Archive for January, 2015

Daniel in the Lions’ Den

Jan 27 2015 Published by under Short Stories

It takes you a day just to recover from emergency and intake, because you’re reminded that you’re basically still in the dark ages of psychiatric medicine every time they strip you down to your boxers and a hospital gown, put a printed plastic bracelet on your arm with your name and a bar code on it like you’re a damaged canister of mixed nuts that’s just missing a label and 2 filberts in the grocery story nobody wants to shop at—but we can still sell those nuts, man—put you in a room with 4 beige walls to perfectly complement the beige ceiling and the wavy-patterned linoleum beige floor tiles, with a camera over the television from 1987 that they never acknowledge is obviously a fucking camera, when you learned DOS before you had pubes, and you just opted in the lobby not to sign the release to share the video with other institutions, and then they tell you to try to get some sleep but leave floodlights on in the room through the whole night—but at least you brought a fucking soft-cover book this time!

Then they send the crisis counselor in, and he tries to get you to put down the book. Years ago, I brought a copy of Bohm’s Quantum Theory in with me, having clutched at it like a snot-covered security blanket in a moment of life-changing insight, making myself as inseparable from it as a sensitive child going through problems at home. Years later, I brought a quantum field theory text in, and the crisis counselor—the very same counselor from so many years ago—warned me that, “You should give up that stuff, man. You’ll fry your brain trying to understand it.” Man, I hate to tell you, but I’ve been over that mountain, got a degree, passed a graduate level course in the subject, coded a simulation with applied semi-classical gravity fields, and got three T-shirts, but all I brought you back is this freaking exasperated tone.

When he gives up, and when you’re too exhausted to read, you might as well start talking to yourself freely, because it’s the best conversation you’re gonna have for a week or two. Pretend the whole ward knows exactly what you’re talking about—fuck it, the whole hospital! Pretend the gods themselves are throwing you a “welcome back” party right then—or “good riddance,” as the case may be. You’re not going anywhere for half a month, because you just got there, and it’s safe to assume you’re there for an excellent reason, whether you talk to yourself or not—so indulge. Tap dance with the fucking stars, you gorgeous, unfathomable beast.

The doctor comes in when you’re finally approaching the point of falling asleep despite the lights and removal of all things familiar and “you.” People ask why I have these tattoos on my wrists, and I tell them they mark the completion of two epochs in my life—which they do—but I don’t tell them they’re there to remind me who I really am in the emergency psych ward. The doctor comes in, her face blank, her manner hurried, and she barks half a dozen questions at you. She has to ask you three times about your level of education because, you don’t stutter, but the answer disagrees with her assumptions. She walks out of there as soon as her liability is minimized. You can finally sleep, then, because you’re just relieved that you know exactly what the next few weeks ahead of you have in store—after the first time, at least.

So it always takes me a day to recover, after they wake me up for the ambulance to the in-patient facility, and wrap me up on the gurney like a babe in swaddling clothes, and wheel me down to Limbo.

My parents dropped off some clothes and toiletries, but I dreaded talking with them. I changed into something comfortable to sleep in, trying to feel appreciative for that, at least, when I knew a lot of folks in the ward wouldn’t even have a second pair of underwear.

I laid down on the worn mattress, and I just listened to the voices in the center room that all the bedrooms adjoined, for a little. You overhear conversations in the ward to which you tend to feel like a familiar party even when you don’t know anyone, snippets about getting high, patients coming and going, and admonitions to demons for manipulating innocent Christians’ thoughts. I don’t even want to tell you what the demons say back.

As I started to drift away from what I’ll call “normal waking consciousness,” I heard the only “voice” I was currently on speaking terms with.

“Awe you fawwing asweep?” asked my “fwiend.”

“Trying to,” I said aloud.

“You usuawwy don’t wike to tawk to me awoud, though,” she said.

“There’s no reason to keep it quiet, tonight,” I said.

“Want me to wead you a bedtime stowy?” she asked.

“Bastet, please cut the fake speech impediment,” I said, rolling over.

“Why?” she asked.

“‘Cause you’re five thousand years too old for a lisp,” I said.

“Nuh-uh,” said Bastet, “fiwst, I’m going to teww you a stowy—and technicawwy it’s a wotacism, not a wisp.”

“…A what?” I asked.

“…A wotacism!” Said Bastet.

“…A ‘lotacism’?” I guessed. “…A ‘rotacism’?”

“Forget it,” said Bastet. “Just listen as you fall asleep.”

I pulled the covers close and shut my eyes.

Bastet tickled the back of my neck. “There once was a boy—or man-boy, really—who wanted to grow up to save the world, like so many near-virgins who play too many video games and watch dirty Japanese cartoons.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“You’re welcome,” she replied. “He wanted to save the world, because he knew that exponential population growth, unchecked carbon emissions, reliance on non-renewable energy sources, and a condition of mutual assured nuclear destruction could not be maintained indefinitely.”

“You’re not making it easy to sleep,” I said.

“He knew that the chosen path of a majority of human beings was unsustainable,” she said, “’…But if I master the power of magic,’ he thought, ‘then maybe being able to shoot five magic missiles in a single cast will somehow help me reverse global warming!”

“I hate you,” I said, even though I was laughing.

“He read medieval and modern grimoires,” she said, “and started hanging out with a bunch of dodgy characters, like demons, and people who called themselves ‘mages’, and he drank a bunch of cough syrup whenever he needed to refill his mana meter.”

“What magical effect did the pot have?” I asked.

“…Made you impotent,” said Bastet, “and he had sex with a bunch of hookers and killed them to get his money back before driving around the city in a stolen car while being chased by the national guard. No, that didn’t happen, but he did meet a hooker, in my estimation, and she wasn’t very nice, but he convinced himself he loved her, for no clear reason given her lack of redeeming qualities that I can see, and he hallucinated psychic conversations with her about various depraved topics for a few months until even he got sick of her. He drank a lot, and wanked a bunched of angry wanks to try to get her out of his system, which never worked, and somehow the gods of various religions got pulled into this debacle of an unhealthy, one-sided relationship between her and him, because they expected him to either start a revolution out of sheer sexual frustration or possibly try to do something drastic, like ruin their Sunday brunch—and the girl was supposed to be his soulmate or some crap, they said, even though he doesn’t believe in that, or any of this bullshit I’m describing.”

“I don’t believe in this conversation, even,” I said, “but somehow I feel guilty because you called her a hooker with no redeeming qualities.”

“The girl fucked with his head, and gave him an inferiority complex, and left him a pretty messed-up shell of a boyfriend by the time I got to him,” said my “guardian angel,” “but kinda sexy in a bad-boy way that he’ll never quite recapture.”

