Chapter 20: The Wake
An hour later, Chris laid back in his hospital bed, the sheets pulled up to cover his legs. He had spent the better part of the hour, planning and plotting his next move in the drama that his life had become. How to explain this to his family without coming off like a liar or a lunatic: That was the question, wasn’t it? Still in the visitor’s chair, holding a “Feel Better Soon” card, was Wubby. The whole hour long, Chris was tempted to walk over and at least turn the bear around so it wasn’t facing him; but deep down he was certain that Wubby would be turned back around and staring by the time Chris laid back down in the bed.
Chris was tired, both physically and emotionally but he had eaten the so called “breakfast” of dry toast, orange juice and scrambled “eggs” that the hospital had given him. Hospital food: the one thing on this planet that might be worse than school cafeteria food. His dad had joked with him before that the terrible food was an incentive for the patient to get better and get out. A rare joke from his father, to be sure, and therefore a precious gem of a memory that Chris hoarded to himself. Chris had the distinct feeling that there would be no jokes told today.
When the family came in, the room stopped being a patients’ room in a hospital and became more akin to a viewing room at a funeral home, and Chris was the corpse. And whether it was grief or morbid curiosity, everyone wanted to see the corpse at a funeral. The family came in and talked to him in small trickles, even though he was sure they all came to the Hospital at once. No one wanted to rouse the madman Chris had become in their eyes by crowding into the tiny room. Logically, Chris actually assumed that Dr. Gupta had told them to visit in small doses, but this was small comfort compared to the look of worry in their eyes as they came. Chris would have to use his words to beat that worry into oblivion and hope that it wouldn’t be replaced by something worse, like anger or revulsion, or even doubt.
Brianna and Samantha were the first to be alone with him. Sammy immediately took up a station by his bedside, her beanpole frame complimenting the pole holding the I.V. bag that was still tethered to him. Her eyes were probing him for something, questioning him with a strange fascination, even though her mouth was drawn shut.
Bri walked over to the visitor’s chair and regarded Wubby for just a moment, before tossing the stuffed animal on the floor. She then plopped herself down and fluttered her lips the same way a horse does. That was Bri for you, the true baby of the family. She was always comfortable in her own skin, and not particularly caring if she pleased anyone; which oddly enough was kind of endearing. Bri was the first to break the silence.
“You crazy?” she asked, bluntly.
Chris guffawed at the directness of the question. No “How you doing?” or “Are you okay?”, just “You crazy?”
“I think I might have gone a little crazy,” he told them. “But I think I’m alright.” He took a deep breath and was about to start his homespun excuse when-
“Did they really put you in a diaper in here?” Sammy blurted out. Chris whirled his head around. He caught sight of her expression. He caught a flicker of excitement in her eyes; an ember of hope. Sammy’s eyes quickly darted toward his crotch. She was scanning for the tell-tale bulge of a diaper.
Shit! Not here too! Sammy was only supposed to be fascinated by diapers when Chris was the baby, and even then she wasn’t SUPPOSED to be fascinated by diapers. There had to have been some bleed-over from when this reality reasserted itself over his fantasy one. Chris made eye contact with Samantha, and both of them started to blush from embarrassment.
“So you, uh…heard about that, huh?” Chris sheepishly asked.
“Sorry,” Sammy whimpered, looking away. “It’s just kind of funny, that’s all.” A tiny, forced, fake smile appeared on her face. She laughed awkwardly through her nose. It was a fake laugh. There was nothing funny about this to her. If anything, Chris could tell, Samantha was actually a little jealous.
“Why’d you go crazy?” Bri cut in to the awkward moment, seemingly oblivious to her older siblings’ feelings. Chris could have hugged Bri right then, he was so grateful for the opportunity to slip into the lie he had concocted.
“You girls know what sleep psychosis is?” Chris began. Both his sisters shook their heads. “Well I haven’t been sleeping well since I got home from school, since before I got home from school, actually,” he paused, waiting to hear them object or provide counter evidence to his lie. They gave none, and just waited for him to continue. “Sleep psychosis is when you don’t get enough sleep, and then kind of just go….well…crazy till you get some more.”
There was silence for a time. The girls waiting for Chris to elaborate on his lie, and Chris waiting for them to accept it. Absently, Chris wished that he was on some type of heart monitor or some other piece of equipment that made regular, reassuring beeps to mark the passage of time.
“So you went nuts,” Bri finally spoke, “because of insomnia?” the look on her face was incredulous, but not necessarily disbelieving. It was the face of a girl going “Seriously? That’s weird,” not “Seriously? You expect me to believe that bullshit?”
