Copyright © 2018 by Richard
All rights reserved
THE QUICK RAP OF KNUCKLES on sheet metal woke me from my torpor,
followed by the solid clunk of the electronic bolt. The heavy
steel door was shouldered open by a man I did not know.
morning,” he smiled, “I’m Dr. Arnold.”
I tried to
pronounce his name, but my tongue was thick and gummy.
beckoned through the doorway, and an orderly of some sort, a
slender dark-skinned, white-haired fellow in a weathered blue
jumpsuit, followed him stiffly inside, rolling a computer table
over the threshold and helping the doctor position it between
the electrical wall outlet and the only chair in the small room.
As he assisted the doctor, the trustee scrupulously avoided
glancing my way. When he finished, the workman left, pulling
the heavy door closed behind him.
I took a sip
of tepid water from the bent straw in the Styrofoam cup on my
table and inspected this Dr. Arnold as he took his time punching
keys and waiting for the computer screen to respond. He looked
to be in his late thirties or early forties. Stocky, but fit.
His neatly trimmed cinnamon-brown beard contrasted starkly with
the clinical whiteness of his starched coat. He looked too perfect
to be a real doctor, more like a movie actor playing the part.
When he was satisfied, he gazed up to engage me. “You
know why I’m here?”
him for a moment, then nodded.
he said. “Now . . . I understand that you have
waived your right against self-incrimination . . .
is that right?”
I said nothing.
right to remain silent? Do you understand? Are you willing to
talk to me?”
Again I nodded.
Let’s get started then.” He stood, crossed behind
my bed, and did something to the controls monitoring my vital
signs. The blood pressure cuff began squeezing my arm. Returning
to his chair, he crossed one leg over the other, a picture of
calm composure. “ Let’s just talk about you.”
Cleared my throat. “Just . . . me?” I
. . . what about . . . ?”
He waved a
hand. “We’ll get to Miss Costa a little later. Are
you okay with that?”
This was his game. I nodded.
then,” he smiled. “What is your name?”
I told him.
your date of birth?”
I told him.
I told him.
you know what day of the week it is?”
I told him.
I told him.
at the readout of my vitals and entered something into his computer.
“Do you know who the President of the United States is?”
I told him.
you ever have thoughts of suicide?”
He glanced again at my vitals. Entered a couple of keystrokes.
“Now . . . do you know where you are?”
the County Mental Health facility.”
why are you here?”
“On a Section 5150 involuntary hold, I presume. And you’re
going to evaluate whether I appear to be a danger to myself
Nodded. Glanced again at my vitals. Entered a few notes into
his computer. Then he leaned back, stroked his beard professionally,
and favored me with his most radiant and sympathetic continence.
“Alright . . . now . . . tell me what
. . . where would you like me to begin?”
start just before the Ranger found you.”
On my elbows I dragged my buttocks up the quilted hospital mattress
to raise my head higher onto the pillow. The thin sheet followed
me, and so did the IV tube, EKG leads, and blood pressure cuff,
like the halter ropes of friendly ponies. “Well . . .
I was in the forest,” I began, watching for his reaction.
I didn’t like the way he kept tracking my vitals and comparing
my words with whatever he had on his computer screen. By the
continuous squeezing and deflation of the blood pressure cuff,
I knew exactly what he was doing. He was using my vitals as
a poor-boy’s lie detector. So I took a deep breath. Leaned
back. Squeezed my eyes shut. Let the memories materialize. “A
steady . . . unending . . . drizzle. My
. . . clothes . . . heavy. Rough. Chafing.
Irritating. Fingers numb . . . white with cold. Dampness
seeping into my bones. Wisps of fog like . . . like
spun sugar clinging to the shadowy conifers . . .
far up the slope.”
was National Forest?” he interrupted.
I opened my
knew which one, of course. “Do you want me to tell you
my story . . . or not?” I grumbled.
Please go on.”
I closed my
eyes again, but it took a while before I drifted back to where
I had been. “An . . . impenetrable . . .
translucent . . . gray sky pressing down . . .
like the lid of a pressure cooker. So beautiful. Blue and red
marque lights chasing themselves around the periphery of my
vision.” I opened my eyes to see how he would react to
the psychedelics. No response. “I remember all this,”
He thought for a moment, mulling the course of his interrogation,
then asked, “Were you on you feet?”
my feet? Standing, you mean? No. I was . . . I was
sitting. Or lying down. Slouching. In the wet duff. Leaning
against a . . . a fallen log, I guess. Mossy. Spongy.
Side by side. The two of us.”
just talk about you, for now. I need to establish a baseline.
were together. I can’t really separate things. In my mind.”
the doctor uncrossed his leg and recrossed the other one over
his knee. “How did all this make you feel?”
. . . things were not yet . . . finished.”
I shrugged. “That’s what I felt. Things were not
. . . finished. I believed they would be. Before
long. Soon, actually. But . . . that’s how I
with respect to Miss Costa, you mean?”
Not at all. I thought we weren’t supposed to talk about
her.” I inhaled a slow breath. Let it out. “No . . .
finished in a more . . . a more metaphysical sense.”