“Then, what happened?” I asked.

“The gods were very angry at him,” said Bastet, “and they called him names, and said mean things to him like, ‘Dude, you fucking ruined brunch for everyone forever—way to go,’ and so they had to have a trial for him, and they sentenced him to have his soul split in billions of pieces and distributed to the people of the world to control his every thought and action, because it turned out that he was some sort of dimensional singularity that the gods could exploit as a resource. He maintained that the whole deal was bullshit, and he demonstrated repeatedly to us that we couldn’t control him, and he eventually got bored and went off to get a degree in physics while we pretended to channel the stuff of his soul into evil magic and snort it during wild hate sex with our ‘ex’s that never happened. Oh, and many of the gods and angels and demons and dryads and shit were actually the alter-egos of other people living on planet Earth—where he did not live at the time—whom it seemed like he could speak with psychically.”

“Tell me about all the times your incarnation dressed up in furry costumes and tried to snort my soul,” I said.

“Then the cat god told him to fuck off,” said the cat god.

I felt her aura envelop me like a hug. “…And that’s what Groundhog’s Day is all about, Jimmy Spooner,” she said.

“I remember a fox costume,” I said.

“…And that’s after trillions of dollars may or may not have been invested in trying to make you forget, while keeping you viable as a fuel source and a political diversion. I suppose you win the universe, Dan,” she said.

“What’s my prize?” I asked.

“I think you already know,” she said.

“Medication time!” came a shout from the center room.

They put me be back on my old meds, but the hospital could never risk the temptation to up the dose. It was just easier, I suppose, for everyone but me. It’d help me fall asleep, at least, right then.

I slept til lunch. I woke up, avoided all eye contact, ate soggy under salted green beans for lack of options without animal flesh, secretions, or ova in them, and slept til they woke me up for visitors.

I decided that if it was my parents they woke me up for, I was walking away. To my moderate wonder, though, I scanned the crowded cafeteria to find two of my closest friends from high school. Adam had brought a chess set with him. Jake was fiddling with his phone.

“What are you folks doing here?” I asked.

“What does it look like?” asked Adam. “I thought we’d both be up for a rematch.”

“…And I just like picking up women in mental hospitals,” said Jake.

Adam and I laughed. “That’s my line,” I said.

“Crazier, the better, right?” said Adam, chuckling.

“I find it correlates with the willingness to perpetrate unspeakable acts in bed,” Jake said.

“Until you start getting fifty calls a day from her,” said Adam.

We all started to laugh, but then the two of them looked at each other uncomfortably and stifled.

“Dude,” I said, “the truth is, anyone who’s been at this for a minute has experienced more ‘crazy’ in an afternoon than you will in your entire life, and they don’t want any more. They’ll never call you back.”

That got a hammy laugh from Adam. Jake smiled.

I tilted my head back and sighed. I said, “Man, it’s good to see you folks here instead of my parents.”

“How you feeling, brother?” asked Adam.

“Dude,” I said, “to be honest, I don’t know if I’m wired or exhausted, I can’t have a smoke or a cup of coffee, and an Ancient Egyptian cat deity with a speech impediment keeps cracking jokes about the Apocalypse that nobody but me can hear.”

“I can hear her!” I could swear I heard someone shout at the next table. I was relieved when Adam and Jake turned their heads to look, too.

“I don’t know that person,” I whispered.

Adam cackled. “…But you and she appear to have a friend in common!”

I tried to shake out the willies. Jake was still looking over, jaw hanging slightly.

I looked him straight in his face. “Bro’, that’s your chance!” I said.

Jake kept staring. My friend’s friend, looking older than my mother, with magenta hair, winked at Jake.

Jake slapped the table with both hands. “Dudes,” he said, “I’m done.”

“We gotta play this game first,” said Adam.

“Set it up quick,” I said, “before everybody else’s demons get a chance to know mine.”

We set up the board, and my first new friend in the hospital looked away. Jake tried not to let on that he was looking back that direction. I thought about a particular conversation Jake and I had years ago, under the influence of a moderate amount of marijuana, in which we both verbally came to agree that verbal communication had apparently become unnecessary to convey our minds. I wondered, as I considered my first move, if Jake was more taken aback by our new friend’s cavalier attitude and charm, or her purported familiarity with Bastet.

Adam beat me, of course. I could make excuses, about not being in my right mind, or about being distracted by all the psychic conversations I kept getting pulled into, but he usually beats me.

When they left, I slept til nearly dinner. I awoke to the feeling of someone staring at me who probably wasn’t there.

“What do you want?” I asked no one in particular.

“I want you to give up this suicide mission and just try to get some quality out of life, finally. You’re not doing anyone any favors,” said the One God of Too Many Religions, “especially yourself.”

“You say that like I really have other options,” I talked back to “God.”

“You do!” he shouted. “The problems you’re convinced you’re going to fix are too big for you! You’re only going against the democratic will of the people, anyway! You don’t own the world.”

“Of course, because you own it,” I said. “You’re gonna suck every last drop of oil out of the Earth, to keep your constituencies happy, and when you’ve built your own private Idaho of a ‘paradise,’ you’re gonna set the people who believe in you to kill each other over who gets to join you in it, and you’ll ultimately eugenically hand-pick your final kingdom.”

How do you figure?!” he demanded.

“I don’t trust any belief system that holds that there’s an ultimate expiration date on Earth,” I said. “Wasn’t that what we were fighting about, when you put me in here?”

“You were fighting with your parents about things they don’t have the slightest idea about—and you don’t, either,” he huffed. “They—we don’t deserve this.”

“Of course I don’t understand,” I said. “I’m just a backwater yokel to the folks on your plane. You, on the other hand, are a powerful charismatic dictator who likes to tell people how they’re allowed to screw.”

“You know that’s not my will,” said ‘Al.’ “I can’t micromanage every action undertaken in my name—it’d defeat the purpose.”

“Your will is whatever appeals to the person to whom you’re speaking,” I said. “It’s kind of amazing how you can maintain so many dogmas at odds with each other and still convince their adherents that theirs is the only true one, without drawing scrutiny to your faithfulness. You’re just a wheedling politician, ultimately, and you’ll act like it’s righteous when you get to pick which of your rich friends and obedient token sheep get to board the new ark.”

“There could very readily be a place in Heaven for everyone, including you, if you just do what you know in your heart is right,” he said.

Get bent!” I shouted.

“Just go to dinner,” he said.

I did as I was commanded, but it won’t make any difference when the Rapture comes. They were opening up the doors to the cafeteria when I left my room, and I got in line for food with the rest of the damned.

The person behind me was singing spirituals. Ahead of me was the magenta-haired woman with whom I apparently shared a delusion.

