me: this is what i mean, i hate this. i'm in prison. i'm actually in prison. yes. no. this can't be. i didn't do anything wrong. it's just functions, it's just sex, it's just love, it's just fluid. wait, this can't be. i'm actually in the cell. i feel like i've just woken up, but i haven't woken up. i'm in jail. no, this can't be happening, what did i do? please be a dream, please be a dream, please be a dream. my God in Heaven, i believe in You, please look favorably upon your troubled lamb, guide me out of this Hell, land me safely back in Your Arms, in my bed, fast asleep, long ago turned out, not amongst the living, in the death of sleep, what dreams may come, dreams to sugarcoat this nightmare, i'm not in prison...please wake up, please be in my bed, my comfy bed, my beautiful room, the four walls of protection, i'll never curse Your Name again, i'll be a good boy, i want my family, i am a lowly cog in a small machine, but it's my machine, my tiny wondrous machine, i love everyone after all, i don't hate anymore, give me one more chance...
Doctor Lysander: it's okay, i'm touching your arm like i did that day, it's me, it's Lysander, your doctor, your friend, you are in my office, safe and sound, happy, alive, talking to another being, making progress, learning from your mistakes, you're not in jail, you're here with me forever.
i wake up red-faced and sweaty and the first face i see is not my cellmate's butt or the warden but precious Lysander, my lifelong friend. relief is too short a word, i gasp out all of my world trepidations and fear of evil and angst and fright. i return his arm in kind, i shake the good doctor's hand in friendship, reverence, and awe. thank the Lord i am not in jail, there's still hope. my arms soon go spaghetti all over the floor and i collapse in my mind from the stress and exhaustion.
Lysander: i get it. it's a very powerful nightmare, a scary scene. you in prison represents the lowest of the low for you, the utter lack of control, for when you are jailed, you lose your right of self-identity, of being free, of having a stake in the world. you're no longer a person, you are a number. you are not the master of your own domain, of your own fate, you're not steering the ship anymore, stranger grimey longshoremen are.
me: the worst part is that it's so real, so damn real. that's good when it's a sex dream, but not here. slamming, yes, slammer, no. how can you learn to tell if it's a dream or not?
Lysander: you can't. because dreams are real, they are actually real, made up of real stuff, you go to that other realm when you dream, that other realm which is a real place. when you die of course, when everyone dies, you return to that dreamspace permanently, that is our real home, that's where all us souls live.
me: now i understand. homegoing, not funeral. but i am still of the living, so i need a roadmap for this realm.
Lysander: how about some water instead.
Lysander sprinkled the top of the waterline in the fishbowl beside his chair into his fingers. the fish swam around swimmingly. he dabbed his fingers into my forehead, making the sign of the triangle.
Lysander: you aren't healed (he chanted), but you're getting there.
me: thank you. i feel refreshed, comforted. you have no idea how good it was to see your face. i feel confident again, that a lot of my stuff is just a nightmare. i can stand on my own two feet again and take over my life. i have the authority again, the permission to pursue my dreams. i've retrieved my agency. i can be anything i want to be. i can fulfill my boyhood fantasies of how i thought my life'd turn out. i want to be a writer, the most famous writer in the world. i want art to pour from every pore of me. i want to write scripts, act in them, not produce them cos i'm bad with money, and ultimately direct them, naturally. i want to be the next humble one in line to continue the traditions of Spielberg, Lucas, and Henson. i want to rule the world like Madonna and Gaga.
Lysander: you can't.
Lysander: son, take out your green notebook.
i did, it was underneath a pile of shit in my raggedy backpack. i didn't usually take my favorite notebook to the sessions but i did today.
Lysander combed back his three strands of wild white hair on his bald head with his hand.
Lysander: son, do you ever remember going home after our sessions here in this office?
me: of course. i mean, well...no. i always go to the exercise room after being in your office here. and then...um, well, i always somehow end up back in this office for the next session.
Lysander: there are three compartments to this building, three rooms: this office, the exercise room to the left and my private study to the right.
me: yeah, you always go to that private study after our session and close the door hard. what's in there, anyway?
Lysander: i'll show you.
Lysander took me inside his study. it was a painfully small room with just enough room for a bare desk. on top of the barren desk were two items: an eraser and a picture of a boy.
Lysander: that's my boy. he's eight now, i think. i haven't seen him in ages. i come in here and lock the door because i don't want you to see me cry. this is my place after the session for me to sit down and think and deflate on the situation, decompress and work through our predicament.
me: what predicament?
