Reid slept the sleep of the exhausted for three days, only waking up sporadically every now and then, and never for longer than a couple of minutes. There was always a friend there to give him kind words and help him drink a little water before he drifted off again. But his sleep seemed troubled, he moved restlessly, with rapid eye movements and distorted mumbling. His team waited worriedly for him to come back to them, and just as they started to worry that he never would, he opened his eyes and showed awareness.
He had been moved to a Washington hospital that had a top neurological ward. All the doctors had been outraged on his behalf, over what their so-called collogues had done to him. Doctors were supposed to 'do no harm', and they made sure to take extra good care of Reid because of it.
Once he was properly awake he was subjected to numerous tests, but as it turned out he'd been rather lucky. The brain damage was minimal, he had only suffered from some minor memory loss. He'd forgotten everything after Hotchner left the hospital on Tuesday, and there were gaps in the days before. Of the happenings in the basement he had no concrete memories, only snatches of floating faces and unidentified sounds, nothing substantial. And from what his team had told him, he wondered if that wasn't for the best. His long-term memory seemed to be mostly intact. Morgan and Elle had taken to dropping old cases into their conversations and so far he'd remembered all but one. Perhaps the drug Lux and RJ had developed really worked like it was supposed to do, or maybe it had just been chance.
The biggest anomaly was that he couldn't remember his own clothes. Morgan had brought a bag from his apartment and Reid had thanked him for going out and buying new clothes. He didn't recognize a single item in the bag, and he couldn't fathom buying any of them for himself. He had fleetingly wondered if it was a prank, but the rest of the team had backed Morgan up, and the clothes did show signs of wearing.
But even though the tortuous experiences in the basement were forever erased from his mind, the rest of the month he'd spent in Berkview was still clear in his mind.
Physically he was fine. The bruises on his neck were becoming yellow-greenish splotches, but he wasn't troubled by his throat anymore. He also suffered from headaches. They would come unexpectedly, stay for a couple of minutes and then disappear just as quickly. The doctors assured him that they would go away. He'd also been ordered to gain the weight he had lost, and Morgan had promised him many nights out at all his favorite fast food places. That was another thing Reid had a problem with. He remembered eating all kinds of food, but he often couldn't recall if he'd liked it or not. And at the moment he was questioning almost everything he remembered anyway.
His team was relieved to have him back, to say the least, but he could see the guilt in their eyes and hear the pity in their voices and it was grating on his nerves. He wasn't interested in apologizes or promises that everything would be all right. He just wanted things to get back to normal, to they way they were before. A futile hope maybe, but still a hope. If they wanted to feel guilty, there was nothing he could do to stop them, but he didn't want to be burdened with it. They would have to talk it out amongst themselves, he couldn't help them, not right now. He kept himself slightly distanced from them. He was really happy to be with them again, but he wasn't comfortable in his own skin anymore, and the oddest things irritated him. Mostly he just wanted to be alone. His mind was the only company he wanted or needed. And it was keeping him very busy.
They were disappointed, he knew that. They wanted a happy reunion. They wanted to sneak in extra desserts and gossip about what had happened at the office when he'd been gone, but he didn't have the energy to let them in just yet. They respected that and though they still visited daily, they kept their visits short and their conversations light. Reid felt like he had to gain back some control in his life and get to know himself again before he could open himself up to other human relations again.
Reid wondered a lot about what would happen to the drug now. The finished product had been removed from the lab and was being kept as evidence, as were the notes Lux and RJ had made. But Reid was sure that somewhere down the line it would end up in the hands of scientists, who would want to see if it could really do what Lux had said it could. Though Reid hated the thought of developing a drug that facilitated ECT, and he hoped that whoever was entrusted with it would be more responsibility with it.
On the day Reid was released from the hospital, he told no one. He just left a message on Gideon's voice mail so they wouldn't go to the hospital looking for him. Then he took a taxi home. Putting the key in his apartment door made a victorious feeling run through his body. He was finally here!
