A body in the Potomac River

gpc_work_large_285.jpgThe other night the phone rings and a voice says, “Do you know who this is?” and I say, “Yes, it’s Dan, isn’t it?” 

The voice is still the same even twenty years after Dan and his girlfriend, Rachael, and I hung out together.  He was smart but reserved.  My sister told me once that Dan could do anything – he was dux of his school, did commerce at university, and was a natural horse rider.  We drank wine and discussed philosophy and were proud of our intellects, Rachel and I passionate and embarrassing and Dan just calm and smiling. 

He had a smile that was so deeply beautiful that it could make you stop talking. 

Anyway, then he went to Europe and America and when he came back people said he was mad.  I didn’t believe it; thought he had always been mildly eccentric and perhaps travel had just accentuated this.  I rang him and he came to visit me and we got drunk.  I was relieved that he seemed just the same as ever. 

Then, late into the night he says to me, “Did you hear about that plane crash in Washington D.C. a couple of years ago?”  Sure, I remembered; iced wings in winter, most everyone died in the freezing river. “The FBI and CIA tried to blame me for that,” he says.  I look at him and wait for the punch line but there is none. “What are you talking about?” I ask.   

“The FBI chased my friends and me all across America trying to blame us for that crash.”   

And he has gone; I know I have lost Dan just as sure as if he too had gone down into the icy Potomac River.  The next time we meet he is worse, keeps going off into strange reveries and when he returns to me just smiles like we have both shared some wonderful secret.  He looks and sounds like Dan but he is like no one I know. 

Later he is diagnosed with some form of mental illness and moves into a home for people like him.  He never works or loves or travels again.  He finds God and probably talks to him personally.  I go north and never hear from him or try to contact him. 

Now here is his voice on the phone.  I want to ask him, “Are you still mad?” but I don’t have to; he has that way of talking like he is a ghost, like he is the memory of himself.  It is like talking to the dead.   

My stomach is churning for the Dan I loved and who went away.  And I am sick with the guilt of not loving this sick stranger who looks like someone I knew. 

He wants to catch up, have a drink.  Sure, I say, give me your number and he does.  “I’ll call you,” I lie. I have no pen, no paper.  I just stand there listening to a memory of a boy called Dan who was and then was not. 

When I hang up, my daughter asks, “Who was that?” 

“No-one,” I tell her.

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21 Comments

Filed under cowardice, fear, friends, life, loss, memory, Men, mental illness, self

21 responses to “A body in the Potomac River

  1. weyouth

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  2. So the way you changed toward him, when he became someone else,

    did reacting that way change who you were, too?

  3. S

    In a way, this post reminds me of what it’s like on the rare occasion that I visit “home”.

    It’s strange how nostalgia for something or someone can so impact our current opinions of people and things, isn’t it?

  4. Thanks, Weymouth – please call again.
    Amuirin – I don’t know if it changed me or exposed me.
    S – And how often is that nostalgia for something or someone actually tinged with a loss of the someone we once were…

  5. I think I know how you felt. I would fear loosing my good memory of a person, that somehow it would be diluted by the new person he has become, and then I would feel guilty.

  6. Good morning, Arnold – You have me wondering what France is like today. Some mental illness can make people almost unrecognizable from those we once knew (particularly in the things that matter). We, in effect, lose them, I think. And then something of ourselves too.

  7. Thanks for commenting on my blog.

    Ah, mental illness. From my own firsthand experience with family members, it’s difficult not to turn away from that person, let alone try to ignore the things they say and do. But sometimes all you can do is accept the facts.

  8. Doktor Holocaust

    Did anyone ever look into the fact that the FBI and CIA may have actually been after him for something and trying to discredit him and otherwise ruin his life with some false diagnosis of mental illness? I know I’d be pretty paranoid and not sound like my usual self if large, secretive organizations were after me.

