R.H. Dedmen Memorial Hospital.
Neurology Department, 2:14 pm . . .
I’m sitting in a waiting room, looking at two-year-old issues of GQ and Cosmopolitan Lady. But, since I don’t remember anything that happened farther back than four-and-a-half months ago, it’s all new and exciting to me.
There is one other person in the calm-blue and warm-yellow waiting room. A middle-aged woman, with short red hair and clothes that look tight and uncomfortable, is fidgeting in her chair. I lifted up a magazine for her, but she gave me one of those ’I’ll scream rape′ scowls. She is probably waiting for somebody. Her husband, maybe? A child? Hard to tell. Whoever it is, they’re in for a nice afternoon. She looks like a snake, unhappy with its skin. An eel on shag carpet.
I thumb through the magazines until an attractive receptionist calls out on the intercom for a “Mister Jack Pagan.” I laughed, because there’s only just me and this other woman in the waiting room. The receptionist then informs me that I can “. . . proceed to Dr. Smith’s office for my appointment.”
I walked through a pastel green door, into a lavender and off-white hallway. I’m so tired of ‘feel-good’ colors. I’d almost opt for blood dripping down the walls rather than all of this purple, green, pink, and fuchsia. If I see another smiling dinosaur I’m going to hit him over his big head with a chair, then stab his eyes out until he’s extinct, again.
I noticed the caseworker’s office door was open. I approached and knocked politely on the threshold.
A short, bald man with sun-reddened skin, a gleaming forehead, and a neck that seemed choked by his tie, waved me in. He had a chubby smile to accent his light blue eyes. It was almost like he was part of the color scheme. Dr. Robert “you can call me Bob” Smith pointed to an area in front of his large oak desk. There was one of those brown leather ‘psychiatrist’ couches—where I’m sure hundreds of people have cried their eyes out—and also a big, leather chair, of the same color.
I wondered if this was one of those shrink-tests. Where, if I choose the couch, it means that daddy touched me wrong and I need to be held; but if I pick the chair, it means I need attention because my mommy ignored me.
“Sit down, Mr. Pagan,” Dr. Smith said casually. He didn’t even offer his hand for a shake. Although, I’m not sure if caseworkers in the Neurology Department are even allowed to shake hands. The protocol around here is a little stuffy.
I sat and looked around the office. This guy has a lot of certificates. They all look very professional and important. Each one of them probably has an unpaid student loan attached to it.
Dr. Smith glanced down at a folder in front of him. “So . . . how . . . have . . . you,” he looked up, “. . . been doing?”
I shrugged. I told him everything seemed fine. I was adjusting well enough. My classes were just about finished, and I was already looking for work.
“What kind of work?”
I’d like to work at a library, or a bookstore, I think. Somewhere that’s quiet.
“Is your head still ringing?”
Not as bad as before, I explained. Manageable.
“And how about your appetite?”
I’m eating like a champ. I didn’t mention our little jaunts to McDonald’s. I’m pretty sure the hospital’s staff would frown upon that.
“And your vision?”
What about it, I asked.
“Is it clear? Are you getting headaches? Do you see double.”
I considered his question. “My vision is crystal clear.”
Especially if you count the spooks and monsters that appear from the shadows.
I continued, “And my headaches are occurring less and less frequently.”
And even as I say the words my head is throbbing like there is a city worker in the back of my skull pounding a jackhammer on my cerebral cortex.
“I’d say everything is fine,” I added, just to sugarcoat it. These shrinks make so much out of nothing. I don’t want to give him any ammunition.
He studied me for a moment, leaning back in his chair—a much nicer chair than mine. And he just looks past his cheeks at me, his lips pursed a bit. Then he sits forward, and the skin above his eyebrows wrinkles slightly.
“I’m worried that you may be having a bit too much success this early in the recovery.”
Oh, I tell him, that’s just because of the exemplary treatment at this facility, and all of the knowledgeable doctors and staff looking after me.
And then he squints. “Right,” he says skeptically. “Hold on a second, Jack. I want you to speak with Dr. Culligan.” Then he dials some buttons on his phone and talks to somebody in doctor-speak. Something about an inkblot.
Two minutes later, this lady doctor comes in, and if the room was darker and I didn’t know any better, I would mistake her for him. They were like freaky twins. This could be an episode of Twilight Zone, for sure.
“Hi,” Dr. Culligan says politely, and then she went about opening a folder and pulling out several pieces of white cardboard. She laid them in her lap, while Dr. Smith scooted his chair forward, his stomach squishing up against the desk. He looks like a child pretending to be an adult. She looks like a child pretending to be a doctor. I felt like the only adult in the room.
