GLYNN WASHINGTON, HOST:
We're going to kick off today's SNAP JUDGMENT episode across the pond, and sensitive listeners should know that while the story is not graphic it does allude to dark events.
ALEX LEWIS: I wake up by myself in a hospital bed. Everything around me is strange. And the next thing that happens is an hysterical woman who is running around the bed, screaming and shouting - getting very over-excited - and is saying, do you remember me? Do you remember me? It's me. It's me, it - I have no idea who she is - never seen her before. So, I get quite distressed by her actions and they have to ask her to leave the room.
DAVEY KIM, BYLINE: Alex Lewis has just woken up from a weeklong coma from a terrible motorcycle accident.
A. LEWIS: I see one person and I immediately recognize that he's my twin brother. So, at that point I'm feeling quite calm and I say, hello Marcus, to him. And he says, hi, back to me. And then Marcus keeps saying to me, don't you know who that is? That's your mother. And I said no, I don't know who she is. And he said, well do you know who you are? And I say no. He now realizes I don't know anything at all, or even who I am - how to walk, ride a bicycle, my work, my girlfriend, my family - everything is gone. I didn't even know my name.
KIM: The first 18 years of Alex's life have vanished. He can barely walk or talk. At first, this was terrifying.
A. LEWIS: But with having the confidence of having my twin brother with me, didn't worry me. I had that massive security. I start asking him, what did we used to do? What was our childhood like? He would tell me we used to have great dinner parties at home. We'd eat with our parents all the time, lots of people would come around - going on family holidays in the south of France. These were the start of him filling me in on my idyllic childhood.
My mother and my brother eventually come to take me home. We arrive. It's quite a large house - two hours outside of London. As I enter the house, I meet this much older gentleman who turns out to be my stepfather, who's incredibly formal and just shakes my hand and introduces himself - no hugging, no nothing. My mother seems to be completely opposite and just very, very loud - very, very out-there. So I took that on board. I then meet my younger siblings, Amanda and Oliver, who at this point are only three and five.
KIM: Alex learns to adapt to his family and tries to pick up where he left off prior to the accident, being an 18-year-old teenager. Marcus is there every step of the way. He teaches Alex how to drive, takes him to parties, and acts as his wing man.
A. LEWIS: We would always go out together. If we went to a new person's house, we would get to the door and then I would repeatedly ask him, what are their names? How do I know this person? Have I gone out with this person - with this girl - or haven't I? Everything - so we'd have a quick little chat and then, bang, we would go in and then start talking to people. I learned very quickly how to just adjust without people realizing that I had really no idea who they were, but they knew me very well. And I could continue - just flow on in a conversation.
KIM: He was able to cope without having a memory, but he still wanted the keys to his past.
A. LEWIS: I did spend quite a lot of time going to see all sorts of people from hypnotherapists to doctors to memory specialists. Nothing ever worked. I never ever got anything back. So, as I have my brothers - he gave me back my memory. So I gave up, and I just stopped asking questions. So I didn't really search. After a while the amnesia - that didn't define me as a person, but I still had a niggling feeling inside of something - of not being evil to connect a hundred percent with people. I'd always knew that there was something amiss but I could never work out what it was.
KIM: 12 years go by and while Alex's memory never returned, his brother always stood by his side.
A. LEWIS: Which coming up for my 30th birthday - and our mom traditionally would always take us out on our birthday. So we were waiting for her to take us to a fancy restaurant in London. She is late. My brother then has a premonition, at this point, which is a very strange thing to do - well, it was for me - and said he felt that something was wrong and that she was collapsed and she was lying at the bottom of the stairs in her house. And I said, how could you possibly know that? So we called the doctor, and they saw her car open outside the door - front door open. And they went and found her, and sure enough, she was lying at the bottom of the stairs. Turns out that she'd had a brain hemorrhage and she'd had a fit and she was lying at the bottom of the stairs. And then they basically told us that she would live for 12 months, and she lived for 12 months, pretty much exactly as they said.
