1. Is This Canada?
There are aliens living on top of Toronto’s CN Tower. They are attempting to send you a message. They want to spy on earthlings before they make their final invasion and start a full-out war. Meanwhile, you are trying to communicate telepathically with Katerina, one of the instructors from the Rationality Boot Camp you attended in San Francisco last month. Yes. Really. A rationality boot camp. The purpose is to make people study Bayesian probability to the point that they can prepare for the coming robot apocalypse.
Up until recently, you were a materialist atheist, a devout skeptic who believed firmly in science and reason. This has made for some challenging conversations with me, a lifelong Catholic. But soon after returning from your boot camp, you started to believe in God. Now you imagine that the world is made of spirits, a kind of pyramid structure, or else with aspects of reality enfolded inside one another like Matryoshka dolls. The world is no longer random; things start to fit inside other things. We are made of conflicting phantasms—ghosts of lust and purity, greed and generosity, speech and silence. These connect to spirits above us, beings we cannot see. There is the spirit of the earth and the sky. There are spirits of animals and plants. There are also spirits of money and greed, of oil fields and warm Januaries, overly dry Augusts. We need to love these too, you say. You are so excited by these ideas that you run into the street.
Yesterday I took you to the Unitarian church where my community choir director leads the music. They are spiritual and intellectual and concerned with making the world a better place, but they are non-creedal. Somehow I thought you’d appreciate them. But throughout the service you barely paid attention. Afterwards, while the congregants were talking over tea and cookies, I found you absorbed in a map on the wall. It was a map of Canada, but you said that to you it looked like a map of the whole world. We left, walking toward home down Yonge Street, downtown Toronto looming before us. Suddenly, you turned and looked at me. “Jeannine, is this Canada?” you asked. My heart froze. All of a sudden I felt I could not accurately answer; in that moment, I had no idea where we were.
2. The Portal
Now, two days have passed. We’re in our kitchen, and you’re calling for Katerina. You are convinced that if you see her, everything will be all right. You wish to go to heaven, but not by dying—just a few minutes there will be enough. You decide to do a magic spell to get there. A few years ago you were interested in the video game Portal. Now, all night long you stay up in the bathroom, trying to use an umbrella as a magic laser gun to create a worm-hole to heaven. You begin arranging objects in strange configurations: the bathroom sink becomes home to a fork, a stick of butter, and a mouse made from scrap metal that we bought at an outdoor street festival a few years ago. You tell me you cannot drink filtered water—it is a kind of holy water that has the effect of making you lose your memory. Your parents are worried about you. So is your boss. At one point I ask you directly: do you want to go to the hospital? You look at me uncertainly. Maybe, you say.
On Thursday morning I wake up to find you lying beside me. Have you slept through the night? For a moment I am filled with hope that maybe, just maybe, you are going to be all right. But then, I get up and step out of the room to see that the entire apartment—floors, counter tops, your computer—has been covered in baby powder. “I am innocent to all these things,” you say. “I know nothing of them. I am a creature of heaven, not of this earth.”
That night the situation worsens. “I am going for a walk,” you announce, bolting out the door before I can point out that you are not wearing shoes. Five minutes pass. Ten. I call your phone. No answer. Stepping outside, I see you pacing around the block. I follow you and call your name. You only walk more quickly. Later, you will report that in that moment you were certain that the aliens were not only bent on abducting you, but dragging you into hell.
I ponder what to do. I don’t want to call the police. Instead, I call my friend Amanda. Thankfully she answers her phone, and soon we are both stalking you around the block. Every time you see us, you turn away. Finally we catch up to you. We try to get you to enter the apartment you and I share, but you refuse, so Amanda and I walk you to hers, about seven blocks away. You are in a trance, humming a song we cannot understand. Inside, Amanda gives all of us herbal tea. You stop singing and then announce your desire to be a healer. You wave your hands over Amanda and me, promising to cure us of our maladies.
Somehow I sleep that night, alongside Amanda in her bed. We leave you on the sofa. In the morning, I wake up once again hoping that somehow, some way, you have been cured. I ask Amanda what you are doing. “He’s playing with a fork and a magnet,” she announces. My heart sinks. It is clear that we are running out of options for what to do. After much pleading, we get you into Amanda’s car. I sit in the back seat with you, holding your hand as we drive to the mental health hospital.
As you are being interviewed for your intake, I sit in the waiting room, praying that the counselors will deem you fine. I overhear snippets of conversation. “Do you know what day it is today?” My heart sinks. I can’t even remember what day it is today—how on earth is it fair of them to expect that of you? After a few moments your interviewer, a young woman not much older than we are, emerges from the room.
“How is he?” I dare to ask.
She shakes her head. “Not good.”
An hour later, you are admitted into the emergency department and given a bed.
3. Substance Abuse
For me the next few days pass in a blur of speaking to your parents who live in England, contacting your boss, emailing my doctoral thesis committee and informing them that no, I won’t be handing in the third chapter of my dissertation in June as I said I would. Every day, I go to the hospital. I bring your clothes and electric razor and other items you ask for—a biography of St. Catherine of Siena (inspired by your interest in Katerina from the rationality boot camp, with whom you are still attempting to communicate telepathically), a Quran and a series of explanatory books on Islam (which is, for you, a religion that suddenly appeals due to its lack of human images and seemingly mathematical worldview). I also bring you food—takeout Indian and Greek dinners from nearby restaurants which you consume after your regular hospital meal.
