Outlaw’s Mind – Part 13

The weather on Saturday morning was cool and overcast.  This suited Timothy just fine, since he wanted to guard against getting his hopes too high, and a bright, sunny, unseasonably warm day might have been hard to resist as a harbinger of blessings.  His mother seemed to share his guarded spirits as she drove them downtown in her twelve-year-old Corolla.  Gone was the amused attitude from Thursday evening.  Her mouth was set in a near-grimace, and her eyes were as intent as any hunter’s might have been who was searching for game to feed his family.  Timothy found himself more comfortable with this aspect of her, that seemed ready for anything at all, than with her lightheartedness after her conversation with Dr. Putnam.  He felt guilty about feeling that way, but he thought it was more painful to lose one’s hopes than never to have them in the first place, and so he was forced to want her not to be any more optimistic than he was.

They found a street-parking spot not too far from the address his mother had jotted down; it was an unmetered space on a semi-major road off one of the bigger thoroughfares of the heart of the city.  Though tall office buildings loomed not far away, this was a more reserved commercial zone, with various shop-front style businesses, some of which did apparent retail selling, but the majority of which seemed to offer services of one kind or another.  Most seemed not to be open on Saturday mornings, which Timothy thought was a strange business choice, since surely there were more customers available at that hour than at nearly any other time in the week.  Still, what did he know? Continue reading

Outlaw’s Mind – Part 12

Over the course of Thursday evening, and into Friday evening, Timothy spent at least a bit of his time online, trying to see what he could do to eke out his understanding and knowledge about Hinduism, Buddhism, Atheism, and Taoism—this last he had trouble spelling, but Google was quite helpful with such things, so he was able to correct his misunderstanding quickly.  He wondered with somewhat disgusted confusion why people had ever spelled Taoism with a “T” when they pronounced it with a “D”.  It wasn’t an English word originally, after all—it was a transliteration from what must have been a Chinese character or characters.  They could have just used a spelling that reproduced the original sound in English in as straightforward a way as possible.  Were they trying to be cryptic, or to sound impressive, or to convey the fact that it was a foreign word by not simply writing the name of the original book as “Dow Day Ching”?  All the reasons he could imagine left him feeling minor contempt.

At least the spelling of Hinduism, Buddhism, and atheism made a bit more sense. Continue reading

Outlaw’s Mind – Part 11

Timothy didn’t tell his mother about what had happened, but he was all the more eager to hear word from Dr. Putnam about this mindfulness meditation person, hoping as fervently as he could allow

himself to hope that he or she would be available, affordable, and useful.  The very kindness of the police officer—and of the boy he had pulled out of traffic—was harder on Timothy’s conscience than would have been the most unfair abuse from the most hardened and cynical of lawmen.  He hardly felt that he merited the kindness; it felt to him like just one more debt that he owed to the universe.

He did not speak again to the boy he’d pulled out of the way of the errant car.  He never even learned his name.  In fact, for the next several weeks, he pointedly took a different route both to and from school and waited five extra minutes before leaving in the afternoon, just to avoid any possible encounters, any shows of gratitude, or—God help him—any wish that might be expressed by the boy to become his friend.  He felt a bit guilty about this, since he was quite sure that the boy would want to convey positive thoughts and feelings and would probably feel bad that he wasn’t able to give a formal thank-you to Timothy, but if he knew how self-hateful Timothy would feel in receiving such a thing, the boy would probably have been willing to let it go.  This avoidance might have hurt the boy’s feelings in some minor way, but that was just another bit of—relatively minor—damage that Timothy chalked up to himself.

Word from Dr. Putnam came late that Thursday evening, almost at a time that was unreasonable to call.  Timothy’s mother—home and already having finished dinner and, with Timothy’s help, having cleaned up—answered the landline in their apartment, saying the doctor’s name in greeting when she recognized who it was. Continue reading

Outlaw’s Mind – Part 10

His mother did, in fact, want to hear how the appointment had gone.  Timothy guessed, based on her body language and tone of voice as she asked, that she’d been somewhat worried that Dr. Putnam would disparage her unilateral ban on psychopharmacology.  When Timothy told her that the doctor had been entirely on her side with respect to that issue, she seemed so relieved that Timothy felt the time was ripe for him to share the notion of meditation.  He couldn’t recall the foreign word Dr. Putnam had used, but the concept of “mindfulness” seemed, at first glance, rather straightforward.  His mother appeared not skeptical but rather more at a loss when Timothy told her, as best he could, what Dr. Putnam had shared with him about mindfulness meditation.  She had, of course—like Timothy—heard of the term “meditation” before, but she had, if anything, less real awareness of it than he had.  It was not that she had anything against it in particular.  She was not religious, and so had no spiritual objections to the notion, though she would later tell Timothy in passing that she’d had an aunt who proclaimed with all seriousness that meditation and yoga were practices designed to leave one open for literal demonic possession.  She quite frankly simply had no basis on which to evaluate the usefulness of the practice.  So, in the end, she shrugged and told Timothy that she’d wait and see what Dr. Putnam said if and when he called.

While waiting for that call to come, Timothy had an episode that produced his first—though not too severe—run-in with the police. Continue reading

Outlaw’s Mind – Part 9

That day at school was difficult for Timothy.  He was troubled by the disquieting thought that there was something hidden behind the façade of reality that seemed to be laid before him.  The real world felt hazy, thin, and grainy, like an old, faded photograph, such as he’d seen in a collection of stuff from his grandmother’s house after she’d died.  The real world, if that was a proper name for it, seemed stitched together from cobwebs, and if he simply reached his hand out and brushed it aside, the truth of reality would be revealed—a reality of moiling monstrosities that lurked in bedrooms to crouch atop sleepers at night…and a swarm of things far worse even than these.

Needless to say, he would never seriously consider moving those cobwebs aside.  Not really.  Not seriously.  If anything, there was just a tiny little morbid curiosity, a trace of self-destructive fancy, like the temptation to stick a knife into an active toaster to see if it really was as dangerous as people said.

It was just a weird figment of his imagination, anyway.  But if it was real, he still would never have tried to move it.

Would he?

Of course not…

Such bizarre thoughts were interrupted—and thankfully banished—by a sense of significant guilt and distress when Timothy saw the girl he had so berated a few days ago.  She too looked mildly stressed, as though perhaps she was still having trouble coping with the changing fortunes of her favorite music group.  Timothy realized that this probably wasn’t really the cause of any angst that she felt.  There were countless possible sources of disquiet for a teenage girl, some of which were probably similar to things that bothered Timothy himself, and others of which he probably would have never guessed.  It didn’t really matter.  The sight of her brought up memories of that event, only a few days before, but which felt like things that had happened to another person.  Timothy was horrified, not so much by what he had said then, but by what he had felt.  His words, the terrible things he’d said to the girl, had been the truth of his heart at that moment.

He didn’t recognize that heart now.

“Hey,” he said quietly to the girl as she sat down, her head bent slightly forward.

She glanced at him, but she didn’t seem to recognize that he was addressing her.

He couldn’t remember her name, which was shameful enough for him, since he saw her every school day and she sat diagonally next to him in class.  He was forced simply to repeat, “Hey.”

She looked up, seeming to recognize now that he was trying to get her attention.  She didn’t say anything, but she looked suspicious.  He could hardly blame her.

Timothy was much more embarrassed by this situation than he would have been about asking his mother if he could crawl into bed with her last night, but he was much more motivated to fight his embarrassment here.  He said, “Look, uh…I’m sorry about what I said the other day.”

The girl lifted an eyebrow, gazing at him warily.  “What do you mean?” she asked.

“I mean, what I said about…about what you said,” Timothy replied, knowing he was being vague, hoping that the fact of their limited interactions made it clear to what he must be referring.  “I mean…I mean, you were just…just talking to your friends and everything, and I was…well, I was really a dick.  I’m sorry about that.”

The girl looked at him with frank surprise, but the suspicion at least began to fade from her expression.

When she didn’t say anything, the awkwardness forced Timothy to speak a bit more, and he said, “I just…I mean, I want you to know that it…it wasn’t about you.  You know?  I mean, I know, it’s obvious it wasn’t about you.  How could it be, right?  But…anyway, I was really…I wasn’t feeling right that day, and…and that’s not an excuse or anything, I know, but…but anyways, I was a real asshole, and I wanted you to know I know that, and I’m sorry.”

The girl tilted her head, and her expression was difficult for Timothy to read.  Her face softened visibly, and there might have been the slightest hint of a smile there.  Maybe.

In some alternate future of that moment, it might have happened that the girl finally did smile and said that she didn’t mind, that it hadn’t bothered her all that much—though it had bothered her.  But she would say that it meant a lot to her that Timothy had made it a point to apologize.  Then, a bit jokily, she would reach her hand out to shake and declare that there were no hard feelings, and she would formally introduce herself.

And in some versions of that future, she and Timothy would first become friends—would start talking to each other in class on a regular basis, and eventually would decide to go out together, and would become a couple.  And in some versions of that future, they would stay together after high school, and would eventually get married, and have children, and live a long, mainly happy life together, occasionally reminiscing with amusement about their inauspicious first interaction.

In the world Timothy experienced, though, at that moment, when the girl opened her mouth to reply, she was interrupted by a sudden, minor crash from the front of the room.  Another student, who had just been walking into the room, had bumped into and knocked over a globe near the doorway, and the globe came loose from its base, rolling across the front of the class like a badly kicked ball.  Minor chaos, with laughter and confusion, followed, and the unlucky student was still trying to fix the globe when the teacher returned to the classroom, only a minute or so before the start of that lesson.  With good humor, the teacher reassured the student that it was fine, that there was time to fix the globe later, and the student went to his seat, embarrassed but smiling at himself, his friends ribbing him good-naturedly.

Timothy never expected to share another significant interaction with the girl in his class.  He expected never to know just how well they might have gotten along if they had just by chance come to know each other better.  Unfortunately, given the dark nature of what had led to their first shared words, he thought it was simply not acceptable to the universe for good to come of it.


Timothy was called in to see Dr. Putnam early the next week, since his mother reported to the doctor that she was not going to let him take any more antidepressants or anything like them.  That weekend, Timothy made it a point to go out and scrub the back wall of the building, to get as much of the burn markings off as he could.  The wasp nest had further disintegrated even in the few intervening days, and the surviving wasp was nowhere to be seen.  Timothy found himself hoping—weirdly enough, he had to admit—that it had found or would find another mate, or whatever, and built a new nest somewhere, and that it would have whatever passed for a successful life among wasps.  He knocked the remains of the burnt nest off the wall with a rake handle, scooping it into the garbage can with a dustpan, unwilling to look too closely at it.

The burn mark did not come off completely, but it was noticeably improved.  Weather and time would gradually wear it down, but as long as the building stood, there would be a faint residuum of the fire that Timothy had lit in the charcoal starter fluid along it.

His appointment with Dr. Putnam on Tuesday, which took him out of class again, was a long one.  At his age, it didn’t occur to him that the doctor was spending more time with him than he must spend with other patients, and that he often saw him in his proper office rather than an exam room, but he would think about it later.  Dr. Putnam asked him to tell him more about what had led his mother to flush his meds away and to declare categorically that no further such trials would be attempted.  Timothy, who had come to believe that his mother’s wisdom in this was unassailable, told Dr. Putnam about things his mother could not have known, including his interaction with the girl in school, and the thoughts that went through his head when he decided to burn the wasp’s nest.  He also told him about the general character of his mind on those few days, how dark but calm, how sinister—how evil, from his own point of view—it had been.  Dr. Putnam received this information with clear surprise and plain curiosity, as well as undisguised alarm.

When he asked if there had been anything else, Timothy hesitated.  It was stranger, more difficult, more worrisome to tell of what had happened the other night.  He didn’t honestly know whether it had anything to do with the medication—as far as he could tell, it had been completely real, not a state of mind.  But he felt that Dr. Putnam would want to know about it.

So, with hesitancy, with embarrassment, and with real, recollected fear, he did his best to describe what had happened when he had awakened to find the unearthly monstrosity lying atop him, and how he had felt afterwards.

Dr. Putnam watched him intently, not interrupting, allowing Timothy to tell the tale himself in his own words and his own time.  Timothy was good at such things, despite being a boy with few close friends.  Perhaps because his interactions had tended usually to be more with adults than with others his age, he was surprisingly more articulate than most of his peers, at least about matters such as this.  Though, to be honest with himself, his ability to convey that night’s experiences, thorough though he was, could never truly explain the profound terror he’d experienced, the fear that had undermined his very sense that he knew anything at all about what reality was.

When he finally came to an end, Dr. Putnam eyed him closely for a moment, then said, “Interesting.”

Something about the tone of that word surprised Timothy.  He would have expected the man to say something more along the lines of, “What the hell are you talking about?  Are you crazy?”  Though, to be fair, Dr. Putnam would probably have been more diplomatic, but the doctor’s lack of deep surprise was startling to Timothy.

“What’s interesting?” he asked, though he had to admit it was a silly question on its face.

“Well,” Dr. Putnam said, “it sounds to me like you experienced an episode of what’s called sleep paralysis.”

“Huh?” Timothy said, quite unable to articulate anything more intelligent.

“Well, it’s a phenomenon that happens to a surprising number of people, if only once or twice in their lives.  It’s…well, let me start at the beginning a little.  When we sleep, and particularly when we dream, our brains set up a kind of…interference, or interruption, in the signals that normally go from our brains to our bodies.  This seems to be a protection, so we don’t act out what we’re experiencing in our dreams.”

“Oh, okay,” Timothy said.  “I…guess that makes sense.”

“And you’ve probably heard of sleepwalkers, haven’t you?” Dr. Putnam asked.

Not sure where the man was going, but trusting his guidance, Timothy said, “Yeah, sure.  I mean…in cartoons and stuff, mainly.”

Dr. Putnam gave a tiny laugh, saying, “Well, yes.  It is something that’s played for comedy at times.  But it’s real.  It happens when there’s a kind of…slip-up in that movement-blocking system, and people move and behave as their dreaming minds lead them to.  There have even been…well, anyway, people do things they would never do in their regular waking lives, though usually it’s a more or less benign process.  The biggest risk is mostly that someone will injure themselves by tripping or falling, or falling downstairs, when sleep walking.  The official name is ‘somnambulism,’ which more or less literally means ‘sleep-walking,’ but we doctors can charge more for talking about it if we use Latin words.”

Timothy laughed, appreciating Dr. Putnam’s self-deprecating humor.  In his turn, Dr. Putnam smiled, and Timothy suspected that many of his adult patients wouldn’t be as quick to appreciate such jokes as he was.  Then he berated himself internally, if not all that harshly, for getting too full of himself.  If he was so clever, why was he the only one in his high school who had to see a doctor because he couldn’t control his rage?

Dr. Putnam went on, “Well, in any case, just as sometimes the sleep movement shutdown system can malfunction so as to let people move about while sleeping, sometimes it fails in what you could call the opposite way.  People become conscious—or semi-conscious—but their bodies are still in a state of paralysis, with their movement inhibited, even though they are becoming aware.  But generally, they aren’t fully conscious when this happens.  They’re still in a near-dream state.  After all, the reason their bodies are unable to move is because that system is there for dreaming.  But when they return to near-consciousness, and are unable to move, the brain, which is still more or less in dreaming mode, seems to…create or invent reasons for that lack of movement.  Often this involves the presence of something or someone sitting or lying upon the sleeper’s body.”

Timothy’s mouth dropped open as he recognized some of what Dr. Putnam was saying.  The doctor continued, “These images are often terrifying, because the…the victim of course finds the inability to move frightening and assigns its cause to some malevolent force.  It’s thought that, in ancient times, this is the source of many myths such as the succubus and incubus, and other nocturnal demons and spirits.  Some people used to see witches and so on.  In the modern era, it’s thought that many experiences of so-called ‘alien abductions’ are attributable to sleep paralysis.  I’ve even heard one neuroscientist describe her own experience of waking to find herself beset by a Cylon centurion from the old Battlestar Galactica program.”

Dr. Putnam smirked, but Timothy did not really know the reference.  He was too overwhelmed, in any case, by what Dr. Putnam was saying, for it described his own nocturnal experience so well, but in such normal, ordinary, real terms.  It was both reassuring and frightening in its own right.

Apparently recognizing Timothy’s disturbance, Dr. Putnam stopped smiling and said, “Anyway, one thing that seems almost universal is that these experiences are terrifying, and that they seem extraordinarily convincing.  The fear they engender can last for hours even after the victim wakes up…even when they recognize what’s happened for what it is.  For some people, even when they are told that there is a very clear, and reasonably well-understood, explanation for their experiences, they feel that what happened was real.  As witness, the many people who really continue to believe that they’ve been abducted by aliens.”

A pause followed, while Timothy struggled to absorb the doctor’s explanation.  Finally, he asked, “So you…you think that’s what happened to me?”

Dr. Putnam shrugged, but the gesture somehow conveyed certainty rather than indecision.  Timothy wondered how he pulled that off, even as he listened to the man say, “I’m pretty darn sure.  I could practically write your…experience up as a textbook description of the phenomenon, based on what you told me.

“Also, interestingly, I’m pretty sure that I’ve read case reports of people who’ve come off SSRIs—that’s the kind of medication that Paxil is, by the way.  The case reports might actually have been about people coming off Paxil, come to think of it.  Anyway, I’ve read of people who’ve abruptly come off this class of anti-depressants—which is not the recommended way to stop them for people who’ve been taking them for a long time—who’ve experienced sleep paralysis, among other symptoms.

“What’s odd in your case, though, is that you were taking the medications for, what, three days?  And at the very lowest dose.  To be honest, most adults wouldn’t have even noticed that they’d taken any medication at all one way or the other on the dose we started you on.  But it looks like I was right to be extremely cautious in your case.”

