Sanatorium – Isak Saaf
August 27, 2021
From the sky the clinic looks like several hundreds of thousands of acres of swampland near the North Atlantic coast, the kind of thing that my parents would call peat bog but isn’t. This is what I was told, having not seen it from the air, no helicopter circuits, that it looked like nothing, no buildings, nothing for the drones to pick up on except a few industrial outbuildings, white vinyl siding, in a far corner. It looks like a waste management plant crouching by the reservoir, that’s what I thought when we pulled up through the one gate, centered in the only segment they had bothered to fence in. The rest is wilderness and borders nothing, there is nothing to keep out and anyway what will you find if you go in? Pitcher plants and thick moss.
Inside the waiting room the place is cheap. I had made an appointment several months in advance and did not expect this—wall to wall carpeting, flyers on who they are and what their work is. Back issues of popular science magazines. Occasional touches of the future, cameras bristling outside and weirder things; thick liquid in a reservoir behind the office front. A bewildered interlude in my 10 steps from the car to inside, taking in as much as I could, the man who leaned out of the great inflated building in a dripping orange suit. Who turns his masked face to left and right and shakes out what he holds. Out the window he walks by again after I have signed in electronically and talked a little to the girl who came to help me when I screwed it up. He is dressed for Chernobyl. He is very relaxed. Like a volunteer, unshaven neck behind the mask. There’s a quick interactive intro on these tablets, says the girl, and offers one, and I look through information I had already taken in, on the legal status of the joint which seems to me ambiguous, I have already paid anyway, and they write like there is something in question which must be defended. A word is given on the exact boundaries of the clinic where it fades into further Crown swampland, on the measures taken to keep its place between nature reserve and medical institution. On its history, which is recent and brief. At least in this operational form. (Before: a long conceptual gestation.) Written to cultivate trust in an understandably untrustworthy institution: untrustworthy because of its youth, its flavor of experiment, its foreign funding. Its potential image as a gentrifier, here between fishing towns with no grocery stores of their own, on land bought from a failed Chinese cul-de-sac. Landscape unchanged for a long long time, over which no one had walked since colonization of this country except (it was easy to imagine) some weirdo tourist, or earlier some kid bored with the ocean and the dead end town who quit to wade through tannin and mosquitoes in search of anything else but that, anything but the life he had been born into of caring for some few cattle or for a single beaten-down fishing boat that dad parked in front of his distant shack during the long harbor-cracking winters. Austerity to him the face of evil. I imagine him sunk and preserved in the bog, among the plant stuff and the black water. Thick smell of vegetation. The thick smell of vegetation that is ushered in when that same man pushes the door, open mask around his neck, says Hey, Lisa, can I get the key for storage 3? Sure, she says, and pulls the key from a similarly marked hook behind her desk. & he goes past other men on smoke break, same wardrobe, same vegetable ooze clumping on their orange boots.
I’m not sure what I’m waiting for if no one else is here, but my appointment was for two, it’s one fifteen, it seems like we’re going to respect that and do things as we had planned. A couple comes in and says they have made an appointment for one thirty, and they walk by me into the back or maybe the next building. The waiting room is its own little shack and they will meet the MD in a different shack as will I. Weird gesture to the design of an actual establishment. Why not send us directly there? The MD will then ask me questions and perform his curative work. The wife of this couple is visibly a very anxious woman, as she speaks to the receptionist, and she behaves like someone who is coming for her last resort. Her man looks different but he’s the same, maybe the same as me. He doesn’t trust medicine much. Another man comes in, not a doctor but not one of those ground workers who’ve wandered in and out, in a floor length black plastic jacket. & he leads them away.
