What Once Was, Now is Forgotten
By: Sam Reilly
Evacuation is mandatory for all parishes in and around the
city of New Orleans. If you are listening, do not take this
warning lightly. I repeat, DO NOT take this lightly folks.
There is imminent danger for all along on the Gulf Coast…
Every station was the same. Every broadcast, every on-air personality had the same fear
in their shuddering voice. The real fear, unknown by most, rested in what was left unsaid.
A thick fog hovered over the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. Twenty three miles of
endless, eerie clouds separated Nathaniel and Dawn from the rest of the world. All they wanted
was to get home. They had been through this danger before, but had always been able to ride it
out in their Mandeville home.
“Do you think what they’re saying…is it really going to get that bad?” Dawn’s voice
“I don’t know honey,” Nathaniel replied, “we’ve ridden these storms out before and been
just fine. They said the same thing about Andrew and we only lost a few shingles. Let’s just get
“Did you remember to take your medicine,” she asked.
“All of it?”
“Yes Dawn, every little pill, how else do you think I’m remembering all the other
hurricanes that rolled through here?”
She let out a deep sigh, her hands trembling as she white knuckled the steering wheel.
Nathan reached out and rubbed her shoulder, trying to calm her nerves. Her gaze met his.
“I love you Dawn.”
“I love you Nathaniel.”
There was a rumble of thunder that could be heard from the cab of the small Chevy pickup. Dawn was terrified of storms. Her mother used to tell him that is was just God telling jokes
to the angels and his boisterous laughter sometimes shook the earth. This rumble of thunder was
different though, as it echoed for what seemed like an eternity before finally giving way to an
unforgiving silence. The fog broke. Nathaniel looked out the window as an enormous wave
crested above the causeway.
“Dawn watch out!”
The force of the water threw the vehicle about like a child’s toy. The wave sent the truck
crashing through the metal guard rail and into the lake.
“Nathaniel!” Dawn’s voice screamed out.
“Nathaniel,” her voice fluttered in the air.
“Nathaniel,” again she spoke with such patience and careful attention to his reaction.
He tried to focus on the most simplistic details, just so he might be able to recall them
later. Her hair was a deep auburn color, with bronze highlights that revealed themselves as the
sun cast down its blistering summer glow. There was a world of never ending sapphire waters in
her eyes that Nathaniel submerged into every time she looked his way. She sat by a window in
the front living room. Cracks of dark Cyprus wood seaped through the aging white paint. Dust
hung onto the window pane like a gentle blanket of mist hovering above the tall grass of the
bayou. The floor creaked under the legs of the heavy oak rocking chair. Swaying back and forth,
she sat with angelic calm. A dim glow peeked through the lace curtains behind her, shedding a
small ray of light upon the otherwise dwindling day. She smiled. It was full of love. Full of
connection. A connection to a past life that he struggled to make every day.
“Nathaniel” she said one more time as she faded away again.
His eyes opened and once again he became just a figure lost in the shadows of existence.
“Nathaniel…” he said quietly.
“Nathaniel…” the words were so hard to remember.
“Nathaniel Everett Pl--” his voice quivered and stuttered as he tried to recall the most
simple of things.
“Nathaniel Everett Plummer, my name is Nathaniel Everett Plummer.”
With the remembrance of one thing comes the forgetting of another. In the waning blink
of an eye, his dreams were forgotten. For Nathaniel, there were no yesterdays…there were only
The deafening alarm from the emergency broadcast system bounced from wall to wall in
the small motel room. Nathaniel rose from the microfiber chair that sat in the corner next to the
in-wall air conditioning unit. Black mold crawled out of the damp walls as moss and mud clung
to the ceilings. Outside, there was emptiness. Nathaniel gazed out the window to see nothing but
hopeless ruins of the town and the life that he once knew.
He looked to the wall where a large map hung. There were thumbtacks and sticky notes
plastered all over, mapping out the places where he had been as he navigated his way home.
Every night, Nathaniel found shelter and marked the spot on the map. Repetition, this was the
only way of life for Nathaniel. He suffered from a severe form of memory loss and the only way
for him to keep track of his life was to constantly keep notes and remind himself of his activities.
He stepped toward the map and a small picture fell from his lap onto the dizzying Alice
in Wonderland stripes of the hotel carpet. The small square photograph landed on its back where
barely legible letters made out a name and a date.
