I've stopped having new dreams. Now I dream the same few dreams over and over. Most of them relate to things that happened to me when I was young.
This dream for example has to do with the loss of my eyes. It's the story of how I was blinded in the line of duty. The line of a duty that I'd imposed on myself. An imaginary duty.
In the dream, I was the dour young fool that I was when I lived in Chicago, in 1995. I had my own legs back then, and most of my arms--the ones I was born with. After an initial spurt, the pace of my auto-destruction had slowed. Gone were the happy days when I would whang off one of my hands at the factory, go home for a beer, and think nothing of it. I must have been sentimentally attached to myself.
I speak of this fool that I was, but I can hardly believe in him. Think of a cardboard cutout of a young fool, that's some improvement. Dress him in cutout paper clothing: a pale blue shirt, coarse gray paper pants, little black shoes. Slot him into a world of sliding cardboard flats, inside the box of a toy theater called The Factory. Cardboard walls, cardboard people, cardboard machines. Good. Now attach a power screwdriver to the stump of his right arm, and a humanoid prosthetic on the stump of his left.
Now stand him beside a conveyer belt. Riding the belt, a succession of television picture tubes move past him, mounted in steel frames with some circuit boards and color-coded wiring. (He'd been transferred away from the model kits division, for obvious reasons.)
His job is affixing masonite backing panels to the frames as they roll by. His left hand places the panels and screws, his power prosthetic drives the screws tight. He aims his arms while preset manipulation loops run his hands. His hands require none of his attention.
So his attention wanders. He studies the dust on the brick floor. He looks up at the ceiling, at the old-fashioned skylights with cranks. Or he watches the assemblers, who have to think, to some extent, about what they're doing. Or he closes his eyes and listens to the factory, the hiss and ratchet of pneumatic socket wrenches, the whir of the conveyer motor, the white noise from the air conditioners.
During long afternoons, he makes up lies about his past. He pretends that he lost his hands in a war. Yes, he's secretly at war with the factory. And obviously the factory's winning. He's not like the others. They just come here for the money. He doesn't need money. What would he do with money? He never leaves the factory. He never sees the light of day. He never sleeps.
He sounds like a riddle: What makes war on a factory, has no hands, and never sleeps? I have no idea, but it's crawling up your neck, ha ha ha.
It's not that I refused my salary. In fact, I drew three salaries, since I worked all three shifts every day, under differing surnames. At four p.m., I'd punch out Alex One and punch in Alex Two.
But a man has to sleep. Maybe I never was one after all. Maybe I was really a machine that was deceiving itself. It's simple to hide from yourself. You just choose a place you'll never look, work all the time, and never sleep. You never find out what you are, and it's phenomenal how much you get done.
You can think about your goals in life. You can add up the minutes between you and your next coffee break. When break time comes, you can go to the so-called cafeteria--a row of vending machines against a sheetrock wall--and sit on a polyurethane seat and think some more. You can drink hot cocoa and chicken soup and think. You can eat a hot dog and an ice cream sandwich and think. You can calculate the number of screws you sink in a day. The one thing you can't do, if you're me, is stop thinking. It's a basic design flaw. If I stop for an instant, all the cores go blank.
Where was I?
I was standing at my assembly station, screwing masonite panels, when my foreman, Mr. Bosch, and the janitor, Mr. Siever, came walking down the aisle toward me and stopped behind me. Mr. Bosch tapped my shoulder to get my attention, then crooked his finger to tell me to follow him to his office. Siever took over my place on the line.
Mr. Bosch's office was a glassed-in cubicle at one corner of the sub-basement where we worked. He had a metal desk and two chairs in there, a file cabinet and a coat tree. A gooseneck lamp cast an oval of yellow light over a morass of oil-stained papers. Mr. Bosch, a bald man with thick glasses, gestured me into a chair and pushed a memo slip across the desk at me.
