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.

"So...meet 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. "Um...how'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."

4 comments:

Loki said...

This is playful. I will look forward to reading the rest of the story. I have just a tinge of "writer's envy."

Josh said...

This is going to be an interesting story, I can't wait to see where it goes. It would be cool if Right "drew" his responses or feelings instead of writing them since that side of the brain is more visual. Then Left would have to try to interpret them...just an idea.

A couple really minor things I noticed while reading...

How [could] she bring that up at a time like this?

handsom should be handsome

T.R. said...

thanks for the feedback guys! it's so much easier to write when there's people reading. I working these next two weeks so I will fix that error then. For now I'll set up the next parts of the story.

jeremy said...

I remember reading this. Interesting premise.