To the girl I say, So how long have you been working here? How’d you end up here? and she tells me she’s a psych student in Halifax, it’s an internship that she managed to get because of her interest in the whole project which she’s been following from the start, she works out here on a volunteer basis cause they need the help but she spends the mornings backstage, as she calls it, in the inflated white buildings and by the vats indoors and outdoors learning what it is they do. She was surprised, she said, to find that her work involves little real biology, little hard science—she had thought she would be unequipped—but the whole thing has been split by discipline and the filth of it is hidden from her, she never actually walks around in the vats. She has to understand these things of course, and they make sure to teach her, since it’s important to the efficacy of her work that she know where psychology ends and bodies begin. But she does nothing with the hardware and neither do any of the on site brain guys, she says, the teams stay separate. That guy, Clarence? she says, with a gesture to where the masked men stood smoking with the one who’d come in among them, and the other guys, they don’t have scientific training really, I mean, they know what they need to which is mostly maintenance stuff and some things on uhhh, care and feeding, but nothing really in depth. Ew, care and feeding, that makes it sound like a pet store. She laughs. He really keeps the whole thing running though, I’m glad they don’t have me working out there.
Then a long silence. I have been standing at the counter to listen to her and move back to my seat, nervous because this says the conversation is over and maybe it’s just a gap, but if I keep standing there it says something else which she will perhaps misinterpret. I don’t have anything more to say and this has been revealed to be one of those necessity-of-work conversations, she won’t take pleasure in my voice if all I want to do is talk for the sake of talking. So I go sit down. & soon, the formality of calling my name.
That guy in the plastic jacket comes for me too. He leads me out the back and down the thin rocky path between these buildings, past chain link which encloses something bubbling and exposed to the sky, explaining once again the terms of my residency.
Second office in the great inflated building, air with a wet greenhouse texture as we pass through the lock. Down whitewashed concrete steps so that I do not get to see much beyond the expanse of the interior, the penetrating swampland smell, men in crisp white stirring further tanks and tending the vertical ones from catwalks. Many more staff than I had anticipated. Below the ground it is a doctor’s office, dormitory walls and linoleum, and as we move along it fades into something more tasteful but alien in the context, hardwood, classy plaster walls, and therapeutic perfumes. Even, in a glimpsed office, leather chairs. Walking back in time through the Profession’s history, half expecting to find a confessional at the end of the tunnel. Or a brothel. But the choice is just aesthetic and halts in time, in comfortable, mid century design that thrives here although there is no natural light. (A warm sun-lamp panel, the size of an entire wall). Here to see the consultant, not technically an MD. Man in plastic sets me down in a comfortably slanting chair. Wall in pale white glass. More furniture which frames a long and mirrored second hallway of cabinets opposite one another, from the end of which emerges my consultant, a woman in black crewneck and slacks and shaven head, stubbled hairs just appearing. & with great confidence of movement, when she turns to a cabinet halfway down the hall and removes a file which must be mine. Which she lays on the table across from me and pulls up likely the same information on a slim laptop, only then says hello, how are you? You’re Mr. Beacham? Yeah, but I’m not usually Mister. A delicate handshake and smile. Not wound tight like I expect the young and successful to be. You can hide that too though, really.
Right, Mr. Beacham, or ah, Richard, Rick, we’ve got you down here for our one-week intensive program, the retreat, and it says here you filled out our profiling survey after you got the receipt, that’s good. You signed the NDA Lisa gave you? Ok, it just updated on here, and that takes care of all the legal stuff you need to do although in a second I’m going to ask you a few more questions that we need to fine tune things on the technical end. The profile is the important thing and that goes a long way although any other family photos you might have brought with you will help us a lot, if you did bring them. Thanks. You understand, we’re trying to avoid the uncanny valley thing and I have to tell you now that the results are more on the puppet side of that than the human. Sometimes it catches people by surprise so it’s best to say it before hand, and we find that this is better than trying to match the mannerisms of someone you know intimately. We do our best to ease you into it. What else? For comfort and sanitation reasons you’ll be provided with our clothes and diet for the length of the program, you knew that but it doesn’t hurt to reiterate. Now before I begin, do you have any specific questions? Well, our information shows it’s better not to have skin-to-skin contact for more than a couple of hours continuously or in immediate succession, but think about it like this. How often are you hugging your friends or family for a comparable period of time? It does happen with sexual partners but we haven’t found that to be a useful demographic for the