“I think it’s more like insomnia taken up a couple notches,” Chris elaborated on his con. “I don’t mean I didn’t sleep well, I mean like I didn’t sleep at all, for close to like…two days straight.” Both sisters nodded. Good. They were buying it. Time to wrap it up.
“At least, that’s what I think happened,” Chris added, sounding like he was correcting himself. “I guess I’ll know more when the chief psychologist or psychiatrist or whatever tells me what he thinks. My best guess is I’ll be out in a day or two after they observe me and know that I’m not going to go crazy again.” He saw a shadow of doubt cross their faces. “Look,” he cut off their concern, “I’m really, really sorry if I scared you guys during my um..err…episode. I hope you two can forgive me for what happened.”
Both girls looked as if they were about to melt with the love and pity they felt for their big brother right then. Of course they forgave him; they were just worried about him and didn’t want anything bad to happen to him. They told him as much about a second after he was done speaking, but their faces had telegraphed the sentiments long before their voices announced it.
That was the trick to it: top off a big lie with a sprinkling of sincerity. All was forgiven, Chris knew, at least to them, and it was time to move on. For the girls, that meant not talking about this once he got out of the hospital- for Samantha, anyways- Brianna would likely bring this episode up after enough time had passed where it wouldn’t hurt Chris so much, as much as annoy him so she could rub it in his face. For Chris, moving on meant that the practice round with his sisters was over and now it was time for the real challenge.
He sat up in his bed and opened his arms, and each of his siblings walked over to him in turn and gave him a hug before leaving. Chris glanced over Bri’s shoulder, to see Wubby back in the visitor’s chair, “Feel Better Soon” card still being held, even though Chris was certain that neither Samantha, nor Briana had picked him up off the floor.
“Who brought in the teddy?” Samantha wondered aloud.
“You mean Wubby?” Chris waved the question off. “Oh, I think your mom must have brought him in to make me feel better.” Chris knew this to be a lie before he even finished the sentence.
“Kay kay” Sammy accepted the lie as she crossed the threshold. “By the way,” Sammy added, poking her head back in through the door. “Why do you keep calling her ‘your mom’? She might not have given birth to you, but she’s kind of your mom, too.”
Roxanne came in next, but this time, her jasmine perfume did not accompany her. She looked tired, like she hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep for several nights. Chris reasoned that maybe she hadn’t. Her hair seemed stringy and straight in some places and tangled and curly in other places. She had no makeup on to conceal the dark bags under her eyes. Her shoulders slumped a little when she walked, and even her breathing had the not-quite-yawning rhythm of the exhausted. She may have literally just woken up before driving over to the hospital with Dad and the girls, and Chris would wager that it hadn’t been a very restful sleep.
“Hey baby,” she whispered as she leaned in and gave her step-son a hug. She draped her arms over Chris, and he felt the full weight of her slight frame on him. Just when Chris was wondering if Roxanne had fallen asleep on him, she withdrew and gave him a hug. She smiled at him, and even her smile seemed exhausted.
“Um, you can sit down if you need to,” Chris motioned over to the padded chair. Roxanne looked behind her at the chair with Wubby and the card.
“Thank you,” Roxanne said wearily, as she took Wubby’s spot and sat him on her lap. “Who brought your bear in?”
“The girls snuck him in for me just a second ago,” Chris lied. “Look, Roxanne, I just wanted to say”
“Hold on,” Roxanne held up her hand to signal. “I’ve got some things I need to ask first.” Her voice was serious, almost grim. Chris’s breath caught in his throat. She looked at him, and Chris could feel as if she was looking through him, as if she knew he was prepared to cover her in lies before he even spoke them.
“Chris, this thing; this that you’re going through; with you crying and screaming…” every word was becoming measured, like she was afraid to ask it. Chris thought she might be on the verge of tears. “Is it, is it because…I mean does it have anything to do with me and your father?”
Now it was Chris’s turn to look incredulous. She had been blaming herself and Dad? How the hell did that come about?
“No! Don’t be ridiculous!” Chris blurted out, completely unguarded.
“Are you sure?” Roxanne half-pleaded, her eyes on the verge of desperate relief.
Chris turned the question over and over in his head. In a way, Roxanne was definitely a part of this. He had the weirdest mix of oedipal crush, childlike adoration, and adult respect for her. Since he had returned home from college he had been getting his fantasy made real in small doses- the good and the bad- and she was part of that fantasy, he could not deny that. But was she the cause of it? No. No she wasn’t. And was she responsible for all this? Was this her mess to clean up? No. No it wasn’t.
