JULY 23, 1994
The boy screamed with the agony of a Damned soul in Hell as his bones snapped like tinder-dry twigs, and blood spattered from dozens of wounds opened by pieces of jagged bone tearing through tissue and skin.
“Ten c.c.’s of Norcuron!” Doctor Allan Lasater shouted over the human cacophony. “Get the backboard over here and prepare for intubation, now!”
“Shutting the system down now!” the technician yelled.
“Slowly!” the doctor hollered over the boy’s tortured cry. “Cycle the power down, or his brain will hemorrhage!”
“Monitor heart rate and blood pressure!” the doctor commanded.
A hypo-syringe materialized in his hand, and Lasater stabbed the fine edge directly into his young patient’s heart.
A powerful muscle relaxant, Norcuron would place the boy into complete paralysis. Pumping the drug directly into the heart was the quickest way of getting it into the bloodstream. The heart would rush the drug into the boy’s system with the speed and force of a pressure hose pumping water into a swimming pool.
“Intubation tube!” Lasater roared. “Heart monitors up! And get a crash-cart in here!”
Norcuron averaged a minute to take effect, and Lasater counted the seconds as he gazed at the large screen off to the side. The computerized image was a real-time display of Alex’s brain, showing what was happening as it occurred. Neural activity was past two hundred percent of normal and rising. The boy’s nervous system was a maelstrom of over-activity. What should have been a continuous stream of bio-electrical impulses was now an unbridled torrent. It was an enraged flood of bio-electricity that was supercharging every motor neuron and receptor, giving Alex’s muscles unlimited strength without a shred of control.
Strength enough to tear the boy’s body apart from the inside out.
Two long minutes ago everyone had been fevered with achievement. The Neural Cerebral Enhancer was a technological Rosetta Stone unrivaled by any previous discovery in medical science history, and it appeared to be a success. They had all seen it. A boy disabled since birth who had stood on his own and taken an unassisted step while maintaining perfect balance. Immediately the room flooded with cheers as everyone celebrated their success. Then Alex attempted another step, and the flood of cheers became an overflow of anguish as the boy’s bones began breaking like collapsing dominos.
But the Norcuron was starting to work. Alex’s body was still contorting and trembling, his eyes were still rolled into his head, but his wail was reducing to a quivering cry as paralysis set in.
Lasater shifted. He wanted to get the intubation done before the boy was moved. He had just begun opening Alex’s mouth when the boy’s body jerked violently, and his spine snapped in three places.
The doctor thought as a new series of medical alarms filled the air. Oh, God!
“Okay, Alex,” Lindsay called from the hallway, startling Alex Andrewson from his doze. “I’m heading out. Anything else before I go?”
Alex calmed and took a look around, making sure everything was where he needed it. Life with Cerebral Palsy was a lot like chess. The better the player knew the board and the positions of his pieces, the better a strategy he could devise if the game took a surprise curve.
“I’m fine, Lindsay,” he called back. “See you at midnight.”
“Bye,” Lindsay replied, and Alex returned his eyes to the television and sipped at his drink.
He liked Lindsay. She was a wonderful care-giver. Someone willing to go over and above to accommodate his needs even though others would have paid her far more and asked for far less. Then again, Lindsay was not in the field for the money; in her occupation, a generous salary was as common as that mythical pot rainbows were known for. Lindsay’s reasons were of a sort that were as rare as they were genuine, and those reasons made her worthy of a halo in his eyes. Having someone like Lindsay in his life filled him with the warmth of an open fire on a cold night.
Alex’s relationship with the government bureaucracy that provided his home care supports also gave Alex a sense of warmth, one borne of frustration rather than comfort.
If the government’s definition of “adequate personal care” was an ice cube, Alex’s perspective was the hotplate. The government seemed to view home support recipients with a “cookie-cutter mentality,” as though people were cut out of the same sheet of dough and had the same shape and flavor as all others. Services were doled out the same way, as if an automated assembly line clunked out programs and services according to the rigid specifications of that cookie-cutter, regardless of an individual’s actual needs. So Alex did the only thing he could do when faced with that mentality.