"The company is changing your work assignment. It's some new motivational bullshit the management cooked up. Read that. Maybe you can explain it to me."
I picked up the memo and held it in front of my face. I didn't want to read it, but it was my strict policy never to disagree with people. Bitter experience had taught me that the minute you contradict someone, you instantly get sucked into their asinine private world. By avoiding arguments, I wound up not talking to anyone. I lived utterly alone, in my own asinine private world. Terribly alone and constantly crowded by idiots--that was my life. Rats gnaw off their feet with less provocation. Mr. Bosch watched me patiently. I tried to read the memo, but whichever way I held it, it looked upside-down to me.
All at once, the nature of my new job dawned on me. Maybe I got it from the memo. Or maybe it just came to me as a Quest. My new job was to do everyone else's job. Not all at once, but one job at a time, for ten minutes at a time. I would relieve workers at their stations and give them unscheduled ten-minute breaks, as a sort of good-will bonus from the management.
"It's a ten percent pay hike," said Bosch. "It's a promotion. Do you know why you were chosen? Your perfect attendance record. Don't you ever get sick, Alex?"
"I'm in training to become a machine. When do I start?"
"You just started. Congratulations. This new job is the best thing that could happen for you."
"And do you know why I say that, Alex?"
"I have no idea."
"Because of your psychological problem, Alex. You have a psychological problem as big as all outdoors. Have I mentioned it before?"
"You may have. Can I go now?"
"You're a menace, Alex, to yourself and everyone around you. You need therapy, Alex. Lots and lots of therapy."
"Thanks for your concern, Mr. Bosch."
I left the office and started back toward the assembly line. I still had the memo in my screwdriver claw, so I looked at it again. Worse than ever. I still couldn't read it, and now I couldn't remember what it was. This happened to me often in those days. Common household objects would mystify me. A paper cup, an alarm clock, a memo slip...I knew that these things had functions, but I'd be helpless to recall their names.
A horn blew in my ear. I was standing between two forklifts whose drivers were engaged in a right-of-way dispute. I got out of their way.
I went to the locker room, opened my locker, and changed my screwdriver for a more versatile prosthetic. I chose the mate of the humanoid hand I was already wearing on my left arm.
Siever was still at my work station, doing my job with a rapt expression. Apparently we'd both been promoted. I walked up the line all the way to the freight elevator that took away the finished video units. I watched over people's shoulders and memorized their assembly moves. I said to myself, I could run this whole factory if there were enough of me.
I walked up behind Evangeline, a gray-haired black woman with bad veins in her legs. I liked Evangeline because she admired the cleverness of my prosthetics, and once she'd given me a Christmas card. She was wearing a loud pink dress and hair curlers under her bandana. Circuit boards were shuffling past, and Evangeline was slapping a diode from her diode tray onto every single board, using tweezers in one hand, soldering gun in the other. She saw me and tugged out her earplugs.
"What are you doing here?" she asked me.
"I got a new job."
"That's great, Honey. You too smart to work here."
"Give me the soldering gun. I'm going to fill in for you."
"Oh, how nice! I would like to take a pee."
Evangeline got down off her stool and stiffly walked away. But something she'd said had wormed its way into a dark corner of my brain, providing a goal for my secret Quest.
"What are you doing here?" A dangerous question.
As the weeks of that summer wore on, I learned every assembly task that was done on our level of the sub-basement. I took pride in my work, and hoped to become a machine soon. Apart from the sleeplessness and the thinking too much, I was content. Until I had that bad dream.
One night, during the first coffee break of the graveyard shift, I fell asleep in my chair at the cafeteria and had this bad dream.
(So I did sleep. That proves it.)
I dreamed that I was working on the line as usual, except that instead of building picture tubes, we were machining aircraft parts with rotary sanders. Plastic chips bounced off my goggles. I wondered why these huge fuselage sections should be made of styrene. So I walked off my station to see if I could find out where the parts got put together. I found a hangar full of bomber jets, but they were life-size model kits, hollow inside. Impressive as hell, but they'd never fly.
