For my Aunt Josie.
Mamma died today, last year, at this very hour. I took care of her “Like an angel,” she would say, and I would never cry within her sight, nor anywhere in earshot, so that, at her funeral, and she died on the eve of her fortieth birthday, my eyes felt like eternal springs.
Earlier this morning, after Dr. Dziurdzy had just signed my Weekend Pass, I strode a mile to the mall where I buy blue roses, and a bouquet in hand, descended the stairs of the Hamilton Mountain. From there, I pressed on, a pied, all the way to The Holy Sepulchre Cemetery. I only stopped at Sassoon’s Cafe, just before the James Street Bridge – to make Mamma a card.
Across from me, in the form of a marble statue of herself signed by Michelangelo, sat St Dhymphna. Typically, whenever we’ve completed an exchange, and it is time for us to part, she lingers with me a while, in one form or another, once even, as the lily-like scent of her long flaxen hair, perhaps to stave my loneliness.
It was so sweltering in Sassoon’s café that I swear I saw some sweat-beads glisten on St. Dymphna’s smooth marble brow. A barista fanned herself with the menu, placing before me my café au lait. She sighed over her shoulder at the young man sitting stiffly in one of the booths, wearing a camouflaged hat. I surmised him to be “ the soldier” St. Dymphna had mentioned to anticipate, “the soldier who resembles your father in that photo of him in the viridian shirt – the one where he barely resembles himself.”
Like other frequenters of Sassoon’s Café, the soldier was in mid-conversation; but what bothered the barista was that the seat he faced was empty. In his white t-shirt, gray dress pants, and black Wallabees, he placed before him, on the table for two, an open notebook and what appeared to be an emerald-green fountain pen. The soldier wore a week-old beard so handsomely I wondered if that was his intention; I wondered if it was a look he was going for, or if he simply did not shave that often. Beyond the notebook, and farthest from him, lay his laptop, closed and recharging.
“Send one platoon west, and one platoon south; over,” he ordered, after which, for about ten seconds, he seemed to listen attentively to a response, carefully, his eyes barely blinking, but dilated; then, he continued his orders. The barista, with hands contrived on hips, took three steps, robotically stopped, then glared down at the soldier. With calculated firmness, she coldly stated:
“Excuse me, Sir. I’m afraid, I’m going to have to…Ask you to leave”
A loaded silence reigned in the room.
“Why, exactly?” asked the soldier.
“Why do I have to go?”
Again the barista glared down at him.
“Why?” he demanded of her for the third time, after some intense silence.
“There’ve been complaints. More than one. About your…behaviour.”
In the silence of Sassoon’s, that soldier and I simultaneously stood up. We were moving slower than two war-weary battle-horses who had once galloped wild. Lifeless as ping-pong balls, all eyes in Sassoon’s Cafe bounced between the soldier and me.
“My name is Avi Baxter,” said the soldier with warmth, to the entire room.
“I’m sorry, Sir. But you have to go.” continued the barista. “My manager makes the calls.”
“Where’s the manager?” asked Avi.
The barista nodded toward the kitchen’s swinging door, and from behind it the manager could be heard yelling.
“I’ve called the police!”
I’d been leaning on a pillar, but now facing Avi, I stood at attention.
“My name is Carlo, Carlo Di Carra,” I said to Avi, alone. And turning toward the barista, “Leave him alone. He’s done nothing wrong.”
“Do you have a Thursday edition of the Hamilton Spectator?” asked Avi, peering hard at the newspaper piles. “I’m in no condition to defend myself, cause I’m in and out, so…”
The barista didn’t answer, but I darted toward the bunch of newspapers to locate the Thursday edition.
“Avi, here it is.”
“Thank you, Carlo.
Anticipating the police, for a few moments I looked outside the window. When I turned around, Avi’s pupils were dilated again. In a tone as solemn as it was dolorous, he whispered a few words I couldn’t understand.
“Avi,” I said. “Avi?’ I repeated, but he didn’t respond.
