I received a mysterious e-mail and the subject line read “Everything you know is a lie.” I open the e-mail and read further: “Act calm. Don’t alert anyone. Everyone around you is not who they say they are. You need to get out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.”
“Alice, Alice, wake up.”
My eyes opened to my roommate, Cindy, shaking me by my shoulders.
“You must have had a bad dream. You were shaking your head back and forth and saying the name ‘Mark’,” Cindy said. “Who’s Mark?”
I grabbed my robe and pushed past Cindy to the bathroom. I am not a morning person.
“How the hell do I know who Mark is? I don’t know anybody by that name. It was just a dream,” I said slamming the bathroom door.
I can’t sleep. I am an insomniac. I blame it on stress and too much caffeine. When I do sleep, I dream.
Standing in the shower letting the hot water caress my head, I tried to remember this dream.
A person named Mark told me in an e-mail that everything I knew was a lie and everyone around me was not who they said they are. He asked me to meet him where I had my first kiss. My first kiss. I had a crush on Tommy Barker in fifth grade at Aetna Elementary School. I hid behind a sand dune behind the school during recess. When Tommy ran by I tripped him and laid a big wet one on his full warm lips. He pushed me away and ran like hell back to the playground. I laughed then but I later cried when he told of his friends. I never regretted kissing him, though.
I live and work in Chicago. Traveling to Aetna was out of the question.
I dressed for the short walk to work. I live a few blocks from the Chicago Sun-Times, where I’m one of the news editors.
I rode up on the elevator to the tenth floor. I pulled out my keycard to swipe the locked entrance to CST. I swiped the card and the door wouldn’t open. I swiped the card again, still no green light. I knocked on the door to get the receptionist’s attention. She walked over to the door and opened it.
“Yes, can I help you?”
My card won’t work,” I said, as I tried to push past her.
Like a brick wall, she stood firm and wouldn’t let me enter. “What’s your name?”
“Are you kidding me? My name is Alice Anderson. I’m one of the news editors here. If you don’t let me pass I’ll be late for my morning meeting.”
“I’ve worked here for five years and I don’t know you. Wait here until I check your employment.”
I started to pace in the hallway outside the door wondering what the hell was going on. Ok, maybe she doesn’t know me. I don’t know her either.
The receptionist opened the door and poked her head out again.
“There is no record of an Alice Anderson working in editorial or anywhere else at the Chicago Sun-Times. If you don’t leave the premises, I will have to call security.”
“This is ridiculous. Who did you talk to?” I said.
“The HR director.”
I can’t believe this. I stood there for a moment and thought about what I should do now. I turned and almost walked right into one of my reporters, Edward Shriner.
“Hey, Edward. The receptionist upstairs won’t let me in,” I said.
He gave me this odd look and scurried past me, “Excuse me, miss. I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Edward, it’s me, Alice. Don’t you know me?” I asked as he swiped his card and entered the office. He ignored me.
I stood there with my mouth open. What is happening? My key doesn’t work. The receptionist and Edward don’t know me. I’m still dreaming. Get home and wake yourself up.
I rushed out the door of the building and ran home.
I put my key in my apartment door but it didn’t fit.
“OK someone is playing a trick on me,” I said out loud to no one. “This isn’t funny people.”
I pounded on my apartment door hoping that Cindy was still home.
“Cindy, Cindy, let me in. My key isn’t working,” I shouted.
Mrs. Hansen, the elderly sweet lady in the apartment next to mine, opened her door and peeked out.
“Is there a problem, miss?” she asked.
“Oh thank goodness you’re home, Mrs. Hansen. My key isn’t working in my apartment door,” I said. “Can you help me?”
“Miss, I don’t know which apartment you live in, but that one is rented by two gay men who happen to be in Europe this month.”
“No, no, no. That’s not possible,” I said. “I just left here about an hour ago. It’s my apartment, and I share it with Cindy Paulsen.”
Mrs. Hansen just shook her head and closed her door. I could hear her latch her dead bolt, too.
I was beyond confused. I wanted to cry. Instead I walked outside and sat on the front step outside the apartment building. I pulled out my cell phone and dialed Cindy’s cell phone. She must be on her way to work by now or standing in the line at Starbucks, which is her daily routine.
Cindy answered on the second ring. “Yello, Cindy speaking.”