At one end of the hangar, a crew was rolling jets out into sunshine. I followed one out. The jets were rolled down a sloping runway straight into the funnel of a gigantic grinder, which chopped them into chips, so that the chips--it came to me--could be melted down and molded into more aircraft parts.
I walked back into the factory to share my discovery. Mr. Bosch was there, but when I tried to speak to him, no words came out. So I went to the locker room to look in a mirror, and I saw why my mouth wouldn't open. My head was made of white plastic, smooth and hollow.
I woke up in my chair and tried to remember the dream, but all that came back to me was: What am I doing here?
What were we doing? Working for ESU, Educational Systems Unlimited. Assembling what? What was the product? I asked around, but no one seemed to know. Something educational. A sane man would have dropped the matter there. But not me. I was a dream-starved machine-in-training and a man with a Quest.
I got on the freight elevator and followed a batch of our video units to the level just below ours. There I learned an assembly sequence from an Oriental guy named Joe.
Joe had a scraggly goatee and long, agile fingers. All day long, he built flush tanks for toilets. He screwed on the little floating copper balls.
"Maybe this floor and my floor are producing different things," I suggested.
"Naw," he said. "All same thing."
"Maybe it's a pay toilet with a pay TV inside."
"Your guess good as mine. What for you care?"
Joe scratched his chin. "Curiosity kill cat," he told me.
I followed the flush tanks downstream, seeking out convergences of the component flow.
"Excuse me. I'm taking a survey. What do you think we do here?"
I stopped relieving people from their stations entirely. I rewrote my job description. I stayed in one area only long enough to scope out what they made there and where it went.
A pimpled hippie type by the name of Reeves had some interesting theories. I picked his brain while he screwed colored light bulbs into a display panel--one green, one red, one blue.
"What do you suppose it's for?"
"I should worry? I got my own problems."
"But if you took a wild guess..."
"Maybe we're not making anything, man. I got a buddy works the level two down from here. He upholsters seat cushions. So you have to wonder. Seat, video, toilet, monitor lights... What's the big picture? I'm not sure I want to know, you know? When you consider the slimes who built this place, you have to wonder. I got a million theories, but most of them I try not to think about."
"This place was built by slimes?" I said.
"Of course it was, man. If you don't know that you're too ignorant to talk to."
So much for Reeves. I punched out and went home in the middle of my shift. I walked up Pulaski to Humboldt and took the bus east to the National Guard Armory. My apartment was two flights up over a Walgreen's. I ate some popcorn and crashed. I slept on the floor, since I'd never got around to buying furniture. There were quite a few roaches and rats, but they stayed out of my way. I think I scared them.
(So I did have an apartment. I'd forgot all that.)
While I was sleeping, I had another dream. In the dream, I was watching the life of an overly serious young man named Felix. He had clean shaven, Teutonic good looks and jet black hair brushed back from a high pale forehead. A Colin Clive type.
He works at a factory, where he tours the machinery with a stopwatch, timing compression cycles and making notes in a book. He also sits at a desk in a slanted brick alcove, pulling the lever of an adding machine.
Everything in this silent movie is huge, angular, and skewed. Awesome pistons slide. Puffs of steam belch from floor grates. Faceless drones in prison pajamas trudge. Obese overseers crack bullwhips from steel balconies.
Felix is summoned before his superior, Ivan, a tub of lard with a walrus moustache. Ivan orders Felix to clear out a musty storeroom to make room for new machines. Felix rolls up his sleeves and sets to work.
He's wrestling with a lathe when he notices something wedged between the lathe and a wall. (Moody back lighting here, and ominous organ chords.) Felix dusts off is discovery--a featureless black box, the size of a large dictionary. A bizarre, unhealthy expression creeps over his face. There's something about this box. That evening, he furtively takes the box home, under his coat. Legend card: DAYS PASS.
