[Note: MINUS/PLUS is from the perspective of “PRESENT DAY”]
MINUS 6 MONTHS | London, UK:
Harry wakes up one morning, with a throbbing headache (which he’s been having on and off for around 4 years), with a gut feeling that he’s not really himself. It’s almost as if his entire personality has changed; some totally different character that he doesn’t recognize that was now in-control of him, becoming his de-facto dominant persona.
He simply couldn’t explain this feeling. It wasn’t anything logical. It wasn’t as if his Life was in a dark place right now; things were actually going well. It wasn’t also like the forced sense of introspective contemplation one feels obligated to do whenever someone close to us passes away, or when something else happens that reminds us that Life is fragile. He didn’t have much logical basis for feeling the way he did. And yet, he felt something amiss; some deep instinctive aura that told him that all is not what it seems, and that he was losing his grip over himself. This feeling had been coming to him periodically for quite some time, but he had just sat there like a frog in a slowly warming tub of water that’s now come to boiling point. And now it had hit him all at once: a feeling of dread in the grogginess of the morning.
Like what the fuck was he doing with his Life?! Why the fuck did he move to London 12 months back, starting a new Life, befriending complete strangers?! Things were going fantastically in his home city: he had already turned his Life around there, from a place of darkness to a place of awesomeness, establishing a rocking Life. What was the need to uproot again and move to London?!
How the hell did he bond so well and grow so close to a grief-stricken relative stranger Woman, and had been accompanying her to a Hospital in the UK to visit a sick relative?! All this shit is so unlike his previous self. His Life was so different a few years back! It’s such a drastic change. Not that he’s complaining. This Life is pretty damn great. Not bad at all. Certainly better than the one he had several years back. He’s grateful for the change of fortunes, but it’s just that gnawing feeling of “inauthenticity” was chipping away at him, and the irritation of leaving his home city when he had made it there. He can’t make sense of it. He felt he was losing his mind. Then he feels grateful again. There’s a wrestling match inside his mind, but without a resolute conclusion.
MINUS 48 MONTHS (i.e. 4 YEARS) | New York City, USA:
Harry woke up to a splitting headache the likes of which he had never experienced earlier in his Life. It was as if a 200-piece orchestra was purposefully playing nothing but discordant notes in his head. He was completely fine yesterday night. He hadn’t been drinking, nor was he stressed-out because of work or anything else. He had gone to sleep at his regular time, but found himself waking-up to this unmitigated disaster. He took a painkiller, and went back to sleep. Little did he know that his Life would change drastically in the course of four roller-coaster years.
Over the next 3 months, nothing much was out of the ordinary, but Harry had a vague sense that someone was watching every move he made. He just chalked it up to his an amplification of some of his insecurities, and let it go.
MINUS 18 MONTHS (i.e. 1 YEAR 6 MONTHS) | New York City, USA:
Harry wakes up with a throbbing headache, based on the hangover from the ridiculous partying last night. While the headache could be explained away that one time, his recent change of behavior couldn’t. As he groaned his way to the bathroom, regretting the previous night’s drunken revelry, he realized he needed to cut all this impulsive decision-making and partying bullshit once and for all. Like what the fuck was he doing?! This shit was getting totally out of hand. He again got that feeling that something was really off here, like he was not in control anymore.
The past month had been a crazy blur: he had quit his job as a full-time Senior Writer with a prestigious publication in NYC, which he had managed to get barely a year back with enormous difficulty. Like that shit was serious: it’s not everyday you get such a job, and he didn’t even have enough credentials for it, only having developed a portfolio over a couple of years or so. And he had still managed to bullshit, bluff, and impress his way into that job. And now, he had just put in his papers so casually that everyone in the office thought he had Cancer or some such terminal shit (which of course he didn’t).