“Dawn, 2013” he said to himself as he read the back of the picture.
Nathaniel flipped over the photo and revealed the most beautiful reminder of his past.
“Dawn…” he repeated whimsically to the empty air.
An image came to Nathaniel that was as tangible as the threads that frayed from his worn
He closed his eyes and watched as sparks rose from tall grass in the field. Fireflies
scattered themselves throughout the night, tiny beacons of hope and light in the darkness around
them. Nathaniel and Dawn ran through the field, crickets bounding off of his legs with each step.
Sounds of bullfrogs and hoot owls echoed off in the distance, and a warm summer’s breeze bent
the tall grass ever so slightly. The night lived…
He opened his eyes and gazed into the eyes of the picture. He placed the picture in his
jacket pocket next to his heart and walked toward the map.
Red lines and yellow post it notes covered nearly every inch of the faded blue lines on the
map. He read each of his notations carefully until he figured out where he was.
“The Blue Bayou Motel.”
He picked up the sticky note and drew a large X through it. He mapped how far this
motel was from home. It would take another day moving at good speed to finally reach home. He
quickly gathered his belongings and began to put them in his backpack. There wasn’t much: a
gallon jug of water, some cheese crackers, the map, and his journal.
He flipped open the worn leather bound pages and began to read.
I can still see her face…I’m fighting to still hold on to her. I can still hear her voice
screaming my name as the water ripped us apart from one another. All I could do was reach out
and try to grab a hold yet even as hard as I tried I couldn’t hold on. Now I’m sitting alone, doing
the same thing…reaching out and trying to save my memories of her until we are reunited. I
know she is waiting for me…I know she is home…I have to get home.
The pages of the journal shook in his grasp as tremors began to move throughout his
body. He closed his eyes and fought through the first wave before a second and far more painful
wave overtook him. His body jerked violently until he lay still upon the motel carpet, saliva
moving at a snail’s pace from the corner of his mouth.
He lied deathly still on the floor of the motel room. His mind sparked as different
memories flashed in his head. His mind took him to a hospital room. Before the storm Nathaniel
was diagnosed with Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease. The doctors had told him that the disease would
rapidly deteriorate his mind and body, leaving him with little to no memories of his life before he
would die. They prescribed him Valproate that was supposed to help with the severe and
frequent seizures that come with this disease, but he hadn’t had his medicine in weeks. It was
only a matter of time until his mind would disintegrate into nothing.
Again, memories flashed in his head until once again he saw her. She looked beautiful in
the rocking chair as the lace curtains swayed in the gentle breeze. The faint glow of light,
silhouetting her figure as the memory came to an end.
Nathaniel regained consciousness and moved his arm up to wipe the spit from his lips.
Every muscle in his body was burning and sore so he rolled on his back to alleviate some of the
pain. There is no telling how long he was unconscious. Everything was new again…everything
He sat up and looked around the room, searching for anything to jar his memory. He
looked down and saw his journal lying open on the floor. He picked it with his hands still
shaking and began to read.
I don’t know how long I’ve been out here. Dawn has gone missing. I keep trying to
remember the last place I saw her but everything is so blurry. My mind is failing me, but I can’t
give up. It shouldn’t be too further before I get back home. She has to be waiting for me
there…she has to be.
Nathaniel moved quickly into the wilderness and found the river. At this point, following
the river would be the quickest way home. The small tributary flowed directly into Lake
Pontchartrain. His house was nestled directly on the banks of the lake. A warm breeze blew and
evoked memories of warm summer nights, watching the sun tumble from the sky into the murky
waters of the lake.
Spanish moss hung from the live oaks, gently scraping Nathaniel’s shoulders as he
meandered along the river banks. He passed the time by playing small mind games in an attempt
to keep his mind as sharp as possible in this stage of his disease. One line jokes along with
jingles from commercials were said out loud.
The water gently babbled against rocks and rushed over the broken logs that were
immersed through the river. Nathaniel carefully sauntered along the edge of the river bank. He
entered a clearing amongst the oak trees and through the other side, he saw his home.
