Another step on this ameliorative road and I’ll be normal; right in the middle of the Gaussian curve. Not too much of anything in either direction, neither supernormal nor lacking. I hadn’t known I was lacking, I certainly hadn’t felt within me anything but the full complement of feelings, thoughts and physicality. I was whole, I was complete, but a seed of corruption was within me. And when you feel normal, how are you meant to attend to something you hadn’t even known was different? Truth be told, I still feel complete, but I’m functioning perceptively less effectively in society than I had been. But it wasn’t a progressive thing, creeping and edging out my capabilities. I’d always been like this, before it was noticed. Before it became a problem. No-one was standing and pointing at me.
I’m physically comfortable sitting here, indeed my comfort is much of the purpose. What I’m reclined against looks like a dentist’s chair, but with a great deal more attention paid to stylistic tics than you’d expect for an object which was purely functional. Every detail, at all scales from the gross features to the millimetre sized texture on the armrests, from swatches of pastels to intricate stitching on the trim, is designed to put me at ease. You might imagine that handcrafted stitching, as opposed to heat binding would be a poor choice for a medical facility as it gives biological nasties a place to breed. But of course my comfort is paramount. (They like telling me that.) The chair is only to make me relax. In that regard, it isn’t quite working.
I feel average in my heart – my philosophical or metaphorical heart if you prefer – neither superior nor inferior to anyone I encounter on public transport or in the swirl of crowd flowing around the shops in the town centre. However, none of them are genuinely like me or at least so few are that, statistically – and I’ve worked out the maths – I’m never likely to have trudged, wallowing in my ignorance, past someone with the same defect. And had I done so, we would not have made eye contact with some secret understanding. I’m not like the rest of society, though I’d like to think that it was progressive, albeit on the part of them. Society diverging away from me, not I from them.
Doctor Coupland comes into the room, all slickness and self-satisfied smiles.
“How’s my trooper today?”, he says, phrase number x in a list of y smoothly oiled platitudes, appropriate to a five year old and not my twenty three years. I’ve heard this one several times now as he has looped through them since my treatment began. He exchanges pleasantries with my partner, fretting over on a sofa by the smoked-glass window which mixes in volumes of winter light with the sickly overhead compact fluorescents. Though she has it all to herself, the room feels cramped as the attendant hangers-on arrive in twos and threes as they always do, though I understand that most of them claim to have a genuine role. Possibly a number are there for the sheer curiosity value of someone like myself; they’ve heard about the possibility in obscure refereed journals. But none have quite crossed the threshold where the concept takes hold, enough to discern that a real human being could be this way. Here in the Western World! In the 21st Century!
A couple of students I haven’t seen before watch Coupland’s every move intently, jabbing at their smartphones, recording any twitch or utterance that might help their grade. Personally I would fail them for having smartphones in a medical facility in the first place. Few of them have been to my sessions more than once, certainly not enough to empathise with me. I doubt that I’ll learn their names, let alone anything that would make them more than a stock part of the background, even with the help of name tags on the front of their lab coats. That’s not a consequence of my flaw, I just don’t care about them. But then perhaps the lack of empathy goes both ways. So I’ll grant that it is a flaw of mine, albeit not the one that they care about.
I get deeply thoughtful sitting here as the professionals go about their checklists; there is little else to do. Rachael smiles at me, unsuccessfully hiding an atom of nervousness. She has an unwrapped package of elation ready, held in reserve until Coupland pronounces success. Returning the smile calms her, something only I seem to be attuned to.She’s wearing the green T-Shirt with the palm tree decals, the same one she favoured wearing in the period when I thought I would lose her. A wrong word spawned another wrong word over something stupid and trivial. An irritated sentiment couldn’t be recalled, and with the tremendous power of destruction wielded thus, we separated. My perfect life, fragmented.
“Soon have you responding”, Coupland says, somewhat distracted as he operates the instruments. Behind me a screen dissolves my privacy, offering an internal view of my structure to everyone in the room. Coupland would point and marvel at each tiny detail, of a region in a slightly more saturated crimson than its neighbours, a pathway from cortex and amygdala and brocca’s area to who knew where. Once, I had started to analyse this, trying to imagine the operation of those lowly cogs, until I realised the absurdity of my mind in effect trying to model my mind, and if I succeeded, could the model itself model the model which came before? Where would I begin?
“We’re very proud of you”, chips in Klein, the consultant, though I’m certain that the pride he feels has more connection to his shareholders than to the patient. I’m uncertain when and how he intruded on my life, like crossfire, though someone must have said something about me and the chain of connections led from Rachael to Klein and eventually an offer of help. Early on in the process he offered a small tree worth of literature on the subject, from tawdry brochures of no substance to technical treatises. Those had the subtle but unmistakeable sheen of corporations’ earnest wish to see themselves as helping. Lastly, statistical treatments with nuanced lack of key numbers, either missing or diluted, preventing genuine comprehension.
It was something that was subtly amiss with me. Physically, I was small, slightly built but in no way unusual even for that, and I guess that’s what hid it from my friends for the longest of times. When it began I have no idea, something that was there in the beginning only manifesting after puberty or more likely just not important until after it. Some of the first signs when hanging out with my peers – and I was enough of a dick to call them my peers at the time – and they would talk about girls and designer trainers and compare gadgets. One called Troy was once agitated, excited (he was never anything else) and bounded over to me as I entered the school gate. He showed me his trainers, slick white gridded patterns in the fake leather, almost too overcome in his ecstasy to form words. I had no idea what the big deal was and couldn’t find enough words of my own to validate him in the way he – and everyone else – so evidently craved. This was enough to get the shit beaten out of me.
