Threnody: Closest to Heaven – Chapter 7

November 22, 2010 at 9:38 pm (Threnody: Closest to Heaven)

– CHAPTER SEVEN –

It was a strange moment when Professor Stroyd discharged me on Monday morning. For the first time, she came unaccompanied by Dr Jonathan Meisland, and only tagged by two nurses, one of which was the charge nurse. It was a predictably short visit – there was nothing new to discuss.

Professor Stroyd saw me sitting on the edge of the bed, fully dressed, shoes on, hands folded in my lap, and said, ‘Waiting to go home, right?’

There was no point denying the obvious. ‘Well, of course,’ I said. ‘I’m perfectly fine, I have been off all medication for over a day and I am still stable.’

She glanced around the room, and no doubt noted that I had packed everything. My drawing was on my table, along with the stack of paper and useless bestseller novels that the nurses had put in the room, but everything else was neatly stowed in my bag, which I had put away in the wardrobe. To be honest, though, there had not been that much to pack away. Most of it was on me.

‘Is there anything you wish to discuss before discharge, then?’ She sat down on the chair, clipboard across her knees, to tick the boxes on the discharge form.

I shook my head and waited in silence. I noticed from the corner of my eyes that both nurses – one was Julia – were looking unmistakeably relieved. I had been rather nicer since I had been off the benzodiazepines, but I had to admit I had taken some wholehearted satisfaction from seeing their alarmed expressions, especially when those wiped off shifty looks.

‘As we discussed before, I’ve arranged for the community team to see you daily until an appointment with me next week – we’ll see at that point how things are going on. I’ve also arranged for therapy, you should get the appointment letter for that soon, or it may even have already arrived, since I booked it as an urgent referral as soon as we finished our talk on Thursday morning. How does this all sound to you?’

‘It sounds good,’ I said, noncommittally. I deliberately did not bring up the blessed fact that there was no talk of medication – which was good, since it meant I wouldn’t have to pay for pills that I’d end up donating to the trash bin.

I watched as she ticked boxes on the page propped up on her clipboard, and felt like cheering. I had to bite my lips by the time she reached the little line where she signed her name. This was my certificate to freedom.

She turned a couple of pages then pulled one out and handed it to me – I took it, surprised, but realising that it was a list of contact numbers before she even said, ‘I printed this out for you – it even has an out-of-hours community contact on it, so please do not hesitate if anything happens.’

No fear. The last thing I wanted was to be clapped on benzodiazepines again – and probably with an even smaller chance of being allowed out easily. Even as it was, my freedom was greatly limited. I did my best not to think of the hazy recollections I had of not being quite well at some points in my stay at the hospital. I wasn’t denying I had had a few issues… but the benzodiazepine was just… wrong. I was not going to ring any numbers and volunteer myself for that.

I took the page from her and folded it in quarters without saying anything. If Professor Stroyd had any misgivings, she did not voice them, but instead smiled in a way that did not yield much and said, ‘I shall see you in a week’s time in clinic, Miss Auriel. Have a good week. The receptionist at the desk will book you a taxi when you’re ready to leave.’

‘Thank you,’ I said, inclined to be courteous now that I was finally free.

I had to force myself to keep still until Professor Stroyd and the nurses had all left, then I bounced to my feet, and considered that it was best I asked the receptionist to get the taxi now, since it wouldn’t arrive for at least ten minutes.

I was back in my room, with my packed bag lying against my leg, when I heard footsteps to my room. Expecting a nurse to tell me the taxi was here, I bent over to pick up my backpack, but it was not the blue uniform of a nurse that stepped through the door.

It was Dr Jonathan Meisland’s freckled face.

I must have given him a wonderfully blank glare because he stopped where he was and a rather sheepish expression came on his face.

‘Er, I came to –’ he started in a distinctly apologetic tone.

‘– say goodbye,’ I supplied, straight-faced. ‘Thank you. It was nice of you not to report me for having dilated pupils while on benzodiazepine.’ A not-so-subtle reminder that I had some leverage on him. ‘Goodbye.’

