Monday, March 29, 2010

Patient X – complete version

They found you sulking in the corner of the room, blubbering forth a series of incoherent syllables that never quite morphed in status to words. Your weathered features, punctuated with mismatched hues of yellow, green and blue, sparked a level of sympathy often reserved for the congenitally infirm. It was a miracle that you were still alive, as the fall had rendered your legs useless, yet there you were, waiting patiently for rescue. It is the one thing you can do well - wait. Wait for someone else to do whatever it was that needed to be done, wait for someone else to take the blame, wait for time to pass by and maybe - just maybe, everyone would forget all the bad stuff. They didn't know this about you, and the bruises did not let on that there was a secret to be told. And so you babbled, like a Pentecostal baptised in the Holy Spirit, savouring the attention and relieved that you would soon be warm, comfortable and well fed.
I watched them gently wrap your disjointed limbs with a series of bandages, swathe your soul with tender words of encouragement, love and purpose. It was more than you knew you deserved, but why would you tell them that? You saw no reason to stop the pretence, no reason to admit that you had done nothing to deserve such kindness. I watched as they registered their newly scrubbed John Doe into a private hospital ward, and I waited too, knowing that mine was a game of patience, more so than yours.
You saw the pity in their eyes as each of them talked to you, trying to elicit a memory, a cord of life that could be used to reel in information that might help solve this puzzle. And it worked. It worked because your memory was never broken to begin with, just your ability to articulate the role you played in developing each and every one of them. I was the only one privy to these buried visions. You took solace from their faces, using the pity that percolated with ongoing tenacity to affirm the story that would now become your mask. I had anticipated this, as all too often I had found myself shackled to you, forced to listen to the lies that tumbled from your mouth at every opportunity. You sat mute through their questions, your eyes glazed in pretence of amnesia. I, on the other hand, listened to the memories launch themselves around your head.
Each question asked of you was littered with judgement. Never for you though. They were too taken by the beguiling nature of your age; your injuries duped them into believing that you had suffered more than any human deserved. Their scorn was reserved for those whom they deemed as being responsible for your fate. You and I both know that is you. You are responsible for this; I will never cease to tell you this. You will hear my voice as a constant reminder of the role you played in this. I know you will take solace from these people, as I take mine from time. You cannot escape time, you cannot escape me.
"Surely someone is looking for you? Your clothes are well cared for, there were photos of a young girl in your wallet." They wait. I am amused by their constant attempts to get you to remember. They do not understand why no-one is looking for you. You and I both know why she does not come. She will never come. I know you can hear me. I see the recognition in your eyes. I can see that the shame is hard to swallow, but I notice that, once again, you seek a reprieve from the past. You remind yourself of all the accolades your friends gave you. How proud they were of you that you raised the child by yourself. You basked in the glory of their praise. You used their voices to drown out mine. I know you could hear me ask you to stop. I saw you falter several times when you heard my questions. I asked you why you did this to her. I scoffed at your lies. You knew that it was wrong; still you accepted your friends' excuses for your behaviour. I knew then, as I know now, that as long as no-one else knew the truth, you would be happy.
"Is this your daughter? What is your name? We must find her. I can't believe that she left you there!" They are still fooled by your age. It is curious that human kindness prompts us to see only innocence in the very young and the very old. Now the very young I understand. You do too don't you? Think about her. She was young, full of innocence, beautiful. The old however, they have lived a life; they know what will disgust others and what will inspire. You knew this, just as those Nazi criminals knew when they immigrated after the war. Now when one of them is arrested people find it so hard to believe that they were evil. The Nazi's greyed features and thinning hair, curved spines and sun worn hands convince the world that someone so frail could not have committed such a crime. In the same way these people now judge your daughter. They look at you and think of their own gentle grandfathers. They would never abandon their kin, and don't understand why you have been left behind. Listen to them. Hear them. They are discussing your daughter. They don't know who she is yet, but they are disgusted by her. Their disgust fuels the pity they feel for you and enhances the tenderness in the care they offer. To them you are a valued member of the community, cruelly left when you needed the most care. Look at their admiration for you; ill-deserved, but only you and I know this.
Are you sick of my voice yet? I know that you pretend that you can't hear me. I will keep talking. She deserves that much at least. They think of her in the most disrespectful of terms, and you let them with your silence. Your hubris fuelled ruse is more important than her. When will you stop being like that? I have something to show you. You don't even need to open your eyes. Remember this? It is your child. You did this to her. She did not tell, you made sure of that. She stood silently as you grabbed a fist full of her hair and slammed her head against the door jamb. Your rage knew no bounds, and you could feel the power swell in your heart as you berated your fragile offspring. She stood there – that did not surprise you, as she always stood in sullen defiance. It angered you to see her able to stand so strong throughout your barrage. She never spoke, but her eyes were fire; a furnace that warmed her through those cold nights of shame and humiliation. The pattern remained the same. You would sit there seething each night, reminding yourself about how hard your life was because of this child. The hate would build, you could feel it clawing at your chest, pulling your sternum up so hard that you would soon stand resolute. This night was no different except that she was sleeping. She rarely slept, knowing that you were prone to wake her on a whim, only to ask her to complete a series of household tasks that really could have waited until the morning. The night was easier for you this way. If you had waited until morning the guilt of what you had planned to do would have made you stop your infantile behaviour. Instead, you chose to allow your anger to direct your actions through the night, and slept through the morning so that by the time you had risen the series of events could be wiped from your mind.
