I spent 5 months visiting my brother almost every day as he suffered from terminal stage-4 non-small cell lymphatic cancer that was caused by smoking. Every day I tried to understand how he saw the world and how he viewed what was happening to him through the veil of his Paranoid Schizophrenia. This story is my interpretation how he viewed the world. I am writing this as therapy for myself mostly, but also as a way of showing how terrifying life can be for people with severe mental illness.
They were calling him back again, moving backwards in time was always harder than moving forward. Near the end there was so much boredom, sitting around waiting for something, never sure what. There was less pain, the nurse would come every few hours and give him another dose of Oxycodone. Near the end he knew he was addicted, but he didn’t care. Normally it was not permissible to dabble in the addictions of men, but for his rank and pay grade no one would really notice. Besides he was so close to retirement anyway.
The Time-Beings were always there, always watching. Every move he made, every word he spoke was meticulously recorded with their sub-vocalizing radio equipment. Even near the end, as he neared his retirement and his voice slurred and his speech was almost completely incomprehensible, the time-beings could still read his mind. The recorded the thoughts, not the sounds that came out of his mouth, so as he drooled and stuttered and mumbled and muttered it didn’t matter because they recorded what he was thinking.
They were preparing a case against him. He was put on the earth to observe and document, but he had broken the most important rule. The rule that no time traveler was ever allowed to break. He talked about the Time-Beings and their power over the space-time continuum. It didn’t matter when and where he talked, they would always catch it. When they did they would immediately vaporize whoever he had told and replace them with an exact replicant. Everything in this time thread had to be continuous and unchanged. As soon as any human knew of the existence of the time beings they had to be removed and replaced. There could be no exceptions. Over time everyone George had ever known had been replaced. His parents, his siblings, his friends. Everyone who had ever been close to him had been punished in the worst way. They had their very existence eradicated and were replaced by a mindless clone. The clone would mimic their movements in every way and were programmed to responds exactly like George would expect them to respond. From a normal person’s perspective they would be exactly the same, but not for him. He would know and he would have to carry the shame and guilt of having ended another person’s existence for all the time he had to serve here.
There was only one woman whose existence he hadn’t destroyed, one woman that he loved more than life itself, her name was Kelly. In order to understand the story you have to travel back in time to about 2 years earlier.
George had been struggling with his cancer for almost 2 years already and had moved in with his parents when he could no longer take care of himself in his own apartment. He hated living at home, his parents had been replaced long ago and the clones who interacted with him every day acted loving, but their love never felt real. He knew they were always trying to poison him. The Time-Beings wanted to force him into early retirement and pull him out of this time thread and stick him somewhere else with an even lower pay grade where his constant mistakes would not keep threatening everyone’s existence. When his parents weren’t trying to poison his food, they would try to gas him with propane at night. There was little he could do about it and his complaints always fell on deaf ears.
He finally moved out and got his own apartment in a complex for the elderly and disabled. At first it was nice, people were friendly, although most were 30 or 40 years older than he was. The women were all very friendly to him, almost everyone in the building was women, as almost all of them had outlived their husbands. George was the one they called when their remote control was broken, or they couldn’t get the microwave to work. They all loved George, they all delighted in his presence, but he quickly tired of them. Then Kelly moved in next door. When he first met her he could feel his heart jump a beat. She was like a ray of sunshine standing there at his door. A thick bead of sweat formed on his forehead and slowly trickled down his face. All he could come up with was an awkward ‘what do you want?’
Kelly replied with the sweetest voice you could imagine ‘Hi my name is Kelly, I’m your new neighbor, can I come in?’
From that moment on, everything changed. Before he had given up on life, decided that the cancer was going to win in the end, but now he wanted to LIVE. He wanted to live and to talk to this woman and befriend her and to earn her love and respect. Nothing mattered more to him, but above all he had to make sure that he never told her about his abilities to travel through time, or his terrible relationship with the Time-Beings who constantly tormented him by moving him back and forth in time. Although he had destroyed everyone else in his life with his carelessness, he would not destroy her as well.
Every day he would wait for Kelly to come visit. The days when she didn’t visit and he had chemo were the hardest for him. Most days she would visit and often would stay with him talking and playing cards late into the night. She would listen to his words carefully, and offer her own opinions. He didn’t understand how she could understand so much and be so young. She was different from all the other women in the apartment complex. She was beautiful, she was engaging, he hung on her every word. So much of the time he could not believe that she would choose to spend her time with him, but he never questioned it, he just worked as hard as he could to be pleasant and kind to her.
