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” the dark-haired teen, so scrawny he was practically swallowed up by the large, knit hat, hanging loosely from his head, declared as he held two of the meatballs from his grinder up in front of his face. The table of four boys exploded in laughter, the vinyl booth squeaking with their movements. Several parents glared at him scornfully, but silently, marking their disdain for his behavior. The meatball’s viscous red sauce slowly plopped onto the brown melamine adding to the mess of crumbs and drink condensation already littering the table.
“Oh, yeah, South Park, that’s dope!” yelled another boy at the table. “How about this, ‘Are you talkin’ to meat’?” the boy bobbed his head back-and-forth as he grimaced and spoke with a fake New York accent, attempting his best Robert DeNiro. “Jesus, dude, you’re not even trying! You use DeNiro every freaking time! Be original for once,” a third boy announced. “I’m gonna make you antipasto you can’t refuse,” he said in his best broken-jawed Al Pacino. “What? That doesn’t even make sense!” Sydney said lowering his meatballs as he crinkled up his face in confusion. All four of them were momentarily silent, and then erupted in another bout of laughter. It was one of their favorite pastimes, famous TV and movie quotes incorporating the food they were eating. They
barely noticed the waitress as she sidled up to the table. “You guys need anything else?” she chomped through her gum, not even waiting for the answer she already knew was coming. She placed the check on the table and reached out to grab the empty plates from them. “We’re good,” Syd said, nonchalantly reaching for his drink. He didn’t want her running off with it just yet. As he grabbed the cup her outstretched hand brushed against his and instantly a flash of white hot pain tore through his body. And then everything went black…
Chapter II: The Awakening He heard two voices off in the distance.
“How long has he been having these episodes?” I must’ve left the TV on. God, what time is it? The soaps are on already? He slowly moved toward consciousness. “He doesn't live with me, but I spoke with his roommate. He said Syd’s been acting a little strange lately, but wouldn’t elaborate.” Syd? What show is this? She sounds like my mother. The doctor continued with his queries. “Has he been under a lot of stress at school?” “No more than usual, I suppose, but calculus, physics and astronomy classes aren't exactly light either,” an average-looking, forty-something woman wearing a look of concern mixed with confusion said as her son began to rouse and open his eyes. She looked like a blue-collar woman trying to fit into a white collar
world. Her fashion sense long ago replaced with functionality. “Mmmm. Mom, wh—what are you doing here? Where am I?” he looked around for anything recognizable. His surroundings looked like a cross between a hospital room and a college dorm. “Do I know you?” the final question was directed at the doctor. “I'm Dr. Murphy, and you're at St. Pius Hospital.” He was a tall, athletic-looking man with impossibly perfect, thick, blonde hair who looked more like a used car salesman than a doctor. “St. Pius? The mental hospital?” he said as he sat up quickly. “What am I doing here? Mom, what's going on?” the last thing he remembered he was at Minsky’s Pizza with the guys.
“Honey, are you okay?” she said as she grabbed his hand and looked into his eyes to see if she could find the son she knew inside. “How are you feeling?” she looked tired, like she’d been crying. “I feel fine. What’s going on?” “You were acting so strange at the restaurant, and I thought—” “What are you talking about?” he said, pulling away from her. “Will somebody please tell me what's happening?” Sydney was agitated. It was bad enough waking up in a mental hospital, but his mother’s over-protectiveness just added to his defensiveness. “Well, you've been—” “Sydney, what do you remember about last night?” Dr. Murphy interjected, grabbing control of the conversation.
“Last night? I, uh,” he suddenly found himself stalling for time trying to remember last night without letting on he was clueless. Then it came to him. He’d been sitting around with his friends watching bad movies, having some beers, and doing bong hits when they got hungry and went out for pizza. God, he couldn't say that. “Uhm, we went out for pizza and…” “It’s okay honey,” Mrs. Bergstrom sensed his reluctance. “We know about the marijuana, that's not what he's interested in.” Did she just say it was okay about the weed? Was this his mother? He continued without acknowledging her. “Yeah, so we were out for pizza and maybe we were acting a little crazy, but,” then he had a flash of what happened next—the blinding
headache, the screams—after that nothing but a blank spot in his memory until waking up here. He tried to fill in the gaps quickly with whatever he could think of. “We were just having a little fun with the waitress. She didn't take me seriously did she?” that should work! “Didn't take you seriously? Honey, she called the police.” Crap! What had he done? “The only way I could keep them from arresting you was to agree to bring you here. Thank God the poor girl decided not to press charges.” “Sydney, it's important you tell me everything you remember about last night,” said the doctor. Syd was starting to get nervous now. “Look, we were watching Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, and
then we got hungry and went out for pizza. What’s the big deal?” “Do you remember anything after that?” the doctor continued questioning him. Syd hesitated. “I was a little buzzed.” “Did anything physically happen to you?” “No!” He barked defensively, getting nervous, but also curious. “Why?” “Did you feel any strange sensations, anything hurting, any strange thoughts or voices?” “Voices? What the fuck man? You think I’m some schizo our something?” Dr. Murphy and Mrs. Bergstrom exchanged a subtle glance. “Oh, great, you’re one of those people who spend all their time around crazies so you think everyone is mental. What the hell is going on here?”
