Reality

In the early 1970’s I was cobbling together an education while working any available job. My options were slender, I had some limited GI Bill money, and whatever I could earn to pay rent, and tuition. There was no scholarship money or family assistance. For two and a half years, I paid tuition semester by semester taking short term loans and paying them off by the end of the term. This story takes place in that period.

As a result of my financial wants, I worked a wide variety of day jobs so I could finish my first two years of college at night. I worked as a surgical technician for several years, but being on night call began to conflict with evening classes. Instead, I fell into the habit of working for various temp agencies as an aide and orderly. One has affected my views on reality for years.
I have no trouble differentiating fact from delusion. But one gentleman I worked with did. Working with him, I came to realize that we may not always share a standardized view of reality.
First, I need you to understand that this was the early 1970’s. I don’t think the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s per se existed yet, and standards of care or treatment we have today did not exist.

The Doc was a retired surgeon, and the family was confident I’d be perfect for him. With my background in the operating room, I’d understand his perspective on life. The Doc was mid-seventies when I met him, and sometimes, he was still actively practicing medicine; in his mind. It would be six-thirty in the morning, and Doc would be scrubbing for his case at seven. He’d think I was his resident or technician and be asking me for the patient’s X-rays or lab work. The problem was the Doc hadn’t been very kind to those who worked for him. So, as his resident, or tech, I frequently received a rash of his sarcasm, disdain, and general abuse.
The Doc also had free and unfettered access to the entire house and liqueur cabinet. Drinking didn’t help.
I really needed the money. At the time, my cat and I were living in a loft behind the old Schraft’s building in Charlestown. Trust me, this was not a quality environment. So, if the Doc wanted to scream at me a bit, it was OK if I could study while he was doing it. This went on for a couple of months before his daughters suggested that I engage the Doc a bit more. Their suggestion was that rather than let him rant that I could use my knowledge of the Operating Room to conduct guided hallucinations for him. The real motivation was that Doc was living with them, and when they came home, he was still full of vim and vigor while all they wanted to do was watch television after a long day. The first suggestion was that I move in to provide 24-hour care, but I pointed out that I was interested in finishing a degree, not becoming a 24-hour daycare provider. So the guided hallucination idea came about.
The daughters suggested that the Doc really loved his old neighborhood in Dorchester, the church he attended as a boy, his family, and his surgical practice. Concentrate on getting him to tell you all about those. I nixed the idea of the surgical practice; I’d already seen how he treated his residents and techs. So it was the old neighborhood.

Living in Boston, I had a general knowledge of the area where he had grown up, but not what it had been like when he was a youth. So, I engaged him in telling me stories of what his childhood had been like. Over a few months, he covered the years of being an altar boy up to his first girlfriend and him in the rectory. He had filled me in so thoroughly that I knew just when to cue a positive memory. His daughters remained unsatisfied, though, because his vivid recall continued into the evening hours. I was growing uncomfortable with the situation; I felt that one hell of an ignorant young fool, me, was sinking into deep waters better trod by a therapist.
Let me add here that for generations, the males of my family had been under the influence of a French or Catalan Christian mystic who believed in communication beyond the veil. As I’ve said, I have not had trouble separating fact from fancy. But in line with my father and uncle’s experiences, I’ve seen one or two things that have given me pause and caused me to look twice or three times. The Doc was to assist me in participating in my first really transgressive experience.

That afternoon the Doc had been in the liquor cabinet, we’d had a bad morning in the operating room, and I had pulled an all-nighter studying for a final exam. In Psychic terms, the boundaries were down. The Doc and I walked over to the front door. He stood in the doorway with me just to one side and behind him. For about the thousandth time, he began describing the setting of the street in front of his old church. I just watched bleary-eyed as the image took on clarity, began to firm up. I watched with horror as the Doc told me he was going home and started to exit the doorway towards the church that we both could now see in detail. I began to howl for him to stop, I pulled him back, and I willed my eyes closed more out of fear that he’d take me with him than that he’d actually cross over himself. Somehow I snapped him out of it, but it was worse because he began a sad moan that could not be stopped.
I tried to explain to the daughters that evening why I could not return. They didn’t understand. I not only feared for their father, but I feared for myself too.

He pitched over on his lawn less than a week later. He’d been trying to cross the street. About two years later, I found myself driving past the church. It was one of those that the Archdiocese had scheduled to close. I was happy that he made it home before that happened.

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