"In One of These Dreams"
"In One of These Dreams"
I've seen some weird shit in my life. Comes with the territory. Like, say, you're a doctor. So you expect blood, right? You expect to scream 'Prep!' at the top of your Ivy League educated lungs like you've seen on television. And if you're a scum sucking, morality skating lawyer – or a military lawyer, those worst kind of scum suckers – then you expect to be a sad, pathetic excuse for a pencil pushing moron in a big pinstripe suit that swamps your scrawny ass. Are you hearin' me?
So, if you're a military nurse, of – withered- no, aged, no – wise years then you expect to have seen some shit. And you've done Kuwait, and you've done Bosnia, and you think, save Clinton becoming a devout vow-of-chastity-holding monk, that you've seen the weirdest shit you're every likely to see – because you've 'been' to that edge and come back without the shrapnel wound. You're that 'lucky' bastard who got away. You're 'that' guy who you see in the back of the CNN reports where all-teeth prissy Republicans tell the world about the suffering – you expect you've seen it all. Lemme tell you something, you ain't seen nothing.
I work Ward Six. I have done since I got back from Bosnia in late '96. I musta pissed some suit off in some top brass installation. I dunno – but if you had to choose a grounded position ya don't choose Ward Six. I was workin' outta my one bedroom apartment in Connecticut at the time. I had medical crap coming out of my ears. I had the torn pictures of me in my uniformed form, my ex-wife sent through the mail sitting on the brunch bar. I had my son looking all shattered pride at me as he rode by in his new SUV to pick me up and take me to work – and through that shitty hell of autumn '96, of all the god damned people, I land Ward Six.
I've been working Ward Six for fourteen years. Ward Six – for those of you not versed with the current lingo is the loony bin, certifiable nut house, where the best and the brightest of America's military institutions go when their above average IQs get fried. Wards one through five, seven through twelve are for soldiers convalescing. We offer our services to them too – good guys, guys who have been out there fighting, winning our wars, protecting our homes. You know the line, we all do. Ward Six is for those suffering from the real god-awful jazz -- manic depression, schizophrenia, delusions, fits, hysteria, amnesia. Some of them are even close to being psychopaths – but soldiers, good men, owed by their country.
I thought I was going to hate Ward Six.
Maybe, I do. But it's taught me stuff. You ever see that Robin William's film? It's got De Niro in it. Awakenings? Yeah, that one. It's like that. It ain't no Milos Forman, Jack Nicholson "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" kinda deal…and I ain't no Louise Fletcher. It's quiet most days – we have our trouble makers, we have our sweet guys with their wives handing them flowers, with little cards signed by Little Jimmy, who ain't so little anymore, and we have our weird shit.
Crichton was weird shit.
All patients are addressed by their surname, hell, this is the military remember, not some pansy-assed health clinic that self-obsessed movie stars with bad 'cellulite counts' check into. Everyone is a surname – until you end up in Ward Six long enough to just become a name. I've been there fourteen years. I'm George. I got a cute little nametag with my name embossed on, it's made of some kinda cheap plastic – completely inflammable, unbreakable; believe me, I tried.
But yeah, Crichton was weird shit. No one was quite sure where he'd come from. He was on some astronaut program, some of the guys say he even made space, 'touched the cosmos' as Larry the Poet put so succinctly. But hell, who watches the space program anymore? So IASA are launching up from the cape. Big fucking deal. It is a commonly known fact that ALL pilots, all soldiers, all withered ward nurses with chapped hands and loose lips want to be astronauts. And we're military people, we LIVE for our deep-seated resentment issues – so the 'nauts aren't well liked.
But Crichton wasn't just some All-American Hero – no siree. They dropped him in to us on a Tuesday, that I distinctly recall. Two men, secret service, FBI – fucking Mulder and Scully – or something, came by to get him all tucked in and snug-as-a-bug. He dressed himself in a ward gown and put some slippers on the minute they left. Even next to the other guys, squabbling over half a set of checker pieces – he looked pathetic. But he was cute, and I'm as straight as Robin Hood's arrow but I'm tellin' ya – the guy was good-lookin'. He looked like the man my ex-mother-in law wanted my ex-wife to marry. Correction – he looked like my ex-wife's second husband, the LESSER failed science experiment midterm she took.
And at first – it was hard to work out what was wrong with him, by just looking. He looked a little manic – sure, but then I look a little manic, the Chief of Police often looks manic – David Letterman ALWAYS looks manic. There are degrees to these things – and Crichton was missing some criteria. For one – he was real easy to get a coherent sentence out of.