I glanced at him. “You had to be there to understand.”
were afraid you might die?”
no. No. Our survival was never in doubt.”
He typed a
few strokes into the computer, then planted both oxfords on
the floor and leaned closer. “Okay. Tell me what else
you were feeling at that moment. Just you.”
I was feeling,” I repeated, as if perplexed by the challenge.
But I was acting. I knew what he was after. He had read the
reports. So I drew a deep breath, sighed, and told him. Like
I had told the Ranger and the detective before him. “There
was a . . . a place. I could feel it.
Down a long . . . channel it lay. Or perhaps
you might call it a corridor. Or a tube. In the back of my mind.
But it wasn’t hard and defined like a tube or a corridor.
It was . . . soft, with moist, breathing walls that
were . . . the vibrations of life. It felt like a
. . . a groan . . . or perhaps a
hum of some sort. Deep in my head. A vibration in my
brain . . . my brain stem, I guess . . .
somewhere between a growl and a purr.”
patiently for more, then filled the empty silence. “Where
did this corridor lead?”
know. Didn’t know. But . . . I felt its
tug . . . like a . . . like a whirlpool
of infinite depth . . . I felt my mind . . .
and my heart . . . orbiting . . .
spiraling together . . . yearning to be merged . . .
with a . . . a certainty and a . . .
a fullness.” I searched for words that probably
did not exist. “It felt like . . . like I was
standing at a threshold. An antechamber . . . of desire
. . . a desire to let go . . . once and
for all. To let go. To know infinite certainty for the
first time . . . to go where I was . . .
felt that you were being summoned by someone?”
I said that wrong. ‘Summoned’ . . . that’s
not the right word. There was no one else there.”
we weren’t supposed to talk about her.”
He was typing
something, even though this had all been recorded and transcribed
before. Was no doubt being recorded again. He was entering his
own notes. His own interpretations. Trying to catch rainwater
in a sieve, I thought. Oh, but I had been there.
On that threshold of . . . completeness. How
else would I know this ineffable reality, behind and beneath
do you still feel that . . . that corridor in
do you mean?”
it. That’s all.”
you’ve just told me is a rather unusual view of
reality, wouldn’t you agree? You are aware of that,
are you not?”
reminding him of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle if
he wanted unusual. Or downright weird. Or the vast empty spaces
between each atom in the infinite universe. But I thought better
of it. What would be the point? The concept of consensus reality
was a slippery thing. So I held my tongue. Nodded.
He finished his notes, then shifted his chair to face me more
squarely. “Now. You told the Ranger that a Miss Maria
Costa was with you, is that correct?”
Doña was with me.”
Doña. You know, like in the Spanish. Dōn-ya.
La Doña Maria.” I couldn’t help smiling.
Smiling with her. Smiling at him. We were all
a part of this same cosmic joke.
what you called . . . Miss Costa? Doña?”
did you call her that?”
disoriented me. Made me tired. I didn’t want to play this
ridiculous game any longer. No doubt I showed my annoyance.
to understand. Waved a hand.
joke,” I said. “An old Kingston Trio song thing.
Long time ago.”
Fine. Let’s go on. How long had you known her? Doña.”
I shrugged. “Not very long really. I met her . . .
on a hiking path . . . somewhere . . . we
found ourselves walking together . . . and talking
to each other . . . I can’t remember quite . . .
are still a little . . . muddled,” I said.
“You know, in my head.”
does she live?”
I took a deep
breath. “I’m not sure I ever . . . knew.”
does she work?”
I shook my
telephone number? Email address?”
shaking my head.
did you get in touch with her?”
about it. Shrugged. “I guess she got in touch with me.”
. . .she’d . . . find me.”
me for a while, then entered something on his keyboard. “Alright.”
He shifted his posture. Studied his monitor before looking up.
“Now. Had the two of you been drinking?”
about it. “No.”
of us.” I took another slow sip through the straw.
me for a moment, checked my vitals again, then entered a few
keystrokes. “You told the Ranger you had taken a psychotropic
used that word.”
scrolled through his computer. “The Ranger described it
as mescaline. Did you take mescaline?”
of you took mescaline?”
Both of us.”
. . . that’s hard to say . . . time
had become so . . . so elastic.” I was
aware of a ringing in my ears. My fingers were cold. Trembling.
I drew a deep breath, trying to steady myself. “Just before
. . . maybe an hour or two before . . .
before we . . . before she . . .”
I could no longer find my voice. I squeezed my eyes shut. Doña
was there. Standing before me. Tall and slender. Wet, reddish-blonde
hair draping her shoulders and down her back. Little rivulets
of rainwater running from her pale cheeks, over the freckles
flecking the bridge of her turned-up nose. She was smiling at
me. Smiling that hint of cosmic irony I so cherished. Oh, I
could almost hear the softness of her voice. Intimate and articulate
and throaty. But I couldn’t make out any words. She was
standing before me, but I knew I could not take her in my arms.
you tell me about it?” Doctor Arnold asked in a softer,
I just raised
a hand. Tears welled in my eyes.
you like to stop now?” he asked. “Take a short break?”
