Half past three. A last check-up on Jerry, who is in isolation for the umpteenth time, and then a long weekend begins. All right then.
-"What day is it?"
-"Are you lost in time, Jerry?" I ask. He lies bored on his bed, and casually turns around when I enter.
-"Maybe. Unstuck me, doc!" he smiles broadly. "A week seems like a month here."
-"I believe you, Jerry." I sincerely agree.
-"Where has the time gone?" he yawns.
-"Don't you think that's a stupid question?" I ask in return.
-"You're right doc, it's an absolutely absurd question." he sighs and sits up straight. "I yearn for yesterday and dread tomorrow."
I take a seat on a stool that a guard has prepared for me.
-"I would like to travel." Jerry says, rubbing his eyes.
-"And where would you go?" I ask.
He rolls his eyes as if leafing through a travel catalog above his head: "I'm still trying to decide: what are my options? Hazy yesterday visits, or listen to the call of the future?"
I sigh because Jerry has a life sentence to endure.
-"I still don't know what day it is." he coughs. " All I ever wanted to find was someone to love." he muses, "But they never stayed long."
I nod: "To find someone to love is to accept the risk that you have found someone you might lose."
-"This eternal loneliness is torture." he says sadly.
-"It is recognized as such." I agree.
"Absolute solitude is beyond the strength of a man. It destroys the criminal without mercy. On good days I feel like I'm drowning in a little pool of nothing. Do you know that feeling doc?" He looks at me intently.
-"It's crazy." he smiles.
-"What is?" I ask.
-"Sometimes this lack of feeling feels very raw." he answers.
Jerry knows all too well that I won't come by for a few days, and he's trying to prolong this conversation as long as possible. I catch myself drifting into the horrendous evening traffic that I will be caught in if I don´t get out of there on time to beat it.
-"I wish I didn't have a brain." Jerry continues, "I don't like my own mind. When I'm not distracted by my imagination, the passage of time feels like I'm waiting to die."
In my head, I hear my grandma telling me, "If you don't know what to say, shut up."
-"What are you going to do on your long weekend?" He suddenly surprises me with his cheerful tone.
-"Oh," I laugh a little shyly, "Not much. Clean up a bit and think about how I can lift your spirits again."
He blows a raspberry: "You're not going to waste your days off thinking about me."
I smile and close the notebook in my lap.
-"Have you ever tried psilocybin doc?" he asks.
-"Excuse me?" I ask surprised, "Do you mean mushrooms?"
-"Oh, don't be so prudish doc. I won't tell anyone else." he says with a conspiratorial undertone. "Today they are part of integrative psychiatry."
"Have you ever tried it?" I return his question.
He nods eagerly: "I believe that you should try everything once in your life."
-"You were a rebellious hippie?" I ask, standing up. "How was it?"
-"You have an experience in which you feel that there is something you are a part of. That there is something greater than yourself, that there is a dizzying oneness to which you belong. That love is possible, and that everything is imbued with a deep meaning." he says seriously with a deep voice.
-"That all sounds very nice Jerry." I say as I walk to the door.
Jerry raises his head and continues: "It provides an opportunity for constructive personal disclosure."
I do my best to suppress a laugh: "And insight into the universe." I fill in.
Jerry gets up from his bed and continues, somewhat theatrically: " Doesn't it sound nice to be able to travel to another dimension from the comfort of your own couch."
I press the bell to call the guard.
-"Oh yes," I say, "but that seems like an experience to enjoy under the open sky in a forest. I live in a small apartment."
Jerry snaps his fingers and says, "Right, doc. Very right. I know from experience how weird things can get in familiar surroundings. I once saw an aunt's portrait of mine melt over a pile of dirty laundry." He chuckles at the memory.
-"Yes, Jerry, one should always travel safely." I say as the guard opens the door for me. Jerry puts his hands in the pockets of his prison overalls.
-"Hey doc," he sighs quickly before I walk out the door, "who would you like to meet on your trip?"
I smile and wave to him. See you in a couple of days Jerry!
He sits back on his bed, and I hurry to my car.
The ride home was endless. When I finally got home, I saw everything green from the constant staring into red taillights. My thoughts drifted back to what Jerry asked me: “Who would you like to meet on your trip?” I chuckled; I didn´t realize I would have a choice.
I tossed my coat and bag on the coat rack, took a bottle of sparkling water from the fridge, kicked off my shoes, and flopped onto the couch. I let my thoughts run free, and they took me back to long ago. Like walking through a door. I always had a fascination with doors. Maybe that's why I love books so much because in a way they are doors to another world. (No needed mushrooms.)