I looked outside and back at Avi, whose eyes were now serene.
“Could you please open the newspaper to A2?” Avi asked.
“Yes, of course.”
Opening the newspaper, there before me was a large picture of Avi in military fatigues. I showed the article around, from table to table, ensuring everyone could see the published picture of the very veteran among us. Avi stepped toward me.
“Could you please read the article out loud? Cause, like I said, I’m in and out these days. I’d be forever grateful to you, Good Samaritan.”
There was no time to answer, since the police were on their way. So I launched straight into the article:
“The headline reads: The Language of Madness: A Conversation with Avi Lyon Baxter. Written by Kimberly Stone.”
“Over coffee, I asked acclaimed Hamilton poet, Avi Lyon Baxter, 27, questions regarding literature, politics, and family, but it was when I asked him about the effects of warfare, that Baxter seemed most engaged, most ardent, and most poignant. ‘The years of warfare triggered what my doctor calls schizoaffective disorder, which runs in my family. I also suffer from PTSD.’ Baxter has been hospitalized for his conditions several times; during his admissions, he became acquainted with what he calls ‘the culture of the patients,’ and also ‘the struggle of the patients.’”
I stopped for a moment and looked up at Avi. He’d slipped into another trance.
“Through our conversation, a polarity arose. That of language as a saviour for those suffering from severe mental illnesses, like in Baxter’s case, and language as a dehumanizing force that is inflicted, often unknowingly, on the psychotically ill. ‘Too often, those who consider themselves politically correct loosely use words like psycho, nutjob, and crazy. Now, hear me: I think freedom of speech should reign supreme. I am against language policing, since I believe it divides people, as it is designed to do. Yet, at the same time, I have a huge problem with the hypocrisy.’”
“The hypocrisy is that of how the so-called politically correct treat various groups in routine language, and the discrepancies in political correctness. While they treat many demographics with sensitivity, like people of the LGBT community for instance, the language of mental illness and, Baxter notes, specifically psychotic disorders, continues to colour their conversational speech. ‘If policing language, shouldn’t that extend sensitivity to anyone who needs it, not just to those dictated by a biased media?”
“While I wouldn’t recommend injecting offensive terms into one’s vocabulary to correct the imbalance, those who do choose to be mindful of political correctness might consider how they cherry-pick which terms to be mindful of, and the message they’re sending to those left out of their apparently progressive dialogue.”
“Baxter says the effect is that many of those who suffer from psychotic disorders ‘feel like people treat them as sub-humans.’ Especially in the context of individuals whose own minds are often frightening places for them, having others in society express to them, through their word choice, that their condition does not warrant sensitivity, is further dehumanizing.”
“‘There’s no safe space for them,’ laments Baxter. ‘If you have been granted equality you have not received it. If you want equality, you must take it. True equality is something taken, never given.’”
Here I paused and peered into the faces of the café customers and out the window. No police.
“Why should we care? Well, because the connection between mental illness and creativity is not just one founded on an outlet for suffering. There is also an innate relationship between mental illness and creative genius, and this combination has historically brought great works of art, and important inventions of many kinds, into the world. The image of the brooding or unhinged artist has merit beyond the stereotype.”
“Baxter explains, ‘there is an infinitesimally fine line between madness and genius since, recently, scientists have proven that the two share a similar genetic makeup, called Neuregulin 1. We revere and adore Van Gogh, Nash, Plath, Schumann, Beethoven, Cobain, Hemingway, Pound, Nelligan, Blake, and other great minds affected by mood disorders or schizophrenia. We love our mad geniuses. We’re eager to take their gifts, but we most often reject the very illness that spawned the gift, and thereby reject the person.’”
A lump rose in my throat and I wanted to cry, but resisted my instinct. I searched everyone’s eyes, none of which were holding back tears, none of which shone with the dimmest twinkle.
