Sunday, March 30, 2008

He Talks to Himself. Part 4

Part 4 of 4

For a few moments, Dennis was terrified. Finally, he answered Right. " did you learn that?"

Right answered again, with the same voice: "I don't know. I've been practicing a little while you've been asleep, but mostly it has just been coming to me."

Dennis was still not ready for it, and he clapped his right hand over his mouth in panic. The left hand reached up and gently pulled it away. “This is......this is......weird...”.

They sat in silence for a while. Then Dennis stood up and walked to his closet. He picked up a nice shirt and his least holey jeans from the rack, and began to undress. He put on the jeans and shirt, a belt, and some shoes and socks, all the while thinking about what had just happened. He walked to the bathroom. Dennis carefully removed his head bandage and combed his hair to hide his stitches. He was halfway through brushing his teeth when he suddenly had a thought. What in the hell am I doing brushing my teeth? And combing my hair?!? And is this a belt I am wearing? What did I change my clothes for?

Of course. He, Dennis, hadn't changed his clothes at all. Right had. It was his left hand holding the toothbrush. He had just sort of fallen into step with the mundane tasks while he was thinking about how Right could speak. "What are you doing?" he asked.

"We're going somewhere. We've got to look nice." Right answered.

"Where are we going? Wait, I mean, no we're not! We don't have anything to go to."

"Yes we do." Right was messing with the hairstyle some more now. "We need a haircut sometime soon."

"Where are we going?" Dennis demanded through clenched teeth.


"Tell me, or we're not going anywhere!" Dennis was felt so confused and helpless that he could feel anger and fear overtaking him.

Right put down the comb, and Dennis looked into his own eyes in the mirror. Silence. And then, a big smile, with Right's half of the mouth. "We've got a date!"

Resisting the urge to react, Dennis calmed down a bit, and then thought practically. Of course he couldn't go on a date. He was horrible on dates. And of course he liked girls, but up close they terrified him. No, no. He would not be going on a date. But right seemed very determined. If he could just somehow keep himself from leaving the house long enough, then it would be too late to go! Luckily Right was in his own world, going on and on about the girl they were supposed to meet.

"You'll like her, I think. She likes comics, and painting, and reading. And she's so beautiful. She sent a photo. We're way out of our league, heh heh. Her name's May. Don't worry about a thing. I'll do all of the talking if you want. And she's from Canada and says she has a bit of an accent. I haven't heard her speak, of course, because we've only chatted online. And, tell you what friend, if you don't like her, then neither do I! Does that sound fair?"

Dennis swung his graduation stein toward his own head like a wrecking ball. It shattered and the toothbrush and razor it had held clattered to the floor along with cheap ceramic shards. But he remained conscious, still holding the handle of the stein in his right hand. And man, did it hurt! Right must have recovered first, because the left hand reached over and grabbed his right hand around the wrist before Dennis could pick up anything else. "Wha...what the hell are you doing? That hurts, idiot! You ever heard of stitches? We're lucky you missed our stitches!" They locked hands. Each pushed on the other. Harder. Harder. For several long seconds, neither made any progress against the other.


"I'm not going on this date, Right! You know I hate sitting, trying to think of clever things to say, wondering where to look, wondering if she likes me or not, wondering if I like her or not..."

Right released the other hand. He said softly, "What did you call me?"

Dennis had to think back to exactly what he had said. "I called you 'Right'… get it? Because you're the right hemisphere."

"My name is Dennis, Dennis." Then silence. One of them, or both, felt the eyes they shared tearing. "I'm sorry", said Left-Dennis. "Of course. I didn't think--".

Right-Dennis sobbed. "I've waited so long. I've wanted to paint for years. I've wanted a girl in my life for even longer. I'm so lonely. So are you, but you never wanted to do anything about it, and you would always win. You were always stronger.”

Left-Dennis felt awful, like a lazy, oppressive tyrant. He hated himself at that moment, and tried to think of what to say. But there was only one thing he could say that would truly express his regret and apology.

"Alright............let's.............uh, let's go."


“Yeah, I mean it. I'll go. We'll go.”

Dennis straightened up and hugged himself. He wiped off his tears and washed his face one last time. "Don't worry friend. We'll be a great team."



"Jekyll and Hyde?"

"A complete person."

Whichever one of them had said it, neither wanted to follow that last one which he had said so reverently. And that was when Dennis looked across the room for the first time at the painting he had completed right before he started talking to himself. It was a beautiful brown horse in full gallop, with ears like mountain peaks, nostrils like caves; its tail thrashing like a whip; its skin was like a firm but fluid sea of velvet. He could almost hear the thundering of its hooves and smell the sand and sage it kicked and broke as it galloped across the desert. He wanted to stay and look at it for hours, but he was already running a little bit late.

Dennis hadn't been kidding. She was beautiful. And so easy to talk to that the nervousness wore off early on in the evening. After dinner and the movie, Dennis walked May toward her house, very slowly. But they decided to stop by a pond in the park for a little while before they let the evening end.

"Ta-da!" Said May. She took a small bag with three slices of bread out of her purse. Dennis laughed, a little more loudly than May had expected. They broke the bread up and scattered it around for the birds. Then Dennis sat down on a nearby bench overlooking the water, and gestured for her to join him. May walked briskly over and sat down too, a little closer to Dennis than he had expected. The both let out a quiet sigh.

