The Collective Guardian: The start of a potentially heroic tale by R. Malfi
I am searching for a name… this sound I used to know… They all remind me that I am real, that we are here… Hear them tell me, don’t you? I am searching for a name… the one I used to claim… before I became… so many. I always know the perfect fit… that’s why the others always came to me… for answers…they still try, but I won’t. Can’t. We won’t let me. That is when the memory died… when night after night more of them began to cry and fill my eyes so I could not see anything ahead but everything elsewhere instead… I am searching for a name…trying to remember that time when we were an am. Before I felt them inside… when we were me… We feel the world around us, beyond these four white walls…Everything’s connected, you know…it’s just molecules. The wall, me, we… us all.
I am searching for a name… a perfect fit before… something within… wishes it could be… a perfect fit once more…
* * * * * * * * * * * *
“How long has she been this way?” he asked.
“She was admitted about a year ago. In this very condition. Nothing has changed,” replied the attending nurse.
He looked at her chart. “She’s been on a mild dose of sedatives… no anti-psychotics?”
“That’s correct, Sir,” the nurse replied, hesitant to relinquish further information.
“Her former care provider made that conscious decision?”
“Yes, Doctor. She’s not what we call a trouble patient. At first, she had difficulty controlling… certain aspects of her condition… Now, the sedatives are mostly to help her sleep, since she won’t without them.”
“Not a wink.”
“So that was the former doctor’s solution? Help her sleep? What about helping her out of this condition? No one has tried administering experimental medications – stuff that’s in the works?” the Doctor asked, failing to understand how such a lucid mind could collapse into the babbling, unkempt woman he was looking at through Plexiglas.
“They tried,” she said, looking at the floor for a moment. “In the beginning, they did try. Nothing really… helped her.”
“And she’s kept in this room because of the, uh… the…”
“Dr. Malachowski called them ‘anomalous energy fluctuations,’” the Nurse replied, waiting a moment to ask, “Is it true that you… knew her?”
It was true. He had known her. Well, in fact. They had dated for the last two years of undergrad at Rutgers before they went their separate ways – he to South America to “see the world” and waste his savings for a year before figuring out the rest of his life, and she to a Ph.D. program immediately for physics. He had wanted her to go with him… she was more interested in furthering her career… He remembered vividly the last time he saw her... It was 9 years ago in June 2007. They had decided to take a post-graduation trip to the Shore…
“That… was great,” she says breathily, rolling over him and laying flat on her back. She pulls the sheets over her body and removes them again. “It’s so hot in here. I can’t believe the AC is broken.”
I say nothing.
“What?” she asks, smiling, but with an obvious look of concern in her green eyes.
I turn to face her. I push my hand through her dark hair.
“I love you.”
“I love you, too,” she replies, fidgeting a little. “Seriously, what’s going on?”
“I need you to come with me.” No answer. “I don’t care where. South America, Asia, Africa, Virginia, California… you name it.”
She looks indignant. “Why can’t you come with me. And I thought we had this discussion already.” Frustrated, she puts her hands over her face. She always does that when she’s mad, like she can hide from confrontation.
“I just… I don’t understand why you want to go back to school right away. Let’s live a little – let’s be in our 20’s and do the crazy shit we won’t have the energy to do later! Seriously, why are you so against this?”
“Dammit, Jason. We are not having this conversation again.” She gets up and starts putting her cloths on. “You can’t handle it, can you. That I know what I want, that I have goals, that I have a sense of purpose. You hate it.”
“Yes, I hate it. I hate that you can’t just step away for five minutes from your solidified life plan that you devised when you were like TWO. Why can’t you see this the way I see it?”
With that, she haphazardly pulled her shoes on, grabbed her bag, and left the room. I still have no idea how she got home or where she went immediately. I tried calling, but I never heard from or saw her again except for an email or two… and now that she’s here, in front of me, she’s really, actually not.
“Yes, I knew her.”
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Dr. Jason Ramirez pulled into the driveway of 1245 Locust Avenue, one of the faculty houses at the University. He crawled out of his Toyota Camry, his developing middle-aged-man gut pressing against the steering column, removed his sunglasses, and rang the doorbell. Not a half a second later, a short woman in her 60’s opened the door and welcomed him inside.
“Oh, you must be Jason! Please, come in! My husband is waiting for you in the sunroom. I’ll put on some tea. Jasmine, Chamomile or Green?” she asked sweetly and at lightning speed, pressing together painted fingertips.