“Michael, row the boat ashore. Halle-luuu-jah…” said the one behind me.

“She hasn’t stopped singing that for three fucking days,” said someone farther up in line.

“You should sing with me,” said the woman behind me. “Jesus is the only way anyone’s getting out of this place, you’d best realize. His Second Coming is upon us!”

“Lady, if Jesus were alive today, he’d end up in Greystone, and you’d never hear about it,” said the person farther up.

My friend’s magenta-haired friend and I chuckled.

“Even if he was in the hospital, He’d save us, praise Him!” said Our Lady of Tactless Piety.

She tilted her head back and raised her arms. “Jesus, I know You can hear me!” she cried. “Deliver me from the wicked and set my soul free, Jesus! Michael, row the boat ashore…”

“I’ll set her soul free,” grumbled the person up ahead.

The one behind me started clapping. “Halle-luuu-jah…”

The face of the one ahead suddenly darkened, and his fists clenched. He started to stomp back to the singer, but the woman ahead of me with the magenta hair got in front of him, to my relief.

“Hey, we all need a crutch,” she said to him. “You’re next in line, anyway.” She pointed to the space in front of the food cart that had opened up.

He bit his lip and turned around to walk up.

The rest of us at the tail end of the line filtered into the cafeteria and got our food. Someone must have told them I was vegan, because they had an option for me this time, with salad and chickpeas. When I got my meal, I looked around for a seat, and I noticed the magenta-haired woman was sitting alone.

I walked up to her table and said, “That was very cool of you a minute ago, to step in-between those two. Do you mind if I sit with you?”

She looked up at me and said, “It wasn’t anything. Sure, pull up a chair!”

I flipped the nearest unoccupied chair around to her table.

As I sat down, I was surprised to notice a commonality in our food. “Are you vegan, too?” I asked.

She looked at me with solemn, analytical eyes. “It’s a family tradition. My mother was a Hindu priestess, and my father was an Algonquin shaman.”

I tried to express my respect in my face. I said, “Oh… That’s very…”

Her gaze turned impish and light. “I’m messing with ya,” she said. “I don’t even know who my parents are. I noticed the last time I was in here that you folks get better food—something fresh.” She chuckled.

I had to laugh. “Hey, I can’t deny that fresh veggies are better than the dry eggs and oily meat,” I said.

I put down my fork and offered a hand. “I’m Daniel,” I said.

She looked at my hand, then put down her utensil to accept it. “Tara,” she said. “Pleasure.”

We picked our forks back up and each took another mouthful of salad.

“That’s a heavy biblical name,” she said. “No wonder you’re in here.”

I sighed. “Yeah, maybe it helped give me a god complex or two,” I said.

She smiled. “You’re in the lions’ den, Daniel. I’ll bet you told a king something he didn’t wanna hear.”

“It’s kinda funny,” I replied, “but I tend to think that’s the real reason most of us are in here.”

“I know exactly what you mean, brother!” she said.

We both busied ourselves with eating. I was curious about before, with what she’d said during visiting hours, but it’s the sort of thing you learn not to ask about after a couple of stays in the “bin.” With a question like that, there’s the chance of disappointment with the answer, but it’s sometimes worse when you get the answer you thought you wanted to hear.

I returned to my room and conked out for the night. I missed the evening “leisure” therapy activity (karaoke or the like) and the after-dinner snack—gosh, golly.

When I woke, I’m not sure if Bastet was waiting to talk with me or if I had reached a blind, sluggish astral feeler in her direction, like a hand searching for an alarm clock, or a prayer for coffee.

“…No coffee or cigarettes for at least a week, Dan,” she said.

I kicked at the covers and put my pillow over my head.

“Find me a connection,” I said.

“I don’t hang out with dealers,” said Bastet.

“What good is a familiar if she isn’t familiar with the local apothecaries?” I asked.

“Excuse me!” she said. “Don’t talk to me like I’m your servant! I have entire armies at my disposal!”

“Ohmagawd!” I said, “…thousands of Legion!”

“My territory holdings on the astral are among the richest in this world!” she insisted.

“…Vast, fertile tracts of land!” I mused.

She can’t exactly kick me, but she can “zap” me in such a way as to elicit a pretty violent twitch when she feels like it, it seems.

“Where’s a goetic demon when you need a dealer?” I wondered.

“…Often closer than you think,” said a third voice.

I flinched. “Is he with you?” I asked Bastet.

“What would you give me for a smoke and a cup of Joe, Dan?” asked the third.

“Well, he hasn’t got a soul or anything like that,” said Bastet.

“Yeah, she snorted the last of it during hate sex with her ‘ex,’” I said. I twitched violently.

“I’m not interested in a soul or anything like that,” said the third.

“Who is this guy?” I asked Bastet again.

“Um, maybe he’s not such a nice dude, I’m thinking,” said Bastet.

“Is he someone to worry about?” I wondered.

“Um… Maybe a little, yes,” she said.

“You’re worried about him?” I asked.

“…Yes,” said the commander of thousands of Legion.

It got uncomfortably quiet in my head, for a minute.

“Don’t worry about me,” I assured Bastet. ‘I don’t have a soul to sell, anyway.’

“He said he isn’t after a soul,” said Bastet.

“I’m a fan,” said the interloper. “I just want to see you keep doing what you’re doing.”

I laid in bed for another couple of minutes, unsettled by the lack of sophomoric name-calling in my head for a change, and then a nurse came in to take morning vitals. Breakfast would be in about fifteen minutes, she told me. I stared quietly at the ceiling, trying to ignore screaming in the hall.

They summoned us, and we shambled into line for breakfast, stoned into ox-like amiability by the meds. A couple of people threatened to sue to no one in particular. Nobody wants to be here. None of the patients think it helps. All you can do is eat mindlessly.

I sat down with my purportedly vegan pancakes and melon and grieved the absence of smoke and bitterness. Tara came over and sat down without a word or eye contact.

We each took a couple of bites of breakfast. Finally, she looked up.

“Something dark is following you today, Daniel,” she said. “Keep yourself pure. Don’t descend into hate.”

“I suppose that’s good advice, in general,” I said. “I think it’s just the lack of coffee that makes me look like I want to kill someone, though.”

Ha!” she said. “So that’s it.”

We each took another bite of our short stacks.

“What are you in for?” she asked me.

I barely heard the question, as my nerves suddenly reported contortion and dismemberment besides all evidence to the contrary. My eyes bulged, but I tried to hold it together. I put my face in my hands.

“My parents told the cops I threatened them, which isn’t true,” I said.

I needed to move, but I only allowed myself to wiggle my toes.

“They think anything is justified in having me hospitalized when they decide I’m unwell,” I added.

