You Can Imprison And Control My Body, But Not My Mind.
What your mind chooses to believe is true, regardless of circumstance, judgement, or external events.
What your mind chooses to believe is true, regardless of circumstance, judgement, or external events.
– Chapter Four –
Lidia Viviani liked to think of herself as a petite but voluptuous woman when she would roll out of bed and head for the shower in the morning before her two kids woke up. Most people who met her would agree, standing a full five foot, two and a half inches tall – clearly not just five foot two. Most people would also agree that the Detective Sergeant came across as a pleasant, and amiable officer who worked hard to be a solid, professional investigator.
Until she spoke.
Lidia’s voice was at least two sizes too big for someone twice her size, and sounded not unlike a drunk Italian taxi driver, with a cold, who couldn’t find the keys he was holding in his hand. It was a shocking contrast from her attractive, constantly smiling face. Without trying to yell, her voice bellowed in a rough and almost uncomfortable way.
“Oh, Jesus Christ guys,” she fumed as she wiped down the counter around the coffee maker in the lunch room. “Can’t you fucking clean up after yourselves? What are you, twelve?” The two constables sitting nearby quickly got up and left. They knew better than to stick around and take the abuse for the rest of the platoon.
“Hey Lidia,” Cst. Mitch Ramsey called from his desk beside her own.
“I’m in the lunch room playing God-damned den-mother again!” She yelled back toward the office.
“The Desk Sergeant needs you out front, some guy’s here to see you about a missing persons’ case.”
“Shit. Right, forgot about him,” she mumbled to herself and looked at her watch. “Let him know I’ll be right down.”
She hated this case. Well, not this one in particular, but these cases of missing, successful, younger adult men. They had all the resources they needed to disappear, and there was zero evidence of an accident, or anything shady in the disappearance, or the guy’s life. Chances are, he just didn’t want his family to find him. She grabbed the thin file from her desk, checked to see if a room was available to talk in, and headed down to pick up the family’s “investigator.” They were almost always bitter cops who retired too early, or were asked to leave.
“Detective Viviani,” someone called just before she got to the elevator.
“Almost made it,” she mumbled to herself and turned around with her trademark smile on her face. “Yes?”
“Glad I caught you detect...”
“Detective Sergeant,” she corrected in her voluminous voice.
“I’m sorry,” he stuttered.
“You called me Detective, I’m a Detective Sergeant. Worked hard for it.”
“I’m sorry, but from behind you looked …”
“What can I do for you?” She had him completely off-balance now, and she knew it.
“I’m Peter Johansson, from the RTIC, can I talk to you about that case,” he pointed to the Manohar file in her hand, “and the man you’re about to meet downstairs?”
“The Real Time Intelligence Centre, we supply…”
“Oh yeah, I know you guys. What would a civilian intelligence analyst possibly want with a routine missing persons’ case? And who is this guy I’m meeting? And how the Christ do you even know about it? This is why everyone finds you intel guys creepy you know.”
“Um, yeah, ok. Just take notes, anything this guy tells you, and file it as criminal intel when you put it in the system. Ok?”
Lidia paused and looked up at him, “Well, how about I meet him first, Johansson right? How about I meet him first Johansson, and you can head into the office there and talk to my boss. I’m sure he won’t have a problem telling me to file this stuff as Intel, but you’re not really in my chain of command, OK?”
Then she hopped on the elevator and pushed the button for the ground floor. She positively loved the confused, and slightly annoyed look on Peter Johansson’s face as the door closed.
“What a creepy prick,” she thought.
“Hey, Bishop,” the Desk Sergeant at Vancouver Police HQ yelled at me and nodded his head toward the door at the far end of the lobby. Out walked Detective Sergeant Lidia Viviani. I walked over and shook her small hand. Short, very attractive, somewhere in her thirties.
“I’m Ryan Bishop, thanks for making time for me.”
“No problem,” she replied in a loud, masculine and raspy voice. “You look a little old to be a boxer Mr. Bishop? Did you win?” She asked sarcastically and pointed at her own nose and eyes.
