One More Time
a work of fiction
Graydon G. Goss, MD
My first patient of the morning was late and I didn't care much. I felt great. Five minutes after nine found me still basking in the trouble-free atmosphere of my inner sanctum; daydreaming, kicked-back and floating in my painstakingly selected leather deck chair. The DAT player was enveloping me in new wave sounds of my own design, custom tailored to induce a mild state of mellow in even the most tension-ridden Type A. The negative ion generator was on as well - although how one could ever really tell I never understood. Freshly scrubbed and scented air whispered out, delightfully hydrated and a pleasure to inhale. My eyes focused on the prismatic shimmering of Los Angeles sunlight reflecting off my granite and glass desk. A variety of tracks were on for balanced backlighting. I felt healthy, relaxed and at peace with the world.
You could have surfed on my alpha waves.
God, I loved that office in the morning; alone with my own thoughts, before immersing myself in the emotional trials and conflicts my patients brought in to share with me. My wife had thought that I'd been out of my mind for shelling out an as-yet unearned fortune to pay for all that designer stuff, but the investment had paid off. The ambiance of the suite was supposed to both reflect the quality of my professional skills and to genuinely put my patients at ease. It did. Every aspect of the design evoked warmth, familiarity and comfort. A color coordinator had blended a palette of muted browns, grays, blues and earth tones into a visual environment designed to lull my patients and myself into a semi-hypnotic state. I reclined with a barely suppressed yawn and glanced again at the MOMA clock on the credenza.
Nine-ten and still no patient. I played with the buttons on the television remote, hoping to catch a little of the news, but the damn game shows had already begun monopolizing the local airwaves.
Christ! I thought, switching the set off. Who watches this stuff? I made a mental note to order cable.
When I first went into private practice a late or no-show patient would really piss me off. I had a well-deserved reputation for being obsessed with punctuality and abhorrent of underutilized or wasted time. I learned to cope with free time by filling the office cabinets with the latest in computer games, toys, puzzles and junky Sci-Fi novels. Over time I became surprisingly good at entertaining myself and came to see the ability as a trait worth developing. Eventually I found myself enjoying and even looking forward to unscheduled breaks. When the time came to open my own office I decided to avoid the usual Medical Professional buildings, ( full of boring specialists in boring spaces and permeated with the reek of dental offices ), and chose instead to lease space in an office tower attached to a shopping mall. Now, in the event of a true scheduling mess, like three consecutive cancellations, I could catch a movie or shop to my heart's content in any of 83 fashionable stores.
Nine-thirteen. Where the hell was she?
Annette Zobitsky was a great patient; chronically depressed, but verbal, intelligent, hard-working, motivated for treatment and prompt in paying my bills. Now, however, she was thirteen minutes late! Freeway traffic be damned - another two minutes and I'd be "no longer available," and at her expense. I found myself wrestling with the countertransference implications of beginning to hope that she wouldn't make it.
Psychiatrists are very human. I know that I am and I'm proud of it.
I got up from my desk, walked out into my empty reception area and poured myself another cup of Hawaiian Kona. My secretary, Margaret, wouldn't be in until ten o'clock. I toyed with the idea of calling the exchange and checking for messages but - hell, they would have beeped me if any urgent calls had come in. I grabbed the latest issue of People from the magazine rack and headed back to my sanctum. Something was bothering me - perhaps some subliminal worry about Annette. She was, like me, always on time. I buried my concern in gossip.
Somewhere between yet another expose' of a television evangelist's porno connections and the heart-rendering tale of a lesbian nun's excommunication my reading was interrupted when the office got quiet.
I don't mean ordinary quiet. My suite was soundproofed to the max and usually as silent as a tomb. This was different. I looked up. The stereo indicator lights were lit but the speakers emitted nothing. In my imagination, the room felt as if some presence had entered and begun to suck up any available sound.
Like an audio black hole.
The effect was eerie.
As my anxiety mounted, the track lights flared for a moment, then dimmed. There followed a kind of stroboscopic flickering to everything in my field of vision. I couldn't tell if was the lighting or my eyes that was responsible. My head throbbed with a sympathetic staccato beat. I got up from my desk, startled, and groped for the door. Shit, I thought, only 38 and I'm having a stroke. Sense of humor as a defense against panic.
The quiet got more intense. The air became thick and hard to move through, like high viscosity smog. The office seemed noticeably warmer and more humid. I smelled ozone and peaches and sweat.
