Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Delightful, Wonderful, and Crazy Universe of Melanie (2/5)

Everyone seeks refuge in fantasy from time to time; we read novels and watch movies essentially to escape our stressful or humdrum lives.  Some, like Melanie, go further and invest their existence with more meaning than it really has, even if this means telling yourself fantastical stories and creating highly unlikely situations out of whole cloth.  Truth be told, before I had my health issues, I sometimes would pretend to be a sniper while carrying my gym bag to the gym.  I’d fancy myself on a mission to assassinate a foreign official and inside the bag was a rifle and scope that I must quickly assemble to make my hit before disappearing the premises like a ninja.
          So much for my defense of Melanie’s imagination.  I would not have bothered with such an explanation were it not for two factors: (1) Psychological analysis is all I do these days, thanks to my regular therapy sessions with Dr. Bryson and (2) You, not me, might find our group discussions a bit strange and in need of an explanation.
          For the record, I wouldn’t miss these hours with Melanie for anything, even if they’re bittersweet.  How I’ve wanted to touch her and tell her how much she means to me.  I wish I could hold her tightly to my breast and feel her heartbeat against mine.  For me, biology had always been a subject to study, a scientific investigation in the laboratory, not a woman’s heartbeat.
Melanie was distant at first, and it wasn’t “love at first sight.”  I suppose her standoffishness was a byproduct of the Neurontin, Zyprexa, and Lamictal she had to ingest every day.
To be fair, I’m not exactly a social creature; my inclusion in the group—that is, my progress in holding extended conversations with people—is perhaps just as miraculous as it is for Arnie, and Tom, well, maybe all of us at the table.  So if Melanie were to see me in the same way I started to see her, I’m sure I subverted any romantic interest with my social ineptness.
Though none of Melanie’s fantasies involved any of us turning into animals, I’ve often imagined Melanie and me as two lonely birds, each with a damaged wing, finding each other and together managing to fly low to the ground.
          As the weeks turned into months, I felt that I knew her—and understood her—more than anyone else, except maybe her mom, who visited her worrisome daughter at least twice a week.  If playing a role in her imaginative worlds was the only way to connect with her, so be it.  I would strive to become a thespian par excellence, turning whatever role I was offered into an opportunity to impress (and woo) the director.  Besides, as my “sniper” anecdote would suggest, I rather like make-believe.
          Melanie and I are avid readers, so our bookish knowledge only enhances the storytelling.  She received some graduate training in art history, and I have a science background.  Melanie reads and pretends mostly for creative needs, whereas I’ve turned to books and imagination simply to fight boredom.  Either way, we—all five of us—enjoy our time participating in inventive stories.
          The time has come to introduce myself more formally, though you must try to put aside your bias and presuppositions about….well, let me just introduce myself.  I first want to assure you that I’m not discussing myself because I’m significant.  To the contrary, I’m about as insignificant and loathsome a creature you’ll meet.  My name is Sam, Sam Gregory, forty-two years old, and until about three years ago, before I arrived here at Bedford Psychiatric Hospital, I had moved in with my aging mother and sister because I couldn’t take care of myself.  But that’s not all.
          I had turned into a germ—that’s right, a germ—after a fitful summer night of horrific dreams.  To be specific, I awoke one morning to find myself a bacillus.  Though I couldn’t move at first, I eventually managed to wriggle my rod-shaped body out of bed through a sheer act of will.  After not hearing from me for nearly two days, my sister Elizabeth had police break into my condominium; they found me on the floor of my bedroom.
          Everything I touched would cause sickness and disease.  My presence was an infection, and only my mother and sister had immunity.  Elizabeth placed me in a Petri dish that she procured from a colleague of mine at the university and transported me to my mom’s house.  What else could she do?
          I can’t explain how this transformation occurred, but it greatly affected my life and my family.  I’m not talking metaphorically, mind you; no, I was literally a bacterium, and given my microscopic size I’m still amazed that I could communicate and have my basic needs met.  My sister had to sell my condo for me as I certainly couldn’t make the payments.  I couldn’t work, I couldn’t see people, and I stayed locked up in my parents’ guestroom.