“Uh, Green is fine. Caffeine,” he smiled weakly. “Ah, where is the Professor?”
“Straight back, dear. I’ll be there in a jiffy!”
Jason, as directed, walked straight back into the sunroom where he found an older man with unkempt white hair sitting in an armchair doing the crossword. Not cliché at all, Jason thought to himself.
“Ah!” He looked up from his crossword. “Please, Doctor, have a seat. It’s a pleasure to have you here.” He gestured to the rust-colored loveseat opposite him. The whole room had a 70’s glow - mustard yellow and reddish brown upholstery in the sunlight.
“As you know, I’m here to gather some background information on-“
“My former student and advisee, yes. She was a brilliant mathematician.”
“Yes, just brilliant.” Mrs. Goodchild echoed as she bustled into the room, placingher tea set on the coffee table.
“Top of the league, she was.”
“Oh yes, the very top!” she began to pour hot water into the cups.
“She was the go-to girl for any problem or proof you could think of… she had a way with numbers and formulas… She always knew the perfect fit.”
“That was our girl.”
“You were both close with her, then?” Jason asked, taking out his BlackBerry for note keeping.
“Yes, she was often here. Didn’t socialize much.”
“She was very busy with her work, just like my husband.” Mrs. G smiled and took a seat next to Jason on the loveseat.
“When did you first notice changes in her behavior? From our conversation it appears that she speaks as though she were multiple people, but no particular personality sticks out...” he trailed off, recalling the controlled, even way in which she spoke, and how nothing he said evoked in her so much as a glimpse of her former life. He snapped back. "Was there a pattern to her decline?"
“The last psychiatrist asked us these questions,” the Professor offered, taking off his glasses, as if to say, You can try to help her, but like the others, you will fail.
“I know… he did. And I hate to bother both of you again, but he may have missed something.”
The Professor sighed. Mrs. G sat still, hands in lap and head down, waiting for her husband’s move. “Throughout her time as a student, there was never anything unusual. She was always pleasant – ”
“And sharp as a tack she was,” Mrs. G interjected, sipping on her chamomile.
“She was a bit of a loner, but that’s only because she was so involved in her work. It did take her a little longer than I originally expected for her to get her Ph.D. She needed seven years to complete the degree… Most of my students do it in four or five. Like I said, brilliant girl, especially at mathematics, but she had a tough go of it being… innovative in physics. She always questioned her work, always wondered who she was affecting.”
“She was a very sensitive girl.”
“You are a nuclear physicist, right? And she worked with you… so, she did have reason to be concerned. Look at the world,” Jason said, feeling uncommonly defensive.
The Professor leaned over a bit, placing elbow on knee. “Doctor, we are scientists. We search and discover. What is done with our work later is an issue of policy. She was a brilliant woman –”
“– who did brilliant work. Until she went mad.”
Jason apologized. “I’m sorry. I merely mean” he said meaning it almost not at all, “that she may have perceived her work as a threat to the world, a factor that could be contributing to her, as you put it, madness.” He sipped his tea. Didn’t make him feel any greener on the inside. Didn’t make the room less orange. “So, please, get back to your story.”
“Ah, yes.” He leaned back in his arm chair. Mrs. G seemed to relax as well. “The short of it is that she had trouble completing her Ph.D., but once she finally finished her dissertation, a work of beauty by the way –”
“Just like the girl,” Mrs. G said softly.
“– she was accepted immediately, and without much scrutiny, to a post-doc position at the University. Her work was that good.” He paused, and his proud smile faded. “That was when I began to notice her unusual behavior emerge. Sometime in her second year, she stopped helping people in the department… They would come to her with mathematical questions. Like I said, she was extraordinarily gifted.”
“We thought she had gotten fed up with her colleagues. That can happen under stress.”
“Yes, Yes… we thought it was workplace stress… but then she began to rant about the repercussions of our work, how we were hurting people all over the world – she said she could hear them at night…” He paused, looking sorrowfully into the tea cup he gently cradled in his lap. “I told her to take some time off. Figured it was sleep deprivation.”
“And possibly womanly stress. She was alone, no husband, no children… Your body changes when it senses it will not be making children…”
“Several days later, she came marching into my office, looking a mess, claiming that she could hear everyone in the world. She said that all bodies are connected through molecules and she could feel someone miles away through the air… She said she could feel the physics, could feel the particulate matter of the earth inside and around her. She seemed so happy…”
Jason wondered if she had felt him. “When did the switch occur from this to not remembering a single thing about her own person?”