"May", he said, "do you think you could sit on this side?"

The End.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

He Talks to Himself, Part 3

To use the computer, he would have needed his eyes and at least one arm. His computer sat on the nightstand on the right of his bed well within reach while he was lying down, and the screen was clearly visible from the bed. Practically speaking, it would have been possible for his left hand to reach out and use the mouse and keyboard if he were laying on his right side. The theory was getting more plausible now, and it explained why half of him was asleep sometimes during the day. It was exhausted from staying up all night!

But his eyes would have been open. Dr. Felstead had explained about his visual fields and the optic chiasmus, how both hemispheres could see out of both eyes and the only difference was which side of each eye the hemisphere saw out of. And some people can sleep with their eyes open. He remembered when he was younger, he had crawled over to Daniel Murphy at a slumber party to lift the kid's eyelids off of his eyeballs to see if he were really asleep. Dan's eyes had been darting all over the place at lightning speed. Rapid Eye Movement. The dream phase. It had scared the hell out of him. Dan hadn't budged, and kept sleeping like a dead man.

Well, if one hemisphere were in REM sleep and the other were wide awake, it made sense that each hemisphere would interpret the sensory information differently. Just for fun, he thought, I'll pursue this. He didn't admit to himself that it was more out of fear than interest. There was still the problem of what on earth could Right have been doing? It couldn't be sinister. Anything that hurt one side would hurt the other. Wouldn't it? It was probably just porn or something. He found himself hoping it was porn. Oddly that seemed like the most benign explanation. Then again, there was no mess. Shopping? For paint maybe? For something else? Right had asked for paint, and Dennis had promised it, so there was no need to buy paint. Plus his wallet with his credit cards were all out of reach. And really, wouldn't Right just ask for anything else he wanted rather than go through all of this cloak-and-dagger nonsense?

This is stupid, he thought. Why not just ask? We're on speaking terms now, after all. The only problem would be if it was something sinister. He shuddered again. Right would deny it. Or lie. And probably carry out whatever his plan was even faster. A third shudder. That's when he realized he had been sitting there staring at his computer screen for ten minutes. Right might be getting suspicious.

He wrote down the address of the art supply store, showered, ate breakfast, and so on, all the while thinking of how he could find out what was going on. First of all, was Right really using the computer? He could check the browser history. Right might have thought to erase it, but maybe not. After all, Right had not expected Dennis to know anything about this. Of course, he couldn't just check it the way he normally would. Right would see, and would know what was going on. He would have to pull up the browser history with his right hand and keep the computer screen to the right of his eyes so that only the left sides of each retina, and therefore only the left hemisphere, would be able to see it. Perfect.

At the advice from the guy working in the store, he had ended up buying about seven shades of acrylic, some brushes of various sizes, a masonite board and a canvas with a frame, “For a gift”, Dennis had said. The left side of his body seemed a bit more energetic than usual, which probably was because Right was pleased with the purchases and anxious to use them.

The meeting with Dr. Felstead that day was not terribly productive. He was afraid to tell her about the computer because he didn't want Right to hear. She would probably just laugh anyway. He did talk about the dream though. She seemed interested and, again, amused by the sea of velvet. He pressed her again to tell him what it was, but all she offered was some advice. "Try drawing everything you have seen on a sheet of paper, with your right hand. Then see if it fits together in some way. If you can’t figure it out in the next few days, try drawing it again but with your left hand." He hated drawing. Whenever he drew, everything was terribly out of proportion. Looking at any one feature it looked all right, but the sizes of the different parts were so inconsistent that it looked like whatever he was drawing had some kind of hormonal disease. He would try it anyway.

Back at home, Dennis put his plan ino motion. He would check his browser history while Right paints! Nothing would seem more innocent; he often spent his free time surfing the web. And Right would be so engrossed in painting that he probably wouldn't even think to glance at the computer monitor.

The plan worked perfectly. Right painted aimlessly, or so it seemed. Dennis started off checking his email to cover his tracks. Once Right seemed totally absorbed, Dennis quickly opened up the history pane in his browser window. He found the last page he visited yesterday and the first one he had visited that morning. In between were a few visits to gmail, and one to He didn’t have a gmail account, but he visited it anyway and tried his universal login and password, as well as the several variations of them he had used in the past. No luck. So he was emailing and...buying something maybe? Looking for a job? You could post anything at all on craigslist. He clicked on the link, but the page just said "this posting has been removed by the poster". Hmm. Suddenly his left hand put down the paintbrush. Dennis thought fast, and quickly closed the window. "What are you painting?", he said, looking at the canvas. It was lines of blue and white on the top half of the canvas, with orange and vermillion on the bottom half. There were specks of pale green on the orange lines. It looked vaguely like a ground and sky. A little bit featureless, but it had a sort of stark beauty. "I like it.", he said. It was true. "Is it a ground and sky?" His left hand reached for the legal pad and pen, and wrote: "You'll see." Then it reached to write something else. It paused, then wrote "I", then scribbled out what it had written. "Is there something you want to tell me?" Dennis asked. The hand wrote: "Tomorrow." Then followed that with "You read too fast." Of course. Both hemispheres read independently now. Dennis would have to turn his pages more slowly in the future. "Sorry, I'll slow down." Dennis said. They talked about movies for a little while, which was pleasant. Dennis almost forgot his uneasiness and suspicion, but not quite. And then Dennis tried drawing his dream snapshots. Two steep mountain peaks. A frayed whip. A sea of velvet. That was hard to draw. He put a little bit of brown paint on the paper and spread it around a bit. Close enough.

