What is the meaning of identity? A woman living in an isolated cottage on the central California coast watches the fog drift across a desolate landscape. Several miles to the south, another woman, a patient in a Santa Monica hospital who has survived a brutal assault, struggles to regain her memory and her identity.
These two women are connected, but how? What brings them together? Is intensive psychotherapy the key to unlocking the mystery, or will something more uncover their shared bond?
The next morning, I pad in bare feet to the bathroom I share with another patient, Selma. I don’t know Selma’s last name. They don’t allow last names here. I can tell Selma’s recently taken a shower since the glass is misted over. I pick up a damp towel thrown over the tub and run it across the mirror in sections, top to bottom. I’m fifty-ish -- so they tell me -- with a round face, short-cropped hair and blue eyes. I turn sideways and notice the beginning of jowls. I move my head up and down, work my jaw, try to make the bags of fat under my neck disappear. Newsflash: They don’t.
Later, near the end of my therapy session, I stop pressuring myself to remember and decide to give Macias what she wants. Poor thing, she’s tried for weeks to restore my memory and failed miserably. I guess I feel sorry for her.
The doctor clasps her hands, drops them in her lap and leans forward. “You’ve got to do better, Diane.” Macias loves my new name. I thought she would. “Don’t you want to get well?”
“Of course I do.” I hope I sound sincere.
“Then try a little harder, Diane. You have to trust me.”
Selma had failed the trust test. We were sitting in the solarium one day having a cup of coffee, and she just opened up, told me about her surgery, the double mastectomy, and the middle-aged technician with the stringy blond hair who took her blood. Selma watched the woman pump red fluid from her veins and listened to her go on about the hopelessness of her situation. “They always drop some cells, Selma,” she said, “no matter how small. Microscopic traces that continue to grow. Nothing you can do about it.”
Selma became my friend, and I trusted her until the morning I opened the bathroom door and saw her sitting naked on the john, applying a foamy cream to her sagging breasts, rubbing it over them, unaware of my presence. I think trust doesn’t mean much to me anymore.
So today I give Macias what she wants. I look up at the painting, the one hanging on the wall behind her, the one she said she bought on a trip north to Santa Maria. I study the brown mountains Macias calls the Santa Lucias and the mesa below, something you’d expect to see in New Mexico or Arizona but not in California. I learned all this from Macias who seems to know everything.
Like the detective in Laura, I dive into the painting and begin my daydream. “I see a windswept plain dotted with oak trees. High sandy mountains rise above a dry riverbed. An arroyo, I think it’s called.”
“Yes, Diane, this is a good start.”
I continue on. “There’s a white stucco house with a red tile roof, kind of Spanish looking. A woman is working in a garden.” I pause here for effect. “No, she’s not in her garden. She’s inside the small cottage watching me from a window.”
Macias gives me a smile of beautiful white-capped teeth, then a nod of approval. “Go on, Diane.”
“I think it could be my mother or maybe a sister.” I take a deep breath and smile triumphantly. Macias might remember the painting when she goes over her notes, but for now I’m safe from the endless questions.
“Wonderful! I think we’ve had a breakthrough, Diane.” Macias looks at her watch. “Same time tomorrow?”
At least one of us is happy.