self actualization, short story,
| The Sibling
She ignored the signs, as would anybody, but the discovery would change her life…
Darla woke at five-thirty to the tinny voice of a cheap clock radio with an AM station that split into two static voices; she reached a hand up from underneath the down comforter and turned the alarm off and then pushed a head full of mayhem hair from underneath the covers also; exposing herself to a completely new world.
She lit that hair with the kitchen light, shaggy, short and blond when she stepped groggily into the room and stared emptily through the second floor window at the house next door; an exact facsimile of her own. She noticed the kitchen light in an empty room, also the same as hers.
Several moments later she adjusted the nozzle on her espresso machine, allowing the thick black liquid to sputter; black lava from a small volcano to drip from twin spouts into the carafe beneath the steam tank.
Hearing the mutter of a radio in the apartment beneath hers, she made her way to the living room and turned on the stereo that played the same public radio program muttering on the floor below.
With a half an hour of the crisp announcer’s voice, she cleared the sleep from her mind, leaving her thoughts a blank slate. She abandoned herself to the day’s function, a half-human automaton, and half and hour later descended the newer stairs to the garage three flights below.
Driving to work the car hissed in the rain and she nearly collided with a light blue Subaru the same year, model and make as her own, but managed to merge onto the interstate without further trouble. Making her way into the rainy gray world, she exited the eight-lane and drove North from the down-town, bisecting a business park where two identical glass buildings stood on either side of the street. She stopped, waiting for a draw-bridge; in crisis that divided and then re-sected with hope. She finally followed a wide arterial pulling into the parking lot of a pacific-age building with double-wide windows; built for the rainy coastal weather.
She stood for a moment at the building’s glass entrance door and waved across the room to a curly-haired receptionist seated behind a glass divider. The receptionist, a portly lady who was adjusting her double-circles glasses, noticed Darla, smiled and waved in return.
The glass door hushed shut behind Darla, and she made her way across the waiting area, halving it, and entered the office space behind the receptionist, hunting a file in a wall-length folder holder. She shared an office with another case worker, but space was limited so they divided their office hours to make better use of the small desk and filing cabinet there. She could always find copies in the main office.
She stepped into the waiting room, looking over the beginning of the day’s case load and called a name written neatly on one of two folders in her arms;
The room shifted in the psychiatric discomfort of medication, half-asleep, and then a stark, younger man dressed in worn jeans and a plaid shirt that hung limp over his skeletal body, stood. His deep-blue eyes beneath his frizzy hair locked on Darla in a half-accusatory, half-smiling glance.
Darla led Nixon to a small room in a series of small, identical rooms that ringed the waiting area and the main office. She checked a plastic sheath next to the door to see if the room was occupied, but discovered only her own name in a script that seemed not to be her hand. She let Nixon in and after having him sit in a padded chair, took a seat opposite at an empty, steel desk.
“So how are you doing today, Nixon?” she asked.
“Singing with the sparrows.” Nixon said.
“Having a good morning?”
“Have you been taking your medication?”
“Good.” Darla was silent for several moments, scribbling on a notepad, and Nixon scratched the back of his head and then leaned forward, eyes narrowing and whispered; sharing his most important secret with Darla;
“The doppelganger faced a setback too,” Nixon waited for mention of the thing of curse and enchantment to catch on Darla’s face and to interest her. It did not;
Nixon continued, unperturbed;
“He tried to create another double, but was stopped!”
Darla opened one of the medical charts which she carried with her and started to fill out the necessary paper work on Nixon, adding to the behavioral analysis and noting symptoms and patterns for his visit with the more experienced psychiatrist later that week. She gauged his relative connection to reality and assessed his functionality. New patients were always coming to the clinic, and resources were stretched so that she almost had to operate in triage fashion, unable to offer any therapy. She asked him questions about his daily life, but Nixon muttered uninterested responses quickly returning to his secret ventures, unconcerned with Darla’s attempt to shift context. Half an hour later Darla spoke again;
“Nixon, this is all very interesting, but…”
“… and then I found out that he couldn’t handle clerical power very well…”
“I have a lot of people to see today…”
“…and pretty soon I had depleted three of his doubles…”
“So I guess our half-hour is up.”
Darla stood and Nixon mirrored her. She opened the door for Nixon who walked out into the waiting room, stretching his limbs and shaking his mangy head of hair; even after the session he seemed half-awake from a tumultuous night’s sleep. Darla shut the door again, and returned to the desk, slowly finishing the paperwork on Nixon. She flipped the pages mechanically, functioning as a living rolodex and signed where her name was required.
She would see seven more clients before noon; some better than Nixon, a few as bad. She could recite the diagnosis of each; could wager the exact psychological pain they endured. Her whole life was centered on helping them. She nevertheless wondered sometimes; was she missing something? Darla felt sometimes as if she were half a person. Was the professional detachment she practiced just an excuse? She oftentimes felt blank; empty, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. She went to the main office to search out another set of medical charts, puzzled by the rare emergence of those thoughts.