“Ah, yeah,” I said sheepishly, “no, just took a bit of a hit coaching a youth rugby team. Kids thought it looked cool.”
“Ok, we’ll go with that. I’m DS Viviani. I had a room upstairs for us to talk, but I think we should go somewhere else and grab a coffee while we talk about Mr. Manohar, sound good?”
“Sure,” I replied, “any decent coffee shops around here?”
“This is Vancouver Mr. Bishop. All we have are decent coffee shops, some of them even serve a decent coffee. Come on, there’s a greasy spoon just up the street, it should be quiet.”
“Please, it’s Ryan, or Bishop. No Mr.”
“All right, Bishop.”
The old diner wasn’t far, and after leaving the horrible cold in Toronto, a winter walk in Vancouver can seem downright pleasant. The restaurant had some classic 1970’s vinyl covered chairs and a few booths also covered in worn red vinyl and small juke boxes on the tables. We grabbed a booth. The waitress put down her magazine at the counter and came over to the table to pour us a couple coffees.
“You want some time to look at the menu?” She asked as she chewed her gum.
“I’m good,” I answered and looked over at Viviani, “You?”
“Just coffee, thanks,” she seemed to shout and it startled the waitress for a second.
We weren’t the only ones in the place, but close enough to it that we might have a private conversation even with her voice. As weird and loud as it was, I was still a bit distracted by her good looks.
“So the parents hired you to look into this?” She asked.
“Huh,” I caught myself, “yeah, we have some common friends, and I had a trip out here already planned, so I thought I would.”
She sat back on her side of the booth and put both hands on top of the file she was carrying. “What is it, exactly you do Mr. Bishop? Private investigator? Retired cop? They were pretty vague when they called and asked me to meet with you.” It wasn’t easy to concentrate on what she was saying, the voice coming out of that face just made no sense.
“Well, in this case, I’m helping a family find their missing son, and a daughter find her missing father. Can we get to the file?” I took a long drink of my coffee, it was horrible. Stale and burnt. What I really needed was a drink.
“Hmm,” she began, and took a sip from her cup. Her faced scrunched up, “oh God, that’s awful.” I burst out laughing at the face she had made, and so did she. “Honey,” she yelled at the waitress, “Can you bring us some water, and I’ll have a tea in a to go cup.”
Once the waitress had brought the new order, Viviani got right back to business, “right, so the file.”
“Yeah, the file. What have you guys found, and what are you doing to find him? Can we start there?”
“Sure, the short answer to both questions is, not a lot. His flight from Bangkok landed on time at YVR, and he was on it. Using security cameras we saw him pick up his bag, and head out to the Skytrain Station and head into the City. As far as we could tell, he was alone.”
“Bangkok? His flight was from Bangkok?”
“Yup. It seems his family was a bit surprised by that, do you know why?”
“We were working on he understanding that he was returning from Africa. Why did he end up in Thailand?”
“Geographically, no one flies from Africa to Vancouver if they’re trying to get home to Ottawa. Its exactly the wrong direction and would mean what, a day or two of extra travel. No, if he was coming from Africa and heading home, he would never have been in Vancouver.”
She was right, of course. It made no sense.
“Did you catch him leaving the train? Do you know where he went after the airport?”
“Yeah, he got off at Broadway. We have him leaving the station at 10:47 that night, and then nothing. We don’t see him again on camera, he doesn’t check into any hotel in the area, cabs have no record of him, and he hasn’t used a credit card or accessed his bank accounts. His cell phone doesn’t appear to have ever been active after he landed. He’s just gone after he leaves the station. We have nothing since then.”
“Have you tracked down how he got to Thailand? Where his trip began?”
“We had no reason to look at that,” she said as she flipped through the file. “But I could trace it back through the airline and travel records. I’ll put a call in as soon as I get back to my desk. We’ve got his cards, accounts, cell-phone, his government laptop, and his social media accounts tracked. If anyone starts using them, we’ll have our first lead.” She closed the file and pushed it across the table for me to read.
I thumbed through it while we talked, but there wasn’t anything else there. “Who confirmed it was him on the cameras?”
