. I could only assume his nurse wanted him to introduce himself.
Did I want that?
I shifted in my sandals, tugging on the bottom of my shirt. Mother had forgotten I would need a button-down due to the wires. Ransacking my closet this morning before we left turned up only a girl-sized, pink-flowered number. It was snug.
The boy pushed away from the wall. His gaze remained on the floor until the very last moment, when he stopped in front of me and our eyes met.
His mouth made a sound, but the music drowned out his words. I shook my head, uncomprehending. He stepped closer. I caught the scent of laundry detergent and something chocolate. He must have eaten the cake that arrived on the dinner tray. I had, too.
“I’m Tucker!” He was so near, I could have turned my head for a kiss. Not that I would. I’d seen precious few kisses on screen and none in real life.
My head buzzed with anxiety as I said, “I’m Ava.”
“I think we’re already there!” he shouted.
“We’re already there!”
I had no idea what he meant. “Where?”
He pointed at the speaker. “Hell.”
I didn’t know why he was bringing this up, but I said, “Sure.”
He tilted his head, then laughed so loudly that the sound cut through the music. A swoop fluttered through my belly like a butterfly leaving the safety of its perch to wing into the sky.
“What’s so funny?”
He leaned in again, and this time I felt the heat of his nearness. “It’s the song. It’s called ‘Highway to Hell.’”
“Oh!” He’d made a joke. “Yes, we’re already there. In hell.”
“Come here often?” His eyes penetrated mine, dark and filled with amusement. I couldn’t tell their color in the crisscross of light, but they made me smile.
“Never. Do you?”
He laughed again. “God, I hope not.”
He tapped his foot, his head nodding to the beat. His proximity made me feel off-center, as if the core of who I was no longer resided in my body but in the narrow slice of air between us. No book I’d read had ever described a feeling like this. Even with my faulty memory, surely I’d recognize it if I’d felt it before.
The music began to wind down, and our nurses approached. My elation washed over with fear. Was it time to go back to my room? Or to lose everything?
The light changed from its gentle confetti to a flashing strobe. My head spun like I’d been turning in circles. I felt sick and reached out for anything to steady me.
The regular lights popped on as the music died out. A warning tone sounded. The dizzying whirl sharpened to a buzz. I sizzled like a lightning rod, head to belly to hands and feet.
My legs crumpled, and the nurse grasped my body to help me slide safely to the ground. The last thing I saw was his face, watching me with concern.
I dropped to my knees, but not from a seizure. Strobe lights don’t trigger them for me.
Ava was down, her skin pale, her body twitching. My stomach tightened as I was forced to witness what others saw in me. I got it now. Their fear, why they kept their distance.
It was like watching someone die.
I’d never met anyone else with epilepsy. I knew kids my age had it because more than one school nurse had referred to them when I was stuck on a cot in a sick room. But I guess their seizures were under control, because I’d never seen anybody doing what I did.
DeShawn, my nurse, laid a hand on my shoulder. “Tucker, come back over here.”
“I’m not worried about you,” DeShawn said. “We need to give them some room.”
The nurse on the floor pushed Ava’s dark hair from her cheeks. “Ava, come on out of it. Time to start breathing.”
I stood and backed away. Since I’d had about a bazillion and one seizures, I wasn’t worried that Ava was having one now. But as the seconds ticked by, I sensed the tension in DeShawn and the other nurse.
“Time check?” the nurse asked.
“One minute thirty,” DeShawn said. “What’s her typical?”
“Mom says a couple of minutes.”
More seconds passed. I squeezed my hands into fists, then loosened them again.
“You want me to order diazepam?” DeShawn asked.
“Let’s give it thirty more seconds,” Ava’s nurse said.
We waited. I gripped my backpack strap so tightly my fingers howled.
DeShawn looked over at me. “You doing okay, Tucker?”
“Bang-up,” I said. But I wasn’t. My longest seizure had been eighty-five seconds. We were pushing two minutes on this one.
Another minute and nothing.
“Call for diazepam,” the nurse said.
“I need to get him out of here,” DeShawn said. He meant me.
“Grab Cindy. She’s at the desk.”
“Will do.” DeShawn got on his phone and gave several terse instructions I couldn’t follow.
I didn’t want to go. Ava lay completely still, her color the grayish-blue of somebody who wasn’t ever going to breathe again.
I knew that color. I’d seen it before.