“I’m sure,” he told her. “Why, what’s going on?”
Less of a sigh and more of a gasp of relief flooded out of Roxanne’s throat when Chris absolved her, and she looked up. “I was so worried about you, Chris. Do you have any idea?” Chris had seen Roxanne as an adult, and had gotten used to over the years seeing her slip into “Mommy Mode”, but this may have been the first time he had seen her enter “Mother Mode.”
“I do now,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m just glad you’re talking again,” Roxanne reassured her step-son. “You were a mess there, kid, you have no idea; and we’ve all been worried sick. And when I came into your room that night to check up on you, I knew, I just knew that something was wrong, and a few minutes later…well, do you remember what happened?” Chris nodded mutely. “With everything that’s been going on with your father and I, I thought that maybe that’s what had been upsetting you and the stress had pushed you too-“.
“What’s going on with you and Dad?” Chris interrupted. Roxanne went silent, and her eyes flashed panic. She looked worse than the person who accidentally spoiled the ending to your favorite book.
“You mean you’re father didn’t tell you?”
“No. What?” Chris asked and the question hung in the air like a balloon.
“Look, that’s not important,” Roxanne waved the question away. “What’s important is you getting better and getting back to yourself.” She stood up and walked over to the bed with fresh resolve in her step. Wubby tumbled to the floor out of her lap. She had the fresh resolve of someone wanting to change the subject. “Now, honey, has the doctor told you, or do you have any idea about WHY this whole thing happened.” She looked down at him into his eyes. Ah yes, the old “Look me in the eye” trick,” Page 356 of the parent’s handbook. It was a variation on it, to be sure, one motivated by love and worry instead of doubt and anger, but it was the same thing.
Chris winced as he bit down on his tongue. As much as the little boy in him wanted to tell her the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth, the rational adult in him knew that best case scenario she’d think him a liar. Sometimes the truth was just too fantastical to believe. The “sleep psychosis,” bit wouldn’t fly here.
He quickly struck a compromise with the two parts of himself. Just as an actor might mourn their character’s dead brother on stage, and produce that sincerity by thinking about how sad they were when their goldfish died; Chris could tell her the truth in feeling, without giving her the truth in fact.
“I’ve got some ideas,” he answered, “but I’m not really sure. I just haven’t really felt like myself since I got home from college.” He was building up steam, he could feel it. “It’s like one day, I’m regular old me, but something is missing. And the next day I feel this completely different side of myself, but the old part of me is gone. It’s like I’m teeter-tottering.”
Roxanne looked him the eye, and nodded. He had told her the truth, even if it was only the emotional truth. Perhaps that’s all that mattered. She looked into his eyes and brushed his hair off his forehead.
“You poor thing,” she said, and let that sentiment just float in the air. For several minutes they said nothing and just regarded each other. “Your father’s outside, waiting,” she finally broke the silence. “He says he wants to talk to you in private about this.” Chris felt himself go rigid. Dad?! Here?! Nononononono! Chris jumped as Roxanne rubbed his forearm soothingly.
“It’ll be okay, hon,” Roxanne comforted Chris. “He just wants to talk. He’s just as worried as the rest of us. But you know how your father is about sharing his emotions.” Chris did know, better than most. That slow, dry, dismissive joke the other day while Chris had sat in the highchair was about as jovial as the man got, and unless it was a sporting event, his dad never shouted. He never had to. Ever since Chris could remember, his father had used words like a surgeon with a scalpel: slowly, cuttingly, and precise, never using more than necessary to obtain the intended effect. Chris had definitely taken more after his mother in the personality department, and to an extravert like Chris, his father could be almost alien.
“Me and the girls are still right outside the door,” she told him. “Don’t worry. You’re his favorite, so I don’t think he’ll be too hard on you about this.” Chris smiled politely at that. He thanked her and told her that he loved her, and then on something of a whim asked:
“Oh yeah, how’s Barbara?”
Roxanne’s expression changed for some reason, and Chris couldn’t quite read it just then. “I wouldn’t know,” was all she said in a flat tone before grabbing the door handle.
Roxanne opened the door and slipped out, as Chris’s father strode in. A chill filled the air as Dr. Christopher Cole III walked in. He was still dressed down in his dark blue button up shirt, black slacks with matching socks and loafers. His hair, as always, was impeccable and neat enough so that a military man might be envious. His eyes regarded Chris coldly, and he just stood there.
