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around him. I could see the black tendrils fogging his vision, snaring his eyesight so that he looked only into the apathetic grayness that promised him a pleasing oblivion at the same time that they trapped him in nightmarish visions. I could only see to his comfort, arranging the pillows behind him on the bed and placing a mug of coffee at his side, before, my voice trembling with fear and need, I called Michael. ³Please,´ I asked him, ³would you meet me down by the banyan tree?´ A phrase I had stolen from Chicka-Chicka Boom Boom, as I always misremembered it as the letters A, B and C going down to meet at the banyan tree. In truth, it was a willow tree that we met at, and it was beside a large and glossy lake, flaming with the last tinges of a merciless sunset. Michael came down to find me; I had spread out my skirt as though I were a goose-girl and I looked into the ripples of the lake, having plashed a stone against it. I shivered as though I were cold and Michael took off his sweater, wrapping it around me. I looked up at him gratefully, inexpressibly grateful, the silver that shot through his kipa srugah catching the sunlight for a moment and twinkling with joy. ³What¶s up, my Lisa?´ he inquired as he stretched out his long legs and unfolded himself, fading into a peacable darkness. For reasons I never quite understood, the darkness seemed bearable when Michael was around. I unfolded myself as well and leaned against him; his stolid strength giving me warmth and thus, strength. What we did was forbidden. This I well knew, having been schooled in the ways of shomer negiah since time immemorial, hearing always of the sin and the lustful, lascivious thoughts concealed behind the minds of men and boys. I did not care. All that I knew was that I need protection and wanted to ally myself with someone against the world, against the darkness that inflamed my heart and made me tremble with despair, and it was Michael who I turned to, as Michael was the only one who knew me or understood me. He stroked my hair and I leaned against his chest; he crossed one arm protectively under my breasts. I shivered. He kissed the top of my head. ³What has happened now, Lisa?´ he asked in a very tender way, a very quiet way, and it was on my lips to thank him for the quietness, except I could not think but for my father. ³It¶s one of his moods,´ I said softly. Michael immediately understood. He pulled me closer, so that I was on his lap, and then he played with the hair behind my ears. ³Is it a bad one?´ he questioned. I nodded, not trusting myself to speak. Michael had become familiar with our lonely home above the bluff, the hilltop that I considered my own. My father, a widower, who had lost my mother to a bad bout of cancer, fell prey sometimes to depressions and strange blacknesses of mood that I could never predict with accuracy. Of late, it had been more prevalent, and I was frightened. Though there were many in the town who would reach out
to us, wishing to help us, I was proud and did not wish them to see my father this way. And so I pretended I was fine, believing I was- to all but Michael. ³Do you know what brings them on?´ he questioned and I shook my head, my lips quivering. I was struggling not to cry. As I had been bullied when I was younger, I had taught myself not to cry, not to lose face, and so it was imperative for me never to do so. Not even before Michael. I could trust no one, least of all Michael, with my weakness. The strength of his touch held me against a world I could not otherwise envision; in the darkness and the dusk that set in against the sunset, I found myself cradled and held and it was with a sense of relief that I snuggled against him silently. He was quiet for several more moments. A tall boy, his brown hair fell in straight smooth layers that fanned out across his head. Ordinary brown eyes and cheeks spattered with freckles made him seem very typical, hiding his special qualities. His pants were a plain black cut; his polo shirt was blue. His tzitzit peeked out from beneath the shirt; I reached for them to soothe me. I ran my fingers across the long entwined strands, looking at the blueness of the one thread amidst the others. This was the tekheles, the one that was precious to God. ³I¶m never able to be a help to him in these moods,´ I confided. ³I try my hardest but I fail. And he¶s too proud to seek treatment- Prozac, Zyrtec, who even knows what the drugs are called? I don¶t even know if they could help him. I think sometimes these moods are his way of mourning my mother- of course, that supposes that he¶s able to control them. Which he isn¶t,´ I concluded quietly. In the darkness, all you could make out was our silouhettes, entangled and entwined beneath the comforting willow. She bore down at us, the wind sloughing through her leaves making a sweet music, the reeds gracefully shaking. There was a soft beauty in the dance the willow performed and it washed over me and strengthened me. I was afraid, and the fear bit into me. It lived within desperately, even though I struggled to master it. Michael spoke to my fear. ³Lisa,´ he said softly, ³your love for him sees him through. There is nothing you can do what the dark side of God crosses his path; he cannot be treated unless he wishes for treatment. And you yourself seem aware that he does not.´ I nodded. ³Nevertheless,´ I explained, ³I feel that with me being so often away at college-³ The summer tugged at me, tugged at him, knitting our hands together. I twined my fingers through his. ³Don¶t blame yourself,´ he suggested, ³for attempting to continue with your own life. You have talked to him; you have tried to convince him. What more can you do?´ ³I was thinking perhaps I could go see the doctor myself. Maybe persuade him to give me the pills and crush them up and put them in his food.´ ³And then what would happen as soon as you went back to college again?´ Michael questioned and she shrugged uncomfortably. It was difficult, seeing as she still lay against him, so the shrug was more of a ripple of the arms as they moved against his chest.
