“I pulled him up from the bottom of the lake, but he struggled to get away from me. At one point, he hit me in the face, and my vision went completely black.”
The ink begins to thin here, like Dr. Elgin failed to load a new cartridge into the printer. I strain my eyes to make out the rest.
Margo, who says she is not a strong swimmer, swam to the shore to regain her breath, then dove back in for Judah. She was able to pull his already-unconscious body to the bank of the Boubaton River, where she reportedly preformed CPR for five minutes before running to get help.
The article cuts off here. Elgin didn’t bother printing out the rest of the story. She wanted to reassure me I was crazy—or complex, as she called it—without giving me too much information. I realize I am very, very hungry and start to think of dinner. Will it be beef stroganoff or enchilada pie?
I look at the blurred lines of the printout, the disjointed, jiggery ink job, and wonder why a fancy doctor like Queen Doctor doesn’t have fresh ink. She seems to be waiting for something. I avoid her eyes.
I can feel the cold water on my skin—cold, even though it’s summer. The weight of the cripple kid as I try to haul him to the surface … kicking, kicking … the burning of my lungs, the numbness of my fingers as they grip his shirt and can’t hold on. Desperation. Confusion. Who do I save? Myself? Him? Does he want to be saved? Eventually I had swallowed too much water, and, coughing, I pushed my aching limbs to the shore where I gasped for air, staring back at the spot where he sank … where he wanted to sink.
The reporter was nice. He gave me a twenty-five dollar gift certificate to Wal-Mart that he pulled out of his wallet and told me that I was a hero. “Not everyone can be saved,” he said to my tear-stained face. “Sometimes you just have to let nature take its course.”
I thought that was an incredibly selfish and ignorant thing to say to someone who watched a boy die in front of her. A boy she had seen her whole life, but had never spoken to. Suicide wasn’t natural. It was the anti-natural. It was natural to want to live. It was unnatural to be bruised in ways that made you want to die.
“Do you remember?” Dr. Elgin asks, her face arranged in way that expressed no judgment. She looks casual, like we are talking about my breakfast.
I feel incredibly stupid. Embarrassed. Complex. Crazy. The Judah I have spent years of my life with is a figment of my imagination. How is that possible? And what else have I imagined? You can go crazy just from realizing you’re crazy.
“I know his smell,” I tell Dr. Elgin. “How can he not be real if I know his smell?”
“I know you do, Margo. The trauma you faced caused you to go into an altered, dissociative state. You made up the Judah you know to give both you and him another chance.”
She seems quite pleased with her assessment. I am unimpressed. I can still feel him in the air around me; you can’t make up a person in such detail. And if I were going to make up an imaginary friend to help me cope with life, why wouldn’t I give him nice, strong legs? I remember the aching in my arms after having pushed his wheelchair through the streets of the Bone. The awkwardness of having to do things like drive him, bathe him, help him onto the sofa the night he slept over.
I leave Elgin’s office that day feeling like I am floating instead of walking. I could say that everything feels surreal, but the truth is, I feel surreal. Like it’s not Judah, but me who doesn’t exist. When the doors lock behind us that evening, and I crawl into the stiff, bleached sheets of the mental hospital, I am unsure. I know nothing. I bury my face in my thin pillow until I can’t breathe, then force myself to come up for air. I assure myself with a quivering, jelly voice that I am real. I do this all night until the lights flicker on, and the doors open, and the medication is handed to us in little paper cups that smell of old people. Judah is real, and I am real, I tell myself over and over. But, by lunch, I am once again unsure. If I made up Judah, I could be making all of this up—the murders, the hospital, Dr. Elgin. I check my door plaque to make sure my name is Margo.
I see Elgin three times a week, then two as she feels I am making progress in our sessions. I stop fighting her after that first time, stop saying that Judah is real. I slip silently into the role of the humble patient, clutching what remains of my sanity between oiled fingers. And then, one day, after I’ve been in Westwick for a little over five months—and my limbs are growing soft and spongy from the time I spend sitting—everything changes.
THEY RELEASE ME FROM WESTWICK, though I do not feel ready. The revelation about Judah has made me feel strange in my own skin. I am unable to trust even myself. What happens to a person when their own brain becomes the enemy? I don’t know. I’m afraid to find out.
My apartment is just as it was, except with a fine layer of dust coating everything. My lease with Doyle isn’t up for another year, and unless he decides to be a dick, I don’t have to worry about being tossed into the street for not sending a rent check.
The first thing I do is shower. I sing “Tainted Love” at the top of my lungs. At the hospital, the water was always lukewarm, the pressure barely strong enough to rinse the shampoo from your hair. I let the steam grow around me, turning my skin bright red as it licks me with hot pelts. I want to wash away the last few months of my life. Start fresh. And I feel fresh; I have fresh perspective, I have Dr. Elgin, I have a mission … purpose.
When I finish, I dress and pick up my laptop, which has been sitting on the charger for five months. I have e-mails. I open the first; it is from Judah. I giggle because there is no Judah. Right? Right. There are several from him over the months. In the first one, he apologizes for his anger when I visited, and wants to know how I am. As more time passes, his e-mails take a different tone as he urges me to call him. He fears for my safety; he’s afraid of what I am capable of doing. None of this is real, of course. I might have written these e-mails myself, though I have no recollection of it. I delete each one, and then empty my trash so I never have to see them again. I do not need an imaginary friend to show concern for my well being. Dr. Elgin said that if you love yourself, you don’t need to create people in your mind who love you. Self-hatred is a form of self-obsession, isn’t it? A self-loathing so creatively profound that any concern for others dwindles down to nothing. I don’t want to be that person—so infatuated with my flaws that I forget to see the needs of others. My mother loved to hate herself, and, in the process, forgot she had a daughter.
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