-From the Right Side of the Bed-
"In the absence of communication from the right side of the brain, the left side does not have all the facts it needs…both sides must collaborate for the best outcome…"
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Julia stumbled a little on the threshold, trying to tell herself it was merely because she caught her toe in the carpet, certainly not because she'd had too much to drink. No certainly not enough, truth be told, she thought, and definitely not because every time she passed through she heard three sharp bangs and felt a searing tug in her abdomen—sensations that came and went in a flash, leaving a lingering malaise. William had offered to change rooms or hotels, but Julia had not been willing to give into her fears. I will face them, she had said, just as I helped countless patients do so…I will practice my own preaching.
A bitter laugh erupted. Apparently I am a poor excuse for a psychiatrist, because it is not working. These were her automatic thoughts every time the symptoms intruded. Now we are trapped here. Stupid, stupid! She yelled at herself, also recognizing the becoming-habitual gripe.
She closed the door behind her hoping to shut out the feelings, but of course that was just as ineffective. They leaked in from under the door and around the hinges, soaked into her very flesh so she brought the contamination in with her only to discover there was more inside that could not be dispelled, adding to the misery.
Shucking her shoes and wrap, Julia bare-footed to the sideboard and judged how much brown liquid was in the decanter and how long she needed to make it last. Her head ached, a vice crimped over her eyes making her squint even in the low light.
"Only two drinks left…?" she wailed to the empty room, and slumped on the green couch, knocking one of her wedding pictures over in the process. It lay on the floor, unattended, while she stared at it, trying very hard to remember what it felt like to feel happy. To feel….anything.
She studied the image with a clinical eye. I see a smile on my face, William so close to me. She sighed. It seems like a lifetime ago… The hairs on the back of her neck stiffened and a rush of guilt wrapped in hysteria overtook her …A life ago, she corrected…That thought was shuttered quickly to be replaced by a now-familiar heavy feeling while she gazed at the photograph, unable to call up the lightness of being she half-remembered from that day as if it was blocked by an impenetrable fog of…. something. Apparently when one tries to supress one sort of emotion all of them get dragged down together…
She pulled the frame up from the floor, ran a finger over the glass then put it face down on the tea table and contemplated the bottle, aware she was as empty as the container. If I had any tears left I would shed them now. She had just poured herself the first few fingers of whiskey when there was a knock on the door. She looked at her glass and then to the door, then repeated the process, trying to decide what needed to take precedence: her desire for drink or her social obligations. It has to be someone I know, at this late hour and with no ring from the front desk alerting me there was someone wishing to call on me, waiting in the lobby to be escorted up…
The knocking repeated. With effort, she put the glass down and, shoes back on, answered the door with a grimace. She was not even really surprised at who was revealed. "Inspector," she greeted half-heartedly.
"Good evening, Doctor. I wonder if I might have a word…."
# # #
Vol 10. p. 42 Journal J. Ogden (1904)
I have ruminated enough & tonight I will take some of my own damned advice rather than just sit here looking out the window and dreading seeing who is coming up the street. Physician heal thyself indeed! -Besides there is no more whiskey & I cannot sleep—I have not slept in weeks, not a full night. I get up without waking William, steal away to stare out the window at the street & empty the decanters. When he catches me I tell him I have used the water closet or have pain. He nods & goes back to sleep….he trusts me, accepts that I am telling the truth. I suppose he got used to that pattern when I was recovering from the gun shots & I'd take that situation back again in a heartbeat; THAT pain was easier to bear.
I cannot even write this…to put on paper is to make it real. SHE was here, in my home, drinking whiskey and taunting me with her bleeding…Nowhere is safe now. I cannot have these visions running around my head to frighten me & I cannot tell William about them—he will not understand…or I am afraid he will, I am not sure which is worse. He wants a quiet evening with his wife while I dread the silences between us…
I made the mistake of sharing a little with Ruby & by her unhelpful reaction I daren't tell any of this to anyone; certainly not anyone who can then pass it on to anyone else. I feel so alone in the midst of my life. Keeping my patient's secrets, keeping my outer reactions in check while I am with them, has trained me to keep my own counsel, and leaves me with no outlet.