I managed to draw in a few deep breathes. Another sip of water.
Blew my nose into a tissue. Finally I looked up at him. “Peyote
buttons,” I said. “Cut them into slices. Buried
the chunks in spoonfuls of cottage cheese. Swallowed them whole.
Never tasted it. Never got sick.”
much peyote did you consume?”
I shook my
head. “Too much, probably.”
raised his eyebrows. Nodded. Entered it on the keyboard. “What
effect did the peyote have on you?”
I thought about it. Shrugged. How could I put such a thing
into words? “I trust you have never taken peyote yourself,
I have not.”
how about . . . LSD? Or psilocybin? Ever tried
them? Ayahuasca? Mushrooms? Surely you’ve smoked pot.
As a student at medical school, maybe?”
I . . . this is not about me. I want to talk
about you. Let’s get back to the experience you
were telling me about. Alright?”
I sensed some
subtle dynamic had shifted between us. “Alright. What
do you want to know?”
did this . . . drug . . . make you
my hips. The IV stand rattled. The cables bounced. I imagined
the neighing of the friendly ponies attached to the ropes. At
last I sighed. “Well . . . I already told you.
I guess you weren’t listening.”
seemed perplexed. He scrolled back through his computer. “I
remember something about . . . ‘marque lights’
. . . was that it? Is that what you are referring
I shook my
head. How do you describe the color of red to the color blind?
“This isn’t going to work,” I told him.
“I can’t put it into words. And if I somehow managed
to, you wouldn’t understand the words I spoke.”
I reached over my head and fluffed my pillow. The pony ropes
shook and I felt a sharp pain where the IV inserted into the
crook of my arm.
me intently. Calculating.
drew a deep breath and spoke slowly, as if to a child, “Why
don’t you just go ahead . . . and get to the
real questions . . . you came here to ask me?”
me for a while longer, then abruptly stood, smoothed his trousers,
and stepped past my bed to adjust the controls monitoring my
vitals. The blood pressure cuff began tightening as he repositioned
himself directly in front of me. Still on his feet. His eyes
were no longer smiling. Oh-oh, I thought. Bad cop.
For a long moment his gaze bore into mine while the cuff
crushed my arm. Finally he asked, “What have you done
with Miss Maria Costa?”
I felt my
heart leap. I drew a deep breath. Held it. Let it out slowly
as the cuff began to deflate. “Doña?”
dammit, Doña. Also known as Miss Maria Costa. What have
you done with her?”
I took another
you know where Doña is?”
haven’t found her?”
they haven’t found her yet.”
they still looking?” I asked.
of this morning, yes. A search and rescue crew and a chopper
were still looking.”
I made a show of drawing another contemplative breath. “I
wonder what happened
what I just asked you. Do you know where she is?”
No. I do not know where Doña is now.”
happened to her?” he snapped.
was with you. And then she was gone?”
I nodded slowly.
“That about sums it up.”
you fall asleep?”
“I . . . might have . . . I don’t
Ranger said you were alone when he found you.” He glared
at me in silence. “Where did she go?”
“I . . .
Ranger said there were clear footprints in the spongy soil.
Both of yours. Arriving. But none leaving. Where did she go?”
softening his approach. “Help me out here. Where do you
think she might have gone?”
THEY COULDN’T HOLD ME FOREVER, of course. Not without
filing charges, they couldn’t. And they didn’t have
any proof a crime had been committed. Not really. The only evidence
they had that Doña had even been with me in that National
Forest was my own weird testimony, viewed through the twisted
lens of peyote buttons. And perhaps some small boot prints that
the Ranger said he might have seen before they were erased
forever by a pouring rain. The district attorney was up for
reelection. He was not about to go public and file against me
based solely on my own admittedly bizarre ipse dixit.
Not without more proof that a crime had been committed in the
And they couldn’t
continue to hold me under Section 5150 for longer than seventy-two
hours without finding that I was a danger to myself or others.
And the good Doctor Arnold would never put his lily-white signature
on such a judicial application. After all, the statute specifically
says he might be found liable in a civil action.
So they let
me go. Released me from their involuntary medical hold. I became
what they call a “person of interest.” A suspect.
The boyfriend always is. And they couldn’t continue to
hold me without filing charges. What could they charge me with?
So I am not
in custody. But I am no longer a free man either. I can't stop
poring over everything in my mind. Obsessing about it, really.
Doubting. In the quiet of my livingroom, with the clock ticking
on the wall. On my walks to the post office or along the river.
And when others speak to me, I barely hear them. I barely see
them. I barely know where I am.
I see her
sometimes. Doña. But not as vividly as once I did. She
has become . . . vague. Insubstantial. An apparition.
A ghost. In truth, I can't help but wonder whether she was ever
real. How can anyone really know? And sometimes I think my sweet
Doña might have gone down that corridor . . .
the one I was telling Doctor Arnold about. Into the strangeness
of her own mind. I would like to follow, but I no longer know