“Yeah,” Timothy said, certainly pleased about that caution in retrospect.  He couldn’t even imagine how he might have reacted when taking a larger dose, what sort of atrocity he might have committed.  And even more terrifying, if coming off three days’ worth of a tiny dose had made him see and feel what he’d seen and felt the other night…well, Jesus, he couldn’t even imagine what he might have felt suddenly stopping a larger dose.

Probably he would have simply gone insane with fear.  God knew, he’d felt close enough to that as it was.

“Of course,” Dr. Putnam went on, “this just convinces me even more that the source of your bouts of uncontrollable anger is something very much innate, something biological.  Anyone who’s had any real interaction with you for more than a few minutes, on anything but a superficial level, would know that it’s nothing about character.  I’ve known seventy-year-olds with less emotional maturity than you.  Though, to be fair to them, I don’t tend to see people at their best.”

Dr. Putnam smiled as he tried to rescue the reputations of what Timothy felt sure were real people of whom the doctor was thinking when he made these comments.  Timothy, however, found the statements oddly disquieting.  If he really was more mature even than people who had lived for seven decades, and if such people were common, then what did that say about the human race?  No wonder the world was such a mess, if Timothy, at his age, with his problems, was above average in maturity level.

Dr. Putnam sighed and said, “Unfortunately, as your mother has clearly recognized, this…this fact, this very powerful aspect to whatever triggers your bursts of anger, makes it extremely tricky to know how best to manage it.  If even that tiny dose of Paxil can make you become almost…sociopathic in your thoughts and actions, then I’m not sure how safe it is to try anything else, and I think your mother would make a categorical statement about that possibility.  And, unfortunately, I think she’s right.  No matter how much research has gone into making them, and how much data we ought to have about them given the huge number of people who take them, antidepressants, as well as the other psychotropics, are fantastically blunt instruments, and we’re dealing with the most complicated thing in the known universe.”

Timothy was trying to keep up with Dr. Putnam, who very much seemed to be speaking to himself out loud at the moment, but he thought he might have lost track somewhere.  He asked, “What is?”

“Sorry?” Dr. Putnam asked, reinforcing Timothy’s impression that the man had been merely speaking his thoughts as they arrived.

“What’s the most…complicated thing in the universe?” Timothy asked.

“Oh!” Dr. Putnam said, seeming almost embarrassed.  “Sorry.  I meant the human brain.  Or the human mind, if you prefer.  Of all the things we know about in the universe, it’s by far the most complicated thing, and we are a looong way from understanding it fully.  And we hardly put any effort into trying to understand it, at least relative to its importance.  Which is impressive and everything and gives us a nice excuse to pat ourselves on the back for how smart and how complicated we must be, but…it means that when we have troubles like yours, we have a really hard time finding the best way to deal with them.”

“Oh,” Timothy said.  He now understood what the doctor had been getting at, but it didn’t make him feel better, as understanding something usually did.  All it made him feel was that he had an issue that was so difficult—because of that fancy, complicated nature of the human brain, apparently—that there was no obvious way to fix it.  Except, of course, the option that he’d long ago decided to give himself if it looked impossible for him to avoid hurting other people.

Dr. Putnam appeared to recognize Timothy’s threatening despair, for he leaned forward and gave a bracing smile, saying, “Don’t get too discouraged.  I meant what I said about how sharp and how together you are, and that’s going to make a big difference here.  I think you’re capable of handling problems that other people might not be able to deal with.

“Just because we can’t use antidepressants to help your problem doesn’t mean we’re out of tricks.  Maybe we were trying to use artillery on a problem when we should have been thinking of using a scalpel.”

Timothy, far from completely reassured, was at least distracted by the fact that he didn’t follow Dr. Putnam’s metaphor.  “Huh?” he said, recognizing that he probably sounded stupid, but not really caring.

Dr. Putnam chuckled.  “Sorry,” he said.  “I just mean that, maybe we need to try something more subtle.  I’ve been thinking for a long time about this in your case, but I thought we’d try some more…well, conventional approaches first.  Still, there’s a growing body of data on some other things, and I thought maybe it would be worth giving something less traditional—or, well, in some ways more traditional—a try.”

Timothy thought the doctor was beating around the bush a little too much, possibly because of a personal sense of insecurity with something.  It was a little irritating, but he could handle it.  “What do you mean?” he asked.

“Well…have you ever heard of mindfulness meditation?” Dr. Putnam asked.

Timothy didn’t have to search his thoughts very hard before replying, “Well, I’ve heard of meditation…or read about it, or whatever.  But I don’t really know anything about it, other than that it’s people sitting around really still and like…humming or chanting or something.”

“Well,” Dr. Putnam said, “that’s not far from right.  Well, actually, to be fair to you, that does actually describe some types of meditation.  But mindfulness meditation is something rather specific.  I’m not an expert in it, and I wouldn’t presume to try to give you any real detail about the practice, but it’s really about training your mind to simply experience whatever you’re experiencing, to focus on it without expectation, without reacting to it emotionally.”

Timothy didn’t think this sounded any too fancy, despite the talk of the complexities of the mind.  Still, if it were possible, and if it was useful, then it might be worth a try.  “Okay,” he said.  “I guess that sounds good, and everything.  If it works.  I mean, it’s not just…like superstition or something, right?”

“No, no,” Dr. Putnam said.  “Not at all.  I suppose there are some people who think superstitious things about it, like the Transcendental Meditation people who thought they could influence world events or whatever just by meditating about them, but mindfulness meditation’s ability to produce changes in the actual, physical structure of the human brain—good changes, by the way—has begun to be demonstrated in some studies that I’ve seen, and more and more of these are coming along all the time.  No, its benefits seem to be very real.”

Timothy nodded, still quite unclear about any specifics.  After a moment, he asked a question he thought might be rude, but which he couldn’t resist.  “Have you tried it?” he said.

Dr. Putnam gave a smile that looked a bit like a wince, hunching his shoulders, and he replied, “I’ve…thought about it.  It sounds very intriguing.  But I’ve never taken the plunge.  However, if you’re willing to give it a try, and depending on what you find…well, I think I may give it a go as well.”

“Oh,” Timothy said.  He wasn’t sure how he felt about that answer.  It seemed to him that he was some kind of experimental subject here, being used to test out some process for the doctor’s own personal curiosity.  However, he also didn’t think Dr. Putnam would have recommended such a thing if he didn’t think it would help, even if it was also a matter of personal curiosity.  And Timothy supposed that being able to kill those two birds with one stone—helping himself and being helpful to Dr. Putnam at the same time—might be a pretty nice thing to do.  Who knew, maybe he could do something that would really make a difference to Dr. Putnam in some meaningful way, and it would change his own life as well.

Then, abruptly, a more adult sort of thought—unpleasantly more practical and mercenary—intruded, and he asked, “Is…is that sort of thing gonna be covered by my mom’s insurance?”

“Ah,” Dr. Putnam said, clearly impressed by Timothy’s recognition of this concern, though at least he didn’t seem put off by it.  “No, it’s not,” he said.

Timothy, rapidly feeling discouraged and recalcitrant, was stopped from making some nonspecific, hesitant comment by Dr. Putnam’s upraised palm, and the man said, “However, this is a big city.  Which has its disadvantages but also its advantages.  And I know of a vipassana center—‘vipassana’ is the original word for mindfulness meditation, in…Hindi or some other far eastern language, I’m not sure which one—that’s recently been opened by a friend of a friend of mine.  And, however spiritual and transcendental this person might be, he’s also, I think, shrewd enough to know that if he treats you—my patient—well and does you some good, that you won’t be the last person I’ll be sending his way.  And recommendations from a local doctor who has a pretty good reputation, if you don’t mind me saying so, it definitely not going to hurt his business.”

Timothy sort of got Dr. Putnam’s point, or he thought he did, but he wanted to be sure, so he asked, “Does that mean he’d, like…teach me for free?”

“Well…maybe not free,” Dr. Putnam said.  “He has to be at least somewhat practical about short-term costs.  But I think he could probably be convinced to give you a very good rate.  It might end up not being much more expensive than the copay on a prescription would be.  And the other good thing about it would be that you wouldn’t need to keep going over and over.  Once you’ve really learned how to do it—or so I understand, though I I’m not much more expert than you are—you don’t need anyone else to be around to do it.  It’s a bit like going to a class to learn how to do some kind of exercise properly, but once you’ve learned it, you could just do it yourself.”

“Oh,” Timothy said.  “Sort of like learning to play music or something, huh?”  This comment stemmed from a regret he held hidden deep inside him that he’d never learned how to play an instrument of any kind, and was unlikely to learn in the future, since his school had no band or orchestra program, and private lessons were expensive.  They were also nothing that would have occurred to his mother to seek out, she never having had a musical education nor any particular fondness for any version of the art form.

Dr. Putnam seemed surprised by the comparison, but the set of his face told Timothy that he took it seriously, though it seemed never to have occurred to him before.  “Well…maybe so,” he said.  “I hadn’t thought of it that way, but you may be exactly right.  Your mother certainly hasn’t raised any stupid kids, has she?”

Timothy, far from comfortable with what seemed to him an unmerited compliment, said, “I don’t know about that.”

Dr. Putnam’s face became more serious, and he said, “I do.  I know it very well.  Trust me, I’ve known a lot of bright people in my life.  I mean, I did go to a good undergraduate university, and then to medical school, internship, and residency.  I wouldn’t think any of those people would have IQs below a hundred—though there were some who couldn’t have been much above that, God knows—but you would easily fit in amongst some of the best of them.”

Rather distracted by this unexpected level of compliment, and feeling surprisingly gratified and hopeful about it, Timothy said, “Really?  You think so?”

“Absolutely,” Dr. Putnam replied.  “I’m not a fan of blowing smoke up people’s…rear ends.  Which, by the way, was once thought to a life-saving technique against drowning, apparently, and that’s where the saying comes from.”

Not distracted by this peculiar tidbit of information, Timothy asked, “So, you think I might be able to go to medical school, even?  That I might be able to be a doctor?”

Dr. Putnam looked surprised, almost completely thrown off his train of thought, but he recovered quickly and said, “Well…I don’t see why not.  If that’s the sort of thing you decide you want to do.”

Timothy honestly told him, “I’ve never really thought about what I want I do.  Mostly I’ve thought about what I don’t want to do.”

“What’s that?” Dr. Putnam asked.

“I don’t want to hurt people.  I don’t want to make my mom’s life harder than it is.  I don’t want to make her feel bad or sad.”

“Ah,” Dr. Putnam said, apparently thinking he should have known all that without asking.  “Well, that’s all very good, and I couldn’t disagree with you that those things are important.  But you also deserve to think about what you want to do with your life for your own sake, not just what you don’t want to do for other people’s sakes.”

“Maybe,” Timothy said.  “But you’ve gotta keep from starving before you start worrying about…about buying fancy clothes or…or getting a tattoo or something, I don’t know.”

Dr. Putnam grimaced, and he said, “Well…I guess that’s true, though I don’t like the notion that someone as young as you has to be troubled by it.  Which, I guess, means that we really do have to try and get this process going.  So, with that in mind…I’m going to call that friend and then that friend of a friend this evening, and I’m going to talk about my proposal.  And if that goes well, I’ll be getting in touch with your mother and seeing what she thinks about it.”

“Okay,” Timothy said.  Then, as the notion occurred to him, he asked, “Do you want me to hold off before talking to my mom about it?”

This thought seemed to surprise Dr. Putnam as much as it did Timothy, but he quickly replied, “No, no, there’s no need for that.  I mean, you can if you want to, but don’t feel like you need to.  I imagine she’ll want to know how the appointment went, particularly considering recent events.”

“Yeah,” Timothy said.  “I guess you’re right about that.”

Outlaw’s Mind – Part 8

Timothy hadn’t taken the Paxil long enough, nor at a high enough dose, to feel any sort of withdrawal syndrome from having stopped it.  In fact, he didn’t consciously recognize any difference at all at first from not having taken it the following morning.  The first inkling he had of a change was when, in the middle of the school day, he first saw the girl who had been bemoaning the split-up of the boy band she loved.  She glanced at him as she came into the room for that hour’s classes, and Timothy felt a curious little pang.  He felt as though he had done her wrong but couldn’t think what he might have done.  She didn’t look at him for longer than a second, and he was soon distracted by the beginning of class.  Even so, as they left almost an hour later, she with a small group of friends, Timothy continued to feel troubled.

That afternoon, as he walked toward the door to the apartment, his eyes were drawn to the side of the building, where he could see the hose wrapped around the spigot on the building’s side.  He felt a curious, almost guilty feeling when he saw it, but couldn’t figure out why.  He went inside before the neighbor arrived that day, but when he heard her go into her home, as he almost always could, he again felt a strange embarrassed, guilty feeling.  He didn’t dwell on it, though.

His mother said nothing noteworthy to him that evening, but he thought she eyed him a bit more pointedly than usual.  She stuck to her usual evening small talk, and the two ate a peaceful dinner and watched a sitcom together before Timothy went to his room to go to bed.

That night, Timothy had a bit of trouble falling asleep.  This was not unusual; he was somewhat high-strung, and he often found that relaxing in the evenings was a minor challenge.  He realized at that moment that he hadn’t had any trouble sleeping on those few days when he’d taken his half-Paxil.  That fact made him slightly regretful.  He wondered, idly, whether it was sleeplessness that caused his horrible temper, or at least contributed to it.

It wasn’t much of a wonder, but it distracted him enough to help him drop off to sleep.

An unclear amount of time later, he found himself swirling into a strange sense of half-wakefulness.  His head felt fuzzy, his thoughts were dim, and it took him a few seconds to realize two things:  first, that he needed to get up to use the bathroom; and second, that he couldn’t move.

His eyes flickered open.  The room around him seemed surprisingly bright given the depth of the night, yet it was also strangely fuzzy, as though he were looking at it through glass that had been smeared with Vaseline.

Then he saw why he couldn’t move, and every other consideration left him.

Half-sitting, half sprawling atop Timothy’s sleeping form was a hideous, unspeakable figure.  It was dark, dusky black, as if it had formed out the nighttime shadows themselves, and its rough shape was somewhere between that of a hulking dog—perhaps a giant-sized rottweiler or a pit bull—and a human.  But this similarity was only rough.  Its outline was covered with folds and wrinkles, undulating and pulsing as though serpents or worms moved about below the surface of its midnight skin.  It was so large that its haunches were across the lower part of Timothy’s legs, its lower body pressed against his thighs and his abdomen, and its partly raised chest supported above Timothy’s, its arms pressing down on Timothy’s shoulders.

Horrified and terrified, Timothy tried to scream in shock and fright, but he couldn’t so much as make a sound.  Even his breath felt paralyzed.

His attempt to make a noise, though, seemed to call the thing’s attention.  Its head had apparently been looking up and around the room, as though perusing Timothy’s various belongings.  Now it shifted down to look at him, realizing that he was awake.

The shape of the head was roughly humanoid, but it was much larger.  It was bald and elongated, with the same undulating wrinkles on its surface as on the rest of the body.  If it had a nose, it must have been as flat as a gorilla’s.  Its eyes were small relative to the size of its head, but they shone a piercing red, like the lasers in a supermarket scanner.  As the gaze turned to meet his, Timothy felt briefly blinded, the crimson light flashing into the back of his own eyes.  He saw that, when the creature moved its head, it seemed not to be moving solely through the normal dimensions of space.  It looked as though one portion of it disappeared into nowhere as another portion appeared abruptly in the real world, and this, rather than ordinary motion, was how it moved, as though what Timothy was seeing was merely a projection into normal space of some entity with a higher number of dimensions.

Its face, though, stayed consistent, even as the wormy, impossibly flowing rest of it turned the head to face him.

Timothy tried harder to scream.  He failed.

As if in answer to his own mouth’s opening to fight for breath against the weight on his chest, Timothy saw a mouth that must have been there all along open in the monster’s lower head.  It was huge, gaping, a gigantic, wide slit of a mouth that reached all the way around to what would have been the location of the thing’s ears if it had seemed to have any.  It cracked open in a gaping smile that could have encompassed Timothy’s whole head.

As the jaws parted, Timothy saw countless narrow, needle-sharp teeth.  A long, glistening, snakelike tongue came out and licked all along the creature’s upper lip.

In addition to the terror that set his heart racing and made him wish he could howl and shriek with terror, Timothy now felt a deep revulsion, a disgust as visceral as if he had stumbled upon a rotten corpse lying in his bed beside him.  Glistening black liquid oozed along the lips where the thing’s putrid pink tongue slathered it.

He wouldn’t notice until much later that—despite this nauseated, disgusted reaction—he didn’t notice any smell from the thing.

As it looked down at him, its wide mouth still split into a rictus of a grin, it’s laser-pointer eyes glaring at him, Timothy saw its tongue snake away from its face, moving as though it was, perhaps, another iteration of whatever it was that lived beneath the thing’s skin and made its undulating wrinkles.  It wove and bobbed through the air between its head and Timothy’s, and then the head began to bend forward.  Its tongue drew closer to Timothy, he could feel a feverish heat radiating from it, baking his cheeks and lips.

Timothy thought about how snakes and lizards tended to smell as well as taste with their tongues, that these were among their primary ways for testing their environment.  He thought that the thing must be about to taste him, to make sure he was palatable, before literally biting his head off.

He didn’t spare a single instant of thought to wonder how it could be possible for this thing, this impossible creature, to exist at all, let alone to be laying across him, holding him in place, in the middle of the night in his own home.  He merely recognized that he had to get free.  He could not let this horrible thing devour him.  He would not let this thing devour him.  He had to move.

