Authors: Adele Griffin
Also by Adele Griffin
THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright Â© 2013 by Adele Griffin
Cover art copyright Â© 2013 by Mohamad Itani / Trevillion Images
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York. Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.
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Griffin, Adele. Loud awake and lost / Adele Griffin. â First edition.
Summary: Eight months after a debilitating car accident leaves her with brain trauma and a back injury, amnesiac teen Ember tries to piece together the six weeks of her life leading up to the accidentâand determine why none of her friends or family are willing to talk about it.
ISBN 978-0-385-75272-5 (trade) â ISBN 978-0-385-75273-2 (lib. bdg.) â
ISBN 978-0-385-75274-9 (ebook) â ISBN 978-0-385-75275-6 (tr. pbk.)
[1. MemoryâFiction. 2. AmnesiaâFiction. 3. LoveâFiction. 4. Traffic accidentsâFiction.
5. Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)âFiction.] I. Title.
Random House Children's Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.
for Courtney Sheinmel
In pitch dark I go walking in your landscape.
I got back from lunch to find they'd cleaned out my room. They'd even taken my nameplate off the door. According to Addington Hospital,
had already left the building.
And I would be on my way, in just a few minutes. Strange that I'd slept in this narrow metal bed for eight months. Looking around, I could already feel my time here losing shape. I'd never felt real at Addington. I'd never been me here. I'd been a restoration project, and now I was done.
Earlier this morning, I'd jammed eight months into two brown cardboard boxes that were now in the lobby, ready to load into my parents' car. I'd rechecked under the bed, in the cupboard, inside each desk drawer.
Yep. I was finished. I was gone.
Maybe I needed a final gesture. A secret note for the next broken person. Should I use a file to scrape my initials
into the windowsill? Or I could carve out some vintage Green Day: “I hope you had the time of your life.”
Orâ¦was that just mean?
Skip it. Mean was the last thing I felt.
Fragile. Freezing. Lonely. I felt crudely refashioned, like a Frankenstein monster. Barely on this earth, like a ghost.
But the terror didn't hit me until I buckled in. My parents had driven up in their new Priusâa different car, of course, from the family Volvo that I'd totaled. They'd leased it some months ago, but I'd never seen it.
Now they were taking me home in it.
On the hospital's front steps, I hugged Summer and Gab, my two favorite nurses. Even Dr. P had braved the cloudless glare of October sunlight. He fit his arm around my shouldersâ“okay, and you've got my email, my cell”âshook hands with Dad, and kissed my mother on the cheek.
Then he whispered something in Mom's ear, something kind and supportive, probably. I couldn't hear what, but I saw her eyes fill. I wanted to do something, too. Squeeze her hand, tell her I was okay. But it felt more important to be still, to show calm. I'd had so many meltdowns, there had been so many tears. If I could stay on the verge, then I wouldn't tip over.
And now we were off.
It might have been my father's harmonizing to the radio. Or my mom's twist-arounds to check that all of my needs had been met.
“Are you cold, honey? Or maybe it's stuffy, a teeny bit hot in here? Would you like some water? Hang on, I have a bottle.” Mom always had deep concerns about hydration.
Or it could have been that final turn out of Addington's harp-shaped iron gates.
Whatever it was, being confronted with the fact that right now, the thing I'd wanted most for eight months was actually happening, I felt the fear begin to take hold of me. I wasn't ready. I'd been put in a dunk tank, only instead of water, I'd plunged into a bottomless panic. I bit the insides of my cheeks. What was scaring me? This didn't make sense. There were no surprises where I was going. Just nice, boring home with my nice, boring parents and my nice, boring life before the accident.
The accident, the recovery. What had happened in February sometimes sounded like another person's dream, endlessly retold to me. Even yesterday, Dr. Pipini was still warning me about case studies where brain-trauma victims are forever attacked by headaches and auras or episodes of vertigo. That we're susceptible to night sweats, tremors, and ringing in the ears. Sometimes we regain memoryâa smidgen, or about half, or sometimes even all of it.
But sometimes everything is lost.
Studies had proved so much. In fact, every single thing I'd experienced in connection with my accident seemed to have another person's case study already stapled to it. Dr. P said I was lucky to have lost only six weeks of memory before the night of February 14th. According to Dr. P, this wasn't a lot.
