by Jocelyn Cameron
I shift towards you, a sign for you to put your arm around me. Your left arm swings up and over my head as you look into my eyes, reassuring me that you are there. One of your best friends is sitting to your right, him with a girl as well. Although she is not his girlfriend, his arm has been around her all night, leading anyone unknowing to believe they are a couple as well. This is the first time I have met either of them, so I don’t know what to say in participation of the conversation. I don’t know why I always do this, I get too caught up in listening to start talking. Talking is not my strong point.
You retract your arm from around me, pulling out a smoke. After you light it, your arm returns to my back. I don’t know why I am okay with your smoking habits or the fact that you don’t mind knowing you are going to die early, the fact that you enjoy that thought.
The conversation carries, the cigarette shrinks, the much too familiar look in your eyes is clearly not sober. I get a flash of remembering when we were walking hand in hand. Passing by another one of your friends earlier, he yells out from across the street, “Dude, you are high as fuck right now!” You pulled out your wallet with a grin, checking to make sure no one on the street was watching you. Flipping to a hidden compartment, you pull out a small bag, making your friends eyes grow wide as he exhales, “Shit eh.” I don’t know why I am okay with your drug habits, or that you are okay wasting your money and life away on something that will take you to where we all know the story ends.
You stub the cigarette out on the cement beside you and flick it onto the grass. Your friend has to walk his girl home so her dad won’t be upset if she is out past midnight. You shake his hand as they stand up and tell her goodnight. They saunter across the grass and leave the rooftop as you turn back to me and hold me tight. I look into your eyes, and warmth floods my lips as they touch yours. That first moment of contact is always the anticipated, always warming, never disappointing. The warmth flows down my throat and into my chest, where I feel that wonderful pain. I don’t know why, along with expected disappointment, I feel a flood of relief when we part.
“Do you want to lay on the grass? It’s probably more comfortable than this block of concrete.” You suggest to me. We stand up, we walk to your right, and we lie down on the cold grass. You notice that I am shivering, so you turn to me and pull me close. “Here,” you take my hands and put them in the small pocket of warmth in the very limited space between us. “That should be warmer.” Once again, I get caught in the piercing blue of your eyes, and before I know it, the moment of first contact occurs again. The warmth floods back through my lips, to my throat, into my chest, and down to the pit of my stomach this time. I don’t know why I take every suggestion you make, do everything you tell me to do. It isn’t being forced upon me, but you say one thing and I am your bearer.
The silence between us isn’t unusual, and although it was uncomfortable at first, I am quite used to it now, neither of us making significant effort to fill the gaps. A sudden gust of cold wind brought both your familiar scent and the memory of that very first night we met. I saw you looking at me from across the room, before you were drawn to the unfamiliar face in your usual crowd of friends. The conversation between us sparked with the help of a little liquid courage, I was warmly welcomed in a scene of people quite unfamiliar to me. The farther that warm summer night proceeded, sharing laughs and drinks, the more I realized how I could be myself and how truly happy I could feel with you. How could things go so wrong? As I walked away from the last kiss on the doorstep, I didn’t know what would come of this night between us, however I was sure that wouldn’t be the last I would see of you.
We part again, and I move my face to the crook of your neck to gain warmth. All I can hear are my flooding thoughts and the sounds of downtown nightlife surrounding the vacant square. You caress my hair, and push it away from my face. Your lips move towards my ear, and with a relaxed exhale you whisper, “I love you.” I don’t know what to do.
I have never had this happen before. This is just a high school relationship, isn’t 17 too young to truly love in a relationship? I have only known you for a couple of months, isn’t this too early to tell me this?
I don’t know what I need to feel to constitute love for you.
I don’t know if love is supposed to happen like this.
I don’t know if you are right for me to love.
I don’t know how to respond.
I have paused in my confusion for too long and the blue of your eyes looks back into the blue of mine. The only thing I can think of to do is press my lips back to yours. Then I don’t have to say anything, right?
