My older brother told me our father slept on the couch at night because he jerked off to pictures of us as toddlers until mom finished her degree, got the job, and could finally afford the divorce that kicked him out. My brother also stole all our money and smoked his life away, literally. He was shot in what the police officer told my mom was a “drug deal gone wrong.” He was high. I’m pretty sure they shot him on the inhale because they told him he couldn’t sample and his defiant ass probably did anyway, thinking they would just call him a douchebag and kick him out, like all the others before. At least that’s what the guy who was sitting next to him told the cop. The cop knew a lot of details about my brother’s murder that my mother didn’t want me to know; she turned up the TV before she took him to her bedroom and locked the door. Even with the volume louder than she’d ever put it before, I could hear her cry out in pain, and beat her hands against the wall in quick bursts of grief. I can understand why she didn’t want me to listen. I didn’t even really care to know. I grasped the general concept; my brother left my mom and I forever to steal a hit of mid-range weed that would not have been deadly had he waited thirty seconds to get out of the car and sample the drugs he had already paid for and received. Good riddance.
* * *
I know the therapist calls and tells my mother I’m bitter. I tell the therapist that I’m pretty sure it’s against the law to disclose information about private sessions; the therapist tells me to shut up. This routine happens for one hour between noon and one on Mondays, Wednesdays, and my personal favorite, Fridays. People hang out at lunch with friends; I get told to shut up by a criminally leaky therapist who thinks I’m bitter. Personally, I just think I’m sarcastic. I have a “unique perspective,” as the other therapists told my mom. I don’t know if that makes me bitter. I happen to think I have a right to be bitter, which makes it that much better that I’m not; I’m just sarcastic.
I don’t quite understand how the therapist can tell my mother I am something and suddenly I am when I’m pretty damn sure I’m telling her I’m not. Why can’t I just tell the therapist he’s a dickfold and suddenly he is? Why do I have to apologize for insulting him when he gets paid for insulting me? I tried telling my mom I wasn’t bitter and my therapist was a dickfold, but for her, it just wasn’t true. I figured that the truth must be what you believe. I told her I was a therapist and by my professional observations I could honestly say I was not bitter, but it still wasn’t true for her. So I started wearing a badge, which was pretty much a piece of paper with the word ‘therapist’ written on it, safety pinned to my shirt to remind her that this was the truth now. My mom called the therapist and told him about my badge.
* * *
On an unscheduled Thursday, the therapist came to our house and told my mom about a place where he is the head doctor, a place where I could go to be ‘diagnosed and treated for my conditions’. I turned up the stereo and read when she took him to her bedroom to discuss finances, being a single mother and child; I know better than to listen to her tell him exactly how poor we are. I could hear her shrieking in shock over the exact costs, groaning in frustration about our feeble finances, and beating her fists against the door, thinking I would go without treatment because she can’t provide enough on her own. I went to my room; I couldn’t handle hearing her tantrum over something that wasn’t her fault. I think I must have qualified for financial aid or something though, because after hours of arguing options with the therapist, I heard the door break down in her excitement to kick the therapist out and tell me the good news; I’d be leaving tomorrow. I told her to eat a dick.
My new treatment facility builds mental stability through ‘talking’ and it’s as stupidly ineffective as it sounds. I’ve seen more than enough therapists who all had something to tell me and more than enough somethings to tell my mother. Here they didn’t have therapists. Instead, they had doctors and nurses who were always pretending to be happy for our benefit and ignored the fact that they wore the same color as us every day. During group talking we were told to ignore things that were unpleasant to us and I figured the staff must think our matching outfits were very unpleasant, although I couldn’t understand why it made them uncomfortable, or why no one did anything to change it.
* * *
Every day I went to four different rooms, met with four different doctors, and was told to talk about everything I’d mentioned to my therapists past. I told the same story every day for a week and the doctors took notes about what they think I said. I was tired of ‘talking’ and not being listened to, or being misunderstood because no one was actually trying to get what I was trying to say. I was tired of being told what I was feeling, how to ignore it, and that it would make me “better.” How ‘bad’ was I that I had to get better? Wasn’t my brother ‘bad’; he was a drug addict. I don’t remember my mom sending him to a facility to be ‘treated’ and ‘get better;’ maybe it would have taught him not to be a suicidally-stupid stoner. I didn’t agree with being here and I didn’t agree with their methods, so I cut them off at the source; I stopped talking.