Dizzy and frightened, I managed to trip over a leg of my rattan coffee table and fell ever so slowly to the floor. Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion. My mind attempted to deal with all of this by switching into therapist mode. The clinical terms for all my symptoms arose from the ashes of my medical education and my brain raced with a detailed analysis of the diagnostic possibilities. I decided I was most likely suffering a partial complex seizure with a right temporal lobe focus. I was terrified and still falling.
Time stood still.
No, I don't mean that in the old cliche' sense. At that particular moment I was busy falling face first into the planter next to my office door. My attention was focused on the sharp crack of my chin on the terra cotta and the taste of bloody incisor shards in my mouth. In slow motion, I recall experiencing an almost imbecilic delight in the knowledge that I wouldn't have to get a root canal or a crown because I was dead.
No, I mean that TIME actually stood still.
My efforts at self-diagnosis continued as I came to rest, totally paralyzed, after bouncing evveerr soooo sllowwwwly off of the the plush mushroom colored carpet.
Strokeout, I thought. Still conscious, but say goodbye to the pyramidal tracts. Shit, I didn't have half of the risk factors! All that jogging for nothing.
I had a mouth full of carpet fibers and a head full of dumb theories. What the hell was going on? I couldn't move a muscle. I wasn't breathing. I didn't even have to! I should have felt hypoxic and been blissfully losing consciousness, but instead I was just lying there like some surrealistic still-life shrink sculpture. The strobe effect had stopped and the silence was total. My thoughts raced but the rest of my world was motionless. I could clearly see tiny iridescent motes of dust, no doubt disturbed by my fall, hanging motionless before my eyes. Everything but my own mentation had come to an apparent stop. With no apparent vital signs, I thought, how can I sill be conscious?.
Silly question. After several unpleasant moments of complete bewilderment blacked out completely.
* * *
As a child I demonstrated above-average gracelessness and lack of self esteem. During my collegiate years I rebelled with rapt imbecility against the military and social insanities of the sixties and seventies and survived to tell about it with exaggerated insouciance. While freely abusing every psychomimetic drug I could get my hands on, I somehow I retained enough mindless persistence to survive medical school and establish myself as an expert in the pharmacology of psychomimetic drugs.
I married too early, divorced and remarried and divorced again, all while developing my expertise in relationship dynamics and couple's counseling. Sensing something internally awry, I spent a fortune on therapy and finally started to grow up a little. By the time I came to see a 40 year old face in the mirror I finally felt reasonably comfortable with adulthood and had achieved a modicum of self-assurance. I came to define myself as a bright, creative and caring man, a good physician and a great dad. My relationships were satisfying and I liked myself. Life was OK and I was looking forward to the future.
* * *
I gradually regained consciousness and momentarily disoriented, pulled myself into a sitting position on my office floor. My mouth hurt like hell and I tasted blood. An Enya piece played quietly in the background. As I dabbed at my lower lip with my shirtsleeve I turned and first noticed the obese, angry-looking woman who stood defiantly, stark naked, amidst the ruins of my coffee table.
"Pardon my nudity," she said, stepping away from the pile of debris and dusting herself off. Her tone of voice was at once no-nonsense, insistent and demeaning. "And find me something to wear. A towel . . . anything." With that she plopped heavily into my best overstuffed chair as if she owned it. She weighed two hundred and fifty pounds if she weighed an ounce and she didn't wear it well. He short, straight, graying brown hair didn't add a thing to her overall appearance.
"And get me something to drink, for God's sake. She glared at me. "Get on with it!" She hunched her shoulders and grimaced, eyes shut, dismissing me.
Zombie-like, I sat up from the floor upon which I still sprawled and slowly surveyed my surroundings, now suddenly and inexplicably returned to normal, with the expensive exception of the broken furniture lying in disarray at my feet. "Coffee?" I suggested humbly to the fleshy lump before me. She grunted unpleasantly without looking up. My jaw hurt like hell and I still tasted blood.
"Your mouth is bleeding," she noted indifferently as I began to limp off into the hallway towards the back office coffee machine. "Sorry if I startled you," she added. Her tone of voice said she couldn't possibly care less. "I'm not accustomed to field work, especially under these conditions," she said, glancing briefly downward as if to indicate her most corpulent nakedness. I made my way to the hallway, feeling quite dazed, and shuffled through the drawers of the waiting room credenza. With a great sigh of relief I extracted a plastic laminated tablecloth, left over from some long-past office party which I figured, might just barely cover her.