Confronted with an aura of indifference in the room, Ari’s eyes welled up before closing as he took a deep breath. I too took a deep breath. But when my head bowed the way an iris’s bloom will, when weighed down by too many dew drops, my eyes were open and staring at the image of Ari, printed on the page.
“Those with the combined traits of creativity and psychiatric instability who can harness and channel them into careers are the fortunate ones, who were able to take challenging life states, and make from them a thing of beauty to share with the world. However, these are, more than likely, the people you avoid on the street, or snicker at on the bus, as they grapple with untreated psychotic symptoms.”
“Baxter’s critically hailed debut book of poems, The Flowers of My Battles, became a bestseller in both Canada and the United States. The book won both the Governor General Award For Poetry and the T.S. Eliot Prize. He is currently nominated for a Trillium Award, the gala of which will be held this fall. In The Walrus magazine, critic and poet Dylan Yardly called Baxter’s debut ‘the greatest poetry debut of the past 25 years. Baxter is perhaps the most commanding and relevant war poet since Wilfred Owen.’ Last year he was awarded the Medal of Sacrifice, for his brave fighting during the War in Afghanistan.”
“Though often debilitated, Baxter has established a career that allows him to share his insight, and lend his voice to others struggling with mental illness, so many of whom are silenced rather than celebrated.”
I savoured that article to the extent I could, while all around me, a palpable aura of indifference persisted. When I checked on Baxter, he was beyond reach. Pupils dilated and tears streaming down his cheeks. That’s when, through the window, I spotted two police cruisers pull up and park.
By the time both officers entered Sassoon’s, Saint Dymphna’s presence, manifested in the form of a marble statue had, alas, vanished. Avi was consumed by one of his hallucinations. And as for me, I encountered the kind of anxiety a blue iris must, when its growth flourishes from the protection of a private garden, to project out onto the unsympathetic surface of a well-traveled urban sidewalk. Mind you, unaccompanied by any other backyard blue irises and at the mercy of the masses.
Or was it more that loneliness two horses might feel when, without warning, their riders steer them away from each other. Often so fast that neither has a chance to neigh good-bye. Avi and I stood side by side. Solid as two pillars. Sympatico as high-school students passing doobies around a fire-pit party.
“And, furthermore, I bet you’ve been completely off your meds?” continued the first officer, who wore short sleeves.
“Now listen, Avi.” began the second officer, who wore long sleeves, “I sympathize with you, for real. I’m saddened as hell by your tears. And I get why having to leave this café may be troublesome for you, but it is time to go now. One way or another.”
The officers made eye-contact. As did Avi and I. On Baxter’s table, a book lay open to pages 33 and 34. It was The Soldier, by Rupert Brooke, and next to it was Disabled, by Wilfred Owen.
“Do you really want us using force to get you out of this place?” asked the first officer.
“Do you really want to rip away the integrity of a veteran?” I interjected.
“I’m warning you, Boy. Shut it!” exclaimed the first officer. “Are you gonna leave this place peacefully, on your own, or do you want to be taken out of here violently, by two cops? Which would most certainly be bad for your integrity, too.” the first officer demanded of Avi.
“We don’t want to have to call C.O.A.S.T. on you. You’re well aware that C.O.A.S.T. will cuff you. And drag you straight to St. Joe’s for psychological assessment. Oh, and then, they’ll
send you for a grand ole stay at the Mountain Sanatorium.” pressed the second officer.
“What is C.O.A.S.T.?” I had to inquire.
“It’s a…Well, it’s a special police unit that comes around collecting the crazies. You know, psychopaths and such. So they can go to the hospital for …For treatment or whatever the fuck.” hissed the second officer to me, so Avi couldn’t hear. Anyway, Avi had zoned out again.
“Uh…but what does C.O.A.S.T. stand for?” I asked.
“Crisis Outreach And Support Team,” officer one said with a smirk.
At that, Avi’s head drooped like a raindrop burdened daisy blooming on a starless, moonless night. Moments later, Avi raised his head. He gathered his materials and gripping his satchel, pivoted like a ship points to a lighthouse to lock eyes with me.