time being, so it should be strictly platonic. Anything else? Now, these are going to be similar questions to what you’ve already answered but for a section of them we’ve found it useful to measure circulation and respiratory function plus pupil dilation, so look at the three white dots. This may be cold, breathe in. When did you last hurt someone? I know it’s a blunt question, I know, I know, answer it as clearly and quickly as possible. Thank you. You’re doing well. What about physically? Have you ever wanted to? When did you last feel hurt by someone close to you? Answer quickly and look at the dots left to right. What do you think of when I ask you how you feel about Elizabeth now, Liz? In ten words or less please, it’s the somatic responses that are important. What images come to mind. Thanks. Take that moment by the train tracks when you were little, in elementary school, the sound it made. What was that like? What images come to mind? Answer quickly and look at the dots from left to right. How would you describe it to a stranger, if they asked you? Do you consider these things important? Have you ever had an experience in which talk therapy was particularly effective or ineffective for you? Do you want to tell me anything about it? No. Now imagine. That Liz threw you out that time, you remember, you had a fight because she thought you were coming on to her and you didn’t have anywhere to stay. Imagine that you walk out onto the street and have no where to stay. Maybe it’s going to rain but even if it isn’t you have those big grey New York buildings, scary Manhattan, maybe you meet someone in a similar circumstance but more permanent and it throws your life into some kind of perspective, like he got kicked out by the girl and that was it, he’s on the street forever, which suddenly becomes clear as you speak to him and changes the whole tone of the conversation, now you have nothing in common. Do you still feel the same about Liz? Would you feel the way you did then if it was two years on and you hadn’t found a place to stay yet, or if you didn’t have the cushion that you do? These things change over time, do you agree? When that happened, you called your mother. Please tell me what she said.
There’s only a few more questions I have to ask you, she says, and does. She lines up the edges of the file with one another and with the edge of the desk and shuts off the microphone and camera. Now, if you go down this hallway, on your right there will be a door where you can get a bag of clothes, soap, toiletries, and so on. The nurse there will get you up to date on what else you need. Any questions for me before you go? I don’t have any. I stand and head for the exit. The consultant has both her feet up on the chair and I begin to think she’s younger than she looks. One last fading off in the corner of my eye. Black clothing on white and the faded beige of her scant furniture. Who gave her this authority and why do I respect it?
Next moments are rushed, I am provided with essentials, a kit of great economy. White clothing, white special-made toothbrush with a small monogram on each. Each room I enter becomes more claustrophobic and each person I encounter more specialized. They provide me with what I need according to increasingly specific criteria and seem oblivious to what each of their predecessors has done. First glimpses into a long narrow room like a bar where women wash and sterilize the cultish clothing. First glimpses at a vast industrial kitchen and dining hall before I’m rushed past and told no, I won’t be eating there, they will bring me my meals in the retreat. The white tunnel contracts and expands, and surfaces outside, by the great inflated building among sparse hemlock and moss. The haven of tech is extinguished and now what infrastructure exists is made of wood and metal or plastic painted as wood, grain and all. Grown among cloudberries. Led frantically, by the hand, by that young man in the long plastic jacket, no imagery at all but the white on black BRASS, bold and vertical. He’s new, to me, to the Institute, he’s just an assistant here, he exclaims, another recent hire. Both sides of his head shaved, and thin like some shipwrecked Brit. A clear faith in something bigger than medicine. Then again, he says, everyone is new here, the place is young. I feel like an astronaut out here, you know—as he shoulders the duffel bag of my clothes and books—like we came down in that thing to explore this planet, they even have us dressing like we’re from space. The inflated white building arcing over treetops behind us. Boardwalk leading deeper into forest and swamp. Wald. Something of old Germanic terror about these trees like it would be home to huge and cunning wolves or stepmothers. Water that collects in small stagnant rings on each side of our path, thick with mosquito larvae, old wood decaying into moss. Clusters of dead trees that have not been cleared out, have not even been disturbed from where they died standing, that leave the woods around us almost impassable. A thicker smell. When the entryway is no longer visible behind us the path splits and splits again. Till it becomes clear that the route we have taken is specially designated for me, I will be given a place that no one else can go. That place is a cabin where the boardwalk ends, a single room, no stove or kitchen. A table and two chairs in the center of a room ringed by shelves and a bed in one corner. A locker. BRASS hands me my things, Do you need anything? and I don’t. Uh, ok, good luck bro, and he leaves and closes the door behind him. & heads back up the boardwalk into the approaching darkness.