We must have both been in mild shock. It's a little embarrassing to reflect on just how disorganized and disoriented I must have been. The digital clock on Margaret's desk read 9:37. No more than twenty minutes had passed since this whole episode had begun, but I felt completely detached from normalcy. There had to be some kind of rational answer to all this. I supposed that she would explain herself and her presence in her own time. Neither of us spoke another word until several minutes later, when, draped in red-checkered plastic and coffee in hand, she gathered together her great bulk in a blue McGuire chair and began her address. I sat facing her, still not altogether with it, with a wad of bloody tissues pressed against my mouth.
"You are of course Alan Waggener ", she began, staring at me as if sizing me up. I nodded.
"Do you have any concept of what you have just experienced or of who I am." I shook my head, feeling somewhat sick to my stomach. She paused for a moment to glance at an odd, oversized watch on her right wrist.
"In approximately 11 minutes you will receive a phone call from a pregnant teenaged girl. You do not know her. She is distraught, feels suicidal and will threaten to kill herself unless you help her. You will successfully convince her to reconsider her decision and to seek therapy. As a result she will survive and give birth to a female child in several weeks. You will have no contact with her after today. At the age of seventy-one she will suffer a massive cerebral infarction and expire within minutes, leaving her daughter as sole heir." She looked at her watch again and took an infuriatingly slow sip at her coffee.
I'd heard enough. "OK, Who the hell are you?," I blurted out. "And what in God's name are you talking about?" She didn't bat an eye.
"The phone will ring shortly," she replied. "My name is unimportant. I am here to make sure you do not answer." She sat her empty cup down, placed her hands firmly on her lap and sat back in her chair like a judge after issuing a verdict. Her damnable air of confident superiority finally got to me.
"Listen lady," I exploded, "enough of this bullshit!" You tell me who you are and what's going on or . . . or I'm calling security!" No response. She just sat there. I made a motion to get up and reach for the phone. My captor casually touched something on her watch and I fell helplessly back into my seat, once again immobilized. Something in my neck tingled unpleasantly.
She continued to sit there with that smug look on her face while my mind whirled. I was certainly no genius but it did begin to dawn on me that her's was no ordinary chronometer. Seething with helpless fury, I had little choice but to remain motionless and incapacitated. My thoughts raced. About a minute later she casually freed me from bondage with a touch to her timepiece.
"Don't try my patience," she muttered.
"Assuming that you're on the level," I responded somewhat lamely, "I have no intention of letting some pregnant kid kill herself." The Seiko wall clock on my credenza stood at 9:53.
"I demand an explanation," I continued, loudly but without much conviction.
She stood ( actually sat ) her ground and remained silent, a great, plastic-draped Budette. My cerebral cortex coursed, critically examining a large but useless variety of idiotic and totally unfeasible plans for taking control of the situation.
"We have some time," I suggested. "Just humor me, alright? What's the purpose of all of this? You're in control . . . I won't fight it, but I think I deserve something of an explan . . ."
"QUIET! The less you know the better." She paused for a moment. "You don't understand how important this is." A weird, very unexpected look of, well, almost worry appeared momentarily on her enormous face. For a microsecond I found myself feeling almost sorry for my captor. My feelings of empathy ended abruptly when she again robbed me of my voluntary motor skills with her strange timepiece.
" Just be still, please . . ."
I was by this time both bewildered and fascinated. This totally unexpected intrusion into my otherwise well-ordered life seemed to have had some kind of a consciousness raising effect on me. I remember feeling frightened, confused and angry those last few minutes of silence, but also strangely calm and resigned. So this is what paraplegia feels like, I thought. At the same time I recall trying to figure out the possible identity of a patient who might be calling me with suicidal ideation. I usually had several potentially suicidal patients, but no names popped into my head. It had been a pretty quiet month or two. I had five or six people on standard antidepressant regimens but no one so unstable as to become self destructive between sessions.
My clock, I noticed, now read 9:58. I tried to figure how much time I had before my phone call was supposed to arrive. Not a lot. If only I was free to move . . . The paralysis, however, was nearly complete. A few moments of experimentation convinced me that I was totally incapable of voluntary motion or speech.
My diagnostic ruminations were abruptly terminated by the emission of an enormous sigh, unexpectedly expelled by my uninvited guest. With a rather histrionic shrug, she gathered her formidable bulk from her seat, glanced a bit nervously at her timepiece, and with a few pokes at its mysterious protuberances re-established my ability to move. As if reading my mind, she simultaneously muttered, "Don't even try it! Not a move until the telephone rings."