Chris could see that his father hadn’t been sleeping as well. But where Roxanne looked more beaten and weary for the fatigue, it only made Chris’s father seem fiercer. His eyes were more sunken in than usual, and his jaw moved back and forth as he ground his teeth together.
Dr. Cole eyed the door, like a burglar on the lookout for the cops. Slowly, the man turned around in the room on a pivot and took it all in. Door, whiteboard, TV, and finally the chair, Wubby newly appeared on it. His eyes fell on Wubby, and he readjusted his posture so that he was facing the stuffed bear.
He was staring at the bear, Chris realized, staring into its mismatched twinkling gem eyes. Perhaps he was entranced by them; or perhaps he was locked in a contest of wills with the plushie, daring it to blink first.
“Dad I-“ but Chris couldn’t finish. Dr. Cole had whipped his head around and cast the full weight of his gaze on his son. Chris’s eyes searched the room for something to focus on, he couldn’t bring himself to look his father in the eye right then. He wanted to be able to look at something, anything, other than his father. Wubby’s beady eyes had turned back to coal black. Dr. Cole had won the staring contest.
“I know about the diapers,” Dr. Cole finally spoke up. His voice was barely above a stage whisper, but it echoed through the little room all the same. Chris felt his face heat up. Chris tried to say something, but someone had poured quick drying cement down his vocal chords.
“At first, I thought it was drugs,” Dr. Cole told him, “but then the toxicology reports came back negative. So I started looking in your room. Guess what I found under the sink.”
“Dad,” Chris began.
“No,” his dad cut him off, voice still barely whispering. “I don’t want to hear it. The girls told me about the sleep psychosis bullshit you just shoveled on them and I already talked to Sherry. Bed wetting? Really? She might be that naïve, but I know.”
Chris couldn’t feel the thump of his hear anymore. It had sped up in intensity to a low hum. Chris had dreaded that this day might come, and now that it was happening, he wanted nothing more than to curl up into a protective ball and die.
“Dad, I didn’t want you to find out this way,” Chris whispered, trying desperately to keep his composure. He could feel the salty tears breaking past his eyes and flooding out onto the plains of his face.
“How did you want me to find out you have pedophilic urges?!” Dr. Cole snapped, his voice raised to normal conversation volume, his lips curled back into a snarl.
“WHAT?!” Chris shrieked. “I’m not-“
“Quiet,” Chris’s dad hissed back down to a whisper. Chris tasted blood in his mouth, he was biting his tongue so hard. “You’re wearing diapers, but you’re not incontinent, you’re lying about it, and you’re searching google for Kiddie Porn” he spat, “with phrases like ‘adult baby’ and ‘autonepiophilia’ and ‘paraphilic infantilism’. And you’re doing it all in. My. House. I don’t even begin to know what ay-bee-dee-el is.” His voice had lowered to a whisper now, but his facial features had intensified. He wasn’t a doctor right now. He was a prosecutor, and his own son was the accused and guilty until proven innocent. “You’ve even got a God Damn Teddy Bear! At your age! For fuck sakes, I wouldn’t be surprised if you faked this whole breakdown thing just so that you could have someone put a diaper on you.”
Dr. Cole stood up and regained his composure. His breathing slowed, and he hid his rage behind a mask of calm. This was too much. Chris had to make it right, but how? There were no websites or research studies or any evidence at all any more to prove that he wasn’t this…this…Chris couldn’t even bring himself to think it.
“Dad, pleeeease,” Chris almost to wailed. “I can expla-“
“No,” his dad spoke up, firmly. “No. Don’t explain it. I don’t want to know.” He turned his back to Chris.
“But Dad,” Chris begged, “just let me-“
“No Christopher,” his dad wouldn’t let Chris even finish a thought. “This is something we are never going to talk about after this. I don’t know anything, and I don’t want to know anything.” Chris saw his father visibly exhale like a smoker after taking a long drag. “Dr. Gupta suspects that your recent outbursts may be nothing more than unchecked bi-polar disorder, and maybe he’s right.” There was a pause.
“But even if he isn’t, Christopher, here’s what’s going to happen: He’s going to keep you here for observation, and you’re going to be on your best behavior while here. I’ve pulled some strings already so that you’ll be discharged tomorrow morning. He’s going to prescribe some medication to you and you’re going to accept that. I don’t’ really care if you take it or flush it down the toilet.”
Chris just sat there, feeling more and more numb with each syllable his dad uttered. The judge was passing sentence on him, and he didn’t even get his defense. He didn’t even deserve his defense in the court of Dad.