He shrugged. “I guess… one day too many people entered that head of hers. Too many people talking, she forgot which voice was hers. The last thing she remembered was her name, but in time she forgot that, too. This was after I had admitted her, of course.”
“My husband is a generous man.” She looked lovingly at the Professor. She sniffed a little. “It’s such a tragedy. More tea, Doctor?”
“Uh, yes, sure. Thanks.” Mrs. G picked up the tea set and hurried out of the room.
“And… the anomalous energy fluctuations? According to previous records, you don’t want your wife to know about this?” Jason asked.
The Professor leaned over. “That’s correct. There’s no need to worry my wife more than she already worries. But I will tell you quickly, now,” he said softly, glancing toward the kitchen. “At first I thought she was warming her hands with hot water, or sitting on them for a long time before she would touch me. She claimed that she could manipulate molecules… could feel and see them move… that she learned how to move them herself. Said she could generate energy by concentrating excited molecules in one place. I didn’t believe her until…”
“Until what?” Jason asked, having read nothing of this in her chart.
“She set herself aflame, spontaneously. And lived. Without a scratch.”
“Do you think she is capable of this… this molecule manipulation?” the words felt strange in his mouth.
“No, that’s impossible,” he snorted. “Come now, you’ve been through a physics class or two. There is clearly something physically wrong with her body chemistry. Off the record, if she wasn’t practicing her experiments safely, she may have been exposed to something that… resulted in this mutation. But you’re the doctor. You tell me what’s wrong with her.”
Mrs. G came back into the room and handed him a refilled tea cup. He folded his hands around the warm beverage and thought to himself, What if she isn’t mad at all?
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Jason loosened his tie and removed his jacket, placing it on the back of the metal chair. Before sitting down, he caught the bar tender’s eye. “Dock Street.” The bar tender nodded and grabbed a glass. Jason sat down and looked around him. The bar, like most, was dimly lit with a college football game playing on 3 screens around the room. In the background, some Pearl Jam song he couldn’t remember the name of was playing. A blonde waitress delivered his beer and he handed her a credit card. “Open a tab for me, thanks.” She nodded and bounced to a touch-screen station.
As he sipped his hoppy beverage, he pondered the past few days events. He wondered if it was true, that proper tests hadn’t been conducted to see if she was radioactive in some way… If the Professor was correct in his assumption, everyone at the clinic might be at risk. And how intense was her exposure, and to what substance, for her condition to have such a rapid onset?… His mind was racing. What if the heat generation was a result of accelerated radioactive decay in her blood stream, and one of the mutations she gained as a result of the constant mutagenic exposure was some kind of regenerative capability that would prevent her from harm… how else could someone light herself on fire and not only live to tell the tale, but come out unscathed?
What is this, X-Men? He chided himself. Plenty of people had been exposed to radioactive materials, and as far as he knew there were no actual Peter Parkers out there. What if she… he couldn’t even say it to himself… what if she really did feel the physics… What if she… what if she were always building up to this point in her life, and no one around her noticed. What if I never –
He jumped. Someone tapped on his shoulder. “Hi, there,” she said. “Mind if I sit?”
“Dave, I’ll take a Martini, dry. Thanks.” She redirected her attention to Jason. “You seem like you could use some company.”
She sat down across from him. “Rachel,” she said, holding out a slender hand.
“Jason,” he stated, extending his own hand in reply.
She lit up a cigarette and offered him one. He shook his head. “I don’t do that anymore. It would be hypocritical, considering my career as a health professional and all.” After he said it, he wasn’t sure why. Was he trying to impress the lady? She was clearly younger than him, blonde, with pouty lips that revealed a set of straight, white teeth when she smiled.
“Impressive,” she replied, taking a drag. He immediately felt stupid. “I’ve never seen you here before. New to town?”
“Yes, actually. I’m only here temporarily – I’m taking on a new patient in this area for a little while.” He thought of her, locked up in that room. Wondered for an instant what it would be like if she could live on the outside.
“It really is.” He polished off the Dock Street. He nodded at the bar tender for another.
A couple of hours passed. They chatted about small things at first, like the town, the University, their family, and then, after much malted beverage, they talked about her. Against all medical professional confidentiality policies. He didn’t even mean to. But she was everywhere tonight. He would see her out of the corner of his eye, in the face of every brunette that walked on by. When he was much drunker, he’d think he saw her the reflection of the front window or on the surface of his beer… Needless to say, she was on his mind, and the nice, blonde, smoker lady was all too willing to sop his story up.