The moment passes and my eyes feel heavy with guilt for not loving you the way you claim to love me. We sit up when we hear a distant yell, resembling your name. Looking around the rooftop, we are alone, and turn back to each other.
“I love you,” You tell me again, throwing my mind back into the cyclone. I don’t know what to say, but feel an obligation. You assure me, “You don’t have to say anything, say it if you do love me.” Not knowing love, not knowing you, I manage to whisper those three soft words,
“I don’t know.”
by Jonas Dunphy
“Tell me about your mother,” said the doctor, stroking the peach-fuzzed beard that outlined his mouth. The same mouth that had just uttered a broken phrase, with fragments that almost made me think it was a question.
“She was tall,” was my response; a lie. My mother was as short as a stump, I jest simply to gauge his reaction. Two things could come of my response, either, the doctor will know I’m lying and brand me a compulsive liar. This title would then make the rounds, forcing people to assume that when they ask me any question I am going to lie. Therefore to extract the truth they must merely assume the opposite. However, if they possess half a wit they would know that I myself am not a run of the mill liar, I am a compulsive liar. And also I myself possess somewhat of a brain, the part that is not slowed to a mere jog by my special medication, is running quite rapidly. So in an effort to throw them off I may break the rule of lying to tell the truth, which they would assume is a lie, therefore by telling the truth I would force them to lie for me. In short, the good doctor would be doing me a service. I would not have to suffer any more moral qualms, plus I could mislead if I wished. Although, if I overestimate who the doctor has told then I would consequently be telling the truth, which, don’t get me wrong I have nothing against. But for the purpose of my stay, and my secret mission, I should try my best to throw conclusions in every which way except ones that would lead back to me, capeche?
Or, there is the other option. Where the not-so-good doctor will assume I am telling the truth. He would be delving further into my childhood histories pertaining to my mother; attempting to crack the mental vault that is my mind. Trying to unravel the method behind my facade of madness, or is it a façade? It is very classified information on a need to know basis, and the doctor does not need to know, or does he? All in good time, I think, I hope, or do I?
Cognifromazine is the name of the medication I am on. Sounds like an expensive cheese, but rest assured it tastes NOTHING like expensive cheese, although if you take a few, wait a while, then try one, you’ll probably think you’re eating something a rainbow gave birth to. Either way, it tastes nothing like cheese.
“Interesting, yes interesting” said the doctor, continually, as if searching for a thought that was in the back of his mind, a little snippet of text from his days in college that could apply to this situation.
“Um I don’t think we are making much progress today let’s call it a day, same time tomorrow Wesley.”
I’m guessing he didn’t find it.
“Sure doc, maybe prepare some notes tonight, so our sessions aren’t all 5 minutes, then we might make progress,” I replied, sarcastically, in my half-medically-stoned, semi-slurred speech.
He rose quickly in a fully erect perfect stance that showcased the anxiety he was feeling. My journey from the couch to my feet was much slower, as if my body was trying to catch up to my mind, I was in slow motion, a feeling that would be much more enjoyable, if you could turn it off.
Moving slow is quite tedious in fact, everything takes longer, you fall asleep during various tasks, and every question asked is like a calculus equation that takes much thought, checking and proofreading before you’re even able to throw out a half-assed answer that is most likely wrong. Sometimes I wish I had this shit when I was in high school, drop a few in my math teachers’ coffee, It would have messed their day right up.
He motioned me towards the door, “one foot after another”, I thought to myself.
I turned around to face the door that was situated behind the couch I had just been questioned on.
Left foot. Look up.
There was a clock above the door, analytically, analogy, shit, what’s that word. It had hands, there, it had hands, hands that would show the looker the time. Which was quite fortuitous, as I would enjoy knowing the time of day.
”The big hand is on a 5, that means 5, wait no you look at the little hand first,” I whispered to myself in a quiet tone unbeknownst to the doctor. “The little hand is pointing to a…” and then the clock was gone, disappeared from my view, I was now out of the office, uncured, and not knowing what time it is.
The door SLAMMED behind me quickly cutting me off from the clock. My only choice was to continue. The drugs were now in full swing.
