Not for the first time, I lie in a bed inside an institution. This time there is no cure for what I have. The wires lie thick; winding, digging, delving around and through me. I am old and tired and the voices I have grown used to no longer hold the answers and the comfort that I seek, that I need.
I gently flex the old fingers on my left hand. They creak and shoot gentle reminders of my arthritis. The metronome of hospital noises thro
ugh the silence ticks and clicks off the seconds, moving me closer. The sunlight is diffused by a cheap pastel blind, animal prints all over it, cheerful and kitsch. I look over the perfumed vase of flowers, they have not been put into water and the once proud petals are withering and failing.
A doctor walked in looking embarrassed and started talking about numbers and the likelihood of survival, had we been in a different time there would have been a shift in power, but that time has long gone. I am not who, what I was. I wait in this small, overly warm and stuffy room, a private room for the end. I am not sad, I am not upset, I am resigned to the fate of all men. My time is drawing short and for a moment the wicked flicker of danger flares behind my eyes, I can feel it at the edge of myself, the old longing, keeping it hidden as I have done for so long.
The drugs infiltrate my body, cooling and calming, inducing drowsiness. I long for sleep and rest. But there is something I must tell before the end. To explain how I came to be where I am. Who I am. What I am. I become more delirious, for the first time since my childhood, out of control of myself through medical intervention. Not to worry, I have committed this all to paper and ink. The real story, the story that will tell of the change.
I was born in Upstate New York, the eldest son of a family of some note. I am told the first few years of my life were lived in comfort and happiness. The amount of happiness you can have when you are looked after by those paid by your parents to love and support you. I have very few vivid memories of that time, the earliest I can recall is a conversation with my Grandfather.
He was a powerful man but very Puckish, a man who lived life to the full. Coded language for raging alcoholism. There was a point, before he went over the edge that he became incredibly conspiratorial with the five-year-old me. I learned things, things that a five-year-old should not. In his way he was preparing me, often the conversation would start with “let me tell you about the time,” when this was the case he would rub a mark on his forehead, what people today would call a nervous tick.
I learned about our family; I did not understand it all but knew they were secrets. My parents, Aunts and Uncles got increasingly cross as I would embarrass them at awkward times with awkward questions. When I asked one of these inquiries that included the word “illegitimate” to my father, that was it. He demanded to know what was going on. I was in his study shame faced not wanting to get Grandpa into trouble as well. But there are only so many times a young backside and a belt can meet before the truth will out.
My father turned ashen faced and screamed that I was a “liar!” I was not but, it was hard for people to believe me, it was true that Grandpa had died in the Great War some twenty years previously in a field in Ypres. Died a hero’s death in Flanders Fields. I did not understand the concept of death at so tender an age.
By the time I was eleven the Great Depression had well and truly hit, not for families like mine, but for the rest of America, there was talk of revolution and politics. I still talked to my Grandfather and as time had gone on several others. I let people know what we talked about and the stories they told me, some happy and some not so happy. I learned the ways of the place. I had not been allowed into a school, my parents thought it would be too much for others to see what the eldest of my illustrious line had become.
On a chance meeting at the local University, my father being a patron of the medical sciences, met with a colleague of someone called Max Fink. This man was a grad student, poorly dressed and clearly of meagre means. Longing to earn his degree and become Dr. Becker (a title he gave himself anyway for gravitas and prestige the way the lower class often does). My father had convinced him to come and cure my mania. Convinced with the real God of America, the one which we declare our real trust.
The first I learned of this meeting was to be strapped down on one of the reclining couches, rubber bit in my teeth as the man hooked me up to wires. Ironically, many in my own country had not experienced the joys of electricity. That day I learned to curse it. Arcing waves of pain shot through my body as the bilateral procedure shuddered and shook, trying to remove the demons from my pathological brain. As I convulsed in pain, I began to learn about lies and deceit.
For the next three months, three times a week the man came. Hooked me up and ‘cured’ me. The first procedure was the only one done in the library on a reclining couch, after that session we were always in the scullery. It, being easier to clean the shit, piss, and vomit from flagstones, for me a relief. I remember vividly pressing my head to the coolness of the stones, too weak to scream. After several weeks I learned what those giving me treatment wanted to hear. That the voices were gone.