Felix changes. He's more dedicated to his work than ever. But he forgets to shave. He loses weight. He wears the same shirt for a week. His eyes are the eyes of a captured soldier who's just arrived at a prison camp. Legend: ONE MORNING...
Felix comes to work looking even more haggard than before. His overcoat is bunched around him oddly. He takes it off and hangs it on a peg. His right hand has been replaced by a crude prosthetic claw. No sick leave. No word of explanation. Just the missing hand. And this obscene, home-made claw at the end of the stump.
The other workers are far too intimidated by him to ask what happened. No one talks to him anymore. But the whispering is thunderous. Inevitably, Ivan invites Felix into the privacy of his cubicle. And cautiously, from across his desk, asks a question. Title card: "WHAT HAPPENED?"
Felix sits, half in shadow, mute as a stone, staring Ivan down. He's still too high-minded to lie, but how can he tell his foreman that he fed his hand to a black box? Ivan looks down at the claw which could so easily make a bloody mess of someone's throat.
But the film breaks, the screen goes white, and the dream is done.
The next afternoon, I stopped at the Walgreen's on the way to work and bought a clipboard. It made a good prop. People would talk to me if I wrote on a clipboard. It made the process look official.
That same day, I used my stopwatch to time my walk from my punchclock to the building across the railroad track where I was pursuing my Quest. Twenty minutes wasted. I never punched in again. I was in blue sky.
I was tracing forward the path of a promising assembly, a keyboard of the kind that plugged into computers in those days. A conveyer took the keyboards down a narrow brick tunnel with an arched ceiling. I squeezed in beside the conveyer and moved sideways deeper and deeper into the tunnel, hoping to find out where it went. The tunnel went on and on, turning corners. The light was adequate, but my knees were going weak, and my back hurt from stooping under buttresses, and my mouth was dry from talking to myself. So I crawled in under the legs of the conveyer and took a nap.
It was cozy under there. Rubber flaps hung down on either side, to protect the works from dust. I slept on my side, because of the rash on my back. A man with a Quest must sometimes endure rashes.
The bad part was: As soon as I closed my eyes, I was dreaming again. In the dream, I was lying on my back on the rubber belt of the conveyer. It carried me along, while I lay and watched the ceilings slide by. Then the belt stopped, and a man in white coveralls and goggles unfastened my right arm and set it aside. The belt started rolling again, and every time it stopped, another man in white would remove another part of me. The longer the dream went on, the less was left of me.
I woke up and remembered where I was. These dreams were getting out of hand. I rolled over and went back to sleep.
I dreamed I was on the belt again, but standing on it this time, and walking. Stepping over keyboards at intervals. This time, I was moving counter to the direction of the belt. The goal of my Quest must have reversed somehow. In any case, I'd have to go a lot faster, because with respect to the tunnel around me, I wasn't going anywhere. I was stuck in place.
Then an even more disturbing thought occurred to me. Perhaps I was being used, against my wishes, as a power source. Perhaps the belt was only moving because I was moving it.
I woke up disoriented and poked my head out through the rubber flaps. For a moment, I thought I was looking down a vertical shaft. The bottom of the shaft opened into a deep, bright chamber where women and men in white smocks and white slipper walked here and there on a white wall.
When I got my feet, I knew where I was--the computer section. Sliding beige partitions of vinyl hung from slots in the ceiling, and everyone wore air filters over their mouths, for the protection of the printed circuits.
The staff there treated me well. Showed me where to wash up, found a clean smock for me, and a mouth filter. Many of them had prosthetics. Artificial eyes were especially popular, the favored style being big, black globes with little white pinholes. All the young women were happy to explain their work to a serious young man with a clipboard. But they kept pointing at things that were too small for me to see. I met a Southern Baptist girl named Jo Anne who had plugs on her wrists, rather than hands. The plugs fit into a repertoire of micromanipulation boxes. My kind of girl.