Dennis had another plan. As he got ready for bed that night, he reached for the Gold Bond. Nothing suspicious about this, he thought. Dennis often used Gold Bond to keep away the athlete's foot that would otherwise plague him all winter long. He squeezed a little too hard the last time, and the powder shot onto and past his foot, settling on the nightstand and the keyboard of his laptop. Perfect. "Aw, damn!" he said, a little unconvincingly. "I'll have to clean that up tomorrow."

That night Dennis dreamed of two caves that were the same size and shape, side by side. He had a feeling of respect, and maybe even reverence. The caves quivered and expanded, then contracted, both in unison. He walked closer to one of them, but it emitted a gust of wind that had knocked him backwards and wide awake. It was morning.

It was all he could do to not look right away at the keyboard. Instead he casually walked over to retrieve the dustbuster from its wall charger, then back to the keyboard. In an instant he carefully noted that the powder had been disturbed. The only keys that still had powder on them were the ones that never got used, like "scroll lock" and the top row of keys that start with "F". But he didn't betray his intentions; while noting all of this, he fluidly turned on the dustbuster and brushed it across the keys, sucking up the powder.

Today was Saturday and there was no appointment with Dr. Felstead. He decided to read a little. Might as well make the most of his vacation. Dennis read all day and into the afternoon, pausing at the end of each page for Right to catch up. When Right wasn't reading, he was painting. Right had brought the pad with him. "Thanks.", he wrote. "No problem." Dennis answered. Should he ask? He did anyway. "Um...what did you want to tell me yesterday?" Right wrote an ellipsis on the page. He needs time to think. That's okay. Give him time. And then suddenly, Right answered "I can speak."

"I know." Said Dennis. "We've been speaking for the last few days."

"Vocally." wrote Right.


"Can I show you? Don't be scared."

"Um...okay. What do you want me to do?" asked Dennis. "You don't have to do anything."

Dennis was confused. Why had he said that last part? Then he realized: he hadn't; Right had said it.

Part 4 to be posted 3/30/08

Saturday, March 22, 2008

He Talks to Himself, Part 2

Dennis had more wild dreams that night, but couldn’t remember them very well. There were two steep mountain peaks involved. They were much steeper than any mountains he had seen before. Steeper than the Matterhorn. And he remembered thunder. A thunderstorm in the mountains? It was a lively, dynamic sort of dream, but all he could remember were loosely related snapshots. He wrote them down on his legal pad that was left on his nightstand next to his laptop computer and alarm clock, then swung his legs over the edge of the bed.

ka-THUD! What…? Dennis’s left leg had collapsed under his body weight and he had fallen before he could compensate. Oh no, oh no, was he paralyzed? Had he fried his right hemisphere last night with that little exercise? “Are you there?” he asked Right. His left leg feebly moved back under him as he pushed himself up. He walked on it gingerly. It must have been fatigued the whole day, because whenever Dennis wanted to get up to use the bathroom or step out of his car door, he had to test it, massage it, even slap or punch it before he felt it stiffen enough to support his weight. It was as though his left side (and right hemisphere?) were being lazy, sleeping on the job.

This had required Dennis to half drag himself around some of the time, so that by about 2:00 he was physically exhausted. Better take a nap. Sleeping on top of the covers on his bed, he dreamed about a whip. It was the kind that divided at the end into hundreds of fine threads. It thrashed around like a dragon’s tongue.

At his appointment later with Dr. Felstead, Dennis told about his experiment. "Interesting," she said, "I think you should keep doing it, and keep me updated if anything unusual happens. I'm interested to see where this leads." But it was not until Dennis talked about the dreams that she really seemed to become animated. He told her about the peaks and the thunder, as well as the whip from just that afternoon. She wrote notes, and then asked Dennis to sketch what he saw. He handed back his drawings. She looked at them, then rotated them and looked again, as though looking for something he couldn't see. "And thunder, you said?"


"Anything Else?"

"Not really", Dennis answered. "Well, it smelled like sand. Sand and dust and sage. And the thunder...I think it was sort of rhythmic."

"And the whip. Was it whipping anything?"

"No. It was just whipping around in the air."

Dr. Felstead suddenly lifted an index knuckle to her mouth. Dennis saw it. She was trying to hide sudden amusement. "What? What was that?"

"What was what?" She said. She lifted her hand again and coughed into it unproductively.

"Did you just figure it out? My dream. Did you just figure out my dream?"

"Let's talk about it next time. In the meantime, keep recording you dreams. I want to see how effectively your left hemisphere can figure out the content of the dream. Plus I don't want to taint your own interpretation of it if mine is incorrect."

Dennis was a little frustrated. "Don't you need my permission if you are going to use me to test your theories? If you know what's going on with me, I want to know about it."