George didn’t fantasize sexually about her, to do so would almost be sacrilegious. He fantasized about winning her heart. More than anything he wanted to hear Kelly say ‘I love you George, you have helped me so much and I cherished every moment I got to spend with you’. He would play it out in his mind 100 different ways every night. When Kelly was there, he was in heaven. When she wasn’t he spend almost all his waking time thinking of her. The Time-Beings were not pleased. They had seen this sort of thing happen before and it never ended well for the Time Traveler Eventually he would lost his ability to hold his place in space-time and his mind would start skipping back and forth like a rock skipping on water. He would touch down here or there but wouldn’t stick anywhere. When that happened they would have to track him down and reel him back in the hard way.
They pushed him forward in time, it was months later and he had been moved into Hospicare. After a particularly bad round of Chemo he had ended up in the hospital and his mind started turning into Swiss cheese. In all fairness it wasn’t his fault, he was supposed to be in this time thread just data logging but instead had gotten this cancer and the doctors were drugging him with mustard gas, the same stuff Hitler used to kill countless troops in the trenches of WWII. He couldn’t form words and spent most of his time meticulously cleaning up his own saliva which slowly would dribble down his chin as he talked, or tried to talk. The time was getting near, he could feel it in his bones. He would be called on for one final heroic act before he got pulled off this time thread. The Time-Beings were about to eradicate millions of innocent people for no reason whatsoever. They had to be stopped.
When he awoke he knew that it would be the day. He didn’t know how he knew, but he knew. Everything seemed normal, but there was something in him that had changed. An anxiousness, the quickness, a heightened sense of being alive. He was still stuck in this empty shell of a body, a rotting corpse that was so full of cancers that you could see them bulge out from his body. On his waist and on his neck his lymph nodes had grown so large that they flopped out of his body and hung over like unwanted folds of flesh. He spent the whole day trying to stay awake, when it came time for sleep he knew the battle would begin. The whole world was depending on him, Kelly was depending on him and there was no way that he was going to let anyone down.
Late into the night he stayed awake, until his soul felt heavy and his eyelids were sagging. Finally he closed his eyes and it began. Like a heaviness in his heart he could feel the weight of all the Time-Beings as they collectively folded the fabric of space-time around him. It felt like piano wires cutting into his skin, his arms and legs started to bleed. He pushed back with all his might. There in his mind he could see NYC, he could feel the threat. Why, why would they kill all these innocent people. Everyone was counting on him, everyone wanted him to save them. Then he felt her presence. Kelly was there, she was in the city too, his mind raced. Why was she there, what was she thinking? Didn’t she know the risks? He had to do something, fast. He focused his energy as hard as he could and a giant energy shield formed around the entire metropolis. It took every ounce of his energy, every part of his being to hold that shield in place. Then they came, the cancer descended from the sky like giant organic alien ships. They could not communicate, they could not negotiate. They wanted nothing but the complete and utter destruction of everything on this earth. George’s body was weakened so much by the cancer in his own body. It was as if his entire life had been building up to this one moment.
So there was nothing left to do, he could not complain, or escape his responsibility. This was it, if he failed now everyone would die. One second of lapsed focus and everything would be lost. An eternity came and went and came again. His body shaked at the stress of it, his mind longed for release from this life. Everything around the city outside of the shield crumbled, bridges were destroyed, forests and homes burned. People died, people he couldn’t protect died, but he couldn’t make the shield any bigger, he could barely hold it as it was. After using up all their energy attacking George’s shield the cancer faded away into the clouds. The city was safe, he could relax. His pillows and blankets were drenched with sweat and he weakly called out … ‘Kelly’. She wasn’t there, the nurses came in to check on him, they gently tucked him back into bed and touched his forehead to check for a fever. There was no way for them to know what he had just been through. There was no way to tell them, but it didn’t matter, all that mattered was that the danger had passed.
