I want to tell you how I feel, but I can't.
I want to say what I mean, but you stop me.
I can't hide anything from you, but you act like you don't know.
I want to run away. You'd find me.
You're inside me.
A parasitic mind.
I want to cut you out of me but I can't.
Because without you
But what scares me most is
"I just don't want to be crazy." It came out. I couldn't stop it. The true sense of the psychotic. Inability to control. "Don't tell me I'm crazy."
Goldberg had been my dad's best friend. They had grown up together in La Guardia's New York. He has the same city mannerisms my father had so when he lowers his chin and pierces the air between us with his glare I feel one of my father's lectures coming on.
"We don't call it crazy," he says. "You have a perfectly common, absolutely curable disorder. Would you worry so much if you had the flu? It's nothing to be ashamed of."
"Let's go back to the beginning," I say and Goldberg sighs, slumps in his chair, and looks at the brown water stain on his ceiling tile. His basement office is still pungent with the smell of mold and damp concrete from the last time his sump pump gave out during a thunderstorm.
"I don't get to have this flu-like disorder. The press finds out I'm even a little bit crazy, the stock goes down. The stock goes down a couple thousand people lose their jobs and I wind up on CNN in twist-tie handcuffs so don't give me this 'everybody's crazy' rationalization. I want it fixed. You're the doctor. Fix it."
"You're just like your father, Nicky," he says without looking at me. "He was irrational, too."
"You gonna help me or do I go find someone else?"
"That's a threat? That's the best you can do?"
Goldberg sits up and puts his sagging elbows on the desk between us. We both know what we both know. I can't afford the publicity risk seeing someone else, and anyway, I can't talk to anyone else about this. He is my uncle Benny, the shrink. The jewish uncle every italian boy needs.
When I apologize he says, "Yeah, you'd better be sorry," and he gets up and pulls a stuffed green file folder from a beat up beige cabinet next to the wall.
He says, "You got time to read something, mister Fortune 500--I've been on the cover of 'Time' so I'm too busy to come see my aunt Ruth? You know you're like a son to us. You could stop by once in a while."
Suddenly, I'm fourteen again begging for a quarter to buy baseball cards. I hear myself whine, "Geeze Uncle Benny..." as he hands me single-spaced, manually-typed manuscript that's held together by a thick steel staple on the upper left corner. The paper's dirty and the type's smudged.
The title page is torn. I leaf through the fifty or so pages seeing endless margin notes in a variety of colored inks. Some sentences have been highlighted, words circled. There are names and addresses on the blank backs of the pages.
"That nearly got my license revoked," Benny says, plopping into his seat behind his desk. "The AMA accepted it for 'Clinical Psychology', then kept pushing out the publication date. After a couple of years, I figured, what the hell, and I sent it to 'Psychology Today'. They accepted it, sent me the check, then demanded it back. They never printed it. Nobody ever printed it. Bet your old man never told you about that--did he?"
I smooth down the title page and read it aloud. "A Case Study of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Manifest in Criterion B2 Narcoleptics by Benjamin Goldberg, M.D. 1977. Doesn't sound like summer beach reading."
My uncle holds out his hand and I give him the paper. He pages through the folio, and then finding what he wants, holds it up toward me with his finger on a paragraph. "Read from here."
When we asked Kevin why he'd discontinued his pharmacutical regime, he replied he'd been instructed to by Garin. Kevin reasoned that if Garin was indeed a character from his delusion, the drugs were not helping and the fact his delusion was able to issue instructions was indication the medicine was ineffective. If Garin was not part of the hallucination, then listening to his suggestions may have some longer term merit.
Kevin then produced an artifact and presented it to us. He said it was a gift from Garin and that we should accept it as a token of the good will from the people of the planet Cethius.
As with prior artifacts, we were requested to turn it over to the FBI who were happy to provide us with analyses that showed the metallic medallion to be machined from a copper beryllium alloy identical to those used by the U.S. Department of Defense. The FBI told us the material had been stolen from the manufacturing plant in Mississippi that had employed Kevin.
When presented with the evidence Kevin could remember neither his employment in the strategic weapons program nor the incident surrounding the theft.
"What the hell am I reading?"
I apologize. "But I don't get it. The company's never had anything to do with government contract work."
"I can help you Nicky," says my uncle, "But I can't do it alone. You have to try."
As I got into the car I said, "He thinks you don't exist," to Darla's stare. She said nothing.
She started the BMW, shifted into drive, and then sat with her foot on the brake.
"You didn't say anything?" She put the car back into park and leaned backward. "I mean, what did you tell him?"
"I told him I couldn't remember. Look, could we just go?"
She shook her head the way she does before her eyes begin to tear. She said, "I don't know what I'm supposed to do," and then touched a finger to her eyelid.
"Just help me," I said. "I'll get through this."
"You're not getting through it, Nick," she said, slamming the car into drive. She pulled us out into traffic without looking. Behind us, a car horn sounded and tires squealed.
It didn't add and I went on not caring. Something inside me told me I should care, but I didn't. Simple things were falling through cracks. Easy things were overlooked. By me. It was me falling and overlooking and being careless.