“So you really think it’s possible that she actually hears molecules… that she feels physics? That she can hear you, and me, and… everyone else in the world? You’re sure not like any doctor I’ve had.” She chewed on an olive in an attempt to be seductive, but was too drunk and dropped a piece from her mouth.
“Look I know it sounds crazy… S’just that I dunno whatelse to believe…” Jason was drunker.
“Well, about 30 minutes ago, I thought you were a nut. I’mnotgonnalie. But your story made me think of this guy I knew back in high school… Bob. He went off to college, and about two years later, I hear this crazy story. He apparently broke under collegiate stress – doctor’s diagnosed it as a ‘psychotic episode.’ He claimed he was the Messiah, that he could save the world through physics. You know... I never even thought twice about that shit untl this night.”
“What happened to him?” Jason asked, intrigued, hoping he would remember this conversation in the morning.
“They put him on some meds. He stopped talking about it. He’s ok now.”
“’Sgood. No anomalalous energy fluctuations.” He laughed a little to himself.
“No… but you gotta wonder. What if Bob was the freaking Messiah. What if Jesus came back down to this sordid, sad earth and we done doped him up and missed deliverance?”
“So... you think she might be Jesus?”
“I think miraculous things happen every day, and we write them off because they don’t fit the mold we’ve been taught to believe is uniform, constant, and correct. And your friend or patient, or whatever is she to you… Who knows… she might have a true gift, Jason.”
“And we done locked her up.”
“Right.” She took his hand. “I’m no religious nut, but Jason...”
“Yes?” he was too drunk to maintain his gaze.
“Don’t let us miss the freaking bus to salvation.”
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Jason swiped his key card and entered her room. She was sitting in the corner, hands pressed to the wall, head tilted backwards, eyes to the ceiling. He walked a few feet toward her and stopped. She was muttering to herself.
“What are you doing?” Jason asked.
No reply. He dragged a chair over and sat.
“You know… I spoke to your old advisor and his wife the other day… nice people.” He was waiting for a reaction he knew he would not get. “They told me you lit yourself on fire once… no one put that in your records.”
He extended his arm and touched the wall she was pressing against. It was still cold.
“They really didn’t know you, did they? Didn’t know what was inside. And neither did I, I guess. That’s why you left that day, isn’t it? You knew... You knew somehow you were supposed to do something great… And I was just another person keeping you back, trying to tell you to fit the mold.”
“Not a perfect fit… We always know the perfect fit…”
He paused, unsure if this was a response to his words. “I came here today to tell you that I am sorry. For then, and for now. I will do my best to get you out of here… I’m just not so sure where you will go. Or how I will convince them to let you out of this room. They think you are a danger to others. With the whole… heat energy… thing…”
She closed her eyes, began to hum, began to laugh and cry. “I am outside all the time, all the time we’re there. Everything’s connected, you know…it’s just molecules. The wall, me, we… us all.” She looked up, then, with those beautiful green eyes. He couldn’t tell if she was looking at him, in him, or beyond.
Jason got off of his chair and sat next to her. He touched her hair. She was ice cold. “You are freezing.” He went to grab a blanket from the bed –
She grabbed his arm. “We are very busy. No need for that.” He looked at her. She smiled.
He stared at her radiant face for a moment, trying to study her eyes, to see if the woman, as he had known her, was there. “Do you remember anything about who you were?” he asked, sure to use the past tense.
She closed her eyes, began to rock… She muttered softly. “…searching for a name… this sound I used to know… They all remind me that I am real, that we are here… Hear them tell me, don’t you? I am searching for a name… the one I used to claim…”
“Your name was *****.”
A large smile came over her face. “Yes, yes, that is the one! She is here as well. But for all of us, it is a perfect fit no more.” She resumed her position, hands pressed to the wall. He sighed. “I know it’s not.” He waited a while before asking again, “What is it that you are you doing?”
“Healing, moving, shifting… restoring balance once again, putting things where they belong… finding all the perfect fits… we are a world divided… we make it whole again…”
“You can do that all… from here?” he asked with utter awe and complete belief.
“From this very room.”
He chuckled softy. “Remember when I said that we wouldn’t have the energy to do things later in life?”
“I am all the energy now.” She smiled softly and placed her palms on his cheeks. They radiated heat.
“I think you always were.”