³I know that he is the one who needs to seek treatment,´ she said, ³but I don¶t know how to convince him it is necessary. All that I know is that these dark nights of the soul are a torment to me; that all I wish was that I had the means to make him well again.´ She hid her face from him, buried it against his sleeve. The weave of the polo shirt was softer than it was scratchy; it was clear that he had washed the shirt a couple of times. He sighed. ³Lisa, Lisa,´ he said comfortably, familiarly, just as he had said her name many times before. It was two years now since he had begun dating her and he was as familiar with her fears as he was with her joys. He knew that she hid her head against his sleeve because tears had come into her eyes; there they dangled precariously and she was frightened lest she shed them. His arm tightened around her back and he pulled her closer, nestled her against him. ³I wish that you would cry,´ he whispered in her ear. ³It is not good to be so strong.´ She was silent; she could not speak; her voice choked with emotion. She remembered the teacher with her sinuous grace, her eyes wild and raving as she stood before her, threatening her. She remembered the teacher but not the words. She saw the woman in her mind¶s eye, saw herself, feeling threatened with tears streaming down her face. She felt sick, nauseous, as though she had to vomit. She contained the feeling. She couldn¶t remember the words and that troubled her. If she couldn¶t remember the words, perhaps the memory was false. Perhaps it had never happened. Perhaps her mind was playing tricks on her. This was her great fear, that she had invented a past that had not quite happened that way, but had enough truth to confuse her. She wondered at times whether the things she had believed happened had really happened, surprised by the joy and wonder so many of her other classmates seemed to feel. She did not understand why she alone was touched by these unhappy thoughts; she would not accept that it was because she was different that she had been brutalized. Instead, she wondered whether perhaps she was going mad. Perhaps her father¶s malady had touched her as well; perhaps it was inherited. Yet in her it did not manifest as depression, but rather as a form of psychosis. She shook her head, clearing the thoughts away like cobwebs. Michael looked at her face and seemed troubled by something he saw in her eyes. ³What is it?´ he questioned. ³Nothing,´ she answered brusquely, not wanting to explain it to him. He stood up. ³I know that is not true,´ he answered quietly, brushing the dirt from his pants. He was careful not to look at her, knowing she would not want to be viewed in her exposed, vulnerable state, the sheen of tears in her eyes. ³Nothing I want to talk about,´ she clarified. He nodded. ³I¶ll walk you back to the house,´ he said. She walked briskly ahead of him; he followed. She should feel grateful to him, to his solicitude, his desire to see her safely home. Instead she felt
irritated, unworthy, as though by doing this he went out of his way for no one and nobody, a worthless creature who could not repay his kindness in any form. She clicked open the combination code and went inside, stopping in her father¶s bedroom. He slept. In his sleep he seemed happy, an innocence stole over his features and lit him with a kind of inner peace. She wondered whether that peace reflected his true dreams; sometimes she had found him cowering, crying out because of the nightmares that afflicted him. She believed he often dreamt of her mother. ³Come,´ Michael motioned to her, and he opened the door to her room. He stepped inside, waiting as she slipped into her pajamas, which consisted merely of a tanktop and shorts, and then inside her bed. ³Good night,´ he said and kissed her on the forehead. ³Would you stay with me?´ she asked, her voice betraying more need than she had wished. ³Of course,´ he said, and pulled up a chair so that he sat next to the bed. ³I mean,´ she began, but then her voice cracked and she could not continue. No matter. He understood. ³Yes,´ he said, and slipping off his shoes, he climbed beneath the covers and cradled her, willing her to feel safe from all harm. ~ ³What do you feel the problem is, Ms. Emerson?