How could that be? She could have just come with me, and Benny would have seen her.
"Why didn't you come in with me?"
"I told you--"
I cut her off, "You told me you had to watch the car. It's New York. People lock their cars and get out of them."
We got onto tenth avenue and got into a long queue of cars heading for the Lincoln Tunnel.
"I'm driving us, aren't I? I'm here, aren't I? Nicky. Please don't do this."
I could have brought Benny out to see her. Why didn't I just ask him to come to the door and look out? She was sitting in the goddamned car right in front of his brownstone.
As we pulled into the tunnel, a familiar wave of drowsiness came over me and I relaxed into the seat. "Why don't I remember? Why can't I remember how I met the woman I'm going to marry?"
Before I fell asleep I heard her say, "You will, Nicky. I promise."
I remember this, but it seems like a dream.
I'm in a bright room, so white it seems infinite, the ceiling melts into the walls melts into the floor.
And then suddenly, a deep black line appears in front of me, side to side, splitting the white, creating two directions where before there was nothing. First a thread, it grows wide. Then it consumes the space in front of me. Within the dark rectangle are flecks as if the white void has crumbled at the edges, leaving a universe of stars in the black.
No. I'm in my garage. The garage door has opened, is all.
Someone small standing beneath the opened door. A little blonde girl. Very skinny, so that she seems more a paper doll than human. Her face as white as the light around me.
Her eyes as deep as the space between stars.
I'm not going to look at her.
I'm not going to look at her.
She can't control me if I don't look at her.
"Nicky, wake up."
Then I realize I'm feeling Darla shaking my shoulder. The deep black space in front of me is the New Jersey night and the turnpike hissing in a river of asphalt passing under the car.
"Are you okay?" she says.
I'm not going to look at her. She can't control me if I don't look at her.
"Nicky. Answer me. Say something or I'm taking you to the hospital."
"I'm fine," I say, staring out the window. "I just had a bad dream."
"Don't tell me you forgot to take your medicine again."
"I didn't forget," I say, lying. I have a press call tomorrow. I need my head clear.
"You didn't forget--you skipped on purpose. That's it, isn't it?"
"What are you doing to me? Why me?" I say, while I can still think. Eventually, she'll win.
"Nicky. Cut this out."
"Just tell me why. Why me?"
"Nicky," she says, and she touches my thigh. It makes me look.
My fiancee's eyes are black like the space between the stars.
They make me fall asleep.
The voice on the tape sounds like someone I've never heard. You never recognize your own voice at first. The sound in your head is full of resonating skull and brain. On tape, you sound like other people hear you. Not like the you inside you.
Inside you, is you.
"My car. In my car."
"Ok. You're in your car. Where are you driving, Nick?"
(pause)"Out...out by Bloomsbury. On seventy-eight. Between the towns where it's..."
"Where it's what?
"Can you see how bright that frigging light is? What the hell does he think he's doing?"
"We can't see it, Nick. What do you see?"
"How the hell can you not see that? There's a goddamned seven-forty-seven landing on the highway. What the hell is that? Goddamn it. Look out. Hold on. Some asshole's going the wrong way on the highway."
"Nick. Nick. Nick, what's happening?"
"God-fucking-damn it, motherfucker ran me off the road. Shithead!"
"What ran you off the road?"
"Is there something wrong with you? You mean to tell me you didn't see that huge orange light thing--holy shit. It's coming back. Goddamn. I'm getting out of here."
"It's okay. Nick. Listen to me. It's not happening now. It's not happening. We can turn it off."
"Shit. Fucking car won't start. Holy shit. It's right behind me.
"Nick. What's behind you? What do you see?"
"I gotta get out of here. I gotta get out. Please--
I reach over and shut off Benny's recorder. My hands are shaking. I can't listen to this. My mind is blank but there's a river of acid running through my veins and it hurts. It has to stop.
Benny says, "Why'd you turn it off? You said it was meaningless."
"I don't need to waste my time on this shit," I say, getting out of my chair. "This whole thing is a huge waste of time."
"Don't you want to hear what happened to you?"
"Then why'd you turn off the tape?" Benny says.
And I don't know why I turned off the tape but I do.
So I say what I feel. "Because I don't want it to be real."
"It might not be real," Benny says.
I take the paperweight off Benny's desk. It's the piece of lucite with a redwood tree branch embedded inside. Hefts well in the hand.
It puts a hole in the dark wood paneling on the walls in Benny's basement office.
"Did you do that for a reason?" Benny asks.
"Did you ever feel like you couldn't feel anything anymore?"
Benny answers my question with silence. I know the trick. He's trying to get me to talk.
"Well, did you?"
"Nicky," he holds up his palms.
And then I let it go for a second and I remember. I allow myself to think of a tiny piece of it. The orange light. The hands. The eyes. The pain.
I hold my index finger to the roof of my eye socket. That's where the pain is. It still hurts. I tell myself it doesn't, but it does. Never stopped. All so I could see them better, they said. And all I did was scream.
"They stuck a long, thin rod, right here," I say. "I couldn't move. I could hear my skull cracking when they forced it in. It crunched, like biting an apple. They put something in my brain. It hurt so much I cried."