He put his duffel bag on the floor and took off his jacket. Then he slowly walked through his apartment, reading the titles on the books in his bookshelves, touching little knick-knacks, pushing a picture frame back in place, refolding the afghan that hung over the back of the couch. His place. His things. Just like he'd left them. Just like he wanted them.
He turned up the thermostat, determined to never be cold in a t-shirt again. He then put on a CD, playing it loud. Music he'd chosen.
His plants were alive and there were hardly any dust. 'Elle,' he thought fondly.
He turned off the ringer on his phone and changed his outgoing message to say, "I'm fine, I'll call you in the morning." Then he turned off his cell phone. He wanted today to be his day.
He stood a long time in front of his closet, looking at all the unfamiliar garments, once again wondering if this was some kind of joke. How could he remember everything else in the apartment, and not recognize even a single pair of socks? It was so bizarre. He contemplated just throwing everything out and start from scratch, but he didn't want to feel conquered by his memory loss. Maybe if he wore them, he would remember them…
His cupboards and fridge were empty. He would have to go out shopping. That thought made him smile. He would go out, where there were mothers with strollers, aging couples walking hand in hand, stressed business men with cell phones glued to their ears, school children enjoying their afternoon freedom. He would walk among them and be normal. He wouldn't be a mental patient, a freak, an FBI agent or a genius. He would just be.
Yes, he would go to the library, the mall, the park, to McDonald's and the video store. All places that would be full of people who wouldn't think 'head case' when they looked at him.
Then he'd go to the grocery store and leisurely stroll through the aisles, taking in the colors, the smells and the tastes. He would be able to choose only the food he wanted to eat. The simple act of deciding what and when to eat, why hadn't he appreciated that before? Maybe he would eat ice cream and cookies for dinner tonight. He'd always wanted to do that when he was a kid, and who could stop him now?
Yes, the hollow, gnawing emptiness and insecurity inside him would be drowned in colors, sounds and sugar. Then he'd be happy again. Wouldn't he?
Something had awoken Gideon, but he didn't know what. He lay absolutely still in bed, trying to figure out what it had been. His clock radio told him it was 2.48 a.m. Then he heard it again, and was surprised he'd woken up in the first place.
The timid knock on his front door wouldn't have scared a canary.
He picked up his robe from the chair beside the bed and made his way to the front door. He didn't bother with the peephole, already knowing who would be on the other side.
"Come in, Reid," he said as he opened the door for the nervous young man, who raised his hand and stuttered a "Hi."
Gideon waved him in and walked before him into the living room, turning on lights as he went.
"Sit," he said, pointing to the couch. Reid did, looking every way except at him. Gideon sat down in an armchair, facing the younger man.
"Reid?" he said, imploringly.
"I'm sorry I woke you up," Reid said, looking down at the carpet.
"No you're not," Gideon said. "If you were you wouldn't have come."
Reid looked up sharply and stood up. "Oh… I'm sorry." He took two steps before Gideon halted him.
"I'm glad you did. Please, Reid, sit down."
Reid sank back into the soft cushions, resuming his scrutiny of the carpet. Gideon sighed. He would have to wait it out, it seemed.
"I won't offer you coffee, because, well, it's three in the morning. How about some tea?"
Gideon fixed the tea and went back into the living room, handing Reid a cup. They sat quiet for a long time, the tea still too hot to drink.
"So, how are you doing?" Gideon asked.
"I had a friend in high school." Reid sounded like he hadn't really heard what Gideon had said, and that he had just been waiting for something to help him start up a story he had long wanted to share.
"Or, I don't know if you could call us friends. It was more of a necessity thing, we were both equally ostracized, me because of my age and he, well he was just different. So whenever you had to choose a lab partner or something, we were the ones left over. I would go home with him every now and then, but I never liked it. His parents… they didn't hit him or anything, but they ignored him. There was always food in the house, but he had to cook for himself. He had to steal money from his mother's purse to buy clothes. They looked right through him, never talked to him. How can anyone do that to their own child? Justin, that was his name, it felt like he wasn't even a real person, he was just a shell that walked and talked. I remember thinking that I could never stand living like that, but… now I have.