“Cindy, thank god. I tried to get into our apartment and my key won’t work. And speaking of work they say that I don’t work there. Do you think they fired me and forgot to tell me?” I said without taking a breath.
Cindy asked, “Whoa, whoa! Who is this again?”
“Oh for goodness sake. It’s me, Alice. Alice Anderson, your roommate,” I said.
“I’m sorry, but you must have the wrong number. I don’t know an Alice Anderson. And I don’t have a roommate,” she said and hung up.
It’s a dream. Wake up Alice, you’re dreaming. I wanted to scream.
My only alternative was to call the police. Somebody is playing a cruel trick on me and it’s not funny.
I dialed the Chicago Police Department. The operator answered on the first ring. I told her what was happening to me that my work didn’t recognize me and my keys didn’t work. And my best friend doesn’t know me.
“I know it sounds crazy, but can someone help me?” I asked. “Hello? Is anyone there?”
The operator then asked, “Have you been taking any drugs, miss?”
“No, I haven’t taken any drugs lately or ever. Please someone needs to help me.”
Transparency – Part 2
After the operator then suggested I go to the nearest hospital, I disconnected the call. Was everyone crazy or am I?
I must have sat on the stoop of my apartment building for at least an hour when the mail carrier came by.
“Anything for Alice Anderson?”
He rummaged through the pile of mail he carried, “No nothing for Alice Anderson.”
“How about for apartment 2A?” I asked.
“Yes, I have mail for 2A, but the letters are not addressed to Alice Anderson. One is for Mark Willingham and the other is for Bruce Bishop.”
“No that can’t be right. How long have you been delivering mail here?”
“For maybe five years,” he said as he looked confused.
“And the name Alice Anderson doesn’t ring a bell?” I was desperate.
“No. Sorry,” he said as he walked away.
This isn’t happening. I live in 2A with my roommate Cindy. Someone is playing a pretty impressive trick on me, and I don’t think it’s funny.
I gathered up my purse and lunch bag and started to walk to the Starbucks around the corner. Coffee would fix anything. Sipping my grande coffee in one of Starbucks comfy chairs, I watched the pedestrians walking by.
I must have fell asleep in the chair when an older black gentleman tripped over my feet.
“Oh excuse me, miss. Sorry to disturb your nap.” He said with a smile.
“Oh no problem. I didn’t realize I dozed off. The stress of the day must have got to me.”
The old man extended his hand, “Good morning miss, my name is Albert. Albert Anderson.” His hands were a working man’s hands and most likely a smoker, I thought. His fingernails were yellow and his hands calloused. He wore a gold ornate ring on the pointer finger of his right hand. I thought it was an odd place to wear a ring for a man. It had an insignia on it and a red stone in the center.
He had a pleasant face.
He removed his gray Fedora and tweed top coat and sat down in the comfy chair next to me. He reminded me of my grandfather with his bald head and wire rimmed glasses.
“That’s funny my name is Alice Anderson. I’m pretty sure we aren’t related. Today, though, I am not sure of anything.”
Without hesitation or any encouragement from him, I told him about my morning. He listened, nodded every once in a while, and sipped his coffee. It felt good to talk to someone. He was a good listener.
“And that’s how I ended up here. I have nowhere to go. My roommate, who I thought was my roommate, doesn’t know me. My apartment is rented to two gay guys. And apparently I don’t have a job. I’m not who I thought I was. At this point, I don’t exist.”
“That’s a pretty incredible story, Alice. Let me ask you something. Have you checked your wallet? Do you have a driver’s license or some kind of identification. How about charge cards or debit cards or a check book, something to identify yourself. Maybe you have amnesia or had amnesia. It’s a thought. I’m no doctor, but your story intrigues me,” Albert said.
Good idea, why didn’t I think of that before. I emptied my large handbag on the table between our chairs. I had the usual things a woman carries in her purse: lipstick, comb, tissue, a few coins, hand cream, a mirror, and of course, a wallet. I opened wallet to locate my information and there I was. My driver’s license had a picture of me and the address I thought I lived at. I also had a debit card with “Alice Anderson” printed on it. No check book, who uses those anymore anyway, and no charge cards.
“Well I guess I do exist.”
Albert asked to look at my driver’s license.
“Have any suggestions, Albert?” I asked as he handed it back to me.
He rubbed his chin and took another sip of his coffee.
“Your situation reminds me of another event,” he said. “I think I know what happened.”
to be continued: