Mindbender

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My dad had never really been in my life. He fucked off early to wherever it is that fucked off dads go to fuck off. The last time I talked to him I made it clear that I was not going to his funeral, and blocked all forms of contact from him that I was technically-capable of implementing.

But my mom was still a person who really existed at that point, and I guess she had come early on after the accident when I was unresponsive and looking like a freakish lab experiment gone wrong. But her job needed her, and she had cats that needed to be tended, so she had traveled back home in tears, telling the doctors to call her once I woke up.

And then a few weeks later someone finally got around to calling her back, after she called again to check up on me. I don’t really have any complaints about my mom, no hard stories to tell you about my harsh upbringing. If I have any criticisms about my mom, it was that she was always lonely, even when I was there, and she drank too much, too often. I resented her for being a drunk early on, but once I became an adult and realized how much it can be painful to even get up and go to work, I forgave her for the drinking.

She showed up at my door while I was staring out the window at the autumnal leaves in their russets and golds and fire reds, trying to remember how to whistle. My lips, after the surgery, were a little different, and my muscle memory was having trouble with diminished facial musculature in the puckering of my lips. My sallow breaths that did not pass any reasonable test for whistlehood echoed from the sanitized floors of my whitewashed room. My food was untouched on a tray nearby, except for a couple nibbles, as I was strictly on an intravenous diet at that point.

I was starting to have coherent, consistent thoughts again. Things were less fragments, and returning into narratives. I was replaying names of the nurses in my mind as a mental exercise, fending off a bit of inner panic as I struggled to remember the name of the pretty black one. During lucid moments, the knowledge that one’s own mind is not what it once was, that there is the likelihood of permanent damage, is a horror that can only be fended off by tests. Conscious tests of one’s faculties, inspection of weak points. Catalog the deficiencies, work to either patch them or work around them. Once you understand the scope of the problem, it is less scary. Once you know what you are really dealing with, you can make informed judgments about how to proceed.

I am a software engineer, and I guess thinking analytically is my nature. Not that I was writing any code at this point.

In the midst of all of this introspection, consumed with my inner self and my body prison and a few other high-minded zen-like concepts that I’ve now lost the ability to give fucks about, came my mom. Hesitant, hovering in the doorway, and I hear her voice then, like a shout directly into my ear canal, except that my headache starts pounding instead of my ears from the volume.

** Oh my god that can’t be Lance. **

I turned then, snapping about in bed so painfully that my bones and nerves screamed and the entire world skewed and jangled and twisted about in my vision, and I lost it for a few minutes.

I can imagine her shock. The last time she saw me, I’m a tall, thin guy with a paunch from too much sitting and eating crap food at a desk all day, a tousled head of hair that won’t stay straight and is often unwashed, glasses that are too large, and the same recognizable facial features she’s seen since I was a screaming sack of skin plucked from her bleeding womb. And a neckbeard.

Except now I’m a pale, shaved, emaciated scarecrow with a fancy network of scars, tubes in my body, monitors on my body, and a chorus of beeping machines surrounding me. I have bandages mapped strategically around my head, casts and splints around my legs, arms, chest, fingers. My nose is smaller than it used to be, and my mouth a little larger. Some of the skeletal structure has shifted, particularly in my cheekbones. The top and back of my shaved head was the most raw and tender, and at that point my skull still hadn’t completely fused back together, and there were purplish black and yellow bruises everywhere.

When I could focus again, she was sitting there with tears glimmering in her eyes, nostrils red and puffy and quivering, mouth compressed into wrinkled lines. The horror and sadness on her face were easily read, but there was something more. Something else.

It was a vibe. It was like when you walk into a room, and suddenly everyone goes quiet and looks at you and gives you this guilty look. Suddenly you’re not just in the room with the people in the room, you’re also in the room with a feeling. This feeling feels outside of you, and it colors everything. It affects your reactions, and how you perceive and even think about the event afterwards.

That’s what it was like. Except instead of a feeling of embarrassment, it was a feeling of such wretched pity, of such mournful loss, that words fail me to describe it. I wanted to cry, just seeing the look on her face, just feeling that oppressive and enveloping sense of horror at this tainted meeting between mother and child.

I broke the silence. “I’m still me, Mom,” and my speech was a raspy croak that sounded like savages had eaten her son and were trying to emulate my voice.

“I know,” she said.

“Well what you said…it didn’t sound like that.” I bit back tears and tried to be the strong, brave, silently-suffering patient.

“What I said, Lance?” and there it was, concern. Her eyes crinkling at the corners like a sad puppy.

“You shouted it.”

“Lance…honey…I didn’t shout.”

“When you came in.”

** What is he talking about? My poor, poor boy! **

And then I shit the bed. I do not mean to say that I did so metaphorically. I mean to say that in my shock of realization coupled with conditions of overall muscle weakness, bad hospital food, and a mostly-liquid diet, I made diarrhea in my bed at that moment, as a grown man, right in front of my mom.

I sat there in shock, mouth open. My mom smelled the resulting stench and bolted from the room to get a nurse. Much as I was normally embarrassed to do something like that, I had received weeks of training as an invalid in beating down whatever remained of my pride to the point where I no longer cared who looked at my genitals or wiped my anus. More importantly, my thoughts were turned inward in a shocking realization that turned everything upside down.