"Dennis," she said, looking him in the eye, "I don't want to rob you of the experience of the moment where you figure it out for yourself. Do I have your permission to test my theories?"


"Thank you. Just to put you mind at ease, I only think I know some of the content of your dream, but not that it tells me anything about you or your personality. What I am interested in is how your left hemisphere interprets the sensory experience of the dreams, not what the dreams tell me about your personality. The content of dreams is usually meaningless. It's the relationships and situations and emotions of the dream that most people tend to find meaning in. Try writing those down, as well as the content."

Dennis sat on the edge of his bed with his laptop computer. The long chain of Wikipedia articles he had been reading had ended at last on the article about vicinals, so he took out the yellow pad of paper again. "How are you doing?". "Good Tired", the left hand wrote. Dennis thought for a moment. What should I say, he thought. He decided to just wait for the Right to talk on its own. After about two minutes, his right hemisphere either understood or grew bored and wrote "I want paint." 'I' was capitalized, and there was even a period at the end of the sentence. But just as striking as the quickly improving grammar was what it expressed. "Like, to paint with?" Of course to paint with. He rephrased his question, "what kind of paint?" "Any kind", the hand wrote.

That night Dennis dreamed something about a sea of rich, brown velvet. It would gather into mounds in one area, then slacken to gather in another area. He wrote it down in the morning. The dream had the same feeling as when his friends had talked him into jumping from the highest platform at the pool once. He never would have done it on his own, but it was thrilling and made him feel alive. He wrote down on his paper: Sea of velvet. Freedom. Terror. Satisfaction.

He reached to turn on his laptop computer to look up the address of the nearest art supply store. It was already on. That wasn't like him, to leave his computer on like that. Turning it off was part of his going-to-bed ritual. He would have never fallen asleep with the little green light on. But then again, who knows how the accident and surgery might have affected his nighttime routine. After all, now his two hemispheres were independent and...

A ridiculous thought occurred to him. Totally ridiculous. He would have laughed out loud if it weren't so disturbing. Could that really be possible, though? Could his right hemisphere have awakened and turned on the computer for some reason? What would it have been doing? He shuddered. But again, ridiculous. He would have awakened, too, right?

Part 3 to be posted on 3/26/08

Friday, March 21, 2008

He Talks to Himself, part 1

Part 1 of 4

"So, you pick out a shirt, but then your other hand picks out a different shirt?" Dennis replied, "Yes. Also I've been having some crazy dreams."

She answered, "This might sound a bit frightening, but I am going to propose that you think about this differently. Having the hemispheres of your brain separated does not really affect your coordination like you seem to think. Coordination is the job of the cerebellum, which was not damaged. The part of your brain that was cut in half is the cerebrum, which is responsible for higher-level thinking. Like deciding what shirt to wear."

"So, there's...there's like...two people in here trying to decide on a shirt? So it's like multiple personalities?"

"Not really. It's more like two of the same personality. The important difference is that your two "personalities" have all of the same memories and generally will work together on whatever it is you are doing and you won't even know the difference. Only rarely do people experience any dissonance between the two. However your left hemisphere, which controls the right half of your body, tends to be analytical, logical, and will normally look at fine details of things while the right hemisphere tends to be creative, abstract, spatial, and look at the big picture of things." Dennis asked if there was anything he could do to minimize these weird side effects, or at least the creepiness of them. Dr. Felstead answered. "This is kind of a rare condition, so we don't know everything about it yet. But I am curious about something. I wonder how it would be if you brought the hemispheres into greater cooperation by finding some new way for them to communicate. For example, if you let your hemisphere that can't talk (that's the right side) write down its thoughts, while the left hemisphere, which controls speech, just talks out loud. You could have a conversation this way. As far as I know, it's never been done. There could be other effects, but I think overall it would improve things. By the way, write down your dreams, and we'll talk about them.”

Dennis's mother had flown out immediately after the accident. She was a busy person, and the flight was a sacrifice, but the accident was serious. Or at least should have been. He had never even lost consciousness when the piece of a high rise window pane had fallen twenty-two stories to cut right through his skull and slide between the two halves of his brain on his way to work, severing the corpus callossum, the bundle of nerves that used to allow the two halves of his brain to communicate. He was glad to not have to go to work that day, or for the next few weeks.

Once she realized Dennis would survive and basically make a full recovery fairly quickly, she launched into her usual updates and gossip that Dennis both enjoyed and rolled his eyes at. She told about their neighbors, what Vicki's kids were doing, what Allen had said the other day at work. And then she went on for a while about an email she had gotten. She talked about work. TV. And finally the question he had been dreading.

" any nice girls around here yet?"

"I've been pretty busy"

"Yes, I am sure you are, but you should always try and make time for that sort of thing. At least once in a while."

Dennis looked at the floor. How she bring that up at a time like this? He had nearly died, and now she was worried about his love life? Dennis's few attempts at relationships in the years since college had been unpleasant, uncomfortable, and short. Deep down he wanted to find someone, but over time he had gotten better and better at putting it out of his mind entirely.

I worry about you. Dennis, you're such a smart, handsom young man. I know there's someone out there for you and I hate to see you spinning your wheels like this.”