He ignored it.
As long as the money provided for his home care was spent and accounted for properly, the government usually left him alone. Of course, there were times when the system would attempt to bring him in line with its mentality. Then Alex would fight back. Usually by becoming Ringmaster in a public relations circus until the right person in the proper administrative office wanted out from under the political big-top bad enough. He knew some people did not approve of his methods, but, when it came to his health and quality of life, Alex had to win.
With that thought he switched off the television, took a deep breath, and headed out.
The night had the chill of a walk-in freezer, and Alex was glad he had been able to put a jacket on. But dressing himself was only one of the freedoms to come about a year ago.
Alex had been listening to the radio, his television on with the sound muted, when his stereo shrieked. His television reception scrambled at the same time, distorting the image into a formless collage toddler might make with finger-paints.
The signal-disruption was as traumatic as it was unjust, triggering some kind of seizure that left Alex screaming and flailing on the floor. Lindsay had him taken to the hospital where a doctor, in the absence of any diagnosis, said the chance of an event like that ever happening again was about a one in a billion. Alex was hospitalized for a few days of observation, and released with no recorded aftereffects.
aftereffects would show up and scare the Hell out of him a few days later. Again, Alex had been watching television when his mind began to wander into a deep daydream. His doze was dramatically interrupted by a sudden burning sensation that exploded across his forehead. It was as though someone had taken a cigarette-lighter to his brow. Immediately every muscle was seized by agony, as if they were being severed from their tendons and picked at with tweezers sporting barbed tips.
Even so, his torment became amazement when he realized he was sitting straighter and with perfect balance, his body under his full control. Then, seconds later, he blinked and the control vanished. It would happen again over the following weeks, usually while he was falling asleep. Over time, Alex gained enough control and confidence with the phenomenon to begin self-experiments, though none were as bold as tonight’s undertaking.
Alex maneuvered his motorized wheelchair along the sidewalk toward the nearby university campus, a trip his unseen disability would have made impossible few years ago. Anxiety had been a great anchor weighing down Alex’s life since childhood, but it was not until his senior High School year that the emotional hook found purchase over his life. One second Alex was working on his English Final, the next he was overwrought with the terror of a drowning victim whose lungs were still filling up.
The terror retreated as quickly as it had assaulted, but reappeared later that summer. The panic became an unwelcome intruder that came back more strongly each time Alex repelled it. Then, in the summer of 2001, the panic attacked again, and Alex broke before its invasion.
During his childhood he could spend up to twelve hours outside alone. In adulthood, Alex became hysterical if he lost sight of his care-giver while outside his home. It was ironic that Alex was so fearless before an adversarial bureaucracy, yet horrified by the thought of a trip alone to the convenience store. It had taken him years to reclaim a taste of the emotional independence he possessed as a boy. Even now controlling the fear was like leash-training a fevered grizzly, but at least his fear was somewhat controlled.
Alex approached the field-track at the rear of the deserted university campus, pulling alongside the barb-wire fence between him and the track. The winter breeze dried his lips as he closed his eyes halfway and breathed. His eyes reflexively rolled up into his head as he moved them back and forth in a carefully rehearsed pattern. Again the searing lick of pain blazed across his forehead as his muscles berated him with excoriating fury for prodding them into activity.
Alex consumed the agony with his resolve, opened his eyes, and blinked as he flexed his fingers, turned his wrists, and
straightened his arms.
The frigid breeze raced down his spine as he removed his coat, his long brown hair drifting in the air as he unfastened his seat-belt. Alex lowered his fully functional feet from the wheelchair’s footrests, gripped his armrests, and rose from his wheelchair. Then he was standing; he was standing on his own feet. He had a single heartbeat to savor the achievement before he began toppling forward, and grabbed at the fence for support.