My mom, my dad, my brother. All of them looked like that after the car accident. I’d been the only one to survive, with the parting gift of a brain injury that caused my seizures. But I’d been awake when they loaded me on the stretcher. When they covered everyone else in my family with plastic.
“Go grab your phone,” DeShawn told me.
This seemed unreasonably practical, given there was a girl lying on the ground who hadn’t breathed in over two minutes.
But I walked over to the speaker, unhooked my phone, and followed him out. Two more nurses with a cart between them hustled down the hall toward the room. Ava really was in danger.
A sick feeling welled in my gut. I got it after a night of bad dreams, nonstop sirens and the smell of leaking gas, asphalt too close to my face.
Like death was near.
DeShawn handed me off to a blonde lady sitting behind the desk.
“You know your room number?” she asked.
I waved vaguely in the direction of my hall. “210.”
“All right. Let’s go.” She stood to escort me back.
The epilepsy section of the hospital was small. I’d find Ava. I’d pester everybody to find out how she was.
I had to know she was okay.
I sank into softness, a bed that stayed still instead of rolled. People walked in and out, murmuring, shining light onto my face. My belly shook and my eyes got wet. I wiped and wiped until the words started returning. Tears. Cry. Hospital. Nurse. Pain.
My head hurt.
A woman sat in a chair by the bed. Some people called her Mrs. Roberts. Another called her Geneva. Then someone said she was my mom.
When I tried to sit up, she pressed me back down. “Rest, Ava.” So I did.
I woke to a low, aching pressure in my belly. I shifted from side to side, but each movement made it worse. I sat up, a roar in my ears, my hands on my stomach.
Mom jumped from her chair and helped me stand up. “You probably have to use the bathroom.”
She led me to another small room, arranging the wires that trailed behind me. They attached to my head. What were they for? Mom didn’t have them. The nurses either.
“This is the bathroom,” she said. “Normally I show you what to do, but we’re not home.” She glanced back at the bigger room.
The air was colder in the small space. I stared at things until the words came. Toilet. Toilet paper. Sink.
She closed the door. “You sit there. The water will come out.” She smiled. “Your body will know what to do.” She reached out, but when she unzipped my clothes, I saw words on my skin and panicked. I pushed her out, hot and frightened. Something in me knew those words were only for me.
“Ava!” Mom called. “The wires!”
I slid the colored lines under the door. There was space. Then I pressed my back to the wall, trying to breathe. My chest felt tight. Why had the words scared me so much?
I bent over, touching each letter until I slowly made them out.
Trust only this handwriting.
Find your notes.
I closed my eyes. I had so little to hold onto, scenes that began with the rolling bed, the blur of the halls. Then the room. I carefully pictured each one, weighing it against this terrible jittering in my body.
I walked to the toilet and spun the roll of soft paper. It piled on the floor.
It was for soaking up water that would come out if I sat down.
The phrase “sit on the toilet” felt natural when I said it inside my head.
I could do this.
My clothes were in the way, so I lowered them and sat. Water ran out, a release of the jittery feeling.
I stayed sitting on the toilet, not sure if the water would come again. I peered down at the words on my belly.
The next line read, Remember your life.
But I did remember. The rolling bed. Nurses. Mom. This bathroom.
There was one more line.
Read the shower curtain.
I glanced over at the sheet of plastic that separated the shower from the rest of the bathroom. It had no words on it, only a long fall of bright white.
What did the words mean?
I picked up some of the toilet paper and dried my body. It took a moment to work the zipper, but I discovered if I didn’t look, my hands knew what to do.
I turned and pushed a lever on the toilet, then jumped back at the loud noise. The water and paper moved down. I had known to do that. Parts of me remembered. Flush.
I looked around to see what else I could learn. The room had a sink and a mirror.
I walked up to the shiny glass. I knew this was me. The body wore the clothes I could see when I looked down. It moved when I did.
But I had never seen my face before.
Long dark hair swirled on my shoulders, disappearing into the white wrapping on my head. My eyes were blue with little brown specks. I leaned in and stared until my breath changed part of the mirror into fog.
A noise on the door made me jump.
“Ava?” It was Mom.
“I’m here,” I said, not sure what else to say.
“Are you okay?”
I approached the shower. I had to hurry, or she might come in.
I ran my hand along the length of the curtain. The white was unbroken. There were no notes. No handwriting. I examined it closely and found a small tag. It read, “Do not remove.”
Was that my message?