"Did you know that schizophrenia comes from the Greek words schizo and phren, meaning shattered mind? I felt like that many times in the hospital, like my mind wasn't my own anymore. All day, every day, people told me I was insane. Maybe not in words, but in their actions, looks and the tone of their voices. The only one to say I was not, was me. And my voice was so small and soft compared to the others' that it was hard to hear.
"And the way I was treated… I've been treated in many different ways in my life, both good and bad, both with respect and contempt, but in there? It was like they couldn't fathom that I could have a soul or mind of my own. They thought they already knew everything worth knowing about me, so there was no point in listening to what I was saying. I was like a goldfish in a bowl. Interesting to look at for a few minutes every now and then, someone you talk to the same way you would talk to a plant, someone you feed dutifully, but when it dies you flush it down the toilet without remorse.
"We always see ourselves through the eyes of others, you know. If they love us, we believe we are worthy of love. If they despise us, we believe we are despicable. Can you imagine growing up in a house without love? Imagine how worthless you must feel. That's how I felt in there. No one in that building loved me or even liked me. No one respected me, no one cared for me or thought of me. I felt like I was starving, and I was only there for a little more than a month. After a while, I just went numb. What was the point of feeling anything anyway, if no one cared about it? Now I can't help but think of all those who've had to live that life, like Justin. The hospital was an emotional wasteland. I honestly didn't know if I'd survive it.
"I've never felt that before. Even if I was bullied at school and mostly ignored at college, there was always kindness around me, if only in the smile of a librarian or a waitress. But the hospital was so cold. There were smiles, but they were patronizing let's-humor-the-monster smiles. It was difficult to know… to remember the world outside. Sometimes I thought that that was just a dream, and that my life in the institution was reality."
"At first when Morgan came, it was a blessing, a reminder of the world outside," Reid went on. "But then his visits became a mockery, showing me what a life in freedom was and then… then I started to think that maybe he was just humoring me. That there really was no case, that I was a patient for real and that the case was just an illusion that you let me keep up to make me feel better. I mean, nothing was happening for a long time… But I guess Morgan already told you that."
"Yes, he did."
"It seems so surreal now. Why would I ever think something that stupid? Why would I think you would do that to me?"
"We fool ourselves if we think we can outthink ourselves," Gideon said. "Self-control of the mind is a noble but unrealistic goal. There are parts of our brains and paths of our minds that are impossible to govern or control. The trick is to be aware of those parts, and learn when to and when not to listen to them… I'm sorry we didn't see how bad it was. I'm sorry we weren't there for you." Gideon said.
"I never asked for your help did I?"
Some time during his monologue, Reid had taken off his shoes and curled up on the sofa. He couldn't get out of the habit of always making himself as small as possible when he felt someone else's attention on him. He kept spinning the tea mug round and round in his hands, his ring finger playing on the brim. It gave him an excuse to keep his head down and not look at Gideon, who was watching his every move with interest.
It was obvious that Reid had thought a lot about his experiences, and had waited a long time to be able to voice his analysis of them to someone. He had had a lot to tell and had therefore been speaking hurriedly, jumping from topic to topic, and yet somehow he had tied them all together. Gideon felt honored that he was the one to be allowed inside Reid's defense walls.
"You know, I'm actually kind of grateful to John for trying to strangle me. If he hadn't, I wouldn't have been in the infirmary that night and I would never have discovered where they went or who was in on it. I would have still been in there, wondering what was real and what wasn't."
"Was it difficult? To keep up appearances all the time, I mean."
"Oh, it was easy to fool the doctors. The hard part was trying to fool the other patients."
There was another long pause, but Gideon was nothing if not patient.
"My mom is sick, you know," Reid said suddenly.