But I had no time for women. My Quest was upon me, and I was nearing The Finished Product. I could practically smell it. Final subassemblies were forming before my eyes. A steel rack entered the picture--two feet by two by three. My old friends the video tubes showed up to be bolted inside the racks, three to a rack. The colored lights were mounted beside them. The dozen roots of my twisting flow chart were converging into a trunk.
Then I saw the panels. I was poking around a storeroom, and a freight elevator stacked with aluminum panels rose up through a square hole in the floor and stopped at my level, inside a shaft enclosure of two-by-fours and chicken wire. I hung on the wire, looking at the panels. They were four feet by eight feet, the biggest component yet. I resolved to stick to them like glue. Where they went, I went. I sat on top of them and rode them up through the ceiling.
The ride took me to the floor level of a vast room, three stories tall, like the warehouse where I used to work, but empty of shelves. From my perch on the panels, I had a view of row upon row, and rank upon rank, of aluminum cabinets, like those chemical outhouses you used to see at construction sites. Not far from where I sat, a couple of technical types were running wires from a diagnostic cart through a service port in the upper part of one of the cabinets. An inspection team.
I got down and circled the nearest cabinet. There was an air conditioning vent and some unconnected plumbing protruding from the base. But no door. Each side was bolted on. Once you were in this outhouse, you were really in.
At one corner of one side was an insignia decal, a purple oval with one word inside it: AUTISTICON.
So this was what I'd been doing with my life. I'd been a builder of Autisticons. This cabinet was an example of my handiwork. But what was it?
I walked down a row of Autisticons and came to one that had a panel detached. The panel was leaned against the next Autisticon down the line, providing a clear schematic side view of the thing's interior. The chamber was upholstered in black vinyl over a layer of foam. Here was the toilet, right inside that black vinyl armchair. Its bowl was peeking from a hole in the seat cushion. It had no lid. But it did have restraining straps.
The armchair seemed smaller than I remembered it. A good size for a five-year-old.
The buckles of the restraining straps had keyholes. They locked. Everything fit. Form followed function.
Go on! I said to myself. Stick your head in! No one's going to kang you in and stick swords up your nose. Go on, Alex! It won't burn your eyes out. Have a close look.
An armature rose from one armrest to support a plastic desk. Built into the desk was the computer keyboard. Attached to the opposite armrest was a self-rinsing bowl, the kind you used to see on dentist's chairs, for spitting into. A red rubber tube dangled from the chamber's ceiling. A duct for cold porridge, that was my conjecture. Cold porridge laced with tranquilizers. That made sense. A kid has to eat. It wouldn't be humane to shut a child in a box without nourishment.
Mounted at the top of one wall were the video screens with the colored lights, facing the chair, angled down. Red, blue, green. And tucked under the screens, a video camera, aimed at my head.
I approached the diagnostic team. One of them was a short, bald man with thick, tortoise-shell glasses. He was holding a clipboard and smoking a pipe. He was supervising the other mechanic. It was Mr. Bosch, from my old department. He must have been promoted, like me. He turned to me. "Alex! You finally got here. Any questions?"
"What are these things, Mr. Bosch?"
He drew on his pipe and frowned. "These are teaching stalls. Computerized teaching stalls. For schools. Elementary schools."
"What do they teach?"
"Whatever they're teaching children these days."
"Why do they have toilets in them?"
"So the children can shit."
"Why can't the children go down the hall to the bathroom?"
"Because the children are strapped in. Because there isn't any door."
That settled that. "And the cameras?"
"To keep an eye on the children."
"You're saying that the teachers watch the children on monitor screens?"
"I didn't say anything about teachers."
My heart was pounding for some reason, and my fists were clenched. I must have been upset. Mr. Bosch made a mark on his clipboard.
"If you really want to see how these things are used," said Mr. Bosch, "you should probably visit a modern elementary school. Most of them use Autisticons exclusively."
