Monday, March 16, 2015

this is your brain on Augustine

As she walked in, she could already see him fidgeting in the uncomfortable waiting room chair.
She sighed, frustrated with his paranoia. If only he could just calm down, maybe we could get somewhere.
She smiled and welcomed him into the office.
How are you this morning, father? she asked.
He shrugged, smiled a smile so forced it was definitely more like a grimace than a grin:
Okay, he said.
Great, she said, through barely clenched teeth. How did you sleep?
Not much, he responded, with what she thought was supposed to be cheerful endurance, but was definitely more like rueful wallowing.
Oh my word, she thought, just start talking already. This is like pulling teeth.
Okay, she said out loud, with extreme patience. Not much as in...? Seven? Six?
Two.
Oh. That's not much at all!
No.
Did you remember any dreams?
Yes.
She stopped. Usually he didn't share any of his dreams with her. Perhaps today...
Oh. You do? What did you dream about?
He looked out of the window for a long time, then down at his hands, which were fidgeting with a ring, running it through his fingers, rolling it around in his hands over and over again. She was hopeful. She could feel something suspended in the air: a human being collecting their thoughts. Blank silence sounds much different than a silence filled with unspoken words being collected all together, pieced into a readable puzzle. Part of her job was being able to tell the difference.

Finally, with a sigh, he stared up at the light fixture on the ceiling. His glance darted over to the statue of Minerva in the corner, then focused down on his hands again.
Then.
He stopped fidgeting, finally. In a very still voice, he began:

"I was in the backyard, when the men appeared on the other side of the woodpile. I can't remember when my mother told me to run, but I heard her loud and clear. Usually, I can't run in dreams. Usually, at that crucial moment, my brain remembers that my body is paralyzed in REM sleep, and I am frozen like a hunted rabbit. But, I willed myself slowly, with each step, up the stairs, my legs barely moving. 

It was more as if my mind was moving my body. I remember shouting as I ran, as if I was enthusiastically running and cheering, celebrating the dominance of this new social order that was falling into step. But I didn't know what words to say exactly, so a blubbered out expression of patriotism was all my panicked mind could muster. I clamored up the steps, wearing my ridiculous disguise. But, really, was it to any avail? There, in the garage, a car pulled up to me (another trope of nightmares), with a man and woman inside, and they entered the house with me.

There, in our living room, they took my mother away. I begged them not to.
I pleaded with them. They weren't even harsh, just unfeeling. A little bit confused, embarrassed and unsure. But certain in their one task.
My younger siblings looked through our medicine cabinet for things that could be weapons.
Nail clippers, scissors. I felt sick to my stomach.
I begged my mother to let my brother come away with my sister and me.
And then..."

His voice choked up, and petered out.
She cleared her throat and looked down at the blank notepad in her lap. She hadn't written anything, she had just been listening, enraptured by his story.
She looked up again, and he wasn't fidgeting anymore, and she almost wished he was again. In retrospect, his fidgeting was not the annoying evasions of a difficult patient, but the welcome and natural nervousness of a frightened man.
She rubbed her chapped lips together, cleared her throat and nearly whispered: And then what?
He looked up at her; looked right into her eyes. His eyes were so grey and clear and full of such intense, focused light, her breath caught in her throat. She felt like his eyes were from another world.
Then I woke up, he said.
And Whatdoyouthinkyourdreammeanstoyou? she asked automatically.
He smiled woefully. Aren't you the one who's supposed to be telling that to me.
She started to say something rote, but then realized that his man deserved a lot more than formulaic responses from her.
Persecution, she said.
I wonder if those dreams will ever stop, he said.
They were both silent, and he glued his eyes to the ring in his hands and she knew that she didn't need to say anything, because the unspoken answer to his question was hanging in the air all around his head.

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