Sunday, May 24, 2015

A Cut and Paste Existence

One of my doctors called it the first tangible sign of my break with reality but I literally woke up one morning knowing something was fundamentally different with the world. That morning I opened my eyes and while the morning sun was shining through the curtains and birds outside were singing, everything seemed odd. Some part of my mind felt as if everything around me had been replaced with exact copies but whose locations were slightly off from the originals. A more rational explanation that I chose to embrace would have described my unease more akin to that of a person who stayed out too late drinking when they normally would have been in bed.

Not that I would have any idea how a normal function adult lived. When things changed I was living in a little cottage tucked away in my parents' backyard. I had taken refuge there after the economy crashed in 2008 causing the upstart software company I worked for to implode.

Before the financial houses of cards fell I was a respected and successful programmer leading a team of equally bright men and women creating software that was scaring the hell out of the established players in our field. During that time I immersed myself in my work. It allowed me to think of something other than the loss of my wife and child during the 2001 attacks. It all came to a sudden end when the practices of the self-described financial Masters of the Universe sent the economy into the abyss. Being a start-up company our operations were still dependent on the capital provided by our investors, when that disappeared all the hard work and good intentions of my coworkers and I became collateral damage in the great free enterprise con game.

So like any good loser I packed up the few items I held dear and went home to live with my parents. The cottage I moved into had originally been built as a guesthouse by my father to accommodate my maternal grandmother. Their mutual animosity being so great that my father spared no expensive in making sure the cottage was as made as comfortable and self-sufficient as humanly possible.

Against the wishes and advice of my parents, I became a bit of a recluse earning a living by writing code as an independent contractor. They wanted me to seek counseling and even try to rebuild my life but I was happy just existing from day to day.

With nothing urgent hanging over my head I laid in bed for a good while trying to isolate what was bothering me. Eventually even the most heinous slacker must stumble out of bed and so I walked over to my bathroom and looked out the small window while I did my morning business. From that spot I could see my mother, the ever early riser, puttering around her flower garden.

“Hey Peter,” she called out after noticing me staring from the window, “I made muffins this morning, get dressed and go have some before your father eats them all.”

I waved back without saying anything. Minutes later I have showered and brushed my teeth then fished out some clothes that at least felt clean. My parents, Kyle and Samantha Singer have both long since retired but never seem to sit still. Dad was one of the doctors of my little home town of Watertown, South Carolina while my mom taught elementary school. Out of their three children I was the only one who could even be considered the failure, although everyone assures me that my only fault was some incredibly bad luck. Still though, when people perceive you as having a dark menacing cloud always hanging directly over your head even dear old friends tend to drift away.

I step outside onto the small porch attached to the cottage and take in a deep breath of mid-morning air. Despite being springtime there is a chill to the air that the sun hadn't yet subdued. As I look around the backyard still struggling with the feeling of wrongness everything looks normal. The main house is still the two-story structure Cap Cod-style I grew up in and my mother's garden is still just as elaborate and well maintained as ever. I shake off the feeling and walk towards the main house to snag a couple of those muffins.

It wasn't until the youngest of my siblings, Jack, left home for college that my parents thought about having nice furniture and even making an effort at keeping the house truly clean. For my entire childhood it was a chaotic mess with only the barest of efforts made to keep it clean beyond what was needed to stay livable. To look around now and see how my mom and dad have made it a showplace both inspired me with their foresight and depressed me with the idea that at the age of thirty-seven I was again living with them a broken man.

Without trying to think anymore, which would ruin my day, I grab a plate and four of mom's blueberry muffins and a large glass of milk. Going against the new house rules I walk into the den and take a seat at the antique card table where she plays bridge with her friends. The muffins as expected are perfect and I eat in silence.

One of my dad's lifelong obsessions is his book collection. Sitting at the small table I look at all the books sitting on the shelves of the specially made bookcases lining the walls. All the masters of the written word are there and as I casually look at the names I remember the nights my dad would pick a book and read to my siblings and me. Somehow I eventually see one author's books are missing. My father was never anal enough to alphabetize his collection but through sheer familiarity I know one collection is missing.

It takes me several minutes but I eventually realize it is the Milton Solomon collection that is missing. All first editions with a few signed by the great man himself. My father loved his work and would never in a million years part with them. Knowing my father's daily routine he had long since left to work at the local free clinic down in Charleston so I hang around in the main house until my mother returns.

I hear the squeak of the back door opening then its soft impact as it closes. I then go find her in the kitchen preparing to arrange some flowers she picked from her garden. “Mom,” I say putting my plate and glass on the counter, “what did dad do with his Milton Solomon collection?”

My mom, looking like a Southern version of the great primatologist Jane Goodall, calmly looks over at me. “Whose Milton Solomon, honey? I've never heard of that author.”

For several seconds I am dumbfounded by my mother's comment, in fact the words simply didn't register. Next I think she is just playing with me, but the look of puzzlement on her face is equal to mine. “Martin Solomon,” I say again suddenly hoping my mom's advancing age is not catching up with her. “He won the Noble prize for literature in 1957, author of twelve other books and short story collections, friends with the likes of Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, and others like John Kennedy and Martin Luther King. He even was married to Kathrine Hepburn for ten years before she dumped him for Spencer Tracy.”

The look of puzzlement on my mother's face starts to mix with some form of concern for me, she puts down her flowers and walks over and instinctively puts her right hand on my forehead checking to see if I have a fever. “Sweetie,” she says, “I have no idea who you're talking about, are you sure you have the right name.”

“Of course,” I say, “he's one of dad's favorite authors.”

“I don't know Pete, I guess you'll have to ask your father when he comes home.” My mother says clearly hoping to end this line of conversation. Since the death of my wife, Beth, and our child, Luke, then the collapse of the software company I helped to establish, my mother has worried about my sanity. The fact that I have refused to reengage with the world has only made her fears worse, so I drop the subject. We continue to chat while I eat another two muffins. She then drifts off to her bedroom to get cleaned up while I race back to the den to look up details on dementia on the computer while trying to figure out a way to tell my father that the love of his life is in deep trouble.

I spend several minutes surfing through medical websites and come away with the feeling that my mother is fine. The analytical part of my brain then suggest that the only alternative is that I have somehow become confused. So, I pull Google back up and search for information on Milton Solomon and find absolutely nothing on the author, it's as if his existence has been erased. I quickly surf over to Amazon and look up the titles of all his works and find nothing.

A strange form of desperation begins to creep into my mind, a person of Solomon's stature cannot be erased this easily. I then look up the biographies of some of his friends and ex-wives and find that they to are missing any reference to Solomon. In fact, the lives of everyone of them are considerably different then what I had learned.

What was the initial worry over my mother's mental health has now given way to the seemly obvious fact that my own sanity is now highly questionable to say the least. As fear begins to choke off what is left of my rational mind I remember the strange feeling I woke up to earlier, that something was wrong with the world.

End of Part One

(Author's note: This was not suppose to be a story multi-part story. I got distracted yesterday, namely by a long and much needed nap and couldn't finish. With it now being Sunday, I've got to start getting ready for the work week.) 


JUDI M. said...

WOW…just wow. Can't wait to read the rest.

The Bug said...

Ooh cool! Something to look forward to!

Pixel Peeper said...

This sound like an episode from Twilight Zone! You've got Peter's state of mind down pat...

Looking forward to the second part.

And naps are important; I'm a big fan.

sage said...

Wow, I agree, this does sound like something from the Twilight Zone

blogoratti said...

That was an interesting read!