Then he had thrown a grand farewell party for his work-colleagues and personal-friends, where everyone bid adieu to him, the atmosphere filled with feelings of a bittersweet symphony. He had proceeded to get completely sloshed, and made the big announcement that he was taking a sabbatical to go to London, UK for a while, booking tickets right then and there, in-front of everyone. His flight was due to leave the next day, and while Harry was livid with himself, embarrassed by his impulsivity, he figured he might as well just go ahead and take the excursion to London as a brief vacation of sorts. Maybe he can clear his mind walking Trafalgar Square.
MINUS 60 MONTHS (i.e. 5 YEARS) | Small Shitty Shoebox Apartment, NYC, USA:
Harry made some coffee as he sat by himself in his apartment on a bright sunny weekday: it was a beautiful day to go outside, bask in the sunshine, and enjoy the company of others in the outdoors. But it was just another day in the apartment for Harry. For he was a reclusive loner, a “shut-in” as they would call it. There’s nothing wrong with introversion per se, as long as it’s voluntary and within reasonable bounds (so long as you are able to meet basic practical daily and social obligations). But in Harry’s case, it was involuntary, borne out of deep-seated phobias, anxieties and paranoias. He suffered from terrible social anxiety and crippling agoraphobia. And it had affected his daily Life to the extent of crippling dysfunctionality.
He would have personally liked to go outdoors, be comfortable in big open spaces, and be confident mingling with people. But he simply couldn’t. At a fundamental level, he lacked the neural circuits. It was like expecting a paralyzed person to participate in a dance competition. Every time he ventured towards his door, thinking he would break that fucking thing down once and for all, he had a change of heart at the last moment. He never ended up crossing the rubicon, except for the occasional walks late at night, when nobody was around. And yet he peered out from his apartment windows, making stories about the people scurrying around so casually, or wistfully marveling at the people strutting around with the instinctive effortless confidence that he lacked.
The only thing going for him was that he was a terrific writer, and was making a decent living as a Freelance Writer. Finding decent work that paid well in a “work from home” setup for a socially anxious reclusive wreck like him was a miracle. It kept the bills paid and the lights running. If not for anything else, he was grateful for that.
MINUS 30 MONTHS (i.e. 2 YEARS 6 MONTHS) | New York City, USA:
Unlike other job candidates eagerly awaiting a response, Harry didn’t feel the need to constantly click “refresh” on his e-mail or pace the room waiting for a phone-call. Instead he was busy lounging around in his home, grooving to some music. He was confident he had the job in the bag, which was fucking insane because he knew he had no business getting that job. There were plenty of other capable qualified candidates out there with rock-solid credentials and stellar, diverse, long portfolios, and yet quite inexplicably, he had managed to beat them at their own game.
As expected, the offer came through. He had just become a Senior Writer at a prestigious top-notch publication. He was now part of an elite circle, soon enjoying the company of sterling men and women. All this felt like the culmination of a year-long journey that had transformed him: a “makeover” to end all makeovers. It also felt like the beginning of a new dynamic chapter in his Life, emerging from the miserable darkness of a long tunnel into the light at the end of it.
MINUS 42 MONTHS (i.e. 3 YEARS 6 MONTHS) | New York City, USA:
Over the past 3 months, a lot of curious things had happened with Harry. He had somehow miraculously gotten over his severe social anxiety, and crippling Agoraphobia. And made a bunch of friends in his apartment building and nearby locality, none of whom knew he previously existed (he of course already knew enough about most of them, just lacking the courage to talk). He had been crossing the threshold of the door with such frequency that the hinge was coming off loose.
He was prancing in and out like a fucking boomerang: going out, meeting people, bringing them to his house (which he had redecorated in tasteful ways to be a bachelor-pad that can double-up as a party-house). It was a transformation like no other. And he was just getting started. He had made up his mind to apply for serious jobs, be ambitious, and “make it” in the Big Apple.