Big quiet in the room. & the creeping wooden lodge smell. The sweat and the fresh wood, the cautiously placed plastic and enamel to remind us of our century and purpose in this place. Big quiet of retreat. The barrier between inside and outside world is fine and I feel I am directly seated in the swamp maybe even sinking into it. Somewhere in the deep wood. Now that BRASS is gone the birds work themselves into the noise background again and movement picks up outside; I keep the door open to hear them. I like to feel the coolness that comes out of the swamp even though it also brings mosquitoes with it and blackflies. I sit at the table in the center of the room and look at the empty chair across from me and behind it the thin pines, thin as if they grew on a mountaintop, being slowly drained of their color. Eventually it is fully dark. BRASS returns with a full meal and gives it to me half warm. I have nothing to do but to sleep.
The kind of rest that you are given when you are apart from technology and light and entertainment, the things that would keep you up past the bedtime of birds and animals. & you wake with dawn. Cold in the room—I can’t tell how it’s heated, in the night there must have been a heat pump but it is frail and solar powered, and it’s shut off when I wake up. Totally impossible to tell what time it is but I decide it’s about eight. Step barefoot on the cold floor and dress quickly. BRASS again and food. He tells me it’s 7:30. As it warms I open the door again and spend my morning first reading and then writing in the notebook I’ve brought. I’ve decided I’m going to approach this scientifically, that I’m going to record what happens and its effect on me. Because I am a person lost in time without record of the state of the person I am and when I lose track of who I was a week or a month ago that person is vanished forever. At one point this saved me from embarrassment but it will also save me from having any perspective about who I am and why. It will be good to know what the changes to my self are if there are any and what they felt like from inside, later, when I look back thinking I have always been this way. But right now I have nothing but anticipation. The anticipation that’s taken over me every step of the way, like when I was standing on the dock beneath huge snowed-over cranes and the industrial ships that brought me here. An impression affected, to be fair, by those great technologies above, that operate on a global scale and thus seem like great horrors to us. To us who work on the individual level. The entry to the retreat, I think, was like that. Big objects that take you over and shape your idea of what is coming to you. Now I spend my morning putting down the few thoughts that stop by and I become certain that something is going to come to me today. On the edge of my uneven seat like a child on his birthday. I remember moments of big change and the feeling of being taken apart and reassembled. I remember a sudden shock and knowing nothing better to do than set down what I was doing and go straight out into the street and walk until I was tired and understood what had happened. I remember going to play trumpet in the woods till the worry left my body. I remember continuous arguments, anger for a cause I had stopped believing in years before but had not yet realized that I did not believe in it. & berating myself for my disbelief. & when the disbelief elevated itself still further finding myself in one conversation after another where I explained a value system I didn’t understand or care about to someone else who was doing the same. The inevitable conclusion that you have nothing to say or that interpreting the world is a game for entertaining the privileged. The thin, thin line between political arena and bloodsport. & remembered thinking fuck, I’m the most alienated person in the world, after another endless pointless conversation and another spectacular disappointment, maybe a weird forced kiss though I’m not usually one to be upset about romance. But I didn’t know why I was doing any of it or even going out and I could not remember being any other way except in a magnificent Edenic past before my parents force fed me the apple before the amoeboid divide into male and female before capital back when we could all read each other’s minds and just rode the instinctual wave of lust, anticipated each other’s desires and our own before the What I Want impulse made if from my brain to my tongue. Childhood, call it. Something really beautiful that used to climb down out of the trees and into our open exposed heads.
On the page I write: I want to know what I want, but not to know that I want it.