The two of us paused in a dilapidated and vacant parkette, where we were surrounded by spiralling lilies shedding their wealth of pure white petals in the morning sunlight.
“What’s your name, again?” Avi asked.
“Carlo Di Carra,” I replied.
“How old are you, Son?”
A warm wind wafted.
“Carlo, I feel a strange paroxysm of utmost thankfulness toward you, and utmost loathsomeness toward them.” That said, he spat into a nearby patch of grass, “You showed me more support in ten minutes than most people have shown me in ten years, and so: SALUTE! Salute to you! Salute to the mercy you shared with me! Salute to you, the Stranger’s angel!” Then, forthwith, his eyes dilated into a thousand-mile stare, while he commenced. “No, Sergeant, I am not a coward. I’m just human. There are civilians in that building. I cannot open fire as you have just ordered, Sir.”
“No! No! Stop pointing that at me, Sergeant! Please, Sir! Okay! Okay! Okay!” Avi screamed. Then he started aiming his invisible machine gun, whose trigger he repeatedly pulled, until finally, he emerged from his fugue.
“Anyway Carlo, as I was saying, SALUTE to you, Salute to you and your blood of love!”
After Carlo finished his exclamatory salutations, he paused, then started: “My will to electrify the Patients Movement is hella stronger now that I’ve endured what happened today .Thank God for this shock I feel. Which will, I hope, continue to numb me from the memory of what we witnessed in Sassoon’s Café. I must affix and delight in the numbness that a proper shock provides. Wretchedly, must I revel in an inner glade which exists between my… self, and what has occurred. Yes, the dictatorship of the psychiatric patient will be commandeered so much sooner now. Do you, by chance, believe in God?”
Yes, very much so.”
“And do you believe Jesus of Nazareth to be the Messiah?”
“Yes. I do.”
“Ok. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, swear that you will never repeat anything I’m saying here. Promise me. In his name.”
“I swear, in the name of Jesus Christ, that I will not repeat anything you are saying here. I promise. In His name.”
“Say this: May I go straight to Hell if I repeat anything Avi Lyon Baxter tells me in this lilied parkette near James Street North”
“May I go straight to Hell if I repeat anything Avi Lyon Baxter tells me in this lilied parkette near James Street North.”
“In the name of my own vengeance to a world that treats me as a sub-species. In the name of what I think is right and essential. In the name of any and all oppressed psychotics, the Psychiatric System will be dismantled and rebuilt. From within and without. There will be both predetermined and spontaneous uprisings at St Joe’s, and there will be simultaneous intifadas coordinated inside the world’s most prominent psychiatric institutions. In all three arenas, our revolution will detonate simultaneously and worldwide!”
“Then the revolution, or shall we refer to it as The Rev? At any rate, under its own steam, the movement will spread to other sanatoriums like pollen does. In a vigorous wind. To neighbouring towns. All insurgents bound by sheer conviction to The Rev. To a common list of demands. Rights refrained, again and again, by ambassadors representing the revolution. And in these aforementioned, simultaneous, pre-plotted intifadas, guerrilla patients will take fellow guerrilla patients, hostage, consensually of course. Both hostage and hostage-taker will shadow each other into dual defense from our enemy. And, the revolutionaries, from Port-Au-Prince to Toronto, will be disciplined to shoot our enemies: security guards, soldiers, and officers. Below the waist.”
“My cugino, Armando, a made guy who lives in Palermo, will arm our rebels. And may very well agree to advance us, in solidarity, whatever we need. See, he’s been hospitalized. Numerous times. For schizophrenia. He can fathom our marginalization.”
“So you’re half-Italian. On your mother’s side, I’m assuming?”
“Yes,” Avi replied. “Listen, Carl…”
“Carlo, please. Don’t interrupt my precarious stream of consciousness. It’s the sole palisade between me and that trauma-induced platoon following me even as we speak.”