He was in it now, but Alex did not dare start thinking. He got his grip and climbed until he was perched on the structural bar at the top of the fence. There he squatted with the crouch of a gargoyle on the ledge of a building’s gothic façade. Then Alex did think. If this did not work, he was going to have some explaining to do.
No, really, getting trapped at the top of fences is a common problem for a quadriplegic,
he thought to himself.
Alex did not think that claim had much credibility as he gathered his strength, gritted his teeth, and jumped. He sailed through the air in a forward arc with his arms out before him, and, when he touched down, Alex was standing with an ideally feline stance and aspect. Then, with a final look around, he pushed off with his feet and began to run.
Instantly the world became a thrilling storm of adrenaline fueled motion. The breeze was suddenly an arctic gale rushing at his face as he ran at a speed impossible for two human legs. Alex’s head spun as the night melted into a blurred abstract of afterimages glimpsed from the corners of his eyes. His heart possessed the spirit of an animal caged but untamed, pumping supercharged blood to the muscles of a body sailing to untold heights of exhilaration borne not of fear, or self-doubt. The pandemonium engulfing him now was an intoxication of excitement, a euphoria of self-control. Alex’s body was his own. It was solid and capable, with all its parts and systems in sync.
His arms and hands were the struts balancing him as his legs became the boosters thrusting him into flight. Adrenaline had subsumed Alex’s awareness beyond any count of his passes around the track. His existence was devoted to the single impulse commanding him to go faster.
He was a man racing the wind and leaving it in his wake, a man testing the limits of his body and defining a new level of ability. But his soul was already craving more, and Alex indulged its desire by springing into a series of forward somersaults with the precision of a master acrobat. As he pin-wheeled, Alex realized that his arms and legs had reverted back to the human norm even as one more flip landed him on his haunches.
For a long while Alex rested there, hands braced on the ground for balance. Somehow, Alex found assuming that position as natural for him as breathing in and out. His body had become a high-performance speed machine acting without its driver’s intent. Alex slowly brought his breathing under control, his grin expanding into an exuberant smile.
A smile that vanished a second later as he was overcome by a wave of terror.
Alex commanded himself, covering his eyes as the vertigo took hold.
Steeling himself, Alex started running again, the terror evaporating with the burst of speed as he pushed off the ground to clear the six-foot height of the field’s fence. Sorting himself out in his wheelchair, Alex wiped his face and put on his jacket. Then he rolled his eyes and clenched his teeth as the burning sensation flared across his forehead, and his disability reasserted itself.
The reversion back to his natural state was the perfect anticlimax, like rolling along a highway on a Segway after racing down that highway in a fully-loaded Ferrari. The temptation to leave his catlike abilities active permanently was tantalizing, but pragmatism kept the temptation in check. Alex’s body was still an enigmatic puzzle box of unknowns. He was simply unsure of how stable his abilities were.
Alex once spent a whole night hanging around his apartment in his “cat-mode.” The freedom of dressing himself, tying his shoes, or helping himself to a late-night snack might have been boring to others, but to Alex such activities were more fun than a Sony Playstation.
Then something unexpected happened that raised the question of just how reliable his mysterious abilities really were. Alex had just come from the bathroom when his forehead started burning. Before he knew it, he was flat on his stomach in his bedroom. His catlike abilities were gone, and the neural-muscular bindings of his Spastic Cerebral Palsy had once again taken hold.
The high-performance speed machine had a bad starter, and Alex’s gut ached with worry as he tried repeatedly to get the engine turned over. His abilities finally jump-started later the next day, and Alex almost suspected his body of cooperating simply to stop the pestering. He had also been fortunate in that, had he occupied the bathroom another couple of minutes, Lindsay would have arrived that morning and found him trapped on the toilet.
The scenario may have made a funny picture in hindsight, but a darker issue hung over it that was anything but humorous. His best guess was that he simply pushed himself too far, but even instant lottery tickets were more reliable than best guesses. Until his body was no longer a mystery box, Alex would continue relying on care-givers like Lindsay, as he resisted a bureaucracy that did not abet individuality.