& BRASS comes, and not one other thing has happened to me. What’s your name? I say to him, and he says Casey. Casey is a local like everyone else but the serious professionals seem to be. He has been truly dropped here from the dead end fishing town life. He asks me how I am doing and I tell him nothing has happened all morning, I have been sitting here and thinking stuff over. That’s good, he says, I haven’t been working here long but it seems like they give you time to do that, like that’s part of the process. Talking is part of the process and so is silence. Nod wordlessly and hope you contribute to the mystique of silence, that you aren’t just another mysterioso schmuck. Right, well, says Casey, I’m not actually allowed to talk to you that long, isolation is part of the process too and they don’t want me out here distracting you. Even if I ask you to? Even if you ask me to. Especially. I don’t know why. Door open or closed? He says, and when I say open he closes it anyway except for the smallest crack. When he is gone I stand up and push it open again and then I eat my lunch. I have decided I like it to feel like I’m outside. Since this won’t be home. Something really good about a squirrel who comes to visit, I mean, something really horribly idyllic, it’s just idle animal curiosity, he is scared of me now, if I were dead he might gnaw at my fingers. Feeling remarkably like the old & solitary cat owner who kicks it one day and sits in his rocking chair for a week, maybe, before the neighbors smell something, and in the meantime cat eats his fill. Never thought animals were friendly.
What do you do, out in the scum water for so long a time? When I get sick of what I’m doing, sitting there, letting time seep by, I go out and take short curious trips into the woods. I sink into the moss to my ankles; the ground is a plant jelly untouched by large animals like myself and rocks and feet disappear into it when they touch. It’s all smell. Tannin and pine. Somewhere further out, on more solid ground, an absolute relic of a cellar hole, only recognizable as such for the ring of stones around it. & I pass through a stand of thin dead trees that collapse almost into powder when I touch them. I want more of this but it’s hard to lose yourself out here, I keep thinking back to the world and to myself. I have come out here with a purpose and more importantly I have spent money, no small amount, to achieve that purpose; everything I do no matter how pleasurable is a deviation from that purpose even when I am told that my nothingness is meant to be fulfillment, that it’s meant to be the journey and to prepare me for the essential thing that I wanted all this time. Restoration. To decay into the curative state, the kindness of nature, the gentle unquestioning I’m convinced I must have experienced at one time or another or else I wouldn’t remember it so well. I’m here because I signed up for something; I want it to be given to me even while I know and remember how over the course of my whole life the distance between what I want and what is has only gotten wider. I want to go to sleep and not to think about these things.
When I have written and walked around and Casey has brought me my dinner I am tired and I go to sleep and I stop thinking about these things.
I am woken up in the night and I see my mother.
All through the small room the smell of moss and what is growing out in these woods. Like some mafioso thing, dragged from my bed disoriented and forced face-first into the murk, Where’s the money, all my answers ignored. Spitting out mosquito larvae that wriggle in my palm. She’s sitting in the chair with her back to the open door, she’s made no effort to wake me. Ragged as a shipwreck, like I lost her somewhere in the open ocean, no, she’s sitting back in Hartford, how does this happen. I knew what I was getting into. Water and mud, sprigs of pine in her hair, a bog burial. & I stand up, the moment has passed for real terror and I only have the thick smell and the groaning, what have I gotten myself into. Turning on the light is a huge mistake. Still Rachel Beacham, clear as day, but as seen in daguerreotype, all leathery edges. A leather mask, some story for German schoolchildren on the grimmer end of the 19th century. What comes to you at night. Too familiar, somehow, so that nothing is tripped which would tell me either to fight or fly and I feel brave as ever and compelled to sit down with her. Hey dear, she says, and squishes when she moves. Leather and water. Missed you. I know you probably don’t wanna hug me right now but the thought is there. Yeah. It’s ok. It really is, it’s good to see you. How did you get here? Did you find your way all right?
Yeah, I did, she says, through a paralytic lisp. The guys back there were really nice. I wanted to see you, of course, and it seemed like a good time. A good time to come. Must have guessed you weren’t doing so well.
