sixteen: word vomit, vol 1

i’ll never know why i’m more comfortable posting my own legitimate disturbed and disturbing thoughts than i am posting my fictional rubbish. someday we’ll delve into it, but not today. nay friends, today will be the first of a short series of word vomit posts. the rules are simple: at least 30 minutes of writing. no editing, no mulling over the details, no asking myself if anyone will like it. just words trickling from brain to fingers to keys. when the words run out, i post.

“I will give you any amount of money you want to take that thing as far away from me as possible,” said the doctor, eyeing with despair the chart in the outstretched hand of her nurse.

The name, printed on a strip of peeling tape stuck to the front cover, was too well-known to bring any degree of pleasure to the work such a chart brought with it.  In fact, of the thousands of personnel at Camp Delta, this patient was the only one she knew by name, the only puzzle she could not solve, and the only thing that made her deeply regret accepting this placement. As if you had a choice, she thought to herself.

“No dice, Dr. Wishnik. Officer Noble is in rare form, and nothing but a directive from Command would induce me to deal with him today.”  The nurse carefully laid the chart on the teetering pile of papers and folders on the corner of the desk, and then put a reassuring hand on her boss’s shoulder.  “Godspeed, Doctor.”

“You used to be my favorite, you know.”

“I still am,” she said. “Exam 3. I prepped a sedative, the strong shit.  Stashed it in the top drawer on the left. If you need more help than that, page someone else.”

“Definitely not the favorite anymore!” Dr. Wishnik called after the nurse, but she was already gone, closing the door behind her and leaving the doctor alone with her dread.

But dread wasn’t the right word.  Annoyance, sure.  Frustration, definitely.  But dread?  No.  She hadn’t known real dread for almost a year now, since her first meeting with Command and her acceptance  of her current post.  It was a feeling that would take years to shake, if she could shake it at all, but she wasn’t far enough removed yet to forget every detail.  The military transport, the armed men, and the look of panic on her husband’s face as his wife was pulled from his arms, handcuffed, blindfolded, thrown into a truck, and driven away.

It was a long ride, two or three hours, over rough terrain to some unknown location.  The camp hadn’t been so much a camp then as a collection of makeshift multi-use buildings, all made of corrugated metal siding that shivered in the wind and flimsy roofs that turned even the lightest rain shower into a sharp, metallic cacophony.  For the first six months, there were no barracks.  She’d had to bed down in this room, her office.  Her cell.  It’s where they kept her then, locked away like a prisoner when she wasn’t on duty.  Only then was she allowed to wander freely around the medical facility, but only with two armed guards in attendance.  She was a flight risk, they said.

Or rather, he said.  Commander Gallagher wasn’t the top of the food chain here, but he was as close as anyone was allowed to get.  He looked like the standard military type.  Tall, barrel-chested, imposing.  He had a way of getting you to do things that made it feel like you were doing him a favor, when really you were just following orders.  His language was gruff and cutting, but could turn soft and persuasive in a moment, leaving his target confused, vulnerable.

She had been half dragged, half led into this building in the middle of a fantastically loud thunderstorm, locked in this room, and told the Commander would be with her shortly.  Her handcuffs had been removed, and as soon as she was sure her captors were gone, she yanked off the soaked blindfold and used it to wipe as must moisture from her face as she could.  The last thing she wanted was to appear as if she’d been crying.  She had been, but no one needed to know it.

She was alone in the room except for a metal table with one dim lamp and a folding table on each side, interrogation room style.  There walls were bare except for the tell-tale signs of surveillance equipment in use.  Two small cameras were mounted in opposite corners.  Microphones were wired into the other two.  She didn’t check, but no doubt was a smaller, wireless mic unit affixed to the lamp on the table.  Whoever was listening didn’t want to miss a thing.

She hadn’t been there long when the door opened and a man in full military dress came in, hat in hand and smiling pleasantly, like a generous and benevolent host come to greet his honored guest.  He had a large accordion folder under his arm.  He put in on the floor next to one of the chairs before extending his hand to her.

“Dr. Wishnik, I presume.”  Her hand was gripped firmly, pumped three times, and released.  “I’m Commander Josiah Gallagher.  How was your trip up the mountain?  I know the roads can be unforgiving this time of year, what with the rains and all.  I hope you weren’t too uncomfortable.”

