This is a little something a wrote tonight. Opinions and suggestions are muchly appreciated 🙂
Papers rustled as the therapist shifted from one leg crossed to the other. No, she was flicking through the pages looking for something, that’s why they were rustling. She found it and began to read aloud. No, she was going to read to herself and drag out the interminable silence.
“Gretchen?” Dr. Thompson said. Gretchen unconsciously tossed her head trying to focus. “Are you alright?”
“Yea, it just, it got bad there for a minute,” Gretchen said slowly and carefully.
“Can you describe it for me?”
“You already asked me that,” Gretchen said.
“No, not yet I haven’t.”
“Are you sure?” Gretchen looked puzzled. Dr. Thompson nodded. Gretchen took a deep breath. A fly buzzing in the corner caught her attention. When her gaze flicked back to the therapist, she felt as though she had lost a great deal of time.
“Can you describe it for me?”
“Are you sure you haven’t asked me that already?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
“I don’t think I can,” Gretchen said. She knew if she kept thinking along the same lines she was going to repeat the same reality over and over.
“Think of it as a stream of consciousness exercise,” Dr. Thompson suggested. “Just spout any thoughts as they occur to you.”
Gretchen took a deep breath, and for just a moment, the world settled into one reality. Of course then it was back to the menagerie of possibilities and “already seen”s that characterized her life.
“I look at the clock on the wall, and I think, no, I know that I just did that. Ten times actually. Wait, that’s not right. I only looked once, but now I’m looking again, and it’s making time feel like it’s passing slower. Or does it? I’m never sure. I’m not sure. I don’t know. Shit, I’ve seen this before. This is the part where the man with the ax bursts in. Wait, that was a movie. No, it wasn’t. Yes, that movie with…Damn, what’s his name? I forget. Anyway it was definitely a movie that I’m remembering. But no I’m not. It’s real, and it wasn’t an ax it was a machine gun. No, that’s later when I walk out of the room. But if I go the other way-.”
“Ok, Gretchen,” Dr. Thompson interrupted. “You can stop now.”
She nodded and sat back on the couch, taking deep breaths in and out. If she focused hard enough, the layers of present would recede slightly so she could feel a few moments of calm at a time. There was a cycle to it, but she only remembered this from time to time.
“Do you know how long you’ve been like this?” The therapist asked. Gretchen shook her head. She stared at her folded hands. The minute sounds of the room pressed in on her. They seemed ominous. It was like the ticks of the clock and the hum of the computer were counting down to some disastrous climax. Gretchen realized she was holding her breath waiting for it. She exhaled suddenly, and she was surprised when a man with a gun did not burst into the room and begin shooting wildly. But no, that wouldn’t happen because this was all a movie.
As these thoughts zipped through her head, Gretchen realized Dr. Thompson had been saying her name for some time.
“Yes?” Gretchen asked. She looked up at the woman sitting in the armchair across from her.
“I said I think we need to try a new type of medication,” Dr. Thompson said. “This clearly isn’t helping you much.”
Gretchen nodded, though she wasn’t really listening. Her mind was a jumble of I’ve seen this, I’ve seen this, I know I’ve seen this before.
“Can you describe it for me?” Dr. Thompson asked. Gretchen looked at her sharply.
“I know you’ve asked me that before,” Gretchen replied.
“Yes, but you still haven’t done it,” Dr. Thompson said.
“But I did.”
“Not yet. You keep sinking into silence.”
Several moments of silence passed.
“I need to leave,” Gretchen said. The silence was full of possibilities. Too many. Her head would explode if she stayed in a situation so charged with maybes.
“Your time isn’t up yet,” Dr. Thompson replied.
“But I have to go.” She stood. Dr. Thompson sighed and wrote something down quickly before handing it to Gretchen. It was a prescription.
“Please don’t forget to get this one filled, Gretchen,” she said. Gretchen nodded and hurried out of the door. At least, that’s how she remembered this scenario happening, but no, she was still standing in the office preparing to leave and Dr. Thompson was scribbling on a piece of paper. Was it a prescription? Dr. Thompson handed her the paper.
“Call me if you need anything. Anything at all,” she said. At least, that’s how she remembered this scenario happening, but no-.
Gretchen screamed and ran from the room. Josh stood as she entered the lobby and grabbed her before she could make a break for the street. Dr. Thompson had followed her, and she handed Josh the paper she had been writing on.
“Fill this for her,” Dr. Thompson said. “Once a day, with food.”
“Thanks, Doc,” Josh said. He turned Gretchen toward the door, still holding her tightly. “Come on, Sis. Let’s get you home.”