I walked inside and pulled the curtain closed. I liked the feeling. Safe. Alone. I leaned against the cold wall.
Was this what the note meant? Do not remove myself?
I slid to the floor. My feet were bare, and I wiggled my toes. I worked my way up, naming every part of my body. Ankle. Knees. Legs. The words piled up and comforted me, something for my thoughts to rest on.
Then I spotted it. A group of letters on the bottom corner of the shower curtain.
I snatched it close. More words ran up the side, written small.
Open the book History of the World. Do not let Mother see the notes inside. If no book, find the paper flowers at home. Trust no one.
I read it again and again and again. History of the World. Paper flowers.
Trust no one.
Mother meant Mom. Mother felt right when I whispered it, although it made my stomach turn over, hot and uneasy. I didn’t know why, but I understood I could not let the woman in my room see inside the book.
I had to be brave enough to go out there and find it.
OH, let’s do one more. Why not?
I paced my hospital room, sometimes stepping into the hall as far as the wires would go.
Gram sat on the sofa bed by the window, knitting a Pokémon hat. A Squirtle. She started making them when I was six and never stopped, even though I quit playing Pokémon years ago.
“You’re going to wear a hole in the floor.” She held up the pale-blue Squirtle. Its round head and big eyes looked amazingly like her, even without her mass of gray curls. “Am I getting it right?”
I coughed to cover my laugh. “It’s great.”
“Is all this wandering about that girl?”
I didn’t have to answer. She could read my damn mind. Of course she could. It had been nothing but the two of us since I was twelve. Since my life caved in after the accident.
This hospital visit was supposed to change everything. I’d have a seizure while wired to the gizmos, and they’d figure out the problem and fix it. We’d hinged all our hopes on it.
I would graduate high school in June. How long could I live with my gram? I wanted a real life. To drive a car more than a few months here and there when my seizures were under control. To get a job. And college. I wanted to go. I had Mom and Dad’s life insurance money set aside for it.
But how could I do any of that if I couldn’t beat this thing? Sometimes I spent weeks lying in bed because sitting up for too long gave me muscle tremors. Then came the migraines.
It was no life at all.
This week was supposed to make things happen for me. Only we were on day four—and nothing.
At least right now I could walk around. For five hours a day I was stuck sitting in bed next to a dude holding a syringe. He had to be ready to pump his radioactive sauce into my veins the minute a seizure started. Surely he was tired of me. My failure. My nothing.
The only thing that had been worth it was that girl.
I plunked down on a chair.
“What was her name?” Gram asked.
“That’s a nice name. I knew an Ava once. She married a young man named Horace.”
I loved Gram, but I did not want to hear about Ava and Horace. I wanted to find my Ava. I had to know she was all right.
A nurse popped into the room. She was cute, but like most of the staff, she treated me like I was ten. “Quick vitals check!” She tugged a blood pressure cuff from the stand.
“Were you able to find out anything about Ava?” I’d asked all the night nurses since the disco room incident, but nobody would tell me anything. I was hoping the morning ones would tell me something. At least that she was alive.
“We’ve been talking about you two. Hold on.” She held up a finger until the cuff deflated.
My heart sped up. Maybe I would get some answers. “How is she?”
She pulled the stethoscope from her ears. “I think it’s cute you talked to her.”
“Not cute enough to tell me if she’s okay? She wasn’t breathing.”
The nurse glanced over at Gram and leaned in close to remove the cuff. “She’s okay,” she said softly. “She’s in her room.”
Relief flooded through me. “I don’t guess you’d tell me which one.”
She flashed me a look of pure don’t push your luck. “You want to try the disco room again tonight?”
“Will she be there?”
“I doubt it.” The nurse hesitated, as if she might say something more. But she only repeated, “I doubt it.”
“Okay, we’ll do the strobes in here. They’re going to order sleep deprivation for you tonight,” she said. “And I’m thinking they’ll make you ride an incumbent bike around two in the morning.”
Gram stood up at that. “Ride a bike? In the middle of the night?”
The nurse nodded. “Exhaustion. Trying to induce that seizure.”
“Great,” I said.
“Sorry. Anything else?” She headed toward the door, pausing a moment to see if I would answer. I shook my head and she disappeared.
Gram walked over and rubbed my shoulder. “Don’t be blue. The seizure will happen.”
“All this time we hoped it wouldn’t, and now we’re hoping it will.” I flopped back on the bed.