“Then we’re not going to talk about this again,” Dr. Cole continued, “You can stay at the house for the rest of the summer, because I love you, but as soon as the summer is over, you go back to college and you start applying to med-school. Then you get your life back on track. Is that understood?”
Chris bowed his head. “Yes sir,” was all he said.
“A few years down the road, when you’ve completed your residency, if you’re still having these urges, you can save up some of your own money and go on a secret vacation to some South Asian bordello or whatever, where they cater to this kind of shit.” That last proclamation hurt Chris more than any of the accusations. “But,” he emphasized, “we will never talk about it, and you had better take precautions so as not to get caught.” He turned around to look at Chris’s quivering, crying on the verge of bawling form. “Do you understand?”
“Yes sir,” was all Chris could say. It was the only answer his father would accept. Dr. Cole walked back to his son’s bedside and put a big hand on his son’s shoulder. He sniffed the air distastefully.
“You are a Cole,” he growled, “not an invalid. And definitely not a freak.” He added with emphasis. But that last part didn’t ring true in Chris’s ears. He knew, as far as his dad was concerned, that he was a freak.
ELSEWHEN- SHORTLY AFTER THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, OR NEVER (HISTORIANS STILL DISAGREE).
“YOU HAVE HAD YOUR MOON!” The two voices boomed in the empty field. “NOW CHOOSE!” Ward stood before the two stones in the field, contemplating his next action. Later, more civil generations would remember him as a young boy; but for his time he was certainly man enough, even if his voice still cracked on occasion. That was the reality of life these days. No matter what, Ward realized on an unconscious level, however, that the reality of the situation didn’t seem to matter. The stones had seen to that. His story, if it was ever told, would likely remember him as some gangly youth, just barely off his mother’s tit, -despite the bulging biceps he had built in the smithy- confronted by destiny.
The first stone glowed red like a hot coal on the forge that he had worked only a short time before all this madness. It was smoothed and polished, like an egg ready to hatch. In it was a shining, glimmering sword of the purest steel. Even now, it whispered to him, like a scarlet lady wanting another roll in the hay.
Its brother, the second stone, was as blue as a freshly frostbitten corpse in the dead of winter, and as jagged as the wildest mountain peak. The dull scythe, a farmer’s tool that had not yet become synonymous with death, embedded in it whispered different promises to the young boy. They were not, however, promises of happiness. They were merely the assurances of the sad facts of a common, unremarkable life, much like an old man who predicts the future to a young man by simply recounting his own life.
“So what’s it to be?” Ward wondered aloud. “Arthur the King? Or Wart the Peasant?” If he chose the sword embedded in the red stone, he’d get to be king, perhaps even the greatest king ever. Gwen, the noble girl who barely noticed him as a black smith, and who was disgusted with him while he was the dirty peasant, was madly in love with him and devoted when he was Arthur.
That high and mighty French tosser, Lance, was his best friend when he was Arthur. And a true and noble friend he was. He wasn’t even mad that Ward, or Arthur as they called him during his scarlet days had stolen Gwen’s heart from Lance, because in that version of things, Gwen had never been Lance’s to begin with. She had always been Arthur’s.
“But would it mean anything?” The voice of the blue stone whispered to him.
Ward knew that if he chose the scythe in the blue stone, that his life would be unremarkable again, but worse off than even before. Before, he had at least been an apprentice black smith. During his azure days, he wasn’t even that, but the lowest serf. Worse yet, he was an orphan, without even the old Blacksmith there to adopt him and apprentice him. And yet, how enlightening had his azure days been! How clearly he had seen the world for what it really was when he looked up from the bottom. He could perhaps make the world a better place, not just for himself, but others as well with what he had learned during his time as Wart.
“But will you be able to climb from up the bottom?” The voice of the red stone giggled. The red one had a point. But, as the old man, (the wizard, wasn’t it? No, that wasn’t quite right) had told him, regardless of which life he chose, he’d always have the memories of his other life with him. Perhaps he could choose one stone and use what he learned while under the influence of its brother to make his way.
One thing was certain though: It was either to be Arthur or Wart. Ward was dead now, and no one would ever remember to mourn him. It was the Sword or the Scythe, and there would be no in-between this day.
“I make my choice,” Ward boomed, “that is no choice at all.” Ward grabbed the pommel of the sword and with a mighty heave, pulled it from the red stone.
“My choice is made!” Arthur, King of the Britons roared in triumph.
And so, that game was played, and Ward, for some time Wart, but now Arthur, would go on to live a life so extraordinary that he is only remembered as legend; his deeds relegated to the realm of the impossible and fairy tales.