The legions of servants in the house had dedicated roles. My governess and nurse were people the I relied on for affection. It was not long after the treatments that some of the meaner voices came through. One in particular rasped and lisped its way into my dreams. This was at a time where I had not yet learned to control the nature of the conversations with them, the silent and invisible others. Through their machinations I realised that the affection bore to me. The love they showed was directly linked to the monies earned for looking after the little strange boy with the mania.
I had a penchant for animals at that time, something that stayed with me throughout my life. I cared for little creatures, enjoyed watching them thrive and reproduce and ultimately pass away, knowing they were cared for. Innocence is easily lost. To punish and to scare away those I found… distasteful. The animals I had collected from the grounds helped with that as my little menagerie grew smaller one tiny life at a time. The shrieks from the women at the presents left in a pocket or shoe.
From that age I learned to lie convincingly, connivingly. I had to present myself as cured to the world. The dead still wanted to speak to me, I ignored the clamorous many and learned to filter out those with requests for help to those who sought the same as me. The ability to hurt others. This was petty and small, a letter here to someone revealing a family secret or skeleton in the closet. Nasty vulgar expression.
From that point my future had been written, black voices inking the pages of my life.
After my miraculous cure I was sent to a prestigious boarding school, the kind that grows men who become presidents and captains of industry. Much to my parents’ chagrin, I actually excelled in academia over rhetoric and extracurricular activities. My time at school was unremarkable save one incident with a group of students determined to prove a point to the pale and small child, nose deep in a book. They got their licks in. I stayed tight lipped and silent to the living.
The ringleader was found hanged the next week. One of the many revealed to me his sexual proclivities, even as a boy of sixteen, being a queer and potentially outed meant there was more dignity in death through suicide than revelation of truth. I was not gladdened or happy, just coldly observed that I could wield power over others to my benefit.
The Head of the school once tried to cross me. He was a pitiful man, with delusions of grandeur. A failed academic and drunk. He called me into his study, it was lined with books that he had not, could not read. Tomes in Latin and Greek, Herodotus and Tacitus telling the tales of the ancient world.
A fire burned, vainly trying to draw the cold from the room. It was failing. The leaves piled underneath the windows seemed to be huddling for warmth. “Your teachers tell me you are doing well, no doubt your family is pleased?” Thinly said, almost rehearsed. There seemed something out of place.
“Yes sir,” my curt reply.
“Hmmmm…” and other non-committal sounds came from him, his old suit moving up and down slowly. He revealed that he had been asked to observe me from my mother, she had never believed my lies. Though not like me, it was uncanny how a mother knows. I had to be careful and keep my conversations with the great majority a secret. At least until this man could be dealt with.
At night, whispers came. By the morning, the Head no longer kept such a close eye on me.
It was amazing how a little conversation made my life easier, the lapsing of curfews, how people would do favours for me. At the age of fifteen a girl who owed me a favour revealed her little secret. More whispers in the night and a local doctor solved that problem. The girl, sadly, was also a casualty of that procedure – sepsis. I cried a little. Only a little, a little because she slept with me out of fear not through love, even longing, I was not that naïve.
As I delved deeper into history at school, I was accepted to Harvard studying History and Archaeology. My gift with dead languages, irony aside, made my interview a certainty. My father giving an endowment to that establishment did not hurt either. All I wanted was to study and be left alone. The great majority left me isolated for the most part. I sought guidance now and again. Sadly, my ideal trip through Europe and North Africa was stopped by the Second World War. I had to travel around my own country to our pitiful history. Remember, this was a time when the native people were still seen as savages without a history worth studying.
I had become estranged from my parents by this time, they looked to families like the Kennedy’s, sons who were bravely fighting fascists. I was an embarrassment still, and them cursed with only daughters after my own birth. So, for a time I was forgotten, left in the corners of libraries, gathering information and knowledge. Learning to put my boon to use. Many would have felt outrage at the loss of prestige from family, but I had learned to bide my time.
Aside from the one meeting with the queer bully, my life was rather charmed. It is amazing how things can change in the blink of an eye. Many have wondered how I achieved what I did. Knew what I did. People would not believe me if I told them. The mists of the poison in my veins lulls me to sleep. We will continue. Soon.