“We sent still images from the videos to his parents. They’re sure it was him. And we have him clearing Customs at the airport with his passport – we’re confident we’re looking for the right guy.”
“What about those ride sharing services, could one of those have picked him up after he left the station?”
“It’s not impossible,” she said doubtfully, “but he never turned on his cell phone, and we didn’t see him use one.”
“Shit. That’s a pretty cold trail.”
“Well, I don’t think that’s the conclusion we put in the file,” she laughed, “but, yeah. We’ll keep watching for the cards, accounts, and electronics, and I’ll get on tracking his travel into Bangkok, but we don’t have much to go on.”
“That’s weird though,” I said as I looked up from the file at her brown eyes.
“What?” She asked.
“A senior civil servant, a bureaucrat with a lot of people reporting to him, lands back in Canada after a very long flight and he doesn’t turn his phone on? He doesn’t check his messages or his emails? That’s weird right?”
“I hadn’t thought of it like that. That is weird, unless he didn’t want to be tracked, unless he wanted to disappear.”
“Is that your theory?”
“Well, its not my theory, but he wouldn’t be the first guy who didn’t want to be found after returning from Bangkok. And we know he lied to his family about where he was.”
“Is there any chance I can see the security vids? Can I get a copy?”
“I can probably arrange for you to come into the office and review them, but no, I wouldn’t be comfortable giving you copies of them.”
“Why not?” I tried to look hurt, “we’re on the same side here, we both want to find Asim.”
“I have no idea what side you might be on, you won’t give me any information about yourself or what you do. I can quote privacy legislation for days about why I shouldn’t give you that data. Trust takes two Bishop, and so far you don’t want to play.” She reached across the table and slid the file back towards her, and closed it. She laced her fingers together and put both hands on top of the file again.
“So?” She tilted her head slightly and looked at me, waiting for an answer.
“It’s not that exciting, I promise. I am a very old and close friend of the mother of Asim’s little girl. She asked me to help the family by looking into this while I was in Vancouver and I agreed. It’s that simple. I own a successful restaurant and bar in a good part of Toronto, but I’m originally from the West Coast here.”
“And before you owned a successful restaurant?”
“I owned an unsuccessful one?” I quipped.
“If this were a date Bishop that might be cute. It’s not either.” She let the silence draw out, waiting for me to start talking to fill it.
“Years ago, I spent some time doing background investigations for people requesting government security clearances in Ottawa – that’s why I’m good at this sort of thing.” It was a lie I had used before, specific enough to answer questions, but general enough that they wouldn’t be able to prove or disprove it.
She didn’t look convinced, but I got a clear vibe from her that she wanted to be, so I let the silence linger rather than keep talking.
“I’m not sure that’s enough, to be honest. I’ll check it out and see. Either way, I’ll call you when I get the report about how he got to Bangkok and we can set up a time for you to watch the security videos. Sound good?”
“Sounds like a plan, here’s the cell number I’m using here in Vancouver. Call or text whenever you get something, ok?”
She nodded, and I dropped ten bucks on the table for the horrible coffee and her tea. “I’ll be staying in the city until we figure this out. Can I walk you back,” I asked as I put on my coat.
“No, that’s ok,” I’m going to stay for a bit.
“Alright,” she stood and I shook her hand again, “thanks for all this, I appreciate it.”
“No problem,” she smiled.
She had a great smile. I headed back down the street toward police headquarters where I had parked my rental.
He picked up after the fourth ring.
“Hey Mitch …”
“Yeah Lidia, what’s up?” he always held the phone a couple inches from his ear when she called him.
“Can I ask you a favour?”
“Sure, it’s been almost an entire hour since the last one, what annoying task do you want to avoid now?” Cst. Ramsey laughed.
“If you’re at your desk, can you do a quick check on this guy for me?”
“The missing persons’ guy? Sure. Give me a sec … Alright, shoot.”
“Ryan Bishop, Canadian. Mid forties, I think. Born in Vancouver, or at least grew up here, lives in Toronto now. Tell me anything that pops up.”
“You have a D.O.B., middle initial, anything?”