Alex breathed deeply and started for home, feeling the drag of the emotional anchor weighing him down as his ever-present fear again fought against its tenuous leash.
He retraced the route back to his home exactly. It was a straight line, with no rises, dips, or corners to navigate. Still, Alex’s pulse was a raging torrent, his brain spinning as though caught within an endless vortex. It was a simple journey of two blocks, but Alex may as well have been trapped on an uncontrolled roller-coaster during an earthquake for the level of terror gripping him.
The church parking lot across from his apartment building was full of vehicles sitting in their stalls like slumbering beasts. The Christmas festivities seemed to be just ending, with the shapes and shadows of people moving to wake the beasts of automation from their sleep.
Alex gazed at the activity, fixating on the variety of vehicles and the glow of their headlights as they began to move. His heart was beating so hard he thought it might launch from his throat if he breathed any harder. His mind commanded that he scream, and resisting that edict alone was an exhausting act of will.
The scream came, not from Alex, but from the tires of the Ford Explorer storming around the corner. The truck growled as it fish tailed, roaring as it slid on the icy road into another vehicle before finding purchase and bearing down.
Already in the crosswalk, a woman holding a small child’s hand had become the focus of the Explorer’s headlights. The mother’s face was a vision of primal terror as she clung her child in her arms and dove for safety.
The night became manic with action and ruckus as people cried out in horror at the near tragedy, rushing to the aid of the woman and child. The passage of the Explorer was the target of tremendous anger as it careened onto the main boulevard, but no one saw the catlike shadow pursuing it.
Alex raced along the paved pathway running parallel to the boulevard, the panic once again banished by action as he focused on the chase.
Vehicles scrambled to get clear of the Explorer as it rampaged down the boulevard against the traffic flow. Alex shot through the night, heart pounding with the speed and force of a prizefighter’s fists as his catlike limbs propelled him at his thunderous pace.
The Explorer steam-rolled through the vehicular chaos and accelerated, but it was Alex who dropped the hammer. In five heartbeats he was pacing the Explorer, glimpsing the key to his next move in the corner of his eye.
The window of the rear-side passenger-door was down, and Alex made a final jump that was tricky, insane, and performed without thought. A car swerved up onto the path where he had been a second before, and Alex cleared the length of the car as he jumped, diving into the Explorer’s open window with the form of an Olympic swimmer.
The Explorer’s rancorous engine was dramatic enough, but the tumult inside the truck was a mind-breaking catastrophe. The stereo was pumped so loud and fast there was barely even a beat. The tooth-rattling blend of engine and stereo noise should have been enough to block any other sound, but the screams of the driver–a crazed exclamation of inhumanity–overpowered all other sound.
The driver shook with infinite lunacy, gripping the wheel so hard his hands looked to be of white marble as his eyes bulged with a drug-induced fury that would have driven the devil to confession.
The first hint the lunatic driver had of another passenger was when Alex pulled at the unused seatbelt and twisted it twice around the driver’s neck. The driver screamed, but the mindless exclamation was interrupted as Alex grabbed for the seat-recline. The driver grunted, but was immediately stunned as Alex hammered his elbows into the driver’s chest as hard as he could. The driver gasped as Alex moved again, sitting on the prone maniac’s legs.
Besides currently sitting on the lap of a crazed maniac, Alex’s other problem was that the maniac probably still knew more about driving than Alex did. But Alex was reasonably sure of where the break was as he wrenched the wheel and stomped his foot on the pedal. The Explorer slid on the ice as the brakes locked up, but the truck continued on, tires screaming as Alex desperately held the break.
A second later the maniac lunged up, the seat-belt still around his neck as he bellowed. Alex looked into the overhead mirror, saw Satan snarling into his ear, and screamed as he threw his head back. His reverse head-butt sent the maniac falling back with a broken nose and split lip.