´ the doctor questioned her and she fidgeted nervously. She looked down at her fingers, was twiddling her thumbs anxiously. She started tapping her feet against the floor. Then she stopped and looked back up at the lady who was looking at her so kindly. It was hard to formulate the words she wanted to say. ³I doubt my own memory,´ she responded at last. It seemed the simplest formulation to depict the problem. ³Could you elaborate?´ the kindly doctor questioned. ³It¶s not like Alzheimers or anything. It¶s just that I seem to have imagined that things happened to me that couldn¶t, I mean, didn¶t really happen that way. Like I have a feeling that something happened that was bad. I have a strong feeling that someone hurt me or attacked me. But I know this can¶t be true. Someone would have intervened if that were the case.´ The doctor¶s blue eyes focused on her own; she paused for a moment and continued. ³Plus, I know it was my own fault.´ ³How was it your fault?´
³It was my fault because I provoked it. I would argue with the teachers sometimes. It makes sense that I brought this on myself. All these altercations I remember, these one-on-one meetings in the classroom- I can visualize it in my mind, I remember the classroom and the teacher¶s facebut not her voice. I can¶t remember what she is saying. Which is why I don¶t think it happened. I think that maybe I made it up, maybe I just created it in order to come up with an excuse of why I am angry with them. It worries me, you see, because I don¶t quite like the idea that I¶m going slowly mad.´ She had tried to add a tinge of laughter to that, to try to make her problems seem simpler, more entertaining and less threatening. She had failed, however; it was simply her nervousness that shone through. ³How do you know which memories are real and which ones are false, according to this theory?´ the doctor questioned kindly. Lisa laughed. ³This is going to sound ridiculous,´ she said, ³but the only ones I know to be true are the ones where I have written proof to support my assertions. There was this girl who made my life a living hell in grade school. I read this book called µSticks and Stones¶ by Miriam Adahan and it said that sometimes people can¶t recall specific examples of what happened to them when pressed and so they should keep a journal. So I wrote down two specific incidents and those are the only ones that I remember. The same with what happened in my high school. It¶s only what I wrote down in my Chandlers, my assignment notebook, that I know to be an absolute and incontrovertible fact. The same with how various friends have treated me. It¶s only because I have it saved in my Gmail chats that I know it is true. If not for this- if one day they were all deleted- well, whatever of it I could or would remember I would know happened. But the rest of it would not necessarily have happened.´ She looked up at the doctor with a sense of mute appeal swimming in her eyes. Could the doctor restore her memory? Could she grant her some kind of relief? ³You say you always had this kind of memory loss?´ the doctor questioned. ³Yes,´ Lisa answered succinctly. Perhaps it was because I did not want to remember, she thought. I did not want to remember that people could be so cruel. So I blocked it out. I forgot, because to remember it would hurt me more. ³Your memory is entirely linked to visual stimuli. Unless you see it written somewhere else, you do not remember?´ ³Not exactly,´ Lisa clarified. ³Unless I wrote it down at some point. I don¶t have to see the piece of paper in front of me to remember it. I just have to remember that I wrote it. My hands remember; they remember typing the words, writing them, forming them with a pen. In my mind, the paper comes to life and I see it again. But if I did not write it, it is like it did not happen. As far as I am concerned, then, I cannot trust my memory. Because I don¶t know whether it is truth that I remember or whether it is something I made up.´ ³And why would you have made up these things?´ the doctor asked gently.