“I tell you what,” Gram said. “When the nuclear person arrives, I’ll take a little walk. See if I can nose around for this Ava.”
“You’d do that?”
“Of course. Anything you want me to tell her?”
I couldn’t imagine what Gram might say. Would you like some tea with my grandson?
“No, Gram. Just tell me how she is. Remember, long brown hair. Shirt with pink flowers. Maybe. She might have changed.”
“I’ll find her,” Gram assures me. “Old ladies can walk in anywhere and act all confused while they perform their covert ops.”
I had to laugh. Gram loved spy movies.
The nuclear medicine tech, a lanky man with a bald head and lumberjack beard, arrived a while later. Gram told him she’d take a break in the cafeteria since he was there. Seizure patients weren’t allowed to be alone.
An alarm sounded in the room next door. Lucky duck. All around me, other kids had their seizures, got their scans, and went home. I was stuck.
Although Ava had gone through a seizure and was still here.
“You have anybody else taking as long as me?” I asked the technician.
He checked my IV port, rearranging the line. “It happens. The worst is when you get to the end of the week with nothing, check out, and then have one in the parking lot.”
Great. That better not happen to me.
“Have you been in a room with a girl named Ava? She’s a friend of mine.”
“Nope, just you this week, buddy.”
“I’m your full-time job?”
“Right now you are. Other than writing reports and looking over records.”
I stared up at the ceiling. The black bubble over the video camera displayed my warped reflection.
When Gram returned a half-hour later, I could tell instantly that she had news. Her face had bloomed pink.
“What did you find?” I asked.
“Two things that are going to make your day. One is a cupcake.” She set a plastic container on my tray. It held a chocolate cupcake the size of my face.
I wasted no time opening it. “What’s the other?”
“The girl is still on the ward. Room 205.”
I wanted to kiss her.
“How do I see her?” I asked. “I’m all wired.”
“You could go back to the disco room,” she said.
“But she won’t be there. The nurse said so.”
Gram sat back down on the sofa. “Surely there is some other activity you can do. At least to allow you to walk by her room.”
The tech gave me a knowing smile. “A girl, huh? There’s a support group they let teens go to.”
“Will she be there?”
He shrugged. “No way to know, but at least it would get you back in the mobile unit.” He picked up the wires leading to the wall. “You’d have to be moved to a backpack and escorted, same as for the disco room. That has to be arranged in advance. But it’s doable once I’m gone.”
I turned to Gram. “Let’s call the nurse. I’m ready for a second shot.”
The hours with the nuclear medicine tech felt like a year. I watched TV and played Scrabble with Gram. I tried on her Squirtle hat over my gauze, much to the amusement of the tech guy. He ended up taking the hat home for one of his kids. This lit a fire under Gram, who decided she needed to make them for all the nurses.
Finally, the EEG tech arrived to rewire me from the wall to the backpack. I practiced all my opening lines.
So, you decided blue wasn’t your color?
No, no, no. She might be self-conscious about going unconscious.
Not the first time I’ve made a lady swoon.
Okay, that was worse.
DeShawn popped in to say he was coming on shift in five minutes. He’d been the one pushing me to talk to Ava last night, so I waited for him to walk me down. When he finally came to fetch me, Gram looked up from her newest creation, a Charmander.
“I hope you find what you’re looking for,” Gram said with a wink.
The moment we were out in the hall, I scanned the nearby room numbers. The epilepsy ward was a long hall lined with circular wards. In each section, all the doors faced a nurses’ desk in the center.
Ava’s 205 opened directly across the circle from me. Technically, I could stand at my door and she could stand at hers and we could wave to each other without ever leaving our rooms.
Not that I intended to do that. Best-case scenario was that I’d be able to get her phone number and we could text each other. But an occasional visual from across a crowded nursing station worked, too.
DeShawn tried to take me the wrong way around the circle, the direction that wouldn’t pass her room. But I didn’t follow him.
My heart beat ninety-to-nothing as I approached 205. What was I going to say? Would it be any better than the last thing I’d said? I didn’t have AC/DC to help me this time.
I spotted her right away through the half-open door. She was sitting on her bed, holding a giant textbook.
My shoulders relaxed. For the first time in my life, someone had recovered from the blue-gray skin of death.
DeShawn came up behind me. “Oh, I get it.”
Ava still wore the button-down shirt with pink flowers. But she looked perfect. They must’ve adjusted her head gauze at some point because I distinctly remembered her tape last night being pink, and now it was yellow.