“Not at all,” she said with forced politeness and unveiled contempt.  “The armed guards who abducted me from my home in the dead of night were most accommodating.  Though the handcuffs were a bit much.”  She sat down in one of the chairs, in clear and deliberate breach of military protocol.  The superior officer remained standing, but didn’t call her out on her error.

“Abducted?  Come now, Doctor, let’s not be hasty.  Surely you saw this coming.”  He chuckled to himself, as though it were all simply a matter of course.  He wasn’t wrong though, and that’s what annoyed her.  She knew it would happen eventually.  She’d even talked about it with her husband.  Her work in biomedical engineering and human genetics was too well-known, and would without question make her a target.

It wasn’t long after the State assumed power that the visits to their home began.  They always came in groups, but never the same people.  Always two military officials and one medical professional, all unknown to her and all singing the same song: enlist.  Tensions with Russia and China had reached a tipping point.  War was coming, and no one, military or civilian, could deny it.  Her work, her research was invaluable.  She declined each time, hoping to keep her research and developments as pure as possible.

“Well what would you call this little exercise?”

“Intensive recruiting.”

“Clever.”

“And accurate.  But we’re wasting time.  Let’s proceed with the interview.”  He picked up the accordion folder and took out a large, disc-bound file.  It landed on the metal table with such a thud that she jumped.  The card stock cover was blank except for a few lines in narrow, bold print across the middle of the page.  The first lines were easy enough to decipher, just her initials.  The lines following her a mystery:

Project: Ocean
Class 5
Docket 476
Subject: Unknown

“Impressive little beauty, isn’t it?” he asked, tapping one sausage-like finger on the stack.  “I do love the smell of a freshly compiled dossier.”

“What is all that?”

“That, Doctor, is your life.  Neatly and concisely boiled down to 539 single-spaced pages, not including various attachments, addendum, and appendices.”  He sat down directly opposite her, opened the cover, and began reading aloud.

“Wishnik, Katherine.  Maiden name Kemble.  An interesting middle name… Cantwell.  I’m guessing your mother’s maiden name?”

“Grandfather’s first name.”

He nodded and kept reading.  “Born July 1, 19-… well, we won’t divulge.  Raise in New Hope, Indiana.”  He looked up from the page.  “What sort of place is New Hope, Indiana?”

“Farming community.  Small, quiet.”

“Church-based?”

“Six churches in a town of 700 people.  You tell me.”

“That’s a yes,” he said, producing a pen and making notations on the page.  “Raised in New Hope, Indiana.  Attended New Hope Secondary, graduated with honors, well done.  Early acceptance to Northwestern.  Double major in Biology and Organic Chemistry, double minor in Spanish and dance.”  He stopped and chuckled.  “Unusual, but nothing to be lost by being well-rounded.  Graduated summa cum laude.  Most impressive.  Graduated from Harvard Medical.  Married David Hiram Wishnik October 24, 20-…”

“I know my own history, thank you,” she snapped.  “What’s all this leading up to?”

That’s when he told her, in no uncertain terms, the danger that loomed before them all.  Mass hysteria.  Bio-terrorism.  Nuclear winter.  Threats to democracy and safety on the home front.  Imagine New Hope, Indiana as nothing more than a great crater in the Midwest, another Grand Canyon.  Imagine her family, her husband as casualties of something her work could have helped prevent.

“Since you’re already so familiar with my work, you know why I’m not about to agree with whatever offer you’re going to make.  My stance is clear: no human testing.”

“Is that why you don’t have any children?”

Her blood turned cold.  Too close to the mark.  “What do you mean?”

“It’s all here,” he said, flipping through the file.  “Fertility specialists, adoption and surrogate applications… it’s all here.  Now why on earth would a talented, highly trained geneticist put herself and her husband through all this rigmarole for the sake of having a baby when she knows there’s a much clearer path open to her?”

“You’re talking about cloning.  Fetal genetic modification.  Altering what ought not to be altered.”

He leaned forward.  “I’m talking about a brilliant but desperate woman using every advantage she’s got.”

She struggled to remain calm.  “My work is in disease prevention, not family planning.”

“But still, why would…”

“Because it doesn’t work like that!”  Restraint was no longer an option.  She rose, irate, and began pacing her side of the room.  “What’s so hard to see?  Disease prevention.  I take synthesized strains of cancer and break them down, find out how and why they originate and replicate.  Yes, I sometimes use organic genetic specimens, but only as a control.  My experiments are always conducted with synthesized material.”  She stopped her pacing and thought of David, and what consequences her actions might have for him.  She must be calm if she’s to protect them both.  She returned to her seat and spoke with measured affirmation.