“Of course not. It’s a pretty common name Lid, may take a bit to weed through the results, I’ll call you back.”
“Cool. Thanks Mitch, I owe you.”
“Uh-huh,” was Cst. Ramsey’s doubtful reply before he ended the call.
Well, she thought as she took a drink of her tea, this isn’t your average missing persons case. I bet the check on Bishop comes back squeaky clean, but he’s not. There’s no way. He lies too easily and makes it sound authentic, and he knows how to play up that ruggedly handsome vibe.
“I’ll bet my left nipple on that,” she said under her breath as she bit on the edge of her tea’s paper cup.
“And why the hell would Intel give a shit about any of it? I mean, they actually sent someone all the way down here instead of sending an email or making a call? What the hell?” This line of thought caused her nose to wrinkle.
The phone rang on the table, it was Mitch Ramsey calling back to tell her what she already knew.
It had been a long couple days, and I wasn’t use to quite so much human contact, I needed to get somewhere dark and quiet. I pulled up to the Delta on the waterfront where I had checked in the previous night and grabbed my suitcase out of the trunk of the rental, and the bag from the liquor store. I figured I could splurge on the hotel, everyone knew where I was headed anyway, but I didn’t have to make it easy on them to listen in, or bug my room. Like I said, natural paranoia can come in very handy.
I headed for the front-desk.
“Welcome to the Delta, my name is Brian, can I help you sir?”
“Sure Brian,” I said as I slid my room key over to him, “I’m hoping you can move me to a different floor if you have the space?”
“Oh, I’m sorry sir, was there something wrong with your room? I can send housekeeping or maintenance up.”
“No, no, that’s fine. The room is great. Its just that a young couple checked in late last night, and frankly I’m far too old and lonely to listen to other people having sex two nights in a row,” I laughed. “I don’t want to bother them if you have another room open. Will that be Ok?”
“Let me take a look,” he said as he started typing on the computer, “I’m so sorry about this, I’ll send security up to talk to them after we find you a new room.”
“Oh Lord no,” I interrupted him. “I don’t want to bother them. People should enjoy life while they’re young.”
“All right Mr. Bishop, I have a room for you just two floors above your current room, here’s your key. Can I send someone up to help you move your bags from your old room?”
“Thanks, but I have them right here, I took them with me in the car this morning.”
“Oh, alright,” poor guy seemed a bit confused, “is there anything else I can do for you?”
“Nope, I’m good, thanks.”
“Well thanks for your business and enjoy your stay.”
The view the room had of the harbour and Brockton Point Lighthouse in Stanley Park was stunning, but I closed the blackout curtains and poured myself a drink right after dropping my bags on the bed. The whiskey felt good going down, and then I poured another glass to wash down my pills. I dropped my iPhone, and the burner phone I had picked up on the desk and opened my laptop to send Max an encrypted email.
“Max: In Vancouver, met with local PD and reviewed file. Cop I met with is very capable, but they have nothing so far. I need a straight up answer Max, why was Asim flying from Bangkok to Vancouver when you said he was heading home to Ottawa from Africa?
“Are you still safe? Veitch tailed me from Pearson Airport to my place and sat on me for a day. No surveillance team, just him. There’s no tail in Vancouver yet that I’ve seen. If Veitch was interested in me, they know you were in New Orleans. Keep moving.”
I sent it and signed off. Then I settled into a chair to enjoy the quiet, decompress, and release some of the tension from the last couple of days. It wasn’t more than a couple minutes before the burner phone rang.
I picked it up and it said, “Tomorrow. 10 am. Payphone. Venables and Victoria.”
I couldn’t text back, the number was blocked somehow. Couldn’t be anyone but Sang. He got my message. It was a shitty part of the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, as far from its reputation as a clean, modern, livable city as you could get. Rampant and chronic homelessness, many with addiction and mental health issues, and a lot of very old hotels serving as emergency and temporary housing. I wasn’t going to run into many tourists there.
Just as I put down the burner, I picked up my iPhone and looked at it.
“Crap,” I thought.
I sat back down in the chair and took another swig of the Widow Jane before I picked up the call.