Cloritawhatamafragine, I giggled. That’s a funny name for medication I thought to myself. Is that the name? Shit, memory loss, a side effect. I continued to stay still outside the door for a moment, pondering. Are there any desired effects associated with this damn drug, or is it really meant to just mess your shit up!?” I said, quite loudly with vigor, and even a few hand gestures, like I was making a speech, although no one was around, it was quite good.
At that moment I pictured a doctor, bearded, short black hair, pushed down from constantly wearing anti-hair-fallout devices. Roughly 5 10”, standing over a table with a few bottles , a funnel, a box with a hole in the top and a light bulb on the side, 100 watt, nothing special. The bottles were each labeled differently; drowsiness, fuzziness, acid, paralyses, were just a few of the choices available.
The doctor then placed the funnel gently into the hole of the, box, let’s call it the box.
Okay, so the doctor put the funnel into the box, and began to laugh. “Let’s really mess with those retards.”How unprofessional. He then reached for a bottle labeled shit disturber, a few drops down the funnel. Paralyses, just a splash. Hallucinations, a nice swig. And then he called in the big guns. From underneath the table, the doctor hauled up a jug, 2 gallons by the looks of it. This bottle had a skull and crossbones, a label that read unknown, some sort of Asian writing, a few hieroglyphs, and lastly, a flammable symbol. It was a mosaic of things that you would not like to see on something you would ingest. The doctor then continued to remove the lid, took a nice deep breath of the jug, and fell to the floor passed out.
I stood there, now becoming one with my daydream that was on its way to full-blown hallucination status, waiting.
A few minutes later the good doctor awoke, and continued to pour the entirety of the jug down the funnel. With a grin, the doctor removed the funnel from the top of “the box” or pimped out microwave and pushed a red button that until that moment I had not noticed was there. Which is quite a sad fact being that the button was large, red, and sitting right there on the table of my hallucination. I had started to come to terms with the fact that I was hallucinating. Considering there was a man creating pills out of a microwave in the middle of the hall outside my therapist’s office. That does not seem like the best place to be creating pills. In any case, my hallucination had concluded. The doctor disappeared and the pimped out, pill creating, microwave box had gone with him.
I began to walk again, remembering left foot then right foot, then right foot? Wrong, that is incorrect, thank you come again.
“Do I talk to myself too much? Yes.” Question followed by an answer, that is how I like my questions answered. It took me a good 33 seconds to notice, but I had begun speaking in two different voices. Both in my head and out, question, then reply. I had accomplished the merging of two personalities under one brain all in the short walk between the offices and the common room, which by some miracle I was now in. The doc and I are going to have a lot to talk about tomorrow, we can lay off mother for a while.
The common room was white. Well, white ish. Years of hiring shitty janitors had done its toll. They were now off-white mixed with a dirty yellow. They seemed to be leaking but there were no pipes, no vents, nothing. It was around 12:30 now, and the drugs began to level out. This is both good and bad. Good, because I can be coherent again. But also bad, because I may need to take more soon, and like I said before, these pills ain’t no slice of cheese.
I was glad to see everyone here. Timmy, Tommy, Joey, Julie, Bobby, Tawny. Whose names all sound the same due to the well-known fact that the drugs they give us exasperate our “e’s or letters that sound like e’s”. Which is a random letter, but allows for some fun singing games.
There was a T.V, forever broken centered in front of a large window. In front of the T.V sat a vintage burgundy couch, vintage meaning torn up with springs protruding from each cushion. To the left of the couch was a large table with 6 seats. Each day the seven of us would come into this room and have a nice game of musical chairs to see who is the odd man out, today sadly, it was me. I stood there, having a jolly old time being half-medicated, watching the six of them playing cards. Even though I was not the smartest individual right now, it did not take me long to realize that they were each playing a different card game. Timmy seemed to be playing 5 card stud, Tommy was going fishing, Joey crazy eights, Julie Texas hold-em’, Bobby was attempting solitaire, and with the three cards left Tawny was making a rather unsuccessful tower. This was the usual, my rag-tag band of outliers that have been separated from society lived peacefully in this room for 6 hours a day. We were floor 12 of the Bellvue Psychological Institute.