“I took an oath when I put on that white coat, and the work I do is just and ethical and within the bounds of that oath.  You will not impugn my life’s work by making it the basis for some bullshit superhero origin story.  I will not be your mad scientist.  And permit me to say that using my fertility struggles as an inducement to work for you is disgusting.”

“Disgusting but effective.  You may not see things our way at present, but we can work with that.  Until then, you will be our medical liaison.”  From the very back of the file he pulled a single loose sheet.  It was a draft order, signed and stamped by the commanding General.  It was dated one day before her abduction.  “This isn’t a job offer, Doctor Wishnik.  This is a military directive.  The threats are real, and at some point you will be forced to abandon your naivety and work with us.”

“And if I refuse?”

“I think you know better.”

She tried keep her voice steady as she chose her next words, hoping like hell they hadn’t been acted on, but knowing fully well they probably had been.  “I assume my husband has already been dealt with?”

Commander Gallagher tsk-tsked, like a disappointed parent.  “We’re not monsters, Doctor.  Professor Wishnik is in perfect health, and with your cooperation, he is very likely to remain so.  No, you’d be no good to us if you were constantly distracted with worry about him.  But that’s not to say he won’t be under close supervision.  Very close indeed.”

There was no more discussion after that.  She knew it wouldn’t do any good.  Almost a year later, her situation had not changed much.  The armed escorts were gone, but she was still closely watched, routinely questioned about her practices and ideologies.  She still had not agreed to perform anything beyond routine medical procedures on any personnel.

In a show of good faith, once a month she was shown a picture of David, always with that day’s newspaper.  They used Polaroids so she could be sure the images weren’t doctored.  He looked sad and tired, but healthy.  He wrote her little notes, sent her trinkets when the higher-ups would permit it.  Nothing extravagant, but little things one couldn’t obtain in a military camp.  Her favorite pens, little framed photos of himself and the dog, a small box of candied violets.  Once they allowed him to send her cuttings of the prized hydrangea bush in her garden, but they arrived wilted, and no amount of love and attention could bring the blooms back to life.  She hung them to dry and pressed them between the pages of Gray’s Anatomy.

She had expected David would be relocated to military housing like the families of the other recruits.  Those housing units were bugged “for the safety and protection of our servicemen’s loved ones.”  Dissension often began within the civilian families, frustrated with the long absences, the shoddy news and closed-off nature of their relatives’ brief and infrequent communications.  A discreetly place microphone or three kept the people in check.

But David was not relocated.  Ostensibly it was because he held a senior tenured position at a prestigious research university, the same university the State had contracted to carry out a number of  classified operations, the nature of which vague.  But Katherine knew better.  As long as David was allowed to carry out business as usual in their own home, the longer she would quietly cooperate with the State and their expectations.  She knew it was a status quo she could not maintain, and it was only a matter of time before her own power ran out.  Sooner or later, she’d have to make some choices.

And that was where Officer  Jesse Noble entered the picture.  Exactly where he came from or how he ended up at Camp Delta, no one knew.  He had been deposited-or dumped-at the gates three months after Wishnik’s arrival, half-dead and unable to remember where he had been.  Even if he did remember, he was too far gone to tell anyone.

He was dressed in military fatigues, but there was no record of his enlistment and he didn’t appear on any of the recruitment rosters.  Civilian records didn’t help.  As far as anyone was concerned, Jesse Noble did not exist.  Jesse Noble may not have even been his real name.  All this presented a perfect opportunity to the State.  A young man between 20 and 30 with few connections to civilian or military life and in a state of health so uncertain that a little bit of voodoo witch doctoring would go amiss.  He was enlisted, given assignments for barracks and some bullshit vocation, and then promptly transported to the intensive care wing of the medical building.

Almost four months later, Katherine continued to perform the daily miracles that kept Noble alive, even with interference from the State.  She prepped his treatments and injections herself whenever she could, but her resources were limited.  More often than not she was forced to use what she was given, without being allowed to examine it too closely before administration.  At least nothing had killed him yet.

