loannina, Greece - July 1948
She woke up screaming every night and it was always the same dream. She was in the middle of a lake in a fierce storm and a man and a woman were forcing her head under the icy waters, drowning her. She awakened each time panicky, gasping for breath, soaked with perspiration.
She had no idea who she was and she had no memory of the past. She spoke English - but she did not know what country she was from or how she had come to be in Greece, in the small Carmelite convent that sheltered her.
As time went by, there were tantalizing flashes of memory, glimpses of vague, ephemeral images that came and went too quickly for her to grasp them, to hold them and examine them. They came at unexpected moments, catching her off guard and filling her with confusion.
In the beginning, she had asked questions. The Carmelite nuns were kind and understanding, but theirs was an order of silence, and the only one permitted to speak was Sister Theresa, the elderly and frail Mother Superior.
"Do you know who I am?"
"No, my child," Sister Theresa said.
"How did I get to this place?"
"At the foot of these mountains is a village called Ioannina. You were in a small boat in the lake during a storm last year. The boat sank, but by the grace of God, two of our sisters saw you and rescued you. They brought you here."
"But...where did I come from before that?"
"I'm sorry, child. I do not know."
She could not be satisfied with that. "Hasn't anyone inquired about me? Hasn't anyone tried to find me?"
Sister Theresa shook her head. "No one."
She wanted to scream with frustration. She tried again. "The newspapers...they must have had a story about my being missing."
"As you know, we are permitted no communication with the outside world. We must accept God's will, child. We must thank Him for all His mercies. You are alive."
And that was as far as she was able to get. In the beginning, she had been too ill to be concerned about herself, but slowly, as the months went by, she had regained her strength and her health.
When she was strong enough to move about, she spent her days tending the colorful gardens in the grounds of the convent, in the incandescent light that bathed Greece in a celestial glow, with the soft winds carrying the pungent aroma of lemons and vines.
The atmosphere was serene and calm, and yet she could find no peace. I'm lost, she thought, and no one cares. Why? Have I done something evil? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?
The images continued to come, unbidden. One morning she awakened suddenly with a vision of herself in a room with a naked man undressing her. Was it a dream? Or was it something that had happened in her past? Who was the man? Was it someone she had married? Did she have a husband? She wore no wedding ring. In fact, she had no possessions other than the black Order of the Carmelite habit that Sister Theresa had given her and a pin, a small golden bird with ruby eyes and outstretched wings.
She was anonymous, a stranger living among strangers. There was no one to help her, no psychiatrist to tell her that her mind had been so traumatized, it could stay sane only by shutting out the terrible past.
And the images kept coming, faster and faster. It was as though her mind had suddenly turned into a giant jigsaw puzzle, with odd pieces tumbling into place. But the pieces made no sense. She had a vision of a huge studio filled with men in army uniform. They seemed to be making a motion picture. Was I an actress? No, she seemed to be in charge. But in charge of what?
A soldier handed her a bouquet of flowers. You'll have to pay for these yourself, he laughed.
Two nights later, she had a dream about the same man. She was saying good-bye to him at the airport, and she woke up sobbing because she was losing him.
There was no more peace for her after that. These were not mere dreams. They were pieces of her life, her past. I must find out who I was. Who I am.
And unexpectedly, in the middle of the night, without warning, a name was dredged up out of her subconscious. Catherine. My name is Catherine Alexander.