Tuesday, June 2, 2015
Part Three -- A Cut and Paste Existence
“So what is it,” I ask my sister as she studies the x-rays of my head, “tumor, aneurysm, early dementia, or some other ailment I don't know.” After driving down from Watertown I had spent over ten hours in her office as she ran tests and called in numerous favors to have the results expedited.
Melinda briefly turns away from the ghost-like picture of my skull on her oversized computer screen and gives me one of her stern looks of disapproval. I can't help but think how much she has changed from the idealistic young girl who left home to start medical school. She suffered through every indignity and stressor her education and training could throw at her and came out like a champ. It wasn't until she volunteered to work in the emergency department of a poor urban hospital that her ideals about making the world better began to slip.
She spent two years battling both patients, who many times didn't care whether they lived or died, and amoral hospital bureaucrats whose soul had long since disappeared and only saw statistics when they looked out into a packed waiting room. What she thought of the insurance companies and politicians lacking any real idea how many people died because of their moronic adherence to ideological crap in the face of crushing societal inequalities was even worse. So when the opportunity arose to join the Peace Corp and work overseas she gladly jumped at the chance. She arrived in east Africa about the same time as the first major Ebola outbreak. It again forced her to deal with incompetent politicians and apathy. The end result was that far too many people died that she knew could have been saved if only the world had lived up to their religious beliefs and truly given a damn. When she returned from Africa she still wanted to help people, but her goals were far less grand.
“Peter,” she said pulling me away from my thoughts, “everything looks fine, I see nothing in the way of abnormalities on the x-rays. As for the blood tests, the ones that have returned show the usual for someone of your age but nothing out of the ordinary. Although, there are several others tests that I won't have results for a couple of days. But I'd say from everything I've seen so far, and my observations of how you acted around my staff, I'd hazard a guess and say you're fine physically.”
“So how did I come up with this apparently fictional Milton Solomon so suddenly and know pretty big details about his parents who aren't exactly household names these days?” I ask not so gracefully ignoring how she didn't say anything about my mental health.
“That I can't explain, but I'm not a psychologist. But from the look on your face I'm guessing you have a theory.” Melinda said while organizing the paperwork on her desk.
“Nothing I'd mention to you since you would surely have me committed the minute I uttered the words.”
“In that case, especially since I have spent so much time here after hours, lets go get something to eat. And big brother, you're buying, you won't play the injured bird with me since I know how much money you're pulling in doing freelance programming.”
We take her car and as Melinda drives us both to her favorite Mexican restaurant across the bridge to Mount Pleasant we talked about our youngest sibling, Jack, who lives down in the Patagonia region of southern Argentina. He was one of the managers of an Eco-resort down there and does nothing but send us pictures of the area he lives with his emails saying we should abandon everything and move down there with him. Something I seriously considered several times since coming home.
At the restaurant the hostess seated us in a booth close to the entrance and made a point of chatting with me even after our waiter took our drink orders and left to bring us the usual chips and salsa. She was a brunette about the same age as me and if a lot of things were different I would have welcomed her attention. Eventually she gets the message I'm not really interested and walks off to seat other people.
“What in the hell is wrong with you Pete?” My sister said while looking at me like I was crazy, something I really didn't appreciate at that moment. “That lady just about raped you with her eyes, not that it would matter in the least but I know you're not gay, why didn't you at least get her phone number? When is the last time you had a real relationship with a woman? Hell, when is the last time you just had sex?”
Despite the fact that I understood my sister had dropped everything to run tests on me everyone in my family understood the death of my wife and son during the attacks on 9/11 was an extremely sore point for me. That included any talk of getting involved with another woman.
“Melinda,” I said calmly, “I really don't want to talk about this, you know Beth and Luke's deaths still give me nightmares. There's no way I could get involved with anyone else.”
“Whose deaths?” Melinda said looking at me clearly not having a clue as to who I was talking about.
“Don't play this type of game with me, Melinda. I'm not in the mood.” I said getting angry.
“Okay Pete, I want you to remain calm but I absolutely have no idea whom you are talking about. The only Beth I know you had anything to do with was Beth Hampton, you guys dated in high school and for a short time while in college. You two became engaged during your senior years at Clemson but broke it off, she's now married to Jacob Fisher and lives not far from here.” My sister said in a casual, matter-of-fact manner.
In hindsight discovering Milton Solomon had somehow vanished from reality was nothing compared to the words coming out of my sister's mouth. My wife and child were everything to me and their deaths about destroyed my soul. It was only when I totally thew myself into the software company did I recover. Since I had already gone through the surreal experience of dealing with Solomon's disappearance I didn't get angry. Somehow knowing it had already happened bypassed the confusion and disbelief that comes with such a revelation but it didn't soften the overall blow that once again reality had shifted on me.
“Peter...talk to me,” my sister said as she grabbed my hand.