‘Er.’ He blinked, and I felt so exasperated I wanted to physically punch him, just to observe the reaction. Was there no getting rid of this man? I was sick and tired of people who stared at me with fascination. I was sick and tired of being a fascinating failed experiment.

I noticed the drawing next to me, on the bedside table, amid dog-eared novels – the eagle and calligraphy – and grabbed hold of it, thrusting the page in his face. ‘Here, you can keep this.’ A bit taken aback, he took hold of it by reflex, and I let go, hoisting my backpack and squeezing (a little gracelessly, but it was unavoidable) past him at the doorway, making for the ward exit. ‘My taxi should be here now. Goodbye.’

If I had been cheekier, I would have turned back and waved at him, but even the desire to see if he was looking suitably frustrated was not enough to make me look back. The taxi had just arrived, so I made a quick exit off the ward and down the stairs to the car park, following the big blue signs for the Exit.

I had not been outside at all since I had woken up with my memories decimated, so walking through the double automatic doors was a huge shock. The world seemed completely unlike what I had dreamt it as, and what it looked like outside the window. It was strangely duller, more normal than I had expected it to be. The trees were small and few, their leaves barely masking their branches, barely providing greenery to the concrete grey of the hospital and town. The ugly main hospital building, a rectangular affair with drab windows that made it look like a prison, stretched in the background behind several smaller hospital buildings.

There was something about my surroundings that struck me unpleasantly. There was no visual comfort in the dull, mundane environment that surrounded me. It had been easier to dream and fantasise when only the deep azure sky had been visible to me.

____

The scenery changed slowly as the taxi went along its way. I had landed on a rare taxi driver that was not chatty and instead remained peacefully in his own world behind the wheel, allowing me to gaze outside the windows uninterrupted.

The harsh concrete and grey pavements slowly gave way to a few shops, all crookedly stacked on top of each other, and then eventually a few trees appeared on the road side. Looking outside gave me the same feeling that I had had that first time I’d seen myself in the mirror in the hospital – as if this was a photograph I had seen so often I knew it by heart, but had no idea where it was. It gave me the strangest feeling ever, now that it applied to my surroundings – it was immeasurably huger. It felt a little as if gravity was not too stable, just like in my dream when I had been ill: being on an empty plain while everybody else was on a different one.

I felt the same: just as lost. I was like a ship adrift at sea, tiny in a huge ocean of choppy waves that carried me randomly this way and that. It was as if there was no direction to where I was going – I was floating around.

I bit my lip and reminded myself that it may well be that I was still a fair distance from my house and the neighbourhood that was familiar to me – but I knew, really, that the places flashing past the windows were places I must have known. There was such a terrible sense of déjà vu.

It didn’t surprise me when the taxi turned up Thorpe Street, and I still had no sudden sense of recognition, as I had desperately and stupidly been hoping for, somewhere inside of me. It was a pretty street – prettier than the rest of what I had seen of this city so far. It was lined by trees, and the houses were old-looking but well-cared for. Here and there were a few lopsided ones. Some were in red brick, others in white.

The taxi stopped in front of a block of houses – three distinct little blocks of red brick that were joined together in a way that suggested they had once been a single house but were now counted as three different houses – the numbers on the doors confirmed my guess: 12A, 12B and 12C. I knew mine was the green door on the left, but the house itself brought forth no memories.

It was as expected, really. I shouldn’t be feeling this upset about it.

I paid the nice silent taxi driver, pulled my backpack onto a shoulder and stood for a couple of seconds on the pavement, gazing up at the house, waiting maybe for a flash of recognition to befall me.

Do you know that feeling when you are in a dream and you have no idea why you are doing something… except that it’s what you have to do? Or how sometimes you know somewhere inside out, and yet it’s a place you have never been to? This was how I felt about where I was – I felt lost and confused and certain all together, while part of me waited for things to click into place and make sense.

Eventually I stepped forward, opening the little iron-wrought gate that closed our front garden from the street, and stepped up to door 12A. I had the keys in my hand already – there were three of them, and somehow I knew that the yellow key was for the front door, just as if this was a dream where I knew what I was supposed to do.