As he began to walk through the clearing that led to his plantation home, he stepped upon
a stick. It cracked and echoed against what seemed to be the stone walls of the forest. He turned
his head back to the forest, and there was nothing. Not a sound. The babbling water had ceased
along with the gentle breeze Instead, the once gorgeous tapestry of Spanish moss became the
frightening fingers and claws of a faceless fear.
“Where am I?” he questioned himself.
Frantically, Nathaniel threw down his backpack and rummaged through his belongings.
He tossed out the crackers and discarded the map onto the damp grass of the bayou. He pulls out
his journal and flips through the pages, trying to gain some semblance of knowledge as to what’s
The days all run together. I try every minute, every second to remember who I am and
what I am doing out here all alone but I can’t. Everything that connected me to the world I can’t
remember, it has all disappeared…even Dawn. I have walked for miles today and I can’t find
her. I don’t know what it is but I keep getting the feeling that something terrible has happened to
her. I’m fighting, fighting with everything I have to remember her smell…to remember her
laughter…remember how it felt to just sit next to her but every hour gets harder and harder…all
I want to do is be together again. All I want…is to remember her…
Nathaniel’s heart began to race as he stood and began to walk. With each step, his mind
clouded and his muscles began to tighten. The thought of never being his wife again terrified him
more than the unknown shadows of the swamp.
Suddenly, his knees began to shake and knock each other, throwing him off balance. His
arms stiffened as his veins seemed to curl into tight knots underneath his skin.
“Please, not now…” he said to himself as he broke through shrubs and patches of thick
bushes. As his foot touched the first blade of grass in the clearing, he collapsed.
Jagged, sharp spikes of fire filtered through Nathaniel’s body as he twitched and
convulsed amidst the tall grassy field. Amongst the blinding flashes of agony came thoughts that
were even more painful. The knowledge that he would not make his journey increased in his
mind. Once again, loneliness and fear overtook his soul, until a single firefly fluttered above
him. The glowing torso of the insect flashed calmly above his eyes before landing directly on his
nose. With each flicker, warmth crept back into his body. He watched this frightening beauty
cast its small ray of hope back into his mind. He stared into the warming neon glow of the firefly
and was transported back to a field from years ago…
Sparks rose from tall grass in the field. Fireflies scattered themselves throughout the
night, tiny beacons of hope and light in the darkness around them. Nathaniel and Dawn ran
through the field, crickets bounding off of his legs with each step. Sounds of bullfrogs and hoot
owls echoed off in the distance, and a warm summer’s breeze bent the tall grass ever so slightly.
The night lived…
His mind flashed once again into his living room where Dawn sat in her old oaken
rocking chair, swaying back and forth of the window.
“Nathaniel…” her angelic voice drifted through the air.
He walked slowly over to her seat. He intertwined his hands with hers, an interesting
pairing to say the least. His nails were bitten down to the quick and scarred from years of labor.
Calluses riddled every inch of his palm, and a freshly covered scab ran down the left side of his
She rubbed his cut delicately. The only thing that riddled her hands was perfection. Every
curve, every finger print, every cuticle, every mole, every vein…it was perfect in his eyes. She
His mind flashed to the first time they met. How he awkwardly offered her a drink more
than several times because he was so taken back by her beauty. The way she wore her gym
clothes that were filled with stale sweat and the way her wavy matted curls clung to the back of
her shirt in a way he could only describe as magnificent.
He remembered the tiny birth marks on the back of her neck, her angel kisses, and how
each time he rubbed her shoulders his lips always seemed to linger upon those birth marks as he
thanked God for bringing her into his life.
The thoughts of their first apartment where all they had was a mattress and an old clock
radio. The awful smell of the refrigerator and how every weekend they had to clean out the rotten
fruit vegetables they had bought and never used. The memory of sitting in bed and rolling in
laughter as they listened to the lude and lascivious humor of Howard Stern.
Then Nathaniel’s eyes flickered open once more as the firefly sat on his nose. Hope
beamed once again as the firefly took off and flew into the open space in the air above the grass.
Nathaniel closed his eyes and was taken back to his living room.
The deep auburn color of her hair and the light streak of red that appeared every summer
in the blistering sun. She sat by a window, swaying back and forth in the wooden rocking chair.
This time, the light in the window was not dwindling but rising as dawn approached and for the
first time in many years, filled Nathaniel’s world with hope, lighting up the darkness.