Lysander: you have trapped us here in this three-room building. you nor i haven't left this space in a very long time. your green notebook is magic, or rather it's evil. whatever you write in that notebook becomes reality. if you write that you're happy, you will be happy. if you write that i'm sad, i will be sad. if you write that you're the President, you're the President, though i don't know why you'd want to be President in this economy. you don't remember what you wrote in your notebook that day?
me: no. i seem to be having blackouts again apparently.
Lysander: it was a session like any other. we were discussing how unusually sullen you had been that week. you said that you had a falling-out with your cat. it was summertime and you switched blankets from a large heavy woolly one to a light airy bedsheet because you were so hot at nights. your cat usually climbs up on top of you. you don't feel his claws because you are asleep and because the heavy blanket shields your body from potential scratches. the sheet, however, is so thin that the cat can easily slide his claws through to your stomach and back. you woke up in a startle one night to pain and blood on your body. of course your cat loves you and is innocent and doesn't know he is hurting you, but your human reaction was to flail your legs and arms around and shout out in agony. the cat got so scared he leaped from your bed and raced out of your room like a cat out of hell. the next morning you tried to comfort your tailed beast, you tried to find your cat and pat him on the head and tell him everything was okay, but every time you approached his head, the cat dodged your hand advance and scurried away. it had been like this for three days, the cat didn't greet you in the mornings like he normally did, he was forever in hiding. you took out your green notebook that day and though in a zoned-out zombie state, you started writing in front of me. you wrote:
three days, no comfort, no forgiveness. my cat hates me. my cat was the only being in the world i had left. i have no friends. this is the end. i am not long for this world. i wake up now thinking that i have two more years to live. only two more. so anyway. so you tell me, what's the point? why dream? why live? the dreamer is the lifer, the lover, the one who loves life, the one who gets out of bed not worrying about death but tempting fate and believing that he is immortal, that he has all the time in the world to create his dreams. the dreamer is a dream for me. i am not the dreamer, i am the waiter, i am dead and buried. two more years...
that was when i stopped your writing hand from writing anymore with my hand. i glanced at what you had written intently. the damage had already been done, it was written in the green notebook and was already reality. because i touched you, i was part of your wish. i was suddenly given the death sentence of two years to live like you. this is where we are now, we are trapped in this nothingness bubble because you wanted it. we will live here the remaining two more years, waiting to die, fruitlessly, without friends, like you said.
me: i had no idea. i'm sorry, i am so sorry. but how long ago was that? how much time do we have left?
Lysander: time has become staid in this place.........
.............not fluid, so it's hard to say. the clocks don't work anymore. the fish don't care either way. i'd say though with just my internal clock that we've done this back-and-forth for about two years now, it's getting close to the end.
i thought about this. it blew my mind. but i realized i didn't have time to realize how crazy it was. it was just what it was. i had to deal with this, it was happening whether or not i wanted to believe it, much like God. i could also choose to not deal with it, just let myself disappear into the ether, but...my dreams! my fucking dreams! and poor Lysander, what did i do to my only friend? oh what a terrible person i am!
me (dumbstruck): i don't know, i dunno what to do, what to say.
Lysander: let me see your notebook.
i let him examine it in his doctorly way. it was an ordinary notebook, worn sides, frizzy pages, obscure shapes and symbols on the front, clasped by a golden snake. it was a diary that would win out. oh how powerful the thoughts of man when written down in permanent ink. words heal, and they hurt more than any action, they form spells and incantations which can change the very reality.
Lysander: try ripping out the pages, ripping out that one page, maybe that will quell the spell.
i did, but not before Lys and i both covered our eyes because who knows what ripping out pages from a spellbook will do? nothing.
Lys: that is both a relief and a panic. it seems what is written cannot be unwritten. only further writing will do.
i thought about it some more, pondered it with the remaining moments that were left.
me: maybe this is for the best. maybe it's fate. it sucks for you, but it's a relief for me. i don't have to think anymore, i don't have to live, i just have to let go and let Curse.
Lys: what are you saying? are you crazy?! don't answer that, sorry. what about me? i didn't ask for this! i want to see my son again! i want to be the father to him my father wasn't to me! i want to visit my three boys at the monastery again, i want to counsel them through their difficult solitary spiritual journey. i still have good work to do! i live for my family and my patients, that is my identity! let my identity help discover your identity! this only happens if we both live! DON'T BE FUCKING SELFISH!!! but despite everything, i'm still willing to help you. there are three things in my desk in my study, you didn't see everything, there's my ipad mini inside the drawer there. i'll help you become famous, i'll help you get a million followers. there is only one app on it now, everything else was erased with the spell, i can't use it to call anyone, it only has the one Twitter app, your Twitter app, only you can send out tweets, only you have the password. i took the Hippocratic Oath to help people no matter what. hell, i took the oath as a human being to help others, that's what people do for each other, that's what life's about.