The lock clicked easily, and the door swung open. I was greeted by a narrow corridor and a staircase, beige wallpaper and dark blue carpet. This felt like a small house, and it smelled as if no one had been in it for a while. I stepped in and closed the door behind me.

I knew some things about this house – what was strange was that my knowledge seemed organised in bits that were hard to piece together. I was holding a few hundred little puzzle pieces and trying to form a big picture.

I knew where all the rooms were. Mine was the upstairs back room, and there were three other rooms. None of my housemates were in – this was the spring break, and my housemates, all three being British, had gone home. I was not sure how much time on my own I would have before they returned, but our break was three weeks long, after which they would be based in a different town for their placement.

I climbed the stairs and walked to the first door across the stairs – my room. I fumbled with the key a little, because I was nervous. All the answers I needed were behind this door.

The room that opened to my eyes was just like the house, except that it contained more life. It was a tiny room – everything was compact within it: desk and chair, bed, drawers, wardrobe, shelves – everything had been carefully arranged to fit into the limited space. The whole room had a blue and beige colour scheme – the carpet was blue, the curtains beige, and the bedspread was flowered to the same colours. The shelves were loaded heavily with books and folders full of notes, neatly labelled by subject.

On the desk, next to the window, was a laptop – my laptop, I corrected in my mind. Next to it was a Nokia, either turned off or out of battery by now. I didn’t waste any time. I turned on the computer and put the phone to charge, pressing its On switch, too.

I felt as if I had just sneaked into somebody else’s room, and was just trying to figure out all the ways in which I could find out all their deepest, darkest secrets, except that this person was myself. Where would I hide my secrets, in a room where nobody but myself would come in? As I looked around the room, eyes briefly approving of the black and white fine art photo prints on one wall, I had to admit that I was daunted. I had, after all, anticipated that I would return to this room seeking the information I would have lost by MAI, and had probably tried my best to hide it.

In a way, that was good, since it meant I wasn’t likely to stumble across anything that would instantly cripple my psychological state. As I knelt down and started to go through the drawers in my desk, waiting for my operating system to load, I grew increasingly frustrated. The first drawer contained the more interesting items – passport, railcard, bank statements and university letters. The second drawer contained stationary, blank printing paper and

I snatched up the passport and gasped. The words on its burgundy cover read:

Union Européenne

République Française

I remained frozen for a brief moment. République Française? A French passport? I opened it, mind frozen, and looked blankly at my  name. Here, too, were those three names – and yet I didn’t know myself as this person. When I sought around for me in my mind, this name came nowhere near it – in fact, I couldn’t even conjure any associations with this name. It neither looked nor sounded familiar.

I sat back on the carpet with a low groan, and rubbed my hurting head. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Being in my room was supposed to give me answers, not bring up even more questions.

I’d known my last name had a French intonation to it, but surely if I was actually French, I would have memories of that? How did you forget your nationality – your whole past life? Surely that was far too intrinsic to my nature to be erased along with whatever else was gone. I could speak French, I supposed, but I knew as little about this as I’d know about the origins of my knowledge of my name. How did I know French yielded as few answers as How did I know who I was. I might as well ask myself why I knew English. None of these questions came with answers.

I flicked through the passport, but even that conspired against me. It was a three-year-old passport – beginning at the time I started medical school. It was as if I had had no life previous to this: everything my memory could recall was from the recent past, and every item around me seemed to go only as far back as me starting medical school.

I picked up my phone and entered my pin code, and went immediately to Inbox.

It was predictably empty.

I switched to Sent Items, which was also empty. I checked Notes and Memory Card, which were just as uninformative, and as a last resort, went to Contacts, fully expecting it to be empty, too. Surprisingly, it revealed a long list of names, most of which seemed vaguely familiar, but none jumping out at me – not that I particularly wanted them to. Names and phone numbers, after all, could not provide me with the answers I wanted.

My computer had loaded my operating system, in the meantime, and was now prompting me for my password to enter my account. I abandoned the phone to hoist myself into the computer chair, rapidly typing in the seventeen-letter password, with the ease of habit, and waited on edge for what the computer would reveal to me.

