What Was Lost
My name is Jennifer Burton, and while I may look like a woman in her late 20s or early 30s, I've only been alive for six years. That was when I woke up on a beach in Santa Monica with no money, no identification, and what the doctors called a rare form of advanced retrograde amnesia. It's rare in that, normally, retrograde amnesia will allow a victim to remember the trauma that caused them to forget, but I don't remember what happened to me. I don't remember anything before waking up on that beach. I don't even remember my name. All I had to show for my life before that was a blinding headache and the clothes on my back.
I live with my fiancé, Charles Irving Bartowski, or Chuck as he likes to be called, and my five year old daughter, Grace Marie. In case you're caught on the math, let me clear things up for you. Yes, when I awoke a new person, with no memories, I was five months pregnant with Gracie, so I guess in a way, I did have something else with me. She's not Chuck's, as I didn't meet him until three years after my apparent incident. At least I'm pretty sure I didn't. He's told me that we never met before then, and I trust him.
Sometimes, I wonder if it bothers Chuck that Gracie so clearly isn't his. Her features are sharp and severe, like mine, but her hair is dark brown, almost black, in stark contrast to by dirty blonde tresses. And she has the darkest brown eyes. Eyes that I can't remember ever seeing that can only belong to her biological father. But if it does bother Chuck, he doesn't let on. He treats Gracie like his own daughter, and in my mind, she is. He's the only father she's ever known.
I serve frozen yogurt for a living at a small place in the Buy More Plaza in Burbank called Orange Orange. Believe me, I don't like the name either, but the powers that be didn't ask for my input. I think I have an educational background that would make me way overqualified for that job. It's not that I'm conceded or anything, but there are moments when I just know that I'm thinking on a way higher plane than my coworkers. Sometimes I'll figure numbers in my head that would require others to use a calculator, or at least a piece of scratch paper. And my vocabulary and use of the English language far exceeds that of an average mall worker. But without the credentials to prove it, there's not a whole lot I can do about that.
But I've been taking night classes for the past year trying to earn, or perhaps re-earn a college degree so I can provide a better life for Gracie and me.
And Chuck is a part of that plan, of course. He understands me more than I think anyone else could. Besides his sister, and a few close friends, he doesn't really have much history either. His parents left him when he was young, and he doesn't like talking about it. He was unfairly dismissed from Stanford during his senior year for something he didn't do, and he doesn't like talking about that either. I'm fine with that. I wouldn't have anything to tell him in return. So together, we live in the present, and look forward to tomorrow.
Sometimes though, I can't help but wonder if I was meant for more. If who I was would look at my life—the simple life of a service industry worker making barely above minimum wage while raising a daughter with only the help of a man I met three years ago—and scoff.
Would she be proud of what I've become? Would she be glad that I'm a good mother to my—our child? Did she even want Gracie? Did she even care? There are so many questions I would love to ask her—me, back then. But as time goes on, I'm coming to the conclusion that those answers will never be answered.
I've spent thousands of dollars on private investigators over the years, hoping that one of them could track down some clue as to my true identity. Most of my friends think I'm wasting money. Money I don't really have. They don't normally say anything to my face, but I hear the whispers behind my back. I can't really blame them. In their situation, I'd probably think the same thing. But the fact is, I'm not in their situation, and they couldn't possibly understand mine.
Chuck understands me. Or at least he tries to. At least he supports me. Even when I've gotten to the point of wanting to end my search in the past, when things have been so bleak, he's encouraged me to push forward. He's my rock. He and Gracie. She's still too young of course to really know that she gives me strength, but she does. I know she loves me, and I love her with all my heart, but there will come a day when she wants to know where she comes from. There may come a day when I need to know who her father is. So I have to keep looking, for her. And for me.
Not knowing your true self is a feeling few people will ever know. There are days, of course, that it doesn't affect me at all. I have Gracie, and Chuck, and work, and now school to keep me busy. Keeping busy is really the best way to keep from thinking about my problems, and I've become a master at doing just that. But the slow days, it really sets in.
The slow days, I'll often stand naked in front of my mirror for hours on end and try to remember. Where did I get that scar just above my hip? What about the ache I feel in my right knee on rainy days? How did that happen? I seem to have an exorbitant number of scars covering my body. Most of them are too small to notice, unless you're looking. I'm always looking. I also wonder how many scars line my body in spots I can't see. Does Chuck see them? If he does, he doesn't mention it. He knows I wouldn't be able to tell him when or where or how I got it.