  9. Dammit – why do we leave it up to you everytime to come up with the logical solution, Dok? I’ve got a phone call to make…

  10. Doktor Holocaust

    because, as one of the most alogical (I understand your human “logic,” but choose not to use it, like an aliterate person can read but doesn’t want to) commentors around, I am the best equipped to devise the most sensible answer.

    also, what are you, a jerk? even if Dan isn’t being stalked by government agencies under high pressure to do something about the imaginary monsters plaguing the people who pay them without being instructed on specifically what to do (which may explain why they are following him, if they are), he’s still Dan, still your friend. He just sees the world a little differently now, which is not uncommon among highly intelligent philosophical types. Have a drink with the man, hear him out. help him secure his foil beanie if necessary.

    maybe it’s just an Austrialian thing, to ostracise your paranoid schizophrenics. Over here in the States, we find the most persuasive peranoids and give them gainful employment and surround them with a very attentive support staff, and refer to this grand-prize winner as “Mister President.” I understand that most corporations, wishing to emulate the over-two-centuries of our Great Experiment in mental health care, have adopted similar policies, putting the craziest of their employees safely behind desks in big, otherwise empty offices and having nice people bring them coffee and bits of paper to play with, in which case they are merely called Boss.

  11. Doktor Holocaust

    and in defense of the FBI, CIA, and other agencies of my government: were it not for their hard work under harsh conditions, communists would have contaminated our precious bodily fluids a dozen times over by now.

  12. Pingback: a bit of crossposting « Holocaust Labs

  13. ladypirate

    I can’t believe I’m going to write this, but: I think I might agree with the Dok on this one. Living so close to the U.S., seeing and hearing what I’ve heard and seen, my first reaction would have been similar; that your friend could very well be dead sane (I also agree that in North America we have a tendency to reward the seriously deluded by voting them into office. If anyone cared to pay the least attention to the Canadian PM — which, fortunately for them, they don’t — they’d realize he’s like a less powerful version of George Bush). Having said that, I’ll bet there were other clues (and maybe even facts) that proved otherwise since your friend was eventually diagnosed. Obviously there is a lot you left out of your beautifully expressed (as always!) post. And I suspect the loss you felt was compounded by your own feelings of guilt in not knowing how to deal with his illness (maybe?).

    In general, I rather wonder at some of society’s labelling of mental illnesses. The inexplicable doesn’t have to be false/crazy. It’s just inexplicable. The only mentally ill people that make me nervous are the violent or abusive ones (and they’re often regarded as stark, raving sane . . . and then voted into office). The others are pretty much like everyone else, they’ve just somehow lost or discarded the ability to pretend to be normal. In fact, I’ve never actually met a truly sane person.

  14. Thanks again, Dok, for such a fulsome response to my last post. Am I a jerk? Well, yes, I guess that you will find that to be a fairly constant theme in my stories of me. I do consciously try not to create an image of myself as the hero of my life; to do so would be neither true nor interesting.
    That was a very interesting reply, Ladypirate – and particularly pertinent in a climate of rapidly increasing mental illness. I guess one of the points I was trying to make was about how our connection to people is actually a lot about our connection to self i.e. we exist, in part, through the memory and construct of others that we love; when they die or go missing, we lose a bit of ourselves also.

  15. Doktor Holocaust

    When dealing with the differently-saned, I always keep in mind the words of that Saint of Sales, J.R. “Bob” Dobbs: “I love the stupid and the insane, for they are my customers.”

  16. Hi, I’m new here.

    It’s a lovely post and very evocative. My heart goes out to you and to Dan and I guess I would agree with Dok.

    I’m the sort who would probably try to reach out to an old friend who suddenly started acting strangely. So many people are hurt along the way in life and we all change…but we all long to be loved, to belong and to have friends.

    ~ RubyShooZ ~

    ~Peace, love and understanding ~

  17. What I admire about you, Oscarandre, is your endless ability to paint yourself in a bad light. Are we ever going to get a story with yourself as the unabashed hero?

    Anyway, I strongly suspect that this is the more common reaction to this sort of situation. I’d be found wanting anyway.

  18. Hi Rubyshoosz – glad you came by and thanks for the comment. After I wrote this piece, I did give him a call and we got drunk together and one day I’ll share that story too.
    Hello Solnushka – good to read your voice again. Me as the unabashed hero? Well, I’ll have to think about that. Then again, don’t you find there’s just so much virtue on the net already?

  19. There is, of course, that.

    *waves lordly hand* Carry on then.

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