          Yes, I’m now undergoing psychiatric treatment, have been for nearly two years, and part of me sees the irrationality of such thinking and behavior.  Dr. Bryson, and a regular regimen of meds, has forced me to dig deep into my psyche.  The good doctor eventually convinced me that I’m not a pathogenic parasite, a menace to society; rather, as a bacillus I provide an important function in decomposing food particles and breaking down dead matter.  Once he got me to see this positive and beneficial role, he denied that I had transformed into a microbe at all.  I’m still not sold on his well-intentioned efforts to help me, but that’s enough about me.  Let me describe how the “paradigm shift” that I mentioned in the first sentence came about.
          At first, Melanie seemed to run with my character’s alteration.  True, I had taken liberty with the “script.”  Melanie had specified the Italian merchant—my character—as a liaison between the Duke of Venice and the Grand Vizier, nothing more.
          “No, that’s not how it goes,” Melanie responded.  “The merchant is just brokering the marriage between me and the duke’s son, Alessandro.”  Tom, playing the parts of the Grand Vizier and Alessandro, nodded in acknowledgment.
          She clearly became uncomfortable with my suggestion.  However, I couldn’t figure out if her discomfort resulted from my presumption to mess with her script or from embarrassment over the implications of my suggestion. 
          “Yeah, but how about the merchant falling in love with the princess and thus complicating the whole affair?”
          “The marriage between the duke’s son and the princess is vital to solidify political ties between Venice and the Ottoman Empire.”
          “I take your point,” I said.  “I just thought it would be fun and interesting to throw in something unexpected.”
          “That’s fine with me, I guess,” responded Arnie, with the day’s Chicken Kiev still on his chin.
          I started to back off.  “It doesn’t have to be me, the merchant.  It could be someone else.”
          Finally, Melanie agreed, but she seemed shy and hesitant throughout the remaining minutes of our storytime.  I had not only challenged her directorial guidance, but I had made a foolish approach to her heart.
          We didn’t meet the next day, Thursday, as Lisa spent the late morning with her mother and Arnie had a dental appointment.  On Friday, though, the anguish I had gone through over the last forty-eight hours, lamenting that Melanie did not share my feelings, turned into sweet delight, and I became cautiously optimistic.  She chose me for the role of her love interest, er, her character’s love interest, in a new fantasy.
          It went down this way (and if you don’t want the details on the story, skip two paragraphs): Though Tom wanted to pretend we were inmates in a French penal colony off the northern coast of South America, Melanie’s will prevailed: the story this time was set in the 1920s.  It centered on a moll named Megan Mollohan, a savvy, sassy chick from the Bronx who, though pure of heart, gets mixed up with gangsters from the East Side.  She is attracted to the New York detective Derringer Douglass (Tom) who is supposedly planning a raid on her boyfriend’s speakeasy, but as it turns out, the detective is no untouchable: he’s on the take, giving his fellow cops the address of a rival gang and thus colluding with Mollohan’s boyfriend to protect the business and make a profit.
          Melanie could never have a simple good vs. evil story, so it ends up that Detective Douglass is really a crook, whereas one of the gangsters, Tommy Malone (me), decides to turn a new leaf and fight the very crime syndicate that he had once supported, as well as the corrupt detective.  
          Okay, here’s the point.  Megan and Tommy, after a few twists and turns in the plot, go off together, escape the madness, and settle down in a cottage in the Swiss Alps.
          How am I supposed to take this?  I mean, does Melanie think about me in the same way I think of her?  Maybe she wants to hold her cards close to her chest, but her eyes betray her.  Megan loves Tommy.  Melanie loves Sam.
          On the heels of this development, I decided it was time to state more unequivocally how I felt.  An opportunity arose on the following Tuesday when we walked together (for the first time!) through the petunia garden.