Around 2:30 in the afternoon, I woke up, and stumbled to the living room. Afternoon light showed in through the windows, giving everything kind of a red orange tinge. I sent down in the Velvet easy chair, the one my grandfather made his home for the latter part of his life. Dust particles floated in the air and caught the light. I thought about what the old woman told me. The world wasn’t good enough to take a guy like Bonaventura Shiva.
I turned on the radio, and found the news station. Daniel’s strong voice, rippling with emotion, resonated throughout my room.
“We all just loved and respected the hell out of him, you know? I can’t believe he would take his own life like this. It’s the most awful thing. It has to be some kind of mistake. Maybe he was going to look in the furnace and tripped, or he breathed in some fumes and just fell over.”
The newscaster took over the broadcast. “We are talking now with young Mr. Shiva’s best friend and fraternity brother, Daniel Jubal. Daniel, is it going to be hard for you in the sigmas to go on with the school year, after something like this is happened?”
“This casts a pall over everything we’ve done. We are going to dedicate this year to the memory of Bo Shiva.”
“Brave words, Daniel. If you’re just joining us, early this morning, the body of the young man was discovered in the furnace of an abandoned steel factory. His body, badly burned, was identified as New Gilead University sophomore Bonavantura Shiva.”
I turned off the stereo. The notes were already starting to play, I could almost hear them. They’re these doublets, my idee fixe, an earworm that started when my brain was short-circuiting. My psychiatrist tonight and identified it as a critical danger sign.
I started to dig through the clothes and papers on my floor looking for my telephone. I hardly used it. Schweikheimer’s pager number is written in big black letters on a card take to the top of my phone. I punched in the numbers and wait for a call. If my medications were doing anything for me, they weren’t doing anything for me right now.
I counted my breaths. I looked around the ceiling and try to find shapes. The back wall was a square. The easy chair was a bisected oval in vertical orientation, a complete square in horizontal dimension, with rectangles flanking it in the transverse dimension bilaterally. The cord on my telephone and between the receiver and the base was wound counterclockwise 30 times, and then it looped back on itself, create an intersection with the 17th loop. I could still hear the music, but my panic was lessening.
Schweikheimer called back after about 5 minutes. He told me that he was in the studio today, and that I should come down and meet with him there.
I put my coat on and took the stairs down to the lobby. I pulled my bicycle out of the front hall closet where it lived, World it through the door and down the 6 or so stone stairs of Ringston Manor, and took off towards downtown New Gilead.
Sundays in town were always quiet. The students slept off their hangovers and caught up on their class work, while the townies went to church and prepared for their weeks ahead. Today, there were people on the street like it was a work day. People were in the restaurants, cars were parked along the street. Bo’s death was a big deal, a problem for the college, a story for the news. All the students and professors who couldn’t be bothered to talk to him two weeks ago we’re about to account their warmest memories, of how they had spotted this troubled young man and tried to help, but maybe had done too little, too late.
I pulled my bike up to the coffee shop that was the first floor. Schweikheimer owned the second floor studio space about the shop, and I had to use the interior staircase to reach his office. I left it out front – I didn’t think anyone would take the trouble to steal 30 year old bicycle.
I focused my attention on geometry and architectural terms, which Schweichheimer had taught me as a way of staving off a panic attack. I nodded to the girl at the counter, and rounded the corner into the stairwell. The stairwell is defined as the vertical space in a building into a stairs are placed. Stairs are supported by stringers, which are often dadoed, or cut to better fit the stair. A flight of stairs implies that a person is ascending to a higher level. A top step is actually final boundary of the flight.
I knocked on his door. I put my hands in my pockets so he wouldn’t see them shaking.
“Calvin, I’m so glad you’ve come. That’s awful news about your friend, I can’t believe this happened.” He hugged me, and my body relaxed. He smelled like a dad, with sweat faintly stale and spicy. “Listen, I really hate to do this to you but one of your classmates is here, she was sitting for a painting I was doing. How would you feel about talking in front of her?”
I took a breath in quickly. Schweikheimer was an unconventional psychiatrist. He been a classmate of my fathers when they both attended New Gilead University all those years ago. My father established our doctor-patient relationship largely based on Schweichheimer’s implied discretion. To let one of my peers know that I was a patient of his was a violation.
He watched my face. “Calvin, if there’s anything you’re not comfortable with, you can tell me.”
“I’m in really bad shape right now, Doc.”
“I’m going to try and help you through an awful time. Bear with me.” I followed him as we entered the bare central area of his studio. Schweikheimer was a well regarded portraitist, practicing a deconstructive technique that I found profoundly unsettling. His most famous painting was a three portrait study of a man with a supercilious expression. In each portrait was a different angle on the subject, his face was visible, but blocking his normal facial features were the cavities of his mouth, his nasal passages, the orbit of the eye. The brain of the viewer competed with the eye, one recognizing the face, the one seeing the shapes. Whenever I looked at it, I was forced to ask the question, what is a man? Form or function, and where is the soul? If the face is only a scaffold to cover our flesh, an anchoring system to host our sensory apparatus, what was I? Where was I, in my head, in my heart, in my brain?
We entered the room and Sage was sitting there on a three-legged stool. Her face was red from crying, and she seemed startled to see me. Her hair was newly chopped, bleach blonde. She was wearing a sleeveless men’s undershirt without a bra underneath. I looked away as soon as I realized this. I was embarrassed. I felt like I had interrupted a very private time.
“What do you want, Calvin?”
I turned around. Schweikheimer had this commanding voice, and he used it to control the therapy session however he wanted.
“I’m melting down, Doc. I’m hallucinating, and this news about Bonnie it’s just ripping me up, and I don’t know how to deal with it.”
Sage started sobbing, and I picked up a box of tissues nearby and handed it to her. She and Bonnie had been best friends their entire lives. He had romantic feelings for her, she didn’t for him. Still, she had followed him to this college, and they were inseparable before he joined the fraternity.
“Calvin, I want you to sit down in this chair.” He motioned to a black leather lounge chair, curved like a sine wave, twin to the chair he used for talk therapy in his office. It faced Sage.
“I want you to sit down, and I want you to tell me everything about you and your friend, what you know, what he means to you. When you said everything that you need to, Sage is going to talk. And I’m going to sit behind you, and paint. When I’ve listened to everything that you both have to say, then I’ll tell you what I think.”
“This is an awful time for all of us. But if you want to be comforted, you go to your mother, are you go to family, or you go to friends. If you go to a physician, it means you have a problem that you want to solve. I’m here to give you the tools as best that I can to solve your problem. I’m not here to comfort you. There any number of people in your life who want you only to act happy, keep your mouth shut, and play the role that they expect for you in their story. I’m going to listen to you, and you’re going to tell me the story of your life, and how what happened to this young man has led you to the brink of collapse. Let’s begin.”