He struggled to move his arms, his legs, his body.  He wanted to knee at it, to scratch, to punch, to do something, but his body would not comply with his commands.  It wasn’t just that he was held down.  Even in the portions of his arms where the thing did not lay, he couldn’t move.  He couldn’t clench his fists; he couldn’t wiggle his toes.  His body was not obeying his mind’s commands.

Had he been drugged?  Had he been poisoned?  Had this thing somehow shot him with some kind of venom, and that was why he couldn’t move, didn’t even feel that he could breathe?

The tongue waved and wiggled through the air, taking its time as though it were enjoying the scenery on the way to its destination.  It was clear, though, that it was coming closer to Timothy’s face, that it was going to caress him…to taste him.

Even his head wouldn’t move; he couldn’t turn from side to side to try to avoid the tongue.  Maybe he could close his eyes—he’d certainly been able to open them—but he had no desire to do that.  He knew, somewhere in his bones, that closing his eyes would not make this thing go away, would not conjure it out of existence.  It would simply make him blind to whatever it was about to do, more vulnerable rather than less.

His helplessness, his inability to act on his fear, frustrated him even more than it made the fear grow.  It was maddening not to be able to act, not to be able to try to flee.  This thing had him completely at its mercy, and it was playing with him.  Its tongue taunted him, drawing closer only slowly, teasing him before it came into contact.

Timothy had no way to read the creature’s expression; its face was too inhuman, too fixed into a permanent, insane slash of a grin, to draw any conclusions.  But he thought that it was laughing at him.

This didn’t exactly bring up the same rage that he’d always felt in waking hours when faced with such laughter, but it did make him angry.  He hated bullies, he hated tormentors, he hated the cruel ones who not only took advantage of those weaker than they, but who delighted in it.  He’d always felt that way, for as long as he could remember.  This hatred was stronger than his fear of any bully.  It was stronger than his desire to avoid pain.  It was stronger than his desire to live.

If he was going to die—if this inexplicable thing that lay across his body was going to eat him—then he was not going to do so without at least making a mark.

If it was going to bite him, then it was going to be bitten as well.

Somehow, Timothy’s rage empowered his own jaws and the front of his neck, or perhaps they were able to move for the same reason his eyes were able to open and to focus.  It was not easy.  The muscles of his neck and temples and cheeks did not want to be forced into wakefulness.  But Timothy had no patience for their laziness.  He was in charge of them, not the other way around.  A much clearer anger than his usual rage drove him, and with an insane effort of his own, as the tongue came nearer, he too imitated a snake, bringing his head forward with his jaws open.  He caught the tongue between his teeth, paying not the tiniest bit of attention to what its texture was or if it tasted bad or was caustic or poisonous or anything else.  Instead, he bit down on it as hard as he could, sinking his incisors and canines deeply into its thick, slimy flesh.

Did it scream?  Timothy thought it gave off a sound of some kind, but like the movements of its body, this noise seemed to happen in some other dimension, not completely intersecting with the world of Timothy’s bedroom.  Whatever the sound was, perhaps just a sound of the mind, it was both surprised and in pain, and the grim satisfaction of this truth drove Timothy to bite down harder.

The thing yanked backward, drawing its head and body upward.  Its tongue yanked out of Timothy’s mouth.

And all of a sudden, it wasn’t there, and Timothy was twitching and writhing in his bed, gasping for breath, throwing his blankets off and scrambling to stand up.  His body, out of nowhere, was doing what he wanted it to do, but it was clumsy, stiff and slow, as though he were just now waking up from sleep.

When he got his footing, he stared around the room.  It was dark, deep nighttime, and there were no lights in Timothy’s room, but a distant glow from the bathroom fixture leaked under the crack of the door.

Had that been there before?

He looked back and forth around his bedroom, trying to see where the monster might have gone.  Was it in the corner?  Had it darted impossibly under the bed?  Had it ducked into the closet?  It seemed too big for any of those possibilities.

Timothy’s heart raced and he breathed as though he’d been sprinting.  He wouldn’t really notice it until a few minutes later, but his tee-shirt was partly plastered to his sweaty skin.  It was a miracle that he didn’t scream out loud.  It was almost as great a miracle that he hadn’t wet the bed.

He couldn’t see well, not as well as he had a moment ago.  Despite the newly noticed dim glow under the door, the room seemed darker than it had.  Timothy scrambled for his bedside/desktop lamp, fumbling at it, almost knocking it over, as he turned the switch on the back of the lamp head.

The sudden light, though sometimes weak and pallid during the daytime, seemed blindingly bright, and Timothy had to squint at first when it came on.  His eyes quickly adapted, though, and he tore them around the room, seeking any trace—a trail of glistening slime, a few drops of blood from its injured tongue—of the creature that had lain atop him.  There was no visible trace that he could find.  Even his blankets, which he first kicked at and then grabbed and threw back on the bed to examine, showed no trace of any unnatural presence, no excretions, no stains, no markings.

It was almost as though the thing had not really been there.

Timothy’s fear, though, was as real as any fear could be.  Indeed, now that he could move, the sense of fear was greater than it was before, dominant over that outrage that had allowed him to break through his immobility and bite the thing.  He could feel his body trembling, could almost hear his heart beating, tripping along so fast that he could barely have kept count of it had he tried.  He jerked around in place several times, trying to catch sight of anything that might be lurking behind him even in his small bedroom, but nothing was present that hadn’t always been there during the day.

He glanced at his window, then fixed his gaze upon it.  The curtains were drawn, and it was night outside, so there was no sign of anything through it.  When the drapes were open, though, it looked out on the street.  There were no streetlamps in front of the duplex in which Timothy and his mother lived, so there was no sign of any light through the covered pane, but Timothy knew that, if he were to open those drapes, he should see the meager front yard and then the street and the surrounding neighborhood of similar dreary dwellings.

But if he were to yank aside those layers of fabric now, what would he see?  Would it be a normal nightscape, just the same place it was during the day thrown into darker shadow?  Or would he see something else?  Would he pull the drapes aside only to find the beast’s horrible face pressed against the pane, its slathering tongue licking at the surface, just waiting for Timothy to see it before it crashed through the glass to take revenge?

And behind the monster, would the city beyond still be there?  Or would Timothy find that his house had been transplanted into some new, alien realm, of which the thing that had lain atop him was only the least terrifying of inhabitants?  Would there be towering shapes with tripod legs and faceless heads, with long, swirling tentacles as thick as oak trees and as sinuous and threatening as moray eels?  Would there be eyeless, flying creatures crossing a bleak, starless sky, and distant mountains so high and jagged that one couldn’t even make out their peaks through cloudless air?  Would the stunted grass of the lawn be replaced by carnivorous weeds, with oozing acid and sharp fangs lining leaves that were shaped like jaws?

Timothy considered, for a mere instant, going to the window and throwing aside the drapes, proving to himself that the world beyond was just as it always had been, which he told himself must be the case.  But he thought that, even if it were so—as surely it must be—he would still scream if he yanked the curtains open.  Even if the world was normal, he would still shriek if he dared to look.  And he couldn’t stand that thought.  He couldn’t bear the possibility.  He felt that, if he were to face his fear that way, it would kill him.  He would give a howl of shock—shock at finding an alien landscape, or just as great a shock at finding everything normal—and drop to the floor, suffocating, paralyzed again, dying even before his mother—who would no doubt be awakened by his scream—could make her way into the room.

The thought of his mother distracted him.  She was just through the bedroom door, down the little hallway, her bedroom along the back of the apartment.  Only two doors separated them.  The apartment’s small size, a fact that was occasionally a source of dissatisfaction for Timothy, now seemed the purest of blessings.  He could yank his bedroom door aside, rush through it, the hallway weakly lit by the bathroom light that was always left on at night, and go into his mother’s room, awakening her.  He would tell her he’d had a bad dream, ask if he could sleep in her bed with her.  True, he was a teenager now, and an unusually self-sufficient one; it had been nearly a decade—maybe more than a decade—since he’d prevailed upon his mother to soothe nighttime fears.  That didn’t matter, though.  He was not ashamed to be afraid.  Not after what he’d just seen.

But then…if outside his window might be filled with a hellish new reality, might not even the rest of the apartment?  Might he not open his door to find the hallway already populated by things like the one that had lain atop him?  What if the whole space of the hallway floor was covered with the impossible, writhing shapes of creatures like that one and worse, their red laser eyes all swinging about to regard him in surprise as he opened the door, then bearing down on him in a mindless, chaotic mass that would devour him from the outside inward?

What if he found them already feasting on the remaining pieces of his mother’s body?  He could imagine seeing her head, torn off her body, her mouth and eyes agape, somehow still staring at him accusingly, blaming him for the horror…somehow still barely alive though decapitated, even as a horror made from the stuff of nighttime chewed at the stump of her neck.

And an even worse notion occurred to Timothy.  Maybe he would find his mother quite whole and well, standing amongst the red-eyed beasts, gently patting the head of the one that Timothy had bitten, soothing it, reassuring it.  He had the terrible thought that she would be saying—not to him but to the creature—that she had raised Timothy solely so that once he was old enough, plump enough, meaty enough, he could be fed to monster.  And then, of course, she would come to Timothy, holding a slaughtering knife in her hand, and she would slash his throat, dropping his bleeding body to the floor, where the creatures would start to eat him long before he was dead.

No.  That wasn’t possible.  None of that was possible.  Timothy shook his head, berating himself.  None of that was happening, none of that was going to be so.  If he opened the door—or if he opened the curtains—he would find the hallway, the apartment, the world outside to be just as it always had been.  His mother would be sleeping in her room, his best advocate and protector in all the world, not his butcher.

He would surely find that if he looked.

But he was not so sure—not so convinced—that he was willing to look.  After what he had awakened to find on his chest, he could not be sure enough of anything other than what was right before his eyes.  He could see his room, he could see his bed, his desk, his dresser.  These were normal as far as he could tell in the light of his desk lamp.  Anything else was unknown.  Anything else was up for grabs.  Anything else was not safe.

He was alone.  He was stuck in his room by himself, terrified, unable to process what had happened, unable to explain how the thing had been laying on top of him when he’d awakened, unable to understand where it had gone.  There was no one who could help him.  He was on his own.

What could he do?  Nothing.  Nothing but what he finally did, after an unmeasured interval passed, which was to crawl backward into his bed again, shuffling until he was seated against the small headboard and the wall behind it.  He grabbed the corner of his blanket, the part that was still on the bed, between his two outstretched ankles, pulling it toward him first with his legs, then with his hands when it was close enough.  Imagining that, just maybe, the part that hung onto the floor would come back with some monstrosity attached to it, a smaller relative of the thing that he’d bitten, like an alien fish on the end of a hook and line, he had to force himself to yank it up quickly, relieved almost to the point of a yelp when nothing but blanket came in response to his pull.

Timothy wrapped the blanket around himself, covering himself up to his neck, accepting the restriction of movement on his arms even as he tucked the material behind and underneath him.  Better to be protected than to be free to move.  Better to be warm.  He considered even covering his head, but then he would be trapped under the blanket, unable to pull it aside for fear that his room itself would have been taken away while he wasn’t looking.

No, better to keep looking, to armor the rest of him but to keep his head free, his eyes wide.  He wished he didn’t even have to blink.

He hated himself for being so afraid, ashamed that he was unable to face his fear.  But he was unable to do otherwise.  And it certainly didn’t occur to him that his fear might be unjustified, irrational.  Why would it?  He had seen the monster.  He had felt it lying atop him.

He couldn’t have said how long he sat there, propped against the back of his bed, against the solid, cinder-block wall behind it, staring into the familiar refuge of his room, unknowing what might lay beyond and unwilling, unable to force himself, to investigate.  If he dozed off at any point, he did so while still awake, and that sleep never became deep.  He didn’t know what time it might have been when he had awakened to find the otherworldly abomination all but smothering him.  It could have been an hour after he’d gone to bed.  It could have been an hour before his alarm clock was due to go off.  The time between was the eternal and instantaneous time of dreams, and he could never have given even a guess about its length.  If asked, he could not have guaranteed that it had not been far longer than eight hours in length.  He could not have sworn—not if he was honest—that it hadn’t been many days, or even years.

When the light of the returning day finally began to brighten the space behind his window curtains, it only came to Timothy’s attention gradually.  By the time he noticed it, dawn was well underway.  Enough time had passed that his acute fear had faded, but the sense of unreality was stubborn, and Timothy didn’t leave his bed, didn’t even dislodge his blankets from where they wrapped him up like a strait jacket, until his alarm clock forced the processes of habit into action.

Outlaw’s Mind – Part 7

Timothy’s mother was as anxious as he was about the prospect of him being on anti-depressants for some indefinite period.  However, she was also troubled by the various difficulties into which he got himself because of his violent temper, and her fear of that, her fear for him because of that, was greater than her fear of the medicine.  She filled the prescription, the copay for which was tolerable, and brought it home after work two days after Timothy’s appointment.  He was to start taking it the following morning.

When he broke the small tablet in half on the score-line next morning, an easy thing to do, Timothy felt almost as though he were some mad scientist in a horror comic.  It felt so strange for him to be taking a medicine that was normally used by adults.  He swallowed the half pill with a glass of water just before he brushed his teeth that morning.  He half-expected an immediate and powerful reaction, but this was not the case.  As far as he could tell in the time immediately following, he might as well have taken a sugar pill.

This lack of response didn’t last for very long, though most of the effects brought about by the medicine were slow, subtle, and gradual in development.

The first effect that he noticed, though, was not subtle, and it was only barely tolerable.  About two hours after taking the half-pill that morning, while still in early classes, Timothy began to feel a strange queasiness.  His stomach churned a bit, as though rebelling against his small breakfast.  He wondered whether he might have eaten a bad egg.  An unpleasant bit of sweat developed to go along with his nausea, and more than one person asked him if he felt okay.

He responded that he thought he might have eaten something that didn’t agree with him.

This stomach upset lasted less than an hour, thankfully, and Timothy thought nothing further of it for the rest of the day.  If he felt slightly more at ease in his skin than usual, this seemed likely to be due to the joy of having gotten past that bout of ickiness.  Or so he assumed.

When his nausea recurred the next day at roughly the same time, Timothy decided that he wasn’t going to eat eggs in the morning anymore.  Thankfully, this bout lasted no longer than the previous one, and afterward he felt slightly giddier than he had the day before.  This was not to say that he was giggly or especially cheerful, nor that he started conversations readily.  But he did pay more attention to the antics of the people around him, interactions which he normally more or less shut out of his awareness as irrelevant to him.

He realized that he was not wrong to have done so.  He didn’t think he’d ever noticed before how pathetic and contemptible were the things with which his fellow high-school students concerned themselves.  These were the early days of Facebook; Twitter and the iPhone were practically neonates, and though the neighborhood in which Timothy lived was not wealthy enough to have any students who owned one of the first-gen smartphones, they were still the talk of the school, as were YouTube and Facebook.  People worried so much about how many “likes” some pointless picture got, or what mean things someone might have said in a comment about something they had posted.

God, they were disgusting.

What was wrong with people?  Was it just because they were teenagers that they were all so vacuous and stupid, or were adults that way as well?  Timothy had his suspicions about the answer to that question, and they did not reflect well on his opinion of the human race.

On his third morning of nausea, after he’d had as mild a breakfast as he could take without going hungry—which was a problem, because he felt a bit more appetite than usual—Timothy finally started to recognize that this nausea was probably a side-effect of the generic Paxil he was taking.  This realization made him feel very foolish indeed, for he’d read the list of potential side-effects, and had even been slightly leery of the prospect of nausea when he’d read about it, yet even so, when he actually felt the sensation, he failed to put two and two together.

He shook his head at himself in his early class, mopping the slight sweat from his brow with the back of his hand as he did so.  It was pathetic.  He’d always thought of himself as at least reasonably smart—no genius, but clever enough to get good grades if he worked hard—but now he saw the glaring deficiency in his own logical processes.  He was only barely less contemptible than the idiots around him with their social cliques, and their fake online personas, and their sheep-like trendiness.

At least he had the good sense to recognize how stupid he was.  That had to count for something, at least.  Also, now that he recognized that his queasiness must be due to the medicine and not to anything that he ate, Timothy figured he could go back to eating what he wanted in the morning.  In fact, he thought he might celebrate by having a couple of blueberry waffles with loads of butter and syrup the next morning.

Later that afternoon, in geometry class, Timothy surprised himself by snorting—borderline quietly at least—in derision as one of his fellow students asked what he thought was a moronic question about a very simple geometric proof the teacher was demonstrating.

Though the snort was relatively quiet, so was the room, and both the teacher and the student at whom the snort was directed heard the noise.  The teacher said nothing, but she looked out over the classroom to try to catch sight of who had made the disrespectful exhalation.  Timothy felt no guilt, but he betrayed nothing on his face, nor did he own up to having done anything wrong, even in the silence of his own mind.  The student at whom he had snorted, meanwhile, flushed red and lowered his head a bit, his embarrassment and shame painfully plain.

The teacher shook her head ruefully, with plain disapproval, and then returned to her answer to the student’s question, being even more patient and careful that she had been before.

Timothy recognized her behavior, and he found it almost as weak and laughable as the question had been.  Then, another student caught his eye, smirking and rolling his eyes and head in a very subtle “do you believe this guy?” nod toward the boy who had asked the question.

Timothy felt a strange thrill to be sharing his contempt of the stupid student with someone else who also realized how pathetic was that boy’s inability to grasp such basic, straightforward, painfully logical concepts.  Maybe not everyone was a hopeless case.  Maybe there were other people like him who could at least recognize how pathetic everyone was.  He didn’t talk with the boy who’d shared his sense of scorn, but he made a mental note of the boy’s face and tried to recall his name.  If circumstances presented the chance, he might just try to make friends.