Two days later, Gretchen was extremely ill. She lay in bed staring at the ceiling, but even that did not stop the awful progression of consecutive realities, all of which she just knew she had seen before. Josh tried to keep her comfortable, but he couldn’t have a conversation with her. It had been like this for almost a year now; ever since the accident, she hadn’t been the same. The doctors said it was seizures in the frontal lobe. Whatever that meant. Her brother brought her soup and tried to get her to take the pills. But no matter how he tried to coerce her into swallowing the tiny medication, she insisted that they were a poison that would kill her if he forced the issue. Josh was somewhat relieved by this idea because unlike most of her nonsense, this was consistent. Normally she jumped from thought to thought, never remembering what she had said. Of course, she was always adamant that she remembered not only what had happened before, but also what was going to happen next.
Finally, on the third day after visiting the therapist, Josh called his sister’s doctor. They scheduled an appointment for that afternoon. So, Josh began the arduous process of loading Gretchen into the car and taking her to the hospital. He started four hours before the appointment time. Still, they were fifteen minutes late. Gretchen kept stopping and trying to return to the house. First, it was a serial killer hiding in the bushes. Then, it was their mother returning from the grave waiting in the house for her to come fix lunch. Later, while driving, she nearly jumped out of the car because they were about to have a head on collision with a semi truck. Once they reached the hospital, a strange man with a cane was going to give her a present. And he simply couldn’t stop her from talking to the homeless man waiting on the bench because he had vital information for her. He only asked for spare change.
Finally, Josh led Gretchen into the waiting room. The doctor was there waiting for them; he was very well acquainted with Gretchen’s case, so the delay didn’t surprise him. He led them straight to an MRI room instead of the usual examining room. He explained that he had an idea for scanning her brain. They had done this exam once before already, but the doctor was sure he actually knew what he was looking for this time. The anesthesiologist administered a drug while Gretchen screamed and thrashed about, yelling that someone was trying to kill her and she needed to go home. Josh stood far away from the gurney where Gretchen had been tied down. He wanted to hold his sister’s hand, but he was tired of sporting her nail marks on his arms. He decided to let someone else handle it. It took longer than for most patients, but Gretchen finally settled into a drug-induced coma, leaving the testing room eerily silent.
Gretchen dreamed that she was walking through a long corridor. But wait, it wasn’t a dream. And it wasn’t a corridor. It was the street. She was outside the hospital with her brother. No, her brother wasn’t with her. She was alone. Not quite alone. There was a homeless man sitting on a bench by the entrance. He was dirty and ragged. The quintessential hobo, she thought. But there was something special about him. She had the sudden urge to speak to him. The world seemed to settle to one reality as she approached. She expected a man with a knife to jump from behind the hydrangea bush behind the bench, but then she realized that was silly. She sat down. Silence.
“I believe you have something to tell me,” she said finally.
The man nodded, but he still didn’t say anything. Gretchen began to fidget as she waited for the déjà vu to return in its usual waves. But it didn’t. After a few moments, she sat back and enjoyed the view of one uninterrupted reality. She took a deep breath and sighed.
“It’s not déjà vu, you know,” the man said suddenly. Gretchen leaned in closer to him and waited for him to speak again. He didn’t, so she prompted him.
“Then what is it?”
“It’s reality,” he said. He looked at her for the first time. She noticed that his eyes were very green in his dirt-stained face. Without the grime, she thought he might almost be handsome, though she estimated he must be in his 50s at the very least. “You are seeing multiple possible realities all at once. And they are all real. It is a gift.”
“I don’t feel very gifted,” Gretchen whispered. She turned to gaze across the busy street. She couldn’t remember the last time she had stayed in one present for this long. Actually, she couldn’t remember much of anything long-term. She was normally in a time lapse of anywhere from 30 seconds on bad days to 5 minutes on good days. She turned back to the homeless man, and repeated, “I don’t feel very gifted.”
“You just haven’t learned to control it, yet,” he replied. His voice was soft. She had expected something coarser. “I learned. And so will you.”
“How?” She asked.
“You’ll figure it out,” he said. “Now, it’s time to wake up.”
“What?” She asked. She felt the edges of the world blurring. A man with a knife was going to jump from behind the hydrangea bush behind the bench. She remembered this. But no, that wasn’t it. Something about the homeless man. He had a gun. No, that wasn’t right either. She knew if she concentrated it would all right itself.
“I said, it’s time to wake up.”