Studies had proved the normalcy of my ordeal.
As the car E-ZPassed over the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and then hooked up with the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway to Atlantic Avenue, I breathed through the kink in my stomach. For weeks, the urge to get back to Brooklyn had been strong as a riptide inside me. So why did every mile that went by between me and Addington increase my desire to return to the safety of the hospital?
I felt light-headed, empty-handed. Like I'd forgotten to pack things. Big things. Things I needed. No, no, no, I wasn't ready, I wasn't complete, I couldn't face down the real world.
Because Addington hadn't been the real world. It had been a space to rebuild myself from parts. To practice being human again.
Dad drove impossibly slowly and smoothly, as if the car were filled with crates of eggs and bowls of goldfish. Onto Atlantic, left on Hicks, and another left.
Same thin brownstone. Same balding olive carpet, same rummage of catalogs and flyers on the front hall table. My parents were a tag team of worry.
“Ember, why don't you leave your suitcase for us to take up with the boxes?”
“Some tea, sweetie? You look tired.”
“No, I can handle it. I'm not thirsty. I feel fine.”
I left them downstairs. Would it always be like this? Then again, it had always been something like this. Mom was a math professor and Dad up till his retirement last year had taught music, and their personalities played out along those roles. Right down to my mother's logical list-making and Dad's inability to exist in a room without layering a harmony into it. But when it came to me, my parents wore their worry in a matched set. Batting at me like catnip with the nervous paws of their excess fears.
On the landing, I felt faint. I caught the railing and my breath. I waited a moment, gathering myself, before I opened the door into my past. Hello, bedroom of slanted pine floors and wildflower wallpaper. Hello, faded friendship quilt. Hello, braided rug, ballet bar; hello, farmhouse door that Dad refinished three years ago, the summer I turned fourteen. All that July, I'd watched him sand and finish it, then paint it my specially-picked-at-Sherwin-Williams color, periwinkle, and mount it on blocks for me to use as a desk.
The room had that same walnut-gingerbread smell, but it was also musty and unusedâdespite the ferny bloom of marigolds Mom had placed on my windowsill. Almost everything in this room was as natural as my own voice.
The back of my neck prickled hotly. My room wasn't quite as I'd left it. Something was wrong here. Something was off.
Deep breath. I was just in shock to be home.
And maybe I was overreacting to tiny things, like these fancy arty pens, fanned out in the lopsided glazed pot I'd made in fourth grade. When had I bought them? Slowly, I picked up a silver pen, popped its cap, sniffed the ink, and then marked my hand with a funny-looking sideways
Huh, why had I done that? So automatic, almost thoughtless.
Now I was teetering on the verge of being on the edge; I went as still as the room as my eyes roved around for the next oddity. What was this, wedged in the upper corner of my door mirror? A ticket stub for a movie I'd never seen. I darted to it. I didn't remember anything about that movieâthe title was in German, I couldn't even pronounce it.
And here, what was this? A black business card for a dance club called Areacode out in Bushwick. Areacode? I must have gone to that club, right? And it had been memorable enough that I had a souvenir.
The poster tacked to my wall corkboard startled me most.
Whoa, how had I not seen that, first thing? When'd I put that up? I didn't know any group called Weregirl. I stared. Against a rusted sunburst posed three guys and one girl, all dressed in old-fashioned military jackets.
My heart was pounding. But I hadn't heard this band's music. I hadn't tacked up this poster. Or bought those. Or seen that. Okay, okay,
This must have happened inside the memory sinkhole. The missing weeks. Dr. P and I had shared multiple discussions about this.
It was lettered in retro-typewriter ink along the bottom of the poster, with a list of dates from last winter.
WEST TWENTY-FIRST AND SURF AVENUE
was circled in blue, for a March 12th concert. Of course, I'd never made it to the show. By March 12th I was at Addington, relearning how to walk and chew food.
Five minutes home and I was unraveling. My armpits damp, my breath shallow. And I hadn't even left my room.
“Remember your PBR.” I could hear Dr. Pipini's voice in my ear.
Positioning, Breathing, Relaxation.
