Last time we talked I told you about the loss of mental imagery. My inner landscape, the way that I see the world had faded from my mind. I lost the ability to visualize anything using what I used to think of as memory.
Impossible you think. No way to find yourself unable to create a mental representation of something. What if you hadn’t seen anything for three thousand seven hundred days. No, I don’t mean like a convict sitting in solitary confinement. He can still see the walls, the floors, he can draw, he can create representations that help him retain the ability to see the world, even if he is trapped in a cell. He can still see his guard, smell his stinking breath, eat low quality and tasteless food. He can walk around for an hour a day and remember what his body feels like. He can maintain a connection to the world.
I have no sight; the primary sensory system of the human being. My sense of smell is, as is the lot of humans, pretty pitiful compared to our natural cousins, but now, my nose can detect the tiniest scents as they waft in my open door. The scents of this new hospital are vile. I smell piss all around me. I think it might even BE me. My body hasn’t been handled nearly as much and I hear one or two people a day bustle in and out and then I am alone with my thoughts and a crappy, static-filled television. Thankfully, the last person who came to visit turned it off and it’s stayed off since.
My hearing not the most acute of senses drinks in every sound now. The wails of what I suspect is a nearby psych ward does not comfort me. I suspect the care I am getting is what I can afford, which at this point is little to none. A cry of despair, possibly from a visitor, I can’t sort them out yet, reinforces what I have been loathe to admit to myself.
I hate this new hospital. I think I’m going to die here.
All I have left now is the dream. I see an angel, okay, I don’t see her, I feel her. In a place filled with the glow of nature, plants, animals and this angel. This heavenly presence which makes me feel calm comes to me more and more often. When I first felt it I thought I might be imagining it. Having lost my inner sight, all I had to go on was the feeling.
Whenever I was alone, I could feel her. She didn’t say anything though I hoped she might. She stood by me during the nights when I think I was cold, lost and alone. The only residual self image I had was of my body as I remembered me. A young man of twenty-two. I hadn’t been that man for a decade now. I tried to imagine myself and when I could start the imagination engine, I envisioned a sorry specimen. Underfed, starved, physically weak, once prominent cheekbones now gaunt and tight over the feeble skeleton beneath.
I turned off my imagination engine and sat in the comfort of the mental emptiness which was now my mind. Filled with nothing but the raw essence of thought, I formed a tiny spark and just watched it. I turned it into a classic atom of my childhood, with a tiny swirling light around an oversized neutron, proton core. Then I refined it to a more appropriate thing where the electrons were a cloud of gnats around an invisible center. I did this again and again, adding to it until I could remember what a carbon atom looked like. I began to rebuild the periodic table in my mind, keeping busy while I was going insane.
She was there more and more. She began to help me. We rebuild matter and I could see making simple constructs, things made from wood. But this wasn’t any particular wood, it was just Wood. The perfect embodiment of the substance. Heavy, but not too heavy. Strong and with my new envisioned Rock, I could begin shaping it. I used Rocks to shape new Rocks and with Wood, I rebuilt my world.
I had rediscovered Logos. The realm of perfect things as envisioned by men. The year flew by. As my body received the minimum care required for it to survive, I could tell things were different. Nurses came to see me and their horror was evident. It seems I was developing pressure sores. The night nurse was fired and I was given a series of antibiotics while I tried to heal.
A body as weak as mine doesn’t do anything fast or well. The new nursing staff were a bit more diligent but I can’t say I knew anything about them. They didn’t talk to me. They performed their work and were gone as quick as they could stand it.
No sense talking to the dead, I guess.
My loneliness increased. Only me, my angel and my island paradise. I had managed to rebuild a perfect reality crafted from the very essence of matter itself. It was all I could see, I had to painstakingly recreate everything. Every blade of grass, every tree, even the sand was lovingly created a handful at a time. Once I had completed the beach, I created the perfect ocean, blue-green reflecting the perfect sky-blue sky. Coconut trees, complete with coconuts heavy with milk fell only when I needed them to. I drank in their nectar, sweet, oily, natural. The first time I had envisioned eating anything in a long time.
Then I saw them. My angel complete with wings and another young woman. Beautiful, because in Logos everything is, they were everything I thought they should be, flawless, without blemish, without humanity, little more than living statues. As they should be here.
“I need to leave you for a time.” My angel’s lips didn’t move but I heard her perfectly.
“Who is she?” I pointed to her young friend, who appeared to be in her early twenties, her blond hair and pert breasts were no longer the distraction they might have been in the earlier, and imperfect world.
“She is the young woman in the room with you. She has been recovering from a terrible car accident. Her coma is not like yours. She held fiercely to life, but can no longer bear it. I must see her to her afterlife. Will you be alright for a while?”