Gretchen opened her eyes to find herself staring at a ceiling made of generic white tiles with florescent lighting. Josh was standing over her, but not too close. Gretchen blinked at him.
“The homeless man told me that I’m not crazy,” she said.
“Of course you aren’t,” Josh said soothingly. “Come on, sis. It’s time to go home.”
He helped her off the gurney. Her legs were a bit wobbly. The doctor held the door open for them. He and Josh exchanged a look over the top of Gretchen’s head. She felt it more than saw it. They were plotting to kill her. But it had to look like an accident. She told herself to stop being ridiculous. That wasn’t this reality. Then, which one was she in? Everything began to speed up as she walked through the lobby doors and into the sunlight. Déjà vu after déjà vu pounced on her as Josh led her to the car. She tried to escape his grasp several times, but he held on tightly until he had her in the car with the seat belt securely fastened. The trip home was much like the trip to the hospital.
Another two days passed. Gretchen had recovered from her “illness,” yet Josh took her to the hospital again anyway. She wondered at this for a moment, but then she remembered that she hadn’t been to the hospital, yet. Not since her last annual checkup. But yes she had. She’d gone just yesterday. But that wasn’t quite right, either. Gretchen put up less resistance on this trip because she was very preoccupied with figuring out when she had last been to the hospital.
“If I can only find the right reality,” she murmured. Buildings flashed by her window, though she thought it was the same buildings repeating over and over again. Perhaps it was. The homeless man was no longer on the bench. Gretchen was surprised at this, and she tried to think why she thought there would be a homeless man sitting there. Then, she recalled that it was because he was there last time. No, that he was supposed to be there this time. Last time he was gone, too, right? She started to tremble as the déjà vu sped up and then slowed down and then sped up again. It was a bad day.
The doctor was waiting for them in the waiting room.
“I’ve seen this before,” Gretchen said to herself. It’s possible that she didn’t say it aloud because no one responded to her. They led her into a room where the anesthesiologist administered a drug while Gretchen screamed and thrashed about, yelling that someone was trying to kill her and she needed to go home. But this time, Josh wasn’t even in the room. He was in the next room with the doctor while Gretchen was being put under.
“Before we begin, I want to be absolutely certain that you know we can’t make any guarantees as to the outcome,” the doctor said. “This is an entirely experimental surgery.”
Josh nodded mutely for several minutes. He was recalling his sister thrashing on the gurney as the anesthesiologist put the needle in her arm. He nodded once more surely and swallowed roughly before saying, “Do it.”
Three hours later, Gretchen awoke in a hospital bed with a slight pain in her right temple. She raised her hand to find a bandage plastered across her forehead. She had the strange urge to rip it off and probe whatever wound was there, but her brother’s voice stopped her.
“How are you feeling, sis?”
Gretchen stopped mid-motion and considered the question for several minutes. She opened and closed her mouth several times as she pondered it.
“I feel fuzzy,” she finally said.
“That’s the pain killers,” Josh replied. He stood from his seat in the corner and approached the bed. “What is your name?”
Gretchen considered this as seriously as the last question before she said, “I don’t know.”
Josh sighed and rubbed the five o’clock shadow beginning to coat his chin. That’s when the doctor came in. He looked surprised to see Gretchen already awake, and he motioned Josh out of the room. Josh squeezed his sister’s hand before leaving.
“We believe the seizures have been stopped,” the doctor said. “It will take several days of carefully watching her to be sure, but I think we’ve done it.”
“She doesn’t remember her name, doc,” Josh said with barely controlled rage. His chest was tight with suppressed emotion, and he had a strong desire to punch something.
“It may come back,” the doctor said soothingly. “It may just be a side effect of the drugs we’re giving her to dull the pain.
“But what if it’s not? What if it doesn’t?”
“You knew what you signed on for,” the doctor said coldly. “I warned you before she went under the knife. We didn’t know what to expect, and we still don’t. But I am optimistic that-.”
“Fine. Fine,” Josh said, throwing his hands in the air. “When can I take her home?”
“Perhaps tomorrow, but as I said, we’ll have to wait and see.”
Josh nodded and returned to his sister’s room. He stopped in the doorway and watched her for a few moments. Gretchen stared out the window at a couple of pigeons creating a nest in a hydrangea bush. Her curly hair was falling into her eyes, but she didn’t seem to notice. She was muttering something over and over.
“One reality. One reality. One reality.”
She suddenly turned and looked at Josh. Her eyes, identical to his own, seemed to accuse him for a split second before they went vague again.
“There’s only one reality now,” she said. She never spoke again.