STORIES

KNOW THYSELF

I believe that all roads in the world – all challenges and circumstances – lead to one’s True Self. The potholes of regret we encounter on the way, the fast-track of joy and long trails of hardship bring us to one supreme destination: Acceptance.

The pitch of this story is simple: a mega-successful young woman, an expert in personality types, is the survivor of an accident which wiped her memory clean of the first twenty-five years of her life. A bestselling author, ready to embark on her world book tour, she receives a video tape, claiming to hold the truth of her past life. Will she dare watch the tape and overturn the conception of her Present, Blissful Self, in favor of discovering the True?

How much longer could she fear to embrace her true nature – Love?

 

“Any questions?” Ann asked from the stage, and a third of the audience raised their hands.

They craved to learn about her past, but respectfully abstained. Instead, they asked Ann Mayfair about her new book – the NYC Times Bestseller – on personality types, to better understand themselves.

Ann had been in an accident. No one knew what really happened: an abusive lover, a truck, or an alien abduction. Whatever it was – it wiped her memory clean up to her 25th year. In the following five years she made a name for herself that few could rival in the publishing business: her European book tour scheduled next month.

Ann claimed it was impossible to know who she was in the past: a criminal, a saint, or someone quite ordinary who was resurrected famous. But yesterday Ann got a videotape that threatened to break all she had arduously built in the past years. The parcel had a note asserting that the videotape contained information for Ann Mayfair, revealing who she was prior her accident. It was also the anniversary of the day when Ann was brought to the hospital in a random taxi.

Ann locked up the evidence of the past in a drawer by her bed.

Today, after the book signing, she couldn’t wait to get home and check on the tape. She entered her luxurious penthouse with slow, timid steps. Her daughter, Allie, rushed into the hallway, ringing with the carefree laughter of a four-year old, hair messy after a nap.

“Mommy, mommy, you’re home!’ she cried in rapture.

Ann lurched from her daughter’s embrace, “Go ask dad to comb your hair,” and walked straight to the bedroom. She glanced back at Allie, and guiltily thought to herself, “You don’t know who I am, and I know even less.” Allie burst into tears from her mother’s cold greeting: she knew perfectly well who her mother was – the closest person in the world, and somehow that person shunned her. Ann noticed a zit on her daughter’s forehead. She would have taken care of it on a usual night. But tonight, the zit appeared like a third eye, scrutinizing her. Still crying, Allie ran to her dad’s office.

Ann locked the door to the bedroom and tried to ignore the world behind it. This was the first time that she had shut her family out. Ann considered destroying the tape, but that could prove the worst decision of her life: namely those five years she could remember. What if the footage contained some valuable information – literally valuable – and her first 25 years were a treasure she shouldn’t throw out? What if watching the tape, she would recover her memories – the priceless joy of childhood years, and the verve of adolescence? Or, was this mystery better left undisturbed, now that her life was going so well? Furthermore, who was the person who had sent the tape?

Why yesterday?

Ann was kind to all who knew her and to her millions of readers, but apart from her immediate family and several new friends she didn’t believe in spontaneous kindness. There was clearly a reason why this “someone” had sent her the tape, just when her career had taken off. They knew something that could undermine her, and harm her family as well. Ann wouldn’t be surprised if they would start blackmailing her next. But she couldn’t take this to the police – what if the tape was a recording of her own criminal past? Or was she overthinking this?

In any case, learning the truth could demolish her values and everything she held dear. A giant question mark towered over her public persona as well. How could she continue playing that role if it turned out a role indeed? She had believed in herself indestructibly…until now.

Anxiety flamed in her breast when her husband knocked on the bedroom door. Ben was a surgeon she had met when undergoing her treatment. Patient, thoughtful, and handsome, he made the first good impression on Ann in her conscious life. She had created a new world with him, full of unconditional support, and all thinkable comforts. But the knowledge of the past could burn this world to its foundation. This foundation was her true, unavoidable self; a baggage she couldn’t lose; a subconscious river, flooding her with doubt.