I wasn’t sure if I should knock or clear my throat or hope the laser beams of my eyes would make her look up. I couldn’t see much of the room, just the slice that had her in it.
But she was oblivious to me.
I waited another beat, then I couldn’t stand it. “Ava. Hey.”
Her head popped up, her gaze meeting mine.
“I’m so glad you’re all right.” Everything about her was exactly as I remembered. Those bright eyes. Long legs in denim shorts. Instead of shoes, she wore the hospital-issue nubby-footed socks.
As her head tilted, surveying me in her doorway, my knees went liquid. I wanted her to be happy to see me.
But her words dashed my hopes.
“Do I know you?”
Crap. She didn’t remember me. That sometimes happened. I often lost the ten or fifteen minutes right before a seizure. We’d barely met before she went down.
A woman approached the head of the bed. Probably her mother. She had the same brown hair, only cut more severely near her chin. Her eyes bore into me like she was contemplating stabbing me with a cafeteria fork. “Ava can’t have guests.”
I didn’t want to cause Ava any distress. But moms were moms and this one definitely seemed overprotective.
“I understand, ma’am,” I said, but that didn’t stop me from speaking to Ava anyway. “I wanted to see you again. There’s a—”
The mother cut me off. “Please leave.”
My gut clenched. I wasn’t going to be deterred until I took my shot.
Ava gazed up at her mom, then back at me, like she was trying to work this out.
“Are you my boyfriend?” she asked.
Of all the things I thought she might say, this wasn’t even on the list. She turned to her mother. “Did you mess with my journal?”
“Of course not,” her mother said.
Now I was worried. The animosity coming off these two could have melted the ice caps.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
Ava swung her legs over the edge of the bed and patted the spot next to her on the mattress. “You are my boyfriend. Come over here and let’s make out.”
“Ava!” her mother said. “I never should have let you watch TV!”
This conversation was a surprise a minute. I wasn’t sure what else to do, so I walked in and sat down next to her. She lifted my hand and held it in hers, soft and warm.
“Ava, stop it,” her mother said. “Stop this instant. You don’t even know that boy.” She snatched up the bed remote and pressed the red call button.
DeShawn took a step into the room. “Tucker, let’s go.”
Ava leaned in until our shoulders brushed. “No. I want him here.” She tilted her face up to me, and I was knocked backward by the look of pure hope in her expression. “Are we madly in love?”
If Ava wanted to involve me in some scheme against her mother, I was all in.
“Absolutely,” I told her.
“I thought so.” Ava grabbed my face with both hands. Her lips met mine.
I was too flabbergasted to do anything but kiss her back. I’d never kissed anyone before. My tendence to fall on the floor in a blur of muscle spasms generally meant girls didn’t deem me worthy of locking lips.
Ava smelled faintly floral. She deepened the kiss, tasting of chicken salad from the hospital lunch. My body tried to react too fast, and I had to will it down. We had all these spectators.
Still, I was high, practically floating. Her lips were warm, and her hands held onto me like I was the last anchor in a storm.
The mom’s shrill voice could have shattered glass. “I will not stand for this!”
DeShawn’s tone conveyed his concern. “Tucker, we have to go.”
Lighter footsteps rushed into the room, but I refused to open my eyes. This was too perfect, too unexpected. I wasn’t going to let go of this moment until they dragged me away in chains.
“Is everything okay in here?” A female voice, probably the nurse who got called.
“This boy came in here and started kissing my daughter.”
“That’s not exactly how it went down,” DeShawn said. “But Tucker, we gotta go.”
“Call security right now,” the mother said.
“That isn’t necessary,” DeShawn shot back.
We reluctantly broke apart. Ava kept her hands on my face. Her eyes were the pale blue of a summer sky.
I refused to look at anyone else. “Are you going to the support group meeting?”
She touched her mouth, as if she was as surprised as I was at what she’d done. “What’s a support group?”
“Where all the teens our age sit and talk.”
Her eyes widened. “Yes, yes! Where do I go?”
“Next door to the disco room.”
“What’s the disco room?”
Whoa. “It’s where we met. It has music. And lights.”
“Ooooh. Let’s go again!”
But my elation dropped. If she didn’t know about the disco room, then she had lost more than my introduction. How much amnesia did she have?
DeShawn walked up, towering over us.