Slowly, I unclenched my hands. My back was pinchingâ I dropped to a hinge, tried to touch my toes. Forced my mouth into a smileâ“smiling helps when you feel worst,” Summer always saidâand then rolled up.
Okay. I would finish excavating my room later. Now I unzipped my suitcase, which spilled out the time capsule of my convalescence. It was strangely comforting. All the familiar paperbacks that had been lined up on my hospital shelf, along with my textbooks and progress notebooks. Sweatpants and Tâshirts, scrubs and Crocs. Get-well cards and stuffed animals and even my temporary teethâa bridge they'd created for me to use for a couple of months before I got my permanent veneer implants.
The temp teeth had been too fascinatingly ugly not to keep. After a moment's thought, I placed them on my bureau between my sandalwood jewelry box and the photo I'd framed of my parents from a few Thanksgivings ago.
God, my parents had aged drastically. Because of me. My fault, all my fault.
Downstairs, the doorbell chimed and Mom got it. But I could have guessed who it was. Not ten minutes home, and here was Smarty. I listened to their hushed voicesâ
“Can I see her?” “Yes, of course. Go on up; she's in her room.”
Followed by the soft bound of Rachel Smart's mismatchedâone pink, one redâConverse All Stars on the stairs, before she burst through the door and swept me up into her signature crushing hug.
“Smarty, I can't breathe! Put me down!” But I was laughing. It felt so good not to be treated like glass, like a patient.
Rachel's gray wolf eyes swept over me for information as she let me drop. “Ooh. The Hollywood smile. Are they
“Maybe. They're so
And with the short hairâyou definitely lookâ¦Okay, let me see how the battle wounds are healing.”
Rachel and I hadn't known a modest moment between us since the night we both peed my bed during a sleepover playdate back in pre-K. Rachel, just under six feet with a rock star's hips and a swimmer's shoulders, was as easy with her own sharp angles as Iâseven inches shorter and about the same weightâwas usually okay with my curves. And anyway, I was happy to lose my cotton shirtdress. Mom had brought it to Addington because it was one of my faves, bought with my own money at an end-of-summer pop-up-shop sale in the East Village. Happy yellow gerbera daisies printed on thin green cotton.
Except it was a dorky dress. Mom loved it, but I'd been self-conscious in it all day. In the back of my mind was a sticky wriggle of lost memoryâI'd been meaning to donate it to Goodwill. Hadn't I?
The thought, like the pens, like the Weregirl poster, was an itch that I couldn't find to scratch at.
I stripped to my tank and boy shorts and let Rachel circle me as if I were a used car she wasn't sure about buying. “Can I touch them?”
“Sure. If you want to.”
I shivered reflexively as Rachel's index finger traced the six-inch herringbone scar where broken glass had split the skin of my forearm down to my elbow like a hot dog bun to the meat inside. Then around back to the base of my spine, where her fingers found the buried bolt. It was about the size of a couple of D batteries, a result of fusion surgery for traumatic spondylolisthesis. Also known as a fracture-dislocation of the fifth lumbar vertebra.
An injury that, had it occurred one inch higher up my spinal column, would have left me paralyzed.
Her finger next came to the stippled graft along my arm to my elbow. Then moved up and across my forehead. Her face went politely blank as I lifted my overgrown thicket of bangs to reveal my scar. Almost grotesque, I knew. But I also knew Smarty would knee-jerk joke it off. When the going got tense, Smarty got jokey.
“Hear about the dude who lost his left arm
his left leg in the car crash?” The flat of Smarty's hand pressed against my forehead. As if pushing back the fact of the scar, like the fossil imprint of a lizard that extended from my temple to the arc of my brow.
“Waiting for it.”
“He's all right now.”
“Not the worst.” She grinned.
Rachel. Raye-Raye. Smarty. My bestie since before I knew the word
Who'd made the trip to Addington more than a dozen times, and always with treats from the outside worldâcopies of
smuggled boxes of Little Debbies and Mike and Ikes, new music downloads. Which reminded me.
“Who's this group Weregirl? You never downloaded me any of that.”
Rachel's lips thinned as she glanced at the poster. “Sorry. I'm not big on Weregirl. Sorta forgot that you went very fangirl right before the accident.”