By next morning, Timothy had more or less forgotten his waffle urge, but he did take a few Pop-Tarts out of the cupboard in the morning, as well as some cookies—there was usually a box of Chips Ahoy in the fridge, which tended to last quite a while, since neither Timothy nor his mother ever usually ate more than one or two cookies at any time.  That day, though, he took five of them as a garnish to his two full—untoasted—Pop-Tarts and washed them down with a full glass of milk before leaving for school.

He felt pleasantly full and realized that he’d also been sleeping much better, and enjoying it more, over the previous few nights.  Maybe this antidepressant stuff really was the right choice for him.

His nausea that day was less than before, which was a hopeful sign.  However, with the purely physical queasiness tapering off, his more ethereal sense of disgust seemed to be growing in compensation.  In the break period between second and third hour, he heard a nearby girl bemoaning—in all melodramatic seriousness—the breakup of some boy band.  Perhaps it was just one of the members of the group leaving, Timothy wasn’t quite sure.  In any case, the girl’s eyes were actually damp with tears as she shared her dismay with two friends, both of whom seemed almost as devastated as she was.

When the girl said, “I don’t know how I can live after this,” in a whiny wail, Timothy could hold his tongue no longer.

“Well, let’s all hope that you don’t,” he snapped, quite plainly.

The girls, clearly recognizing that Timothy was responding to their conversation, looked at him with puzzlement.  Perhaps they hadn’t followed the sense of his comment, or perhaps they were just too surprised that their usually taciturn classmate was jumping into their interaction.

“What?” the girl said, her already mournful expression making her look sub humanly stupid.

“I said, let’s hope that you don’t,” Timothy replied, only too happy to clarify.  “Live after this, I mean.  Let’s all hope that you don’t live after this.”

The girl now seemed to recognize that she was being insulted, as did her friends.  There were many girls in the school who would immediately have responded in kind, throwing barbs back with great relish, or becoming indignant and haughty.  Some would even have threatened violence as readily as any belligerent boy.  These girls, perhaps because of their grief, however banal, were in a different mode.  One of the two friends of the first girl said, “That’s not very nice.”

Timothy sneered and said, “Why should it be nice?  I mean have you heard of the Darwin Awards?  They’re these joke awards that are given for people who do the rest of the world a favor by getting themselves killed because of their stupidity before they have a chance to reproduce.  I was just thinking it’d be really good for the rest of the world if you…” He nodded toward the first girl.  “…really can’t find a way to live after this, and just die.  I mean, we’d be better off without you, if this sort of bullshit really gets you this upset.  Fucking cockroaches make more sense than you do.  In fact, if you were shrunk down to the size of a cockroach and put next to one on the floor, I’d step on you and let the cockroach go on about its business.  And I’d be right to do it.”

Timothy made his minor speech quickly and intensely, and he was so clearly completely serious, so obviously not joking in anything he said, that the three girls were more flabbergasted—perhaps even frightened—than they were offended.  Nearby students also turned to look, a few with wide eyes.  Some might have considered intervening, shooting harsh words back Timothy’s way, but if so, when they saw him, they thought better of it.

Timothy couldn’t know it, but his own eyes were intensely wide as he spoke to and regarded the bereft girl, his pupils dilated so widely that his irises looked almost completely black; with the right lighting, one could probably have seen the reflection of his retina in his gaze, a real-time version of photographic red eye.  His whole body was tense but still, the demeanor of a jaguar about to leap from a high branch onto the back of a jungle explorer, to crush the skull in its powerful jaws.  His lips were drawn back from his canine teeth and his nostrils were flared.

He didn’t really think about it, but if he’d been handed a gun at that moment, he could easily have shot the poor moaning girl in the head without qualm, and he would have felt that he’d done the world a service.

The three girls’ faces paled, and they shared nervous glances with each other, before the first one, the to whose comment Timothy had reacted, quietly said, “Sorry.”         The three girls broke up their conversation, two heading to their seats and the third staying where she’d been seated.  If Timothy’s reputation had not already been one of a scary recluse who could be violent, it would have become so at that moment.  As it was, that reputation merely worsened and gained new inflection because of that interaction.

As the next class began, Timothy privately reveled in the sense of accomplishment over having shown the girl how pathetic her reactions to such trivialities were, and how trivial her own life was as well.  It occurred to him, far in the back of his mind, that his own existence was every bit as trivial as hers was, but that at least he recognized the fact, and thus had intellectual and moral advantages over her, and over billions like her.

The rest of that school day passed without incident.  Timothy had no other classes with that girl or her friends, so there was no chance for any awkwardness or confrontation.  He strolled home with a kind of tense energy, more than ready—indeed, almost eager—to face anyone who was prone to give him any shit.  No such person appeared, however.

Not even recognizing his own disappointment at the lack of conflict, Timothy went home and stowed his jacket, tossed his backpack on his bed, then went into the kitchen to have lunch.  He opted for the last pouch of Pop-Tarts in the box, eschewing healthier options in the fridge.  When he threw the box, and the two-tart wrapper into the kitchen garbage—he decided to toast the pastries this time—he realized that the kitchen bag was all but overflowing.  His mother would be irritated if she came home and found it in such a state; this was rarely an issue, since Timothy was generally quite responsible with household chores, spending most afternoons at home alone before his mother arrived from work.  It was with only the mildest sense of irritation that Timothy tugged the bag out of the garbage can, tied it shut, and pulled out a replacement, as he waited for his Tarts to Pop.  Once they did, and he was sure therefore that they weren’t somehow stuck in the toaster where they might burn or even catch fire, he picked up the tied-off garbage bag and headed outside.

Timothy and his mother lived in the ground-floor unit of a two-unit dwelling.  It was a thoroughly unimaginative building design, being an almost perfect rectangular prism of a brick building, in a neighborhood overflowing with similar structures, but it was pleasant enough of the inside, and it even had a yard of sorts, with a concrete patio in the rear.  It was here that the larger garbage cans and recycling bins were kept, and Timothy toted the white plastic bag from the kitchen easily, swinging it into the large garbage receptacle and flipping the lid back shut.

A loud and threatening buzz suddenly passed by his left ear, startling him.  He jumped in place and backpedaled, looking around and spotting the large, dark brown shape that had done its flyby of his head.  It was a good-sized paper wasp, reddish brown and sleek, and it had probably been near the garbage, perhaps investigating it for possible food.  Timothy, his heart racing with startlement and fear, and with anger at that fear, followed the thing’s flight and saw it land on what must have been a fairly new nest which stuck out from the side of the building, just under a brick protuberance that went all the way around the building, marking the separation between first and second floors.

The nest was remarkably big for something that must have been begun sometime in the last week, at least since the last time Timothy had taken out the garbage.  It was one of the open-plan paper wasp nests, in which the individual cells, facing more or less downward, were freely visible to any passerby.  Timothy had occasionally wondered how such nests handled heavy rain, since they were, supposedly, made of actual paper.  At other times, he’d seen nascent nests more sensibly placed under the small, charcoal grill that was slowly rusting nearby on the patio, but which was occasionally used either by Timothy and his mother or by their upstairs neighbor.  These, of course, were addressed rather easily and quickly.  Maybe their placement wasn’t so sensible after all.

He didn’t waste too much time pondering nesting site choices, however.  His mood was dominated by alarm and hostility, and as he watched the wasp crawling on the surface of the nest—there was another, identical wasp already puttering about there—he thought to himself that he was fortunate that it hadn’t been yellowjackets hanging around the garbage.  Yellowjackets, the prime assholes of the insect kingdom, tended to sting first and show curiosity later.  These wasps, though, were more than potentially aggressive enough, especially if their nest were allowed to grow, and any offspring within it were reared to adulthood.

As he watched the two forms move over the nest, their inactive wings forming dark Vs above their bodies, Timothy felt both disgust and fascination.  He’d always thought it amusing that so many people were terrified of spiders, a feeling for which he had no sympathy.  Spiders were just vaguely interesting and generally inconsequential to humans, at least in any direct sense.  If a spider bit you, it was usually because you had all but forced it to do so.

Wasps, on the other hand—especially those dark brown, dark-winged paper-wasps, that some people called hornets—looked like the earthly incarnation of evil itself and deserved that impression far more than spiders ever could.  Unlike honeybees, they could sting with impunity, and so were far more likely to do so.  As far as Timothy knew, they didn’t do any significant pollination, and they certainly didn’t make honey or any other useful or positive thing from a human point of view.  Many wasps, he’d seen in nature documentaries, were parasites.  Some of them even had horrifying lifestyles in which they would paralyze some insect or caterpillar, and lay their eggs on the living host, to let their larvae eat the poor creature alive when they hatched.

No, wasps were surely evil, or at least they looked it.  Timothy had read—and seen—The Lord of the Rings­ and The Hobbit, and he’d occasionally thought that Tolkien should have discarded his apparent obsession with spiders, and also that he could have terrified his readers far more by having the Ringwraiths fly upon giant wasps or hornets, rather than dragonish lizards.  That would surely have stricken greater fear into their prey, at the very least.

These were ordinary, inch-or-so-long wasps, but they were more than trouble enough.  Though Timothy recognized that their nest was not constructed with ill intent, he nevertheless felt a deep affront at the creatures’ audacity in daring to forge a home on the building in which he and his mother lived.  Such impudence could not go unpunished.

He strode back into the house, his startlement and fear having sublimated fully into a mixture of hatred and glee; he was looking forward to this.  He opened the cupboard under the sink in the kitchen, and he saw there a can of ant and roach spray, as well as a slightly larger can of flying insect spray.  He picked this last can up and pondered it.  It seemed to be made more for killing flies and isolated insects inside the house than for assailing wasps in their nests.  He looked deeper under the cupboard to see if there was any of the long-range, nest-targeting, wasp-killing spray that he knew he’d seen in the stores before.

He didn’t find any of that spray, but he did see something that struck him as even better.  Smiling coldly to himself, he put the bug spray down and grabbed hold of this other stuff.  To use it, he would need one more item, and this he took from a higher kitchen cabinet, above the stove, after closing the cupboard under the sink.  He strode back outside, noticing out of the corner of his eye that the lady who lived upstairs was just getting home from work, pulling her car into a street space in front of the building.  He didn’t wave or make any other greeting, too fixated on his goal for such distractions.

He rounded the back of the building with grim determination, looking up to see that both wasps were still present.  Holding his second item in his left hand, he was still able to use his left thumb to pop open the top of the bottle of charcoal lighter fluid he held in his right hand.  He couldn’t recall the last time he and his mother had cooked out on the puny little grill, but as far as he knew, lighter fluid didn’t go bad.  He took aim at the wasp nest and squeezed the bottle vigorously.

It was nearly full, having perhaps only been used once, and judiciously at that.  The stream surprised Timothy by slightly overshooting the wasp nest, but he corrected his aim easily and soon the two wasps were startled and took brief flight as the liquid doused their nest.

Timothy knew that not much fluid would probably be needed.  The nest was paper, after all.  Still, he wanted to be sure—and he anticipated a nice spectacle—so he maintained his squirt on the nest until he was nervous that the wasps might think to follow the liquid stream to its source and attack.  He finished by making a trail of lighter fluid down the brick side of the building to the corner near him.  He would need a fuse of sorts, not wanting to have to try to reach up to the nest to light it.

The wasps, after initially having been startled off their nest, now landed again, their movements somewhat agitated.  He wondered what they thought in what passed for their tiny little, pathetic brains.  Were they just as clueless as the idiot girls in his class?  Did they have any inkling of what a threat this new liquid posed?  Or were they simply puzzled, wondering why this odd-smelling rain had fallen onto their new nest from below?

Well, if wasps were stupid, at least they had an excuse.  They were tiny, and their brains were comparably tiny.  How much could they be expected to understand?  In fact, their priorities were probably much more sensible, given what they were, than those of the horde of imbeciles who populated his school.  Neither the wasps, nor their larvae, would be worried about some insect equivalent of a boy band, or some micro-world version of Facebook.  Their decisions were surely all focused narrowly on life versus death.  That they were unable to recognize the impending doom that the lighter fluid represented was no indictment of their attitude; there was simply no way for them to know.

This wouldn’t save them, of course.  Just as they would have tried to sting him if he’d come too close to their nest, so they were invading his and his mother’s living space.  The fact that they surely meant no harm and posed no real threat wasn’t relevant.  The law of the jungle applied, and they would surely—if they had been capable of such thoughts—have expected nothing different.

Still, as he slid open the big box of kitchen matches, having put the lighter fluid bottle on the ground, Timothy felt a slight pang, wishing he could have squirted the idiot girls in his class with the fluid he was about to ignite, rather than the wasps.  They would have deserved it more.

Taking two matches from the box before sliding it closed, Timothy held them parallel, their heads paired together, and struck them on the side of the box.  They were high quality matches, and they flared instantly alight with one strike.  Timothy had been careful not to get any of the lighter fluid on himself, so he wasn’t worried about any spreading of the flame.  He took a small step closer to the building and touched the lit heads to the nearest portion of the trail of lighter fluid he’d sprayed.

It lit easily; it seemed he was right about such fluid not going bad very quickly.  Stepping back, he watched with joy as the bright orange flames climbed up the trail he’d made on the wall.  They moved down a bit, too, but he wasn’t paying any attention to that.  There was only concrete below.  The garbage cans were not close enough to be in any danger, and there was no grass other than a weed or two that sprung from cracks in the pavement.  These would be a loss to no one even if they were burned, but Timothy knew that wasn’t going to happen.  He had been reasonably careful.

The fire licked its way up the path he’d given it in seconds, and suddenly the wasps’ nest was engulfed in a tiny inferno.  At least one of the wasps hadn’t noticed the danger fast enough to avoid it, and Timothy grinned as he saw it twitch and writhe, its wings shriveled and consumed before anything else, as lighter fluid it had been investigating burst into easy flame.  Timothy hoped this was the one that had buzzed by his ear and frightened him.  Such was the fate he wished he could deliver to anything and anyone who made him feel afraid, even for a second.

The other wasp took off quickly enough, but it didn’t fly far.  It hovered over the area as the nest burned, blackening and shriveling in place, even as the first wasp—which somehow was still holding on—was consumed by the flames.  Possibly there were eggs in some of the cells of the nest.  Maybe there were even larvae, which the surviving wasp hoped to be able to free from their flames.  Timothy hoped so.  He hoped that the larvae were cooking in their paper cells, and that their mother, or father, or whatever that other wasp was would feel a heroic urge and would try to get them out, burning itself alive in the bargain.

He glanced down then back up.  The nest was burning nicely, as was the lighter fluid that remained on the side of the building, blackening the brick in a long streak, a thin tentacle of which reached down to the pavement below, where it stopped.

He wondered, if he timed things just right, and waited for the still-flying wasp to get close enough, and if he squirted some extra lighter fluid right near where it was hovering, if he might be able to catch it in a new burst of flame.  He thought he had a pretty good idea of how the squirt of the fluid would fly now, having just used it seconds before.  He thought he could judge it well enough to make the attempt.

He reached down to pick up the bottle, popping the cap again and looking back up.  The flames were not as fierce, the lighter fluid was burning off rapidly, but the nest was well lit and, true to its papery nature, burned steadily.  Timothy wasn’t sure where the first wasp was in the blackening mess.  The other, however, was flying about madly three or four feet away.  It wasn’t close enough for his plan to work.  He held the bottle of lighter fluid pointed generally toward the burning nest and waited for the right moment.

“What are you doing!?”

A loud, strident shriek only feet from his right ear made Timothy jump in place.  He had the presence of mind not to squeeze the lighter fluid bottle as he spun to the right and saw his upstairs neighbor, whose name he couldn’t recall for the moment, gaping in horror, a plastic grocery bag filled with garbage dangling from her right hand.  Her wide-eyed, wide-mouthed look took in the burning on the wall of the building as well as Timothy with his lighter fluid in hand.

Caught very much off-guard and flustered—though not ashamed or embarrassed—Timothy stammered, “I’m…the wasps.  There’s a nest.”

The neighbor was not listening.  She dropped her groceries and sped back around the side of the building.  There, Timothy knew, was a spigot, attached to which was a moldy old, still-serviceable garden hose.

In seconds, the woman came back around the bend, tugging along with her the hose, from which spewed a limp-looking stream of water.

“Wait,” Timothy said.  “We need to get the other wasp first.”

The neighbor ignored him.  Lifting the hose, she placed a thumb over its end, partly blocking the stream and increasing its pressure.  This new, more directed jet spewed out much straighter; some of it scattered onto the woman’s work clothes, with traces of it wetting Timothy’s pants, not that he cared.  The woman brought her water stream, much as Timothy had done to the lighter fluid, first up to the nest itself and just past it, dousing it and almost instantly extinguishing its flames.  Then she washed down the streak on the wall, which had mostly gone out already anyway.  Timothy had half a thought that she’d started high because that was closer to her apartment.  He couldn’t imagine that she really cared about extinguishing a wasp’s nest.

When it was clear that the flames were all out, the woman lowered her hand and the hose, the water flow returning to a rather lame splash that wet the pavement more locally near her feet.  She wore athletic shoes that had long since seen better days, and she obviously wasn’t worried about them getting wet.  Timothy, after glancing at the water, looked back up to the nest.  The surviving wasp circled the largely blackened, soggy remains of its home, finally landing on a relatively stable portion near the top.  He could make nothing out of any remains of the other wasp, nor could he see if there were any squirming, partly baked larvae.

“What were you doing?” the upstairs neighbor woman asked.  “Are you trying to burn down the building?”