At dinner, Ben described the surgery he’d performed earlier that day. Allie – dreaming to be a doctor one day – listened with tolerance which delighted her father.

But Ann snapped, “Enough!” when Ben started carving the chicken. Her eyes shot lightnings. It seemed he was dissecting her, on the verge of finding something that could tear them apart.

Allie dropped a piece of bread, and wailed at the top of her lungs. She had never seen her mother this angry.

“I’m sorry…so sorry,” Ann muttered and hurried to the bedroom, with a glass of wine in hand. She threw the glass aside, disregarding the stain it made on the white carpet. She wished to throw the tape away with the same reckless motion, along with the anxiety. She locked the door, desperate to flee the world until it made sense: how the puzzle-piece of her life fit in the picture of society, family, and in the blank space of her sanity. All of these roles – from bestselling author, a world-class authority in improving lives of others, a loving wife and doting mother – had shuffled like masks, and she dreaded to expose the face behind it.

She found nothing more abysmal than to look into a mirror. She thought of the people who summoned ghosts in the reflection, and couldn’t tell whether the ghost was her past or the illusionary bliss of the present. She no longer had a name. Ann Mayfair was an alias. Perhaps, the tape would reveal her to be Jane, or Mary, or the Devil itself. What if she were a murderer, still sought by the police somewhere?

What if the loved ones from her past were looking for her and the tape was sent by one of them? They hadn’t tried to find her before – which was disturbing in itself – but now that she’d become famous they chose to reappear, either for the love of her or love of money (in that case, may they go to hell!). Perhaps, she already had a husband prior the accident, or another little Allie, calling in the dark somewhere. She may have sacrificed those loved ones for the loved ones she had now.

“Thank God, I was a virgin marrying Ben,” she recalled with a surge of gratitude for her husband, for the fact that she knew who he was – as two and two made four and love equalled Ben.

Ben regretted the loss of her memories, but was inspired to make new ones, telling her on occasion, “Each day of our marriage will be joyful.”

Ann longed to rewind her life to the day before yesterday – when she was at ease, but no further than that. It seemed the video could take her to the beginning of all things, or their inevitable end.

“Ann, let me in! What’s wrong with you?” Ben called at their bedroom door…

Everything!” she wished to shout, but the sound of her voice seemed foreign to her. The shadows of the bedroom distorted at fantastic angles, numbing her with fear. She estimated the risks which learning the truth could entail. Then, she pondered the freedom of knowing and potential rewards. She installed the tape into a video-player with shuddering hands. Now, she just had to press “play” to discover her true self.

“What if I was a bad person before and I still am…?” she thought.

Ben went to put Allie to bed. Silence condensed around her. Any sound would pierce this silence like a knife, and Ann prayed for the tape to be broken…Instead, she saw a black screen, heard a shuffle, someone taking a deep breath, about to start talking. She quickly stopped the revelation, unable to breathe from anxiety herself. Not so fast and not right now…She shoved the tape back in the drawer and vowed to hear it one day…She decided on four weeks from now – why she couldn’t tell. It seemed a safe distance away and bearable enough to handle, in case the fear wouldn’t erode.

She restrained the anxiety in chains of willpower, commanding, “You belong to me. You are my feeling and you’ll stay in my control. You won’t bother me again!” The rest of her energy whirled like a fiery vortex. She worked extra hard to keep her mind off the tape that haunted her on certain days more forcefully than on others. Nobody had yet blackmailed her, and she almost discarded the tape as someone’s prank. Four weeks had passed and the chains of willpower snapped broken. The anxiety burst free, fracturing her from inside. Her talks with the audience, all thinking the same heart-quickening question (Who are you?), was the trigger for Ann to start questioning herself with merciless determination. She promoted personality types, selling millions of copies, each containing an autograph that was a lie. The letters of that autograph could jumble into anything from: hypocrite, killer, traitor and betrayer of herself.

Her European book tour was a month away when her agent called to inform of the dates of Ann’s interviews with international media: El Cultural, Der Spiegel, Pravda, e.t.c.