“I’ll abide. I think I am going to try and create some animals today, maybe some fish.”
“That should keep you busy until I get back.”
“You’re the angel of Death, aren’t you?”
“Only if you wish me to be. Otherwise I am just your Companion, helping you pass the time. Her time has come.”
The young girl laid down and my Companion lifted her and raised her into the air. The two of them not touching began to float skyward and soon disappeared into my newly created sun. I was still proud of that. I think it wasn’t bright enough and didn’t quite move like the real thing, but it was perfect to me. I could watch them disappear into the light and I didn’t need to shield my eyes.
She was gone for ten days. During that time Kalie came back with friends.
She wept for quite some time at my condition. “I didn’t know. I didn’t know it would be like this. I’m so sorry. We’re going to get you out of here.”
Don’t worry about it, Bunny. I have found a way to keep myself busy. I’ve become God.
“Grant, I know I have been away for a while but I think these doctors will be able to help you.”
Help me what, Bunny? Contemplate my navel? Create the perfect fish for my perfect ocean? There is only enough room in here for one, Bunny.
“Today they’re going to run some tests and if they look good, we are going to go on a trip where they can work with you under better conditions. Everything is going to be fine, I promise, Grant.”
You know better than to promise things are going to get better, Kalie. It hasn’t happened yet.
The scientist doctors talked over my head while they set up their equipment. There was much lamenting about the conditions of the hospital up to the squishing of insect pests. They spoke German some of the time, so I wasn’t going to be following their conversation much anyway.
After ten days, my Companion returned. We reconstructed the scene as best we could imagine it. Connected to dozens of electrodes, my head encased in a tight fitting scanner device. Computer screens surround my bed. And the incomprehensible displays each tracked some individual aspect of my being.
“Grant, I am Dr. Astor, and we are going to be running some tests. We need you to help us. Can you do that?”
I was in the middle of making my first fish, when I realized he was talking to me. I continued with the fish. No sense in stopping in the middle of it. I visualized what the perfect fish would look like and by the end of the first week of Dr. Astor’s testing and prompting, nothing conclusive had been determined.
My first fish was, however, a success. He looked similar to a pirahna with a slightly better dental plan.
“Ms Kalie, we are seeing activity in his brain, that appears consistent with a dream state. But very little tells me he is anything but a normal coma patient. Perhaps if you talk with him we can get something conclusive to work with.”
“Grant. I know you are there. I have always known it. Now you need to prove it to these nice doctors.”
Kalie’s voice thundered in the sky around me. Different than any other time she talked with me. I was frightened.
She touched me. I could feel the connection. My Companion put her hand on my cheek and then I could feel Kalie’s warm and alive touch.
“Good, good, Ms. Kalie. That was the first time we have seen this kind of response. Keep talking to him.” Astor sounded hopeful, but from where I was sitting he was a distant storm on the horizon.
“Mom passed away last year. I wanted to come and tell you.”
I already knew. My Companion looked strangely like Mom. I think I knew when I saw her last, she wasn’t well. The winds was picking up and my perfect sky was now being obscured by the mother of all storms. Slow arriving, bringing in the surf, washing up on my once pristine beach.
Stop it, Kalie. You don’t know what you’re doing. I don’t want to care about you. Or Mom. Or Carl. Or these damned doctors and their scary equipment. I am perfectly adjusting to creating islands, plants, sand and now fish. At this rate, I could have an entire ecosystem in a decade. It only took me two hours to create ants. And another hour to decide I didn’t need them yet, and made them go away. You want me to come to you and pretend my life as a living cadaver is better than being here.
Honestly, I considered being dead as an improvement. My Companion, took my hand as the storm grew stronger. The waves swept over my island and began to destroy it.
“Carl doesn’t even acknowledge you exist, anymore. He won’t even talk to me about you.”
Lightning strikes and stinging rain begin to fall cutting into my residual image of myself. My Companion spreads her wings and wraps them around us, as the waves lap over our feet.
“I don’t want to care about her. Please let her know. I whispered to my Companion. I just want this to be over. I can’t go back to being a pair of ears in a ward of the dead and dying.”
“If I do this, you can’t go back.”
“Is this what being dead is like? The recreation of the self, the redevelopment of the psyche, where I recreate everything anew?”
“No. This is your mind slipping into madness, trying to hold on desperately to what you know about the universe at large. This is not Death. Not at all.”
“Then tell me about it.”
“Death is the sound of one hand clapping. Death is the gurgle of a child dying from SIDS in its crib at night while its parents are less than ten feet away. Death is the falling of pipes from a building on a construction worker, killing him instantly. Death is starvation in a small village in the Himalayas. Death is as near as your next breath and as far away as a gamma-ray burst in another galaxy. Are you truly ready to give up on living?”
She had to shout over the storm of Kalie’s will battering me, trying to push me back to choosing to live.