³That¶s just it,´ Lisa wondered aloud. ³I don¶t know. I don¶t know why I would have gone to all the effort, energy and trouble to make up stories about people. But I think a lot of it may have had to do with recreating situations to fit the emotions I was feeling. Because I was feeling emotionally overwrought, I think I might have decided that my teacher acted a certain way or that certain things happened to me, even though they didn¶t. Do you know what I mean?´ ³Lisa, have you ever heard of Dr. Robin Stark?´ the doctor questioned, brown tendrils of her hair snaking their way across her labcoat to cover the insignia with her name. Lisa shook her head no. ³She wrote a book about gaslighting. Do you know what gaslighting is?´ Lisa didn¶t understand where the doctor was going with this. ³No,´ she answered, confused. ³There¶s a film called ³Gaslight,´ Lisa, in which a woman marries a man who is out to get her money. In order to achieve this end, he decides to drive her insane. So one of the ways he does this is he dims the lights in the house and when she notices and asks him about it, he tells her he hasn¶t noticed anything different happening. The lights aren¶t dimmed. She starts to doubt her own sense of reality. She starts to believe she is making things up. It¶s not until a policeman shows up at the end of the movie and he tells her that he sees the dimming of the lights as well, that she starts to believe her own sense of reality.´ Lisa bit her lip. ³Mmmhmm,´ she said. ³Do you understand where I am going with this?´ the doctor prodded gently. ³Not exactly,´ Lisa said. ³No one took my sense of reality away from me. I¶m just telling you, I don¶t remember things unless I write them down. That¶s just a sign of a bad memory. That¶s all.´ She noticed how anxious she sounded to herself, as though she were trying to preserve someone¶s reputation. She didn¶t know why she felt so anxious. ³That¶s possible,´ the doctor admitted. ³But I don¶t think it is probable. I think it is more probable that you have been faced with gaslighting throughout portions of your life and therefore you have begun to doubt your own sense of reality. There is what you saw happening and what you were told happened and the two did not accord. It got to a point where you could not trust what was in your own head. The only times you trusted it were when you wrote it down right afterwards because you knew you hadn¶t had time to formulate any potentially- to your mindfictitious stories.´ ³You¶re saying that people have been able to steal away portions of my mind?´ Lisa asked incredulously. ³Not steal, exactly,´ the doctor answered, a look of compassion crossing her face. ³Just make you feel inferior and inadequate enough that your point of view and your version of the truth didn¶t matter. You didn¶t know what to think and you probably wanted to respect these people in
positions of authority. You probably didn¶t want to believe these adults or teachers could be capable of lying or otherwise hurting a mere girl. So you decided to change your perception of reality to fit with theirs. The problem is that you became unsure of yourself, of your own reality. You also no longer understand who you are- you believe you are an unworthy person.´ Lisa didn¶t want to give the doctor the satisfaction of explaining that it was not a belief but a rational point of view. She knew she was an unworthy person. She had not been able to prevent her father from falling into melancholic fits of depression. And it was only she who remembered bouts of anger or cruelty from people everyone else told her had never behaved in a fashion that was anything but nice. So she didn¶t say anything. ³I¶m sorry our time is up for today,´ the doctor said, putting her clipboard down on the desk. ³But I want you to think a little bit about what we discussed. I¶ll see you again next Monday.´ Lisa nodded, then stood up, smoothing out her pleated green skirt. She walked out of the office, her mind filled with questions. Could it be? she wondered. But no. Why would she play tricks on herself like that? What would be the point of it? ~ Lisa cried out in her sleep. Michael noticed that beads of sweat knotted on her brow. He called her name softly. ³Lisa,´ he stated, softly then louder. ³Lisa!´ She woke with a cry, short and feral and harsh, as though she were a dog clawing her way out of a confrontation. ³What were you dreaming?´ he questioned. He had propped himself up on one elbow. ³N-nothing,´ she said, and the hesitation showed that the dream had disturbed her. ³Please,´ he asked and she looked at him and acquiesced. ³A meeting with my therapist,´ she mumbled, her eyes not meeting his. They scanned the quilt on her bed, the patchwork assortment of colors painted a dark blue by the evening light that filtered through her window. ³What was the matter?´ he questioned. He had not known she had a therapist, did not want to startle her with questions about the doctor. ³Why did the dream disturb you?´ She opened her eyes wide, looking at him carefully. He met her gaze. ³Do you think I am sane?´ she questioned abruptly.