At first everyone ignored my silence as, I figured, it made everyone very uncomfortable. It really surprised me in group talking, when I was asked a direct question, I stared at the floor and the group ignored it. The doctor told me how I was feeling and why, exactly as if I’d spoken; I stayed silent, then it was the next person’s turn to speak. The regular routine continued: I attended my ignoring sessions in four different rooms, with four different doctors and I never spoke; the nurses wore the same color as me without mention. Everyone was uncomfortable, and nothing changed.
* * *
I hadn’t communicated in some time when I saw my mother fixing her hair as she was leaving the head doctor’s office. It made me feel unpleasant. I hadn’t seen or spoken to her since she locked me in here and I’d told her to ‘eat a dick’ when she was already full. I did what I was told and ignored it. I ignored everything and everyone and became a puppet, positioned around in various scenes throughout the day, only regaining control of myself to eat and read. I figured they were finally going to acknowledge my silence after they started delivering pills with my meals.
Those three white pills I pretended to swallow at every meal was the only acknowledgement given to my lack of behavior. The doctors told me I had to take the pills because they would help modify my behavior on a chemical level. I knew the pills were a test. My family’s history with addiction was no secret. The pills were there to tempt my ability to fight any urges I may have toward seeking refuge from my ‘condition’ in drugs. I was passing all of their tests so far; I’d ignored the unpleasant and I didn’t take drugs. My treatment seemed to be actually working.
* * *
I woke up on my metal frame cot, mattress springs screaming to be noticed, walked over to my roommate, and slapped him clean across his peacefully sleeping cheek. Not a single doctor, nurse, or patient had mentioned my lack of participation and complete and utter silence since the day I shut my mouth. I felt the need to let out some built up tension and in honor of my role-model brother, I went for just one hit. My roommate jumped at being awakened by a bitch-slap and toppled out of his bed, a heap of blankets tangling him in an exoskeleton. I calmly turned and went back to bed, curling up in a comfortable ball on top of the covers and closing my eyes until my dreams became louder than my roommates swearing and I fell asleep.
I was sitting in silence staring at my head doctor. I stared at his face every day after staring at the other three faces with the same label, although recently his face seemed different. He acted mostly the same; he took notes at my non-behavior, explaining what I was thinking and why it was wrong. He’d been spending more time with me outside of our little meetings, probably because I slapped my roommate; he always wanted to talk about that. It wasn’t even a very good story when he told it. I figured since he was the one that brought me here, he had the unfortunate task of “personalizing my treatment.” He didn’t seem very excited about it. I didn’t find him very exciting either.
I took a deep breath that I thought would turn into a yawn; it was one of the most dissatisfying feelings I’d ever experienced. My head doctor made eye contact with me, looking as dissatisfied as I felt. Then he started talking more than usual, rambling about the dangers of living in a fantasy world. I couldn’t tell where he came up with this shit, or how it related to me. It sounded like he was projecting, until he mentioned having seen my mother recently and it started to sound like he was attempting small talk.
I made sure his attempts were futile. I sat completely still and silent as he kept acting strangely. I remembered ignoring my mother coming out of his office. Eventually I grew bored and decided to try creating one of those fantasy worlds he’d been warning me about; I created a wasteland.
Three dark figures. The darkness swallowed their silhouettes; two boulders, slowly sinking into oil. Black figures, cloaked tightly, resembling the distant outline of a human. The street lamps hung their heads, embarrassed by defeat, eyes closed and powerless against impenetrable nothingness. The darkness consumed every particle, as thick black smoke seemed to seep steadily from Hell through cracks in the concrete, surrounding all it touched. Their synchronized steps went unnoticed as they continued blindly into the black.