My mom had spoken to me, without moving her lips.

I’d like to tell you that I struggled with this realization for weeks, or months. That I denied it, told myself that it was impossible. I’d like to turn it into an interesting story where, little by little, bit by bit, I uncovered new subtle truths that finally revealed the obvious.

But let us settle a few facts. I am a nerd, an avid student of comic books, sci-fi movies and novels, and all things a geek would be proud to find on his shelf. I’m used to considering the possibility of strange things, even if I’m enough of a skeptic to realize most strange things don’t exist.

But we had just been visited by aliens. There were people on TV captured doing impossible things. People’s minds necessarily had to be opened a bit further to compensate for these new facts, and mine was no different.

My mom wasn’t a telepath. She was shocked and concerned by my reaction and besides, she was my mom. There’s a certain threshold for belief I’m prepared to cross, and my mom being a telepath is on the other side of that threshold.

I created a hypothesis, a totally crazy one, right then and there. Something had happened to me. With all the other crazy shit going on in my brain, with all the tuning and tinkering and hacking and splicing and whatever else had gone on up in there, somehow, I’d gained the ability to read minds.

That is not to say I really believed it at that precise moment. I just thought it would be cool, in a comic book origin story sort of way.

My mother came back with two nurses, one of them male, and they got me up, and changed my bed, and hosed my ass and legs down in the shower. With my ass pointed at the male nurse and feeling about as low and wretched as I could possibly get, I began to feel more of those vibes. A wave of disgust from the nurse who was hosing off my rear end was obvious, and I could easily have imagined that. The male nurse was a bit more complicated. His vibe was like a sense of profound and utter embarrassment on behalf of the other dude in the room at having to watch me, a fellow dude in his prime, laid so low. Also a sense of worry and feeling of fragility that the same might happen to him.

I stared at that guy over my ass, eyes wide as my hypothesis seemed more real to me, until I started feeling a vibe which I can only describe as a 'homophobic discomfort', and he looked away. Even after he looked away, I kept looking at him. There was this sense that I was close to something, that there was something there, something I hadn’t found yet.

It was like scanning a radio frequency, and then suddenly the signal came in. Loud, far, far too loud, and clear. Much in the same scenario, I clamped my hands over my ears and howled, although there was nothing my hands could do about the volume that was in my head, in my skull. It was a real jumble, but in a flood it came like this:

I knew immediately that his name was Ashton Martin, a clever play on Aston Martin that his motorhead father had given him, had, in fact known for years he would name his son. I knew this immediately, in the way that you know your own name and address without thinking about it. I knew that he preferred that everyone call him Ash, that he had a girlfriend who was pregnant, and that her father did not know they were together, and he disapproved of blacks not so much in particular, as interracial relationships.

Ash really did not want to be in the room right now. Ash wanted to go home and see her (her name was Lily) and tell her he was sorry for last week. I did not actually know what he meant by last week, as it seemed to be a buried thought that he didn’t want to think about but I had this sense, this dangerous vertiginous sense even then, that if I wanted to know more about it, I could.

Not everyone thinks in words. Some people do. Some think in music. Some think in visual images and patterns. And many times people, all people, just sort of drift and think intuitively. We hold in our head certain things that we know as we walk through life, and surf along on them as if dreaming while awake, as new thoughts surface like islands through the fog. We speak and have conversations all the while with no conscious effort of doing so, as if reading from a script. Every so often, for a moment, we stumble into the present and we consciously remember to breathe, and feel our heartbeat and sense the fleeting now, before it drifts off into the narrative dream in which we keep ourselves.

I cannot begin to express how transformative this was. I received these dizzying insights for the first time, in Ash’s mind, in a few seconds. Yes, the volume was too loud, yes I was groaning at the pain in my splitting skull, at the authority and certitude with which these things were pounded into my skull as if they were being shouted into my face by an amplifier.

Yes, I grant all of that. But I could not let it go. Until you have another mind as a point of reference, until you can really experience and know what it feels like to dive into someone else’s mental stream, you can’t really understand how much we have in common. It takes the objective experience of another person’s mind, one apart from your own, to really understand how it works.

In those third-eye-opening moments, I gained more insight than any psychiatrist would ever possess about how the mind really worked.

Then my nose seemed to rupture, and precious lifeblood gushed from it all over the clean white porcelain of the tub, swirling down the drain, and I sank into blackness. I was told that the precious saint of a nurse who was washing my ass caught me before my head could hit the tub and cause who knows what other kind of damage.

I learned my first lesson about being a mind-reader, though: It takes effort like anything else, and if you push too hard you can hurt yourself. Especially when you’re a weak, ravaged little sack of bones like I was at the time.

The next couple months in the hospital after that felt less like a prison and more like a training camp.

And in case you think I’m making all of this shit up, the next day I asked the nurse who woke me to tell me the name of the male nurse who had stared at my ass and made me feel so uncomfortable.

She laughed when she realized I was joking, and then told me his name. Did the name sound something like the name of a certain high-end sports car?

You bet your ass it did.


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