What did I have to live for? Didn’t you have to have a reason to live, something to fight for? A thing that makes life worth living? I had spent the last ten years freeing myself from all of those things. I wanted nothing, needed nothing. I was able to live silently with the sounds of my manufactured waves and winds. The slapping of tree fronds in the night breeze. I had even created stars so my nights were as perfect as my days.
My lie, my self-deception was almost complete. Once I was done, I would have laid down and she would have taken me away. All I was doing was making myself a very elaborate, self-defined, self-described coffin.
My Companion smiled at me. She kissed me fully on the lips, a sensation both magnificent and terrifying. The island was covered by a tsunami and swept away into my ocean. Death and I stood on the surface of the ocean, my stars above me.
And then I was alone again. Everything faded to black.
“Grant, I know it’s hard but we need you to be able to communicate with us. Right now, we have attached a series of electrodes that will respond to your brainwaves. We need you to think of two colors, red and green. It won’t matter which one you think of first. The first one will be red and we will mark it such. All you have to do is turn the light on. Can you do that?”
No. And I can’t believe you asked me to try. I was perfectly happy in my schizophrenia, thank you. I didn’t ask you to bring your pet doctors here, to map my brain and discover I was actually in here. Instead of dying happy, I am sitting here in a lab being pampered, IV dripped, cleaned and treated better than I have since Mom was alive. Yes, I resent this. Make a light come on? I want to beat you about the head and shoulders until I feel better.
“Yes, that’s it. We’re going to call that red. Can you hold that feeling?”
Why, yes I can. I can stay angry at you all day.
“That is very good Mr. Washington. Now we need you to stop thinking about Red. We need another state for the Green light. We have no idea what is triggering this for you, so we have triggered the signature of the first state to only work for the Red light. You will need to think of something equally powerful for the second.”
Okay. If I am going to do this, I have to put myself into it. Be calm. Be centered. Think about your first atom. Singular hydrogen. The probability cloud of the electron. Keep it in your mind. Focus on it, be the hydrogen atom. I exist.
“Oh that is very good. It’s a strong signal. You were right, Ms. Kalie. Your brother is very much alive and awake.”
Then there was the game of twenty-thousand questions. How do you feel? Do you feel good or bad? Can you feel this? How about this? Should we speak louder? After six hours of Yes, No, came the important questions.
“Do you hate us for not trying harder?”
“Do you think Mom was wrong for sending you away?”
“Do you want me to get Carl?”
“Do you want to be taken off the ventilator?”
Kalie came and sat by my head, we had decided though I could hear from all over the room, close to my head was the sweet spot. “Your body is currently still very weak. It will be quite some time before you are able to breathe on your own again. Now that we know you are there, we have to ask, would you like to be removed from the life support equipment? I’ve been selfish and refused to consider anyone’s view but my own. This is really your decision.”
In the weeks I have had the ability to answer yes and no, I had refined the mental states necessary to control my lights. But this question didn’t have an easy answer. Both lights came on.
“I think he is very tired, Ms. Kalie. We will come back in the morning. He doesn’t have to rush. Mr. Washington, you are welcome here for as long as you like. Your family won’t be burdened with your costs and if you allow it, we will map as much of your brain and health in order to see if there are others like you out there. We hope you will choose to stay with us for at least a while, you can make a difference in the world.” Dr. Astor’s German accent was mild but I enjoyed listening to him talk. And his speech was compelling.
If I was going to be here. There were going to have to be some changes made. I flashed Yes.
It’s been two years since the night I agreed to stay. Kalie has completed her doctorate and I was able to listen to her graduation ceremony and her dedication was directed toward me. Once she was done, I turned off the computer video stream. I visualized a moment of silence and the speaker went offline.
Kalie spent the last two years helping me create a new way of thinking where my brain could distinctly create signals that would replicate the alphabet and an interface that would allow me to put my thoughts in a data stream.
She says, as we refine the technology, we may be able to get the software to recognize words instead of letters. But she always prefaces her ideas with “no promises.”
Until then, I get to write my memories of my beautiful madness and my fascination with Death one letter at a time.
That night I dream of my Companion and my beach. She has a bonfire and a group of laughing smiling people who seem to be enjoying themselves.
“Who are these people?”
“People with voices, who once had none. Now they flirt with me but refuse to come with me. They have you to thank.”
I look away. I’m no hero. Just someone who was too afraid to die.
“You would be surprised how many heroes say those very words, even as they do. Now get off my island. You have some writing to finish. Make sure I am beautiful.”
“Yes, ma’am.” I leave. There’s nothing there for me now.
And Death was beautiful to me, once, for about seven minutes.
Part 3 of 3
Listening as the World Walks By © Thaddeus Howze 2013, All Rights Reserved