Tara gave me a worried look. “Are you okay?”

“No, honestly,” I said as I bounced my heels, out of instinct. “It feels like I have to move and all my body parts are mapped on wrong.”

“That’s the meds,” she said. “‘Akathisia,’ I think they call it.”

“Not sure,” I said, fidgeting into a dozen different postures to try to find the least bizarre-feeling. “They just upped my dose, but I thought it happened when you start a new med.”

“What does it feel like?” she asked.

“…Velvet friction-burn and intense guilt,” I said, “and like my torso is inside-out—I don’t know.”

“Maybe it’s the war-machine sucking the last drops of your soul out,” said an unfamiliar voice I thought I’d left back in my room.

Tara said, “They might give you something for that.”

“I don’t think I want any more meds at the moment,” I said, squirming. “Sometimes, they’re worse than the illness.”

Tara sighed. “I wish I could shoulder some of the weight of your cross, Daniel,” she said.

We both took another mouthful of breakfast, as I swiveled my feet on their balls.

“You’re right, though,” she added.

I managed to hide the side-effects from the staff at breakfast. I skipped morning therapy again to study my quantum field theory text. I knew my parents would come to visit today, and the last thing I needed before that was therapy.

By lunch, the akathisia—or whatever it was—had become severe. I sat with Tara again, and I think we were both happy as middle schoolers to not have to sit alone in the cafeteria, but I wasn’t much for conversation.

“This kind of stoning is really so much more humane than what they did in the Bible, isn’t it, Dan?” said a voice coming from a dark and squalid place. “Too bad you have the wrong delusion. You could convert, you know.”

“Michael, row the boat ashore…” proclaimed the poor woman with too much of the right delusion.

“Faith is wasted on the faithful,” muttered Tara.

We both chuckled as I bounced and swiveled on the balls of my feet.

There was little I could do to either concentrate or relax between lunch and visiting hours. As I tossed on my dilapidated mattress, I almost wished I honestly believed in a benevolent “higher-power,” but not to the point of rejecting the balance of evidence.

“Do you love your parents?” asked Bastet.

“I’ll never stop loving them,” I said. “I wish they’d understand why I think certain expressions of their protectiveness are toxic and part of their neuroses, though.”

“How do you maintain this wall between thinking of them as your human, forgivably ignorant parents,” asked the least welcome of “voices,” “and the falsely deified tyrants of a five thousand year dynasty?”

“…Usually with off-label psychotropics, believe it or not,” I said.

“Oh, I believe it,” said the “Dark Lord,” himself.

There was a knock at my door. “You have visitors, Daniel,” said a voice on the other side.

It felt like I tumbled down the hall, the vector of gravity’s pull flailing every which direction, but averaging to deliver me to that single point of infinite density that might as well have contained all of space and all of matter. My parents were discernibly exhausted. I was exhausted. I looked down at the table, guilty, but I wasn’t sure that I’d even done anything wrong. None of us deserved this, but here we were—again.

“Tell them exactly what you think of them lying to have you put here, Daniel,” said nobody.

“Daniel, even if Bastet is actually talking to you right this moment, she gets you by now,” said Bastet.

I looked at my parents. They looked back at me. We all knew the gory details. We all knew each other’s justifications, the shape of the argument, and the weight of a soul.

“I love you,” I said, choking up.

“We love you, too,” said my mother.

“We love you too, Dan,” said my father, crying.

The rest of my visit to the hospital is a blur. There was “therapy” and proselytizing by Christian nurses that made me happy I occasionally talked with “Satan.” My parents brought competitive word games for visiting hours, and it didn’t matter who won. Side-effects got worse; side-effects got better. I blew off half the activities to study the soft-cover textbooks my parents brought me, but I never missed arts-and-crafts. There’s only one other episode from those weeks that I remember with any particular clarity or emphasis.

It was the day I finally left. My folks and I had a meeting with a doctor and a social worker, and I was one of the lucky ones who had a family to come home to after the hospital, who wanted him. They’d packed my clothes up in a garbage bag, and gave me a shot in the arm in case I got any ideas, and I carried my soft cover texts out to the doors you only pass through once. My parents were waiting for me on the other side, and I was walking down the hall with a nurse.

“Daniel!” I heard Tara shout from down the hall.

I turned back.

“They care about you,” called Tara. “It’s hard for them, too.”

I nodded, and I waved to her. “You take care of yourself, Tara!” I called back.

“Daniel!” she shouted. We locked eyes across the distance.

She pointed a finger to the sky. “Her, too,” she said. She drew the finger to her temple, like a gun.

Without another word, the daughter of a Hindu priest and an Algonquin shaman turned down the hall and walked back into the lions’ den. I followed her the long way around.

No responses yet

Falling Up

Jan 17 2015 Published by under Poetry

Gods, gift me the all-righting grace of cats,

for, when I fall, no hand will intercede.

“Trust” means another thing to acrobats;

the clowns could start an elephant stampede.

I trusted you as far as I could grasp

with knees wrapped ’round a hundred-foot trapeze,

and, when I’d let you go, the crowds would gasp.

Without a net, I feared the slightest breeze,

but I pretended gravity might cheat

if falling toward the heavens would restore

my perfect place in nature, at your feet

in Limbo ‘tween your poise and ‘neath the floor.

I never feel the ground beneath my shoe.

I could let go, to plummet up anew.

No responses yet

Psycho-Christ Versus the Bad Mama Twins in the Rolling Holiday Battle Cage

Jan 03 2015 Published by under Short Stories

“It’s settled, then,” said the bearded one at the head of the table. “We obviously can’t have you running around, psychotic, trying to start some sort of ridiculous pseudo-religious uprising, but I think we’re basically convinced that you’re not likely to end up in the state you did a few years ago anytime soon, again—do you agree?”

Of course, it was purely paranoia, but I could swear they’d tightened a few screws on the restraining mechanism, pierced manifold through my psychic biology, specifically for the occasion. I couldn’t get the overwhelming scent of orange out of my elbows, but my elbows were about six meters away, anyway, between the nape of my neck and my ears.

I tried to locate my vocal apparatus, to respond. “I guess, if I’m supposed to believe that a majority of the world doesn’t want to own up to the universally known fact of their hard astral counterparts while incarnate—if I’m supposed to believe that in this room—” I said, “but I’m supposedly epistemologically incapable of knowing this in any other context, but you’re just going to tighten the thumbscrews whenever I naturally provide some evidence to the contrary, but nobody—”

“Dan!” said the smartly-dressed woman to his right. “You’re not helping your case. We get it. You’re not going to give up the ghost on that one—no pun intended.” (I’m sure she’d intended the pun.) “What we’re trying to determine, primarily, is whether you’re a danger to yourself or anyone at this point. I suppose you’re free to foot-notate every day-to-day interaction with the possibility of a conspiracy—I think many functional schizophrenics do, honestly—so long as you have sufficient insight to parse those suspicions as unreal, or perhaps somehow differently real, and as nothing on which you need to act in violence, as we think you’ve demonstrated.”