Too bad Dr. Roberts is dead (well probably dead as he is frozen solid as Lake Erie gets) so I have no access to his shock treatments this time, & Kate Ripley is in San Francisco, so I am left with Inspector Brackenreid as my personal psychologist! Of all people! How ridiculous am I that it has come to this? He tried to tell me we are the same—that he has been in the abyss into which I have descended. How could he have been where I am now? He experienced the horror of war … where there is honour, where there are fellow soldiers, where there is a hierarchy making decisions. He thinks I am afraid. No-it is not fear I am feeling. Oh, no. Sometimes it is just numb…and that's when it's better. When it is worse….
Kate taught me to externalize my thoughts & question irrational thinking but, really! How many things do I have to feel guilty about? And how many things to be angry about? And what am I doing attending the cattle-call parties of the social Season? Smiling, making small talk about – well trivialities, deliberately inconsequential things when the big elephant in the room is death. Every waking hour consumed with death and tales of death. Always death. Fyodor Dostoevsky's elephant metaphor from his novel Demons. Demonic forces taking over a town—oh why did I ask William to find me a translation? I feel possessed, haunted by death itself in the person of Eva Pearce... 'You are the one that is still alive '… she mocked me as if that is my fault…
Ridiculous. But that is what I have become, is it not? A psychiatrist who is clearly having a psychotic break & a pathologist who is squeamish about bodies & blood now—there is not enough alcohol in the world for that. It is not like I haven't felt like this before…after Harlan Orgille, or getting buried alive, or almost hung, not to mention all the death I have seen and been elbow deep in, or heard of the evil in my practice…
William… Oh, William. You asked about how I am doing…I told you there has to be more to life than death. What can you fail to understand? This is the life we chose? Did we? When I went to Buffalo it was not only to escape an intolerable situation in Toronto but it was as I told you… it was to work as a healer, with the forces of life. That part was true.
I was out of the business of death since then, seeing my patients get emotionally well, mentally stronger, and then Emily leaves and I get dragged back into the morgue. There was a time it was intriguing & stimulating, but long ago it shed that semblance for me. William, you don't interact with the bodies, do you? You are not intimately involved in cutting up and weighing souls. Oh, you might know intellectually how it is done, but you don't actually do it. I have no trouble at all understanding how cynical and detached my predecessors in the coroner's office became & I have started to feel badly for the path I am leading Miss James along, except that I can selfishly let her take some of the burden from me right now… Will Miss James, so naive and enthusiastic, be hollowed out by the vocation she has freely chosen? As have I?
I checked, William…it is just beyond eleven years ago we met. I flipped through to the first volume of my journals and there it was, March 1893. I read my words…I was so happy, feeling free, optimistic, vibrant… Alive! I knew my own mind. I charted my own course. I took responsibility for my own outcomes. What has happened to me in the intervening time? You insist it was fate we met and were matched; what if instead it was folly & tragedy? What happened to me? You, happened William… death brought us together.
Mostly I am angry with you, William when I am not enraged at myself. Anger is a great antidote for guilt. I tell you this was not your fault… that Eva was to blame but, really, I am angry with you all the same. If not for you I would not have been a target. There—I wrote that out for the world and myself to see. Ugly, scary on the page.
What would Kate think about that? Am I projecting? Am I trying to escape accountability? Is it helping me keep you distant? Or is it a defense against the fact you have distanced yourself from me? I think you have turned against me, William. You may not be doing that consciously, but how can you explain our lack of intimacy? Oh, you are polite, steady, mild, conscientious... but I wonder… Is your distance really only respect for me, my injuries…? Well they healed well -enough. One time I am not interested…one time I do not respond immediately to your advances in the way you seem to need me to, & you shut down & act like I am now …what? A pariah? Merely boring?
When you got back from your ride, what were you really appologizing to me for? For leaving abruptly? Or was the problem you saw my scars William? The ones I so artfully kept hidden for all these months? You took me by surprise reading Dostoevsky of all things, hardly conducive to romantic feelings, that was all—I had no time to cover up or hide and I was afraid of what you'd say when you saw my belly full of lines and puckers looking like the Pleiades where my flesh is humped & bumped, still red and twisted, hard under my fingers. You are so visual, did my disfigurement shock you? Disgust you? Is that why you stopped and needed to appologize, for your reaction?
