I think I am going insane. I am not sure if I want to do anything about it.
I was sitting in the darkened room unable to sleep. It was nearly two in the morning when I noticed the room starting to lighten. I went to the window and saw a blood-red splinter of a moon rising above the horizon like an enormous bloody claw. Instead of feeling a chill, I felt drawn to the mist-filled night sky. I wanted to embrace the blood-red moon, the only thing still bright enough to penetrate the misty dark. Realizing my likely insanity and impending end, I decided then to put down in writing in the few days that I have remaining what has happened to me, in hope of being able to decide my fate by seeing my life in print.
If someone else is reading this, it is up to you to decide your own destiny. I now realize the beginning of my own doom. Maybe if you can see its inception, you can stop it before it happens to you. It is far too late for me.
I was born on a family farm in Iowa. I was never comfortable with the flat farmland. I had to find a way to leave. To that end, I studied computers and electrical engineering. I was hired by a Dallas computer firm, fresh from college.
My college roommate convinced me to go with him to the Black Hills before driving to Dallas and my new job. Nothing unusual happened until my friend woke me from a nap after he drove into the parking lot at Mount Rushmore. The rock drew me. I felt the mountain. The massive stone faces weathering against the sky. I felt the grinding years of rock against the wind and rain. The feel of carving those massive faces tingled my hands as if I was sculpting them now.
When we got to Devils Tower, my sense of the here and now was lost in the eons measured by rock and stone. The interior remains of the volcano, whose exterior had been completely weathered away, filled me with a new value of time. I would stand for hours without moving, staring at the sheer rock walls. I could sense nature carving the face of the rock wall. When my roommate would wake me from my meditations, I had felt only the passing of a fraction of a second although he would tell me I had been standing there for minutes/hours.
My roommate had to get me to Dallas and my new job. When I tried to drive, I would continually stop the car to watch a rock outcropping or examine a stone. Without him, I would have been lost for years, communing with the volcanic rock.
In Dallas the land was flat, but I had a job to do and a life to make. I found someone I knew would become my bride. I met her at church the first weekend I was in town. She was young and fresh and pretty in a southern way a boy from the North finds intriguing. Looking into her marble-blue eyes, I forgot the rock.
She was soft and na�ve. I loved her softness, but I desired the cool marble of her eyes. When we were together, I would squeeze her soft flesh, trying to feel the flinty hardness of the rock I knew had to be in her. I can remember the tenderness I had with her, but I have always felt a sad void within me that I was never able to touch the blue marble that I sought within her.
Dallas was a fine place to live, but, as I said, it was flat. The rocky ledges still talked to me. Once a week I would wake in the early morning hours from a fretful sleep and, unable to get back to sleep, I would dress and pretend to jog. Instead of exercising, I would watch the horizon for mountains or pretend to tie my shoe so I had an excuse to examine the stony gravel underfoot.
We married the second year I was in town. Our daughter was born ten months later. She was a blue-eyed miniature of her mother. Within our daughter, I felt, when I held her, the blue marble that I had always seen in both her and her mother's eyes. I loved them both. We lived the average middle-class suburban life. We did the average middle-class things: church on Sundays, Saturday barbecues, bowling once a month, et cetera. It was eight years later that it happened.
Julie, my wife, was pregnant again. She had just found out and had told me. She wanted to tell our daughter by herself, so they left for the mall and a movie--a girls' night out. It was ten o'clock that night that the police called and asked me to go to the hospital.
They had been tailgated by a semi-truck trying to make up time on a schedule that was too tight when they met another trucker who had been on the road for fourteen hours. Their car was sandwiched between the two trucks when the trucker who had been driving for fourteen hours had fallen asleep and crossed the lane.
At the hospital, I found my daughter had been lucky. She was dead. I never had the chance to touch her again and feel the rock within. The casket was closed at her funeral. There was too little of her face left for viewing. She had died in the ambulance before it had gotten to the hospital. But my wife still lived, in a way ... if you could call it that. All I remember of that night are the tubes and sounds of machines doing Julie's breathing.
I think it was the next day, but it could have been the day after, the doctor woke me from the chair I was sleeping in next to my wife's bed. He wanted to go over Julie's injuries and what they had done for her. The bones in her left leg had been broken in three places. In one location, the end of the femur had punctured the skin, permitting the wound to be filled with dirt. They had cleaned that wound, but it looked like an infection had started spreading from there. There was another infection in her left lung where a piece of metal had penetrated her chest, shattering ribs. They had re-inflated her lung, removed bone and metal fragments, and bound the ribs into place. The left side of her skull had been crushed. They had drilled a hole in her skull to relieve the pressure on the brain, but they had not been able to find brain activity in the thinking part of her brain, although some activity was found in the part that handles unconscious actions. He said that I should consider removing her from life support. The doctor told me that I had to decide immediately whether to sign a release to have her mutilated leg amputated to control the spread of infection, but that the other decisions could wait for a day or two.
