Part II of the short story, The Appointment
Despair coated the walls of the waiting area like Pepto-Bismol, whitewashing Peter with a familiar, nagging sense of invisibility. Luxuriating in a sensual daydream of life before Minerva's eggshells, his mind wandered over the curves of her being, once radiant with promise and tenderness beyond comprehension, resplendent in the magnificence of us. Deep within his psyche, frozen images of bliss presented themselves, cueing flash-card emotions he'd tucked away for safe-keeping. Once upon a time...Vaguely aware of the light rain that was starting outside, reminding him of the fact that neither of them had brought an umbrella, Peter lingered in the sunshine of yesterday, baptized by its warm, honeyed narrative.
The first time he'd met Minerva was on Mr. Ernie's bus. She was the new kid in his 4th grade class, her family having moved mid-schoolyear to Birmingham, Alabama from a small town out west. Oblivious to the whispering and speculation that was going on behind her, Minerva doodled on her Big Chief tablet in the seat behind Mr. Ernie, the one that was normally reserved for poor retarded Darryl who soiled his britches daily and couldn't keep his hands to himself. When the bus stopped to pick up Darryl, Peter grabbed Minerva's hand, pulling her into his own seat. Clearly flustered, she rearranged herself, elbowing him in the ribs. "Look what you made me do!" she complained, alerting him to the jagged scrawl now transecting the elaborately detailed angel she'd been working on. "Sorry, but you were in Darryl's seat," Peter retorted, secretly marveling over her deftly-placed pencil strokes, obviating the need for an eraser. "He's...special." Defiantly whipping her blonde pigtails in his direction, Minerva looked right through him as she countered, "Well, I'm special, too."
Fighting the return to consciousness, Peter let the snapshots keep coming. Was it the last day of sixth grade that I broke my arm on Minerva's trampoline? He could barely make out the two of them, laughing as they disregarded her parents' rule allowing only one kid to jump at a time. Bouncing asynchronously at first, they sprung higher and higher, accidentally landing together on the rebound, knocking them both into the springs, chipping one of her front teeth and fracturing his right radius. Minerva had been the first person to sign his cast: "Peter the plodding potato plummeted proudly." My God, she doesn't know how beautiful she is. Minerva had always had a peculiar way of holding her mouth and chewing on her lip while she was sketching, an endearing quirk which took on an intoxicating quality the first time they made love, when she'd insisted on drawing him naked and post-coital. "I'm capturing this moment in time," she explained, "so neither of us will ever forget it. I wanna feel this way forever." I wanna feel this way forever, too, honey. It's us against the world.
Shifting in his padded waiting room chair, Peter struggled to remember what us felt like. We had our own little world. Summer camping trips were spent snuggling inside their pup tent, gathering blackberries for breakfast, fishing for trout, and bathing together in the stream. He had a system for helping Minerva wash her hair, warming a pan of water over the propane stove, working the peppermint castile soap they used for washing dishes into a sudsy meringue, then rinsing it out as she held a towel around her bare shoulders. She loved having her hair combed in front of the campfire. We were open books. Everything about them still felt fresh, even their shared experiences growing up together. They literally ate each other up. In the early years of their marriage, they'd lie awake in bed, talking about everything and nothing, unable to bear the thought of being separated by sleep. If only Tyler could have joined us sooner. It amazed Peter to think that the egg which produced Tyler was born with Minerva; he'd been there all along. After two years of trying to conceive naturally, they'd consulted a fertility specialist who couldn't find anything wrong with either of them. "Stop trying so hard! Just let it happen," he'd advised. Minerva wanted to be someone's mom more than anything in the world. Crushed by the lack of control she perceived over her own body, she'd plunged into her first major depression. On the day Minerva turned 37, despite all odds and amidst a circulating neuro-chemical milieu of Prozac and Wellbutrin, their sweet Tyler was born.
"If you can hear me, Minerva, wiggle your toes." Minerva lay motionless on the stretcher, as her anesthesiologist hyperventilated her lungs with oxygen to enhance the impending seizure. Don't worry, Mommy, I won't forget my lunchbox today. "Think I'll set her initial dose at 100 milliCoulombs to increase the amplitude; her seizure intensity was suboptimal last treatment," said her psychiatrist, talking to himself out loud. Minerva, I want to know you again. Satisfied with the degree of hyperventilation she'd achieved, her anesthesiologist confirmed, "We're ready to treat."
Comforted in the abundance of his retrospection, stirred by the unmistakable clicking of lipstick tubes and pressed powder compacts, he opened his eyes, quietly observing the middle-aged man sitting next to him, fussing over his nearly-comatose mother's hair and makeup. Peter couldn't decide whether she resembled an overgrown china doll or a corpse. Ringlets of wavy white hair cascaded perfectly across her shoulders, and her meticulously applied eggplant-hued eye shadow matched her carefully chosen suede shoes, but her doll eyes remained glassy and lifeless. "My, don't you look lovely today, Mrs. Foster! Come on back so we can get you ready for your treatment." As the doll-corpse shuffled slowly through the door, her son gathered her makeup into an aubergine bag, while Peter found himself praying that would never be him.
Part I: The Appointment
Part III of The Appointment: Redemption
ECT: electro-convulsive (shock) therapy. A controlled seizure used to treat severe refractory depression.
milliCoulombs: unit of electrical charge in ECT, amps/sec
Amplitude: width of a waveform; capacity; copiousness or plenty.
Hyperventilation: rapid breathing that lowers CO2 in the blood and decreases seizure threshold. Used in ECT to facilitate and optimize seizures.