The first clue was the stands of hair that were trapped in the roughened edges of the jamb. You paid them no mind, choosing instead to yell at this child through gritted teeth. It was only when you saw the blood dripping down her legs and pooling on the floor that you panicked. Did you know that she did not even feel the pain of the cut? It was only as you dragged her to the bathroom, and stood her shivering body in the shower recess that she noticed the strange wet substance dripping down her back. I was with you when you called your friend to ask for advice. Your daughter was listening too; the pain of the deep gash to her head now pulsating through her body. She heard you ask your friend for advice, ask if you should take her to the hospital, then silence as you got the answer you wanted. She was waiting to be taken for medical care when you returned, instead you told her that she would be ok and to go back to bed. I saw the stoic resistance return to her face as you let her know that she would not be getting the attention she needed; relief too, because she loved you in her own way and didn't know what to do if she was forced to leave her home. Exhausted, you left her in the bathroom and returned to bed.
She is the one these Samaritans now judge. They do not know of the nights filled with terror, the demolishing of spirit that you commanded. Let me take you back to that time. The hallway clock ticked inanely, stretching the night past 2.00am, 3.00am, 4.00am. She could hear her heart beating a course of blood through her throat. Always shivering, she would think of her bed and its warmth, she would wait for the quiet of the dawn, when you were guaranteed to be asleep. Sometimes you wake now and listen to the hum of a hospital ward dimly lit with a plethora of machines, lights and neon signs. There is a sense of quiet ease, with everyone knowing their place, and you knowing that you will be looked after. Do you wonder where she is? They do. They listen to your jokes, your articulate explanations for the goings on in the world and know that you are someone they could only dream to be. They have scoured the missing persons' listings to no avail. But you are not missing, nor are you missed. That one hurt didn't it? You are not missed, and that is a bitter pill to swallow. Like the obscenities that you used to throw around with abandon, this knowledge will consume you, consume us. I see you have closed your eyes again. You can't block me out. You are not like her. She was a master of dissociation, a well practised art form of survival. You are the master of blame; he made me say this, she made me think that, I reacted this way because they ... Can you see the difference? No I suppose you can't, because I can see you now as you look for the nurse to show you kindness.
"Sir, are you comfortable? I loved the story you told last night, so engaging ..." The nurse looks at you with renewed respect. You are used to this. People are always pleased that you share conversational time with them. They see it as a compliment. The distinction of having such an educated individual take time from their own lives to enlighten other people's. This makes you proud, and once again you can avoid the memories that are now demanding to be acknowledged.
"I have been looking for your daughter ..." Your heart pounds incessantly; her heart was stronger.
"Do you remember anything? An initial, a place, anything? It will help." This pretence is hard isn't it? You avoid the nurse's eyes lest you reveal some semblance of truth.
"Your wounds are healing quite well, but without knowing who you are we are not able to send you home ..." You are happy to hear this aren't you? I see a tinker of joy flash in your eyes. I am disgusted, this cannot go on forever, the truth always comes out. I know that it is getting harder for you to ignore me. That pleases me. The decades I have spent trying to get you to listen are starting to wear you down. You don't even have to say sorry to her; only admit that her memories are true without the litany of excuses. Can you do that? I didn't think so. That is a fate much too hard to contemplate, yet I see a flicker of shame.
The nursing staff knows something. Can you see them? There, look. They keep glancing at you, talking amongst themselves. The hushed voices frustrate you. You begin to feel panicked, the ignominious sensation of being caught out mounts in your spine. I can feel it. Once again you resort to your old routine. I don't think your mantra will work this time. I scoff at your fear, but remember that the nurses still think that you are suffering amnesia.
You saw her before I did, your daughter's childhood friend. Did she recognise you? I am sure that she did. You pretend to sleep, as you are not sure if you can control your eyes
"Good morning Mr. Sutton. I have something to read to you that may assist your memory. I knew your daughter; everyone said that you did such a wonderful job raising her ..." Is she mocking you? You work hard to maintain your composure, although I am sure she has noticed the increased pulse rate and sweaty brow.
"It's such a pity you have amnesia, as I am positive you have such beautiful memories of her. It's such a shame that you have forgotten those. Let's see what we can do about that. Should I read?"
She takes your mute face as assent and begins.
"Never take revenge, my friends, but instead let God's anger do it. For the scripture says, 'I will take revenge, I will pay back, says the Lord.' Instead, as the scripture says: 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for by doing this you will make him burn with shame.' (1) Do you feel shame Mr. Sutton? No I suppose not. However, I am duty bound to look after you, and sincerely hope that you get your memory back soon."
I smile. An apt use of Paul's letter to the Romans don't you think? You sigh, and life continues as it did before.

  1. Romans 12: 19 – 20 Good News Bible The Bible Society in Australia Canberra 1986


  1. There are some really powerful moments, here! The end is a punch in the stomach.

    I get a little confused, a little distanced by the second person and "I" references. Are they the same person?

    Fascinating setup, though. Good luck with it!

  2. The narrator 'I' is Patient X's conscience, talking to him throughout. Patient X ignores his conscience, and won't admit guilt or fault for his actions in life.