I allowed myself to step through that door in my head. Back to a woman; an aunt of mine. A sincerely fashionable widow and tossed away mistress of a devastatingly witty man. There were also rumors that she was a lesbian.
From time to time my grandmother would visit her. In secret of course. Mostly on rainy afternoons when not too many people would venture out and there was no great hazard of being seen. My grandma would bring me along, after solemnly swearing me to secrecy, promising me a bag of candy afterward in return for my silence. I was thrilled by the intrigue.
I was fascinated by this aunt as well; she was a lively unconventional woman. She had an elegance about her, and she "knew" things.
She was not like the other women in the village. Even my grandmother was a plain woman. My aunt's nails were always manicured to perfection and painted in flashy red. My grandmother had ridged nails, she cut with kitchen scissors, and never wore makeup. (Only whores paint their faces was the credo in the village - at that time.)
A petrifying network of female relatives would mock her, on the (many) occasions they gossiped about her, bringing up every taboo in the book: adultery, divorce, etc...
Tivvy was her name, and I could never take my eyes off a bracelet she wore, decorated with exquisite charms, each telling a story.
I had no idea what Tivvy thought about in the solitude of her house, filled with ornate boxes, elegant figurines, and a profusion of baroque angels scattered over the walls.
I have no idea if Tivvy was happy or not, whether she thought of her girlhood sometimes if she had any regrets, or what her dark secrets were because I never had the chance to ask her.
While my grandmother would talk to her in a semi-whispering tone, I was left to wander around Aunt Tivvy's big house. That was a real treat; one I had to keep secret for many years.
Everything was beautiful in that house. Everything was magic to me. My favorite room was the attic; a storage room for the permutations of Tivvy's consciousness in the way imagination looks to cast away tedium and emptiness. And there were books!
I found a copy of Alice in Wonderland. My mother had declared it a nonsense story, and to keep the peace, I made the same statement about the book; it was trash! My mother had a long list of books I was supposed to demonize. She had the weirdest ideas about freedom of mind.
I still love Alice: my favorite passage: a puff of purple in a crescent moon, with teeth in the middle (in the Disney movie).
The Cheshire cat makes a door appear in a tree trunk after she had been crying because nothing made sense. I could relate to that feeling. (And I still can.)
Of course, Alice steps through the door and she meets the tyrant queen. I should have seen this as a cautionary tale: a girl looks for sense, but the deeper she pushes, the closer she gets to the seat of senseless violence in the world.
I´m sure Tivvy never realized it, but she thought me great lessons, by letting me wander freely in her house, built like a museum, filled with artifacts and books that would one day witness her past relevance, where she probably woke up to the bitter sharpness of society's cruelty in the tradition of women's melodrama.
The same society who would require the dissolution of myself like an ecstasy of sustained evaporating brought to an art form. After my calves widened from girlish into matronly, and varicose veins after becoming a mom. The same society which demanded of me, that I stay home with the children as was the way, (and in many cases still is) so that after I died, of a hopefully astonishing age, they could say at my funeral what a saint and angel I was.
All I could hear in the real world were empty monologues, which serve to erase, by anointing the woman at home, who only exists in service to others, but not to herself.
Yes, Aunt Tivvy: your house and your books taught me a lot.
I loved to play with the potions in candy-colored bottles with matching flowers as stoppers, in her bedroom, on what seemed to be a magical dresser. I held hope for finding a book about magic somewhere in the house, which might have a formula for making disappear all the constrictions and change my world into a glittering cloud where everybody would be happy. I don't know why Aunt Tivvy had so many bottles of potions, lotions, and perfumes. Maybe they were gifts, lovers brought her back from exotic places overseas.
I never found a book on magic, but I began to dream that I was a powerful witch, who lived in a forest I besieged with my magic - void of rats of course. (Some witches simply don't like rats).
I never dream that dream anymore. Now, in my dreams, I am naked and falling or the brakes of my car don’t work- The dream became a nightmare. I guess the rats came in after all and infested the little witches' house.
There was something in Tivvy's house: a presence, not like - God or Satan, but something potent. When we had to leave Tivvy's house a sadness would befall me, as if that house had become my second nervous system.
My grandmother would lecture me on the way home about the essence of secrecy, and to seal our deal I would get a small bag of candy. (Not to be eaten all at once of course.)
I thought a lot about Tivvy, though it was forbidden to speak about her or even mention her name. She gave me the greatest gift one can offer or receive: the knowledge that books are doors to other worlds and beyond. Way beyond.
No mushrooms needed!