* * *
I blinked and then my head doctor’s well-lit room replaced the blackness of my wasteland. I must have looked confused for a moment. He was looking down, scribbling his notes about me. I stood up and walked around the side of his desk to where he sat in his oversized chair. He looked up as I got closer to him and showed me the same confused expression he’d missed me make. I was overcome with the need to release something inside of me, so I punched him in his head doctor face. He pushed a button on the wall and two big guys wearing the same color as me strapped me to a gurney. I wasn’t surprised he reacted this way considering how my roommate took a simple slap. He spoke to me in a calm voice and told me that it was a “necessity for the safety of others and myself” that I be completely alone.
Who told the doctor Who told the doctor Who told the doctor Who told the doctor Who told the doctor Who told the doctor Who told the doctor Who told the doctor Who told the doctor Who told the doctor Who told the doctor Who told the doctor Who told the doctor Who told the doctor Who told the doctor Who told the doctor
Who told the doctor Who told me me me
Who told the doctor
No punctuation. Scratched into the wall of my isolation chamber seventeen times. Carved as two columns by nine lines, the last with a twist ending.
Who told me me me
I figure two of the “me” have been killed off; they knew too much. But the first “me” got away. After carving a final testimony into the walls that formed this little world, the first “me” sacrificed the others as distractions in order to escape this psychological prison.
* * *
I read the books that came with my meals. The three white pills were gone; I think they’d figured out I wasn’t my brother. Instead of the pills, the doctor strapped me down for an injection twice daily. He would speak to me in a soft, calm voice as if I were in an unstable vegetative state, giving small explanations for why my treatment has changed so dramatically. It felt very much the same to me except that now drugs were mandatory and I understood why my brother wasn’t sent away for being “bad” like me. Each time he slipped the needle into my veins, plunging a current of chemicals into my blood, it became easier and easier to find my wasteland.
Legend has it that God witnessed an event so horrific there, He shielded his bird’s eye view with His holy hand and never moved it away, afraid to peek past His pinky and prove He’d witness evil. His palm cast a mighty shadow over the land, never to know the light again. Let there be nothing! He trembled, not even His mercy.
Abandoned by God and government, left to fend for itself, the neighborhood became the gutter; a small ring of Hell on the crust of reality. Void of reason, the hope left first, then the shops closed, followed by the schools, and the families. Those who stayed became murderers, child kidnappers, monsters, demons, ghosts, and cannibals; legendary. Their souls were left to roam the darkness, fear manifested as apparitions, appearing around corners, disappearing all the same.
With nothing preventing them from rooting, nature and myth reclaimed their holds on the remnants of man, slithering over the concrete jungle, constricting it slowly for a clean kill. The once vital community collapsed to a place that purified parents turned into cautionary tales. Children you must never go near the gutter, you will not make it back. There is no good there. There is nothing there at all. It’s the empty shell of life, and it will leave you the same. Light hasn’t touched those streets, even on the brightest of nights, out of fear. There is no daylight; no sun. It’s a ghost town, they warn the little ones, whose faces pale as their imaginations capture their fears and expand them to nightmares. Do not go to the gutter.
* * *
Who told the doctor
It was stuck in my head like a bad song, taunting. The last “me” sat behind my eyes sometimes and whispered the key I needed to break the code of his final message. His whispers were always too soft or drowned out by the song stuck in my head. There was a map hidden somewhere in those two columns by nine lines that showed how to reach happiness and escape, or be let out. The first “me” succeeded; it couldn’t be impossible.
* * *
The doctor said my mother has been asking about me, as he sanitized my skin for the injection. He spoke in his calm voice. I was strapped down; I couldn’t hurt him, so he wasn’t afraid. His fingers worked around me and I said nothing, did nothing.
I prepared to enter my wasteland, watching the tip of the needle getting closer to my skin, anticipating the tiny prick followed by a rush of cold and black. The doctor hesitated, looking at the ground with an almost remorseful expression, then slipped the needle under my skin and slowly pressed the plunger. I felt that familiar cold rush; I may have smiled.
Time passed and the land suffered. The ghost town fell to the hands of time and slowly chipped away at the sanity of those who remained. Generations passed without notice and the remaining were dispersed or dead.