I wouldn’t say that. How does it look like I’m doing.
I don’t know. Not exactly like you to go and uh, institutionalize yourself.
There’s a difference between this and like, rehab or something. I wanted to experiment.
I’m here. Seems experimental.
Breathe the thick air. Yeah.
I think for a second and say, can I offer you anything? Tea or Coffee?
No, I can’t, but thanks dear. Just water?
I bring it to her. You’re here to talk, aren’t you?
Of course I am, that’s the whole point. I come to visit you for once instead of you driving down to Hartford. Kind of a weird place for it though really. Do they feed you well?
I mean, I’ve been here for a day. But it’s been fine.
Do you like it?
I like the woods. I’ve been walking around.
Has it helped you?
No, I don’t think I’d say that.
Why come, then?
Well, how was I supposed to know? And I won’t know, I think, till later, I won’t know until I go home and digest it all.
Is that how it works.
To me it is.
You don’t believe that you could be struck by something, like a koan, knocked right back into shape, whatever shape is? God bonks you between the eyes and you’re fixed.
Why not? Where’s your hope? Hopefulness.
I think it’s more, you change, you don’t realize it, you end up as someone else and the painful thing is the distance between that new person and who you think you are. A failure to act naturally.
Mhm. I guess I can see it. Is that what happened to you?
I mean, yeah. Yes and no. I’m not sure.
Yes you are. You’ve thought things through. You just don’t like to talk about them with your mother.
Ha, yeah, me or Dan either. We always kept our mouths shut, about our lives. About girls especially, you know that.
I guess I did.
Some things mothers shouldn’t know. I reserve my right to discretion in this case. And when I did tell you things you forgot them.
Can’t say I remember that ever happening.
Well, what do you want me to do? You expect me to hear all this or uh, not hear anything at all, hear that you don’t talk to me, and then still know what you want?
Is that a mother’s job.
It’s your job.
Guess so. Maybe my only one. Then: Hesitation as if she is deciding whether or not to argue. You’re not very friendly today.
No. I’m not. You caught me by surprise and it’s three in the morning or something.
I was told I was meant to catch you by surprise. And that’s no reason to be rude. Do you want to be here or not?
I’m not sure I do, right now.
It’s fine, it’s ok. Is there something you want from me?
I feel like I just met you again. A weird feeling, to meet your parents, part of the deal is that you’re here all along from the beginning. One of the formative conditions of uh, living, one of those things that are built into your personality and the rest of this stuff congeals around. Coagulates.
Like a thing I hear you do, where you grow the little crystals in a plate out of some kind of saturated fluid.
Yeah, I guess people do that.
Weird, to say that stones can grow.
Weird to uh, build things out of plants, to say we’ve created a plant, but in this case that seems to be what works.
Thanks, dear. As lively as skin.
You do squeak a little.
When I move, yes.
Ha. So what can you tell me?
What do you want to hear?
I mean, your purpose is to uh, deliver insight, isn’t it, you’re a teacher. A doctor.
I don’t think about it in terms of having a purpose, I mean, life isn’t like that. I woke up and felt I should come see you. That’s a motherly obligation. We’re not always in the same place, you know, you don’t come down to the city so often.
Why do you say that. I’ve never known you to care. You wouldn’t tell me.
I don’t know. It just came to me. A bewildered laugh. But you’re still so sensitive about it. Why get so mad if I’ve never said it before, I was sure I had. And you get so distracted. You just asked me a question.
Whether I’m a doctor. I am a doctor. Or something like that. It seems like that. I’ve been hiding my cards a little bit. They gave me a lot to work with but it reveals itself slowly, some shown and some implied.
Doctor or priestess I guess.