We were all present when she died and I was very upset that she'd gone. I had an overwhelming feeling, even though I was never that close to her. Maybe I just learned that that's what you did. So I just felt emotionally upset to the point of crying and everything else that she had gone. And it's only at this point that I notice that everyone else in the room, my siblings, were not. They weren't crying over her death. They had - what I could clearly see was a relief that she had died. And I'm thinking, hang on a sec, our mother has just died. Is nobody bothered about that? And they just said, no, we're not. That was a shock. Something wasn't right. That's when I started to question the whole of our life, really - the whole of our house, the whole of our family. From there some time went on, so I just basically pushed that strange thought to the back of my mind.
KIM: After the funeral, Alex and his siblings start going through their mother's belongings.
A. LEWIS: We would come down every weekend and start sorting it out, which, in a way, was like a treasure hunt. We would just open drawers and find things. We were finding £50 notes, you know, under floorboards and stacked in drawers and so the hunt was on. We then, open another drawer and then it contained all of our birthday cards with all of the money that had ever been given to us throughout our childhood. Another cupboard had every single Easter egg we'd ever been given, but had never been given to us. She had kept them all. And I'm thinking, this is all beginning a bit odd.
Then we get into her bedroom. And then in the back of the wardrobe, there's another secret wardrobe and we find a key and we open it. And we look inside and there's just loads of - I don't know how to describe it really - it was basically sex toys and stuff that you just - at that age - you just - from your - it's your mother's. You really don't want to deal with that. And then we get into her writing desk, and we start finding letters - love letters from lots of people - from all sorts of different men - not from our father. And then, that's when we find the naked picture of me and my twin brother, aged 12, with our heads cut off.
My mind is going round in whirls, and I'm starting to question what the hell is going on. There must be secrets within this family that I don't know about, and that I haven't been given the full story. And that's the first time that I started challenging my siblings to what everything was about. Why were we never given a front door key to our own house? Why were we never let in unless we were allowed to be there? And no one would say anything - complete silence. I start questioning my brother about it and he just puts it all down to, it's not a big deal. She - OK - she might've - maybe she was a little bit crazy, and let's just move on. We've got other things to deal with. So he just belittled all of it, to the point of me stop thinking about that it was strange.
So, once we finish the house and everything - soon after that, my younger brother announces that he's going into therapy. And for me that's like, well, why would we do that? We've had quite an idyllic life and our parents were a bit, you know - a bit eccentric. Then my twin brother then announces he's also going into therapy. Which I thought was strange and I thought, OK, we've lost both our parents, we're all quite young - I could see why they would need to do that. So I decided to go, myself, as well.
KIM: Individually, they all go to the same therapist. But Alex didn't get much out of it. While he could sense something was wrong, his siblings never talked about family problems and his therapist couldn't reveal confidential information. So Alex turns to another therapist, named Vivian, who invites him to one of her group sessions.
A. LEWIS: We spent the whole weekend talking about everyone's problems. I didn't really see where we - where this was going, at all. And then we started talking about our childhood. Of course I wasn't contributing much to that because I didn't have any, and then something snapped. I'm crying uncontrollably. I have no idea why am doing that. Something was triggered to me - completely just snapped. I sit down, and then in a flash of an instant second I then just pass out and leave my body. And I will never forget this. I had this experience of arriving on the other side of the room, and watching my lifeless body on the floor and all the people are going, like - running around. And then Vivian came in and took control of the situation, and then just sat down and put her hands along me and said, you're going to come back and you're going to come back now. And she pulled me back into my body, and I looked at her and I said, what was that about? And then she said, there's a bit more to your life than you knew, and you've been sexually abused by your family.