Timothy turned to regard her drawn, ashen, flabbergasted face with honest puzzlement.  “What do you mean?” he asked.  “It’s a brick building.  It’s not gonna burn.  Not from that.”

The neighbor seemed stunned by what Timothy thought was an unassailable argument.  He exerted tremendous self-control to keep from rolling his eyes.  This woman didn’t seem much sharper than the girls in his school who had so bewailed the fortunes of their favorite boy band.

“What if something caught on the ground?” the woman asked—grasping at straws, so Timothy thought.  “What if you were just wrong about the building not burning?”

Timothy shrugged.  He didn’t see how he could have been wrong about the flammability of brick, and experience had just demonstrated that he was correct.  Rather than point that out, though, he gestured toward the hose that continued to splatter water at the woman’s feet, creating a widening area of wet, dark pavement in the brighter patio.  A good portion of the water flowed off the side of the concrete, probably a welcome treat for the bedraggled grass around its edge.

“I’d just have grabbed the hose, like you did,” Timothy said.  “It’s no big deal.”  He looked back up at the nest, where the plainly confused, still-living wasp took off and landed repetitively, as if not quite able to process what had happened or to decide what to do.  He wondered whether it had any notion of attachment to the other wasp and whatever eggs or larvae had died with the nest.  He wondered if it felt grief.  He hoped that it did, but he suspected that it would probably forget that either the other wasp, or eggs, or the nest, had ever existed.  Who knew, perhaps even at that moment it was thinking the waspy equivalent of, “Wait, what was I just doing?  Why did I come here?”

The human neighbor, meanwhile, perhaps exasperated by the fact that she’d been unable to catch Timothy in any logical errors, said, “Well, what about the marks on the wall, here?  What about that?  There’s a big burn mark all up the wall!”

Timothy thought she was exaggerating a bit, but there was a diagonal streak of brownish-black discoloration where his pseudo-fuse had been, culminating in the larger splotch of black surrounding the remains of the wasps’ nest.  He shrugged again and said, “It’s not like it’s facing the street or anything.  And it’s not like the building’s that much to look at in the first place, anyway.”

The woman’s mouth dropped open more widely than before, and Timothy had to exert a substantial effort of will to keep from snorting in amusement.  As it was, he didn’t think he was completely successful in suppressing a smirk.

“You…look, this is my home, too,” she finally said, “and I’m not going to have it burned down—or even just burned—because you want to get rid of a wasp’s nest.  Why didn’t you get some bug spray?”

At least this was a reasonable question, Timothy had to admit, so he pushed away his momentary amusement and admitted, “Well…we didn’t have the right kind of spray, so I figured this’d work better.  And it’s more fun.”

The woman’s eyes widened.  She looked strange to Timothy now; he thought there was some new revelation or realization in her expression, though he couldn’t have imagined what it might be.  Honestly, most other people were so stupid and useless sometimes.

“More fun,” she said quietly, half to herself.  Since she didn’t seem to be inviting a response, Timothy regarded her silently.  Finally, trying to make her expression stern, the neighbor said, “Well, I don’t want you to have any more of this kind of fun today.  I live here, and it makes me very nervous…and I don’t like how it looks, even if it’s in the back of the building.  So put away your…your charcoal lighter stuff and put away your matches.”  Then, as an afterthought, she added, “And I’m going to be speaking with your mother when she gets home from work.”

Timothy didn’t quite understand the significance of this last comment, but he said, “Okay.  I’ll put it away.  I didn’t get the other wasp, anyway, so maybe the spray would have worked better.  But this way’s more…I don’t know.  Anyway.  I’ll put it away.”  He didn’t feel guilty or ashamed, and he honestly felt no anxiety whatsoever about his mother learning of his little adventure.  His mother was certainly no fan of wasps.  She might well have thought he was foolish in choosing to fight them with fire rather than asking her to pick up some wasp spray on her way home—and he’d have to concede such an argument if it were made—but he didn’t see her being particularly upset.  Why would she be?  She hardly ever used the patio in the rear of the building.  It wasn’t as though she sunbathed or anything, and there wasn’t much else to do back there.  The surroundings consisted mainly of the rears of other buildings next door and one street over, some of them even less beautiful than their own.

Giving a quick nod—a courtesy granted more out of habit than out of any recognition that respect was due—Timothy walked past the neighbor and back around to the front of the building, going inside and locking the door behind him.  He didn’t particularly want to encourage the woman to follow him inside in case she got it into her head that he needed more berating.

Although, if push came to shove, it might not have been such a shame if she tried to muscle her way into the apartment.  Then he’d have every excuse to treat her in some analogous way to how he’d treated the wasps.  That might be even more enjoyable.

Shrugging, deciding that concern wasn’t really important or necessary, Timothy stowed the lighter fluid carefully under the sink after replacing its cap, then put the kitchen matches back in the higher cabinet.  Then he went to his room, bringing his cooling Pop-tarts with him, where he got started on the modest amount of homework he had to do.

His mother got home about an hour and a half later.

He knew when she got home because her car—which needed a new muffler—made a very characteristic noise, and Timothy’s room was nearer the front of the building than the rear, where his mother’s master bedroom was.  In the back of his mind, he heard that, before his mother was able to get to the front door and let herself in, the neighbor accosted her.  Apparently, she could also hear, and also recognized, the sound of Timothy’s mother’s car.  He was done with his homework by then, and was watching a video on his computer, a collection of “epic fails,” in which people did various injudicious things and met with outcomes that were violent and looked painful because of their foolishness.

As he watched, snickering at the more intense catastrophes, Timothy thought about what he’d said to the girls in school that day, about the notion of the Darwin Awards.  Though he didn’t think anyone in the video he was watching had died—he thought that the sharers would probably have considered it in poor taste to spread such imagery, and it might even have been against the YouTube rules, whatever they were—he thought that it wouldn’t be a bad thing for the human race as a whole, and for the progress of civilization, if they did.  He was grateful, at one level, that these people had lived, because their antics gave him a real-life slapstick comedy source, and that was pleasant enough.  But on the other hand—and this was a much larger hand—there was little doubt that removing these people and culling from the gene pool whatever attributes made them so stupid, might well be a good thing in the long run.

He’d be willing to forego a little amusement to see that happen.

He didn’t pay any significant attention to his mother’s interaction with the upstairs neighbor, and he certainly couldn’t hear their words.  He also wasn’t really curious, barely even recalling the neighbor’s stated intention to tell his mother about his wasp burning activities.  He paid only vague attention when he finally heard his mother unlock and then open the front door of the apartment.  It was the sort of thing that happened every day and was hardly worth noticing.

Once she came in though, his mother didn’t stay in the kitchen, nor did she head to her bedroom to change out of her work clothes.  Instead, to Timothy’s mild surprise, she walked over to the door of his room, which was slightly ajar, and pushed it open without knocking.

Her push was not violent, nor was it ominous, nor was it in any other way threatening.  Timothy looked up and around from where he sat at his small desk, wondering what his mother might want.  Some little bit of the back of his brain, recalling aspects of the earlier interaction with the neighbor, thought that his mother might just be coming to give him some choice words, the proverbial piece of her mind.

He was surprised, almost to the point of being unnerved, by the fact that she stood in his doorway for what felt like a very long time, just staring at him.  The look on her face was difficult to read, but it clearly wasn’t anger, not in any usual parental, disciplinary sense.  To a stranger, in fact, her expression would probably have looked blank, a nearly ideal poker face.  Timothy, though, thought he saw competing, deep, and subtle emotions playing around her eyes.  She looked sad; indeed, she seemed almost on the verge of heartbreak.  She also looked afraid, but it was a strange, subtle kind of fear.  She looked resigned, practically to the point of despair.

And for some reason, he thought she looked protective.  If she had told him that she had just slapped their neighbor for daring to criticize her son, Timothy would have been surprised…but not very surprised.

Above all else, his mother looked capable of terrible deeds.

Finally, she broke the silence, asking, “Where are your pills?”

Timothy was briefly wrong-footed by the question, but a second’s thought made clear what she must mean.  He didn’t so much as take a daily multivitamin, so there was only one item that met the description “pills” in his room.

“They’re right here,” he said, reaching out to where, next to his desk lamp, a small, translucent brown cylinder with a white cap and a printed label sat.  He held the bottle up as proof.

“Give them here,” his mother said.

Timothy wondered why she wanted them, but he saw no reason not to obey her.  She was the one who paid for them—at least, she was the one who got the insurance that paid for them, as part of the benefits of her employment.  He put the bottle into her hand, which she outstretched, taking a step into the room to get close enough to receive them.

She looked at the bottle for a second, then back up and Timothy and said, “Come with me,” nodding her head in the direction to her left and rear.  Now Timothy felt a bit like questioning her, wondering what she needed from him that he should follow her.  Something about her face, though, that weird combination of looks that combined to give a superficial semblance of blankness, made him feel that he shouldn’t push his luck by giving her any trouble.

It was cliché but was also a simple fact that Mrs. Outlaw had not raised any stupid children, and Timothy proved this in his choice simply to push his chair back and rise from his seat, following his mother as she stepped back, turned to her left, and walked down the tiny stretch of hallway to the bathroom.  She pushed its door wide and turned the light on.

Timothy, having been raised almost exclusively by his mother, always put the seat and the lid down on the toilet after every use.  He had done so since he could remember first using the bathroom on his own, and it was not so much a rule of the house as a law of nature, a fact about him that was nearly as innate as his right-handedness.  On entering the bathroom, once the light was on, Timothy’s mother reached down and raised the lid and the seat.  Then, to Timothy’s mild astonishment, she popped open the bottle of paroxetine, from which no more than three full pills had been used, and she poured its contents into the toilet.

“Wha…” he muttered, but his mother glanced at him, and he said nothing more for the time being.

His mother looked into the bottle as though trying to ascertain that there was no possibility that any pills had been left behind.  Of course, none had.  When apparently convinced of this fact, she reached out and flushed the toilet, its crashing, watery sound almost cacophonic in the quiet apartment.  She watched the water go down, apparently wanting to make sure that all the pills had been flushed successfully, presumably so that none remained to be fished out and taken.

Timothy tried to imagine a circumstance in which he, or anyone else, would do such a thing to take a dose of generic Paxil.  Nothing came to mind.

His mother closed the toilet seat and lid in one motion, then she tossed the now-empty prescription bottle into the bathroom garbage before turning and facing Timothy.  They were very close together in the small bathroom, and though Timothy was roughly his mother’s height—he would soon be taller than she, though she was rather tall for a woman—he felt intimidated by her presence.  He did not, however, draw away.  She didn’t seem threatening, and if she was angry, it was not directed at him.

Even so, her voice was stern and harsh as she said, “Listen to me.  You’re not going to be taking any more of those pills, you understand?  No more Paxil, no more anything else like them.  No antidepressants, and no…I don’t know what else the doctor might want to put you on.  He’s going to have to find some other answer.  Do you understand?”

Puzzled by her intensity, but not for an instant doubting her seriousness, Timothy said, “Sure.”  He felt a mild pang of disappointment, having felt a guarded optimism about the usefulness of the medicine, but it had only been a few days, after all.

“I’m serious,” his mother said, her gaze so unblinking that his own eyes burned in sympathy.  “I don’t want you taking any of those medicines, not while I’m around.  If…if you and Dr. Putnam decide to put you on anything and you go buy it behind my back…if I find out you’re taking anything like that…you can get out of my house and go live by yourself somewhere, do you understand?”

Timothy’s mouth dropped open a bit.  “Huh?” he said.

His mother’s mouth closed into a tight, severe line and then, barely opening it, she said, “Look, I don’t know what it is, but those pills…whatever they do, it isn’t good.  Not for you.  Maybe for other people, I don’t know, but it’s not good for you.  They don’t help you.  They make it worse.”

Now Timothy was supremely confused.  “What do you mean?” he asked.  “I haven’t gotten in any fights or broken anything or whatever.  I mean, I got in a little argument with these dumb girls at school today, but it wasn’t anything violent.  They were just being stupid, and I told them so.”

His mother continued to regard him implacably.  She cocked her head in a fashion that reminded Timothy somehow of a curious dog or cat, but her look was clearly not so much puzzled as contemplative.  After another, brief pause, she said, “Think about it again in a few days.  If you want to talk to me about it then, you can.  Right now, I just want you to go to your room and relax.  I’ll call you when dinner’s ready.”

Timothy was mightily confused now, but he wasn’t sure even what question to ask.  He opened his mouth the speak, but since he couldn’t figure out what to say, he shut it again.

His mother, who was farther inside the bathroom than Timothy was, said, “Go on.  I can’t get out of the bathroom with you standing there.”

Blinking stupidly, feeling embarrassed by his own confusion, Timothy said, “Okay.”  He turned and shuffled back to his room, wanting to feel disgruntled over his mother’s refusal to explain herself, but not really all that bothered by it.  He returned to his room, shut the door—leaving it just barely ajar, as a nearly unconscious gesture to show his mother that he had nothing to hide—and went back to his computer.  His mother apparently knew him well enough to have recognized that she didn’t need to remind him about his homework.

Outlaw’s Mind – Part 6

From there they went through a series of investigations over the course of quite a long period of time.  Timothy, after all, had to continue to go to school, and even though Dr. Putnam was true to his word about fighting balking insurers successfully, such fights sometimes took a fair amount of time.

One of the first things Dr. Putnam considered was that perhaps episodes of low blood sugar were what triggered Timothy’s outbursts.  Timothy read up on this himself a bit, once he was told about it, and he thought it made some sense, at least as a possibility.  After all, very low blood sugar—so he learned—tended to trigger the body to release large amounts of the various stress hormones, activating the fight-or-flight system, and this, combined with the low blood sugar making the brain function poorly, could lead to hostile and irrational behavior, even violence.  Dr. Putnam even told Timothy about a tribe—he inserted the caveat that this story might be entirely fictional, as far as he knew—that somehow had a tendency toward low blood sugar, and who had developed the practice of, upon meeting one another, getting into semi-ritualistic fights, so their hormone responses would raise the glucose level back up and make them feel better.

Dr. Putnam also told Timothy that, paradoxically, some people who were at risk for developing diabetes showed up initially with episodes of low blood sugar, as their pancreas overcompensated for insulin resistance.  Timothy tried to recall whether, on the many occasions when his temper had taken control of him, he’d had enough to eat, or if there had been any other pattern to his diet one way or the other.  He could, unfortunately, recall nothing specific about what or when he’d eaten on any of those occasions.

Dr. Putnam said that he already knew, based on standard blood tests, that Timothy’s fasting blood sugar was normal, but that the fact didn’t mean Timothy couldn’t still be insulin resistant.  So, after first doing an irritating test called a glucose tolerance test—involving fasting, a blood draw, drinking a sugary drink and then having three more blood draws—that showed nothing, Timothy was put through an even more irritating test called an insulin tolerance test.  This involved fasting for twelve hours, getting his blood drawn, and then being given insulin, which dropped his blood sugar down even from his fasting level.

This test made Timothy feel as awful, as nauseated, as vague, as physically tired, as stupid, and just generally as barely alive as he could remember feeling, but it did not make him feel angry—not even at Dr. Putnam nor at the people who administered the test.  When he was allowed to eat finally, after more blood tests measuring glucose, and growth hormone, and other blood hormone levels, the cheap hospital food they gave him tasted more wonderful than anything he’d ever had before in his life.

All of this turned out to be for naught, since the hormone and chemistry levels revealed by those tests were, per Dr. Putnam, all completely within normal range.  He jokingly told Timothy that the only abnormal thing about his tests so far was how normal they all were.  Timothy could see the humor in this, and he could also recognize the man’s point when he commented that at least Timothy knew, better than most young men his age, that his health was excellent.  However, it was frustrating.  It didn’t make him angry—his sense of rage-inducing injustice never included a reaction to simple facts of inanimate reality.  Reality, as far as he could see, promised nothing and owed nothing, so if brute facts turned out not to be the way he wished them to be, well…that was just tough.

Another possibility Dr. Putnam entertained, but which he apparently considered somewhat less likely, was that Timothy’s outbursts were a form of seizure.  Once he learned a little more about what seizures were, Timothy found this potential explanation much more intriguing.  It felt more right to him than some of the things that had been discussed before—except the brain tumor notion—because when Timothy’s rages occurred, they really felt as though they were coming from some separate and irresistible part of him that was beyond his control, as though there was another being inside his head, a being that expressed itself—indeed, that existed—only in extreme rage.  If this was caused by some atypical, irregular firing from a microscopic lesion somewhere in a specific part of his brain, then that would match nicely with Timothy’s experience.

He found the process of getting an EEG interesting, in some ways more so than the MRI had been, and certainly it was far preferable to the ordeals of the two “tolerance tests” he’d endured.  It felt almost like science fiction to be having wires attached that sensed the electrical activity in his brain, weirdly even more so than the MRI had felt.  Unfortunately, that interest was unrequited, for Dr. Putnam informed him that his brain’s electrical activity—like its physical structure, like his blood, like his hormones, like everything else so far—was entirely within normal limits.

Timothy amused himself at one point with the notion that he was so angry because he was perfectly designed and everything and everyone else was so imperfect that they couldn’t be tolerated.  Of course, this was just an ironic mental joke, one he never spoke out loud, for he was the last person to think of himself as perfect.

The thoroughly non-pathological results of all the tests so far would have been far less irksome if Timothy’s problems had been diminishing.  Unfortunately, they had not.  His deliberate self-isolation protected him from many personal arguments and conflicts that could have escalated, but it left him with a bit less emotional armor against some other frustrations.  Thankfully, he had no new altercations before his hand was reasonably healed and his brace unnecessary, because it was doubtful that unhealed fractures would have deterred him.