³What?´ he asked and his mouth fell open in surprise. ³I think sometimes I don¶t know where I am, whether I am in an imaginary world, a dreamland, or reality. I think sometimes I pretend things happen that never happened. I think I make them up. I can¶t know if they are true or false, but from the way everybody else acts, it seems like they must be false. In short, I don¶t trust my memory or my perceptions.´ She stopped, sensing that she had said too much. He traced a finger across the skin left exposed by the tanktop, across one shoulder and around the curve of her neck. ³Of course I think you are sane,´ he answered. ³There¶s no µof course¶ about it,´ she replied bitterly. ³What would you think if I only knew what is real when I write it? That otherwise, I don¶t know what really happened- I don¶t know what really mattered- I don¶t even know whether it is true or not?´ ³Do you know this is real?´ he questioned, his finger still carefully tracing her skin. She shook herself irritably. ³Of course,´ she answered. ³But that¶s not the point. The motivation of this moment, of you lying in my bed, is subject to interpretation. Later on, depending on how I view you, I will remember this moment and ascribe all sorts of motivations on you that will vary based on my mood. I won¶t know what the real one was, what the true one was. I am lost in a cauldron of my own fantasies. I have no ability to perceive what is true.´ Her voice was shaking; he could tell how bitterly this upset her. ³Then let me clarify it to you,´ Michael told her. ³This is love. This is me loving you and wanting you to be well.´ She made a noise in her throat that signaled disgust, then froze as she heard steps in the hallway. Her father was awake and walking! Walking at night was never a good sign. She heard him come to her door and her heart beat a rapid tattoo in her chest, thinking how ashamed he would be of her if he saw her in bed with Michael when she was not married, when she was breaking the laws« He threw open the door, a candle held aloft in his hand. Its shaky yellow glow filled the room. He stared at her with blinded eyes, eyes all unseeing. ³Maria,´ he called out and Lisa shivered uncontrollably. He was calling for her mother, searching for her ghost. Sometimes he had these vivid dreams, dreams which seemed to him so real that he did not know the truth from fantasy himself. He approached the bed and squinted down at her. His hair was silvered; his kind green eyes rheumy. His face was wrinkled. He wore a blue bathrobe and seemed disturbed. ³Maria?´ he questioned again, as though he were lost, like a child. ³Father, I am here,´ Lisa said, getting out of bed. She took her father¶s arm and led him, like a child, out of the room and into his own room. There, she blew out the candle and slowly led him
to sit on the bed. She pressed a cup of water to his lips, guarded him closely as he drank it. Then, untying the robe, she tried to take it off his shoulders but he protested. ³Maria,´ he persisted, ³Maria, I am lonely here. Won¶t you stay with me?´ The depth of pain in the plea pierced Lisa¶s heart. ³Of course I will stay with you,´ she whispered and crept into bed so that she lay next to her father, offering him comfort through her nearness. He closed his eyes wearily. Lisa remained pressed against him a while longer, then carefully extricated herself from the bed. She stood in the path of the moonlight seeping into the room, the window curtains blowing in the wind. Her hair was frosted silver; her lips formed a careful line. Standing by the doorway, Michael saw the sobs that racked her body, saw her tremble as though under the weight of an impossible burden, watched her crumple to the floor. He stepped forward as though to help her, his hand suspended, wishing to rescue her from an impossible fate and save her from an impossible doom. But the confusion in her eyes stymied him. There, a deep, bottomless pit of Lethe¶s dreams swum, almost as though she herself had taken an opiate so as to drug out the world. But it was the fragility of her body in contrast to the terrible weight of the darkness that took her that unnerved him; it was that which brought the cry to his lips, so that he shouted her name with a pain that was inexpressible. Yet it seemed like his voice died on the wind, and that no matter how hard he strove with the unrelenting fog, it masked his words and left him impotently silent. She lay prostrated on the floor and he stood helpless; there was no way to remove the stone that covered the well of her heart, and the doubt that filled her mind suffused him with pity. She judged herself mad, as they had judged her mad, and though he knew her to be sane, he did not have the words or the written proof to move her.
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