Dark Matter

Page 19

“Jason, we took the liberty of looking you up. Your name. Profession. Everything we could find. I want you to answer me very carefully. Do you really believe you’re a physics professor at Lakemont College?”

“I don’t believe it. It’s what I am.”

“We trolled the faculty webpages for science departments in every university and college in Chicago. Including Lakemont. You weren’t listed as a professor on any of them.”

“That’s impossible. I’ve been teaching there since—”

“Let me finish, because we did find some information about you.” She types something on her tablet. “Jason Ashley Dessen, born 1973 in Denison, Iowa, to Randall and Ellie Dessen. Says here that your mother passed when you were eight. How? If you don’t mind my asking.”

“She had an underlying heart condition, caught a bad strain of the flu, which turned into pneumonia.”

“Sorry to hear that.” She continues reading. “Bachelor’s degree from University of Chicago, 1995. PhD from same university, 2002. So far so good?”

I nod.

“Awarded the Pavia Prize in 2004, and the same year, Science magazine honored your work with a cover story, calling it the ‘breakthrough of the year.’ Guest lecturer at Harvard, Princeton, UC Berkeley.” She looks up, meets my bewildered gaze, and then turns the tablet around so I can see that she’s reading from the Wikipedia page of Jason A. Dessen.

My sinus rhythm on the heart monitor I’m attached to has become noticeably faster.

Springer says, “You haven’t published any new papers or accepted any teaching positions since 2005, when you took on the role of chief science officer with Velocity Laboratories, a jet propulsion lab. It says finally that a missing-persons report was filed on your behalf eight months ago by your brother, and that you haven’t been seen publicly in over a year.”

This rocks me so deeply I can barely draw breath.

My blood pressure triggers some kind of alarm on the heart monitor, which begins to emit a grating beep.

A heavyset nurse appears in the doorway.

“We’re fine,” Springer says. “Could you shut that thing up?”

The nurse walks to the monitor, silences the alarm.

When he’s gone, the doctor reaches over the railing and touches my hand.

“I want to help you, Jason. I can see that you’re terrified. I don’t know what’s happened to you, and I get the feeling you don’t know either.”

The wind coming in off the lake is strong enough to blow the rain sideways. I watch as the droplets streak across the glass and blur the world beyond into an impressionistic cityscape of gray, punctuated by the glow of distant taillights, distant headlights.

Springer says, “I’ve called the police. They’re sending a detective over to take a statement from you and begin trying to get to the bottom of what happened last night. That’s the first thing we’re doing. Now, I’ve struck out trying to get in touch with Daniela, but I have been able to locate contact information for your brother, Michael, in Iowa City. I’d like to have your permission to call him and let him know that you’re here, and to discuss your condition with him.”

I don’t know what to say to that. I haven’t spoken to my brother in two years.

“I’m not sure if I want you to call him,” I say.

“Fair enough, but to be clear, under HIPAA, if in my judgment a patient of mine is unable to agree or object to a disclosure due to incapacity or emergency circumstances, I am authorized to decide whether disclosing your information to a family member or friend is in your best interest. I do believe that your current mental state qualifies as incapacity, and I think consulting with someone who knows you and your history is in your best interest. So I will be calling Michael.”

She glances down at the floor, as if she doesn’t want to tell me whatever’s coming next.

“Third thing, last thing,” she says. “We need the guidance of a psychiatrist to get a handle on your condition. I’m having you transferred over to Chicago-Read, which is a mental-health center a little further up on the North Side.”

“Look, I admit that I don’t have a firm grasp on exactly what’s happening, but I’m not crazy. I’d be happy to talk to a psychiatrist. In fact, I’d welcome the opportunity. But I’m not volunteering to be committed, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“It’s not what I’m asking. With all due respect, Jason, you don’t have a choice in the matter.”

“Excuse me?”

“It’s called an M1 hold, and by law, if I think you’re a threat to yourself or others, I can order a seventy-two-hour involuntary commitment. Look, this is the best thing for you. You’re in no condition—”

“I walked into this hospital under my own steam, because I wanted to find out what was wrong with me.”

“And that was the right choice, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do: find out why you’re having this break with reality, and set you up with the treatment you need to make a full recovery.”

I watch my blood pressure rising on the monitor.

I don’t want to set off the alarm again.

Closing my eyes, I breathe in.

Let it out.

Take another shot of oxygen.

My levels recede.

I say, “So you’re going to put me in a rubber room, no belt, no sharp objects, and medicate me into a stupor?”

“It’s not like that. You came into this hospital because you wanted to get better, right? Well, this is the first step. I need you to trust me.”

Springer rises from the chair and drags it back across the room under the television. “Just keep resting, Jason. Police will be here soon, and then we’ll get you moved over to Chicago-Read this evening.”

I watch her go, the threat of unraveling right on top of me, pressing down.

What if all the pieces of belief and memory that comprise who I am—my profession, Daniela, my son—are nothing but a tragic misfiring in that gray matter between my ears? Will I keep fighting to be the man I think I am? Or will I disown him and everything he loves, and step into the skin of the person this world would like for me to be?

And if I have lost my mind, what then?

What if everything I know is wrong?

No. Stop.

I am not losing my mind.

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