Now Noble was back in her med facility for his bi-weekly exam, and he’d already been kept waiting too long.  Katherine hauled herself to her feet, grabbed his chart, and made a slow walk to Exam 3.

there’s waaaaaaaaaaaay more to this, but i’ve already spent more time on it than i meant to.
to be continued…

fifteen

because here’s the thing about depression…

it’s fucked up.

it’s fucked up in many, many ways.  tonight in particular, it’s because it tells you you’re not entitled to call yourself depressed because you’ve never been diagnosed or medicated for it.  it adds to the fuckery by telling you to get your shit together, because you’re not depressed.  you’re just a whiny little shit with no friends who needs to be less like how she is and more like a likable human.  and yeah, maybe there’s some truth to that.

but… no. no, there’s no truth to that.  there is nothing wrong with who i am or how i live.  i’m a good person.  i don’t litter, i pay my taxes, i use turn signals.  i drop my change in the little red buckets are christmastime, and i don’t push my political or religious agendas on strangers.  i’m not a burden to my family or friends or society at large.  i am valid.  i am a person.  i belong here.

social media upsets me.  it shows me a huge, active world that i don’t feel entitled to.  but it’s my only outlet.  i can see without being seen, the introvert’s dream.  so i open each app and close it almost immediately, because it’s the same stuff i saw 10 minutes ago.  it’s the same world, still living and breathing without me.

i am not entitled to this feeling.  there is nothing wrong with me.  this misery, temporary as it may be, is my own doing.  i’m not entitled to ask for help, because what help could someone possibly give me?

you should get out more.

put yourself forward.

be more social.

maybe if you actually, ya know, TRIED to be sociable, people would like you.

it doesn’t fucking work that way, but you don’t care.  you feel down sometimes, but you call up a friend and get out of the house and everything’s fine, and you’re sure that if i just did exactly what you do, i’ll be fixed, too.

i am not you, and that is your problem with me.

i went to a movie by myself this weekend.  it was a freak impulse, and i don’t have freak impulses.  i don’t regret it.  the theater was empty, the film wasn’t terrible, and i didn’t have to share my contraband junk food with anyone.  but as i’m driving home, that asshole who lives in my brain starts talking.  i hate it when this particular asshole starts talking, because he doesn’t know when to shut up, and i don’t know when to stop listening.

glad you had fun, kid.  this is good practice for that life of loneliness you’re making such a fine build-up to.  next week, we’ll try eating at a restaurant alone.

and that was it.  a perfectly good day, a perfectly good weekend ruined.

i’m not suicidal; let’s just get that out of the way now.  life scares me, but death scares me more, and even in my darkest days, i know i’m not done here.  i’m still optimistic enough to think there’s some great good in the world still left to be done, and that it’s up to me to do it.  but how the fuck am i supposed to save the world when i can’t manage to get out of bed?  seriously, i’m asking.

i feel better having written this.  nothing is fixed, but the words are out of me.  it’s a good start.  there is every chance i’ll wake up in a few hours and the world will make sense again.  it’s happened before.  there’s an equally good chance that i’ll wake up in a few hours discouraged, with a raging headache, and more tired than i was before i went to sleep.  that’s happened before, too.

the point is that i will wake up.  i will see another sunrise and another sunset and i will endure the thousand little annoyances and miracles that make up my everyday life.  i will love and hate everything in its turn.  i will be loved and hated, and usually by the same people.

i am better than this.

six: paper or plastic

“paper or plastic, ma’am?”

how many times in a human life are those words uttered or heard?  too many, antiquated now as they may be.  the environmentally conscious among us carry an ever growing supply of reusable shopping bags.  it’s not hard to see how we acquire so many.  we pick a few up in line at WalMart or Target, only a few dollars, a small price to save the planet.  we promise ourselves to keep them with us, in the car or pantry or wherever, and to use them religiously on weekly grocery runs.  we never do, though.  life happens, as it always does.  the weekly grocery run is replaced by near daily pop in/pop outs for necessities, and the sturdy and occasionally stylish bags are left to languish in the car or the pantry or wherever.  we’ll find them after a few weeks or months and make the same empty promise to ourselves, knowing full well we’ve only begun another cycle of good intentions and poor planning.

but she didn’t think about this as the check-out boy on the other side of the conveyor belt waited for her answer.  her first thought was irritation that he called her ma’am.  she was not a ma’am.  no unmarried woman under the age of 35 is a ma’am, didn’t this little shit know that?  she allowed herself a few minutes to bemoan the ignorance of today’s youth, only to realize that simply having these kinds of thoughts about “today’s youth” granted her ma’am status regardless of her age and (lack of) marital status.

