I STOOD IN the front hall and stared at the closet door under the stairs. How many years had it been? Hesitantly, I turned the key to unlock this particularly distressing part of my past and opened it. I reached around a jumble of old coats and boxes. I pulled the light cord.
With a flash that dazzled me, the old bulb burned out. The shock sent my body reeling. My head hit the hallway wall and sudden pain radiated into my eyes. I gasped, got control and leaned against it, more than a little shook.
I’m not meant to do this, am I?
But I had to. My psychiatrist, Dr. Walker, insisted I see the contents of the closet today. Why today? Her words resounded in my brain.
“Wayne, you have to do this today.”
I didn’t want to. She gave me all this gobbledygook about time lines and psychological flash points and stuff like that and I don’t think I understood her, but I promised to follow her advice.
“Will you come in with me?” I pleaded.
“No, Wayne, only you,” she’d said.
As I stood with my back against the wall, it hit me like the key click sound in the lock I’d just turned! My God, this is the closet I locked twenty years ago today.
The rage came back, swelling like a putrescent boil. Twenty years ago today I went completely mad, crazy mad, killing mad! She said experiencing my rage would be the first step.
More than ever I didn’t want to look into this closet, but now I felt inexorably drawn to it. I willed my body to stop, but it wouldn’t. People joke about how split personality should be fun; you always have someone to talk to, but it isn’t so! From within, separate Wayne’s rose and raged inside my skull. Charlie, the good guy jumped into the breach.
“You must do this, and now!”
“You know what she said!”
“I can’t. It’s too hard!”
“Don’t be a sap! Look, you want to be sane again? You want to live in the world of normal people? You used to have courage. Find some!”
Charlie’s voice dimmed, shoved around and pulled down and now George emerged and his hatred beat on me in waves.
“Don’t do it! Don’t do it! I’ll make you regret it!”
Charlie pushed back wildly. He crowded George to one side. The two people that shattered away from Wayne Bittler on Thursday, September 16, 1996 when I murdered my faithless wife now wrestled in my head. The crack in my psyche that ripped reality away and propelled me into the horrible nether-land of madness now threw stacked memories and broken dreams from my past life at the fragile shell of my awareness.
“Get out, get out,” I cried. The voices slowly dimmed but would not leave.
It felt like acid stomach. You know what’s wrong and you know drugs keep it down, but you know it’ll always be back.
I shifted my feet none too steadily and leaned harder against the wall. It had substance. I badly needed substance. How long I stood looking into that dark rectangle I don’t know, but it didn’t matter. If I didn’t go forward, if I didn’t pull out the records and the memorabilia I couldn’t go outside to the waiting van. If I did and Dr. Walker couldn’t see a change in me - and she would - I might as well dig one and zip it up after me, because I knew I’d never see the outside of the Asylum again.
She’d warned me and I had listened, really I had. I had to do it and could I do it and I didn’t know if I could and why did I have to make this decision? I’d made no decisions of my own for twenty years. Why now? Inside my head my voices welled again.
“Let it go. Close it. Lock it up again. You’ll be all right. Wayne, listen to me!” George spoke in the strident voice he’d used on me all these years, the voice I’d listened to, to my great damage.
Charlie fought back. “No, Wayne. He’s not your friend. You have a chance. Go for it!”
What should I do? Indecisively I stood before my future. Then with a little snap, like the click of a latch from a secret door, I heard a third voice. It horrified me. Another one, a new one? Oh God! Slowly my body slid down the wall and I sat on the floor, shivering.
“There is a way,” the voice said.
“Who are you?”
“I am the guy you used to be before these clowns came along and took over. I am the guy who grew up in a small house at the end of a nice street in a nice neighborhood, lived with order and grew up loved and cared for. Your bad friend there pushed me down and the other one, the goody-two shoes didn’t help, but Dr. Walker assisted me to resurface. If you want this thing, listen to me.”
“How come I never heard of you?”
“Dr. Walker found me during one of your hypno sessions and we agreed not to let you know until the right time. It’s now.”
“So, who are you?”
“I’m you, the real you, the essence of you that has been locked up mute. I am the power you have lost. C’mon Wayne, it’s time to get to work.”
The apparition of me, only an impotent shell, then. No power, no will, just a sounding board. I knew what I had to do. I stopped trying to resist and let the new guy in. Then I waited.
Charlie and George clamored for a hearing, but the new one shouted them down. “Nuts, guys, leave that apparition you’ve been beating up on alone. It’s me you’re messing with. Your time is past. Now shut up and listen.”
Silence. Then the new voice soothed and coddled and reasoned with the others. It said, “I am Wayne, the composite of all you have been. I am all of you in the best and most important sense and now I’m going to prove it.”
He told me to go to the cellar and find a new bulb. I flooded the little closet with brightness. The light shined on stacks of letters and documents and other detritus of a shattered life and on the floor to one side, my eyes went to a shoe box.
“Pick it up.”
I reached for it. Like watching a play from a balcony seat in a theater, I watched my hands do what he wanted. I felt far away and fragile.
Strong, assertive new Wayne gentled me, treating me like the shell of an egg that could break. I felt the power of this third personality soothe me time and time again and he took away my fright.
“Open the box.”
The old, brittle tape broke and the cover yielded easily. I took it off gently, almost reverently. I pawed through the box, removing my high school diploma, the sharpshooter’s medal I’d won in Basic training, assorted pictures of childhood, and one photograph of my dead wife and me on our wedding day, our happiest time, a beautiful woman but oh, so shallow. At the bottom of the box I saw her letter.
I grasped the letter, the artifact that cost me twenty years of my life. Why did I keep it? I read every word while a killing rage engulfed me. Then, at its end, I felt a strange coolness, and the fires of my wrath banked and dampened and went out, and I could feel again, really feel. And with feeling the pain went away. My keeper’s drugs seemed so artificial now.
Then my early self said, “It’s over Wayne. Whether she deserved the price she paid or not, you have paid a heavier one. Let’s get back together again, okay?”
“Yes, I see now. I’m ready.” And I did see clearly for the first time.
Charlie and George bubbled up and merged with new Wayne and me. And then all of me stood whole and strong and complete and I cried like a baby for the first time in twenty years.
How wonderful to be whole!
I left the house for the last time without looking back. I headed for the van. Dr. Walker looked at me and she saw, and she smiled.