It took a while, but eventually it loaded up an almost pristine desktop, with a photo of a sunrise across a snowy plain as background. I made a sound of frustration – clearly I had done to my computer what I had done to my phone: cleaned it of anything that could give me clues as to what exactly had happened in my past. I was rapid at scanning through people’s files, and this time applied the skill to my own computer: there were two separate drives, and one contained all the software, which included a couple of computer games, one of which was Unreal Tournament 7; the other drive was called Data and, as I clicked on it, was meant to contain photos, music, writing, and university work.

Music was very obviously untampered-with: there were 17,000 files in the folder, all filed underneath album names. Photos contained photographs of the town and of what I presume was my house in previous university years. Everything was arranged according to academic year. Writing was empty. I felt a stab of anger – why had I even left the folder there? Why not delete it, if I was going to delete all its contents? Was this some masochistic instinct to frustrate myself?

I didn’t touch University Work, because I knew it would be complete and irrelevant to my current interests. I went instead to the programs list, and scanned through them, as a desperate measure to garner further clues.

Voipe? The popular voice-over IP software might provide what my phone had failed to – if I had not deleted all recent conversations. I logged in under the username that displayed in the Voipe window – Aequiem – which was familiar with a strange feeling of déjà vu.

I should have stopped expecting to find missed clues anywhere that obvious, by now. I had deleted all Voipe conversations – there was a small, neat list of contacts, but there was no chat history with any of them.

I was far too systematic for my own good. This was much more than being up against a clever enemy that you were trying to outwit. I was up against myself, and unfortunately, everything that I thought of right now would probably be exactly the same things I would have thought of when I was removing all records of any information at all, before I went in for the MAI. I put my head in my hands and wished desperately that I had considered the possibility that I might lose more memories than intended, and had left information necessary for that.

Or was it that this had occurred to me, but I had decided that not knowing anything at all was preferable to risking having myself re-discovering the very information I had wanted removed from my head? Second-guessing oneself was just… impossible.

Just when I was about to turn off my computer and go explore the rest of my room, the notification bar on Voipe flashed green.

Conversation with Theorem was blinking green.

I clicked on it, opening the conversation window.

Theorem: Hello!

Theorem: Haven’t heard from you in a while, so I just thought I’d send a message to say I hope everything’s okay.

Theorem: You did say you’d be away for a couple of days, but since it has been over a week now… I’m a bit worried.

Theorem: Hope to hear from you soon!

The time signature on the messages told me that Theorem, whoever he/she was, had sent me those two days ago, at night. Their user icon was showing up as offline at the moment, which meant that they were probably not around, and Voipe was only delivering me the messages because I had just signed in, and the software probably lagged slightly just after log-in.

I hesitated. If Theorem was online but appearing offline, and I replied, chances were that they’d reply, and then I would be stuck. I had no idea whether this was somebody I would normally trust enough to confide my current problems, or if this was merely somebody on the acquaintance level. I had a feeling it had to be somebody I trusted, otherwise they wouldn’t have known that I was going to be away for a couple of days – letting somebody know that, in fact, implicated that I generally interacted with them on a daily basis.

Surely I would remember such a person?

I started to type.

Aequiem: Hello! I didn’t mean to worry you, sorry. I just ended up being away longer than I’d thought it’d be.

Aequiem: I hope I’ll catch you online soon. See you!

I bit my lip and waited, nervously, for a while. When nothing happened, I rapidly signed out of Voipe – that way, I was not accountable for missing any replies – and sat back in my computer chair, frowning at the screen.

Whenever Theorem did reply… I was not ready to have a conversation with him/her yet. I needed to remember who they were before I tried to talk to them. The other option was to explain what the problem was, but this was too much of a blind leap of faith. There was a possibility, if Theorem really was somebody I spoke to on a regular basis, that they would know enough to answer some of my questions, but I couldn’t reveal my predicament. I would have to work on remembering him/her first.

I turned off my computer and swivelled in my chair, to face my room with a heavy sigh. I was going to rummage through every drawer and every piece of paper I could find, but I already knew that I would have gotten rid of anything I’d consider to look for.

 

(to be continued)

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