the second thought was about her grandmother.  grandma took paper and plastic.  that was a long time ago, before the modern miracle of self-checkout.  a pimply high school boy at the end of the checkout lane would pick through the items as they were scanned and passed down the line, packing everything into the structured paper bags like tetris pieces, not a space wasted.  the whole package was then carefully fitted into a plastic sack.  it was the best of both worlds.  the paper bags kept everything organized and upright in the trunk on the way home.  the plastic bags with the handles made it easy to get the stuff from the car to the house.

once the groceries were put away, the paper bags were carefully folded up and tucked into a cabinet over the washer in the kitchen for later use.  their uses were innumerable.  they’d tote garden produce, line wastepaper baskets, or be handed to the grandkids for art projects and to carry toys about the house.  that’s what she remembers.  a couple of paper grocery bags, a little battery-powered toy cash register, and a store of hard, plastic fruit.

she never knew what happened to the plastic bags.

she wondered what happened to all that stuff, all the toys and books and the things she always associated with grandma and grandpa and their house.  it was conceivable that it had all been thrown away, or maybe donated, but it was unlikely.  her grandparents were children of the depression; they never threw anything away.  she remembered the things they found in the house after grandma had died, just over a year after grandpa.  it had been… what?  twelve years now?  she marveled at that.  it didn’t seem possible.

yes, even with its owners in the ground the house gave up treasures interesting only to a curious granddaughter. certificates of insurance for policies that had long since lapsed or paid their last dollar, relics of her father’s and uncle’s childhoods still carefully arranged in their attic bedrooms, as thought the boys had just dashed downstairs for dinner, but had transformed into men after dessert, and never came back.  whole shelves’ worth of canned produce, some even from the year she had been born.  they had thrown those out; in theory, they may still have been good, but no one could bring themselves to sample 16 year old stewed tomatoes.  she wished briefly she’d had the forethought to at least save the mason jars.

they had found paper bags, too, full of old pictures grandma had probably intended to catalog, but never got around to.  or clothes she had gathered up to throw away or donate, but int he end were left sitting on the floor of the closet.  her brother found the jackpot, though, stashed in the back corner of the coat closet in the dining room: a paper bag so weighted down with rolled coins that it threatened to burst the moment it was picked up.

but that was always the way of things, it seemed.  her brother placed more value in practical treasures; cash is always handy.  she was more sentimental, always had been.  she’d take a houseful of vintage mementos and assorted junk any day of the week.  it was her incurable weakness.  she fancied she could still sense the former owners, as if these people long gone had left a bit of themselves with the stuff they collected, and they would remain with their possessions no matter how many times they may change hands.

she had come by it honestly, her inability-or at least her reluctance-to get rid of anything.  it was the family opinion that she had inherited her father’s and her grandmother’s sentimentality; that was all they could attribute it to, this strange compulsion to keep things.  age and half a dozen moves between various homes and college dorm rooms had brought out her more practical side, but she still caught herself sometimes when making the twice yearly purge of her belongings.  some things could be tossed into the purge pile without a second thought.  some things never even came off the shelves or out of the closet; parting with these things was unthinkable.  but a fair few things lived in that in-between.  they may start on one side of the keep/purge line, but would inevitably make countless trips back and forth before settling somewhere.

it had been grandma’s way to take paper and plastic, and it was her way to do what has always been done, because it had always been done.

so she smiled at the checkout boy’s irritation as he packed away her groceries in the sturdy, coarse paper bag and then carefully lowered it into the flimsy plastic sack.

five: fictional nonsense, vol 1

an excerpt from some of my fictional rubbish, because some of it probably should see the light of day at some point.

A breeze swept over the lawn, redolent with the heady scents of late summer: cut grass and damp earth, apple blossom and roses.  It’s a sweet, homesick smell that leaves you with the unmistakable feeling that it’s all ending too fast and there’s nothing you can do about it.  I filled my lungs with it.  For the briefest moment, I was entirely at peace with the universe and my place in it.  I felt light as the wind that ruffled my hair, but at the same time I was as heavy and dull as the packed dirt beneath my feet.  It was a strange sensation, comfortably uncomfortable, and I couldn’t make myself go back to the house just yet.

So I did what any sensible girl would do.

I ran.