Not too long after, though, on his way to school, a passing student whom he’d seen but with whom he’d never interacted, mistakenly prodded the sleeping dragon in Timothy’s head.  Timothy had some mild trouble with seasonal allergies, and during the springtime, especially in the morning, his tended to breathe through his mouth due to congestion.  Something about his expression, with his mouth hanging open as he walked to school, must have seemed amusing, because this other boy, who was mildly overweight and didn’t seem like a mental marvel himself, walked adjacent to Timothy for several steps and said, “Look at the retard!”

Since there was no one else close enough to be the target of the remark, Timothy was obviously its victim.  He didn’t have time, at the moment, to think about the stupidity of the boy’s remark, how poorly it reflected on him rather than on Timothy, how utterly unlike the truth it was, since Timothy was one of the better students in the school.  He just felt instantaneous ignition in response to the mean-spirited, hurtful snipe, and in response to the sneer on the other boy’s slightly chubby face.

Without thought or warning, Timothy exploded, swinging his left fist across his body and into the left side of the boy’s face.  There was no thought behind this, and there was likewise no notice of any feedback to Timothy of the pain in his own fist caused by striking the cheekbone of the boy, padded though it was.  His senses were suddenly and acutely narrowed.  The targeted boy, who had clearly not even seen the blow coming, recoiled, and he fell over to his side more because of the surprise and the tangling of his feet than in response to the force of the blow.

“What the fuck…” the boy said as he stumbled, catching himself with his right arm, so he didn’t completely become prostrate on the ground.  This was just as well for him, because Timothy did not hesitate, but instead followed up with a kick that landed on the boy’s upper rear thigh.  The swinging of this kick was accompanied by a growl of rage from Timothy, in whom coherent, human thought was temporarily suspended.

The boy yelped when the kick landed, and he quickly rolled himself away from Timothy.  Looking back up, his eyes wide with surprise more than pain, he seemed about to shout something at Timothy.  That shout never reached the air, though, for Timothy continued to stride forward, swinging his other leg toward the boy’s face.

Though plump, the boy had good reflexes, and he blocked and dodged at the same time, taking only a glancing blow on his forearm.  Timothy growled more loudly, his noise mingling with the other boy’s own inarticulate cries of surprise and growing fear.

The boys had been walking on a sidewalk next to a side-street, along the normal path to Timothy’s school.  In rolling and scrambling away, the targeted boy fell into the street.  A car was, at that moment, passing by on the other side of the road, and the driver honked, though the vehicle was half-a-road-width away from the boy.  This startled the boy, but not Timothy, who had no eyes for anything but the target of his ire.  This time, for no clear reason, he switched back to his arm, and with it and a flexing of his upper body, he swung down at the boy.

Again, the boy’s good reflexes served him well, and he was able to take the blow on his own raised arm.  This was a more solid connection than the kick had been, and it probably hurt, but the boy was able to ignore it.  He rolled, scrambled, and forced his way farther out into the street, finally regaining his feet as he scrambled toward the other side of the road.

If the road had been very busy, either or both of the two boys might have been hit by a car, but to their good fortune there was a relative lag in the traffic.  The targeted boy, realizing intuitively that he was facing someone on whom words would not work—though they had triggered the attack—just did his best to get to his feet and run.  Despite what might have seemed to be a sedentary frame, he seemed to have good underlying physical health, because he was able to rise and begin sprinting in nearly one motion, taking off at an impressive pace, across the street and onto the opposite sidewalk, heading more or less toward the school.  Some part of his brain probably told him that, if he were to reach the school, or even to get close to it, the presence of adults might deter his growling pursuer.  He was almost certainly wrong in this, since Timothy was not more likely to be inhibited by the presence of authority figures than he was by the presence of potentially lethal automobiles.  Instead, it was luck, and Timothy’s blind rage, that prevented any further damage.

Timothy sprinted across the street after the boy, his rage giving him terrific speed, and his own lighter frame easier to get into motion than the other boy.  However, his riveted focus on his target meant that he didn’t pay much attention to where he was going, so when he went up onto the other side of the road, his foot caught on the edge of the curb.  His forward progress was levered into a downward trajectory, and though there was a grassy berm on that side, Timothy was tall enough that his face came into contact with the sidewalk.

He didn’t feel the pain of the contact, but the blow jarred him enough to send his perceptions bouncing and jangling around in his head, with flashes of whiteness exploding from within the redness of his furious vision.  This barely stunned him for even a second, but that was enough time for the other boy to gain a significant lead, and to go around a nearby corner.  Timothy began to scramble to his own feet, but his trailing shoe still dangled over the curb, and he stumbled again.  Thwarted now in his targeted rage, he howled aloud in fury—not noticing that the several other students within earshot turned and looked at him with fear and puzzlement.

Not thinking still, he slammed his left fist down in a hammer blow against the sidewalk pavement.  He would probably have repeated this several times, but he caught sight of a good-sized rock nearby, one larger than his two fists put together—probably a remnant of some past construction job—and he seized this, raising it and then slamming it down onto the sidewalk.  The sound of its impact rang out like a muffed gunshot, and this noise pleased the anger that possessed Timothy.  He raised the stone again, still almost fully prone, and smacked it down onto the sidewalk.

Even the most enraged young teenager couldn’t develop enough force to do any serious damage to a concrete sidewalk, but the stone, evidently made of more flawed material, cracked after the fifth such impact.  Timothy, who had punctuated each blow with an incoherent shout that was almost a roar, first hit the pavement with each of the two new, smaller rocks, then flung them randomly away from him.

By now, no longer in the presence of its target, and apparently accepting that it would be unsatisfied, his anger began to fade.  Timothy struck the sidewalk with the sides of both fists once, and now he was able to feel the soreness in the bones of his right hand as he did this, as well as the stinging in his left hand from the previous, more severe, blow.  He lowered his face into the border of the grass and the pavement, giving a final shout that contained self-directed anger in almost as great a proportion as that which was directed outward, and he clenched his eyes shut.

Slowly, he regained a semblance of calm.  When a passing student, a girl, asked him if he was all right, he was able to reply, “I’m fine,” with reasonable, if limited, courtesy, not looking up, before finally getting to his own feet and continuing toward school.  His whole body shook with the residua of anger, but his self-loathing was the greater force.  He averted his eyes from any other gaze the rest of the way to the school, so he didn’t know if anyone was looking at him, nor did he listen for any comments on his mad behavior.

The incident was never reported to any school officials, apparently, whether because the other boy was afraid or felt that he’d started the “fight”, or because he just thought it would be more trouble than it was worth.  So, this was one of the rare incidents whose only consequences were painful scrapes and bruises on Timothy’s forehead and hands, and a renewed aching in the recently healed bones of his right fist.  The other boy never approached him again, and indeed, Timothy never saw him except from a distance.  He supposed, if that other boy had been part of some gang, there might have been more dire consequences.  That could have been bad indeed, for Timothy didn’t think that he’d be deterred by a gang of boys any more than he would be by a single one, or by a car, or by a teacher.  This would not, though, make him immune to any weapons—sticks, knives, and even guns were not outside the realm of possibility—that a youth gang might bring against someone who had wronged one of their members.

There were occasions, through the months and years, when Timothy regretted that there had been no such reprisal.  There were many times when he more than half-envied his father’s destruction at the hands of an armed bar patron.

As the months and even years ticked by, Timothy’s tests ordered by Dr. Putnam continued to come back negative.  Though many others would have been pleased by such results, in Timothy’s mind, they lived up to their designation.  He saw only detrimental facts about reality in his discovery that he had—so far—no obvious, organic cause within him that provided a clear source for his episodes of uncontrollable rage.  As more and more tests failed to give him the moral reassurance that his temper was not simply a character flaw, his mood and sense of self became more and more despondent.  To his credit, he continued to work hard in school, to study, to practice, to work toward a future in which he could be a productive member of society.  This felt like an impossible dream at times, though he knew it was painfully prosaic.

He continued to get into “fights” as time went by, their frequency never seeming to diminish.  As before, he was often saved from far more severe outcomes, such as possibly causing permanent damage or even killing someone, by apparent good luck more than anything else.  He was suspended from school on more than one occasion, and by rights—given the whole tendency toward zero-tolerance policies that were becoming more and more common—he probably should have been expelled.  Thankfully, though, nearly all the faculty and staff of the school knew him to be a dedicated student, a hard worker, as well as a lonely young man.  They also couldn’t help but notice the pattern that Timothy’s rage was always in response to something that someone else had done.  It was usually out of proportion, but there was always a trigger in someone else’s behavior.  This led to the speculation that Timothy was being bullied, or abused, either by other students, by some family member, or even by some other, unrelated adult.

It was also to Timothy’s great fortune that, in his rages, he never tended to reach for any kind of weapon.  This seemed to be either a function of the primitive urgency of his fury, which precluded the use of anything but fists and feet, or to some tiny degree of subconscious control exerted by the rational part of Timothy’s brain.  It was not merely good luck, for there were many occasions on which a nearby rock, or stick, or chair, or some other object could easily have been wielded, producing potentially lethal results.  Yet, as with the boy on the way to school, Timothy only ever used such makeshift weapons against inanimate objects or against himself.

Timothy’s mother became increasingly impatient with him as she was called to the school on multiple occasions, often the subject of thinly veiled suspicion that she was a less-than-fit mother.  She was frustrated with the occasional trips to the emergency room, but this was helped by Dr. Putnam, who told them that, for minor injuries that might require no worse than stitches, they could simply bring Timothy to his office, and he would be worked in.  This saved on embarrassment sometimes, and it saved on fighting insurance companies to reimburse for ER visits and ambulance rides.  Timothy suspected as well that Dr. Putnam frequently chose not to bill them for such visits.

As the more glaring physical causes of Timothy’s rage were ruled out, Dr. Putnam was forced to move to other possible diagnoses, though he never wavered in his belief that these rages were caused by some dysfunction in Timothy other than a mere problematic personality.  Timothy’s recollections of the various events to the doctor seemed only to reinforce that sense.

Dr. Putnam came to wonder, as he said in some of his discussions, whether Timothy’s rages might be the presentation of some form of endogenous depression, as he had mentioned in one of their earliest meetings.  This, Timothy suspected, was at least partly due to reports from the school, where Mrs. Gibson, and some of the teachers, noted that Timothy had become more isolated and withdrawn from social interaction with other students, though there were acquaintances with whom he interacted, and even people he helped with homework and the like.

In one of his office visits, during the early part of his junior year of high school, Dr. Putnam asked Timothy about depression, leading finally to the question, “Timothy, do you ever think about hurting or killing yourself?”

Timothy gave a mordant laugh and replied, “Well, I hurt myself a lot, but I guess you know that.  But that’s usually just…well, not accidental, but you know, it’s not really something I think through.  I mean, I’ve heard about people doing things like cutting themselves and burning themselves and all that.  I’ve even wondered sometimes about what it felt like, and everything, and I’ve certainly gotten pissed at myself enough to think about doing it like a punishment.  But I really don’t think it’d make me less angry, or whatever.  And I’m worried it might even make me worse, because it’d be something I’d feel nervous about and all that.  And it’d hurt, too, and that…doesn’t tend to make me less angry.”

Dr. Putnam watched Timothy with a tilted head, as he often did, waiting through several seconds of silence before saying, “You didn’t answer the other part of my question.”

Timothy sighed, having been quite aware of his own omission.  He took a moment to compose his thoughts before saying, “Okay, well…if you mean, do I think about, like, ending it all because I feel miserable and want to get away…you know, want to escape from pain or something like that, or just because I hate myself, then, no.  I mean, for one thing, I don’t think I could ever do that to Mom.  Not for something like that.  I’d rather try anything I could—everything I could—before I’d even think of doing anything like that.

But…ever since you told me about that Texas Tower guy…and when I think about those kids in Columbine, and the other stories you hear in the news about people killing their families, or their girlfriends, or whatever, and then killing themselves…well, from a long way back, I decided that, if I ever thought that I was getting to the point where I was going to do something like kill innocent people, or especially kill my Mom, or people at school, or anything like that…well, I figured, if I was at that point, then, yeah.  I’d make sure to kill myself first.  I mean, I have the right to kill myself, right?  But I don’t have the right to kill anyone else.”

It was hard to read Dr. Putnam’s face as he said, “I see.”

“Is that crazy?” Timothy asked, honestly curious but not worried about the doctor thinking so.

“No,” Dr. Putnam said, shaking his head quickly.  “It’s not crazy.  I’d go so far as to say that it’s unusually sane.  At least in a certain sense.  But I do need to know how seriously you’ve considered this, so I want to know…if you don’t mind, have you ever thought about…how you might do something like that, if the time came?”

“Well, yeah,” Timothy admitted, now feeling slightly embarrassed.  “I mean, I wouldn’t want to do anything that’d cause anybody too much trouble, right?  I sure wouldn’t want to kill myself at home, so that Mom would have to be the one to find my body or something.  That’d be terrible.  And I don’t think I’d want to cause other people too much trouble, either.  I mean, I thought about jumping off a building or something, but that’d be dangerous if I did it when anyone else was around.  So, if I did that, it’d have to be at night, or someplace kind of deserted.  I thought about maybe even going to the ocean somewhere and just trying to…I don’t know, swim out as far as I could, until I couldn’t swim anymore.  But that’d take some serious willpower, you know?  I’m not sure I could pull it off.  But it would be pretty clean, at least.

“Or I guess I could try to…find someone around school or the neighborhood who sells drugs and try to take an overdose of something.  Stuff like that.”

After another long pause, Dr. Putnam said, “It sounds like you’ve thought about this a lot.”

“I don’t know if I’d say that,” Timothy said, eager to wipe the worried frown off his doctor’s face.  “I mean, I’ve thought about it…carefully, I guess you might say.  But it’s not like I think about it regularly or anything.  I don’t.  Almost never.  But I figured, once I’d decided that, if I had to, I was gonna do it, I might as well think it through, you know?  Doing something like that just…off the cuff is just gonna make things messy and bad, you know?  But it’s probably been months since the last time I thought about it.”

There was another long pause, Dr. Putnam regarding Timothy with what now seemed to be a look of real compassion and concern.  Timothy wasn’t sure, but he thought, behind his glasses, that Dr. Putnam’s eyes seemed to be glistening slightly, as if he were fighting tears.  But then, he thought, surely that wasn’t the case.  After all, Dr. Putnam had to have seen an awful lot of people suffering, and even dying.  He couldn’t be moved near to tears by some stupid teenager who couldn’t control his temper.  If he was that touchy-feely, he surely would have had a nervous breakdown by now.

With a sigh, Dr. Putnam finally spoke, saying, “Well…I wouldn’t say that you have typical symptoms of depression, but well, it can present in lots of unusual ways, especially in young people.  And it can present with irritability, certainly, that’s a known fact.  So, maybe it really is the cause of your difficulties.  But that leads to a bit of a problem.”

“What’s that?” Timothy asked.

“Well…the treatments for depression are…well, many and varied is probably an understatement.  There’s therapy, of course.  Cognitive behavioral therapy is probably the most consistently effective of these, and it works very well in a lot of people.  And it has the advantage of not producing side-effects…unless you count a greater self-awareness as a side-effect.  But the thing is, it works on people’s negative thoughts, helps them reorient and correct problematic patterns of thinking.  And I don’t see that as the root or nature of your difficulties.”

“Okay,” Timothy said, not completely sure that he was keeping up, but agreeing with the doctor in that he didn’t think he had patterns of thought that led to his anger.  If anything, he tried to be positive, he was disciplined, he worked hard.  And he didn’t dislike other people, either.  In fact, his troubles might have been fewer if he did.  After all, if he hated other people and the world, he wouldn’t care much about occasionally losing control and brutalizing them.

“So, if you’re suffering from depression, then it truly is an endogenous type, some trouble with a set-point in your brain somewhere, in the mood circuitry.  And the treatments for that are pretty much anti-depressants or, in extreme cases, ECT.”

“What’s that?” Timothy asked.

Looking embarrassed, Dr. Putnam replied, “It’s ‘electro-convulsive therapy.’  Sometimes people call it electro-shock therapy, but that’s a little misleading.  But I don’t see myself being able to get you treated with ECT, even if you wanted to be, even if I thought it was the right choice, without serious lying through my teeth.  And having you lie through your teeth.  And I don’t get the impression that you’re a very good liar.”

Timothy thought about that comment, not ever really having considered the notion before.  After only a moment’s thought, he said, “Yeah, I don’t really think I am.  Sorry about that.”

“No need to apologize,” Dr. Putnam said.  “It’s not something to be ashamed of.  A lot of people may find lying useful in the short term, but I think it’s one of the attributes of humanity that’s caused us the most trouble throughout history.  I like the fact that you’re not a good liar.

“But the trouble with the chemical anti-depressants, which are our other options, is that, for one, they’re just fraught with unpredictable side-effects.  More importantly, though, there’s good evidence that when they’re given to children and adolescents, they don’t act in quite the same way they do in adults.  There’s even some data to indicate that they increase the rate of suicide in such individuals.”

“Whoa,” Timothy said.  “That doesn’t sound like a good thing.”

“No, it doesn’t,” Dr. Putnam said, smiling a little in apparent amusement at Timothy’s understatement.  “Not to say that every young person who takes them has a bad outcome.  I’m sure they’re useful in many cases.  But…they’re so hard to predict.  It’s impossible to know, for instance, which particular med, or even class of med, is going to work on any given patient.  It all comes pretty much down to trial and error.  Which is not the ideal way to practice medicine.”

“Yeah, I guess not,” Timothy said, surprising himself by feeling disappointed.  The notion that his rages might be caused by some underlying depression, some misaligned set-point in his brain, was at least consistent with the fact that it never seemed to come from a conscious process, and indeed seemed more to be a force that overwhelmed him than the product of some errant train of thought.

