I have always wanted to write a story from the perspective of an unreliable narrator, and now have my chance, as I recently became one myself. Why imagine unreliable fiction when you can report unreliable facts? The following is the account (according to me!) of my final hours in Prague when, due to sleep deprivation, experienced brief short-term memory loss and a panic attack. While I put myself in a vulnerable place in telling this, I hope my experience points readers to Christ, the ultimate Friend who never forsakes or forgets us, no matter what situation we find ourselves in. I also hope it honors my special friend, Hannah Piedt, who reflected Christ’s love to me on this day.
* * *
It is my last night in Prague and not everything is right side up. Just a moment ago I stood on top of the clock tower, staring over the edge and feeling dizzy, but in my right mind. Then down the elevator I came, like Alice down the rabbit hole, and walked into a Wonderland where people float and streets turn sideways.
Back to the hotel I flit, up the stairs and into my room. Hannah and I talk and pack our bags, but for me it is through a mist gradually thickening. I move my belongings from one space to the next. I know I am supposed to put them in my suitcase, but I can’t quite recall how to do that.
“Why don’t you just go to bed,” Hannah suggests. “Finish in the morning.”
I stare at her blankly.
“Okay.” I finally say.
* * *
My life is a picture book. No movement. No sentences. Perhaps a word that crescendoes in here or there. One page, then turn to the next. Another page, then turn. But what happens to Alice between the pages?
I stand over my suitcase and look blankly inside. How did I get here?
I lie awake in bed and hear an incoming text. Hannah is awake, too. What is she saying?
I sit in the hotel lobby and talk on the phone. What are we talking about?
Now there is nothing for a long time.
* * *
The mist has turned into a flood, sloshing through my brain. Someone shows me a photograph of my sister on his phone. Why can’t I see it? And why can’t I remember what my sister looks like?
I stand in a line of people. Sunlight comes through the window, so I guess it is morning, but it doesn’t feel like morning. It doesn’t feel like afternoon or evening or night, though, either. It really doesn’t feel like any time, and at the first second of this “no time” time, I become uncomfortably conscious of my heartbeat. A racehorse is inside of my chest, dashing toward a finish line, faster and faster, but the finish line never comes, and with my racehorse heart racing and my sluggish mind sloshing, I start to dissolve.
I sit in my seat on the plane. Window on the left. Hannah on the right, holding my hand. I don’t know when she grabbed it, but I’m glad she did or else I don’t think I would currently exist. I heave breaths; in and out, in and out. Then something that feels like a windshield wiper clears my forehead and the plane goes from blue to deep copper.
“Are we… are we on a different plane?” I gasp.
I squeeze my eyes shut and rest my head against the seat in front of me. Hannah’s calm voice leans in.
“No,” she says. “We are on the same plane. We’re getting ready to take off.”
Tears fall, and I feel the windshield wiper again. From copper to white, clean and clear.
Same question: “Are we on a different plane?”
Same answer: “No.”
More tears, and anxiety builds as the world drops away. I fight to remember, but it is like clenching too tight to a slippery pebble. What city was I in? Why am I here? Where am I going? I cannot answer.
My family. Suddenly I think of my family. I must have one. But who are they? Where are they? I can’t picture them, don’t know their names.
“My family!” I cry. “I am afraid I will forget my family!”
Hannah’s voice again.
“It’s okay,” she says. “This is temporary. You will not forget your family.”
If I don’t dissolve first, then maybe I’ll take off like a rocket.
“Can you think of any Scripture you remember, Anna?”
Scripture. With that one word, I remember something. I am in my basement with my father. I am scared, so he reads to me.
“Psalm 91,” I gasp. “He who dwells in the shelter of the most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust!’ For it is He who delivers you…”
I struggle to remember the rest of the verses, and the windshield wiper comes again.
“What about songs? Can you think of any hymns you remember?”
Hymns. And with that word, another memory. I am once again afraid as I stand in the back of a crowded chapel filled with strangers. But I sing.
And then something else. I am on a hospital bed, heaving great breaths, much like I am now. But even there I remember a song.
“Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” I gasp. “Let’s sing that one.”
So Hannah and I sing. I don’t remember all the words, but Hannah fills them in. When we finish I say, “Another one, another one!” and because this is helping, we sing many more. Between one of the songs I realize that I am not in this world alone. Hannah is by me and is not leaving me. I remember her.
“You are Hannah, right?” I say. “You are my friend. I remember that!”
“Yes,” she says. “I am your friend.”
“A friend loves at all times,” I say.
Then I think of something else, and this is not a memory, it is a bright beacon of reality that shatters fear. It is that same beacon that was in the basement, and the chapel, and the hospital bed. It is not so much that I have remembered it, but that it, rather He, has not forgotten me.
“Jesus died for my sins and I am going to heaven when I die,” I sob. “I remember that, too!”
The blunt, childlike statement is, at that moment, anything but comical.
“Yes!” says Hannah. “That is right, and that is the only thing you need to remember right now.”
We continue to sing, and even though the windshield wiper comes and the plane changes color, I do not dissolve.
* * *
My eyes flicker open, head heavy on Hannah’s shoulder. Alice has returned from Wonderland.
“Where are we?” I ask.
“We just landed in Amsterdam.”
The flood, the racing, the anxiety is gone, but confusion lingers.
My friends use words like “sleep deprivation” and “dehydration” and “panic attack” and I have a feeling this is going to make for a good story someday. But not today. Hannah leads me off the plane and I notice that she carries my bags.
“Did you pack those?” I ask.
“No,” says Hannah. “You did.”
“But what about my suitcase?”
“You packed that, too. You checked it in this morning.”
“I don’t remember,” I say. “I don’t remember any of this… I don’t remember how we got here. Was I acting weird?”
“Yeah,” she laughs. “It was especially fun this morning when you were falling asleep in line going through security.”
My eyes widen. Then I smile. Maybe it is a little funny, even today.
* * *
Hannah finds my travel documents because I don’t remember where they are. When I present my passport to the guard he takes a closer look at my face and frowns.
“Ma’am,” he says in a thick European accent, “You might want to go have a look in the toilets. Your face is black.”
Apparently even in an incoherent state, I still managed to remember mascara. I go to the “toilets” and wipe my face, not only of the makeup, but also of the past twelve hours. It will take me days to feel myself again, but the book has closed and this chapter, at least, is finished.
* * *
It is the next day and Hannah fills me in on the details of the event that are either forgotten or unclear.
“Tell me everything,” I say. “I want to know!”
She obliges and tells me and repeats certain things if I want to hear them again. I tell her what a good friend she is, but she doesn’t make a big deal of it and just says that she had been praying that God would show her how she could support me on the trip, and that He showed her how to support me in an unusually literal way. We laugh and talk of other things and dream of what we’re going to do this summer and now the cares of yesterday seem very, very small.
Perhaps this is how it will begin in eternity.