i had never witnessed Lys so impassioned before, never heard him utter any vulgarity, or maybe i wasn't paying attention. this wasn't a game, this wasn't Hungry Hungry Hippos, this was real. i saw him as a fellow human being for the first time, a man of blood, sweat, and tears like me, who had struggled his own struggles, not my own specific kind but not any less valid. he wasn't my doctor anymore---just some cog designed to help me---he was his own entity, his own machine that, for fuck sake, needed MY help this time. what were the odds? this is what it meant to live, to help other people, i couldn't escape that anymore, i couldn't be a loner forever, i had to extend my hand to another, break my solipsism and do the right thing for once, not the sulky thing. be the one who donates blood, not the time-vampire. he was Lys now, not The Doctor. he was my friend, not a character.
me: Lys, i hear you and i honor you. i'd never want to take you away from your son and your three sons. but i'm scared of dying alone, i'm scared of going to Hell for my sins.
Lys: what sins have you committed?
me: i've had sex. CLICK HERE, RIGHT HERE AT THIS LINK.
Lys: sex isn't a crime, son, only sex crime is.
i got more and more exasperated as Lys got calmer and calmer.
me: when i'm not having sex, i'm masturbating all the time.
Lys: not a crime, not a sin, healthy in fact, don't let anybody tell you otherwise. fuck religion, fuck the media, fuck psychology. i'm not your psychologist, i'm your friend. friendship is all that matters in this world.
me: more sins, more sins, i commit them daily. i'm a sinful person. i'm sinning right now.
Lys: bullshit. what have you done?
i took out a shiny lighter from my backpack.
me: i smoke.
Lys laughed in a way i never heard from him before. it was a guffaw.
Lys: hahahaha, son, i'm here to tell you as a certified professional that smoking is good for you! don't believe the lies. smoking develops good hand-eye coordination. in what other practice does one practice moving their mouth in such a way as to form rings? better-shaped smoke rings equals better jaw mechanics later in life. you'll thank me later when you're eighty and still chewing your food while your fellow rest-home retiree is sucking his through a straw. thank God for smoking and smokers like you!
my panic attacks were a counter to my blackouts. every so often all the stress in my life would bubble into an energy ball which would become smaller and smaller inside my body until it burst through my ribs and i convulsed and shivered and became a nervous man of uncertain direction. it was not a pleasant experience, but the one good thing, the only good thing, was that for a brief moment in time, i would have a clear image of an important event or person in my life, a clarion call tracking my memory back to who i was, what i did, and who i am now because of it. it would come and go, but my brain was smart, diseased but smart, and the instant it flashed across my mind, i always knew what it was, what it meant. right now i am having a panic attack. Lysander is smart to let me have it. Lys is refereeing the incident but he's letting me go through with it, letting me cope with it, instead of artificially stopping it and rendering any data gained in my head an incomplete fragment...........i see it........i see him, Scratch with his century eyes and knowing smile. i finally remember.
i took a breath to settle down. i am proud i was able to ride the event's wave from beginning to end for the first time. Lys was with me but not, with me in spirit. he didn't hold my hand this time, but i held his. i took his hand into mine and we clasped our fingers together to form a large fist against the world. he held onto my hand as that hand wrote in the green notebook. i didn't know if any of this would work, but i wrote the following in thick black Sharpie marker on the last remaining empty page:
let Lysander be free of this. it's not his fault, none of this is, he's an innocent bystander. i offer myself in tribute, if that's what you want. let me be the sacrificial lamb, better a martyr than a nobody. let Lysander live forever to care for the sick. let it be known throughout the world that i was the man who saved Mother Teresa.
i knew Scratch would love that last little line of pride. it was fully coming back to me now, my blackout was whitening, clearing, things were coming into focus: buying the green notebook from a man dressed in black calling himself Scratch and looking decidedly not like Johnny Cash, the certificate i signed in a rush without reading it, the promise of power and fame, the cat incident wasn't my lowest point, it was this day i strolled the countryside after i purposefully fell into the river. i knew my fate was sealed on that day, a deal for the ages, sealed like a snake clasp on a book.
how devilish. i was too sick to enjoy this unlimited power. my next blackout would always come before i had a chance to wish for no more blackouts. i couldn't wish myself well, much less rule the world. thank God for my panic attacks, they were my conscience. i was never meant to rule the world, only love it.
i flicked my lighter on and the fiery flame spread fast and furious onto the pages of the green notebook. the flame formed flames, and through the flames i could see Doctor Lysander's cherubic face light up. i had to smile, too.
"but Doctor," i said, "i thought you always told me to believe in magic."
"i know, son," Lysander responded through a field of ash, "i'm sorry, i am so sorry."