Each day, I am hoping that you will be released. However, the text messages you send me suggest you are far from it. I think the aliens have x-ray vision and the pills we take let them look inside people’s bodies, you write one evening. This morning I was talking to the Crazy Angel who guards this place. And finally: Today I figured out where they keep the holy water. It´s in a closet, high up on a shelf.
Ah yes. Holy water. You were always a little fascinated by the receptacles at the entrance to churches on any of those occasions when I convinced you to come to a Catholic Mass with me. Somehow during your episode you briefly came to believe that filtered water was holy. And now, here in the hospital, it is making an appearance once again.
On your fifth day in the hospital, I enter to find you sitting in a room with a group of people. One of the nurses tells me it’s a meeting for patients who have substance abuse issues. The very thought of this makes me smile. Never in your life have you smoked. You claim to have tried marijuana once, in high school. As for alcohol, you drank for one year when you became the legal age to do so, but soon became a committed teetotaler. It’s hard for me not to laugh in the counselor’s face.
After the meeting is over, you emerge with an explanation. “I was telling them about my addiction to holy water,” you say. My stomach muscles tighten. No, you are not going to be getting out of the hospital today, or tomorrow, or the day after that.
4. Hey Jude
Throughout these days all your friends from England call to talk to you. Your Toronto friends come to visit, as do some of mine. You receive them politely, some more enthusiastically than others. With some you play ping pong or the piano; with others you sit, silently coloring mandalas, an activity the recreational therapists are eager to have you do. One day my friend Priya—who herself has been in and out of mental hospitals eight times—comes to see you. When I called her on the phone, she took the news casually, in stride, as if she weren’t surprised at all to see you in this state. Maybe her own experience has made her more conscious of the truth—that all of us are just a step away from falling, that any of us could take a wrong turn that would push us out of the reality we consider to be normal.
Throughout these days you seem to have been drawing closer to me, happy to see me when I come through your door with another bagged lunch or carton of Indian takeout or a book. After I say goodbye to Priya, I return to your floor to find you and other patients gathered around a hospital volunteer who has brought a karaoke machine. One by one, various patients try singing. You decline, which makes me want to laugh—back in Oxford, where I met you when I was an exchange student and you an undergraduate studying computer science, you were famous for singing Britney Spears or Kate Bush at college karaoke nights. After a few songs I turn to the volunteer and ask her for what I think all of us need: a “Hey Jude” sing-along. Soon we are all holding hands and swaying back and forth to the music. In this moment, just briefly, I forget about us and our relationship. I look at all of the people who have been in the hospital with you, and I find myself wondering about them. I have come to see you every day. Amanda has come most days. At least four of your friends have come. Where are everyone else’s visitors? I take the hand of the young man on my left, your hand on my right. Back and forth we sway. I pray that all of these patients will somehow find their way home.
Ten days after your initial entry, I step into the hospital. Dr. Pellegrino makes an announcement. You are doing better, so you can leave the hospital for two full hours. I cannot make sense of how exciting this is. The weather is glorious—blue sky, spring magnolias, the smell of a cool breeze from the lake. We take the Spadina Streetcar down to the water, and soon we are walking among the flowers of the music garden, a glorious park whose design is meant to represent Bach’s Suite No. 1 in G Major for unaccompanied cello, BWV 1007. You kneel down to sniff the flowers, to kiss them; you look up, giving praise for the sacred day. There is still magic in everything—a magic I dare to hope will stay with you once you leave the confinement of the hospital. “It’s nice to be out in the big room,” you say, taking my hand. My pulse quickens.
Years ago we met in Oxford, where we had a blissful spring romance amid May blossoms. When I moved back home, we maintained a correspondence, and half a decade later, you crossed the ocean to come and live with me. When you first arrived in Toronto I had hoped for a honeymoon. I felt like I was deprived of one, that our whole relationship was like a marriage without the honeymoon, meat and potatoes with no dessert. From the start you had a two-hour commute to your office; your work hours were long. And then you found rationality boot camps and the technological Singularity and like-minded people who wanted to use rationality to solve the world’s problems. People who came to matter more than I did.
In this moment, as you kiss the flowers and breathe in the cool air from the lake, part of me suspects our relationship will not last. I trust you will emerge from this psychosis and get well; I imagine we will have more good times—a party to celebrate your return to work, late-night sushi after a meeting of the mathematics meet-up you will go on to found. But right before you first felt those aliens’ presence, right before that boot camp, you told me you wanted a new life without me. The differences in our worldviews and life goals seemed too vast. Part of me intuits that your desire to leave me will return, even though I will remain with you for the two years it takes you to recover. What I don’t know is that, years later, after I’ve moved to the middle of the US to work as a professor in a small, picturesque town on the Mississippi River, after I have found and lost other loves, I will come to understand that the honeymoons I yearn for don’t come at designated times; vacations and nice dinners don’t always bring joy. The magic and connection we all yearn for comes in brief, fleeting moments that we can choose to notice or ignore.
“Can we do soul sight?” you ask after finishing your prayer to the lavenders. We look into each other’s eyes. Yours are wide, extremely blue. You begin to list the emotions you see in mine: concern, uncertainty, pain. But then, you see the important thing. “I see love,” you say. Yes, my dear one. You do.
Jeannine M. Pitas is the author of the poetry collection Things Seen and Unseen and the author of several Southern Cone poems. Her latest translation, Echo of the Park by Romina Freschi, was just published. She lives in Iowa and teaches at the University of Dubuque.
“Honeymoon” originally appeared in TLR Feverish.