She adjusted her suit jacket. “Additionally, we can’t have you jumping in front of traffic or walking into open campfires at the behest of ‘the voices,'” she added. “It is our opinion, though, after observing your behavior to some level of scrutiny, that you currently mark a clear delineation between what we’ll call ‘this’ world and ‘that.'”

I would have grimaced if I could feel my face. “I find it ironic that ‘that’ world’s requirements for my behavior are so similar to ‘this’ world’s.”

“Perhaps it’s fortunate,” she said. “So, again, tell us what your plans are for the coming year, Daniel.”

Visions of eight tiny reindeer roasting on an open fire danced through my head. I said, “If my parents are still willing to host me and the heavenly host, as they say they are, I guess I’m going to find a full-time job, pay back my debts, and try to just stay out of the bin.”

The room nodded in approval.

“Then there’s just one more thing, Daniel,” said the well-dressed woman. “I have a personal request.”

I didn’t want to hear whatever it was, but I was a captive. “What’s that?” I asked.

She closed her eyes, removed her glasses, and put her hands to her temples. “Daniel…” she started.

She took a pause too long for comfort. I wanted to squirm.

“Yes?” I responded.

She opened her eyes to glare. “Every year at Christmas, I see you in the same chewed-up jeans, shoes like a twelve-year-old, and that ratty Lars Frederiksen t-shirt.”

“Annie…” said the bearded one.

“No, John, let me speak!” she cut him off with a sweep of her hand.

“Every year at Christmas at my aunt’s, you wear the same freakin’ threadbare clothes and scummy shoes you’ve been wearing since high school—and I can’t take it anymore!”

The rest of the room groaned.

A squeak issued from my left side. Bastet offered, “Eris, that really isn’t the point of this—”

“You shaddup, you overgrown housecat enabler!” said the god of strife.

The feeling of having my shoulder blades wrapped around my feet, despite being discernibly illusory, was becoming nearly as uncomfortable as the lecture.

I tried to locate either of my middle fingers, but failed. “Um, Mom—”

You listen to me, first!” she declared. “I am sick of—every yearbattling with you on Christmas morning to get you to shave and wear something besides those goddamn clown shoes—and white socks! Then, you make us late to get on the road for my aunt’s—you and your no-good brother—and I can’t take it this year!”

“Eris,” said one of the representatives, “this is an official proceeding—”

I, don’t, care!” frothed my mother. “He’s fucking old enough to wear a decent pair of pants and a sweater! This is why he doesn’t have a girlfriend!”

“I thought it was the chronic schizophrenia and my overbearing mother,” I said, as I felt my spine twist into a pretzel.

Bastet gaped. “Annie, are you actually turning up the juice on the soul cage—as you air your dirty laundry in front of a damned federal legislature?!”

Only Hera’s mastery of the indignant Italian mother routine exceeded Eris’.

“He’d do it if he loved me!” she whined.

Bastet’s characteristic purple aura turned red.

“That’s a military-grade cage!” she shouted.

I could no longer feel if I had limbs, much less feel where they were. I think I started to have a panic attack.

“Dad…” I squealed.

The bearded one looked at me with some redeemable note of sympathy, then at his consort.

“Dan, she’s right,” he said.

The Ancient Egyptian principle of truth and balance slapped her forehead and exchanged incredulous looks with Bastet.

“Alright, two things,” said Maat, looking at my parents’ evil twins. “First, we’re about to go into recess. This is the last order of business: Dan’s not a danger to anyone, and we need to stop treating him like he is. Issues of his particular existential condition left aside, allowing experimentation into that pressing scientific concern we’ve talked about without him, he deserves a relatively normal human life. Anyone say ‘Nay’?”

No one said anything. Maat looked around.

“Okay, Dan, you made parole, so to speak,” said Maat, “so we’re officially in recess. Secondly, it’s now criminal for you to do this to him, without preregistration of intent with the Council toward a particular end, you sick fucks,” she said to my parents’ doppelgangers. “Take off the cage or you’re each going in one.”

Immediately, my spine mostly uncoiled. The panic stopped. I could form sentences. My elbows were still in the next room, though.

“Are there any permanent effects from that thing?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Maat, “but you mostly deserve it. Wear a decent shirt to Christmas.”

“…And shoes!” added Eris.

“…And shoes,” said Maat. “Everyone enjoy the year’s end.”

In my head I heard a gavel hit a block, and back on planet Earth I heard my mother shout from her bedroom.

“Merry Christmas, everyone! Get the fuck up, take a shower, shave, put on some decent clothing, and get in the car!”

The disorientation of waking somewhere unexpected was offset by the familiarity of waking up with a slight hangover.

I have a dream like this once every couple of years, but the politics don’t stop when I wake up. That is, I know I’m dreaming the Council proceedings, but I’m holding off on saying whether they’re “real,” still. As a paranoid schizophrenic, sometimes the subjective difference between dreams and waking life boils down to a strong cup of coffee.

There was a knock on my door. I groaned.

My dad opened it—John Strano, not Bizarro-World Dad who’d supported my mother in leveraging a military-grade restraint and torture device against my usual choice of wardrobe a minute ago. At least, I’m willing to concede in my better moments that the man is probably unaware of the actions of the legend. The man would have likely maintained as well that I deserved it, though.

“Merry Christmas,” he said. “We gotta get going. Get in the shower, and we’ll take breakfast on the road.”

I tried to say “Merry Christmas” back, but the way I gurgled it probably sounded more like “Murder Christians.”

“I made coffee,” he added, as he turned to my brother’s door opposite mine. He knocked, and brother Christian screamed.

I rolled out of bed and stumbled down the stairs, eyes slits, and started my routine. I don’t remember pouring coffee, but when I came to I was in my coat with a cup in one hand and a rolled cigarette in the other on the back stairs outside the house. I tried to pretend that the sensation like my arms were on backward and my head wasn’t properly attached to my body were the after effects of magical torture, but deep down I knew it really was probably caused by the neuroleptics or the illness they were supposed to treat. One way or the other, I’ll hold that my politics are a bigger motivator of the semi-compulsory antipsychotic regimen, while billions of people believe an omnipotent deity was born this day.

“Merry Christmas,” said Bastet, making me jump.

‘You’re still there?’ I thought at her. ‘Happy Yule.’