“I’m so sorry, Avi. Forgive me.”
Avi nodded his head, even smiling slightly. It had been a relatively long respite since he’d fallen into a fugue.
“I can’t wait to blow up the bubble rooms! To terrify the snakes of The System. Homicidal doctors signing off on premature discharges. Knowing full well they’ll end their lives thereafter! Rapist nurses fondling their way out of the night-room rounds. All of whom we will kidnap and try in a court presided over by psychotics!
Our ransom for the prisoners will be a list of demands, including but not limited to:
1) Swift implementation of a law worded as follows: That to be granted a psychiatric license, doctors must score in the top percentile on a standardized emotional intelligence test.
2) Food service and accomodation to be modernized and upgraded so as to adhere to hospitality standards.
3) Establishment of a fund dedicated to the disbursal of victim reparations, and immediate handover of similar criminals currently working under the evil administration, regardless of rank.
4) Definitive discharges for select patients, such as political prisoners, for example.
5) Smoking priviliges and designated areas for doing so to be reinstated.
6) Redistribution of psychiatric authority, via the Vortex Accords initiated by me last summer.
7) Pass executive orders composed by me on my bus ride to Montreal last year.
“To be elaborated. Just so long as that list of demands can wrap my soul’s wide wound, like a bandage, the way forward seems somewhat possible. I’ll not, like a mummy, lie petrified inside the tomb that is my basement bedroom. If even a few of the uprisings succeed, the world would suddenly know the patients’ collective power, now wouldn’t they? Who would ever fuck with us again, if we executed what I’ve just proposed? Yes, us. Do you think I cannot see that you are struggling with your own psychosis? Who would still suppose the diagnosed insane are wholly powerless? We will assume our equality, which is the only way we can truly receive it. And the world, even the blasted, double-edged mass media, will finally see that we will no longer tolerate being abused, raped, and used by our own so-called ‘caretakers.” Shamed, despite the fact that it is we who open the doors of invention for humanity.”
One glance at Avi’s eyes, twinkling as they were with zeal, and I saw his essential place in the universe.
“I see a Million Man March of the mad!” Avi exclaimed. “And, as for the aforementioned Patient’s Revolution, I will recruit guerrilla-patients from the many online psych ward whisper networks. Plus, I’ll recruit my friends from Mad Pride, who know it is impossible for a person to be proud of one’s self, when not only openly, directly and indirectly, being discriminated against, but also scorned, mocked, hated, abused, mistrusted, beaten, and murdered.”
Avi jolted, his mind seemingly struck by sheet lightning of afflatus, which is better than being struck by the vipers of his traumas. Again, he shook off the fog that dogged him to refocus anew.
“You see, Carlo, not only will the psych world be faced with the patient’s revolution, but so will anyone outside the system. Who treats us as a subspecies. Who thinks we are not worth as much as the so-called sane. And that means a whole lot of motherfucking people. And they will answer to us. To the insurgents.
“Reports of rape, assault, degradation, and other forms of ill treatment occurring in the Sanatorium never reach the minds of the masses. More and more mental health activists are therefore going underground. Radicalizing into revolutionaries. It is time for the Patients’ Revolution.”
“I’ll seek out like-minded patients. O Carlo! O Patients! Hear my voice! We must leap from our closets, lest too many of us die by our own world-guided hand, to explode upon the world that jeers us! Like, who really cares about patient rights and their little lives? How many
souls are suffering downtown in the streets, alleys, and alcoves; poor, dilapidated, ‘vile bodies’ for whom no one weeps.”
“And so, now with intifada’s force, at last, at last, at last, the ‘Ship of fools,’ will dock at the Bay of Honour and Equality. At last, at last, at last, the ‘ship of fools,’ captained by revolving ‘crazies,’ will barge between the large and empty yachts of the fogless harbour, to crash ashore this society that has exiled us. At last, at last, at last, this listing and trimming of the ship will end and, for the first time, we will stand stable upon sturdy earth. This will be our Santa Clara!”