Are you really waiting for me to be the one to approach you? Even if I have no desire for you, what happened to yours for me? What happened to showing me you still want me? I thought that was an unquenchable fire, William. Why have you not spoken of desire? It seems to me we are kind but superficial—are you so uncomfortable with what I have done that unconsciously you reject me now too? It makes me wonder if you are seeking release elsewhere, or if you are merely put off by the whole notion of relations with a killer.
The truth. Always the truth for you. Well, I am hallucinating that witch while I am awake now, not just in nightmares, each time more gruesome than the last. It is driving me mad, William.
William…look at me, instead of expressing my thoughts I am having a conversation with you in my head. I cannot imagine what you would say in return -only that I will not wish to hear it.
Is she a siren, calling me? You commented on that once, I recall, wondering if she had a strange hold over men, over you. Now she is calling me, William. I think of that young girl, yet another young person just starting out in her life, brutally murdered. Ha! Look at that cliché. Is there a kind murder? Ludicrous! What woman in her right mind goes to a dirty, dusty, cramped attic in a fragile white dress? For what purpose, no matter how compelling? Who lured Ruth Embry up there to her death? The ghost of Eva Pearce? So Ruth could fall in all her bloody glory, right across my path?
I had only seen Eva in my nightmares until that point. Was I a fool? I believed I was merely taking a long time to heal emotionally from the trauma: depressed, enervated, some reactivity, guilty. But now, the specter of Eva Pearce haunts me in broad daylight….
Except I do not believe in ghosts, William! You always say we have nothing to fear from the dead. Well, if that is so then I must be mad indeed because I see and hear her and she is tormenting me, sucking the life out of me day by day and night by night.
I no longer know where my place is in this world. I cannot practice as a psychiatrist while I am having hallucinations and I cannot stomach the stench of death in the morgue, so I have been avoiding both and making excuses…soon I will run out of them. I don't seem to belong with you either, William…or is it you don't belong to me anymore?
Here is the hardest part, the two feelings that no amount of alcohol or dissociation have vanquished, even if every other colour has been bleached out of my emotional life. The greatest anger and fiercest guilt: If not for you, dear William, I would not have had to kill Eva Pearce. She always wanted us separated. The problem is that you have said that as long as I am in this world there is no one else for you but me. But Eva, evil Eva… she has managed to do by her death what she did not do in life- tear us apart.
If this is irrational, so what?
If I cannot exorcize the demons then what?
And if I am not in this world, William, will my torment cease? Will that be Eva's revenge on you…or mine?
Oh, ho—William. Speak of the devil. Your carriage just debouched you—am I saved from more dwelling? Have I learned anything from venting my thoughts and feelings? Will you want to talk to me? Will you want to make love with me?
William, do you remember telling me you saw the future, and the future was me? What if, just as you explained to me, there are many alternative timelines? What if you did see a future after all, but it is just not the one we are in, here and now?
Will you be able to understand that I have lost my mind, lost myself and in this case I am not sure you will be able to rescue me in time? That I am not certain I want to be rescued?
What if our fate has been altered, driven to the rocks, beyond our ability to control? Maybe I have always been destined to leave you…
# # #
Julia was in bed, back turned to the door when she heard William's key in the lock and the door softly open and close. She had hoped to be insensible by the time he got home, but absent the alcohol, her sleeping draught and the pain preparation she took were doing nothing for her. In her mind's eye she clearly saw his deft movements, his pause while checking their suite, looking in on her in bed.
"Julia?" she heard him ask, an entreaty in his voice barely disguised. She remained still. Her thoughts had been racing at the pace of her heart. She hid her journal where she knew William would never pry and silently ran her options over in her head. None seemed viable. She closed her eyes. Will he understand? What will he understand?
She heard his body at it connected with the doorframe. He rummaged around in his highboy and went to the bathroom, saying nothing else.
William! she raged in her mind. William, please understand! Tears collected in her eyes but would not push themselves down her cheeks. Please understand when I cannot. Please do what I cannot.
She was frozen in place, unable to arouse herself and unable to sleep. She heard him drag a blanket and pillow out of the closet and toss in the living room, then close the French doors. By the time she heard glass shattering and his angry exclamation, all she could think was that it matched her mood, exactly.