I was digging under the bed, searching for pictures of my deceased parents during my last visit to my childhood home before it got sold, when I found it. A diary covered with neon Lisa Frank stickers of unicorns and ice cream cones. A little yellow lock dangled from the edge, securing the pages together, but it was flimsy. I could snap it right open.
And I did.
The lock skidded across the wooden floor as I flipped to the first page. It held a mini questionnaire filled out in my red-crayoned handwriting.
Name: Ashlee Lanka.
Favorite animal: Turtle
Favorite color: Red
Secret crush: Nathan
That was the first strange thing I’d noticed. I couldn’t remember a classmate or a neighbor named Nathan. I couldn’t even think of any celebrities named Nathan back from the 90s. It must’ve been the name of a cartoon character, or maybe a code name I created in case my mother snooped through my stuff.
I didn’t think the oddity was all that important until I read through the first few pages. It started with a story about my best friend, who totally stole my favorite pencil sharpener. Then there was one about my aunt’s cat, who had coughed up a fur ball right in front of me. And then came a story about the mysterious Nathan.
Apparently, he had pushed my thumb down during a game of Seven Up and that was the first time I had realized, and I quote, how velvety (misspelled) his hands were, how hot his blonde (also misspelled) hair was and how strikingly (somehow spelled correctly) blue his eyes were.
But that was all a lie. That was the story of how I had met my husband, Mark. And his eyes were brown. His hair, black.
The stories continued. One about attending a school dance together. One about going trick-or-treating as Charmander and Pikachu. One about him killing my Tamagotchi. They were all memories I had of Mark, but they were replaced with Nathan’s name. With descriptions of Nathan’s smile and laugh and skin tone, which were nothing at all like Mark’s.
And then there was a mention of a kid named Mark. According to my scribbles, this Mark kid had beaten the crap out of Nathan, because he was jealous of him. He had even cursed at him, using words like prick and cunt, which was horrific for our conservative class that never even used God’s name in vain.
There were a few more mentions of this Mark, who had brought a pocketknife to recess, took creepy pictures of me with his dad’s polaroid camera, and ended up getting expelled from the entire school district.
I had no memory of this. None at all. For a minute, I wondered if I made it up. Wondered how I could’ve made it up, at an age when my mother still shielded me from R-rated movies and books with a fifth-grade reading level.
But once I reached the end of the diary, I realized there was a thick envelope paper-clipped to the back. It was sealed with a postage stamp from Rhode Island. A place I’d never been.
When I flipped it over, I saw my name written in my own, adult handwriting. Except, instead of Ashlee Lanka (my maiden name) or even Ashlee Chatel (Mark’s last name), it said Ashlee Devon. From what I had gathered during my speed reading session, that was Nathan’s last name.
I peeled the envelope open, and there was a letter inside, along with several pictures. Pictures of, what I could only assume, were Nathan.
Holding me. Kissing me. Lifting me over his shoulder. Carrying me, bridal style, into a beach house.
One photograph said, “Moving day! Rhode Island,” on the back. Another showed the two of us smiling on our goddamn wedding day.
The pictures could’ve been photoshopped. They could’ve been fakes. Forgeries. But then there was the letter.
It was typed, but I could tell I was the one who had written it. Could tell by the tone and grammar and slang. It said:
“If Mark’s bullshit plan works, we’re fucked. Or, I shouldn’t even really say we, because you’re a totally different person than me now, aren’t you? God, I hope he doesn’t change too much…
Anyway, let me try to make this easy on you. Think of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Think of Total fucking Recall. Mark hired some asshole off the dark web and is planning on knocking you out so he can alter your memories. So you’ll love him. So you’ll end up with him.
But you love Nathan.
Fuck… That asshole will probably get rid of all of your memories of Nathan. If you don’t remember who he is, read this diary. I think I wrote about Mark in here, too.
Anyway, he killed him. Mark killed Nathan. Fucking broke into our house in the middle of the night, held us at gunpoint and shot him. Shot him, even though I begged and bargained and threatened to beat the ever loving shit out of him. Told him I’d chop off his balls and stuff them in his slimly little mouth.
It doesn’t matter that he loves you. He’s a psychopath. He gave you a concussion that night, and he’ll kill you, too, if he realizes you know this stuff.
I hope you find this. This was the only place I could think to leave it where you’d get to it before him. Not that he’s going to let you anywhere near mom and dad, because they’ll know you’ve changed. They’ll wonder why your husband is gone and why you’re running around with a fat fuck like Mark. But he’s smart. He’ll probably insert a memory of you arguing with mom, so you stop answering her calls. Or maybe he’ll erase her from your mind altogether. Who knows?
I wish I had more time to talk about Nathan, to try to jog your memory and get your life back on track, but I don’t. So just do one thing for me? For us? Get the hell away from Mark. Get the police. Get to safety.”
I only had a few seconds to process the words before I heard knocking. Heard the front door slide open and footsteps march toward me.
And before I could stuff the evidence back under my bed, I felt a thick hand on my shoulder and my husband Mark’s voice say, “What the hell did you find?”