Coupland is actually humming to himself now, a model of confidence, as he prepares the solution in front of me. It’s a solution in the sense of both an answer and chemicals dissolved in solvent, which I find amusing. That said, I would really rather prefer not to know the detail of what is being done to me; but hearing them in frightening focus is apparently reassuring though I suspect the reassurance is really for my girlfriend. She isn’t likely to appreciate anything other than the smooth tones of Coupland’s voice.
That time apart from Rachael was painful, with the agony of self-reflection and a million replays of conversations, words and intonations teased apart, sifting through the silt of our arguments looking for something, anything that put a different meaning on it than the brute reality. Over the weeks we slowly re-approached one another, by parts and not always by intent. A chance meeting in the shop, proximity and a smile in the pub, chat about the good times and at last things back to how they were. We talked, frankly and openly. Those interchanges uncovered what she saw in me, those insights leading ultimately to a diagnosis of a disability. A small thing, barely noticeable but once pointed out, impossible to ignore. In that time neither of us had moved on and all I could think of was the cancellation of an endless horrific future alone.
As revelations go, I couldn’t even see it at first, but she had fixated on some so-called “signs” that to her meant all the difference. Her enthusiasm in pursuing this was something I saw only as enthusiasm itself, detached from any other significance, but warming my heart every time I saw her. She had found the slight adjustment needed to bring me fully into focus. But how would I have even known I was disabled? Missing flashes of colour on a computer screen, not reacting to some messages was all simple normality for me. I had a conversation once, where I was asked to imagine being blind. What would it feel like to be unable to experience the texture, the richness of sight. What a loss that would be. But only if you’d known it to begin with. Imagine, I countered, never having been able to experience sensing electrical fields, nor the flow of neutrinos through your body as they stream from the Sun. Would you feel inferior not being able to conceive of what it was you were supposed to be missing? You’re missing gyre, gimble and wabe. Do you feel that? I was told I was missing the point.
No-one ever told me what the point was.
Klein, incongruously, is rubbing his hands and pacing back and forth in the limited space. He’ll be vindicated soon and I’ll be another cell in his spreadsheet. Rachael is looking bewildered and possibly close to panic. She’s picking up on his nervousness, and for someone whose job it is to deal with people, he is not picking up on her nerves in turn. It’s misplaced in any case; he’s not worried about me. My disability will be gone soon and he can smile again. Everyone can smile again, the malfunctioning part of me smoothed over, edited, reset. Hacked. Jagged electrical discontinuities, as they would have it, in my brain. In me. Those electrical patterns are the summation of me, emerging from the soft organic substrate which is my physical mind. For an instant, I’m amused by thinking of it as a pizza base and the complex flavour on top being my soul.
The leaflet slips onto the floor as Rachael stands up on perfect legs to better see what is happening. As it explains in easy-to-digest soundbites, my condition was only recently identified. Selective Habituation in the Parietal Lobe, welching on its responsibility for perception of stimuli and recognition. Clusters of neurons getting bored on my behalf. I’d like to think my condition is larger than that reductionist prattling, being a pattern of behaviour, of thought, of broken currents washing across my mind. Nameless until last year, it had hardly been recognised, let alone diagnosed. They tell me and then forget they’ve told me and tell me again how lucky I am that it was spotted, as though the luck is all that I should take away from this. No-one has told me the consequences had I not been lucky.
The suffusion of nervousness is soaking into me now. A regime of injections has formed the mainstay of my treatment, but the syringe Coupland is prepping now is the one that makes it permanent. My condition has only recently been manufactured. I mean identified, not constructed and am unsure why I thought that. A suspicion flickers, but I suppress it. Not because it is frightening, though it is certainly that, but because articulating it will make it real.
I am normal. Suppressing my feelings is easy with Rachael now holding my hand, beaming to calm me, like it’s herthat’s had a last possible moment rescue from some nameless outrage. I… ah… the injection is in my flesh now. I feel strange and uncommon, the antithesis of what this is for; but is that grotesquely alien sensation the cocktail of synthetic substances or just the anticipation? Whatever it is, I can feel it flowing up my arm, spreading, diffusing. I love Rachael. I don’t want to be alone. I would do anything for her.
I think I’m proving that right now.
She took me back and I would do anything for her in return. My perfect life.
But I felt normal, that was me.
“You’ll feel strange for a minute”, Coupland confirms, as if he’s reading my internal monologue off of the monitor and putting numbers to it. Perhaps he is, or has done this so many times that he’s observing marks in the sequence which are predicable, and a paean to my nervousness.
My disability, my limitation, my white space defining my outline, is gone.
I’m standing up, I’m out of the chair, I’m outdoors and I’m just pulling out of a hug from Rachael. Nothing feels any different, at least nothing within me and for a few minutes I do nothing but search my feelings, probe every part of my mind for anything that isn’t me, but I feel whole, I feel complete, I feel normal. Nothing different from what I was before. Only… a tiny sensation similar to having watched a movie, having seen it years earlier and thinking that it’s not the same movie. I feel like that, but the moment passes and we’re now walking down the road, like we do every other day, like we’ve done for the last three years.
Billboards line the route, all these colours, all these patterns punching out against the grey slabs of building and roadside. I’ve seen them all before of course, but I’m noticing them, seeing them. Ah, the colours, the lifestyle I could have with my perfect girlfriend and my imperfect life. Imperfect life? I hadn’t noticed how appealing these products were before, confined to my peripheral vision, unacknowledged. Strange that; it’s perfectly obvious. A rotating billboard distracts me, it’s difficult to avoid noticing it now. And my memories of the computer in Coupland’s office are more saturated now, the web pages writhing with primary colour exhortations.
I have cravings now. And – look! – there and there and there is something which could fill a gap and another gap that I’m only now perceiving, blind that I was. I desperately need to fix my imperfect life, to belong, to own, to have.
Oh, the beauty of possession!