Dr. Putnam paused for another interval.  Timothy idly wondered whether there were other patients waiting to be seen, and the thought made him feel slightly guilty.

Before he could mention anything about that, though, Dr. Putnam said, “Timothy, I know we’ve spoken briefly of it before…but I was wondering, did you ever…well, have you ever tried marijuana?”

“What?” Timothy said, then caught up with his thoughts.  “Oh.  Yeah, I remembered you talking about that once, and…well, there were these guys from school who were going off somewhere to smoke some once, after school, and I kind of…well, I went up to them.  They looked a little nervous at first—I mean, I’m not someone who hangs out with guys like that much, and I’m like a ‘good student’ type, except for the fighting, so maybe they thought I was gonna tell on them or something.  But I just kind of…asked if it’d be all right if I tried a little, like a puff of it or something.  I even offered to pay for it.”

“Of course, you did,” Dr. Putnam said with a smile.

“Yeah,” Timothy went on.  “Well, anyway, they were, like…well, they were like really cool about it, actually.  I was kind of surprised.  I mean, I’d always kind of thought that people who used drugs were like, seedy and suspicious and kind of…I don’t know, bad kids and that.  But they were really cool.”

“Well, there are drugs and there are drugs,” Dr. Putnam interjected.  “Marijuana is quite different, in lots of ways, from most other illicit drugs.”

“I guess so,” Timothy said, not sure he understood the point.  “But anyway, these guys were all, like…really welcoming, you know.  It was almost like how I’d imagine people’d be if you asked if you could join a church service on Sunday or something.  They were all smiles and congratulations, you know?”

Dr. Putnam smiled more widely, and he said, “Huh.  I’d never thought about it quite that way, but…well, it makes sense.  Marijuana can be almost like a religion to some people, and it certainly can be a sacrament.  I’m not too surprised they welcomed you.”

“Yeah, they did,” Timothy said.  “And not even in a funny kind of way, like a ‘ha-ha, isn’t this hilarious, this good student coming and asking to take a hit off our joint,’ kinda thing.  They really seemed like they liked the idea of me trying it, like they thought it might be good for me.  I kinda liked them.”

“I see,” Dr. Putnam said.  “So, what happened?”

“Well…I took a puff, and tried to hold it in, like they said I should.  Man, I couldn’t do that for long.  I was coughing and stuff, and they kinda laughed and everything, but I was laughing, too, so it wasn’t like they were being mean.  And they said I probably shouldn’t do more than that my first time, or I might feel sick.”

“Interesting,” Dr. Putnam said.  “Sounds like a good and a careful bunch of pot-heads.”

Timothy cocked an eyebrow.  He realized that Dr. Putnam was speaking tongue-in-cheek, but he still felt mildly irritated by what seemed like a condescending attitude.  The look on the doctor’s face, though, alleviated his irritation, for the expression of pleased affection was impossible to miss.  At least, it was impossible for Timothy to miss, who had come to know his doctor better than he knew pretty much any of the kids at school.

Forcing a smile, himself, Timothy said, “Yeah, I guess so.”

“So, what was it like?” Dr. Putnam asked.

“Well, it was…interesting, that’s for sure,” Timothy said.  “I mean…everything felt a little different, and all that, with some things getting sharper and some things more…I don’t know, not blurry really, but unimportant or not worth noticing, something like that.  And I felt a little floaty.  And time got a little weird, too.  I mean, when I walked home after that, I felt like I was moving in slow motion, and that everything didn’t seem quite real, you know.  And I felt like it must’ve taken hours for me to get home, but when I looked at the clock it was the same time as usual.”

“So, did you like it?  Did it help?” Dr. Putnam asked.  Timothy thought he sounded as though he were struggling between unreasonable optimism and fatalistic pessimism.  But, of course, he had to know something about the outcome, since Timothy was here now.  His problem hadn’t disappeared.

“Well…not really,” Timothy said.  “I mean, those guys told me I should come back any time I wanted, which was really nice of them, but…I never felt like I wanted to do that again.  It was too weird, I felt too out of control…though that’s not quite right, I mean, I didn’t do anything weird.

“But also…it didn’t help my temper.  In fact, it might’ve made it worse, or at least different.  You see, I got into my closet a little bit after getting home, and maybe I was more clumsy than usual, but…well, I had a bunch of board games and other stuff from when I was little up on the shelf, and I guess I bumped them and a lot of them fell down.  And an old Etch-a-Sketch hit me on the head.  And I just…flipped out.”

“What do you mean?” Dr. Putnam asked.

“Well, I…I mean, well, I don’t usually get mad at…at things, you know.  But I sure did this time.  I mean, I ripped a lot of those games to shreds, and I threw them around the room, and I smashed the Etch-a-Sketch against my bed post, and my desk, and threw it against the wall…I can remember it happening, but it was like I wasn’t doing it myself, quite…though, I guess that’s not quite right, because it was definitely me that was so mad.  I mean, I hated that stuff that had fallen on me, I hated the fact that that junk was up there, even though I hadn’t used it in I don’t know how long.  I hated myself for being so stupid as to want to keep it all, just because it was from when I was younger, and it was stuff I had fun with back then.  And I wanted to just…just wreck it so bad that you couldn’t even tell what it used to be.”

“Wow,” Dr. Putnam said quietly.  He looked as though his heart had just been broken.

“Yeah,” Timothy said.  “I mean, by the time I calmed down, the room was…well, it looked like a bomb had gone off in it.  The stuff from inside the Etch-a-Sketch was all over, and paper and cardboard and game pieces were everywhere…and puzzle pieces, and old pieces of plastic models, too.  I really did a job on it.

“I mean, it’s good that Mom doesn’t come home early.  I had time to clean everything up and throw it in the dumpster down the way before she got there, and to vacuum up the Etch-a-Sketch stuff…that stuff’s a pain, I can tell you.  I couldn’t fix everything…I mean, there’s dings in the paint in a couple spots on the walls of my room, and the edge of my desk has a bunch of marks where I hit it with stuff, and so does the end of my bed.  But…well, when Mom came in later, all she said was she was impressed that I’d cleaned my room on my own, and when I told her I’d decided to get rid of a bunch of the old stuff I had in my closet, I’m pretty sure she knew it wasn’t that simple.  But she just said ‘good’ and thanked me again and all that.  I only realized later that she could probably smell weed on my clothes and stuff…I hadn’t even thought about it.  I don’t know what she might’ve thought about that.  Maybe she thought I’d had a stash that I was trying to clean up or something.”

“Somehow I doubt that,” Dr. Putnam said quietly.

“Yeah, I was really just kidding about that,” Timothy said.  “I think she kind of guessed what must’ve happened but decided not to make anything of it.  I mean…I had cleaned up after myself, after all.”

“So you had,” Dr. Putnam said.  He was not smiling.

“Yeah,” Timothy said.  He thought that Dr. Putnam must be thinking that his words sounded like those that might have been spoken by someone who had committed some quite severe crime…perhaps even a murderer.  Or maybe he just thought Dr. Putnam was thinking that because it was how he felt, himself.

After a silent pause, something with which the two had become at least fairly comfortable in each other’s presence, Dr. Putnam said, “Well…I think that’s put the kibosh on that hope, at least.  And obviously, I’m not going to recommend any other kinds of illicit drugs.  They’re all much more likely to do harm than to do good in your circumstances.  I don’t think even MDMA would be a good idea, however much some people find that it makes them feel…what would you call it, unconditional love?  But it lasts far too long in the body, anyway, so if you had a bad reaction…well, I don’t even like to imagine that.”

“Yeah, seriously,” Timothy commented, though at that point in his life, he had no idea what MDMA was.

“Similar problems—maybe even worse ones—apply to LSD or Psilocybin,” Dr. Putnam went on.  “Although there has been some recently renewed research into their therapeutic benefits, I don’t think we know enough yet, and again…their effects last far too long.”

“Right,” Timothy said.  He at least recognized the acronym LSD, though he didn’t know much about it, and he guessed that the other word, which he could not recall having ever heard before, might refer to something similar.

“But…well, the whole point of most antidepressants is that they have long effects, as well,” Dr. Putnam said.  Then, with a wrinkling of his brow, he added, “Well, no, I guess that’s not the whole point.  But still, a medication of that sort is usually best if the patient can take it once or, at most, twice a day.  Most medicine that’s used for any kind of chronic purposes is made that way.  And the antidepressants are just such animals.  And I don’t know the latest data on it, but they’re probably second only to blood pressure meds among the most prescribed pharmaceuticals in the word, or at least in America.  And of course, we don’t know in great detail how any one of them works in any given person to combat depression…not that we have a very much better idea of the causes and responses to hypertension, if it comes down to that.  And this is all despite the millions and millions of people who have used these medicines.”

Timothy wasn’t sure what to say.  He felt very much that Dr. Putnam was now talking to himself.

“But I don’t like the idea of sitting and doing nothing while counting on luck to keep you from getting involved in some situation that causes you much more trouble than you’ve had so far,” Dr. Putnam went on, now focused more on Timothy.  “After all, you have been lucky in some ways, and you can’t count on that forever.  I don’t remember where I read it, but some law enforcement expert once said that if you keep on getting into gun fights, sooner or later, you’re going to be killed in one, no matter how good you are.  And I don’t want anything parallel happening to you.”

“Okay,” Timothy said, moved by the doctor’s obvious concern, but far from clear about what the plan was.

Dr. Putnam looked down at the surface of the desk, on which Timothy’s medical record lay open.  Timothy didn’t think he was really reading it, but was just staring randomly, while the wheels in his head turned and he tried to think of the best course of action.  Finally, the doctor looked up and said, “Okay.  Well, here’s what I think we should do.  I’m going to write you a prescription of the lowest dose of the antidepressant, Paxil.  It’s what’s called a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor.  That’s a fancy way of saying that it works by making the neurotransmitter serotonin stay in a synapse longer, and serotonin is at least one of the neurotransmitters associated with positive mood and equanimity.  Now, for that class of meds, Paxil is sometimes decried because it has a relatively short half-life, but in your case, I think that makes it our number one choice.  So…I’ll have you start by taking half a pill in the morning, even of the smallest dose, and seeing how it goes for at least a week before going to the full pill.”

He pulled out a prescription pad and started writing on it.  Timothy, a bit troubled, said, “So…I mean, what do people…what does someone feel like when they take this medicine?  I mean, it’s a medicine for depression, so it’s gonna make you feel different, right?”

Dr. Putnam looked up from his pad, tilted his head, and replied, “Well, to some degree, I suppose.  Though the antidepressants famously aren’t really supposed to make you feel in any noticeable way different other than to very gradually improve the symptoms of depression.  If they do that, because, by the way, like I said, it’s often difficult to find the right medicine for any given person.  But with Paxil, at least, people don’t’ tend to feel sedated, or groggy, or anything like that.  A few people I’ve prescribed it have reported that it made them much more garrulous than usual.”

“Garrulous?” Timothy asked.  He’d heard the word, but he couldn’t recall its meaning.

“Talkative, chatty…gabby, I guess you might say,” Dr. Putnam explained.

Timothy couldn’t help but chuckle.  “That’d be a really…interesting change for me,” he said.

Dr. Putnam chuckled as well, and he said, “Yes, you do tend to be a bit laconic, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I guess I do,” Timothy replied, privately telling himself that he needed to look up the meaning of ‘laconic’ when he got home, because he felt too embarrassed to ask Dr. Putnam to elaborate about two words in a row.  He guessed it must be somehow opposite to ‘garrulous,’ but he didn’t want to make a mistake, especially about a word that seemed to apply to him.

“Anyway,” Dr. Putnam said, “it’s relatively low in side-effects, and since you’re taking a very small dose, it should be particularly good that way.  A few people get a little bit of nausea when they start taking it, but that tends to pass quickly.  It’s not supposed to cause dry mouth or anything along those lines, though of course some patients will still claim that it does for them, and I’m in no position to gainsay them.

“Now…this is a very important point,” Dr. Putnam’s tone suddenly became much less casual as he finished writing out his prescription.  Looking directly into Timothy’s eyes, he said, “I told you already that, in younger people, there is some indication that SSRIs and other antidepressants can sometimes increase the risk of things like suicide.  And even in adults, in the early stages of treating depression, as the mental inertia starts to fade, but before depression symptoms are all gone, there can be a brief bump in the risk of attempted suicide.  Now, obviously, I think this is a small risk in your case…very small, because I wouldn’t be taking even a chance of it if I thought it was…I don’t know, even a one in a hundred chance.  But it’s serious business, no matter how unlikely.  If you find that you’re thinking…differently than you usually do, especially in a bad way, especially about things like hurting yourself or killing yourself…I want you not to take a single other dose of this, and I want you to call me at your next full pause.  Understand?”

Timothy felt a bit nervous—which he supposed was Dr. Putnam’s intent—and he wasn’t at all sure he liked the idea of taking something that required such warnings.  Still, he was more than happy to agree to these particular terms.  “Yeah,” he said.  “I understand.”

“Good,” Dr. Putnam responded, smiling in clear relief that Timothy was taking his warning seriously.  He tore off the paper on which he had been writing and handed it to Timothy.

Timothy looked down at the paper which he now held.  Dr. Putnam’s handwriting wasn’t quite as bad as cliché made out such writing to be in physicians, but still Timothy had to squint to make out what looked like it might be the word “pavaxetine” or “panoxatine” or something along those lines, followed by “10ng,” perhaps, then below this a clear “1/2 tab” followed by what looked for all the world like “qam,” which was not a word Timothy could be sure how to pronounce.  Would it “kam” or “quam”?  He would have suspected the word “gam,” which he knew from reading was an old slang term for legs, if not for the very prominent rearward tail on the “q”.  In any case, that would make little more sense than the unpronounceable thing he thought was correct.

All this was followed by a peculiar line that read, “increase to” then a weird symbol like a small “i” with a horizontal line between the dot and the main body of the letter, then the word “qam” again, and a clear bit of English, “as directed.”

At the bottom of the open space, above Dr. Putnam’s signature and various license numbers was the line, “Disp # 30.”  This, at least, seemed clearly to mean that 30 pills would be given through this prescription.  That made sense, he supposed; a month was about thirty days.  So, he was expected to need to take this medicine for at least a month, it seemed.

Then, he noticed, on a pre-printed space that read “Refills____”, Dr. Putnam had entered the number “5”.

Jesus.  Did that mean he was expected to need to take this medicine for 6 months?  This was a new thought to him.  The longest course of medicine he’d ever taken before had been a two-week course of Amoxicillin when he’d had a particularly bad sinus infection a few years before.  He knew that many adults had to take daily medications, of course, but he hadn’t expected to need to do so at his age.  Even his mother took no prescription medications, and rare over-the-counter meds.

Looking up at Dr. Putnam with some trepidation, he asked a question that was only tangential to his real concerns.  “Is this gonna be expensive?  I mean, is insurance gonna cover it?”

Dr. Putnam gave what amounted to a combined shrug and nod, and he said, “It ought to.  I’ve written it for the lowest dose, and for the generic version of the drug.  Of course, if your mother has any questions or wants to talk to me about anything regarding the medication before your start it, she’s more than welcome to call the office, and they’ll have me call her back.  She knows, of course, that I was thinking of trying antidepressants, and she already gave her permission, but I want her to be as comfortable as possible.”

“Right,” Timothy said.  He knew very well that Dr. Putnam and his mother had discussed the possibility of medication for his problem.  His mother’s big caveats had been that she didn’t want him on one of those “tranquilizer” meds like Valium or Xanax, and that she sure as hell didn’t want him on “that Ritalin shit.”  Dr. Putnam had laughed pleasantly in response to this last comment, assuring her that he was not even close to considering “that Ritalin shit.”  He had sounded more contemptuous of the stuff than Timothy’s mother had, and this had seemed to reassure her.

Now Dr. Putnam leaned forward, looking at Timothy with even more directness and seriousness.  He said, “Now, listen, Timothy.  I want you to try these, and to try them seriously.  I’m hoping that they may be able to help, and if they don’t, that another, related medicine might.  But I want you to be very…careful, I guess is the word.  I’m quite serious about you telling me if something is changing about the way you think, especially if you start thinking about hurting yourself, okay?”

Timothy thought he understood the doctor’s concern, and he was more than a little nervous because of it, so he was quite honestly able to reply, “Don’t worry.  I’ll tell you.”

He left after a quick exchange of pleasantries and made an appointment for a two-week follow-up on the way out.  As it turned out, though, it was not hurting himself that was the issue with this new therapeutic approach, and it was fortunate for him—and for others as well, no doubt—that his first really troubling encounter after starting the paroxetine was with invertebrates rather than with a fellow human.

They were red-hot with drinking; so full of valor that they smote the air, for blogging in their faces

Hello and good morning.  It’s Thursday, so it’s time for another of my weekly blog posts.  It’s also Saint Patrick’s Day, which is probably celebrated in the US as energetically as anywhere in the world, including Ireland—though perhaps I’m wrong; I’ve never been to Ireland.  I haven’t worn anything green today, except maybe a tag or label somewhere, but I doubt anyone is going to try to pinch me.  Do people still do that on Saint Patrick’s Day?  They used to do it when I was in school, but that was decades ago, and it’s not as though I keep in the loop of popular culture much.

I’m also not likely to have any corned beef and cabbage for dinner, regrettably.

I haven’t written much on Outlaw’s Mind this week—only a little over 2000 words, because I’ve really only done two days of writing.  I did post the next section of the story earlier this week, here.  I don’t know if perhaps I should start inserting those “read more” lines in such postings or not.  The story sections make for long blog posts, and if one were trying to scroll down to the previous entry, it would be quite a scroll.  Not quite a full Torah, maybe, but possibly a Dead Sea.