"No, I mean really sick. As in will never get better, only worse. As in will never be able to take care of herself and always be dependent on others. As in will never get to decide what is done to her body or what medications to take. She has no control over her own life. Sometimes she realizes that, sometimes she doesn't, sometimes she…" He lost his momentum, and had to take a deep breath to get his next worry out.
"Schizophrenia is hereditary, you know."
"It's common for schizophrenics to have above average IQ, you know."
"I'm at the prime age for it to start manifesting, you know."
"The odds are against me."
"That doesn't mean that you'll get sick, Reid."
"Doesn't mean I won't either. I mean, why should I be so lucky?... Sometimes I wake up in the morning and wonder if this will be the day when the symptoms start showing. Not often, but sometimes. Sometimes I come home and start second guessing the things I've said and done during the day. Were they normal decisions? Were they rational? Or did they come from a sick man?"
He was quiet for a while, his finger moving round and round the rim of the teacup, in a hypnotic motion. Then he said,
"It's a real, constant fear. It's like being in remission from cancer. You live your life as normal as you can, but deep inside you feel like a ticking time bomb, you're constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. Six months, a year, ten years, never… You just never know."
He looked up real quick, just to see if Gideon was looking at him.
"I have a favor to ask, Gideon. I have an appointment with an attorney tomorrow to draw up a living will. I need someone to be my power of attorney. Would you?"
"I understand if you wouldn't want to. I mean, it's a huge responsibility. It's a life-long disease, after all. But even if I don't get sick, it's probably a good idea for me to have a POA since I don't have any family who can make medical decisions for me if I get shot and need surgery or something. Also…"
"Reid," Gideon interrupted him. "I said yes."
Reid looked up at him, finally smiling.
"Oh… Thank you. I…um…I've got money set aside on a special account if I need long-time care and I've been looking at some private facilities in the area that seem to be good, so you don't have to worry about that. I… thank you."
"You're welcome. But… wouldn't you want to stay with your mother?"
"No, I couldn't do that to her. She'd be devastated and blame herself... Family trait, I know." He smiled shyly. "But no, I don't want to ruin the few good days she has. I… I hope you don't think I'm morbid for doing all these things."
"Absolutely not. You're just being cautious. That's good. But Reid…"
"Don't let it govern my life, I know."
"Right. Don't let it keep you from anything you want to do, don't miss out on great chances and opportunities because of it. If it comes, it comes, but don't start living like you're sick until you actually are. Don't let it rob you of the life you might have had."
"So I'm just supposed to sit back and wait and see?" There was a hint of bitterness in his voice.
"Wait and see? Yes. Isn't that how life mostly works? You wait to get older, you wait for the right one, you wait for your children to be born and grow up, you wait for retirement, grandchildren… death. And in between all this waiting, you live your life such as you chose it to be. So for the 'sit back', that's up to you. Because it's what you do while you wait that matters."
"I… I'll keep that in mind. Thank you, Gideon. For listening and for… well everything really."
"Any time, kid. More tea?"
"Please," Reid said, holding the cup out to him.
It took Gideon a couple of minutes to fix the tea, and when he came back into the living room he found Reid asleep on the couch, just as he'd known he would be.
He smiled fondly and fetched a blanket, spreading it out over his friend. He enjoyed seeing his face in sleep, for once without a frown. Then he became serious again. He wondered how long it would be before Reid once again felt safe, how long it would be before he could bring himself to trust his surroundings. How long it would be before he could once again trust himself.
And he wondered if they would be allowed to keep him or if they would one day lose him forever to the unforgivable disease he dreaded so much.
"Sleep well," he whispered, turning off all lights and heading back to bed.
Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a persistent one.
Author's Notes: The part of Reid forgetting his clothes is actually inspired from real life. There really was a woman who after ECT couldn't remember her own clothing and demanded to know who had put the unfamiliar dresses in her closet. There are also records of persons forgetting how to cook familiar dishes and on a sadder note, those who have forgotten their own children.
Thank you so very much for the wonderful reviews and for taking the time to read my story. Much appreciated.