Thursday, January 22, 2009

What was I thinking?

I ran across this recently. I wrote it on the 4th of July. I spent the day down on the Mall with my parrot waiting for the fireworks. I was probably a bit dehydrated and I definitely had a headache. I had a story idea, sat down with my Palm Pilot and collapsible keyboard and started writing. I had a good idea about where it was going at the time. The next day I couldn't remember what my plan for the story was. This was only the first chapter of what I think would have been only 3 or 4 chapters. But even in this first chapter I see that I drifted from my original idea.
The woman was originally supposed to be able to remember what was in the realm we all come from before birth and eventually return to when we die. While most of us block out what was there except for a vague idea that death is bad. She remembered it all.
But as the chapter goes on the woman becomes self destructive. That seems to run counter to the whole idea I was working with.
The day after I wrote this I couldn't remember what I had planned for the rest of the story. I remember exactly as much about it now as I did on 5 July 2003.

I've considered that maybe this was the horrific place and people are sent here as punishment for some crime committed on the other side. It works a bit better with what I've written. But I still don't remember what came next. I know this chapter was just laying out a foundation for something that came later.

I've held it for years in the hope that something would come back to me. It hasn't. but I offer it to you because even without the rest this story creeps me out.

Why are you afraid?

Have you ever wondered why we're afraid to die? Most of us believe in a Heaven or some sort of eternal reward waiting for us when we die. We're convinced that death will bring a reunion with our loved ones, a higher level of being, or join us with an all loving patriarchal deity. So why haven't we all wiped ourselves out? Why don't we all just step in front of a bus, lean too far over that protective railing, or just turn a gun on ourselves and end it all?

Sure, we can rationalize to ourselves that we have evolved a protective self-preservation instinct or say that our all loving god will make us spend eternity trapped in a non-consuming fire. But deep down we know those are just the lies we tell ourselves. Deep down we know the truth. Deep down we've buried the pants-pissing truth.

Janice Blish had been ill for a long time. The physical illness was fairly new, only eight years or so. She found it darkly humorous that she had taken so long to come to terms with her cancer and her impending death, especially considering her other illness. Janice Blish was also suicidal and had been most of her life.

Born Janice Elouise Blish in a small hospital in north central Kansas, she was one of the few reported cases of Post-Partum Catatonia also known as Baillie Syndrome. Baillie Syndrome is considered a disorder because it happens so rarely but it's actually indicative of a strong will and an inability to fully forget certain things. The most notable symptom is that the child is born in a catatonic state. Sometimes a few good slaps will snap the infant out of it and make it progress on to the next stage: screaming. In the case of Janice the slapping didn't work. She remained in a rigid catatonic state for just over fifteen hours before she started screaming. It was another week before she stopped.

Growing up, Janice was a very quiet and sullen child. She was never affectionate to anyone, even her own parents. She suffered pain and injury in silence. All the usual scrapes, bruises, and ear infections that come with childhood she took without even a whimper. Her parents probably would never have found out about the regular beatings she received at school if the bullies hadn't finally broken her arm. Doctor Grey, the family physician, commented on how well behaved Janice was and how she didn't cry out when he set her arm. Her mother just smiled and added that to the long list of little things about Janice that horrified her.

She never once celebrated her birthday. Her parents tried having a birthday party a few times, but...

It was at her first birthday party that Janice had her first breakdown. It's often said that a baby has no idea what's going on at his or her first birthday party. Full understanding may elude the birthday baby but some hint manages to penetrate the mush in their heads. All the friends and family in attendance, those who had spend time with Janice and complimented her parents on their quiet well behaved girl, saw her cry for the first time since she was released from the hospital. It wasn't one of the familiar baby cries of "I'm hungry", "I'm tired", "I need a fresh diaper", or the expected "Who are all these strange people and why won't they leave me alone." This was the cry of someone who, after having a rotten tooth pulled in a very slow and painful manner is told they still have thirty one more to go before they're finished.

The second birthday party was even worse. She'd managed to do relatively well for most of the day. With Mom furiously cleaning and Dad furiously staying out of the way Janice had managed to block out what was happening until the guests started to arrive. She sat silently as each of the guest arrived, wished her a happy birthday, and put a gift on the table. She sat and took each mocking reminder with only the twitch under her right eye revealing what was going on in her head. It was the cake that finally broke her. Her mother brought in the cake while everyone sang "Happy Birthday" at her.

When the cake was finally stuffed under her nose and she was told "make a wish, honey" she turned and spat in her mother's face. While her mother stood in shock with spittle running down her face, Janice proceeded to tell the rest of the guests how she was feeling as best she could with her limited vocabulary. She started screaming. There were no words in the scream. Words would have diminished the meaning of the scream. It was a primal scream of a crazed bull elephant charging a village or a damned soul having words with Lucifer. She pointed the scream at each and every guest in turn before turning the scream on the world at large.

Apologies were offered by all invited to the third birthday party.

After that only two things served as recognition of her birthday. Magazines she didn't subscribe to and churches she didn't attend would send her birthday cards. The satisfaction she got from cutting the cards into mere whiskers of paper were very therapeutic.

The second marker was when Janice would spit on her mother and father before sitting down for breakfast.



Janice first committed suicide when she was thirteen. She didn't attempt suicide, she committed suicide. She cut a deep gash the length of her arm with a paring knife that had been in the family for almost sixty years and had been sharpened so much that the sliver of remaining steel could remove the wings from a fly without the fly noticing. She went to bed that night with her arm dangling over the side of the bed into a kitchen waste basket and her wrist spurting blood. In the morning she rinsed the blood from her unmarked arm and poured the blood down the basement drain.

Two weeks later she sorted through the medicine cabinet and cleaning fluids under the kitchen sink. She mixed up the different fluids and powders at random and poured a tall glass of foul tasting liquid. She never even got a stomach ache.

She broke open thermometers and drank the mercury. She collected toxic plants and ate them. She stepped off the roof of her school and fell three floors onto bare cement. Never once did she feel the slightest ill effect.

It occurred to Janice once that she might just be immortal, that life was, in effect, a life sentence. She was unwilling to accept that answer. There had to be a way out, a way of escape, if she could only find it.

When she was diagnosed with cancer at the age of thirty Janice was relieved. The doctor felt he had to repeat himself several times. He'd rarely seen such a reaction without a pregnancy test being involved.

He presented her with all the usual information. Treatment options, which she rejected, expected symptoms, which she didn't care about, and timelines, which she asked how to accelerate.

The doctor asked her not to come back and she happily agreed.

But as the cancer progressed, as her final hours drew near, Janice had doubts. Her lost memories, the ones that had haunted her life, made her miserable, and showed her every misery that life offered without actually telling her why or what was really going on, ruined death for her, too. Just as she couldn't explain the tortures and agonies that life brings to a person who treasures every sunrise, she couldn't explain now why suicide was a snow day while this more natural death was more like being called into the principal's office. She should know why the principal wanted to see her but she couldn't remember. All she knew was that the principal rarely wanted to compliment someone for their spiffy new necktie.

On the evening of April 6, 2003 Janice slipped into a coma. By sunrise the next morning she was dead. She was unmarried and had no spouse, kids, or pets. She was survived by her mortgage, a small infestation of termites, and two somewhat relieved parents.

End part 1

1 comment:

dubisaxel said...

that reminds me of a book I'm writing except mine is from the viewpoint of the dead