I’m slightly frustrated that the entries come up in reverse order when one clicks on the subject heading Outlaw’s Mind*, with the most recent one first.  There may be a way via WordPress to adjust that, but if so, I’m not sure what it is, and I haven’t had the gumption to seek it out.  Apologies.  My motivation is not the highest it’s ever been, and I’ve never been great at such executive functions at the best of times, at least on my own behalf.  I do better when I’m working for others, which is probably not unusual.

I’m not entirely sure why I’ve been so reticent about writing my story this week.  A small part of it is that something very bad is about to happen that will throw Timothy’s life into a severe tailspin, right after things had just begun looking up from a threatening event that had appeared to resolve or begin to resolve well.  I wonder if it’s typical for authors to feel guilty when they make heartrending things happen to their characters.  It’s not like I won’t do it, since it’s part of the story.  It just makes me feel bad.  But I feel bad anyway most of the time, so at least I’m used to it.

That’s probably the biggest part of the decreased writing this week—my mental energy just hasn’t been good.  Physically, I guess my energy has been tolerable.  I’ve been walking a fair amount, and even jogged a tiny bit during my 4.5 mile walk on Tuesday, to try to get my feet prepared for a potential “epic” quest I’m tentatively planning to undertake, but even that notion isn’t as exciting as it was at first.

I get up in the morning, I do a tiny bit of exercise, I shower, I go to the office, I write a bit, then I putter around on the guitar a bit, then I do work stuff (reading a bit during breaks), then in the afternoon (for the past few weeks, anyway) I walk, and then I go home and watch some videos and go to sleep.  Lather, rinse, repeat as needed.  There’s eating in there, too, of course.  Always eating.  It’s my version of “stimming”, I suppose, though I do other forms of that, too, I guess.

I’m really tired.  Not physically, unfortunately.  I am able to walk pretty long distances without much difficulty other than some blistering that’s resolving steadily, and it’s not as if I’m able to sleep all that well, as I would expect would happen if I were merely physically tired.  That’s one thing I’d like to be able to look forward to about an epic-level undertaking:  being physically exhausted enough just to fall asleep and stay asleep.  It would be so nice simply to sleep until I feel rested and to wake up refreshed, rather than waking up over-alert and tense, like a deep-cover spy embedded in a foreign world that, if not frankly hostile, is at least thoroughly alien.  Or maybe I’m more like a hobbit stuck in Mordor trying to pass himself off as an orc, who’s not even sure that the Shire still exists, let alone that there are any allies anywhere.  Mordor sucks, whether or not you’ve got anywhere else to go, and so does having to try to pass as an orc.

Anyway, enough melodrama for now.  I hope you all have a lovely Saint Patrick’s Day, if you’re celebrating it, and that you have a nice meal and not too much beer, if beer is your thing.  Spend time with people who love you, if you have them.


saint patrick day

*There are two such entries, because I made an error on the first one.  The second one should be the “correct” one to click on if you’re looking for subject headings.  Eventually, I’ll get around to figuring out how to remove the first one.  Or maybe I won’t ever get around to it.  If I do, I will.

Outlaw’s Mind – Part 5

When he returned to school the next Monday, Timothy received a small amount of sympathy from a few people because of the brace on his arm, and he even got some admiring comments from a few of the less savory school types for the damage he had done to the window that he had struck.  He had no use for such recognition, though.  The first order of business for him had been to find Earl and apologize.  He plainly, and in the presence of others, stated that he had been completely in the wrong, that Earl had done nothing to deserve what had happened, and that he, Timothy, had deserved far worse injury and far worse punishment than he had received.  Earl had eyed him suspiciously at first, but he seemed convinced of the honesty of Timothy’s apology, and he accepted it.  That was good, as far as that went.  Earl even listened with interest as Timothy told him about the possibility of a brain tumor, and he seemed to be honestly worried on his behalf.

But their friendship never really recovered.  Earl stopped seeking out Timothy’s company, and though he didn’t rebuff Timothy when Timothy sought him out, he was plainly far from enthusiastic about his former good friend’s company.  Timothy, of course, could not blame him, and though sad, he accepted this as just desserts, and eventually left Earl alone.

He decided, in fact, to expand that policy to everyone else as well.  Since his temper had exploded even against—especially against—his own best friend, that meant it was not good for him to be close to other people.  He knew, from observation, from reading, from thought, that people were most likely to lose their tempers with the people with whom they were closest.  And he certainly couldn’t accept that outcome in his own case.

That began a period of self-imposed semi-ostracism for Timothy’s, one that went on through the rest of his high school career and on into post-high school education and employment.  He was never rude to people—at least he tried never to initiate rudeness—but he also never encouraged people who seemed interested in getting close to him.  He never invited anyone to go to his house after school, or to go to a movie with him, or to hang out on the weekends.  He never sought out nor responded to the advances of any other girls after Allison.  Even worse, in his mind, than getting involved with someone whose tastes ran to a kinky arousal in the face of Timothy’s anger would be the possibility of meeting some wonderful girl and falling in love…and then having his temper explode and be taken out on her, as his father’s temper had on his mother.  As with the case of the possibility of mass murder—something he had never actually contemplated—Timothy would rather die than accept the possibility.

All this was necessary because, unfortunately, the MRI of his brain found nothing at all abnormal.

Timothy really was disappointed by this result, though nearly anyone else would have been relieved.  As he was given the scrubs to change into, as he walked into the big, cool room with the MRI tube, as the little cage was put in place around his head to improve the imaging, Timothy felt no anxiety, no fear, no discomfort.  If anything, he was excited.  He was eager.  As his slender, teenage body slid easily into the narrow tube—after the tech or nurse or whatever had injected something into an IV placed in his arm—Timothy greeted the loud thumping and pounding of the machine as drums of celebration, the sounds of some primeval tribe doing a magic ritual first to locate and then remove the demonic thing that had begun to grow within his head.  He fantasized about meeting with Dr. Putnam, about being shown pictures of where the tumor was, his mother in the doctor’s office with him this time.  He fantasized about being referred to some famous neurosurgeon who worked on kids—he knew enough about medicine to know that Dr. Putnam would not perform such a surgery—fantasized about meeting the surgeon, who was socially awkward but had the manual skills of a brilliant pianist.  He fantasized about going to the hospital, where pretty nurses and candy-stripers sympathized with his plight, commenting on how brave he was, because he was able to tell them with complete honesty that he was not afraid at all.  He imagined returning to school, his head in bandages, greeted with close to awe by his classmates.  He imagined being reconciled completely with Earl, who could surely not help but admit that the assault that had happened before had been a medical problem, one that was now solved.

Alas, when he went to Dr. Putnam’s office the following week, missing school again, this time with his mother beside him, the doctor had told them with what he obviously hoped was unadulterated pleasure that Timothy’s brain looked perfectly normal.  Timothy’s mother had breathed a rather clear sigh of relief; whatever Timothy’s own fantasies, she had obviously been terrified of the possibility of her son needing brain surgery.

Dr. Putnam, looking across the desk in his office at them, had clearly been able to read Timothy’s expression, and he said, “I know you’re disappointed in a way, Timothy.  And I understand.  Like the pheo idea, a brain tumor is something that could be removed and with it the problem of your anger would have been solved.  But it actually is better this way.  I know you don’t know about it, but even the most successful brain surgery can have complications.  There can be permanent neurologic deficits, there can be seizure disorders.  Tumors can recur.  It’s not a good thing.”

Timothy heard him, and he understood his points, but he was not emotionally persuaded.  He felt dejected and dispirited, his hopeful fantasies dashed to pieces.  Still, trying to be manly about it, he grimaced and said, “So, what do we do now?”

Dr. Putnam’s smile of approval gave Timothy some consolation.  “Now,” the doctor said, “we go looking for other things—horses and zebras alike—and see if we can find a culprit that causes your attacks.  Because I honestly…”

He was interrupted by Timothy’s mother, clearly befuddled, saying, “Horses and zebras?  What are you talking about?”

“Sorry, sorry,” Dr. Putnam said with a placating raise of his hand.  “It’s a…private joke between me and Timothy.  It’s a way of saying ‘common and uncommon,’ basically.”

“Oh,” Timothy’s mother said.  Based on her look of combined puzzlement and disgruntlement, Timothy guessed that some part of her was wondering if Dr. Putnam himself was completely right in the head.

If Dr. Putnam recognized this, it didn’t seem to bother him.  He went on, “Anyway, I think it’s pretty clear that there is some…biological cause of your bursts of anger.  Because the way they’ve been described to me, they don’t completely match your personality in other ways.”

Timothy thought he knew what Dr. Putnam was getting at; it was similar to what the counselor, Ms. Gibson had said.  His mother, however, asked, “What do you mean by that?”

“Well, what I mean is, people who are violent, or who act out violently,” Dr. Putnam replied, “are often people with a…recognizable constellation of personality traits.  People—children and teenagers—who have problems with violence often have a general pattern of anti-social behavior of one kind or another.  This doesn’t mean they’re all budding sociopaths or anything along those lines.  Quite the contrary.  Many of them simply have problems adjusting, have social difficulties of various kinds, or home situations that are particularly problematic…that sort of thing.  Timothy is not at all that sort.  Though I know his father is no longer alive, you clearly provide a stable, nurturing home environment, and he gets good grades and has a good attitude about school, according to the report of his guidance counselor.”

Timothy felt himself blush a bit, though he’d known that Ms. Gibson had said many complimentary things about him in her initial referral.  His mother, he noticed, also seemed to find Dr. Putnam’s remarks nice to hear.  Timothy was glad.  He knew that life was hard for his mother a lot of the time, and she certainly didn’t get the thanks and recognition she deserved.  He, as a teenage boy, probably didn’t let her know often enough that he really appreciated her.  He made a mental note to try to do so more regularly, but such mental notes are easily mislaid.

Dr. Putnam went on, “What’s more, though he’s clearly gotten into some pretty serious fights, he doesn’t seem to have been involved in bullying anyone.  Nor, from what I can tell, has he ever been the victim of significant bullying.”

“Ha!” Timothy’s mother said, almost sardonically.  “No, you can definitely say that again.  Timothy’s particularly unwelcoming to bullies.”

Dr. Putnam looked surprised by this interruption, and he cocked his head and asked, “What do you mean?”

Timothy’s mother waved a hand, still smiling from the doctor’s earlier compliments, and she said, “Oh, nothing.  Just that…well, a lot of his fights, or whatever, seem to happen when he, or someone else, is getting picked on by someone.  Not all of them, obviously…not this last one…but a lot of them, going right the way back.”

“Interesting,” Dr. Putnam said.  If he had other, more particular thoughts about that observation, he didn’t express them, instead saying, “But you see my point.  Timothy’s acts of…of temper are not typical expressions of those who tend toward violence as young people, and his other personality traits are generally positive.  This makes me think there is some more…medical cause for the problem.”

Timothy’s mother, far from being a dummy, even in the face of some welcome flattery, said, “I hear what you’re saying, doctor, but…well, isn’t it just possible that they could be…true, true, and unrelated.  I mean, people are complicated, and can have lots of different parts to their personality, right?”

“Absolutely true,” Dr. Putnam said with a bright smile, obviously pleased by the question’s intelligence, even though it went against his main point.  “It’s entirely possible for a person to have a personality with seemingly contradictory parts.  Like Whitman said, ‘I am large, I contain multitudes.’”

Song of Myself,” Timothy’s mother said, confusing Timothy mightily, but conjuring an even broader grin on the doctor’s face.  “I read that in college.”

“You have good memory and good taste, in addition to being a good mother,” Dr. Putnam said.  Timothy felt like saying, “Get a room, you two,” but he would have said it in an encouraging rather than a disparaging way.  It would have made him quite happy to think that his mother and Dr. Putnam might flirt and become romantically entangled.

Of course, then he looked at the doctor’s left hand a saw a wedding ring—he assumed it was a wedding ring, he didn’t see why a man would otherwise wear a plain gold band on his left ring finger—and his sense of justice rose up to block off even speculation about possible liaisons between the doctor and his mother.  Propriety would not allow him to encourage, even in his imagination, the doctor to be unfaithful to his wife, whoever she was.  If he thought Dr. Putnam was that kind of person, he would not want him as his doctor.

While Timothy’s mind bounced between the aspects of his own personality, Dr. Putnam went on, “But though you make a good point, and it may be true, I think we need to consider it a diagnosis of exclusion.  Meaning, we want to rule out all the other reasonably possible explanations before we let ourselves accept that one.  And not just because it’s one that’s harder to…well, to treat, I guess you could say, but also because it really does seem to me as though this…this anger of Timothy’s is something separate from the rest of his personality.”

Timothy’s mother smirked, and she said, “In the old days, you might sound like you were saying that you thought he was possessed by an evil spirit or something.  But I know what you mean.  Timothy’s father was…similar to Timothy that way.  He was a good man.  I married him, after all, and I’m not the sort of person who’s attracted to dangerous boys because they’re dangerous.”

This comment disturbed Timothy, reminding him of his brief relationship with Allison, but he was too intrigued by his mother’s words to dwell on it too much.  She didn’t often talk about his father, and Timothy’s memories of the elder Mr. Outlaw were mainly incoherent.

“He definitely wasn’t as smart as Timothy is,” his mother said, “but I don’t think his temper was quite as bad, either.  Which isn’t saying much, mind you.  It was plenty bad when it went off.  But it always seemed to go off in response to something, if you know what I mean.  Even those times when it…when he got violent with me, it was always after I said or did something that was at least a little bit…mean-spirited, I guess you’d say.  Not to say that I thought I deserved it, mind you.  I want to make sure that’s absolutely clear.  I’ve never done anything in my life to deserve being punched in the face by a man twice my size.”

This seemingly casual remark drew a raising of the eyebrows and a look of sympathy and almost shock from Dr. Putnam.  Timothy, too, felt a bit of a wallop.  He’d never heard his mother speak so openly about those occasions when his father had abused her.  He didn’t think he’d ever witnessed anything like what she had just mentioned, but he knew that she’d been hit by his father and had borne bruises and worse from such assaults.  He’d also known—even his younger self had recognized this—that his father had been horrified and guilty about such violence, that he’d been filled with self-loathing because of it.  Timothy had wondered, on more than one occasion, whether his father’s death had not been a completely random shooting in a bar fight, but had actually been, perhaps unconsciously, sought out, rather as Timothy had decided to kill himself if he ever felt that he was in danger of killing innocent people.

Dr. Putnam grimaced as though sharing the pain Timothy’s mother had felt when Timothy’s father’s fist had connected with her face in a rage so similar to Timothy’s own.  He said, “Tell me…did Timothy’s father ever…well, did he ever strike Timothy?”

“No,” both Timothy and his mother said at the same time.  They looked at each other and shared a tiny smile, then his mother repeated, “No.  No, he…I think he would rather have cut his own hands off rather than hit his own son…or any child, really.”

“Or put it through a window, maybe?” Dr. Putnam asked.

Timothy thought he might be trying to be funny, but his face was as deadly serious as it was surely possibly to be, and Timothy’s mother clearly took him seriously, and seemed to recognize his point.  “Well…maybe,” she said.  “I think that’s true.  I think if he’d been in a situation where he thought he was going to hurt Timothy, he would very much have put his hand through a window, or a wall rather than actually hit Timothy.  I don’t know why he didn’t feel so strongly about me, but…well, I’ve always been able to take care of myself pretty well, in general, so maybe he didn’t feel like he needed to hold back, or wasn’t able to hold back in my case.  And I did divorce him, after all.  To his credit, he never tried to fight me about it, or to threaten me or frighten me.  He wasn’t that kind of abuser, if you take my meaning.”

“I think I do,” Dr. Putnam said.  “And I think it all goes toward what I was saying earlier.  This anger, this rage, seems to be at least partly genetic, or at least congenital, and it’s clearly in conflict with the larger aspects of both Timothy’s and his father’s personalities.  The very similarities between them make me think that it’s not just a personality trait—or at least, I think that’s a less likely explanation.  I think it’s some more basic, some more physical process.  And if that’s true, then there may be ways to treat it.”

“Okay,” Timothy’s mother said with a shrug, “I guess I’ll go along with that.  But…it’s not a tumor, obviously, and I thank God for that, but if it’s not, then what is it?”

“It’s a fair question,” Dr. Putnam responded.  “We’ve looked for the most obvious, most easily-corrected things—at least from a certain point of view—to start with, which makes sense.  It’s like looking for your keys under a streetlamp because that’s the place you can see.  But if the keys aren’t there, you just have to bite the bullet and try to find where they really are, even if it means you’re going to have to grope in the dark a little bit.”

Timothy found the doctor’s tendency toward figurative speech a trifle irritating, but his mother seemed to follow without effort.  “That groping around can be expensive,” she said.  “I know it might be an interesting problem for you, and I believe you want to do what’s best for Timothy, but…well, insurance companies aren’t known for being so generous, even though they ought to be, considering their business.”

“Of course,” Dr. Putnam said.  “I understand your concern.  But I think that’s going to be the least of our worries.  I’m very good at arguing with insurance companies, usually because I know very well why I’m doing what I’m doing, and what the medical basis for what I’m doing is.  I’ve never yet lost an appeal with an insurance company on behalf of a patient.”

Timothy’s mother raised her eyebrows.  “That’s impressive,” she said.

Dr. Putnam shrugged, and he said, “I don’t tend to give up easily when I’m fighting on behalf of my patients.  The insurance people don’t have quite that strong a motivation.  And they don’t tend to have as thorough a knowledge of medical science, though there’s no good excuse for that last bit.”

“Okay, well, then, I’ll rely on your skill,” Timothy’s mother said.  “So, where do we go from here?”