Part 2: The Switch
“What?” I awoke covered in sweat, darkness all around. A single bead dripped from the tip of my nose to the hand that was clenching my chest. “Where am I?” I said while looking around. To my dismay nothing seemed familiar. I rose from my bed, the bed that I had slept in every night for the past 17 years, or so I thought. This bed had white sheets, and a thin, white, cheap blanket that smelt of hospital. My breathing hastened, pulse rose. Spinning frantically I realized this was not my room. “Help, somebody, where am I?” I yelled repeatedly. The door on the other side of the room offered some hope of escape from the box I did not recognize. I ran to the door, a brisk 4 steps. “Help, is anyone out there?” I yelled, banging on the door, pulling the handle firm in its position.
“What do you want now Wesley?” a figure appeared on the other side of the door, visible through a small pane in the middle of the door. They were darker, curly black hair only a few inches taller than me, dressed in formal white attire.
“What?” I didn’t understand the question, who was this person talking to?
“My name is Riley.”
The person looked at me, startled, eyes wide, “Wait right there”.
“Wait, where are you going? Get me out of here!”
My heart was beating out of my chest, “I can’t, what is, I can’t handle”
My legs began to buckle, the room became smaller.
“Riley, Riley, we’re here, calm down.”
“Who’s there?” I gained my strength, standing back up. The face I saw was different this time. A thin short beard surrounded his mouth.
“I am Dr. Lanister, I am the head of this institute, who am I speaking to?”
“Riley, b-Baker,” I responded, anxiety causing me to stutter.
“Well then we are meeting for the first time, I need to ask you a few questions, and you have to think really hard about the answer. What is the last thing you remember?” he asked me intently.
“I was, I was at home. Sitting on the couch.”
“Good, who was with you?”
“There was a man, he wore a hat, it was circular, dark, some sort of emblem on it.”
“Excellent, what was he doing, did he say anything?”
“He was questioning me, he seemed concerned, he looked at me as if I should be sad. He was asking me what I saw, what did I see?”
“Well what did you see, think back, where were you before that?”
“I was sitting, sitting on the floor, There was a door in front of me but I could see through it, there were slits of light, something was happening on the other side.”
“Good Riley, good. This is going to be hard, but what, what was happening on the other side?”
“There were people, and, no I don’t want to talk about this anymore!”
“Riley, we’re making excellent progress, what was happening?”
“They were fighting, yelling, screaming. Somebody got hurt, they fell down, they, no. Don’t make me.”
“You can do it Riley, what happened next?”
“There was a loud bang, it smelled, it smelled like someone lit a match. Then, then someone sat down on the bed. I heard a squeak. My ears were still ringing from the bang.”
“Keep going Riley”
“Then, then there was another bang, and, and a thud, the ground shook.”
“What did you do next Riley, think.”
“I sat there, I sat there for a while, must have been the whole night. The next thing I remember, it was morning. I heard noise down stairs, there was yelling, police, police, banging on the front door. A loud crash. People were in the house, they were yelling for people, I yelled out. Then, then nothing.”
“Good Riley, good. This is excellent”
“What am I doing here? Where is here? Let me out of this room!” My eyes began to tear.
“You experienced an event, so awful. Something no one should have to be put through. Your mind, it wasn’t able to comprehend, so it didn’t. You didn’t talk, didn’t eat for weeks. The aunt and uncle who had taken you in were worried, they brought you here a year ago. We have made some progress though, you created a personality who could talk. Who was able to be in this place but detached, who was not in here out of need but out of volition.”
“No, I’m not crazy, doctor. This is a dream. This is all a dream.”
“I’m sorry Riley, but it isn’t. Now this is the first time I have been able to talk to your true personality since you came here, and I want that to continue Riley, but that means you need to accept the truth.”
“What, what is the truth?”