'Yeah, sure, why not? Hey George, you got some of that chicken noodle stuff that almost tastes like the packet mom bought from the grocery store?'
Does that sound ill to you? No. That sounds like normal, that sounds like everyday, that sounds like the guy you see crossing the street when you're standing on your lawn and wave to as you power up the mower.
You see; you really had to talk to Crichton to see how fucked-up he was. You had to sit at the edge of his bed and listen, really listen.
It started simple. He'd ingratiated himself with the boys quite well – some of them are hard to get on with. Closed, I guess is the word. There are the ones who've been 'locked up' for want of a better term for longer than they can remember. Some of them ask you where their wives are. Their leathery faces will check their watches on certain days in August. They'll move the thick, Seventies styled arm chairs to the windows and ask when 'Mavis' or 'Dot' or 'Caroline' – is going to arrive, even if their wives weren't called Mavis or Dot or Caroline – I think, they think, the names fit with the image they want to create. And the sad truth is that Mavis, and Dot, and Caroline annulled the marriage years ago, and have flashy-sports car husbands who take them to country clubs and buy their daughters ponies that they call 'Trent'. Those wives don't come to Ward Six anymore. So, Crichton fit in because no one visited him. It's easy to befriend someone you pity.
Although Crichton was hard to pity. Lemme see, when did it start? We were watching television one day in the Day Room. We were watching ER, I think it was its tenth, maybe eleventh season – I can never remember – the bald guy, Green?, he was leaving. It was his special good bye episode. Crichton was uninterested – but then he always was. The program finished. Misiewicz balled his ninth infantry eyes out. I was suitably sickened by the saccharine – Crichton grew restless.
He asked if I'd change the channel. I did. I flicked on some old Sci Fi show. Buck Rogers, or some such shit with lots of women in skimpy costumes and really bad electronic dance music that buzzed through one ear, managed only to knock some ear wax from the canal, before buzzing straight out the other. Wholly forgettable. Elevator music. He laughed – he told me that this wasn't what it was like at all.
I smiled at him, leaned over on a chair. 'So, Crichton,' I began, 'enlighten me.'
He looked at me, all quarter-back baby blues that the cheerleaders would go ga-ga over flashed in my direction. He considered this and then some kind of wry grin spread across his mouth. 'Okay,' he said, 'why the hell not?'
'My sentiments exactly,' I replied.
'You don't need to go into the future.' At this point he was only talking to me. 'There are these things called worm holes dotted across the galaxy – and if you can create one, and punch through it then whammo, thank-you-Mr-President you're not in Kansas anymore. I am telling you, and they've got bad guys and space ships – and all that shit. And weird guns – EVERYONE has guns, you think Texas is bad you should see the uncharteds they're—"
I stopped him. 'The Uncharteds?'
He nodded, and then sat back in his chair. 'It's okay,' he said, lightly, almost apologetically, which by no stretch of the imagination was our man Crichton. 'I'm absolutely round-the-twist, I'm gone, I'm far gone, I'm mad as the march hare guy in that 'Eat Me' book…' he mumbled to himself.
He stayed for more weeks. August became winter and still no one came for Crichton. The ward sisters would come and gawk at him. A pretty one, Charlise she was called, would make a point of going to his room. She used to do her hair just so for him, hide lipstick in her apron so that she could apply it before she tended his meds tray. Like I said, the guy was handsome, and he knew exactly how not to treat a woman. Yup, that's what I said – how NOT to treat them. Because to everyone's surprise Charlise was rebuffed and okay yeah, what if it's not protocol for the staff to go fooling with the patients. I'm a divorcee, and I never seen no harm in a little happiness. But like I said, she ran crying so nah, no happiness for Crichton.
When Charlise got married last autumn to a guy named Bill who owns a shrimping boat somewhere near the coast (naturally) I asked her what Crichton said, and yeah, the story sounded familiar.
He told her about this woman, the same one he explained to me many times. I can't remember her name real well – I'm storing such a lot of stuff now that I lose faces and names in the vain hope I can keep a hold of my son's birth, my daughter's christening, my granddaughter's little chubby cheeks – you know, important junk. But she had a name like Sky, or Scale, or something like that. And to hear Crichton talk – she was the most beautiful thing since Raquel Welsh ran around in a cave-chick costume.
'You wanna know about her? She was, you know – different. Like you'd see her, and you'd think 'No, hell no, back away,' and alarms go off in your head and bounce around the old cranium and you're thinking – why the hell am I still going towards this woman and, more importantly, why is she still letting me get close – and then you get near to her, and she's looking at you and it's boom.'
'Boom?' I asked.