MINUS 45 MONTHS (i.e. 3 YEARS 9 MONTHS) | New York City, USA:
Harry had woken up with that inexplicable headache again, this time accompanied with some type of motion-sickness, and losing fine motor-control at times. For the next two weeks, he was extremely clumsy, dropping things, toppling himself every now and then. He wondered why the hell was his brain suddenly behaving like some inexperienced asshole masquerading as a puppeteer, putting on an embarrassing show, tangling the strings of the puppet into a big fucking knot, making it prance around so awkwardly. He thought of consulting a Doctor, but his agoraphobia got the better of him. Also healthcare in the US was a fucking nightmare, and he knew it would almost surely bankrupt him. So he waited it out.
And then it got better: slowly but surely. Over the course of the 6-8 weeks, his gait and balance improved, and the motion-sickness went away: as mysteriously as he had gotten sick. It seemed like his brain was back in the good hands of an experienced symphony conductor: with a fantastic sense of rhythmic muscular coordination.
The left-over odd thing was a certain sense of hopefulness in his disposition, accompanied by a sense of confidence that he can finally break down that fucking door and go beyond the toxic dysfunctional comfort-zone of his reclusive cave: that he can and must put himself out there, engage with the world and all it has to offer, and be seen and respected by the wider world.
PRESENT DAY | London, UK:
The therapist diagnoses Harry with multiple-personality disorder, or a split-mind. Harry heaves with relief that he has an official diagnosis, but then quickly grows concerned as to what this means for him. He’s about to ask the Doctor some questions, but then he hears whispers in his ear: a voice that’s coming from inside his brain, telling him to not trust the therapist. That everything will be ok. Don’t panic. That there’s nothing to worry about. That the other “him” is as real, and means well. The voice commands him to pretend to listen to the Doctor’s advice, and leave his office to go to a park bench. Upon reaching there, the voice explains to Harry what’s been happening to him over the past 4 years, and why this arrangement is for the best. Harry hears everything, contemplates for a while, finding himself sympathizing with “the other voice” (he gets where it's coming from). He chucks the bottle of medication in the garbage can, and goes for a stroll in the park, “the other voice” keeping him company.
Harry's gut feeling that he wasn't quite himself, that someone else was controlling a big part of him, had been proven right. He knew he had lost his grip over himself for good. But Harry didn't care. He knew it was for the best. He had made his peace.
PLUS 12 MONTHS | London, UK:
Harry finds himself channeling a deep inner voice to express his sense of abiding affection, as Lorraine and him are taking their wedding vows in a small but lovely ceremony, in the presence of a handful of trusted family, friends and work colleagues. Harry was now a Senior Writer at a prestigious publication in London’s top literary magazine, a darling of the social and intellectual circles of that city, and an emerging force in his field. Lorraine had gotten over the grief of losing her husband (a journey several years in the making), and was able to finally move-on with Harry’s help. Lorraine had gotten back to her feet professionally as well, and was living Life with zest again, finding in Harry the replacement to the void left by her husband’s tragic absence. As the ceremony concluded, the guests cheered their departure into the waiting car.
As Lorraine tore herself away after a passionate kiss with Harry in the car, looking outside the car window in contemplative silence, she felt grateful that the Universe had sent her a man like Harry, a man who reminded her so much of her previous husband. She felt confident that she had blessings from her comatose husband’s spirit to forge forwards through Life, with a feeling that he’s right beside her, and she was right. Because she had married “the other voice” too.
Harry looked over appreciatively at Lorraine, being grateful for turning his Life around so drastically, “making it” professionally, and for everything else the past 4 years had brought him. He had made his peace with the situation, because he knew he gained a lot from this “faustian bargain”: he had gotten over his crippling social anxiety, agoraphobia, severe reclusive and depressive tendencies. He was married to a beautiful woman, established himself professionally as an accomplished writer (granted not in his home city of New York, which he would have liked, but in another fabulous global mega-city: London), being surrounded by brilliant, ambitious, driven people, not feeling unwanted or left-out; a naked pariah in a cold world.
“The other voice” of course had gained something in this transaction as well, by finding his way back to the woman he loved, amid familiar surroundings. That night, Harry and “the other voice” consummate their symbiotic union with Lorraine.