“Yeah, I just got back to the hotel.”
“No, its not a dive this time. I’m upscale and comfortable.”
“Yeah, I’m getting it done. And I’m taking care of myself too. As a matter of fact,” I continued as I drained my glass and poured another, “I’m meditating right now.”
“Yeah, I’ve got time to go over everything.
It’s way after midnight, the power blew out
The rain is torrential, pounding the window
The crack of the lightning lights the street like a strobe
These big storms, they calm me
Strange as it seems
I see the city below me, quiet and clean
Is she up in the storm, is she thinking of me
I remember my fingers softly touching her skin
My raven-haired lover whispering her soul
Opening her heart to make me feel whole
A kindred connection that brought me back home
But it’s way after midnight and the darkness is cold
The rain of regrets and others’ actions of old
The black dog depression and those stories untold
Turned to violent self-hatred that left her alone
From a warm halo of laughter and intimate embrace
Came my darkness and isolated feeling of waste
I tried to leave early and fell in the night
Trying to flee this life, escape my invisible pain
Her confusion turned anger, and betrayal to hate
I brought tears to her heart
And my help came too late
It’s eight months past midnight and light has come home
So much damage that was out of my control
Broken hearts and lives that we no longer see
Is she up in this storm, is she thinking of me
Or is she loving another and whispering her soul
To a man who will love her and help her heart grow
Through all my twisted love, I tried so hard to be
But it’s way after midnight and too late for her and me
The studies in question make perfect sense when you look at the logistical realities of daily living in the modern world, vis-a-vis the location and abilities of a sub-set of "people" as compared to the larger control group of "all people." You see. Its a very sensible conclusion to draw, from an individual perspective when you look at the one physical clue that eludes so many of us and is not present in the stated assumptions of this challenge nor, indeed, of the studies that have inspired this seemingly unbalanced conclusion.
Or, to state the obvious:
94% of people in the studies live on the second floor or higher.
You don't know it yet, but living with that family, living through everything they did to you, wouldn't do for you, has damaged your ability to love and be loved, and to care for yourself.
You don't understand how yet, but they have really fucked you up. I wish I could tell you that they were done, but as long as you maintain contact with them, they're going to keep hurting you, and your ability to love yourself.
Get away from them.
Don't go back.
It's harsh, and terrifying, I know that. I know you're lacking some knowledge and skills to be on your own, and I know you don't believe that you're capable of this, you think you're pretty worthless and don't have any faith in yourself. You believe that the world is a harsh and bitter place, and that trying just leads to failure and a kick in the teeth. I know all of that because I felt it; I still feel it.
None of it is true.
Really listen to that.
People who give up, people who blame the world for their fear and ignorance, who are angry at themselves, who hate and are envious of others' success, need to believe the world is out to get them, that life is unfair, and that trying is futile.
These people cannot let hope build in you, cannot let dreams exist for you, cannot let you be brave, or hopeful, or see yourself as good, capable, and open. If they did, they would have to admit they were wrong. They have to drag you into the darkness in order to maintain the delusion that the world is horrible, stacked against them, and that everyone is flawed, dark, hopeless, and bitter.
It's not them, it's the world.
– Chapter Three –
A commercial, character-driven, international espionage thriller. A former top Canadian Intelligence Operator, long ago forced from the game after a mental break down, is dragged back into the field to help a friend and expose the violence and corruption that cost him his career. He has to battle his former agency, African Terrorists, corrupt American officials, and his own mental illness to save those closest to him, and ultimately himself.
“At least something in this car is warm,” Eddie Veitch mumbled to himself as he pulled up his zipper and put the cap on what had been an empty water bottle.
The disposable burner-phone he had picked up at the airport yesterday started to buzz on the Crown Vic’s seat beside him. He let it vibrate for a minute, while he squirted some hand sanitizer from a small bottle into his hands and rubbed them together. The call display showed Levesque’s number in Ottawa. He picked it up with a sigh.
“Is he still there?” The smooth male voice with a slight francophone accent asked.
