I would say I don’t know how it happened, but that’s me lying to myself and trying to pretend I wasn’t the idiot who got myself into this position in the first place.
There was a time when I promised myself I would never borrow money, never buy anything I couldn’t afford, but then I got married. She, well, I should have known better than to give it to her, as I was the one who was digging myself deeper and deeper into a hole I knew I’d never be able to climb out of. My name was on all of the bills, I was the one who took out all the loans, and, because she had bad credit, she used my name on all of the catalogues she bought from. By the time she was done… it’s easier not to think in terms of figures. I just knew that I was never going to be able to pay it all back and the logical thing to do would have been to declare myself bankrupt. At the time, though, I wasn’t thinking logically.
Who would? I was terrified. It wasn’t just the banks I’d borrowed from, but there were other people as well and they were people I knew I shouldn’t have taken money from as I couldn’t pay it back. That just didn’t stop me.
She wanted to be able to buy anything she wanted, so I did everything I could to make certain she had that, and she, of course, was the one who could walk away. When she realized how bad things were that’s exactly what she did, leaving me to shoulder the burden that we’d created together, because, technically, it had nothing to do with her – she might have used the money, knowing exactly where it came from, but she could easily lie about that. Tears, telling people she had no idea how I was getting the money, she thought it was an inheritance…
Fear made my decision for me. Leaving everyone I cared about behind was one of the hardest things I have ever done, but I believed then, and I still do now, that my only option was to create myself a new identity. If you know where to go these things are meant to be easy. As it was something I’d never thought about before it wasn’t anywhere near as easy for me, so in the end I opted for the one way I knew of – I got myself lost in the middle of nowhere, telling everyone I knew I was going hiking, and stayed there until someone declared me lost. When I heard that, thanks to the radio I’d taken with me, I breathed a sigh of relief. Everyone I loved thought I was dead, including my wife, which meant I’d done the hardest part. Staying out in the middle of nowhere with a new identity, with only the food I foraged, was not something I will ever do again, no matter how bad things get.
Having changed my identity meant I could decide where I was going next. I already had my plan thought out. Amnesia would, hopefully, solve my problems if someone I had once known happened to find me. I believed I was far enough away from my old home for me to be safe from that happening, but I had to think of every possibility. Although I probably didn’t need to I left it for a couple more weeks before I started making my way towards my new home, telling myself over and over again I didn’t remember who I was. The President was a different matter, as I knew knowledge like that was often kept by people suffering from amnesia, and it was going to be easier for me to pretend I didn’t know anything at all about who I was than it was for me to pretend I didn’t know the President. He was everywhere. My family were hundreds if miles away.
Several days later I stumbled, because my feet were killing me, into a town I didn’t know the name of, and made my way in the direction of the general store. I know exactly why I decided to do that. There were a few coins making noises in my coat pocket, so I could buy a coke and some chocolate. I hadn’t had either in over two months, so I think I might well have killed someone for something sweet that I took out of a packet. After getting to the point where I was roasting squirrels on a spit over an open fire a chocolate bar was heaven. From the look on the face of the person behind the counter my love for that bar was probably much more obvious that I wanted it to be, but at least that would make her start to think about where I might have been.
“Do you know where I am?” I counted change into my hand wondering if I had enough for another bar of chocolate, before remembering I didn’t have any other money on me. To make it harder for them to find out who I was I’d left my wallet behind, accidentally. My wife even knew it was an accident, because I’d text her asking her where it was. “I’ve just hiked down from the woods and I think I’m a bit lost.”
“You’re in Westbrook.” She studied me. “How long were you in the woods?”
I shrugged. “A while. I was roasting squirrels for a bit, because I was hungry, and I think I might have fallen over at some point. That was early on, though, so I’m fine now, just hungry.”
“What’s your name?”
For several seconds, I counted them, I stared down at the change in my hands, before looking up at her, hoping I looked scared. “I don’t know my identity.” I nibbled my lip. “I know it’s there, but…” I shook my head. “Maybe I’m not as fine as I thought I was. What do I do now?” I had to find a way to change my identity without my ex-wife knowing.