Their conversation was brief.

“Tell them I’m not going,” Ann said to the agent before putting down the phone.

The world was expecting someone else, someone who she truly wasn’t. When the phone rang again she didn’t pick up, receiving an email a few minutes later:

I’ve worked hard to make this happen. If I don’t hear from you by Sunday, you are going to face legal consequences.”

Such was the ultimate challenge for Ann: the unknown past and present met at the crossroads of a choice, and she had to make a step into embracing her true self.

“Five minutes,” Ann thought, giving herself time to calm down before unlocking the door of the mystery. She turned on the TV, one of the news channels, to help her mind wander from the anxiety, and wander it did, painting scenarios she hadn’t considered – for better and worse and infinite worse. She saw people leading countless lives and breaking countless lives in the frantically turning kaleidoscope of humanity. She wrote of personality types, but never truly grasped their nature -7 billion characters blurring and merging before her astounded gaze.

“Which of these am I?” she wondered, seeing Vanderbilts and paupers; the sunglasses of Hollywood idols and the scorched hands of field-workers; people of endless backgrounds, different religions and skin-colors, all blend into a myriad possibilities of horror and happiness. She glimpsed hell and heaven in between these ranging truths, linked by one human condition. Was she the child of billionaires or born in the slumps? Maybe watching the tape she would inherit a fortune and her forgotten family owned ten mansions in Europe, where her siblings were worried sick about her. Else, they toasted the fact that her share would now be theirs… Was she educated in Ivy League – a literature PhD – that’s why she wrote those breakthrough books whose future she was gambling now?

She might have been fond of cigars and mint ice-cream before, of reading Hemmingway’s curt prose, and ax-throwing on Sundays at the downtown club that served thick, blood-like tomato juice. After all, she had developed a craving for asparagus before giving birth to Allie and an uncanny love of Mozart, the evening notes of whose concertos proved relaxing to her nerves. She had been reborn after the accident. Thus, some habits – good and bad – must have vanished as well.

Still, chances that she was an heiress were miniscule; odds that she’d been a bad person and even a psychopath were immense, because everyone was crazy on some level…

Ann flipped to the “Discovery” channel and wondered to how many places her body had already been. She felt an eerie affinity with some cave in India, brimming with exotic crystals. “I’ve roamed there before,” she decided, goosebumps chilling her skin. A few moments later the guide declared that the cave became open to the public only last year.

“Reincarnation,” she acquitted herself, not ready to admit the deja-vu was a false memory. She then linked “reincarnation” to “India,” and wondered, “What if my brain made the connection, nothing more?” Doubts swallowed her whole, as next, she found a program called, “Supernatural Encounters,” where a woman complained that she was murdered in a past life and was now suffering psychological trauma. Ann envied the woman whose past had been killed off. She could focus on the now. In fact, the woman’s scenario didn’t seem unamendable with the help of tranquilizers, while the tape was very real. Who knew how many lives it connectedly affected and could potentially derail?

Ann kept flipping channels, seeing brutalities of war, epidemics and famine. Any of these devastating realities could have been hers. She has never been more conscious of America’s “melting-pot,” and the perilous divisions of race and belief, which threatened common human values. Statistics terrified her. According to recent surveys, there were 88 guns for every 100 people in the US. What if she’d used one before? What if she’d been to war before? She had more than one scar on her body. Were all from the accident or from something before it – from a stupid high-school fight or the outcome of abuse? What if she fought for some vile cause and killed somebody, after all? It was a wardrobe of nightmares and each could be her perfect fit.

She felt the universe pulsate, and tracked the beating of her heart – no longer able to decipher its music of light or darkness. She had lost her conscious place in the universal scheme. She couldn’t stay one-on-one with herself, nor look into her loved ones’ eyes. She couldn’t work, eat, or sleep until the void in her breast would be filled by the truth of her identity.

