It is the easiest thing in the world for a man to look as if he had a great secret in him
― Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
“Paul, I am so sorry this happened to you. I know you’ve been through a lot these past couple of days. Please – let me take you back to the hospital, and we can talk through this.”
Paul dazedly got up from the bed. He walked over to Dr. V and gave him a listless hug.
“It’s OK, doc. I’m OK – it’s Cecilia I’m concerned about. She had a complete meltdown when she found out that her experience at the UN Building was nothing but an hallucination. I’m afraid this has been a huge setback in her therapy.
Dr. V looked hard at Paul. He started to say something, but changed his mind.
Let’s go back and we’ll talk through this. I have your coat, and a car waiting downstairs. Please, Paul – let’s try to do this with a minimum of difficulty.”
Paul replied, “Of course, doctor. But if you’ll just give me a minute, I’d like to say goodbye to the nice doctor that treated me. Honestly – I’ll be right down.”
Dr. V looked hesitant, but Paul appeared to be coherent and thoughtful.
“I’ll see you downstairs in ten minutes. OK?”
Paul nodded. Dr. V went to the elevator and pushed the button. As the doors closed on the elevator, Paul walked over to the nurse’s station.
“Could you direct me to the indigent ward for females? I have a friend there I must speak to.”
The nurse looked down at Paul’s chart, on top of the pile. Dr. V had just agreed to take custody of Paul, and therefore he was discharged from Bellevue.
The nurse responded, “Go down the hall, and turn left at the end. Then the next right, and you’ll be on that ward.”
Paul said, “Thank you,” and followed the nurse’s directions. He arrived at the women’s ward to find all the nurses away from the station.
“I’m sure Cecilia’s here – I’ll just look in the rooms until I find her.”
At the fourth doorway, Paul saw Cecilia, huddled in the corner, still in her coat. He approached her, and immediately knew there was a problem. She appeared to be in some kind of catatonic state, huddled in the fetal position by the side of the bed. Carefully, Paul knelt down next to her.
“I’ve come to talk you back to NYP. You’re going to be OK. Please, Cecilia, let me help you.”
Cecilia slowly turned and looked at Paul. She put her arms around his neck, and laid her head on his shoulder. As gently as he could, Paul lifted her up and carried her into the corridor, and down to the elevator. She felt so light – she’d clearly not eaten anything in the past two days. She continued to nestle against his chest. Her eyes were closed, and her breathing was shallow.
Paul took the elevator down, and walked to the front lobby. Dr. V was there with a vehicle and driver from the hospital. He had the door open on the sidewalk side. Paul laid Cecilia down in the back seat, and sat in the front next to the driver. Cecilia lay slumped against the door, with her eyes closed. She looked so sweet and innocent. Paul inwardly kicked himself for not taking Dr. V’s advice. She was so vulnerable, and not ready to address the real world.
They rode in silence back to NYP, with Paul fidgeting, urging the driver to hurry in his mind. The driver pulled up in front of the hospital, and Dr. V got out on the street side. Paul got out, opening the door to the passenger side and quickly took Cecilia into his arms. He turned, and shut the car door with his left foot. As he began to walk toward the door, Dr. V turned, and looked at him.
Paul – what are you doing?” Dr. V asked quietly.
Paul responds, “Obviously I’m carrying Cecilia. There is no way she’s going to be able to walk into the hospital. You saw how she looked in the car on the way here. I think she’s unconscious – she’s barely breathing!”
Dr. V looked Paul straight in the eye.
Paul looked down at the unconscious woman he was cradling in his arms.
He said, “Javier, don’t be ridiculous. I’ve been through enough the last few days. Don’t start telling me things I know aren’t true.”
Dr. Javier Vasquez replied, “Paul. Listen to me. You are not carrying anyone or anything. Your arms are stretched out, but there is nothing in them.”
Paul was becoming extremely agitated now.
Dr. Javier Vasquez took Paul gently by the arm. Let’s go to my office. We need to sort all this out.”
Paul and Javier returned to Javier’s office. By now, Paul had begun to regain his composure. He wasn’t sure whether to feel abandoned, or embarrassed at the fact that this hallucination had seemed so real to him.
Dr. V spoke first. “Paul, I’ve been aware of this prime obsession of yours for the past few weeks. I knew you were talking with someone, and that you named this someone Cecilia Vasquez. I took it as a compliment that she and I shared the same last name. I thought – in same odd way – that it might be a good milestone on your way to recovery. So now we must sort through the people in your life. We must identify which of them are real, and which of them are figments of your imagination. I prefer that label to hallucination. So let’s begin.”
Javier chuckled, and patted Paul’s arm. “Yes, my friend, I am very much alive and real. So you can check that one off your list. Next?”
Paul said, “I have a brother. He lives in Michigan. He is real. Yes?”
Paul’s head was turned slightly to the right, with his chin pointing at an angle.
“Yes, you have a brother in Michigan. He is real. Good – maybe your conscious mind is sort through and finding real people. That’s a positive sign.”
Paul drew a deep breath. “But Cecilia is an hal…imagi…she’s not real.”
The last part of the sentence was spoken quickly, as if to get it out and away.
“That is right, Paul. There is no Cecilia Vasquez. There never was, and hopefully she will not return.”
Paul continued. “I have a daughter – Emily. Cecilia said she knew Emily. She said she knew Emily’s grandmother. Was her Emily and my daughter the same person? My daughter Emily’s grandmother is dead. Cecilia knew that she was dead. So are they real?”
Dr. V spoke carefully, in reply to Paul’s question. You do have a daughter, Emily. She lives with her mother in Jupiter, and she’s 16 years old. Your mother is dead. She died several years ago, in Michigan. But the Emily and the Grandmother Cecilia spoke about are imaginary characters, adjuncts to Cecilia in your mind. It’s fairly common for individuals having a psychotic episode to create characters with familiar names.”
Paul nodded. “Okay, is it safe to assume that my friend Ishmael – the fellow that accompanied me to New Bedford when I tried to find the answer to the Riemann – is it safe to assume he is imaginary? That he’s not a time traveler from a planet called Essex? I think I can answer that one for myself. He’s probably not real. After all, he did come from a book. You know – Moby Dick?”
Javier said, “Yes, I know the book, and yes, Ishmael is an imaginary character in the book. I believe he was Melville’s alter ego. And as for him being a time traveler – I believe that is an embellishment that’s one for the books. I must say I’ve never heard that one before.”
Paul nodded again. “Then all those stories Cecilia told me – about her grandfather, going to Cuba so he could die there – meeting a grandmother she knew nothing about – priests – everyone. All part of my imagination.”
Javier said, “Well, I suspect so. I’m not familiar with any of them, but it does sound like they are adjunct characters to your principal…imaginary friend.”
Dr. V turned to his Ppod to answer that question.
“Apparently, those two gentlemen are real. One is a Russian astronomer; the other is a Chinese physicist. So apparently you wove some real characters in with the others. That’s not unusual for schizophrenics – gives the rest of the characters a note of authenticity. You understand.”
For the third time, Paul nodded.
“I think that’s all.” I’m pretty sure I can sort everything else out on my own. Thank you, Javier. I’d be lost without you.