That was her mistake. She should have kept me frozen. Perhaps she was concerned about the energy drain on her timepiece, maybe she was merely overconfident or preoccupied with her mission. I'll never know. Her eyes were oscillating, pendulum-like between the watch and the phone. I was on the verge of sensory overload. Had it only been an hour?
Suddenly and without warning there was a knock at my office door accompanied by a bellowing "Hello!" The door was flung open with reckless abandon and my wonderful, uncharacteristically disorganized 9 o'clock patient, Mrs. Zobitski stumbled into the room. In her delightfully neurotic, hyperkinetic, bumbling apologetic way she began to express, (while sweating profusely with embarrassment), her dismay over forgetting to set her alarm clock the night before. So engrossed, she stumbled over my overturned and fragmented furniture, gasped in disbelief at the sight of my obese and nearly naked visitor, and took a pratfall that would have made the Three Stooges proud. She fell face down into the fat lady's lap, who responded with a shriek, her concentration broken, and they both struggled to rise just as the phone began to ring. A look of rapt horror seemed to erupt across my captor's face as she rose awkwardly and tripped over her tablecloth garb while grasping out desperately in an attempt to answer it.
In the ensuing melee, my captor and my patient became miraculously transformed into a tangled web of plastic, apology and adipose tissue. The phone continued to ring.
I admit to having been transfixed by the sight, but I do have to give myself credit for what then transpired. While the patient and fat lady wrestled with the tablecloth and each other I calmly rose and with one hand answered the emergency call. With the other hand I grabbed my 1979 U.S.C Resident's Research Award trophy, ( which must have weighed ten pounds ) from my bookcase and put it to good use. Within ten seconds I was actively engaged in the consolation of girl named Sarah and had already rendered my two companions unconscious by means of unceremonious blows to their crania.
It didn't take long to talk Sarah out of her suicidal plans. I did that for a living and was good at it. Within a couple of minutes she'd agreed to seek help at one of the few remaining L.A.County psychiatric clinics. Her self-destructive intentions were clearly cries for help. I hung up feeling confident that she would follow my advice. When I told her that if she committed suicide I would never speak to her again, she laughed and thanked me.
During my conversation, my weighty visitor and forgetful patient remained entangled and unconscious. As I hung up on Sarah, I considered my possible moves. The fat lady would wake up soon. Annette would . . . well, I didn't know what she would do; probably be back the next week more depressed than ever. I thought of the power the mysterious stranger had demonstrated. I imagined the potential consequences when when she regained consciousness. I pondered the mysteries of the morning. I made up my mind.
Cautiously, with both inappropriate optimism and a curious sense of excitement, I reached for the glimmering timepiece which encircled the right wrist of my former captor. The instrument vibrated as I released it from it's owner. It trembled as I wrapped it over my own hand. It glowed as I puzzled over its intricacies; the dials, the buttons, the mysterious and undecipherable symbols inscribed on its face and the curiously warm metal from which it had been wrought. It hummed as I stole it.
I left the office quietly while my companions continued to sleep their undoubtedly troubled and artificially induced sleep. I crunched my way across the broken glass, out past the plastic enshrouded couple, into the hall, through the waiting room then out of the suite.
As I walked hastily down the corridor toward the elevators, the abducted timepiece in my hand vibrated alarmingly. I ducked quickly out of the lift when it reached my parking level and after brief sprint, panted while I unlocked my ancient Vanagan Camper. I wrapped the watchband loosely over my left wrist as I fumbled with the keys. It seemed to tighten and adjust to my wrist as I climbed in. The hum became an electronic howl as I hit the ignition.
Suddenly I felt as though a burst of special sensorial impulses erupted from the strange device, exploding with neurological transmissions which felt vaguely like electric shocks but were oddly pleasurable and somehow familiar. It felt as though a billion tiny electrodes had erupted from the thing, piercing my skin and searching for access to my nerve endings. The timepiece was getting to know me, it seemed . . . establishing contact with my neurological self. As though alive I felt it probing at and somehow communicating with the individual cells of my central nervous system.
Just before blacking out I recall staring at it, poking at it's intricacies with the fingers of my right hand and asking questions of it for which I somehow seemed to get intelligible answers. The strange markings were now intelligible, but I didn't need to read them.
I distinctly recall talking to it. I remember it whispering in response.
"You're mine now," I said.
Back to Home Page
e-mail Dr. Goss to request the full text