He hated when she said that, which was all the time.

“I'm happy”, he said. “I'm happy just the way I am.” Dennis knew this wasn't really true, and his mother probably did too. She attempted a smile and squeezed his hand.

That night at his apartment, Dennis opened his freezer and reached in to get a frozen pizza. He set the pepperoni and cheese pizza next to each other on the counter. Wait. Why had he gotten two pizzas out of the freezer? He realized it was happening again. Dennis pulled a chair out from the table, sat down and cried. He wondered why. The recurring depression probably wasn't helping. Plus the accident. What his mom had said today. And finally this little pizza incident, the last straw, were all too much. He put the pizzas back in freezer and got ready for bed without eating.

As Dennis stared back into the mirror at an emotionless face brushing its teeth, he remembered Dr. Felstead's office earlier that day. What the hell, he thought, why not give it a try?

He pulled a pencil and a legal pad out of his desk and placed them on top of it. He put the pencil next to the legal pad. Nothing. He picked up the pencil with his left hand and held it for a moment, then put it down. It wasn't working. Then he had an idea. Using his right hand, he ceremoniously lifted the pencil and placed it in his left, then said out loud, "Say something."

Nothing still. Maybe he needed to be more specific. "'s it going?" he asked his right hemisphere out loud. Great, he thought. Now my right hemisphere thinks I'm an idiot. I could ask him any question in the world and all I can come up with is 'how's it going'. The pencil twitched. It moved toward the yellow paper. In large, shaky strokes, his left hand began to write. But it was gibberish. He had been expecting a neatly written answer in small caps, like the handwriting he used to be able to produce left-handed when he would trade hands for note taking back in high school. Sometimes class was boring and he would practice writing with his left hand just to keep from falling asleep. But for some reason the hand had forgotten how to do it.

He looked down at the paper. His hand had continued writing while his mind (or half of it) had wandered. The marks it had made, though unintelligible on the first strokes, looked more and more like letters as the hand continued to write. The hand withdrew a bit, as if allowing the left hemisphere to read what was written. There was a t, a couple of a's and a d. Right must have tried to read it too, because suddenly Dennis's left hand scribbled out the marks. It tore the sheet off of the pad, crumpled it up, and tossed it at the garbage can. It fell short. The hand started writing again. The letters were clearer this time, but far from "nice". After a few seconds, the hand withdrew from the page. Dennis read out loud. OK FruztAteD. A few more seconds and he had pieced it together. Ok. Frustrated. "You're feeling okay but a little frustrated?"

The hand replied: "u". "Uh?" said Dennis. The hand was responding faster now. It scribbled out the 'u' and wrote, this time: "yes u". It took another few seconds to guess at this one. "Yes." said Dennis "and you?" Could this actually be working?

"You have terrible penmanship." He said. His left knuckles turned white. "Joke! It was a joke. A bad joke. I'm sorry." The hand relaxed. It wrote "u bad shert". 'U' was 'you', bad was probably bad, and shert? That wasn't a word. Shirt? That still doesn't make sense. He remembered that morning. "I pick bad shirts?" He asked. The hand responded "joke". Dennis laughed. Right was probably partly serious.

This exercise had been so exciting that Dennis, until now, had failed to realize two important things. First, the penmanship was improving, looking almost like his left-handed high school notes. Maybe the grammar would improve too. The second thing that suddenly stood out was a massive headache, worse than any he had had before. That was probably enough for tonight. "Do you feel that too?" he asked. "Hel yes" Right answered. He smiled. "Let's go to bed."

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Lao Tsu, part 3

Part 1
Part 2

Part 3 of 3

Even though the sun had set an hour and a half ago, dark sunglesses stared back at me from under a broad brimmed grey fedora.

My blood turned to ice, and I couldn't say a word. The man smiled. “Hi Frank. It's good to see you. May I come in?” I didn't answer but after a moment he came in anyway.

He walked into the living room where Derek was still sitting, too afraid to move. He kept talking as he sat down across from Derek where I had been sitting. Now he was facing the doorway where I was still standing. All of Derek that I could see was the back of his head and his white-knuckled hands gripping the arms of his chair. He motioned for me to come join them. I thought of the gun that Dad kept in his study, and wondered if I could slip out of the room long enough to...

“Interesting conversation you two were having earlier this afternoon. I figured I ought to get here soon before you guys tie me up and beat a confession out of me. Derek, calm down. Breathe. Oh, and there's a bug transmitter in your shoe which I don't need there anymore. If you could take it out and hand it to me, I'd appreciate it. They're very expensive.”

I walked over cautiously and sat down. Lao Tsu noticed my drink and said “I'm sorry, Frank. I took your seat didn't I?” He handed me my drink. “You two can both relax. I'm not angry. In fact, I was wondering when this would happen and I am surprised that it took so long. You can really keep a secret, Derek. You kept this one for over seventeen years!”

Derek seemed to calm down a bit. This was comforting to me, but I was still nervous. Lao Tsu continued. “Although I didn't expect that drug me and tie me up idea coming. Frank, that was your idea, wasn't it? Could I have something to drink too?”

My instinctual hospitality overcame my uneasiness enough for me to clear my throat and ask what he'd like.