Alex’s stomach seemed to flop as the Explorer spun a final time. The truck left the road, jumped over the pathway, and miraculously landed neatly in the frozen-over knoll beside the path.
The maniac was starting to rage again, but Alex was already tossing the keys and fleeing into the shadows.
The cell phone camera footage surfaced a couple of days later, and, between the internet and the media, the whole story went right over the top. The quality of the footage was so grainy and raw that it made for unending speculation, but was just good enough to show what appeared to be a man jumping into a runaway SUV as though he were a cat.
At the rate the story was moving, Alex expected to be exposed any day. Maybe that was why the secret he had so easily kept for months suddenly felt so heavy. Besides, all Alex had now were spectacular theories, cloudy half-memories, and questions that burned as though they were written in fired gasoline. He needed answers, and knew of only one person who might provide them.
Doctor Allan Lasater had changed a lot in the twenty-four years since Alex had angrily rebuffed his last attempt to talk with him. His hair was still full, but gray with streaks of white; his face was thin and lined, but his voice retained its depth of personality and authority Alex remembered from his childhood.
“I’m not mad anymore,” Alex said, for want of a better way to bridge the present with the past.
“I’m glad,” Lasater nodded. “You had every right to be. You lost a lot, especially after that final surgery.”
That final surgery had been performed on Alex’s right leg, and its muscles cramped as he remembered the nine weeks he spent in a fiberglass cast that immobilized him from the waist to the ankles. Like most of the other surgeries, it had been unsuccessful, but its consequences had been more profound. Alex had received no physiotherapy during those weeks, which led to a vast deterioration of his already limited physical abilities. The abilities to feed himself, hold a drinking cup, even sit on a toilet. All gone.
“What happened?” Alex asked. “With the first surgery, I mean. When I was about four.”
“What do you remember?”
“A huge lab,” Alex replied, his voice drifting, “with lights so bright they hurt my eyes. You were there, and I was standing in some kind of support brace. There were electrodes and wires all over me. You nodded, and a medical technician punched keys on a computer keyboard. Then you nodded to somebody else and the brace was removed from me.”
Alex frowned, “I think I was standing on my own, and I think I took a step. After that, all I remember was screaming in pain while you yelled at people.”
Lasater seemed to age a little more as he listened and, when next he spoke, his voice sounded even older. “You remember well. I was hoping you didn’t.”
“Because no child should have been put through that. Much less remember it.”
“There’s something in my head, isn’t there? Something that compensates for my disability.” Alex looked Lasater in the eye and lowered his voice, “Maybe something that more than compensates for it.”
For a moment Lasater just looked back at Alex with the perfect Poker-Face. “Is it really that important now?”
Lasater frowned slightly as Alex rolled his eyes, and reached out when Alex clenched his teeth in pain, but Lasater froze, his jaw dropping, as Alex body assumed normal posture, position, and balance. Then the doctor’s jaw dropped further as Alex gripped his hand in a firm handshake.
“Yes,” Alex replied, “it is that important now.”
Alex told Lasater everything. He described the radio and television signal disruption that triggered his seizure, and how he was awakened from his doze by a burning sensation upon his forehead that offered a brief period of physical normalcy, to all the events leading up to his confrontation with a deranged SUV driver.
Alex’s account ended, and Lasater abruptly stood, running both hands over his head and turning away. Alex watched the man’s back, wondering how big a mistake confiding in him might have been, when the doctor turned back.
“And you’ve been doing this completely alone all this time?” he asked.
“I wasn’t sure who to tell or how to tell them,” Alex shrugged. “But I’ve hit a wall, Allan. I don’t know how much further I want to go without some answers.”
“I hear you,” Lasater agreed; then, after giving Alex a long look, resumed his seat. “Do you know what electro-stimulation devices are?”
“I know they’re pretty new,” Alex replied. “The ones I’ve heard about on the news involve electrodes, fiberoptic wires, and batteries that work with the brain.”