And why is my body so damaged to begin with? Was I some sort of extreme athlete in my past life? Or maybe I was an ultimate fighter. That would explain both the scars and my unusual level of fitness for a five-months-pregnant woman when I was discovered on that beach so many years ago.
But whatever I was, I'm not that anymore. And I don't want to be that again, regardless of who I was. I'm happy with who I am. I'm happy with my life. I'm happy with my family. I just want to be able to say that I know where I've been, and give that past life one final goodbye.
I've been working with the same private investigator now for six months. That's the longest I've had one last. Most of them have been ready to quit on me within a couple of months of me hiring them. I don't have a lot of information for them to go on, and most investigators have better-paying, easier cases to work. But now I'm down to the bottom of the barrel. The P.I. equivalent of ambulance chasers. It's all I can really afford anymore, and honestly, I've already used all the names that came highly recommended.
He hasn't been able to find anything just yet, but it hasn't stopped him from trying. He's uncovered a few false leads, each time calling me to tell me what he'd found before dashing my hopes when he discovered the lead was bone dry.
He refers to me as "Crazy Amnesia Lady." He doesn't think I know, but I do. For whatever I was, for whatever I am, I'm very perceptive. But I don't care. He can call me anything he wants if he can one day tell me who I really am.
He's never told me this, but I've kind of gathered that he doesn't get a lot of business. Not on the P.I. front, anyway. He bases his business out of the Spy Shop in the Buy More Plaza. There's a small sign near the register that touts "John Casey: Private Investigator", but the store is almost always empty. The only people I ever see go in there are Jeff and Lester, two of Chuck's idiot employees from the Buy More. In fact, I get the impression that I may be his last shot. We have that in common. He's my last shot, too.
And he really tries, I'll give him that. He's used everything he can think of. He's taken blood samples from me and from Gracie, and scoured the country looking for any matches, but so far, he's come up empty. He's even taken some dental x-rays I had done and tried to find a match, but he got zero hits.
It's almost seems sometimes as if I didn't exist before waking up in the sand that cool October morning. As if I was some clone of another person, created on an alien space ship and dropped off on the California coast. My nerdy fiancé has actually hypothesized as much. I generally roll my eyes and laugh when he says something like that, but sometimes, I almost think he has a point. If I didn't have the scars to prove otherwise, I'd almost believe it.
But I can't let my failure to discover my past dictate my present. It's two weeks to Christmas, and the height of the holiday party season. I have the good fortune of having a future sister-in-law that takes every opportunity to plan a party, and tonight, she expects me to share in her hostess duties.
Chuck, Gracie and I live in the same apartment complex as his sister Ellie, and tonight, we have a giant soiree planned in the courtyard that rests between us. Lights have been strung from one end to another, there's mistletoe abound, and the eggnog will be flowing like the water from the fountain that sits in the middle of that courtyard.
I really wish Ellie would've handled all the party stuff herself. Social gatherings aren't really my thing. I prefer the quiet comfort a night in over the hectic scene of one hundred of our close friends and co-workers milling about, expecting conversation and general merriment. I wonder if I was so adverse to being around people in my past life? Did the old me typically retreat from such settings, or did she thrive under those conditions? I would like to think that part of me is ingrained in my nature, but for all I know, I was a social butterfly before the incident.
And what of the father of my child? Is he someone I met at a party? A one night stand? Did I really know him? Did I love him? Did he love me? Is he maybe still out there, looking for me and our child? Surely he would've found us by now if he was, I would think. Unless I'm as hard to find for him as my past is for me.
There I go thinking again. I know it's useless, but it's hard not to let my mind wander to what might have been. Again, it's not that I want to leave my current life. I love my life. I just need closure.
And as I get dressed for the big party, I'm beginning to try to accept that closure may never come. Of course, I could be wrong. There could be a surprise right around the corner.
Notes: This is not only my first Chuck fic, but it's also my first fic in general, so be gentle with me please? But still, I'd love to hear what everyone thinks, and any constructive criticism would be welcomed, and if you want to praise me, I can live with that, too! And thank you to my BFF Bridget for editing this for me. Couldn't do it without you, girl! Thank ya'll for reading.
Disclaimer: Also my first disclaimer, so I don't own the characters or the universe, but I think I'm going to have fun playing in it.