In my daze, it took me a while to understand Julie's prognosis. I hardly remember signing the release form to have her leg amputated. I vaguely remember a temporary surprise when I returned from the cafeteria and her leg was gone. I tried to go over in my mind what the doctor had told me about her injuries, but the relentless electrical beeping coming from her machines kept on distracting me. I finally pried open Julie's eyelids. I needed to see the marble-blue eyes again, but they were gone. They had been replaced by paste-blue vacant orbs.
It was later that week when I asked the doctor to turn off the machines. It was then I first saw the faces behind the face.
One of the intensive-care nurses, Myra Lamb, went to our church. She was someone I had thought of as a friendly religious woman, who had known my wife and daughter well. Myra had taught Sunday school for my daughter and worked with my wife in the women's group. When I asked the doctor about turning the machines off, Myra was standing behind him, changing an IV on my wife. She looked up and at me. Superimposed on her face was another. It was a countenance of harsh control. The countenance changed Myra from someone I knew to someone I couldn't trust. At the time, I thought it was grief that made me see it, but now I know it was the true face of a presence inhabiting the nurse's body. It was a face of one used to power and control, the face of dogma that broached no contention.
The next day there was a policeman in the room with my wife. The nurse had filed a suit in court, insisting the machines be kept going to protect the life of the seven-week-old fetus. When I first arrived at the hospital days before, I had been asked if there was anything they should know about her physical condition and I had replied that she was pregnant. I remembered seeing someone write it on Julie's chart for all the staff to see.
My wife's broken and infection-ridden body was kept functioning for over a month while the case worked its way through the courts. The members from the church we had attended for the nine years after we were married would call at all hours begging me to let the child live. They stalked me, never letting me alone. A man would scream obscenities at me in the hospital parking lot. A woman would start preaching at me in the cafeteria. A mother held her infant in front of me on the sidewalk and yelled, "Life is sacred!"
I remember very little of this time. I now understand how someone testifying at a trial or talking to the police could get things confused. All the important conversations with my wife's doctor and others are just a vaguely remembered mess. The only things that I can remember with full clarity are my basic senses. The incessant whirl of the machines and the electronic beeps of the monitors are the remembered sounds. The taste of the brackish water and bland food, the cold limp flesh of my wife's arm, and the smells are what is left of my memories. My vision of this time has stayed clouded. The sense that haunts me the most is the smell. The antiseptic permeates everything I can remember. The smell of soiled linen comes next. The smells that surprised me the most are of the medications, the brackish scent of the saline IV, the raw smell of the bloody swabs, the sulfur scent of the antibiotics, and the sweet scent of the colored liquids. There was a smell that I couldn't place at first. It gradually grew stronger and stronger after the first days Julie was in the hospital. I would ask the nurses about it but they never sensed it. I finally realized the growing scent was of rotting dead flesh. The putrid smell finally overpowered all the others when I sat with my wife. I never understood how the nurses could never smell the rot.
The only one who understood what was happening to my wife's body was the janitor. He was a small disabled man with a pronounced limp. He would clean the hallway at about three in the morning. As he passed my wife's room, he would bury his nose in his armpit. I would watch him pass the two other death rooms on the floor the same way. Why didn't anyone else smell the death?
It was her eighth week in the hospital when the doctor told me that the infection that they thought they had under control from my wife's wounds had spread to the fetus. My wife had a temperature of 104.6 degrees and both heart beats had become irregular. It would only be a matter of hours, possibly a day, before even with the machines, her body would cease functioning. The doctor then explained the fetus was essentially already dead. Nothing could now be done to save it. At my insistence, the doctor explained how the physical death would occur. I remember his words slowly fading into the distance. I felt trapped inside a tunnel of pain with red light filtering in from the outside. The doctor's final words about my wife's last few muscular spasms echoed from the red light through the narrow tunnel I had formed in my mind. An intense anger burned through me about the final assault my wife's body would suffer. That night I brought a small hatchet into the hospital past the nurse's desk. I chopped through the cords supplying the electricity to the machines so that when the alarms went off they couldn't plug the machines back in. That night my wife died the way she should have all those weeks earlier. Her suffering had finally ended.
Late the next day I was arrested for murder while I was in the funeral home making final arrangements for my wife's burial. They handcuffed me in front of my wife's casket. That was the last time I saw Julie's face. I still remember how white it was, lying quietly in the casket, and how I never saw the blue marble again. My wife's parents buried her while I was in jail.
The DA was a member of our church. It was a large congregation that most of the ambitious men in the community belonged to. He interrogated me with a viciousness I couldn't believe. Spittle dripped from the corner of his mouth as he demanded that I confess to murder. That week I also got the first bill from the hospital for the weeks my wife was on the machines.
A few days later, a late payment notice was sent to me through my lawyer. The hospital insisted on a payment schedule for the eight hundred and seventy-five thousand-dollar bill. They threatened garnisheeing my paycheck and putting a lean against my house. At the same time I was reading those words, I was sitting in front of a judge where the DA argued for a million dollar bail and my ACLU lawyer argued for release on my own recognizance. The judge settled for a bail of one hundred thousand dollars. I had nothing. I hadn't worked in over two months and the bills I paid had wiped out my savings. I was in the county jail for eight weeks until the trial judge threw out the case and told the DA that he was a fool for bringing it to court.