Benny's eyes turn glassy. I'm going to tell him, you bastards. I don't care what you do.
"And they laughed at me."
"This is so not good, Nick," Barry says. "Now you've got Koyama freaked out. The rest of us, we're cool. But a customer. Damn, Nick. The board is nervous enough already."
I ask him what for. I concentrate on the road. I think about the problem. He's coming with me we have a problem I will think about.
"What for? Nicky--you invited all of us to a wedding--your wedding. For god's sake. It's been two years."
"So it's a long engagement."
"Look, we don't get it. We're out to dinner, you come alone. She comes to pick you up, you disappear. No pictures in your office. She never answers the phone at your place and you say she lives there."
I tell him not to start it again. I won't think about anything other than this problem.
"Jimminy Christmas," I say. "Look. Why don't you guys just come over?"
"When we come over, she isn't there. There's no women's stuff in your house. We checked."
"You snooped through my stuff?"
"Nicky, listen to me. This is me you're talking to, not some asshole off the street. Something's wrong. We gotta do something."
"Like what?" I say, trying to sound angry. "You going to tell me I need help?"
He props his elbow on the passenger's side window ledge and rubs his forehead. "We gotta do something. Koyama's pulling his business. You freaked him out."
"Did I freak you out?" I say, and I turn automatically. My body is on autopilot. My mind is not engaged. The car will wind up where it always winds up this time of night. This time Barry will be with me.
"Well, no, but--"
"Did you see the lights? Did anybody? We've got a man who stands up in the middle of a business meeting claiming there are talking, flying, globes of light in the conference room and you think I'm the problem?"
Barry looks at me as if I've burst into flames. "Ever since your accident, things haven't been the same. I don't know how to explain it. But we all see it. Everyone seems to see it except you."
"And my imaginary fiancee."
"And your fucking imaginary fiancee that nobody ever sees."
"How'd I get home from the restaurant last night, Barry? You tell me."
Barry buries his face in his hands for a second. Rubs his eyes. I turn down the street I always turn down.
"She drives a 1999 BMW 325i convertible. Blue. Tan interior. That one." I point to the car parked in my driveway.
"Well, I'll be damned," Barry says. There he's seen it. He says, "But you just disappeared."
"I asked you to come out and meet her. I told you we'd go for drinks. You walked away from me."
"You never said anything like that. I turned around and you were gone. Poof."
"Who's sounding crazy now?" I say. I clear my mind. Gotta keep the brain clear. "What's the board saying? That I'm nuts? I'm not the one seeing lights and disappearing people."
The light's on in the house. He's seen it.
"But it's always that way," he says, craining his neck, looking out the front window. Keep my mind clear. "There's always some reason."
I interrupt him, "Always some excuse you guys have for not doing something as simple as turning your head or coming outside or answering the phone when she calls. Always one of your reasons for not looking up. Look up. Look right now."
Her silhouette, in the front window.
I allow my self to think. I allow myself to think--I got you, you bitch.
It makes her come outside. The front door opens and she steps out, graceful as a cloud on Kilamanjaro.
Barry's face twists from concern to confusion. Then fear.
He would have to be afraid. Just like I was, at first.
"What the fuck is that?" he says.
"She won't hurt you," I say, when Darla comes to the passenger's side. She leans over, peers inside as I lower Barry's window.
And Barry screams. His body stiffens as if jolted by lightening. But that's himself doing it to himself. He's never been this afraid before. His body needs to learn.
His eyes roll backward in their sockets. His screams stifle by the constriction in his throat so that now his howl turns to a squeak turns to a gurgle as his brain is denied oxygen.
"It's okay," I tell him. It's like being born. Traumatic, but you don't remember it.
Darla says, "You tricked me. I didn't know you had him in the car. That's pretty good. I'm impressed."
"I have a great teacher," I tell her. "Should I take Barry home, or will you?"
"I will. You've had a hard day."
She touches Barry's forehead and he falls asleep. I know from experience, it will be the best sleep he's had since he was an infant.
"What do you think it is?" I ask my uncle Benny.
"If I knew the answer to that, I'd probably win a Nobel Prize," he says. He kisses Darla on the forehead and then hugs me. "You two make a beautiful couple. I wish Ruth could see this."
"She knows," Darla says, and kisses Benny on the cheek. Then we leave his office.
Inside her BMW I ask her, "Does this have anything to do with the evolution of the human race? Maybe it's the end of the world like that Arthur C. Clarke book. The aliens come down and take all the children and the sun swallows the planet."
"I don't think so," Darla says.
"Is this proof of life on other planets? Is that what it is?"
"I'm not from another planet," Darla says, and giggles.
"But why do you all come here?"
"All of you. The UFOs and sasquatchs and whatever."
"There are no such thing as UFOs," she says, and I tell her the mafia says the same thing about organized crime.
She says, "All I know is I love you. I've loved you forever from before you were born, and I'll love you forever after you die. That's all I know."
She takes my hand in hers.
"I love you, too. But I don't know why," is what I say.
Darla says, "You will."