The memories started as nightmares, the kind of surreal ones that happen after too much cheap booze and bad pizza. Dreaming that I was an Egyptian princess. Dreaming that I was a gunslinger in the Old West. Dreaming that I was just like Indiana Jones. And they were all adventures, some great, some boring as hell, some that were so miserable I woke up crying with an ache in my soul that I didn't understand.
And I hated them - not just because I was waking up exhausted and I couldn't find a color of foundation that would cover up the dark circles under my eyes, but instead because I knew how strongly I had felt in those dreams when I still didn't feel anything at all when I was awake. I was numb all the time then, except when I dreamt, and that's how I wanted it. I didn't want to feel. That's why I had tried to kill myself. And it was bad enough that I couldn't even get that right, but now I was getting it rubbed in my face waking and sleeping. The healing scars on my wrists ('you're supposed to cut the other way, dumbass'), the weekly checkups with Social Services and the grim determination of Speed were now being balanced at night by vivid dreams that tempted and taunted me with emotions I didn't want and was sure that I didn't deserve.
I didn't want to know any more pain or joy or love and I couldn't keep it out of my dreams like I could when I was awake. Especially the love. No matter how out-there the dreams were, Egyptian princess or Russian peasant, there was always love. And it freaked me out because I was eighteen and hadn't even been in love but there I was, my dream-self feeling this profound something and knowing what it was when my waking self hadn't ever felt like that, not even with Tommy Gonzalez whom I thought I loved enough that I swallowed instead of spit. But I didn't know what love was, so why the hell I could feel it so strongly... I used all of the best psychobabble I had learned watching Oprah to blow it off as just me wanting what I didn't have when I was awake. Someone to love me. Not even sexual love, I'd have settled for simple affection, the kind you get from a dog. But my parents were dead and my friends weren't really my friends - they were just people to be selfish with and piss off my parents with, not buddies or anything deep like that. Speed tried like he always did to be there for me, but he didn't know what he was doing and I wasn't in any mood to help him. And so it was just me and the damned dreams and I was one person when I was awake and another person in my dreams and I didn't know which me to hate more.
But then the nightmares started to bleed into the day and all of the fucked-up logic that you ignore in your dreams - why should I know anything about ancient Egypt? - couldn't be ignored anymore. Because it's one thing to be able to know the origins of pottery shards when you're dreaming that you're Indiana Jones's partner, but it's a completely different ball of wax when you buy a jug for $10 off a Mexican at a flea market because while he's selling it as Mayan, you know it's really from Teotihuacán and there are only maybe four such examples as intact as this one and $10 isn't a millionth of what it's worth.
That was just the start of it - knowing crap I shouldn't have known. At first, it was just random weird stuff that freaked me out but could be explained if I tried really hard and talked really fast - how did I follow the directions for programming the new VCR when the booklet was open to the German instructions and not the English ones (musta flipped the pages and not realized it) and why did it bother me that the law codes were all wrong for ''Wild Wild West' to make any historical sense (just 'cause I slept through most of US history doesn't mean I forgot all of it)? But then it started to get spooky in the not-so-funny kind of random way. Like when I looked at the picture of the entire Saunders family at some Christmas party back when Speed was a kid and got a vision of running around underneath the table with the desserts with my big brother Cecil. I had been an only child.
That was around the time Speed gave me the wings. And I touched the metal in the harness and suddenly it all became clear.
I hadn't really known Shiera very well. The Saunders family wasn't big on get-togethers - wanderlust is in the blood and long ago it had been deemed too much of a pain in the ass to try to get everyone on the same continent at once. We were closer to my mom's family when I was growing up, so my dad's family - great-aunt Shiera and great-uncle Carter and my grandfather Speed - were these vague entities that were seen once every few years and Hector was the cousin nobody talked about. I knew Carter and Shiera were Hawkman and Hawkgirl, but when your grandfather is a spy and your parents are adventurers, the great-aunt and uncle running around with bird helmets on isn't the impressive thing it might be for another family. Of course, nobody talked about the reincarnation part.
All of this is what made what happened afterwards all the more screwed up. For most of my life, as little as I had known about Carter and Shiera I had known next to nothing about Hector apart from him being my dad's first cousin and someone he didn't like to talk about. And then suddenly I realized that I knew his first words and his favorite food and I missed him.
In theory, inheriting someone else's memories - let alone someone who had led as successful a life as Shiera had - should have been a blessing. I could have breezed through college without having to study just with the stuff I remembered. My lazy, ambitionless ass could have been rocket-launched into a life that didn't include food stamps or pissing away inheritances on tequila. For fuck's sake, I had hated my own life so much that I had tried to off myself, so getting a replacement should have been great. It should have been. But it wasn't. It's not. I hate it and I'd give anything to lose it all and be left with nothing except for the miserable shitty existence I had created for myself.