Darla met with a manic-depressive and then a schizophrenic; a schizophrenic and then a manic depressive. The clinic served lower income individuals, and there weren’t any ‘interesting’ cases like multiple personality disorder or chronic nervous breakdown issues. The time moved slowly and the lines of evaluation sheets and client goal forms blurred and then doubled. She threw herself at the endless and hopeless and complicated wall of paperwork; almost without pause.
Darla wrote until a first pen dried up, and then went to the office to retrieve a second, matching ‘paper mate.’ She turned carefully in the swivel chair in front of the desk, checking her work while clients stared listlessly at the ceiling, or smiled or cried. She worked through the case load, as did seven other workers, buoys on the flood level of clients that moved slowly through the office.
Darla left the appointment room at eleven o’ clock and crossed the parking lot to the building opposite the clinic. She entered and climbed the stairs to her cramped, second story office, finding a room with twin desks divided by a pair of filing cabinets. She looked at the desk calendar and reviewed the information scribbled haphazardly in the equally sized, two-dimensional boxes. She read a note to herself in the lunch-hour box claiming her volunteer time at a heroin-addiction recovery unit south of the downtown area. She visited there weekly, keeping track of the clients who sometimes needed anti-depressants after kicking the habit.
She descended the rickety stairs in the forties build, cinderblock aqua colored building, noting its reflection in the wide windows of the clinic, which stood opposite; a similar structure, as she made her way across the rainy parking lot. She made her way through the crowded waiting room, and slipped through the door to the main office, floating in front of the bank of files for a moment and then absconding with two final thin tablets of medical knowledge.
She saw one client and then a second; both women and divided the hour evenly finishing her case work a tense couple of minutes before twelve o’ clock. She divided the AM and PM hours as she left the clinic, pulling her blue Subaru into the ominous tide of noon traffic. She turned the wind-shield wipers on, which kept a steady, double cadence and soon found herself on a double-wide lane that merged with an aqua duct. It skirted the down-town between steel cliffs of sky-scrapers and the baptismal depths of the huge ocean inlet on which the city rested. Soon buildings were behind and the aqua duct floated through air. It bisected a set of bluffs; and a separate headland soon folded around her Subaru as blanketing earth. She turned onto an arterial that curved over the headland and for a moment the enfolding blanket fell, leaving a half-view of the inlet in Darla’s peripheral vision. Darla slowed the car. As she had in the clinic earlier that day, she felt half alive. Was she really helping anybody? Was she anything more than a box robot?Was she really doing anyone any good? Again, she felt something that she couldn’t put her finger on. Darla considered turning back for a moment.
Then she decided to continue. The arterial curved and soon she commanded two opposing views of the inlet. She left behind the jagged towers and the dirty streets. She descended into a shallow valley and pulled the car to the waters edge of a sea-walled bay. Darla cracked the door and followed a sidewalk, passing a half-empty coffee house along a board walk. She then turned from the sea-walled bay onto a residential street. The street started to darken beneath the shadowy presence of western red cedar; of pine trees that climbed slender into the air and left half-light on the pavement below. The world complicated itself in half-darkness.
Midway along the block, inconsistent with the eves of residential houses stood a square one-story building, not unlike the clinic where Darla worked. Once perhaps the private practice of a doctor or a dentist it was now simply known as ‘The Center;’ a detox and half-way unit for heroin addicts. It was as far as could be from the environs of drug addiction; the graphite streets downtown. Darla turn up the walk beneath twin pines; climbed two steps to a flat cement double-wide landing in front of the door.
She knocked three times and the door was opened by the smiling and excited face of the attendant;
“Do we have a surprise for you today!” she said, and without mentioning Darla’s name she pushed her blond hair to the side and led Darla across the room. Darla put on a quizzical half smile, but followed the emaciatedly thin attendant, who did not take time to explain. They entered a back room lined with bunks for the heroin addicts over the withdrawal phase; able to sleep on a cot without seizure or hallucination. Darla stopped in the middle of the room. In response the attendant turned a friendly frown.
“ Well, I’ll leave you with Dorothy – she likes to be called Dorry.”
Darla stared at Dorry for several moments, a twin in gender, and started to feel her self meld with the other, an uncontrollable feeling that frightened her. Shoving down a wave of fear, she attempted once again to become an automaton, hoping that if nothing else, work habits might dissolve the confusion in some way. She then spoke;
“How are you doing Dorry?
“Pretty low.” Dorry’s face sagged as she looked at the foot of the bed. The response broke Darla from her torpor, and she became once again an automaton.
“That’s typical of heroin; sometimes a person gets post-addiction depression.”
“Is there anything you can do about it?” Dorry looked up at Darla mournfully.
“I can get you anti-depressants that will take care of it.
Darla returned to her car. She stared at herself for a moment in the rearview mirror. She looked down, and she was alone again. She then divided herself between pushing down on the clutch and punching the car into gear, becoming angry at herself for having missed a much more enormous thing. How could she think that the patients she treated were any different than herself? She stared at the ominous tide crashing against the seawall and then Darla started to cry. How could she think that she was any less deserving of love? And then, with the appearance of the sibling in the mirror, Darla’s half existence sank into oblivion and her soul doubled, and Darla became whole.