It was Derek who replied, looking at the floor. “Water. No ice. He always has water with no ice.”

“Derek knows me well”, said Lao Tsu. “But I think tonight I'll have a coke. With Ice.”

As I left to the kitchen, Lao Tsu raised his voice to keep me in the conversation. “Derek, I decided before we ever met that if my secretiveness ever threatened our relationship, especially to the point where you would reject anything that I had taught you, I would have to come forward and tell you everything—about me. And you. And why I have been meeting with you all of these years.” Derek was still looking at the floor by the time I returned to the room with the drink. “And Frank, since you know about this too, I figured now was as good of a time as any, since I can tell you both together. By the way, I'm sorry to have gotten you caught up in this thing, but from what Derek has told me about you, you will find all of this very interesting.” He drank from his glass and was silent for a few seconds. “I am . . . I'm a bit like you, Derek. My parents died when I was young and I was raised by my aunt and uncle. But I am different from you in some important ways. I resented my adopted parents for thinking they could replace my real parents. I rebelled against them, and against all of my teachers, and I was mean to my friends, thinking I could do everything on my own, that I didn't need any help or love from anyone. By the time I was thirty, I realized that I had no idea how to reach out to people, or how to be content, or how to be happy at all. I hated myself, and most people that I met. I decided to do something about it. I read self-help books, lots of them. Then tried therapy of all kinds. Psychotherapy. Equine therapy. Crystal Therapy. And those weren't even the weird ones. Then medication, follwed by meditation. Then just about every religion. Looking back I think all of those things helped a little bit. Then I started night classes to study psychology, to try and figure out what makes the mind work, hoping that I could fix myself. That helped a little, but it wasn't enough. I started to accept the grim reality that some things about me would never change, that I would always be miserable most of the time, that people would never really like me very much, that I would never be fit to be a husband, father, friend, or even to be happy . . .”

Lao Tsu was getting emotional. Derek was no longer looking at the floor, but was leaning forward with his hands on his knees, his eyes fixed on Lao Tsu. He continued. “I was almost forty years old by the time I had given up on psychology, religion, and everything, but I had made a few friends along the way. Mostly they were other people like me, who were not very likeable, so I didn't really think of them as friends at the time. One of them was an old man named Stewart, an eccentric electrician and hobbyist who I would sometimes have over for lunch if my TV was broken and I needed it fixed. I must have been one of his only friends too because when he died, he left me some of his possessions. They turned out to be a TV, some of the art from his house, and what looked like some sort of refrigerator with some sort of custom modifications on it. It wasn't long until I realized what the thing was.”

Lao Tsu drank from his glass a second time. Then to our surprise, he reached up and removed his sunglasses. Then his hat. He looked at us expectantly.

I saw it first. It was in the way his lower eyelids tensed a bit as he was concentrating, just like Derek's would. I gasped, but didn't say anything. This man was Derek's biological father! Then Derek noticed it too, and slapped his hands onto his temples as he inhaled sharply. “Wha— and Mom died! I remember the funeral, and seeing you in the casket! How is this possible? And why didn't you tell me when we first met? And what...”

No!” Said Lao Tsu firmly. He sighed. “I am not your father. I've wondered for years what the best way to explain this would be, but . . . Derek, I am not your father. The machine that the old man gave me was a time machine. I am you, at age sixty-five. When we first met, I was you at age forty-three. I have been travelling back in time to help you avoid the mistakes that I made, so that my painful memories would change and I would return to my own time with fewer problems, less baggage...

Derek and I were too confused to ask any questions yet. Lao Tsu looked at the floor and continued.

“I tried to save my parents—your parents—lives. But that was the first thing I learned about time travel. You can change some things but not others. I tried all sorts of things, but they all led to the same result. Then I visited you after they died, and over the next few years helped you accept your adopted parents. I taught you the importance of relationships, thinking deeply, art, beauty, meditation, and simple pleasures. And look at you now! You're keeping bees! I am terrified of bees. And just today you played golf. I hate golf. You enjoy pretty much everything you do, even washing dishes. You can meditate and focus, which makes you a fast learner and a deep thinker. And you have friends. Like Frank, here. I have never in all my life had a friend like Frank. Except for you, Derek. Of course. Our visits are my greatest pleasure. They are pretty much all I care about. I stay up late into the night going over my recordings and notes planning what we will discuss in our next session”

“Wait.” I said, even though I was still reeling from what Lao Tsu, or future Derek, was saying. “What do you mean that you've never had a friend like me? If you're Derek from the future, why don't you remember me?”

“Well, that was the next thing I learned about time travel. After several visits to the past, I realized that even though you can change some things in the past, it doesn't change your own present. It just starts a whole new thing altogether. So really, Derek and I are two completely different people.”

This time it was Derek, the one my age, that spoke up. “I don't understand. If nothing you did changed your own past, why did you bother to keep coming?”

“That was the biggest surprise of all.” Said Lao Tsu. “I was crushed when I realized that our meetings were having no effect on my memories. But then I found myself planning visit after visit anyway. Even though my memories weren't changing, something inside me was. I had a calling. I had something that only I could do, and someone whose future depended on it. If I didn't visit, you would turn out like me. And every time you were kind to your aunt and uncle, or made a new friend, or did well in school, or found a new passion of any kind, I felt like it belonged to me too. I don't know, maybe it's the same thing as parents who live through their children, but I always felt like they were gifts I had given you. I'm convinced that watching what my childhood could have been, and seeing what I could have become, is just as good as if I really could change my own past and my own memories.”