I had to work fast. “We were there last night. They turned on the strobes. You had a seizure.”
“That’s enough,” the mother said. “Escort him out of here or I’m calling 911. Clearly there isn’t any sort of security here.”
DeShawn put his hand on my arm to pull me up. “Tucker, we have to go. Now.”
Ava stood with me. “I’m going with him.”
“You’re not wired to walk around,” her nurse said.
“You need to be in here on the video monitor,” her mother said. “That’s why we admitted you. It’s for your safety.”
Ava turned to the nurse. “I’d like to see a…” She looked frantically around the room. “Someone. I’m sad. I cry a lot. I need to go to a support group so I can talk. Get… support. I need a…” She frowned again.
“Social worker,” I whispered.
“That’s right. A social worker,” she said. “I need a social worker to send me to the support group because I’m sad. Depressed! I should take an SSRI, which may cause dry mouth and have side effects I should tell my doctor about.” She seemed elated to have thought of all this.
Her mother rounded the bed. “No more television.”
Ava lunged toward the nurse and grabbed her arm. “Please call a social worker. I need to talk.” She bit her lip. “I need help away from this mother.”
Her mother went still. “Ava? What are you doing?”
Ava stood straighter. “You said I was here to get help. I’m getting it.”
“You’re here to get a doctor’s opinion,” her mother said.
Ava turned back to the nurse. “Please, a social worker. My mother… hurts me.”
“Ava! Stop it!” Her mother’s face contorted with fear.
The nurse paused, wide-eyed. “I’ll get someone up here right away.” She looked back and forth between the mother and Ava. “I think I’ll wait here for her to arrive.” She pulled her phone from her pocket and tapped a hurried message.
DeShawn tugged on my arm. “Come on, Tucker. Now.”
This time I let him lead me away. When we were in the hall, I asked him, “Do you believe all that?”
He shook his head. “I believe you are about to get your butt thrown out of here.”
“I think she’s in some sort of trouble.”
“Ava doesn’t remember who you are. Let them sort this out.”
“I lose some memory when I have seizures. I forget things for a while. It comes back.”
“That’s not going to happen to Ava,” DeShawn said. “When she has a seizure, her memory loss is permanent.”
“Permanent? Like gone, gone?”
DeShawn grimaced. “Gone for good. Now, come on.”
I barely registered the walls as they blurred past, giant portraits of smiling kids in colorful frames. Ava lost everything with a seizure.
How could you live that way?
Would she have another one today? Would she lose the memory of kissing me?
I’d never forget it. Her blue eyes. Her joy. For the first time in my life, someone had pinned their hopes on me. I decided right then and there, her seizures didn’t matter. Because after losing my parents and brother, there was one thing I knew about memories. As long as you were alive, you could always make more.
Thank you for reading the opening chapters of my emotional novel This Kiss. It’s based on the experiences in the epilepsy unit of the hospital where my teen daughter had multiple stays. This book is very close to my heart. Learn more about it below.
This Kiss by Deanna Roy
The first time I lost all memory of Tucker, we had just met.
We were seventeen, stuck in the disco room of the children’s hospital, both of our heads covered in electrodes wrapped in gauze.
Not exactly attractive.
Except we were—attracted, that is.
I never got to meet boys my age back then. Or any boys. Mother made sure of that.
There was no point, she said. I would forget them the next time I had a seizure.
That’s right. I didn’t mention that. I have epilepsy. It started in kindergarten. Spacing out. My eyes clocking back and forth. Then the whole enchilada. On the ground, shaking all over.
Not all my seizures erase my memory. But some do. Every year or two I go down, and bam, that’s it. My entire history evaporates like water on a skillet.
But on that first magical day, Tucker yelled, “Come here often?” over the mechanical thrashing of a song I’d never heard, at least not since my last memory reset.
“Never! Do you?” I yelled back.
That was all we got. The disco lights switched to strobes, the kind designed to cause a seizure. That’s why I was there. For the wires on my head to collect data. To show the doctors what was going on inside my brain.
And hopefully, to help me.
I took one more look at him as my legs gave way, and the sizzle in my head turned my vision black.
I had no idea then that I had just met the love of my life.
In a few seconds, I wouldn’t remember him at all.
This Kiss is an extraordinary romance between two people with epilepsy who fall in love in the toughest of circumstances. As Tucker unfailingly convinces Ava to return to him over and over again, he teaches her that even when memory fails, the heart remembers.