Dr. Culligan turns over this sheet of cardboard and she says, “What do you see?”
I see a bunch of black nonsense. Like a bug smashed on a windshield. Like thick paint pouring on glass. Like a page full of vomit. Like somebody took a chainsaw to a birthday party and made the headlines.
But out loud I say, “I kind of see a butterfly. Wait . . . maybe, maybe he has a picnic basket with him. Yeah,” I say as I squint, nodding. “A butterfly on her way to a picnic.”
And that Dr. Smith, he never misses a beat, he studies me very carefully. He says, “Is this butterfly in a hurry? Is he rushing to the picnic?”
And I can’t help but to glance back and forth at the both of them. These oddball doctor twins with their ink and their nonsensical questions. “No,” I say, lying back proudly. “This butterfly has all the time in the world.”
“Where do you see the butterfly,” Dr. Culligan asks, “. . . where in the picture?”
So I point to the center left.
Dr. Culligan, winks at me, and flips to the next picture. Dr. Smith scratches his forehead as he scribbles down something in my folder.
“So was I right?” I ask.
Dr. Culligan looks up at me, “. . . what?”
I ask, “About the picture? Was ′butterfly on the way to a picnic′ the correct response?”
They both giggled, like twins do, and the female twin replies, “No, no. There is no right or wrong answer for these. This is part of the Rorschach Test.”
Anyway, we go through nine more of these. Some of them have small patches of color. Most of them are black and shades of grey. They all look like car accidents, but I answer them correctly. And with every answer they seem more and more satisfied that I am adjusting quite nicely.
What I failed to mention to Humpty and Dumpty during their lengthy interrogation, is that Ricky gave me a book that helps people successfully navigate and answer these types of tests.
I don’t tell the twins that I know all about the Swiss psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach, and the test he created in 1921. I had actually planned on the 45-card version of the test, designed by the American psychologist W. H. Holtzman, but what the hell.
They felt good about my responses. I saw trees and birds. Trees with plenty of leaves, and birds with vibrant, full feathers. I even saw a lantern; shining brightly, of course.
And as stupid as this is going to sound, even though I was making all of this crap up, I actually felt better. I guess pretending to be happy and together, actually makes you feel that way. Besides, I hadn’t seen a spook all day.
Well . . . not a live one, anyway.
My version of a good day.
That whole thing at the library was still stagnating in the back of my thoughts. We had taken the book with us, but Rupert had taken Ricky’s cell phone number and promised to call him as soon as he heard anything from Washington. It was kind of cool. I have this motley crew of investigators, and we’re all working the same case. But, the only one who has actually seen the things we are researching . . . is probably going insane.
Sure, I’m not a full-on, nut-bag psycho . . . but I’m not feeling too grounded right now, either. If I have some complications from the head trauma—which is entirely possible given the circumstances that were explained to me—then there is a chance that they might have missed something. Something big!
See, with a tumor in the brain, sometimes you think things are fine. The tumor might actually stimulate parts of your brain. But remember, it’s still cancer. Tiny little mutant cells convincing all the other cells to commit suicide.
Cellular al Qaeda.
Jim Jones at the microbiological level.
So while I think I am feeling fine and seeing these unbelievable events, it could just be cancer fucking me up slowly and progressively. And I don’t want to even think about the possibility that my brain is swelling or something horrible like that. Because if I have the choice of going crazy slowly, or dying quickly . . . I’ll take crazy.
Think about it: mad scientists do some of their best work right before they go completely mad. So if I am losing my grey matter, I hope it’s at a pace that I can’t recognize. That way I can at least be productive before I start painting the walls with my own feces.
I left the twins with smiles and handshakes, like they were just so gosh-darn proud of old Jackie boy. I might even be one of their success stories.
As I walked through the waiting room, and out into the hallway, something ran by me so fast I thought it had to be on wheels. No noise, no wind in its wake. Just a dark flash . . . and then nothing. And my wonderful, completely artificial mood, it melts away like ice on lava.
Poof, and I’m loco again.
I used to only see things as I was falling asleep or waking-up. And even then, only for a few fleeting seconds. Then, in the morgue I saw the spooks when I was just really tired. And today, I’m not even all that tired. I was actually kind of relaxed, feeling a bit lazy and lethargic.
So, whatever I have stirring up my cortex . . . it’s most likely degenerative.
Barely four-and-a-half months old, and I’m already sliding down the spiral.
This is my decaying perfect success.
I need McDonald’s.