He awoke the next morning to the sweet sound of Kelly’s voice saying ‘George it’s me, can I come in?’ The anticipation was overwhelming, Kelly would hear about how he had just saved everyone and her love would finally be his. As the door opened up he was petrified with fear. There was a clone that looked and acted just like the woman he had once loved with all his heart and mind. He couldn’t look her in the eye, he couldn’t face the grim reality. He had failed. All those people in the city had survived, but this was all a trick, while his energy had been spent trying to save millions, the Time-Beings had swapped out the only thing he had ever cared about in this life. He was shattered. Kelly was out there somewhere, her spirit was lost somewhere else in the space-time continuum. There was no place for him here anymore, he had to leave, he had to find her, he had to save her.
He tried to be polite, there was no sense in making any more trouble, when she left he laid in bed staring at the ceiling. He had to get out of here, somewhere the real Kelly was in trouble and he knew she needed him. It took a few minutes to summon up the courage, but he took off his Oxygen cannula and walked as quickly as he could to the kitchen. The nurses followed him, they knew something was wrong, George was never without his Oxygen, in fact he spent a great deal of time and energy focused on whether it was working properly. They followed him down the hall at a distance. When he got to the kitchen he started rummaging through the drawers looking for a large knife. He was going to get out of there and no one was going to stop him. No one could understand what he was saying, but everyone was focused in on him now. He had the power, he was holding the knife, he would call the shots. Everyone there could feel his power, he didn’t need the Oxygen. They waited and talked to him lovingly, gently like they always did. As he stood there in the kitchen without the Oxygen he could feel his body weaken. He heard people talking, but his brain couldn’t process the words into anything he could understand. The darkness started forming around the edges of his mind then it collapsed in quickly as he crumpled to the floor.
The next morning he got his wish to leave and he was transferred to the mental ward at the nearest Hospital. Kelly stopped visiting him, as did most of the people who had visited him for the last several months. Over time he slowly drifted away, without Kelly nothing mattered anymore. He was like a leaf drifting in the wind. Where he landed no longer was a concern to him. The city had been saved, but all that he truly cared about had been lost. Every breath was a chore, every day it was a struggle just to make it through. There was a point where he had to stop fooling himself, he stopped telling himself that tomorrow was going to be better, he knew it wouldn’t. There was only 2 people who kept visiting him every day until his death. He forgot who they were, but they still kept coming. Sometimes he had nothing to say, but they still kept coming. The older woman would sit on his bed and make his stuffed animals talk to him with a high-pitched voice. When she did that it made him smile so big, he felt young again, he felt safe. Their love for him was a different kind of love. It was the undying love that a parent has for their own child. Even when their child is sick in body and mind, they never give up. Even when that child threatens others and lives in a world of delusions and fear, they never give up. Those two people were the thing that George and I shared, our common bond, our parents.
My parents sacrificed 5 years of their life caring for their own son every single day as he languished under the horror of terminal cancer. I don’t know how they did it, I don’t know where they found the strength. When I faltered, when I crumbled, they were still there, they were still strong. Suddenly I realized that I never knew how strong my parents really were. I never appreciated how much love they have for me and my brothers and sisters. There were times growing up where I would not have lifted a finger to help them, and they would have selflessly given up their entire life caring for me.
George finally passed on, Kelly had a few final visits, but at the end nothing and no one could really reach him. He drifted like a dandelion seed out into the deep blue ocean. Without hope of ever-growing into the flower he could have been, George’s life was cut short two weeks after his 52nd birthday without any sense of fairness or justice.
He taught me so much without ever trying. To love without any hope of reciprocation, to listen when nothing was being said, to ignore his hurtful words and those times his glaring eyes would burn into my soul. To have the whole world look at you, to judge you and to just hold that gentle loving space in your heart.
George, this is me, trying to understand you in your confusion, in your delusions.
I know you are skipping through time now, forward and back with love in your heart. You never knew the tender touch of a woman and the joy that it could bring in your life. I saw how your eyes would light up every time Kelly came into the room. The cancer was a gift to you, to help you to stop being afraid of yourself and to find real love in this life. You found it, you carried it with you, you never gave up, you fought so hard till the very end. Like a man possessed, like a man who would do anything to have one more moment with the woman he loved. Through all the challenges in your life and all the tribulations you found so much more love in your heart, and that really is what we were put here to do.
The nurses at Hospicare said that in the months that George was there he had move visitors than any patient they had ever had. George was happiest when he was spending time with the people he loved, especially when Kelly was there. I never saw him shine so bright in all of his life as he did when she would come and share her fire, her joy, and her spirit with him.
Your life was a gift to me Georgie. I will never forget how you touched my life.