Epilogue (Part-1): MINUS 48 MONTHS (i.e. 4 YEARS) | London, UK:
After spending 12 months in a comatose state, his spirit was in purgatory limbo. While he was exhausted by the indefinite indecisive wait for entering Heaven, he was mostly preoccupied with how much he missed his wife, his friends, and all the familiarities of his “alive” Life. A Gate Keeper Angel took pity on him and brokered a deal between him and God, and he persuaded them that he deserved another shot at Life.
His comatose condition couldn’t be changed; that was all part of the “mysterious grand plan”. But good news for him: a spot had opened up for another character-role in another part of the world as part of the same “mysterious grand plan”. And so a deal was made: he would be granted access to a different body, sharing it with the soul that already resides in it: one who has some serious problems in Life. He would be responsible for learning to inhabit that body, while navigating the mind of the soul, helping this other person overcome their problems, getting them to a level of success, fulfillment and self-actualization in Life. Then he could navigate that body back to familiar surroundings: to his old Life, and perhaps win back the love of his Life.
Epilogue (Part-2): PLUS 36 MONTHS (i.e. 3 YEARS) | London, UK:
Harry and Lorraine had been married for about 2 years, and like every marriage, it was a mixed-bag, with its share of ups and downs. Their case was a bit special, with the added presence of “the other voice” . Still, apart from a few minor blemishes, it was mostly a pleasant union. They had made it a habit of going together to the Hospital to pay their respects to the man lying comatose in the bed.
On that day, however, they had rushed to the hospital, for the Doctors had informed them that the comatose condition had fluctuated, but for the worse. He was almost gone; hanging by a thread. They got there in time to witness his last breath, which coincided with Harry suffering a brief epileptic seizure of sorts. “The other voice” had left his body too, and this time, there was not going to be an indefinite wait in purgatory's limbo for the departed soul. After a few moments, Harry snapped out of the seizure to face a worried Lorraine and perplexed Doctors. They ran a battery of tests, but couldn't find anything wrong with him. They chalked it up to a case of simple nerves, bearing witness to the loss of a man he had grown to love.
Upstairs, the decision had been taken to finally call the departed soul because “the work had been done”, as part of the “mysterious grand plan”.
Epilogue (Part-3): PLUS 60 MONTHS (i.e. 5 YEARS) | London, UK:
In the two years that followed, Lorraine had detected some changes to Harry's personality: such as culinary preferences, or taste for Movies or Music. But nothing too much of out the ordinary. Harry had thankfully retained most of what “the other voice” had taught him about the world, and about his place in it. Their marriage had faltered a bit in stretches because they had lost the glue holding them together. And yet, it wasn't enough to tear them completely apart. In the years prior, Harry had grown to love Lorraine for all that she was. It was a bit more difficult for Lorraine to square the changes, but with time, she too accepted. After a period of difficult adjustment, they had a new sense of understanding and acceptance of each other. They had found a new equilibrium, and continued to live a long and happy Life.
You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.
Hello Kind Stranger, I chose to review your story because of the fidelity of review/comments you provide other members in the contests. It is my intent to provide you with comments that are honest, disposable and (sadly) American. I am neither a published or selling writer nor an accredited editor. I just like to help when possible. First the boring stuff ... //... befriending complete strangers?! // suggest dropping the ? or the ! // ... befriending complete strangers?! // suggest dropping the ? or the ! // ... The use of ?! distract...
Thanks for your feedback. I think its fair. I'll let it stand :) My writing style is definitely not for everyone. Mostly, its complex, verbose, esoteric. I'm well aware of my tendencies for long sentences, multiple references, and such. I think you've made a fair observation that I might not get far on this platform with such a style. Personally, I'm on a short break & had some time to kill, so I decided to get some writing done. I didn't think of it in-terms of launching myself as a writer with active reader-base. Moving forwards, I'll h...
I enjoyed reading this. I especially enjoyed your ending. Thanks for a good read.