'Yeah boom. No other way to describe it. Life loses meaning – everything else, patterns, colours, you can't even remember your own damn name – he paused – which seems like a bonus in here anyway. But you know what I mean, George man, right? Like nothing in the universe mattered, like your atoms suddenly re-arranged themselves on the spot if she'd even just as much look at you.'
I laughed at him, patted him on the back in a friendly way. 'You are so far gone, my friend.'
His eyes grew distant then. 'Oh I'm insane all right. I think I've been right crazy for a long time.' He rarely got serious. He looked out to the window and watched the wheelchairs wheel their way around the cracked sidewalk. 'She was the one thing out there that was real, you know? She was real.'
I laughed at him. His look was measured though, more thought out than usual. 'And I bet she didn't take no shit form you.'
He smiled at me. A real Crichton smile – kinda gawky and awkward on a face that looked like it was born to be Mr Florida Orange Juice. He liked that I believed him. 'No sir, she took no shit from me.' He chuckled.
I left him. A guy's entitled to his memories – his maudlin memories. I had a theory at this point. Crichton was no space cowboy – he was too damn clever, and he wasn't really insane either. We were keeping him for those shady secret types – who didn't believe a word of his crap but didn't want him proclaiming the gospel according to Roswell either – and so we were keeping him from the street. But you can see how Charlise wouldn't have liked living in this woman's shadow? And you can see why I grew more and more suspicious.
One time, we'd gone out to play some ball, shoot some hoops – stretch our legs in our allotted time on the facility court. These are the times when I realise I could never stop working Ward Six. The good times, when I really feel likes someone you know? REALLY feel like I have some kind of purpose.
So me and Crichton had grown kinda close. I knew all about his 'Farscape One' – and his science experiments, his Dad, his home friends, his little indiscretions – the woman he was going to marry. I knew about 'Moya' and the aliens, and the totally white little whore one who always sounded like the kind I wanna take to a couple of formal parties – shake the starch suits up a little. I knew the whole story, so did everyone. The ward called him Kirk – you know, after Captain Kirk, space guy from Star Trek. And no one bothered to know his first name.
So I threw him the ball. 'Careful now, Kirky baby, don't want to wound your pride.'
He caught it. 'Last time I check I'm wearing 'slippers' twenty-four/ seven and you're talking to me about pride?" He threw the ball towards the hoop. Like I say, he was the jock, the blue eyed-genius – voted 'Guy Most Unlikely To End Up In a Mental Institution.' It slam dunked straight in – no Magic Johnson but the guy had function, a little style, some grace.
He fell to the floor. I went to sit next to him. Geoff and Sara, my co-workers, were rounding up the other guys. I have no idea what came over me. 'Do you miss it?' I asked.
He didn't expect the question. 'Yes,' he said plainly. 'I do.'
I thought he was a spy. I thought Moya was a code name – I thought he'd done something to piss the US government off. He was definitely a liability – they wouldn't even let him out. And he struck me as a kinda chisel in the lemon meringue kinda guy too – wanting to break out, but being messy with it. He used to shout a lot when he first came – bang on the walls, rant and rave a little at night. His eyes used to bulge and he was quite intimidating when he really tried. At some point he gave up trying, I should probably work out when.
He looked me straight in the eye. 'I think I'm mad,' he said plainly. 'I think I thought all this fucking crap up because something shitty has happened to me. It was all some kinda lucid dream, everything, everything I remember, some weird-ass nightmare horror story. It didn't happen, did it? Moya. Just…didn't happen.'
He wanted Moya to be real. He wanted to be the guy he described on that ship. He was delusional – the symptoms were classic, yet sincere. He said they found him in Farscape One in the middle of the Pacific ocean – I checked this, it was true. 'I made it up, didn't I? Of all the stupid things to do…'
He was very pathetic that night. I felt sorry for him. But he seemed to be making progress – adjusting to the real world. He still told the stories, about the plant-woman who was blue from head to foot and used to worship a goddess as part of some 'seek'- he talked about the time he shared her mind. Kinda awe inspiring – he gave a lot of hope out. He told me the tragic tale of the warrior, fallen from battle, child taken, wife killed, to be left imprisoned on a living ship.
They used to like his stories. He kept us together a lot of the time – through the winter, until it broke into some kind of Spring. Maybe he only stayed the one winter. But I remember things most years by the seasons if not the months.
He told me more about the woman – and I think, slowly, I may have been falling in love with her myself. In my eyes she was lean, and muscular, and her lips quirked into an odd smile. She has thick dark hair – and whenever I think of her I see neon lights, and it's raining – and she's sitting in a café calling my name. She was that real to me – 'that' real.