“Yes sir, as far as I can tell. Having me sitting here in a car isn’t effective surveillance. He easily could’ve slipped by.”
“I know, but I can’t just call in a surveillance team or ask the RCMP to do it, can I? It wouldn’t matter anyway. If he wanted to lose you, or a team, he knows how we work. I just want him to know we’re here. Give him something to think about, just a bit. He’s a wildcard, I didn’t expect she would go to him, and I’m not sure what he’s capable of at this point.”
“I thought he was cracked? Way gone?”
There was a brief pause on the line.
“He was, and that’s why I let him slide. That may have been a mistake; I have no idea what he is now.”
“So what? You let him slide then, doesn’t mean we can’t tidy things up now,” Veitch suggested.
“No. Not after you dropped by his bar and met him at the airport. We’re too connected to him to take him off the board now. We’ll have to ride it out until we clean up the rest, then I’ll decide what to do with Mr. Bishop. Come on home Eddie, I need you to try to pick up the trail in New Orleans.”
“Besides, I know where he’s headed now.”
“Trust me, I’m no sir. It’s Ryan.”
I didn’t look up, but I swear I heard her eyes roll back in her head.
“Mmm. What can I get you?”
“Can I hear the list again?”
This time I did look up. Her eyebrow was arched over her black, cat-eye glasses, and it was twitching slightly. Her entire left arm, down to the top of her knuckles was covered in colourful koi-fish, plants, and some kind of dragon. The ear on that side must have had 6 or 7 piercings, and she had a rod with a stud on each end piercing the middle of her nose. She couldn’t have been much over 20.
“I tip really well, I promise.” She didn’t seem to care.
After a brief pause, “Fine. We have six micro-brews on tap. Most of them are organic, but we don’t guarantee that.”
“Gotcha. No organic guarantees.” She ignored me.
“We have A Hoppy Ending Lager from The End of The Track Brewery in Nanaimo, the award winning Goldilocks’ Choice Oatmeal Stout from Malted Tales in Squamish, The Other Hand of God wheat beer from the Monastery Brewers in White Rock, The Arrogant Dwarf Pale Ale, from The Other Fella’s here in Vancouver, The Bard of Cthulhu, which is a strawberry-flavoured beer from Armstrong, and The Zonked Wench, a hemp beer from Surrey.”
The repressed smirk on my face must have been more obvious than I intended.
“Or, we have a few bottles of Molson Canadian, for our more mature customers.” She stretched out the word “mature” just short of it being an obvious insult.
“Perfect,” I replied and closed my menu.
Now it was my turn. “Seriously?”
“Still want one, big tipper?”
“Not the worst thing I’ve been called today. I’ll take the burger special with fries too.”
“Sweet potato with garlic-chipotle aioli or regular fresh-cut with pink sea salt?”
“Oh, surprise me,” I deadpanned.
“Got it,” she dismissively threw over her shoulder as she walked away.
The last time I was in Vancouver, this was a perfectly respectable, East End, dive bar full of sketchy bearded guys, alcoholics, women wearing black concert shirts from heavy metal bands, and the dirtiest washrooms on the west coast. My kind of place. A perfect way to avoid … well, anyone really. Now the place was a gorgeous mix of reclaimed wood, plants, chrome stools, and micro-brew beers from quaint corners of the country. There were still lots of bearded guys, but they spend hours a day grooming and manicuring it, wear khakis, work in IT or for environmental companies, and hang out with respectable, but slightly edgy – in a very fashionable, vintage-inspired sort of way – women.
But it still had a large window facing the street, and I sat there for about three hours before the small, old woman walked slowly past the window wearing a light blue raincoat and one of those clear plastic rain bonnets that no one born after 1955 has ever worn, over her hair.
I dropped some cash between the empty beer bottles on the table, pulled up the collar of my leather jacket, stuffed my hands into my pockets, and followed her through the cold rain late on a damp west-coast winter afternoon. We walked down a busy Kingsway Ave., until I was sure no one was watching her, or following me, then I casually closed the distance between us.
“Mrs. Kim? Mrs. Kim?” I said as I reached for the red and white plastic grocery bag she was carrying from the T&T Market. “Can I help you with that?”