We all sat in silence for a little while, drinking. Then Derek spoke. “Things will be different now, won't they?”

“Yes.” Said LaoTsu. “They will. But things were changing anyway. You have already learned most of what I can teach you. Your time line is already so different from mine that I don't have much hindsight that you can benefit from anymore. I'm really not you at all anymore. Maybe instead of lessons when I come to visit, we could just talk. Like friends do. Like we're doing now.”

After a pause and another drink from his glass he continued, “Yes, things will definitely be different now. . . but don't worry. Things are always different.”

He Talks to Himself , Part 1 to be posted on 3/21/07

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Lao Tsu, part 2

Part 1

(Part 2 of 3)

I wanted to ask him a hundred questions all at once, but I was able to keep them to one or two at a time. “Well who is he?”

Derek answered, "He told me to call him 'Lao Tsu' ".


“No, he's white.

“Why Lao Tsu?”

“I don't know; he would always answer my questions sensibly and honestly unless they were about him in any way. Who he was. Why he visited me. Whether he visited anyone else . . . I never figured any of those things out. Even though in time I came to look forward to his visits and appreciate them, I was always a little frustrated. Why does he get to know everything about me but I don't even know his real name? Sometimes I even see him spying on me. While I was walking home from school, while I was on a date, while I was grocery shopping. Once he looked in the window while I was watching TV.”

“Well did you ever confront him about it?” I asked.

“Yeah, but it didn't matter. One time I thought I would chase him down, but as I ran toward him he didn't budge. He just kept writing in his little notebook and casually said “Hi Derek” without even looking up. I asked him what he was doing and he said he was following me, watching me so he could plan our next session. From then on, he seemed less concerned with remaining hidden whenever he spied again.”

“This is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard!” I said, but then, noticing Derek's expression, I rephrased. “No, I believe you of course, but it is just so strange.

“But anyway, he has helped me immensely. I can trace most of my best decisions, my achievements, my optimism, and my insight right back to our sessions, as he calls them.”

“Tell me more about him.” I said. “What does he look like?”

“Well his face is hard to see. He has a beard that started to go gray while I was in sixth grade. He wears dark sungless, and has never been without them, so I have no idea what color his eyes are. And he always wears a fedora. He's about as tall as you or me, a bit heavier. I asked him to take off his glasses once, but he wouldn't.”

We played another two holes in silence, until I was ready to say what I had been thinking. “The whole thing just seems kind of creepy. I know you said that he has helped you a lot, and that you owe a lot to him, but don't you think it's a little creepy?”

Derek seemed annoyed. “Not really. He's like a father to me. I trust him. He has only ever helped me, and has never asked for anything in return except my attention, trust, and discretion . . . discretion that I betrayed today.”

I apologized, told him I wouldn't tell anyone what he had told me, and changed the subject. The rest of the game was pleasant, and we went home. But Derek called at about nine o'clock, and told me he wanted to talk some more. When he arrived he seemed more disturbed than I had ever seen before.

Derek looked out my windows before drawing the blinds. “I thought about what we talked about earlier today, and what you said. I mean, I do trust Lao Tsu and everything, and most of the good decisions I have made – and even who I am – I owe to him. But why won't he tell me who he is? What could his motivation possibly be for our sessions? It's a simple question: What is it about our sessions that makes it worth his while? Of course I've always wondered this before, but after we spoke today, and we were finishing up our game . . . I saw him standing in the forest on the last hole. It's nothing new, him spying on me. But this time I had chills and I couldn't ignore the fact that he was there like I normally can. I was afraid to tell you, to point him out in case you would look over at him and he would know I had told you. The rest of the day I have been thinking about it. I have tried some of the meditation techniques that Lao Tsu taught me, but each one just reminds me of the time he taught them to me. I replay the memory and instead of seeing him as a guru or guide, I seem him as some kind of con-man, and the meditation just one of his tools that will help him use me for some evil purpose.”

Derek was getting more and more anxious. I could see that talking about it was only stressing him out more. “Alright! I said. Calm down. We'll figure this out. What do you want to drink?”

Derek nodded and let his breath out, and made a visible effort to breathe more slowly. “Do you have ginger ale?”


“Anything then.”

It was raining now, and I heard the wind start up again outside. We discussed all options, from doing nothing, to hiring a private investigator, to refusing any further contact with Lao Tsu until he answered our questions, to drugging him, tying him up in the basement, and interrogating him.

Shhh!”, said Derek. He was listening to something. I noticed that the wind was blowing loudly now, to the point of howling. A moment later, it died down.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Shit!!” whispered Derek. A few long seconds passed, and someone was knocking on the door.

Neither of us moved. I whispered, “I better answer it.”

“No! It's him! That's the sound I always hear before he comes!”

“You said he never comes when there are other people around. You're just on edge. I'm going to answer it.”

“No!” said Derek, straining his whisper. He was too paralyzed with fear to physically try and stop me.