And I just couldn't believe it. And I was like, no, no, no, no. You've got this wrong. This hasn't happened. I said, you're making a mistake. You can't just say a statement like that. She said I am making that statement and it's true and it's your mother. I said no, no, no, no. That's wrong. She said you need to go home and you need to talk to your siblings seriously about this problem. I said, I will be doing that but I still don't believe you. The next day I went and - to my twin brother's house, and my brother was in the kitchen.
MARCUS LEWIS: I was standing in my house and Alex came in. And I'd had a perfectly nice day and I was feeling rather happy and chirpy.
A. LEWIS: I said to him, I've just been on this workshop. I said, this is what Vivian said. She said this extraordinary statement to me. How can this be true? Tell me it's not. And he had a cup of tea in his hand, he looked me in the eye and he just went white as a ghost.
M. LEWIS: The blood drained out of me. I mean, it was the one thing that I never really thought was ever going to happen.
A. LEWIS: And I said, is it true - yes or no? I got quite cross with him. And he just said...
M. LEWIS: Well, Alex I really don't know how to describe it, but - I'm really sorry to say but it is true, yes. And then I left - I had to leave the room and go outside 'cause I was freaking out.
A. LEWIS: I'm just now - I'm just thinking this is crazy. This - my whole life has just suddenly changed in one day. I've gone from fairly normal to thinking there's something strange going on to absolute turmoil. I'm starting to question the rest of my life and everything Marcus has told me and what is true and what isn't true. The holidays we went on - did they happen? The people coming around for dinner parties - did that happen? And I'm just thinking, is everything a lie?
M. LEWIS: I found myself standing in the garden trying to work out whether I'd done the right thing - whether I should have told him years before. I'm feeling waves of guilt that maybe I had done the wrong thing. And I never really anticipated that he would ever find out.
A. LEWIS: I then challenge my twin brother again. I said Marcus, is it - this is crazy - how? All this time you've been lying to me and you haven't told me this. Why would you do that? And he just said...
M. LEWIS: Okay Alex, I didn't - I know that you're angry with me, I know that you're confused and I know that you feel that I've betrayed you and lied to you, but I did it to protect you. I had a choice and I wanted to give you a better childhood. I wanted to - you to have a normal teenage life. And the only way I could do that was to give you a different childhood. And I did it for you and I did it out of love and I would do it again if I had been in the same situation.
A. LEWIS: After the initial shock of finding all this out, my mind has calmed down. And then, I just come to the realization that he has done this out of love and I don't have any animosity to him.
KIM: Alex, put yourself in your brother's shoes - what do you think those reasons were?
A. LEWIS: Interesting you ask that - I think he did it for two reasons. One, it was just too much information to give me at that time when I wasn't capable of learning it. And secondly, I think it gave him a route out of the craziness that was happening around him - some way for him to actually put that in a box and leave it there, so that he could also almost believe the life he'd given me and have it himself.
M. LEWIS: I think the point is that, I mean, if we had gone through that without this accident and without Alex losing his memory we would have been focusing a lot more on the abuse and what had happened to us and being negative, and really, we had to be positive the whole time. So, you know, we'd go to my mom's birthday party and we'd make everything fun and make everything nice purely for Alex. Which, in a way, implicated the situation for me as well.
KIM: Marcus, you were hiding the truth to protect your brother. What did you think would happen if he found out?
M. LEWIS: Yeah, I played it out that he would never forgive me, that we would lose our connection, we would lose our love for each other. And it did for a very, very quick period of time. But I guess that I hadn't really estimated quite how to strong our brotherly love and our twinship is. It's almost as if we are one person, in that sense.
A. LEWIS: That's pretty good. I don't know what I could add to that, really.
WASHINGTON: Thank you so much, Alex and Marcus Lewis, for sharing your story. To hear more about their experience, they've got a book, "Tell Me Who I Am". We have a link at snapjudgment.org. That piece was produced by Davey Kim.
When SNAP JUDGMENT returns, we're lost at home and lost in the woods. And we're going to need someone to help us find our way, when SNAP JUDGMENT, "The Guide" episode continues. Stay tuned. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.