“Eom ma ya! Who are you? Leave my groceries alone!” She clutched the bag to her chest with both frail and ancient arms.
“No, no, Mrs. Kim, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. I just got back into town and saw you walk by. It’s Ryan Bishop. Ryan. You remember me, don’t you? Sang’s friend. We used to work together and I would come for dinner at his house in Richmond Hill when you visited?” I let go of the grocery bag.
“Hmph,” she scowled. “That was a long time ago. Sang-hun doesn’t have friends anymore,” she was carefully looking around to see if I was alone, “especially the ones he worked with.”
“I know, but I left them the same time he did. He knows I’m not with them.”
“So? Why tell me? Leave, go away, I don’t know where he is.” She started to turn away.
“Mrs. Kim, please.” I dug a matchbook from my bar out of my pocket, opened it, and quickly wrote “Bishop” and the number of the burner phone I was using on the cover.
“Please, just give this to Sang; just tell him a good friend is hiding in the long grass and she’s in danger. Please.”
“I’ll take it, but I don’t know where he is. Go away, don’t talk to me again.”
“I promise. I’m sorry.” She turned and hurriedly walked on through the cold rain.
I was fairly confident that Sang had come home to Vancouver when the unit broke up after the debacle in Afghanistan. We had all scattered to deal with the pain and guilt, with our own ghosts and demons. Chuck died that same year in a car accident, and both Helen and Marc eventually took their own lives. I never saw any reason to believe it was anything but tragic, but Sang didn’t buy it. He vanished while I was still in the hospital, busy keeping my own head above water.
“Bishop, Ryan” the security guard beside me answered. I felt like smacking him in the back of the head when he actually said, “comma.” “Bishop comma Ryan.” I will never understand why security guards and cops feel the need to do that.
“You can keep your shoelaces,” she said as she turned to face me, “but I’ll need your belt, your phone and the charging cord, if you have it.”
“Sorry?” I asked. I was standing in the elevator lobby on the fifth floor of the hospital. It was bare. No furniture, no plastic plants, no windows. Not even any art, cleanliness reminders, or motivational posters on the walls. Just the elevator doors behind me, a locked door with a wired safety glass window on my left, a large reception desk behind ceiling-high Plexiglas, and another door on my right.
“Your belt.” She asked again.
“Oh, yeah. Of course. That makes sense.”
“No cell phones, tablets, laptops, narcotics, prescriptions, alcohol, cords, plastic bags, jewelry – except watches and rings, or weapons in the ward. During the daily breaks you can have your cell phone, and we can keep it charging in here when you’re not using it. If you give me your bag now, I can go through it while Janelle gives you a tour, and shows you your bed.”
“Um, yeah, ok.”
This was how it all began for me. The hard thud of hitting rock-bottom, and the blind groping for a path to recovery.
She was being efficient, but had a warm smile and was patient with me. I remember there were colourful, winged pigs all over her hospital scrubs – I found that strangely inappropriate in a mental health ward. My head seemed to be running two steps behind, and I couldn’t quite catch up with the conversation or understand what was happening until it was over. I looked at the security guard who had escorted me from the E.R. and then I put my phone, folding pocket knife, phone charger and belt in the metal drawer and pushed it back through to her side of the glass partition.
“Just leave your bag there and I’ll grab it when we let you in.”
It was unnerving, and I was lost. I felt like my mind and awareness had been divorced from my body. Defeated. In full surrender. I walked through the door holding up the waist of my pants with one hand and noticed the large print sign: “Secure Ward. Keep Door Locked at All Times.” It felt like my entire identity was gone, left on the other side of that door. All the basic assumptions I had about who I was as a person seemed gone. “I should have worn better fitting pants,” I thought. But really, who plans for that?
Nine hours earlier I had walked into the E.R. looking confused, with glassy eyes, after not sleeping for almost a week and went to the reception desk with no idea what to say.
“Um, I need to see a doctor,” I mumbled through the partially open plexi window, as I fumbled with my wallet looking for my health card.
The young clerk didn’t even look up from her computer, “do you have a health card?”