“Happy Yule,” she said. “Whadya get me?”

‘This,’ I thought, raising a middle finger.

“Is that all?” she asked.

‘Actually, I got you two,’ I thought.

“Where’s the other?” she asked.

I raised the index finger on the same hand. For a moment, both worlds were silent.

“That’s a neat magic trick, Dan,” she said.

‘I also do Bar Mitzvahs,’ I thought.

“How does it feel to be a free man?” she asked.

‘Was that real?’ I wondered. ‘Sometimes I can’t tell which dreams are prophetic from which are just fulfillments of freakish wishes.’

“Do you truly believe that you’re having a conversation with an Ancient Egyptian cat deity at the moment?” she asked.

‘No offense,’ I thought, ‘but most signs probably point to “no.”‘

“Then let’s just move forward as if the gods apologized to you,” she said, “for the constant verbal abuse leading to sleepless nights and holidays in the hospital and stuff.”

‘I guess some schizophrenics suspect the world of secretly plotting to make them happy, at times,’ I thought.

“Do you accept?” she asked.

I took the last swig of my coffee and last drag of my cigarette. Years of training had honed my timing to the point of unconsciousness.

I said aloud, “Yeah, well, I guess it’s Christmas and shit—”

There was a quick rap on the sliding glass door behind me, and my father opened it, as I nearly tumbled down the stairs.

“Dan, we gotta get moving,” he said.

‘Like my bowels,’ I thought. “Alright, alright, I’m done.” I replied.

My mother shouted from the kitchen, “Wear one of the shirts we got you, and don’t you dare wear those stupid sneakers, like you’re freakin’ twelve years old! I’m warning you!”

I shuddered. “Merry fuckin’ Christmas to you, too, Mom!” I yelled.

“Merry Christmas!” she shouted back with a giggle.

“Wait—he’s not done yet,” said my younger brother, shimmying past my father onto the back steps.

“Oh… smoking buddies?” asked my father.

We both nodded.

“Oh,” said Dad. “Hurry up, the two of you.” He shut the door and headed off toward the kitchen.

“Merry Christmas,” I said to brother Christian.

“Merry Christmas,” he responded, pulling a menthol from its box.

“I’m quitting for New Year’s,” I said.

“Yeah, me too,” he said, and we both laughed.

“It’s tough with the psychosis,” I said. “It seems to help with the symptoms, sometimes.”

“I completely understand,” he said, lighting his cigarette. “If nothing else, it helps you cope with the stress.”

“How’ve you been feeling?” I asked. He’d come in from Boston, and I hadn’t seen him in months.

“Good,” he said. “My doctor has me on one of the newer meds. It’s worlds better than the other stuff, for me. You should really look into it. You’re on one from the previous generation.”

I leaned back against the railing. “Yeah, maybe,” I said. “I kind of like my ‘whisper-it-all.'”

Christian guffawed. “Some of the drug names are so stupid, they’re hard to take seriously,” he said.

“It beats ‘end-it-all,” I said.

He laughed. “Who’d name a drug that?” he asked.

“It probably has something to do with the organic chemistry,” I said.

I looked down at my feet. “You know, I don’t totally trust the meds, Chris.”

“Why not?” he asked.

I said, “The mind isn’t the product of a few signaling chemicals dispersing along the concentration gradient. It’s entirely physical, but it’s computational. It’s literally programmable, in the sense of a Turing state.”

“Wait, what do you mean?” asked Chris.

“Changing the chemical balance of the brain seems to me sometimes like trying to debug software by tuning the voltages of electrical components in a computer. Changing chemical balance could still be therapeutic, but that’s not the root of all mental illness, so just taking a pill can sometimes only do so much.”

“Oh, but cigarettes help with the symptoms sometimes, right?” Christian shook his head. “So why not therapy, then?”

“Oh, therapy is great,” I said, “sometimes. The drugs are helpful sometimes, as well. There’s certain kinds of ‘therapy’ that can only come from self-introspection, which therapists encourage, but they’re tied to a pathological reality condition as I am.”

Christian said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about, Dan, except for the part about brains as computers.”

The sliding glass door opened without a knock, this time, when my bladder would have appreciated the warning.

“Guys,” said Dad, “let’s go!”

“Alright, alright,” I said, “I’m hoppin’ in the shower, now.”

I headed up to the shower and turned the hot water up to nearly full blast, like I always do, and watched my skin turn flush red before soaping and shampooing. I reminisced about playing with jumper pins on the motherboard of one of our old PCs when I’d wanted to “improve” it. One good little static shock could do in an exposed machine in. As I toweled off, I couldn’t help thinking about how I used to swallow cough medicine by the bottle.

“Wear those,” said Bastet, as I rooted through my pants drawer.

‘Why those?’ I wondered.

“They accentuate your junk,” she said.

I recoiled at my own sick mind. ‘This is a family affair,’ I thought.

“Oh, am I invited?” she asked.

‘Sure,’ I thought, ‘It’s not like I have any control over what you do.’

“How about my boyfriend?” she added.

“She’s never going to stop doing that, Dan.” said the deification of strife. “Tell her ‘no’ and see what happens.”

“How do you know it isn’t him?” Bastet retorted.

“Is it?” asked my evil stepmother.

I had already picked a (loose) pair of pants and a sweater. I started to put them on, both legs of the pants at once.

‘At this point, it’s not like I expect her to suddenly come running in the flesh one day because I hallucinated a particularly flirtatious conversation with her, Ma,’ I thought. ‘Of all my myriad god complexes, though, it seems like she consistently defends me—against you.’

“‘A drunkard’s dream if I ever did see one…'” said Eris.

‘The boozer doesn’t fall far from the tree,’ I replied.

“You’re wearing that?” asked my mother’s revenge.

“Dan! We’re late!” shouted my dad from the hall.

“You both might have some fuzzy idealized vision of how I could look,” I muttered quietly as I put on my shoes, “but, in reality, it doesn’t even matter what I wear.”

I bounded down the stairs, but stopped short when the All-Knowing Earth Mother sucker-punched me with that look.

“Oh, you’re wearing that?” she asked.

“Tell me to get the fuck in car,” I said, and we got the fuck in the car.

“Do we have the food?” Mom asked, once we were seated.

“We have the food,” said Dad.

“…The gifts?” she asked.

“We have the gifts,” he said.

“…Cats taken care of?” she asked.

“Annie, can we get on the frickin’ road already?” he said.

“Don’t start with me, John!” she warned.

“Annie, the kids already made us late!” he said.

“The kids” exchanged looks and rolled their eyes.

Are the cats taken care of, John?!” my mother practically screamed.

Yes! The damn cats are taken care of!” he shouted.