She examined herself in the mirror, debating what ethnicity she really was with her almond-shaped grey eyes and dirty blonde hair. Did she speak other languages before? She scrolled through an online dictionary some time ago and was able to guess some words in German. Including ‘haus’…Yes, she certainly had an Aryan look to her. “Aryan,” she caught herself thinking with guilt streaming in her veins, “Isn’t that a Nazi thing to say Aryan?” Was she descended from the Nazis? If so, that wouldn’t make her automatically a Nazi. But what if she had been part of some Neo-Nazi movement, like another Hitler Jungent?

“God help me,” she muttered – and then found herself thinking, “Did I believe in God before?”

Later, when Ben fried fish for dinner, Ann suddenly felt dizzy, and deduced that she’d been a vegetarian before. She doubted the tape would reveal such a detail… but who knew?

“Let’s go to the theatre on Friday. We haven’t gone in a while,” Ben suggested.

Ann gave a nod, not even hearing what he said.

That night they made love and her anxiety diminished, if only temporarily.

“Again,” she demanded.

A few minutes later, she repeated “Again,” pulling him down insistently. Feeling him inside ousted her doubts for a few minutes.

When round three was over, Ben noted, “If that’s what I get for tidying the bedroom, I will do it more often.”

He hugged her and frowned, “Is your heartbeat so fast because of our marathon?”

“Yes,” she whispered, terror pounding through her blood. She didn’t risk unlocking her desk until Ben was asleep. When she did, she suspected the tape had been moved. Was it Ben? No, he didn’t have a key. Or did he? Had she been a transgressor, he would have reported her already, unless he had been her accomplice in the past.  Or, was he the one who had caused her accident? That’s why her past never concerned him… By marrying her, he was saving himself from jail.

Ann suspected that everyone “good” in her life was a former nemesis. The Mafia had been sponsoring her smooth success; Ben was the Godfather and spoke Italian in secret. He was the one with ten mansions in Europe and the neo-Nazi past…Ann brushed off the idea, fearing she had gone insane. Her subconscious swelled with doubt, trying to tell her something.

“Maybe it’s trying to tell me that I’m an idiot,” she guessed and kept thinking about the tape.

“Sleep no more,” the line from Hamlet swirled in her mind, hinting that she would stay sleepless for the rest of her life. Would she wish to continue with such a life? She was likely 30 years old – young and thriving – with everything ahead of her, or so she supposed, now discovering with horror, “I can’t endure another day in such torment!”

Her dread expanded into something more imposing, inevitable and grandiose than the world of opportunity she priorly looked forward to. She was still welcome to think and enjoy everything in the world, except to think about herself and who she actually was. She’d once read a story about a white monkey. How a sage promised the emperor that the emperor could gain magic powers if he would refrain from thinking of a white monkey in the next three days. The emperor thought of nothing else.

“I am the white monkey,” Ann thought, fear expanding in her breast like molten lead, and instantly hardening, making it painful to breathe. She wished to break free out of her skin, as out of a cage, when Ben turned and embraced her in his sleep. An ominous truth of the past could tear her away from his arms, like a hurricane. She imagined herself as a criminal and that a knock on the door would confirm her guilt at any moment – the police taking her away. The door was her subconscious, and she pushed with all her might to keep it locked.

She googled “Ann Mayfair” the following morning, and saw immense posters of her confident smile gracing the bookstores. “Tear them down and burn them all!” she thought, “It’s not the real me.” She was about to message her agent that their collaboration was over – no matter the consequences – when Allie ran through the door.

“Mom, I love you! I love you!” the girl pleaded for a kiss.

Ann kissed her daughter – her only certainty in life – and tears stung in her eyes which she quickly swiped away, before Allie could notice.

Ann postponed sending the destructive email. Instead, she watched videos of global intolerance: over skin-color, faith, gender, and every other natural expression of life.

What she saw blew her away with outrage, disgust and horror…The message of bias echoed in each video watched: “ugly people”; “strange people”; “incompetent people,”; “not even people… trash!”

Then, a recommendation popped up in the Youtube videos – John Lennon’s “Imagine,” – and Ann tearfully admitted, “I want to be human more than anything; human, unobstructedly. We all seek happiness and love – how can we be anything but ONE connected family?”