“Exactly, they are pacemakers for the brain that help damaged sections of the brain work properly. As you say, they’re still new, but they are being tested as treatments for everything from addictions, to extreme depressions, to physical disabilities.”
“So I do have one of these things in my head,” Alex nodded.
“Something similar, but not nearly as crude as anything out there today. The Cerebral Cortex controls voluntary muscle movement. Your Cerebral Cortex has scar tissue throughout that interferes with the signals your brain sends to your muscles. The N.C.E. is designed to get around that interference.”
“The N.C.E.?” Alex asked.
“There are three main components to the N.C.E. system. The Cerebral Unit is in your head. It uses controlled electrical bursts that amplify the signals from your brain and sends them to the Neural Unit at the base of your spine. The Neural Unit does the actual stimulating of your body’s receptors and motor neurons, making sure they receive and understand the messages from your brain that would otherwise be blocked, lost, or so weak that your muscles would never be told what to do.”
“Okay,” Alex said, “now, what does the ‘E’ do?”
The spark that had been growing in Lasater’s eyes dimmed as his face tightened again.
“You’ve said this much, Allan,” Alex prompted patiently.
“For the system to work the Neural and Cerebral Units must operate in concert, according to the natural rhythms of your nervous system. There’s a fiberoptic cable running down your spine that makes sure the Neural and Cerebral Units cooperate with one another.”
“Something went wrong,” Alex calmly stated.
“It all went wrong,” Lasater chuckled, bitterness roughening his tone and sharpening his gaze. “We would never have allowed it, had we known.”
Alex just waited quietly.
“The fiberoptic cable is actually a neurological stimulator. The Neural and Cerebral Units were supposed to grant you physical abilities unhindered by Spastic Cerebral Palsy, but the Enhancer was designed to allow you to exceed them. It increases neural-transmitter production, and the rate at which your body processes them. It was supposed to enhance the ability of your brain and body to interpret and react to physical and sensory information, allowing for superior hand/eye coordination and reflexes. Basically, anything a man can do, the N.C.E. was supposed to allow you to do better.”
“It didn’t work?” Alex asked.
“Oh, it worked,” Lasater replied, his expression and tone again giving Alex pause. “It worked so well I’m not even sure the Enhancer is actually what caused the hyper spasms that shattered your skeleton. Two years was put into your physical conditioning. You were in both physio and hydro therapy fifteen hours a week to build up muscle and bone density. It appeared to work too, then your skeletal system shattered like a house of cards after your first two steps.”
“Why?” Alex asked.
Lasater sighed deeply, “I think we successfully built up your bone mass, but the build up was uneven. Either your pelvis couldn’t support your own weight, or one leg bone was weaker than the others. I don’t know exactly,” the doctor swallowed, as though to avoid illness. “I figure the shock and pain of the first break brought on a rush of adrenaline and other physiological reactions, which the Enhancer then ramped up by a factor of a thousand.” He looked at Alex with a grim smile, “Although that figure is just a ‘guesstimate’.”
The doctor looked at Alex with an almost desperate sincerity, “We tried to help you heal from it. All cards were on the table. No ideas were ignored. But rebuilding your skeletal system was like trying to restore a broken vase to pristine condition. If we fixed one part, another would break. So we would fix the new break, and something else would be damaged.”
“Then I turned eighteen and said ‘no more,’” Alex nodded.
“Those surgeries are probably why I move like a cat when this N.C.E. thing is turned on, huh?”
“Probably. By the time all was said and done you were still in pretty rough shape. Who knows how things have settled over the years? Maybe the N.C.E. adapted itself to suit the changes inside your body, or maybe your body adapted itself to the N.C.E. We may never know.”
“Here’s another question then,” Alex said, “where does this thing get its power from? A battery?”
“Your brain,” Lasater replied. “It’s incredible, I know,” he continued, acknowledging Alex’s surprise, “but there are super-conductive micro-wires running from your brain to a battery implanted in the left side of your chest. The micro-wires take electrical energy from your brain and use it to power the N.C.E. The battery can store a twelve-hour power supply. After that, the N.C.E. has to be shut down while your brain automatically recharges it. For every twelve hours your body is enabled, you will need to spend twelve hours disabled.”