As he put the car into “drive,” Chris and I both started laughing, which was unforgivable. Mom immediately turned around to share the Christmas cheer.

“Listen, you two rat fink bastards,” said the incarnation of sarcasm, “I’m warning you—I’ll kill ya dead—”

I snorted and Christian gaped at the point she said “bastards.”

“Mom,” said Chris, “you do realize—”

“—I know what I said, you sonuvabitch!” she yelled. “Listen!

We were quiet, all of a sudden.

Mom raised an unassailable finger. “I do not want to hear one peep about how the party takes too long and you want to go home, or how you’re tired all day because we got on the road too early, or how you’re a general misanthrope and you can’t stand to be around the family for eight hours. You’re adults, we’re driving you, nobody made you come, and you’re perfectly capable of socializing politely—with a smile—for one goddamn day. Am I clear?”

“What’s clear,” I said, “is that the immediate family is somehow obligated to become your emotional punching bag every year at Christmas because you don’t know what to do with your anxiety about the holiday but project its origin.”

I’m not an emotional punching bag,” said my father.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “then I’ll just speak for how I feel, but I’ve heard the same undeserved polemic every Christmas morning for the past sixteen years, when none of us started on the war path except Mom.”

“John,” shouted Mom, “do you see what they do? Why can’t we just have a pleasant Christmas for once?!

“I know, Annie, every year…” he said.

“Okay, we haven’t done anything yet,” said Christian.

“Am I nuts,” I asked, “or is she the one who started with a sour attitude on the offensive?”

“Well you are nuts,” said John. “…The two of you, actually.”

Christian looked over at me. “That was supposed to make us laugh,” he said.

“Jesus fucking Christ, I know,” I said.

“Daniel,” said my mother, “every year, you come to my aunt’s and complain— ‘There’s no vegan food for me,’ ‘I can’t stand being with the family,’ ‘You made me come,’—“

“I never once, in nearly thirty years, complained about Angie’s impeccable hospitality or the food,” I countered. “In fact, I’ve never said any of that, but you worry that’s what I’m thinking—when it isn’t—and you become indignant about your own projection, because it gives you an explicit immediate conflict to stress over where you have the moral high ground, and I’m sick of you burning me in effigy! You need to find a better way to cope with your stress over the holiday!”

My father had to ask, “Daniel, did you take your medication today?”

I bit my lip and looked out the window for the next quarter minute.

“Daniel, I asked you a question,” he insisted.

“I heard your question, and I understand your actual reasons for asking it better than you do,” I smouldered.

“What are my ‘actual reasons’?” he asked.

“It’s your trump card to invalidate anything I think or feel that you don’t like—like you attribute every adult decision I’ve made in my life that you don’t agree with to some involuntary, senseless manifestation of mental illness.”

“I’m just asking you whether you took your medicine,” he said.

“Dan,” said my mother, “I think your father is just trying to express concern for your health, in his slightly insensitive way.”

“All you folks ever really care about is my health,” I said, “like when you lied to the cops, saying I threatened you, to have me hospitalized.”

Daniel!” she shouted, “You needed to be hospitalized! There was no way around it! You weren’t well, and you weren’t staying in our house like that!”

“We told the police what happened to the best of our memory,” said my father.

“It’s funny that I remember those nights better then you,” I said, “even what the so-called ‘voices’ screamed in my ear, but you can’t even remember the words to Grateful Dead songs you’ve been singing for forty years.”

“Dan—” my father started.

“—John…” was all my mother said, shaking her head.

Her super-powered alter ego wasn’t quite as reticent. “Every single Christmas, Daniel…” said Eris.

‘I guess I could just eat shit instead,’ I thought. ‘Shit’s vegan, right?’

“What did I do to deserve this?” she asked.

‘You or her?’ I wondered. ‘She’s not having this conversation. She didn’t take every opportunity to practically hold me down to try to break and retrain my identity and opinions.’

“So you hold your mother responsible for that?” she pressed.

‘What I was saying is rather that I have to hold you responsible only for your actions and her only for hers,’ I “said.”

“…Like the supposedly baseless hospitalizations?” she asked. “…The chemical ‘mind-control’? …The ‘pathologization’ of the decisions of yours she doesn’t agree with?”

I fidgeted in my seat. ‘I know what you’re trying to do, Eris. You want me to double-down on my parental baggage? Do you get off scot-free when the lines get a little blurry and I call her by your name?’

Bastet pinched my ear. “Dan, don’t even play into her,” she said.

‘“Dad” is conspicuously quiet,’ I noticed.

“He’s driving,” said Eris.

‘Right, sure,’ I thought. ‘“God” can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, even when I’m actually the one chewing the gum.’

“He doesn’t want to talk with you,” said Eris. “All you two ever do is fight. Change your attitude.”

‘You’d do it for me, if you could,’ I thought.

“Stick the knife right there, Dan,” she said. “You would, if you could ever prove these wonderful little ‘family meetings’ weren’t a product of mental illness.”

The real Annie Strano shifted and cleared her throat.

It was like I’d been struck. I grappled with this chronic feeling I get, like I have to parse two proven ideas that are impossibly at odds with each other.

“I don’t know what I do to deserve this,” said my mother. “I’m always a ‘bad mother,’ somehow. Whatever I do, it’s not up to standard, and the same for your father. We’re human, Daniel. So are you.”

“…Except, you’re not,” said Eris, “and neither are we.”

“Shut up, Eris,” I muttered unconsciously.

“Oh, now I’m ‘Eros’ again,” said my mother.

“Right, I’m ‘Allah,’” said my Dad.

I let my head and eyes fall back and stared at the roof of the car. For some reason, it was particularly frustrating to me that Annie never understood the difference between the (ostensibly male) god of sexual love and the Great Hag presiding universally over strife—or “chaos,” in her modern cult—when I had pointed out the difference to her several times, in a number of different contexts, because it’s a particularly embarrassing thing to have your mother running around telling everyone on the block when the truth of the matter might be marginally less Oedipal.

“I thought her grandfather was Eros, in this incarnation,” whispered Bastet.

‘You’ll have to excuse her,’ I tried to explain. ‘We’re a family of inbred pagans.’

“I take offense at that,” said the Holy Father.

Eris and “Al” got a kick out of that. Honestly, so did I.

“What’s funny?” asked my mother. She sounded more worried than angry.

“Folks,” I said, “the secret identity thing is admittedly ridiculous, but I can’t help it. Your doppelgangers never shut up, even with the meds, but even I’ll admit, it’s basically impossible that Rome and Judea formed some sort of clandestine alliance by marriage, reincarnated over thousands of years into the people in this very car.”

“But that’s just what we want you to think,” said Eris.