“SYDNEY!—” “Mom, tell him I’m—” “We'd like to run a few tests to see what might be causing you to act the way you have been recently,” Dr. Murphy continued over them, hardly missing a beat. “There are things other than schizophrenia which could cause a violent outburst and we need to rule them out.” Syd got up and started gathering his things and looking for his clothes, “Yeah, I'll bet. What, are you short one guinea pig for some mind fuck experiment? Mother, get me the hell out of here. NOW!” The doctor and Mrs. Bergstrom exchanged another glance as he said, “I'll give you two a moment.” “Thank you, doctor,” she said massaging her temple with one hand as he left the room.
Chapter Three: The Diagnosis It had been an agonizing three days for Syd, and while he was happy to be out of St. Pius, he was still pissed at his mother for forcing him to stay and endure an exhausting battery of physical and mental tests. “I want you to stay with me tonight,” Elaine Bergstrom said to her only child once they were on their way. “No way! Just drop me off at my apartment,” he stared out the Sentra’s window into the dark as perfectly spaced palm trees at the street’s edge entranced him into a semi-daze. “Syd, you need someone to look after you for a while,” she said in her best motherly tone.
“Mother, I am fine. You’re only a few miles away. Isn’t that close enough?” “No. You heard Dr. Murphy. I need to be able to observe your behavior.” “He has no clue what he’s talking about. He spent a few hours with me and now he thinks he knows me. Yech, he’s such a fake. I can’t stand him,” he paused, “I heard you two talking outside my door. Do you know him?” “Really? How did you hear through all the padding on those walls?” she smiled, hoping the joke would ease the tension. “Ha-ha, stop deflecting. You know him don’t you? Did you two date? Ew, is that why he looked familiar?”
“He was an intern at the hospital when your uncle got ill. I saw him there a few times when we’d visit. After your father died he asked me out. But no, we never dated. It was just too soon for me.” “Jesus, moving in on a dead guy’s wife? What a loser. No wonder I don’t like him. Does he chase ambulances in his spare time?” “Honey, whether you like Dr. Murphy or not, you do eventually have to accept his diagnosis if you want to get better.” “I am not schizophrenic! So, would you please tell the guy in the backseat to SHUT UP!” “What?” “Just kidding,” he smirked at her. He just couldn’t help himself.
“Very funny, Syd, very funny,” she shook her head, the slightest hint of a smile on her face. They drove in silence for awhile, and then Syd jumped in with one final approach. This time he appealed to her logical side, which he hoped she had tucked away somewhere. “Look, I’m tired, I’m hungry, and I have a long day at school tomorrow. Please, just drop me off at my apartment so I can get some sleep. I’m a big boy; I can take care of myself.” “No Syd. You’re staying with me and that’s final.” There was a long pause. Syd dreaded that pause because he knew it meant she was about to say something that would really piss him off. He could feel her winding up. “Yep, here it comes,” he muttered under his breath.
“I think you should probably drop your classes this— ” “What?! No way!” he verbally pounced on her before she could even finish her thought. “It’s too stressful and you need to focus on getting better right now!” she tried steamrolling over his protests. “Jesus, you always overreact. I’m fine. I’m telling you I am O-KAY!” She didn’t respond. Syd sat stewing in his anger as she was obviously taking him home with her and there was nothing he could do to stop her. They arrived at his mother’s two-story bland stucco nightmare in silence. Although Syd had lived in this house at one time, he always referred to it as his mother’s, never having felt as if it were his home.
Syd, unaware he was reverting back to his twelveyear-old self by simply walking in the door, immediately marched up to his old room. He was just too upset right now to be around anyone. His room felt oddly sterile without any clothes strewn about, or books and papers on the IKEA desk he’d decoupaged in old CD inserts. He considered it homage to passing technology as he had no use for them once he’d switched to an mp3 player. He sat on his old twin bed staring at the heavily-postered wall. The voices of Dr. Murphy, his mother, and his friends were all rattling around in his head. “What’s wrong with you?” “Why are you acting so weird?” “When did you start carrying a knife?” “Why did you try to kidnap the waitress?” “Are you hearing voices?” “Did they tell you to hurt her?” And the
one sentence the doctor said that was burned into his memory like a brand, “Your tests don’t reveal any physical problems, and you show all the classic symptoms of schizophrenia.” “What am I going to do? I have to get out of here,” he asked Albert Einstein, staring at his crazy tongue as if it were about to start moving and give him an answer any second. He felt like a caged tiger. He opened the bedroom window and stepped out onto the tiled roof, pacing back and forth, biting his nails as he contemplated what to do. He looked for a way down. “Damn new houses don’t have any decent trees.” He said, continuing to pace. Then he remembered the rain gutter running along his bedroom’s corner. He shimmied down it and hit the ground harder than he’d wanted to, landing a little
funny. A flash of white hot pain shot through his ankle and suddenly it was as if he’d skipped right back into Friday night at the pizza joint. He remembered springing up and grabbing the waitress with one hand, knife in the other hand. His mother’s jasmine bushes stared at him with the same blank expression the customers had on their faces. And then he remembered what it was all about. It was the manager. Yuck, what a slime ball. This guy was going to rape her. Syd saw the whole thing in his head all over again. He gave her a ride home from work, but then he weaseled his way upstairs, supposedly to use the bathroom. When he got in her door he made sure no one else was around, then came up from behind and knocked her down. She hit her head and started to scream, but he was already on top
of her with a hand over her mouth. That was why Syd got the headache and heard the screams. He felt what was going to happen to her as if it was happening to him. He was pleading with her to leave the pizza place with him to save her from being raped! She wouldn’t go with him. He tried to tell her what was going to happen, but she was too scared to listen. Then the manager called the police. He had to go and find her, find out if she was okay…
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