“The hospital will soon be ours! A guerrilla unit of eighty patients! The world will know the patients’ powers! Viva la revolución de los pacientes!” Avi yawped, so the whole parkette could hear, though no one, besides us, was there. “Viva-a-a-a-a!” Avi bellowed, the echo of his voice blasting beyond the boundaries of the parkette.”
Remember, you promised never to repeat anything I’ve said. Will you keep your promise?”
“I will keep my promise because none of this can ever happen.”
“What the hell are you saying, on?”
“Don’t you see? If you do what you have planned, you will only FURTHER the divide, the apartheid, between those presumed sane and those diagnosed insane. Avi, you will sow hatred in the hearts of the “Insane,” and shame in the minds of the “sane”. Your idea is an understandable but regrettable one.”
“Oh really? Well what the fuck are you going to do about it, Carlo?”
“I want you to make a deal with me. A pact.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
“We are going to make a deal.”
“Yeah. Look, I’ll, I’ll…“
“Ari, I’ll take away your illness if you promise not to carry out the Patients’ Revolution.”
“What?” asked an almost ferocious Avi.
Taking great strides, he headed for the gates of the parkette. That is until I caught up to him, and stopped Avi from leaving. I convinced him to return within the parkette, where we had been talking, among the still spiraling lilies.
“Please explain to me what the hell you mean by proposing this pact. Like, what the fuck are you talking about, Son?”
“Listen, Avi. Inside that eerie bedlam by the bluffs, you could clean that place with all its tears, I struggle to fathom who I am. Rest assured, I’m going somewhere. So, anyway, check this out. I was born on Christmas Day, my mother on the Summer Solstice. My Father was born on an Easter Sunday morning. My father’s name, numerically, equals 137; my mother’s name, numerically, equals 137. I was raised on San Francisco Avenue, in the San neighbourhood, near the West Mountain Brow, where the streets are named after saints. The 33 Sanatorium bus still winds through these streets. It can be heard from my childhood home, at number 1101.”
“Throughout my life, countless people have testified that I either; saved their souls, their minds, or their corporeal lives. In my boyhood, I endured a connective tissue disorder that ensured the onset of Pectus Excavatum, which means the malformation of cartilages, near my sternum. By age thirteen, this condition eventuated the grotesque caving in of my chest. An audible gasping for each breath deepened with every passing day. Gradationally, I was asphyxiating.
And this body’s hideousness couldn’t have been more excruciating to my mind. Dashing what was left of my self-image, it spent my self-worth. To such an extent, that since I nearly never spoke, my nickname in high school became ‘The Mute.’”
“For five years, not once did I smile, dragging myself through the days like a half blind horse too old to be drawing anything but air. At age eighteen, I underwent The Nuss Procedure. That being an experimental operation, to possibly truss the excavatum into convexity. A one-foot-long, one-inch-thick, bowed steel bar, was forced through my right side, then inside my pulmonary cavity, converting asphyxiation to easy breathing, concavity to convexity, disfiguration to beauty. After a week of recovery, I was released from the hospital just in time to celebrate my nineteenth birthday. Where my right side was penetrated, the Nuss Procedure left a 3-inch-scar. One still very visible.”
Raising the hem of my shirt, I showed Avi the scar on my side.
“Earlier this year I heard what identified itself as being ‘The Voice of the Father from the Three Personned God.’ He said…Well, what he said was this; that I would be henceforth transmuting into a secret being, whose identity I too, alas, would not know until my absolute transfiguration. Sublime and vivacious, this voice disclosed that I’d soon be in the hospital healing patients. It said that seraphim would shield me from demons. That soon, as I should be, I’d sermonize to the patients unfettered. And that I’d never have to worry about corporeal repercussions for voicing the Truth. For voicing His Vision. My family hospitalized me when I insisted this had been a direct correspondence with God.”