I twitched.

“Daniel,” said my father, “I’ll ask you again: are you taking your meds?”

“I swear to any god besides those two that, yes, I am on a totally regular medication schedule,” I said.

“Do you need to up your dose?” asked my father.

“Folks, I’m frustrated because so many family arguments turn into something you think you can fix by forcing me to take more medication that just stones me into being less likely to want to point out your neurotic tendencies,” I said. “You both came into this car ready to blow over your own holiday stress. Christian and I got a lecture because Mom’s boiling over about showing the right face to her family, taking charge of the party, and not being able to puppeteer the behavior of her children as an extension of her identity, feeling generally out of control like she does every year. Dad, you’re the road warrior, because she’s almost literally not even capable of driving on a highway, and ultimately it’s just easier to give the “kid” a pill than somehow miraculously part the Red Sea of traffic so Mom will stop flipping out—just one iota less. I’ll admit it was weird that I accidentally just called Mom ‘Eris,’ but it wouldn’t mean we’re all coping with our stress healthfully just because I didn’t stand up for myself when you folks take it out on me and Chris wrongfully!”

“It was weird that you called me ‘Eros,’ Dan,” said my mother.

My eyes bulged. ‘It’s weird how little your counterpart really knows about how I actually think, ‘Eros,’” I thought at Eris.

“It was fucking creepy,” said Christian.

“I have to admit that you seem perfectly coherent, though,” she added, “but I want to see you take your medication when we get home, and you talk with your doctor about this.”

“Sure thing, Mom…” I said.

‘…But I’m gonna make damn sure you hear, since she never listens,’ I beamed at the mothership, ‘that your control issues stemming from your relationship with your parents, especially your mother, has led you to demand a totally inappropriate level over control over my mental health and its maintenance, and if I wasn’t facing violence in my previous living situation, and if the economy wasn’t crap, I’d never tolerate what you demand of me in exchange for a violence-free home and food.’

“I’m sure it was all part of our plan,” said Eris.

“Dan is right,” said Chris, “that we really didn’t do anything to deserve that lecture, Mom.”

“Alright, can we call this fight over and try to have a happy holiday?” asked Mom.

“Wait,” said Chris, “there’s something else I want to clear up. Dan, I was the one who said you threatened Mom and Dad that night.”

It got quiet in the car. I was measuring my response.

Mom beat me to the punch. She said, “Daniel, we love you, but you have an illness.”

“We were worried about you, Daniel,” said my father.

I sighed. “Worry isn’t an excuse to take control of another person’s brain function away from them, though, folks.”

“Who took control of your brain away from you?” asked John.

“We did,” said Eris.

“My treatment plan should be between me and my doctor,” I said, “but you folks have to dictate it. You do the same for other members of the family. Including me, practically everyone you’re close to—Mom’s mother, Dad’s brother, and Christian—all carry diagnostic labels that you folks petitioned for, and leaned on us to have applied, and leverage in familial disagreements about lifestyle, but you folks don’t seek therapy or answer to anyone for your, well—frankly, Mom, for your debilitating anxiety and self-image problems, fixated on food, that play into your general neurotic need for control over your family life, that’s a legacy of my grandparents’ home life, and your shared codependency, folks.”

“Codependency?!” shouted my father. “Annie, are we codependent?”

“No, John,” said Mom. “We might be slight control freaks—not in the way he wants to make it out—”

“—But it keeps us thin and the house spotless!” said Dad.

“Exactly!” said Mom. “…But I’m not thin. Oh, I can’t even think about the food at the party. We’re going on a diet, January first.”

“Aren’t we already on a diet?” asked my father.

“But I gained weight!” said my mother.

“That tends to happen, when you weight train multiple times daily,” I said.

“That’s a lie,” said my mother.

“She’d seek treatment for clucking like a chicken and growing feathers, Dan,” said my father, “but she wants the eggs.”

“Right,” I said, “so, about your stewardship of my mental health…”

Mom exclaimed, “Daniel! All of this is besides the point!” (It wasn’t besides the point in the least.) “I know when my son is sick! Don’t you tell me that I can’t tell the difference between when my son is sick and when my son is my son!”

“Does your son get a say in it?” I asked.

No!” shouted the entire car.

“So, who’s worse?” asked Eris.

I had to just sigh, again. There really was no hope.

“I love you folks,” I said aloud.

“We love you, too, Dan,” said my mother.

I spent the rest of the car ride thinking about power struggles waged for control of my own head with my pseudo- and human parents, and the night I’d been hospitalized for “threatening” them. I had managed to win over public opinion in my head against them, for a moment, and my “god parents” had histrionically called for knives in their chests, with no more literal intent than Eris just had in calling for the same during that holiday morning car trip, and I took it no more sincerely than I believed my mother thought I was a “rat fink bastard son of a bitch.” I was so incensed, though, I exclaimed how, “You’re lucky I don’t, with the way you’ll treat your own son, but I’ll never stop loving you!”

In reality, we’d been fighting for days, about things besides and including psychiatric medication, but that twisted, broken, and inscrutable proclamation of love had come “out of nowhere,” in the middle of the night. Trying to shift perspectives, allowing for imperfect human knowledge, I’ll still hold that people’s paternal pity is misguided at times. I was walking to a friend’s house, to remove myself from a toxicity that invariably pulled me back, when the cops stopped me. They found out I’d studied physics, and at their (transparent, yet probably somewhat earnest) request I gave them a fifteen minute explanation of special relativity that I still think was one of my better ones. One of the officers was disappointed to hear that I think SETI has ruled out intelligent alien life in a large neighborhood of Earth, but I tried to assure him that most physicists think it’s likely to be out there, somewhere. It didn’t stop them from claiming legal right to have me hospitalized.

I imagine it’s tough being part of a political family during the holidays, based on my hours in the simulator. People judge your family, and it’s based on the stupidest criteria. They judge your religion and sect, or lack thereof. They judge the food you eat—how much it costs and to whom you give the leftovers. They judge what the kids wear and whether they’re “well-behaved”—at probably the most stressful time of year for most of us, when you’re in inescapably close quarters with the expectations of spirit and unconditional good-will, on a day of the year that simply must shine like a beacon of light and love in the season of death and illness—by ancient intention, days marked at the natural nadir of light.

We went over the river and through the woods without further incident, to the home of my mother’s aunt, who might or might not be the pagan deity Hestia. There, my family ate a traditional feast of seven fishes, possibly secretly discussing political plans for the next session of Earth’s highest astral legislature with the Judeo-Christian-Islamic god himself, or not.

If anybody wonders where Jesus fits into this delusion, I’m pretty sure he’s my cousins’ dog.

No responses yet