I don’t know how much I know. About you, that’s the burden of motherhood. Really amazing, fighting with someone close to you as your own heart. Or I guess I want to think that it would be. I bet it feels good. I’m sure that Rachel in Hartford doesn’t know nearly as well everything that’s happened to you, you secretive child. I don’t know how I would phrase it, but as you would have it, she doesn’t have a damn word about whatever has happened to you these past few years, the breakdown of what did you say? The order of symbols that keeps you together. She doesn’t know your weird little imaginative game even when you hint at it as obviously as you possibly could, you know, imagining yourself as a caveman or medieval peasant or something as if being those things would cure whatever it is that makes you like this. Sad, huh. All that time spent wandering around thinking, what do other people have that I don’t that lets them be so happy. They aren’t so sorry for themselves, that’s for fucking sure.
What, it’s too close to the pulse? That’s what I’m here for, I’m realizing, it’s unfolding every minute. The raining code. I’m your mother, I can’t let you get away in misery any longer. Eyes flitting, like a teleprompter. You come here but you aren’t open to it, you just wanted to see what I’m like. You just wanted to meet me, who you’ve known your whole life. Here I am, I hope it helps you. Hope it counts for something later.
Of course but you are too, I just have a better reason. I’m counting the minutes. You have no reason at all, for being scared, it’s just how you like to pass the time. How arrogant is that? You could pass the time how ever you like and this is what you wanted to do. I’m just fading into the background, that’s what happens when women age. She never taught you that. Now I’m here and I’m the medicine, as if any one could repair the damage that time and weather do, I’m no artist. I know a lot but I don’t know whatever tiny freak incident a decade ago made you who you are, not unless you do. And if you did you’d have figured it out. You and all these people are stuck in the past. I can’t even do anything to fuck you up more, you’re so good at it on your own. Couldn’t do it better than you.
You’re not helping.
No, you’re right, I’m not, I was hoping I could just hurt a little, if I can’t do that I’ll just leave. What other option do we have. Are we agreed? I’ve had enough of this already, I wanted to see you but I don’t any more. I feel like I’ve been thrown into something I wasn’t really ready for. And despite that you’re so small and, um, disappointing, my whole life is built on you.
I know, I know, don’t cry, god, it sounds awful. I know you don’t wanna see me right now. We’ll figure something out but I don’t think we should be near each other.
So we have something to agree on.
Yeah, ha, I guess. Look, how does this sound, oh, it’ll be fine, wipe your nose, sit down. How does this sound, I’m going to stay here until you feel ok. And then I’m going to get my stuff and walk out of here and you can do whatever you need to, make your way on your own, I won’t tell them anything.
Yeah. Just get out of here, god, I don’t want to see you, I remember stuff from you and from Rachel that fucks everything up, it’s like mind control, I’m fucking sick of you. I don’t wanna take it any more. I know you’ll be fine dear. I know it, you’re not so bad, you just worry sometimes, that’s ok. I do too. I’ll be fine. I’ll be fine, I’m just going to go for a walk. Nothing else. The rest is going to figure itself out. Just go.
Ok. Ok. I love you.
& then when I leave the tight little building the concentrated smell of swamp relaxes, grows calmer, just mosquitoes and blackflies and heavy buzzing of night animals, and the same smell but softer now lining the boardwalk. When I walk out she waits a minute and half and turns the light out when I am still in sight. I am as calm as I have ever been in my life and feel like I am hovering a few lovely inches above the damp wood, feel like I am living in a camera poised just behind my eyes, the calm of social shock. Same as when Liz threw me out, same as when she told me all those rough stories, somewhere between sympathy and horror. I think I think that I like this Rachel very much, but I don’t know if I could tell her that. Love is ok. Night is black as it can be in distant woods, no light pollution out here, just the horrible arc of the milky way. Dark as a stomach. As the inside of a cow, Casey had said. The boardwalk reaches that open clearing where their big inflated headquarters unfolds like a huge milky egg. A stiff breeze coming in from the ocean across the surface of the dark forest whose trees have huddle for years against it, and the building rustles softly against it. Nothing else here and there are no cars even though small lights are winking in the windows of the outbuildings and some things glow from within. There is a generator hum coming from deep inside of them but when I walk by and it recedes, I am in a new and deeper silence. I don’t remember how far back it was till that first small fishing town, but there was only one road so I will not get lost. Very soon I can’t see the buildings behind me at all.