Ann remembered taking Allie to the zoo when Allie was three years old and buying her a yellow dress. Two minutes later they saw another little girl walking down the lane in an identical dress. Allie wanted to make friends, already presuming she and the girl would be compatible. “She is smart and funny like me,” Allie presumed – all because of the same dress. “What about that girl?” Ann pointed down another path to a girl in a blue dress. “She is probably stupid and boring,” Allie shook her head, “I don’t like her.”

“You haven’t even talked to her yet. You might like her, if you get to know her,” Ann suggested.

“No,” Allie was stubbornly convinced that the girl in the blue dress was not “her type.”

Ann never gave the incident much thought. Now she wondered how early divisions began; how people form groups and shun others; how bullying and ostracizing begins because someone wears a striped dress, not a polka-dotted one…

The divisions within her own self were innumerable.

“I am becoming schizophrenic,” Ann feared, being saner than ever.

…That night she and Ben were watching the news reporting of a murder that happened five years ago. The culprit was a female and still at large. She poisoned three people, sliced them apart and flushed their innards into the sewer. The psychopath’s name was Ann. Ann Mayfair glimpsed some footage of the house where the homicide occurred. “If they show the bathroom has pink marble tiles then I was “Ann,” she thought, shuddering in every limb, but the footage was cut short with no tour of the presumed pink marble bathroom…Ann tried to find pictures of that house online for hours. All she discovered was that the house stood on Greyfair Street. She gasped for air in a panic attack. It was almost her last name, and she frequently complained that “May is a grey month – stormy and rainy!” That’s where her name came from! She could have picked a billion other combinations but she settled for Ann Mayfair, not even knowing why, after she’d awoken from her coma. There could be no coincidence. She was the murderer who must have attempted suicide following the godless crime. But the suicide went wrong and some people found her…they didn’t want to blemish themselves by saving a maniac, so they shoved her in the taxi which brought her straight to the hospital. That was the sequence of events spinning in Ann’s mind…

She saw photos of the victims and begged forgiveness from them, trembling to her core with guilt: especially the little boy, whose final shriek seemed to echo in her ears, begging to spare him…

Two hours later she saw breaking news that Ann Scoffield – the ruthless murderer was captured and delivered to jail.  It was an obese, unkempt and wild-eyed woman, nothing like the polished Ann Mayfair, applauded by the media…

Her agent cancelled a book signing, and she hadn’t gone out for days. At dinner, with Ben and Allie beside her, Ann could barely contain herself. Did she deserve the joy of being with them? She jolted from her chair, and rushed to the bedroom. Her hands trembled as she picked up the tape. Her heart skipped beats –about to stop, and restart again, with unforeseeable love or hatred of life, of herself, of God, of everything…She repeated over and again, “Forgive me,” not knowing to whom she apologized, and “Save me!” finding no relief.

“Ann, let’s talk,” Ben walked into the room, closing the door, and Ann suddenly noticed that it was raining outside. The world seemed to fade, with mist and emptiness ahead, into which she could run but never flee the evidence of a thousand sins which might be in her pocket. These were the crimes against humanity, and she felt the endless guilt and responsibility for what happened on Earth. Any experience could have been hers – as perpetrator or victim – or connectedly both. All wars were hers, all horrors were hers, and forgiveness was hers – once she was brave enough to grant it. She was a puzzle-piece of Life, reflecting on itself in a boundless spectrum.

“Please stay forever,” she whispered.

“Ann,” Ben sat down beside her, “Tell me what is happening to you?”

“Better ask what has happened to me,” she sobbed – never before having allowed such weakness.

The tape was the recording of her soul, and she entrusted it to him. Ben placed it back into her hands.

“I don’t know who I am,” Ann said imploringly, “I don’t know…”

“You are wonderful,” he smiled, warming her ice-cold hands in his own, “You are the best person I know. You are kind and open-hearted and remarkably…real. You are my dream come true. You are our daughter’s mother. I am grateful to all people who have led us to each other, through the mist of oblivion, through the spirals of time, through mistakes and victories which we prefer to forget or to always remember…I’m grateful for the fact of “you,” no matter who you were before. I can’t imagine who I would be without you.”

