Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Procedure - 10

Again I escaped through the woods. I was frightened still, but no longer for myself. In fact I was relieved. I would not have the Procedure done. There was something wrong with it. But what?

News and rumors about the Proc named Michael spread quickly in the next few days. Everybody knew something had happened. Nobody agreed on what it was. Everybody had an explanation anyway, depending on who they were. Depending on whatever.

I called up Alex to see what he thought. I did not mention that I'd witnessed the episode from below the doctor's window.

"That fucking asshole should never have had the Procedure done in the first place," Alex stated. "It's clear he was not emotionally equipped."

"So... Herkimer should have known that, right?"

Alex sighed. "A therapist cannot be completely responsible for the degree of derangement of the idiots who walk through his door. Besides, I heard this was in the early days of the Procedure. There were probably certain..." Here Alex paused a moment. "Safeguards, let's say. Certain guidelines and so on that had not yet been fully codified."

"You mean–"

"That's normal. That's normal in such a momentous undertaking."

"So you mean–"

"It's impossible to gain so much, to do so much for individual human beings without some incidents along the way. I view that as perfectly acceptable."

"You mentioned–"

"Collateral damage. Casualties in the ultimate war for all mankind. That's what I say."

"You mentioned something interesting. You said safeguards."

"I can't go into further detail, Adam. Can't divulge."

"I'm just wondering what the patients need to be protected fr–"

"The Procedure is very, very, very safe, Adam. Trust me."

"So, the other thing I was going to ask you, and I know this was somewhat answered when I saw you the other night, but I just want to ask."

"What is it?"

"You feel fine, right? You're happy you got it done?"

"Best thing that ever happened to me Adam, why are you making me repeat myself?"

On the spot, I fibbed a little. "Well, I understand that. I know. But, you know, I'm getting this thing done pretty soon and I just want to know... I want to know that it's the right thing, you know what I mean?"

"Do you want to live, Adam?"

"Umm... what?"

"Do you want to live. I'm not talking about getting up in the morning and going to bed at night. I'm not talking about eating, shitting and fucking. I'm not talking about driving your stupid car to work. Do you understand what I am talking about?"

"Really living?"

"Really fucking living. Not being God's little bitch. Or Satan's. Or your mommy's, or your daddy's. Or your wife's. I'm talking about living. Your. Life. Completely. Without compromise."

"Well, yeah."

"Without compromise!"

"Yes," I repeated, summoning as much conviction as I could. "I do."

"Well then quit being scared."


"You understand me? Quit being scared."

"Right." I was scared.

"It all comes down to a simple decision, OK? Be weak or be strong. Withdraw into your cozy little cocoon or stand up in the wind. Succumb to doubt and fear and guilt or vanquish them. It's a decision."


"The Procedure is the means by which you make that decision in the affirmative."

"That's what I understand."

"What decision are you going to make?"

"I'm doing it, Alex," I lied.

"Good," he said. Then he abruptly hung up the phone.

Now that I knew I was going to break my appointment, I was less susceptible to Alex and the other Procs. Their confidence and force of will no longer shamed me. I came to view their immaculate personalities as hollow somehow, as wanting.

Maybe I was wrong. Maybe Alex was right. Maybe all the other Procs had done the right thing anyway. Maybe I was a coward who had just constructed an elaborate rationalization for succumbing to my deepest, subconscious fear: not fear of the Procedure so much as fear of living life the way it should be lived.

It's just that there was something deep inside my brain that told me no. Maybe that's what Michael was grieving over so extravagantly. What it was I did not know. It seemed silly to speculate, really. But I had a feeling something contradictory, perverse even, was at play in the Procedure. Like, maybe, getting it done was a way of guaranteeing that you would never really be free. I don't know. I didn't want it anymore.

I was still curious about the Procs and the Procedure. I kept looking for Shana in the park. One day I saw her sitting on a bench, rocking her stroller back and forth. I sat down beside her.

"Hey! Shana!"

"Hi Adam!" she replied. Her smile was even sunnier than usual.

"How are you?"



"How are you!"

"I'm good, thanks!"

"You didn't get it done!"

"Uh, you're right. Well, not yet–"

"You're not going to get it done, are you?"

I was amazed at her perceptiveness. "That's right. I'm not."

"Adam, you have made the right decision!"

"Really?" I asked, dumbfounded.

Then a strange thing happened to her face. Her smile – her beautiful, strong and open smile, this miracle of divine engineering – began to tremble and waver as though it were coming undone. Her eyes. There was suddenly a vast expanse of sadness in her eyes. And then she collapsed into tears. Hearing this, her baby started crying too.

Reflexively, I put my arms around her. After a few seconds of spasmodic sobs she tried to compose herself and I pulled back.

"What's going on?" I asked.

"Oh Adam, oh Adam, oh Adam, oh Adam," she wailed. "It's no good, it's no good, it's no good, it's no good..."

"The Procedure?"

She nodded. "It did something bad to me Adam, it did something bad to me, bad to me."

"Oh my God."

"I'm not the only one," she whimpered. "There's lots of us that are fucked up." She took a Kleenex out of her purse and blew her nose. "Did you cancel your appointment?" she asked.

I was about to answer yes when it occurred to me that I hadn't, in fact, bothered to call Dr. Herkimer's office.

"Well, no, I haven't actually canceled it."

"When is it?"

"It's Monday morning, first thing. At nine."

She seemed to suddenly get an idea.

"Don't cancel it! Let's go together. I have to see him. My next appointment isn't for a month. I have to see him, Adam, I have to, I have to. I'm losing my mind."

I felt a bit uneasy even going near the doctor's office at this point. But she seemed desperate. Maybe Herkimer could do something for her.

"OK. Sure."

"Thank you Adam! Thank you so much. I'll meet you there at nine on Monday."

When I pulled into Dr. Herkimer's driveway on Monday morning Shana was already there, waiting in her car. We walked up to the porch and rang the bell. No answer. Rang it again. No answer still. I knocked on the door as loud as I could. Nothing. Finally, I tried the knob. It turned.

Inside, the house was dark and quiet. We stepped through the foyer and into the den.

"Hello?" I called out. "Hello?"


We walked through the dining room and opened the door to Dr. Herkimer's study. The room where the Procedure took place. At first everything looked normal. Two comfortable chairs facing each other. A coffee table. A desk. A curtain stirring in the wind from its open window.

Dr. Herkimer's body hung from a beam below the vaulted ceiling. In a navy suit and dress shoes. Swaying ever so slightly, ever so slightly – or turning? Not swaying but turning. Very slightly on the rope.

On the desk there was a note. It read:


     I am so, so, so, so sorry.

Shana began to weep again. But now her sobs were loud and open. Not as pained as they'd been in the park. They sounded more like the crying I first heard coming from this room. Again I held her. After about a minute it was over.

"What am I going to do now?" she asked.

"You'll find something," I said.