I'd trade it all away because I want to go to my parents' graves and mourn as the once-dutiful daughter who never got the chance to show that her teenaged rebellion was just a phase, who never got a chance to say 'I'm sorry for disappointing you' or 'I love you' or 'goodbye'. But I can't. I go and see the headstone of Michael and Trina Saunders and I see my brother Cecil with his little boy, that little boy grown up and introducing the lovely young painter who would be he bride to the rest of the family. I see him later on holding his baby daughter and feeling the pangs of envy that that he and Trina will not have to watch their child fulfill a dreadful prophecy. And I see all that and it's clearer in my mind's eye than my own memories - my father making a big production of putting my painting on the fridge and saying I was as good an artist as my mother, my mother teaching me how to ride a bike and my father sneaking me out to get my ears pierced a second time. And damnit, I want those memories back and I want them as pristine as how they had been before I woke up in the hospital with brown eyes instead of green.
That was why I freaked out when Zauriel told me that I was Shiera, that Kendra had really died. Because now I know that if I strip away all of the lives and all of the memories, then I'm not going to find a royally screwed-up twenty-year-old hiding underneath. I am dead. At least the me I thought I was. And so now I really have no choice - stay alive as Shiera or die as Kendra. Because the mind and the body can't exist without the soul and I've only got the unimportant two out of the three.
It's hard. So hard that I'm not always sure that staying Shiera is the way I want to go. That's Kendra talking, that's me. The coward who tried to run away from life and fucked that up, too. But Shiera, damn her, is the brave one, and she's determined to hold on for the both of us. And it's hard because Shiera's the brave one but I'm the one driving the bus.
Our memories aren't integrated well, if at all. I'm Kendra all of the time except when something reminds me of my past lives and then I have Shiera's memories overlapping my own like when television signals get crossed and it's damned confusing even if it's occasionally useful when I can sort it out in time. And I lose my way in my own head because Shiera's stronger than I am, too, and pushes me into places that I don't want to go, memories I don't want to recall. I'm pretty sure that if it wasn't for the fact that I know my way around in here better than she does that she'd have taken over by now.
But I won't let her. I can't let her. Because I'm not the same fucked up teenager who tried twice to commit suicide and I'm not ready to forfeit my life just because everyone else around me wishes that Shiera would win our little tug-of-war. I can see it in everyone's face, at least the older ones. Jay, Alan, Ted, Hector, and even Sand sometimes. They look for signs of Shiera in every move I make, listen for it in every word I say. And now that Carter's back...
Carter. The other half of my soul, the brilliant and brave warrior who happens to be sexy as hell (now that he's been de-aged) and is also MY GREAT UNCLE. Everyone seems to gloss over this little factoid. Shiera, buzzing in my head and in my heart and between my thighs every time Carter walks in the room, certainly doesn't care that this is also the man who once changed my diaper. She's been a nonstop chatterbox in my head since he came back and things that normally wouldn't have drawn comment from her now do and sometimes it's all I can do to stop myself from turning to say something to Carter, even if I know he's not there.
It's confusing and it's frustrating and it's driving me mad and Carter, the only one who can understand the nightmares and the confusion and the flashbacks to lives long past, he could be my salvation if he wasn't so intent on bringing me down. Me Kendra, at least. Because for all of his talk about us being soulmates, he loves Shiera. He doesn't know Kendra and really isn't that interested in finding out about her. All Carter sees is the soul and so Kendra is a vessel, the prison inside which Shiera is waiting to spring free. And while that's probably closer to the truth than I'd like to admit, I'm not going to make it easier for him by just lying down and letting Shiera run my body and my mind just because she's already replaced my soul.
Carter doesn't understand that I'm not Shiera with an identity crisis; that I'm really Kendra with part of Shiera inside. He treats me like an amnesiac, prompting my memories in hopes that his long-lost love will return to him. Every time he helps me access more of her memories, I see that ember of hope in his eyes spark into a flame. And so I fight it, fight the memories even if I know that they will help me become a greater Kendra. I fight it because I'm suspicious that Khufu and Chay-Ara are making plans too subtle for me to detect and I know that even a great Kendra cannot match the strength of Carter and Shiera working in tandem.
But I can't not learn from him. I can't be so stubborn that I waste this gift - and being Hawkgirl is a gift, even if I'd much rather do it as Kendra than Kendra/Shiera - just because I'm afraid. I got into this whole mess precisely because I was stubborn and afraid. And, really, being Hawkgirl is only incidental to the problem. It is Shiera whom Carter wants, not Hawkgirl, and he would pursue me to the ends of the earth even if I never put on the wings again. So instead, I will be careful and try to take what Carter will give Kendra without offering up Shiera as payment in return. Because while I have never denied that I find Carter attractive, I will not give in. My body and mind are as important as my soul. And so the only way Carter gets me without dying and coming back as my dream guy is if he learns to love Kendra, too.
Until then, I will wake from my nightmares alone.