On this note, I paused, taking a couple of breaths.
“It was actually the morning of that massive storm, and just after one of my hour-long sermons, that the coda of The Voice was transmitted through me to the patients. We took shelter from the elements beneath a red-roofed smoking pavilion. It had been downpouring from tenebrous clouds for an hour and a half. Amid seemingly inexhaustible lightning which struck its riled electric vipers in such a way as to block our path. In these conditions we, who were out on passes, were waiting for the wind-whipped rain to cease, so that we could return to our respective wards.”
“Which is when we were startled to see two demoniacs burst upon us, in blurs of wide spasmodic movements preternaturally generated by the notable force of the Devil. Screaming immeasurably discordant baritones, the rabid youths raged and rived the restless crowd, both asserting their Latin as petrifying as it was precise. At last, they alighted on the pavilion’s long picnic table. Forthwith, I shot toward the two youths, each foaming and seizing till apparently exhausted from the merciless exertion perpetuated by the power of the Devil himself.”
“Firm, but calm, I lay my left hand on the one youth’s head, and my right hand on the other. O Satan, in the name of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of us all, and the Son of the Living God, flee from these two boys at once! Flee from these two boys at once! Flee from these two boys at once! I tore my crucifix from my neck then, and with the force of the Holy Spirit inside me, pressed it into each of their chests, imprinting it over their hearts.”
“Just then, two shower-weary mountain vultures perched upon a nearby statue of some lofty lobotomist from the early 20th Century. At once, I cast, like two eternally long shadows, both demons, into the mountain vultures. The scavengers gyred higher and higher before zigzagging away to vanish over the cliff.”
“However, overtaken by a whirlwind of rain, the gyre reunited in a dance puppeteered by ever greater gales, till both mountain vultures were at last, simultaneously slammed headlong into the cliff’s vertiginous summit. Lingering in the moments left of their lives, their miserable necks and bones were as blasted and shattered as is humankind.”
“The two youths lay exhausted and unconscious on the picnic table. Lightning still struck everywhere around our pavilion. Even striking the stone body of the lobotomist. The lampposts were so tipped, it was as if we were starring in an early expressionist movie. And whirlwinds whisked uprooted saplings heavenward, only to drop them back to the earth. Alas, the patients were ripped about, one to unconsciousness. A wind whipped woman wearing white screamed, ‘Make it stop!’”
“That’s when, driven by the Holy Spirit, I leapt out into the gales, the rain and all that lightning, to lift my arms like a ladder, into the chaos of a spewing sky. O Lord in Heaven, hear this prayer. Please Dear God, put to death this pitiless storm! And within 3 minutes, the colossal storm concluded. Lightning lessened, gale calmed to wind and in the end, became but a breeze.”
“Some of the patients panted, while others sprinted from the pavilion to the Sanatorium doors. Staggered as they were, I shadowed the patients swiftly striding ahead for what took about thirty seconds, after which we found ourselves bone dry. Only a drizzle resumed, during our dash back to the sanatorium doors. The rumour spread that I had dried a downpour, dismantled the wind, and annihilated lightning.”
“The following day, some patients accosted me. ‘Might I heal their minds of illness? Would I lay my hands upon their heads?’ They had come to believe I possessed powers, that I was a channel, a vessel if you will, of the Lord. His mercy. And His words. ‘I will,’ was the only answer, as then I remembered what the Voice told me before my hospital admission.”
“Laying my hands upon their heads, many reported they were healed; I was quite efficacious in exorcism, and at healing depressives and drug addicts. Some said they believed themselves healed, but only when my hands were upon them. More and more patients approached me expressing a vehement desire to be healed.”
“I was released, readmitted, released, and readmitted again, eventually seeing a need to disremember the plausible miracles under my belt, along with deep wonderment about my identity, all of which exhausted the high spirit inside me. In a world where soulfulness is scrubbed from people like mildew, miracles are seen as absurd to all.”
