Keep a journal, the doctor says. Make an entry every day. Tell it about the thoughts and fears. Tell it about the voices. Let the journal be your companion, he says. Tell it about the disease.
I will call you Hal, my leather-bound friend; the doctor suggests I give you a name. I will tell you, Hal, per the good doctor’s advice, I have also taken up painting. It will improve your concentration, he says. I have chosen to work in acrylics.
I paint insects and long-toothed rabbits. I paint trees with leaves of fire. I make green with yellow and black, and I paint ghost fish under the sea.
I paint, but honestly Hal, I’m not really sure that it helps. I hear them with every swirl and stroke. They giggle and they critique. Is that supposed to be a wave, they say, looks more like a cloud than a wave.
I squeeze the tubes of paint sometimes and I swear I can hear them breathe. They gasp or wheeze. They pant sometimes like a dog in the summer heat.
Inside each one there’s a universe, with its own little temperament and ways. But sometimes Hal, you squeeze too hard, and it won’t go back in the tube. All the thoughts and fears escape with an audible pop, like a giant balloon or bubble. The room turns. They all turn. Wide-eyed. Suspicious. What did you say, they ask in a way you have feared all your life; what did you just say?
You are exposed then, Hal, my friend. It won’t go back in the tube. You can’t pretend you were just being silly. You can’t pass it off that way.
You have said something that doesn’t make sense. In any world, in any way. Their eyes become big and white and round: what did you just say? They know then you’re not one of them. Just as they suspected. As if your fingers, rolled in ink, left only smooth, black oval marks.
I paint and I write, per the doctor’s advice, though each sentence means exposure and every stroke brings a new critique. The disease has its own personality, its own preferences and tastes. It is alive, and I will tell you in all candor, Hal, it is more alive than me.
Write it down, the doctor says, and I know he means well, Hal. He treats the disease with yellow pills. Little thought-murders in capsules.
He treats it as if it were hypertension. Or stomach flu. He treats me as if I had dizzy spells or complained of a pain in my gut.
But once I confess my fingers leave smooth, oval marks in the ink and he knows I’m nothing like him, the doctor stares at me and asks, what did you just say.