Perhaps he was right. Perhaps I should visit such a school. Perhaps that visit was exactly the next step demanded by my Quest.
The other inspector tapped my shoulder. I was in his way. I stepped aside, and he screwed hoses to the toilet pipes. He was testing the flush. I stood there, with Mr. Bosch staring at me. My throat was sore, and I was finding it hard to breathe. My bones felt like soggy cardboard that might bend in ten places at any moment.
Suddenly I wanted to kill Mr. Bosch. Him or myself. But what would that prove? And if I blew up the factory with dynamite? What would that prove? Precisely nothing. You can't do shit with dynamite. You've got to be subtle. You've got to make a dent. You've got to be far more subtle than a human. You've got to be a machine. And beat them at their own game.
"What exactly do you do here?"
"Me? I pick units at random, and I make certain measurements. If the measurements deviate from certain parameters, I record that on my forms. What the fuck are you doing here?"
I held my head in my hands. It seemed to be an ancient ball of brittle rubber, cracked and weeping powder from its crumbled core. I hid my face.
"All right," I said. "That's enough. Wake me up now."
"What?" said Mr. Bosch.
"Wake me up! I've seen enough. I don't want to hang around for the gory parts."
"What are you talking about?" said Mr. Bosch. Except that it wasn't Mr. Bosch at all. It was a total stranger, and I was shaking him by his shoulders and yelling into his face.
"The dream! The dream! I want a different dream! Or I want you to wake me up!"
"Leave me alone!" the total stranger yelled back at me. "I don't even know you!"
I grabbed both of his sleeves in my steel and plastic fists and backed him up against an Autisticon. "Cut the crap, you little shit! Wake me up!"
A couple of inspectors I hadn't seen before pried me off of him. As soon as they let go of me, I fell to my knees and retched. I retched directly into the toilet bowl beneath the seat of the chair in the open cabinet. Sometimes a thing is just there when you need it.
I stood up, wiped my mouth, and walked away. I found a corner of a loading dock and wept. I was making a fool of myself. I had no Quest. I was just a dumb Chicago Polack with delusions of sainthood.
I watched from the shadows while freight handlers prepared a shipment of Autisticons for transport. They wrapped each box in a sheet of foam and fastened the foam with wire. They nailed together fiberboard crates that held the Autisticons snugly. They sealed routing tickets inside clear plastic pouches that stuck to the crates. They wrangled the crates across metal ramps into the bellies of the waiting trucks.
I walked over to the trucks. Down the narrow corridor between two of them, I could see Wrightwood Avenue baking in the summer sun. A strip of scraggly crabgrass grew between the sidewalk and curb. A little yellow butterfly flitted past.
I waited until no one was around and walked across one of the ramps, into the van of a truck. I was going to visit an elementary school. It was part of my job.
The crates were so tall, they nearly reached the van's silvery inner roof. But there was just enough room for me to crawl in on top of the crates. I squirmed up into a cool, dim space and lay across two of the crates, on my stomach. I rested my chin on my arms and waited.
A scrape and a clank. Someone had moved the loading ramp. A squeal of hinges and a clang. The doors of the van closed me into blackness. The slam of the driver's door. The vibration of the motor.
The truck lurched, paused, turned left, shifted gears. Slipped into a murmur of other traffic and coasted. Braked at the Pulaski stoplight. Turned north, rumbling over the potholes. The crates jumped beneath me.
Onto the expressway. Air keening past. I was on my way. Through corn country and cattle land. Across the dusk and into the night. Going west.
Whenever I started seeing things in the dark, I'd take out my lighter and strike a flame. There in the steady blue glow would be my hand. There were the crates. There I was.
I turned onto my side and fell asleep. It felt like falling, too. Like falling into a deep, dark well.
I dreamed that I was a soldier in basic training, running an obstacle course. Bare trees under a hushed, gray sky. Frosted brown earth that crackled beneath my boots. I jogged along, huffing out steam. All by myself. Perhaps I was being punished. My fingers and toes were numb. I crawled under some barbed wire and kept going.