“So, on the evening of Holy Thursday Evening this year, after having wept for Christ, in particular I’d envisioned Judas’ betrayal and Jesus’ arrest, having seen Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth. My prayer to The Lord pleaded, ‘I do not know who or what I am. Can you please tell me? Give me a clear sign, even though my transfiguration is incomplete? After praying, I fell asleep.And on Good Friday I awoke to a piercing pain in my right side. It was coming from the place where the Nuss Procedure was performed. Where I still have the scar.”
“As if I’d been stabbed, the throb in my right side was so severe, that I screamed out to the patients who slept in my room, amid miserable throes. Via electro-magnetic vibrations, a seraphim paid me a visit, to stress that by Monday Morning, my stigmata would fade and disappear. At which time the piercing in my side ceased.”
“Avi, isn’t it true that you have been less ‘in and out,’ and more focused, than you were when we met at the café?”
He didn’t respond. Instead, he started whistling Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C Sharp Minor with his eyes closed, his face not tense as it was when we were in the café.
“I believe you, Carlo. And yes, I have been more present and more focused than when we met at the café. What’s happening?”
“Listen, together you and I will start the Psychiatric Reformation, and apart, will never resort to revolution. Listen, you are slowly healing. But this will speed up the process.”
“I lay my cupped hands on Avi’s head, then prayed: “O Jesus of Nazareth! O my Redeemer! O Prince of Peace! O violet eyelight-beamer! I feel your sea-sky horizoned lips softly kiss my spirit! O Almighty Taskmaster, please whisper this away. Sing Avi’s madness to death. Tame his traumas until they die in anonymity as do the loneliest of winds at sea. As do the holiest of saints. As do those white and black Popes of the Vatican, reflected like a solar eclipse inside a yellow puddle of urine. O Lord, I’d die for you as you have for me, so please. Please free this beauteous man, Avi Lyon Baxter. Free him from his tormenting traumas, O free him of his tormenting illness. Please, please heal him.”
I removed my hands from Avi’s head. Avi threw himself onto the grass where in the diaphanous dew, he wept. For a moment which then passed, he knelt and his head bowed.”
“Why are you crying, Avi?” I finally asked.
“I’m healed,” he whispered.
Then, suddenly, he jolted to his feet as though amid a street fight for his life.
“I’m healed! I’m healed, do you hear me, Bello!” he blasted, “I don’t hear voices anymore! The only voice outside me that I hear is my own echo, and the only voice inside me that I hear is my own! Carlo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o Di-i-i-i-i-i-i Car-r-r-r-r-a! No, no wait! Santo-o-o-o-o-o-o-! Santo Carlo Di Carra! I like the sound of that!” Avi smiled widely in the warm wind.
CooOOoo-woo-woo-woooo! CooOOoo-woo-woo-woooo! call the mourning doves. Kneeling at Mamma’s grave, and before arranging the flowers, first I spread the babies’ breath I bought to festoon her tombstone. Over the past year, I’ve gotten attached to the cemetery’s resident doves. Their call is a sound that soothes my soul. I coo right along with them and in doing so, fail to fight back the fierce tears flowing. Droplets that are falling down. All over those brand-new blue roses.
Like a couturier’s thread through the eye of a needle, I entered the revolving doors of the Sanatorium. High on it’s hill, I was out on our ward’s terrace, when I painted a watercolour called “One Blue Rose.” I posted a high pixel photograph of the $1,500 dollar painting, to the website of an online art gallery. It wasn’t five minutes before I received a notice on my phone, that a former buyer of mine had purchased the piece.
Mamma relished a rose of any colour. But blue roses most of all. Because they were her mother’s favourite. Grandma Maria adored blue roses because she was an amateur inventor. In her mind, blue roses were humanity’s most ravishing invention.
Mamma died today, last year, at this very minute. Through the diamond patterned bars of the terrace cage, I pray to her and sob. My head droops downward like the bough of a Weeping Willow. One that has endured an ice storm.