By the time I got back to my dorm and cleaned up, my senses had more or less returned to normal, but the feeling of being refreshed stayed with me. It was like the drug allowed my body to rest, while keeping my brain and my drawing hand separately occupied.
I even surprised Kathleen by showing up slightly early for my shift at the library. The enforced overnight schedule had helped me keep track of the time.
There would be less time for the studio, of course. I was going to have to squeeze in my painting in the afternoons and make up the lost time on my days off. But if I continued feeling as good as I did that morning, I figured that my output would improve significantly.
As good as I felt, though, I was still anxious when I returned to the Trask Center that night. Maybe the intense experience of the prior night was unusual, the result of my first night with the drug. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I wanted to repeat the experience.
* * *
The clock read 7:23 a.m. My left hand ached; I’d apparently switched during the night. And the pad lying in front of me was once again full, every page full, of my mind.
* * *
By the time I had my first review session with Lily on the fourth day of the project, I was very eager to talk to her. Her in particular, of course, but at that point I would have settled for talking to anyone.
We met in a small, isolated reading room in one of the older buildings on campus. The walls were lined with bookshelves, and we were seated in a pair of overstuffed chairs. It was a relaxing atmosphere, less harsh and clinical than the hospital – which, Lily told me, was why they had selected it. Not that this wasn’t still a formal part of the study; she also assured me that, for my protection, a member of the psych faculty would be monitoring us via a concealed microphone. I couldn’t spot the bug.
Lily had brought my sketch pads with her, and I thought we’d start talking about them immediately. Instead, she set them to one side, and turned to face me. God, she was pretty.
“So, Matthew, how are you feeling?”
“Oh, can’t complain. You?”
“Any adverse effects from the Visulex? Unusual fatigue, soreness, anything like that?”
It always irritated me when therapists ignored my questions. The social workers who evaluated me after my parents died did the same thing; it made me feel like they were blowing me off. You’d think it would kill them to admit they had lives of their own.
“No, not really. Actually, I’ve felt better than I have since I stopped sleeping.” I gestured at the sketch pads. “Except for cramped hands.”
“I’m not surprised. Most of the others are still on their first notebook. How are you feeling about the project?”
“I’m getting used to it. There’s this really weird thing that happens when the Visulex wears off in the morning. I mean, you’re in this hugely clear state of mind, and then it all fades away in a few seconds. It’s sort of like falling asleep, or getting anesthesia, except you’re still awake after it happens. But you know this, right?”
Her forehead creased. “From what we’ve seen the experience of it is highly subjective.”
I remembered the faculty member eavesdropping on us, leaned forward, and whispered. “Have you tried it?” I asked.
She paused. She wanted to say something, I could tell, but the moment passed. She took a breath, forced a smile, and said, “We should really focus on your experiences.”
I settled back in my chair. “Well, for me it was...weird, but not uncomfortable. Uncomfortable was seeing page after page of sketches I could barely remember drawing.”
“Are you saying you're experiencing memory lapses?”
“It’s not amnesia, exactly. I sort of remember doing them. Actually, it’s more like I remember remembering. Like I had the entire memory in my mind, but I didn’t have enough room in my head to hold on to the whole experience. I just retained the impression of having drawn them.”
“So, are you perceiving that your cognitive function has improved under the influence of the drug?”
“Uh, no, but I feel like I’m smarter.”
“That’s what I...” Lily blinked. “You’re teasing me,” she said.
“Whatever am I going to do with you, Matthew,” she said, shaking her head in mock despair.
I was tempted to ask her out, right at that moment. But whether it was because of some leftover touch of Visulex clarity, or just a long-dormant reserve of common sense, I knew that move would be a mistake.
“Well,” I said with an abashed smile, “why don’t we talk about my sketches?”
* * *
We got down to work after that. If I was impressed by how seriously she took her job, I was stunned by how much effort she’d put into analyzing my drawings. She drew connections between images that I would never have picked up myself, but which made perfect sense when she explained them.
I was surprised to find that I enjoyed reviewing my own thoughts, with Lily’s assistance. I pulled pages from the sketch pad, and arranged them on the floor, to better see the patterns that were emerging. We moved around each other and around the room, talking about whatever we saw.
At one point Lily stopped, in front of the image of the tower struck by lightning, the one that could only be seen by folding over the rips on the page. After glancing at some of the other pages, she turned to me, and in a gentle tone, asked if my parents had argued much when I was younger.
The question caught me completely off guard. How could she have known? I sat down, and after a confused moment, told Lily about the constant fights when I was a kid. It was difficult at first, but it got easier after a bit. Then I talked about my sister, Betsy. She was six years older than me, and was always there to tell me everything was going to be all right. Whatever happened later between us, I still remembered that. When I used to hide under the covers in our bedroom when our parents started shouting or throwing things, she’d come in with a flashlight and a comic book, or, when it was really bad, just hug me. I worshiped her, back then.
Lily just listened attentively until I stopped. “I know we’re in the middle of this,” she said when I finished, “but we’re going to have to break for now. Are you going to be okay?”
I nodded, my head hanging. My entire body felt heavy.
“I’ll see you again in three days,” Lily said at the end of the session. “But I want to ask you to think about something before then. You said that you hid in your bed when your mom and dad were fighting. Do you think about your bed as a place for rest and sleep, or a place to hide and escape?”
I blinked, as all sorts of things started clicking in my head.
“See you next time,” she said.
“Yeah...see you later,” I said, as I walked out the door with my head spinning.
* * *
[Go to Chapter 3.4]