“I am the happiest of people,” Ann melted into his embrace, knowing he would always catch her when she fell from the Summit of Herself. She tossed the tape aside, forgetting about it for the first time in weeks, as they moved over to the bed….

Next morning she emailed her agent, apologizing for the nervous break-down. The agent replied, “Not the first time in my experience, Ann. The book tour is a big step. Can we meet later today to discuss the agenda?”

Ann scheduled the meeting for the afternoon, as she, Ben and Allie would be going to the theatre in the evening. However, she asked the taxi to stop at the nearby park, overlooking a river. She walked over a bridge, pondering, “Should I drown the tape?”

She thought of Allie, “I accept her entirely, no matter who she’ll become in the future. In the same way, she and Ben accept me – no matter my past…I take responsibility for who I am, to become my better self!” She flung the tape in the river, eliminating the past and the myriad possibilities of ruin and happiness which it could encompass.

“All that exists is me, right now. My choice is to move forward,” she thought, “…Who am I? I am human, eternally.”

That night at the theatre, the troupe presented a series of dramatic skits.

The last was peculiar: A couple was leaving a party, and the young man declared to the girl, “Goodbye. I’m sorry, but I don’t love you anymore. There is someone else. Thanks for taking care of me after the accident. I’ve remembered that I had a girlfriend before I met you. She’s my ideal and I must find her.”

The girl was a nurse and they started dating during the young man’s recovery. This fateful party, which led to their sudden breakup, was held at a patio overlooking B…mountains, and the young man had a vague flashback. He heard the summons of those slopes, coated in memory: how he was overwhelmed to go there with his soul mate – a shadowed figure from his dreams. Or, maybe, the breakup was an excuse to pursue other women, reminding him that he was young and inspiring him to taste life more boldly after his near-death experience. The girlfriend let him go, and he gave her a brisk hug, “I won’t forget the good you’ve done me. Please find happiness as well!” The girl went home, dignity forbidding her to weep. A friend caught up with her and asked, “Why didn’t you tell him that you are his Ideal? That before the accident you were his girlfriend, and it did happen at B….mountains where he made a steep turn?”

The girl smiled sadly, “Love is free will which we grant selflessly to others. I have nothing left to give him but the freedom to move on.”

…After the play, Ann got a headache which she blamed on fatigue.

“Are you sure that you’re okay?” Ben worriedly asked.

“With you beside me…always sure,” Ann smiled, hugging Allie. The strength of their love was undoubtable…

The actors in the troupe, however, assembled after the performance to discuss Ann Mayfair.

“I swear, that woman in the front row reminded me of May,” one of the actors said, “I almost forgot my lines, when I saw her.”

“No, she’s a famous writer. There is some resemblance, though. They say there are seven people in the world who could have been our twins,” another actor remarked.

Only one actress kept mute, going alternately red and pale in the face and thanking God that Ann Mayfair didn’t come backstage to talk.

Had Ann watched the tape, she would have seen the following: a theatre rehearsal with herself in the lead role, when her name was May Enfair. One fateful night May and that colleague were attacked by muggers on a side-walk by the theatre. Only the colleague broke free. She ran with all her might, not daring to look back. The muggers left May bleeding on the pavement. Terrified people soon crowded around her, calling the police and ambulance, but failed to identify the unconscious young woman. The muggers had stolen her purse. The troupe assumed that May quit the theatre following a heated argument with the director the day before.

May Enfair was indeed an orphan with no family to look for her.

All these years, May’s colleague felt guilty for not reporting the assault. She feared to get involved with the police, being an occasional drug-user, and assumed that May had died.

May underwent some plastic surgery following the injury but was still recognizable. Seeing May resurface as an icon in recent media, the actress lost her sleep which no drug could induce.

She sent the tape anonymously to Ann Mayfair, and was among the first who purchased her bestseller: “Know Thyself.”

 

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