My time in jail was no better than my waiting for Julie's death in the hospital. The smells were the same. I was beaten three times by inmates claiming it to be just punishment for murdering a child. The guards would wait till they were finished before bringing me to the infirmary. There in the bed next to mine was a dying man. Cancer had eaten away his lungs. His lawyer was trying to get him released to a hospice. The smell of putrid flesh hung in the air.
When I got back to my home, there was a foreclosure sign on the front door. The County had taken the hospital bill and used it to foreclose on the house. I broke in and took my clothes and our family pictures. I drove to work and found out I was fired. The DA had talked to my boss, threatening him with ostracism if I continued to work there. I asked to clean out my desk, but was told my things would be brought out. As I stood by the front door, an employee threw out the doorway onto the sidewalk the pictures of my wife and daughter that had been on my desk and told me, 'a God damned baby killer,' to leave. I left the broken frame on the ground. I already had those pictures from my house.
That night, I parked my car next to the cemetery where my wife was buried. The gate was locked, so I climbed over the perimeter fence. I found their graves. The turned-over dirt had already started to sprout grass. I looked where their bodies lay and felt nothing. Then I saw the stones. There was a glistening shine to the polished rock face caused by the moonlit sky that had been missing from the eyes of my wife the last time I looked in them. I bent to touch the cool rock face. I felt a spark of life in the stone. I traced the living rock with my fingertips until I felt the rough-cut edge. I felt the cold snow-filled winters and the long warm summers of the quarry the rock had come from. It sparked the memory of the changing seasons of my youth in Iowa. I had to go north, back to the land that felt the powerful turning of winter, spring, summer, and fall slowly weathering the ground below, sculpting it to its own design.
The caretaker found me in the morning, passed out on their headstones. The old man gently led me to a small chapel on the corner of the cemetery. From a dangling nest of keys, he hunted for the one for the door. Inside was a tiny bathroom. I splashed my face with the tepid tap water until I felt I could move without help, but then I looked at my face. Imprinted on its side was the image of the rough-cut stone, a face of stone, a face of doom. I stared at my reflection with the imbedded design of stone until the old man came and walked me to the gate.
The next day I woke in the front seat of my car. My wife's and daughter's pictures were on the seat next to me. I looked at their faces. I didn't recognize them. They had become strangers. I walked to the cemetery. The fresh clean air broke the haze I had been in since the accident. I looked again at their headstones. They were still strangers to me, but the rock I knew. I needed something to bring them back. I needed a fight.
A week later, I filed a civil case against the two trucking companies whose employees had been involved in the accident. Each trucking company had a different insurance agency. An insurance company adjuster had shown up at the hospital the first week my wife was in the hospital with a check for fifteen thousand dollars, the value of my wife's car. I would have cashed it, but I saw the fine print 'final payment' on the bottom. Since then the insurance companies had been arguing over which one was going to pay off the claim, and as a result, neither one did.
The lawyer I had on retainer had to sue both insurance companies for five million dollars before they decided to try to settle. It was during the settlement meeting that I was served with a subpoena. It turned out that my wife's parents, with the help of our church, had decided to put a civil claim of ten million dollars against me for the wrongful death of their unborn grandchild.
It took five years to settle all the court cases. I left Dallas with one million dollars of insurance money in escrow out of state to protect it from the Dallas courts, and the same car I had been living in for the last five and a half years. I left Texas ahead of another set of appeals and a civil suit brought by the new hospital administrator, a member of our old church. They wanted to use the insurance money to pay for the still-pending hospital bill for the weeks my wife had been forced to be on the machines. I had paid the bill up to the exact minute I asked the machines to be unplugged. I heard that the new administrator was asking for interest, which now brought the bill to two million dollars.
Dallas, my old friends, and my community had become like my wife and daughter, strangers. I needed to get away from this stagnant place. I needed something I knew and understood.
During those years, I only saw the faces behind the face three times: once on the face of our old pastor, once on a judge, and once on a lawyer. Each time I saw the visions, time seemed to stand still. The different visages I saw behind each face seemed ageless. I could almost recognize each separate countenance and each separate countenance seemed to recognize me. The eyes behind the eyes would penetrate with knowledge no one living could have had. Instead of fearing them, I felt the urge to confront, to challenge their evaluation of me.
After each incident of seeing the superimposed faces, I convinced myself that what I was seeing was stress related. But I found myself peering intently at everyone's face, trying to find the other face behind. During the final days I was in Dallas, I was alone. My staring had un-nerved everyone, including my lawyer who only asked for half his fee. I know my lawyer thought I was going insane and wanted me out of his life. He had asked me to please stop staring at him over and over again. During my final meeting with him, his hands were shaking so badly he could barely sign his name to the final pieces of paperwork.