I came to a barricade built of railroad ties. I climbed a rope to the top and threw one of my legs over. Then I got a surprise. The barricade's far side was all slick, cold, vertical aluminum siding. I lost my grip and fell, feet first, down a steep chute, like a playground slide.
The chute levelled out and sent me spinning across the ice of a frozen pond. I slid to a stop on my belly. The ice felt thin. A crow flew past, cawing at me in the stillness. I tried to creep toward shore.
The ice groaned and broke. I sank into the pond, up to my armpits. My hands scrambled uselessly at the ice. I made myself hold still.
Night fell. A sheet of new ice formed around my chest. The pond held me firmly in its jaws. I was in no further danger of drowning. The stars came out.
An army jeep came toward the pond, blinding me with its headlights. It drove straight across the ice, which supported it somehow. It stopped right in front of me. The glare hurt my eyes. I waited to be rescued. But the jeep just sat there, idling its motor.
Finally it honked its horn. It wanted me to get out of its way.
"Go around!" I screamed at it. "Go around! You've got the whole pond!"
I prayed for release. I woke up, fumbled for my lighter, lit another cigarette, went back to sleep. The air brakes hissed. We'd come to a weigh station at the Missouri border.
Here the aged film of the dream burns and breaks, and I lose the visuals for a while. But the soundtrack proceeds.
I woke up coughing. There was a lot of smoke and a smell like burnt pork chops. Apparently the fiberboard crates were extremely flammable. Apparently I'd barbecued myself. Luckily it happened at a weigh station. As soon as they found me, someone called an ambulance. Amidst loud expressions of anger and disgust.
I wonder what I looked like, as I rode to the hospital. I'll never know, because the ambulance wouldn't show me a mirror, and because my eyes were gone. Boiled like two little pearl onions. That ambulance was a real moron. It wouldn't shut up. It told me this long, involved joke about a pet poodle that gets put in a microwave and ends up as a puddle of poodle. What a creep!
I wouldn't be so sensitive if I could just stop thinking. Even at times when I'd like to stop--when I'm char broiling my ectoderm--or when mutant cicadas are chewing out my nerves--I go right on thinking as if there's no tomorrow. It's a family illness.
At the hospital, I was wheeled on a squeaky gurney through hallways that reeked of mint. A radiologist with a stuffy nose fed me stale water from a paper cup. A fluoroscope buzzed. The radiologist turned me over and shot another exposure.
The nurses took off my hands and bandaged me from head to foot. For days, I did nothing but lie in a bed and pee into a catheter, filling up little plastic bags. Then my kidneys gave out, so they detoured my renal artery into a noisy dialysis machine.
Being blind required some adjustments. The first few days, I tried desperately to remember what various things looked like. To fix them in my mind before they faded forever. But the more I tried to remember, the more I forgot. Eventually I gave up.
When they took off my bandages, the skin went with them. The dermatologist had planned for this. He'd special ordered a batch of new skin from a pharmaceuticals concern in Boston. It itched at first, but I was glad to have it.
When my heart failed, the cardiologist had a new heart ready for me. And while they had my chest open, the hepatologist replaced my liver. New kidneys were still on order from a kidney shop in Amarillo. The food was great, and my job insurance was paying all the bills.
When my visceral condition had stabilized, the optologist connected me to a new pair of eyes. Everything looked pastel--pearl gray and bleached aqua, the colors of bread mold. But hell, they were eyes, I'd get used to them.
Then they gave me counseling. I needed a lot of therapy, because I was a very disturbed individual. I had a lot to learn about channeling my self-hatred into acceptable channels. But my therapists had great faith in me. If I worked hard, if I improved myself, I might someday perform a useful function, I might even become a delivery van or a dump truck. Being helpful to others is so important for rehabilitation.