I switched on the porch light and took a deep breath. I was sure that it wasn't Lao Tsu, but Derek's paranoia had made me uneasy. I turned the doorknob, and before I could change my mind, pulled the door open.

Part 3 to be posted on 3/19/2008

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Lao Tsu, part 1

(PART 1 OF 3)

He was one of those people who could turn anything he touched into gold. Derek would be heard saying something like: “lately I have wanted to try sculpting”. A couple of weeks later he would have several new pieces of sculpture in his house, and they could rival the work of someone who had devoted a lifetime to the art. For this reason, I often resented him because of my own insecurities, and yet I was careful to maintain our friendship, thinking that maybe somehow his genius would rub off on me. Or, at the very least, when Derek was discovered by the rest of the world, I would be mentioned in the footnotes of his biographies and encyclopedia articles. And in the end, he was simultaneously very likable and pleasant. Over the years since we had become neighbors, we became good friends.

His latest project was beekeeping. Not something that a person usually gets famous for, but Derek rarely seemed concerned about that. He would get so absorbed in each new hobby and would talk of nothing else until he perfected it. It was intoxicating to him, and to a lesser extent to those around him. It was all very interesting to us, and profoundly irritating at times. I never thought I would be jealous of another person's beekeeping abilities, but when he talked about it he had the enthusiasm of a child. I'm sure that was what I envied most. Not just his intense focus, but the joy each new challenge (if they could be called challenges in his case) brought to him.

One Saturday we were golfing. Golfing is one of the few things that I find tolerable to do with him, but just barely. I am a better player, but he is good enough to make the game interesting and occasionally beat me. I have been golfing once a week for the last fifteen years. When I mentioned I was a golfer, he had asked me all sorts of questions about golf, saying he had never tried it and that it looked like fun. He went out and bought his clubs that same day. Derek has only ever golfed with me, which makes a total of about fifteen games. He has won four of them. On this particular day, though, I was in a good mood, probably because I developed a comfortable lead early on in the game. This didn't seem to bother Derek, though. He was not competitive with anyone but himself. I always thought he would play no differently if I weren't there at all. The only time he would get upset is if he performed significantly worse than his average.

It was on this windy day in April that I finally asked Derek what I had wanted to almost since the first day I had met him. I approached it cautiously.

“You've really taken to golfing, haven't you?”

“Well. It is a lot of fun. I see why you you like it.” was his modest reply, true to form. But I wasn't about to let that pass for anything.

“That's not what I mean. Lots of people like golf. In fact, see those people over on the next hole? They're friends of my parents. They love golf. Their family has golfed here for generations. But on one of your good days, you could beat all of them. And this is your fifteenth or sixteenth game, isn't it? Do you understand what I'm getting at?” By now, my voice was raised a little with excitement

Derek was silent. I had made him uncomfortable. I would have expected him to be used to people asking about this, and in so doing, letting some of their jealousy show through. He mumbled something about not knowing, eyes at the ground on my golf ball that we had walked to by now. I felt bad for bringing it up and hoped that this would not affect our friendship. We didn't talk much for the next few holes.

After some time I brought up his bees. Derek didn't reply at first, and when he did it was to my earlier question.

“I'm sorry.” He said. “I—I know I have a knack for things. I know it annoys the hell out of people. I don't mean it to, but it has ruined several of my friendships, and at least one girl has left me over it. I've tried giving up my hobbies, or acting dumber than I am, but it never works. Man, I sound like such an asshole right now, I know. I don't try to be but . . . well . . . I've had some opportunities that others haven't had.”

Derek's parents had died when he was almost too young too remember. He had been raised by his uncle and aunt who were well enough off, but so were my parents. Clearly there was something more going on than opportunity. Genes, maybe? Derek could tell by my expression that I had no idea what opportunities he could be referring to.

“Like Teachers. I've had some good teachers and uh, friends too.”

“Like who?” I asked.

Derek got quiet for a moment and looked at the ground. Then he took a deep breath and continued.

“Sure, I've had some good teachers and friends I guess, but there's one in particular, who is not really a typical friend or teacher or anything else. I have never told anyone this before, but there's a man who comes to visit me sometimes. He started coming when I was very young. It was right after I lost my parents. Maybe I had only just turned three? Sometimes when I was by myself I would hear wind that would rustle and get louder and louder until it was almost howling. Then I would hear footsteps, and suddenly he would be there, walking into my room or around the corner of my house while I played in the back yard.”

I stared with a worried expression, but Derek continued.

“At first I didn't like him. He would interrupt my playing to make me memorize something, or practice something, or meditate, or do some other task that he said would benefit me later in life. Other times he would just come and have me tell him all about my week or month, like what I've been up to and how I've been feeling. Sometimes it drove me crazy, but I have come to usually look forward to it. It slowly turned from work into the most meaningful things I do. Whenever I don't see him for more than a week, I worry...”

As strange and absorbing as Derek's explanation had been so far, the tense he had been using struck me as odd and I interrupted him “You mean he still visits?”

“Yes. I saw him last week.”

Part 2


Each post will be a story or a section of a story, and I plan to make them in regular installments. Feel free to post feedback (especially regarding clarity or possible plot holes) in the comments sections. Thanks and happy reading.