“Talk about your double life,” Alex commented.
“Yes, and speaking about that, the N.C.E. may give you better than average abilities–“
”But I can’t be running after psychotic SUV enthusiasts, I know,” Alex interrupted.
“And not just for the obvious reasons,” Lasater pointed out. “If you’re ever seriously injured, who would be qualified to treat you?”
“I think I’m running that risk anyway, Allan.”
Lasater’s eyebrows lifted, “All the more reason not to raise the stakes any higher.”
“Or turn myself into a bigger fraud.”
“How so?” Lasater asked.
Alex told the Doctor of the Agoraphobia and panic attacks that hampered his life, of how hypocritical it felt that he could be so in control when the N.C.E. was turned on, but so insecure when it was not.
“But you said you had a panic attack at the race track while the N.C.E. was running, and that you handled it just fine,” Lasater reminded him.
“So this N.C.E. is just another emotional blanket I can hide under,” Alex shrugged. “That’s not what I’d call an improvement.”
Lasater said nothing, but the sobriety of his expression spoke for his voice as he took a medallion from his jacket pocket. “Ever seen one of these?”
“It’s a Sobriety Chip, something that marks every year a recovering Alcoholic stays sober. You see, you’re not the only one who was damaged when you were about four-years-old. I blamed myself for what happened to you. I stopped practicing after your last surgery. I couldn’t sleep at night for years. Finally, I just decided to start self-medicating by drinking, but all that did was destroy whatever sense of self-worth I had, which is how I lost my marriage. Life went pretty dark until I forgave myself.”
Alex watched as the doctor stood up and put on his coat. “I started practicing again after sobering up. But you know the nature of addiction recovery, don’t you?”
Alex sat, absolutely stunned.
“You’re always in recovery,” Lasater continued. “I still go to meetings, and I expect I always will. And that’s okay, because I’m practicing again. I faced my demons and rediscovered my abilities. It’s not your fears or abilities that count, Alexander, it’s how you choose to face and use them. Something to think about.”
“Allan,” Alex said, and Lasater paused at the door, “do you think we could keep in touch?”
“I’m breaking a pretty strict non-disclosure agreement with this visit alone,” Lasater chuckled. Then the man turned, and his smile was young again. “Nothing would make me happier. Sometimes I think people believe happy lives are made by luck alone, but that’s not the case. It takes effort on our own behalf. But it also takes permission. Give yourself permission to be happy, Alexander. The world won’t remake itself for you, but you will gain a whole new perspective on it.”
The doctor gave his former patient a wink as he left.
Alex laid awake in the darkness, the muted sounds of the city at night drifting into and out of earshot as he slowed his heart and prepared for sleep. Doctor Lasater was right about life, and how the happiness of one’s life depended upon the individual, but Lasater had not said anything Alex had not already learned, and was trying to put into practice.
Like a classic car being intricately restored, Alex was restoring his life. It was a process originating not from medicine, technology, or extraordinary abilities, but from gifts Alex gave to himself.
In his life Alex had been broken beneath the weight of defeat and depression. His was a soul ground down by the burden of fear and loneliness. There was a time when Alex saw his life as a twisted and frightening portrait of chaotic images scribbled in shades of hopelessness. Then Alex reached emotional bottom, and the journey out of depression had been harder than recovering from any surgery. But along the way he finally learned not to focus on that dark portrait of his life, and began considering the canvas the portrait had been painted on. A canvas Alex could paint in any manner he chose, and erase whenever he wished.
More than action, intent, or even outcome, the quality of a man’s life depended on his view of the canvas. Because a man’s view of the world, and his first thoughts of the morning, could be painted by his last thought of the previous night.
Tomorrow is going to be a good day,
Alex thought as he fell asleep.