The FBI men kept calling – Mully and Sculder – as they had earned their nicknames. And Kirk Crichton kept telling them nothing, day in, day out. Or maybe not – part of me wonders if he told them everything and they just didn't believe him. Fucking inept losers. If only they'd have listened – if only they had been that geek Fox Mulder looking for unexplained trash and the like.
It was May, or near abouts. There was blossom on the trees outside – you could see it from the Day Room windows. One of the 'long timers' had just died. The ward was a little subdued.
You know I promised weird shit?
She walked in forcefully. She looked foreign, I wondered if she was Russian, a spy maybe, a mafia girl – running drugs in Moscow and snorting cocaine as Crichton, some rogue NSA spy, ran his fingers down her spine. She had beautiful thick hair that shone a little. She smelt of the fresh spring perfume- it had rained outside and she'd let herself get wet. She was a stranger. I sensed her before I saw her.
'Excuse me, miss?'
She looked up at me. Hell, I was being polite – when Jackson steals my keys I can be as grumpy as hell – but she was new, and didn't deserve the gillette razor blade edge to my tongue.
She didn't respond. She held up a piece of paper – on it was written 'Crichton' in bad crayola crayon that my granddaughter could have executed with more panache. Crichton was sitting in a chair, facing out to the view. He hadn't seen her yet. I pointed to the chair – she nodded at me curtly. She didn't fit the floral pattern dress that looked three sizes too big at her shoulders.
She walked into his view. I have never seen a man look so terrified before. She began talking to him and Russian went straight out the window. The woman was all clicks and whirs and that's Africa – that's not the land of Vodka and super spies and nukes. Maybe she was Dutch and speaking some kind of Afrikaans dialect. Maybe he'd met her on Safari, maybe he'd been lost in the desert and she had opened her home to him, maybe she'd kissed him as she washed him, run droplets of water into his broken skin. They were lovers – like I say – when you've seen as much as I do you pick up on these things.
He began talking to her – English, perfect, clear as crystal, break it and you'll pay for it, English. She looked unhappy with him, and then angry and then close to tears. But she didn't cry – and I saw her, she was lean, and maybe the face was a little wrong but she was sitting in that all night diner, under the neon lights, calling my name. This was his Sky- his, Sun. That was it – Sun. Ironic, really.
Everyone pretended they weren't watching. And then the oddest thing happened. He stood up and he kissed her – hard, like he'd said, like nothing existed, like they were playing out some mad, and suicidally passionate game between them that had been left unfinished with a hotel not yet bought on Madison Square Garden. And she responded like I've never seen anyone, not in a public place, hell, not even at home in bed with my wife, or ex-wife. Like she needed him. No. Required him.
It all clicked. Crichton had said she was real to him. And she was.
He clutched her tightly, a hand on each arm and told her bluntly, 'You don't exist to me.'
She broke her hand free and slapped him straight across the face, knocking him way too easily to the floor. She made some clicking sounds towards the rest of us. John, hunched double on the linoleum, coughed out, 'Just checking.'
Like I said – weird shit. We don't get visitors. She left, just as easily as she came. Crichton went to his room. I followed him, eager, and trying to not look too eager, to know what she'd said – who she was – who…
'What's the matter, Kirk?' I asked. 'She seemed real enough to me.'
He gave me a blunt look. 'Long time ago. I've gotta be moving forward. Get myself that whole nine yards. Nice wife, nice lawn, nice kids with shiny white tee--'
'You're a jack-ass idiot.'
He was shocked. I'm not usually so mean. Mean? Shit, I sound like I'm in Grade School. I'm never usually so direct, to put it in a better frame.
The house, the day room, the wards – dreams don't rest there well, you know. People with dreams are certifiable. People thinking they're for something in life is downright ludicrous. We're not allowed fantastic above the mundane joy of the food on the daycare menu. We're not allowed magnificent things – the world is clean, everything is black and white.
I realised something. I wanted her to be Sun. I wanted her to be Aeryn Sun. I wanted her to be real to him.
And after that? Come on, how do all stories end? I never saw him again. Next morning he was gone, she'd come for him, she'd hopped off the fucking mothership and she'd come for him and taken him away.
Or he'd changed ward. Or they'd simply let him go – and he was walking his road back across the state border, kicking up the dirt by the side of the interstate.
But Crichton was gone. No, I guess that ain't weird shit. That's just sad shit.
It just sticks in your head, you know. What the hell is out there if Crichton was telling the fucking truth?
And what the hell becomes of us –when we lose sight of our own dreams?
His name was John, John Crichton.
And I'd like to think he wasn't insane.