“That your parents died, murder and suicide. Your mother was having an affair, your father found out. I’m sorry to be so blunt but we are short on time, you may revert to Wesley at any moment. ”
“No, no, that’s not possible. My parents were happy, they were the perfect couple.”
“Riley that is not the case. I’m sorry, but you need to accept the truth, only then can we make steps towards your recovery.”
“How do I accept that, I can’t it’s just not possible” my cheeks were drenched by this point, tears dripping down my face. “I just want to go home”.
“I’m sorry Riley, but you need to stay this way as long as possible. Your memories are there, in your mind, you just have to allow yourself to remember. I’m going to let you out of the room now and we’re going to take a walk.”
“Ok.” I said, sniffling, wiping the tears away.
The door to what I now realized was my cell, opened. I took a step out, the light radiated from the fluorescents, temporarily blinding me.
“Where is this place?”
“We’re at Bellvue Psychologial Institute, floor 12. This is the ward for special cases, those who need special attention”.
“And I am one of those cases doctor?”
“You are one of the most important cases, I have met with you every week for the past year. Each session unique in that for you it is the first time we are meeting, I have been waiting for this personality to emerge since you came here, each week hoping, and finally we can talk.”
“Doctor is there a washroom I can use?”
“Sure, straight ahead, first door on the left.” Motioning down the hall as he spoke.
I walked, down the hall, through the door. I felt a strange feeling of Déjà vu, I had been here before. The washroom matched the décor of the rest of this place, white, everywhere, the stall, the wall, the sink. Everything. I approached the mirror. There was a face looking back at me, it was older, unkempt. My hair was longer then when I last saw it. Something happened, the face, changed expression, it moved on its own, without me motioning.
“Riley, you there? We have a mission, the drugs, they’re messing with you, do not believe the doctor.”
The face spoke to me, in my own voice, but not. Its expressions were different, deluded, deranged.
“Who are you?”
“It’s me, Wesley. You can’t believe what they say, you have a mission here, you are not crazy, HA you think you’re supposed to be in a crazy house? No, FALSE incorrect, wrong.”
“Then why am I here, what is this mission?”
“Well, you need to overthrow the Doctor, he is maniacal. These people are not broken, HE NEEDS to be stopped. STOP HIM!”
“You make no sense, you talk like you are crazy, and I’m going to listen to the doctor.”
“No, the doctor he needs to be stopped, kill him, and escape.”
“It’s all a delusion, kill the doctor, and we can live here, with everyone, forever.”
“You’re not real. This, this is real, I need to realize that, I am Riley. I am Riley. You don’t exist. I am Riley, Go. Leave me ALONE!”
There was no answer. My eyes were closed, there was only darkness, I opened them slowly, again the fluorescents, blinded me. The reflection greeted me, the face was still older, but I controlled it this time.
“I am Riley, and I am not crazy.”
I walked out of the washroom, the doctor stood there with hope in eyes.
“Ok doctor, I’m ready. Let’s talk”.
Just finished this novel and it was hard to put down. It compliments our study of Hamlet quite profoundly, with heavy, heart wrenching decisions that alter reality forever. Here is the description from E.L. Doctorow’s web site:
Speaking from an unknown place and to an unknown interlocutor, Andrew is thinking, Andrew is talking, Andrew is telling the story of his life, his loves, and the tragedies that have led him to this place and point in time. And as he confesses, peeling back the layers of his strange story, we are led to question what we know about truth and memory, brain and mind, personality and fate, about one another and ourselves. Written with psychological depth and great lyrical precision, this suspenseful and groundbreaking novel delivers a voice for our times—funny, probing, skeptical, mischievous, profound.Andrew’s Brain is a surprising turn and a singular achievement in the canon of a writer whose prose has the power to create its own landscape, and whose great topic, in the words of Don DeLillo, is “the reach of American possibility, in which plain lives take on the cadences of history.”
Visit Jocelyn’s provocative, interactive essay on assisted suicide and dying with dignity. The theme was based on the novel, Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures by Dr Vincent Lam.