“Melinda, give me your car keys,” I said in a voice that deep down scared me.
“That's not a good idea Peter, how about you let me take you to the hospital.”
“Melinda give me the goddamn car keys or I'll take them from you and find Beth's house on my own. You have no idea how I am feeling right now.”
Melinda is just a younger version of our mother in that she looks like Jane Goodall must have appeared in her early thirties. But where as our mother is a saint with all the patience and compassion you expect, Melinda's experiences has hardened her to the point she doesn't scare easily or take a lot of shit off anyone.
“Peter let me tell you two things,” she again said calmly. “First, you are in a public place and the last damn thing you want to do is give me a reason to have you locked up and pumped full of tranquilizers. Second, I am not telling you where Beth lives, much less taking you there. The only option you have is to come with me to the hospital where I can see you get the care you need.”
We were at an impasse, so I did the only thing I could possibly do considering the circumstances. I grabbed Melinda's purse and ran straight out the door before she could react. On the way out I did hear Melinda scream something about the police needing to be called but I didn't care.
After running for several minutes I stopped long enough to pull out Melinda's cell phone. While my sister is one of the most intelligent people I have ever known, she is a creature of habit and has kept the same password for everything for years. It only takes me a second to gain access to her address book and find the listing for the woman who my memories told me was once my wife. Sure enough, it is close by and I begin running again knowing that the cops have already been called.
Ten minutes later I am running down a dark street using the address numbers on the fancy mailboxes to guide me. In the background I hear sirens growing closer and figure I have five minutes at best before I am tased and hauled off to the nearest psychiatric ward.
Because panic is about to overwhelm me I literally trip over Beth's mailbox. But I see the walkway and race up the to the front door. The lights are on in the house so I have a strong idea someone is home. I try my best to knock like a sane person and less than a minute later the woman I knew as my wife opens the door.
We stand there looking at each other for what seems like hours. In my memories the last time I saw her was the day she boarded a flight with our son to go see her sister in California. Somehow I expected her to be different, but she is the same blonde, green eyed woman my memories tell me I had known since we were in middle school. Then the realization hits me like a nuclear weapon, Beth is different because she is looking at me as if I am a stranger, which to her I am, and a terrifying one at that.
“Peter,” she says while leaning on the edge of the door, “you need to leave now. I don't know what has happened to you but the police are on the way.”
“I don't know what has happened to me either,” I answer honestly. “I just wanted to see your face, to make sure you're alive.”
“I'm sorry Peter but you need to leave. I have children, and you're scaring me.” Her words are like a knife to my heart. I watch her close the door without saying anything else. At that moment six police cars show up and I turn around with my arms raised. After that I just shut down and didn't say or do anything else.
In the movies they often keep mentally disturbed people in padded rooms while wearing straight jackets. Luckily for me techniques and practices have advanced since those primitive days. My room, while spartan and missing anything that might be used to harm myself, is comfortable and has a window facing a beautiful flower garden similar to my mother's. Another plus is that I get to wear pajamas all day and watch all the television I want in the dayroom as long as its something pleasant and comforting that doesn't rile up the inmates. The staff is rather formal with the others like me, but courteous and watchful so that no one hurts themselves or others. The food really sucks but all things considered I could have ended up in a much worse place.
As for the night I was taken into custody, the police being who they are roughed me up a little when they put the cuffs on and threw me into a squad car. At least I didn't have to worry about killing choke holds or being shot on sight since I was a white guy. Over the next couple of days I went from a holding cell at the county jail and from there to the psychiatric ward of the hospital where my sister works. After a formal hearing a week later I am finally taken to a private treatment center catering to the mental health needs of people with either decent health insurance or lots of money. My doctors are good people but totally without a clue as to how I have created such an elaborate delusion.
During my first night at the treatment center I realized how stupid my actions were after discovering Milton Solomon had vanished from reality. I made the assumption that he and those around him were the only ones altered by whatever force had erased him from history. Since I didn't have any direct connection with him and never in a million years would I have thought that my own history had somehow been changed. My urge to see Beth after hearing my sister say she was still alive was instinctive but ultimately self-defeating.
One morning after breakfast I take a seat in the dayroom and catch up on the latest adventures of SpongeBob when I notice a bookcase filled with old and ragged books. One of them is a fairly recent world history book and since the ever watchful staff is always alert for any issue that might disturb the peace I calmly pull the book out and take a seat to read despite the fact I am so excited I can barely contain myself.
Since this all began I have always felt that the most likely explanation of my confused state would lie with me. That I was suffering from some physical or mental condition that caused me to lose touch with the real world. People being erased from history or brought back to life is something reserved for science fiction movies and books. However, while I never had a strong interest in history I sat in the dayroom for hours reading that book and coming to the realization that all of human history was the plaything for some force I could not even begin to fathom.