My hand was shaking noticeably when I handed it to her.
“And what seems to be the problem today?” She started typing my card info into her computer and scanned the magnetic stripe on the back of the card before she finally stopped and looked up at me. She arched her eyebrows waiting for me to answer.
I froze. I was terrified. The answer stuck in my throat. I knew that by telling the truth I would be surrendering my freedom to choose, and admitting something to a stranger that I had never admitted to anyone. It wasn’t until that morning I had finally decided I was going to kill myself and began assembling everything I needed to do it painlessly and not leave a mess to clean up.
“Once I say it out loud,” I thought, “it’s official.” It’s written down on the record and I will officially be, “crazy,” and that label would follow me through the rest of my life.
Earlier, as I sat on that bench at my front door with my shoes and coat on, holding the address of the store where I could buy helium, I knew that I was either going to die that day, or get help. I still don’t know how I made that decision.
I looked around the emergency waiting room, terrified that someone would hear me, that alarms would go off and two burly men in white jackets would rush through the doors and drag me into a padded cell. “I’m going to kill myself if I don’t get help today.”
She was unfazed, “Ok,” she actually said, “ok,” “just have a seat over there and someone will call your name. Is anyone here with you today?”
“No. No, I’m alone.”
“Is there anyone we should call? An emergency contact?”
“No, there’s no one.”
I took a seat in a hard, uncomfortable chair in the waiting room, and waited. I would have to tell another six complete strangers that I was going to kill myself between that chair and the bed where a hospital psychiatrist would finally see me. It would be months before killing myself was not the first thing I thought of when I got out of bed.
Hey. How are you feeling man? If you can, tell me how you got here, OK? I know you're in pain, I know it's real dark for you right now. I know that you've lost every inch of hope.
But can you just talk to me about what you're feeling?
What happened to you?
And why you want to kill yourself?
I'll listen, and no judgements man, swear to God.
Just let it out, and tell me why it's so dark and painful, OK?
I've been looking at this challenge for days now. Wondering if I should, or if I could. Knowing I had a very different view of how to help someone than most people. Knowing it would be difficult to write, and even harder to hit the "Publish" button.
I've been on that edge, facing that wall of self-hatred and pain. I didn't need to hear why I was wrong. Why life was better than I thought. How much I had to live for, or how many people I would hurt. I didn't need to look at what I would miss, or look at my future. When you're at that point in life, all that advice sounds like an attack. More things to feel guilty about. More reasons to feel stupid and useless. More reasons to feel like you have failed, and can't do anything right. I already knew all that, I didn't need to be reminded of what a fuck-up and disappointment I was.
When you've fallen that far down the black rabbit hole, you don't think in the same way as other people. You don't see the same world they do, and you certainly don't see you or your life the way everyone else does. Your mind operates on a different set of rules, and sees life in an entirely different way than people who are not on the edge of killing themselves. Trying to get suicidal people to see the bright parts of life, or to see what opportunities they have, or to realize how many people really love them, doesn't work simply because they see all of those things as a negative, an expectation, a failure, and themselves as a disappointment to all those people.
It's hard to even think about what my mind was like on that edge. Even the memory of it is incredibly painful. But, like most people who are suicidal, I hid my pain, and was ashamed that I felt that way. I was afraid that once I told people what I really felt, I would be seen as 'crazy,' 'weak,' 'just demanding attention,' 'dramatic,' or 'too sensitive' and 'overly emotional.' No one would see me anymore, just the crazy, suicidal, wacko.
Suicide is the #2 cause of death for:
- young people under 25
- men over 35
Think about that. The second most common death for people we love, our friends, our children, our fathers, our brother and sisters - is suicide. Mental illness. #2
What I needed, and eventually found in the hospital was:
- Non-judgemental help. They knew mental illness, is just another kind of heart disease, another kind of cancer, another kind of a car wreck. It's a disease. Not a weakness. Not a failing. So it can be treated, and cured.
- People who convinced me to talk about the pain I was in, and how I hated myself. I had to put words to it, express it, talk about it. Secrets kill. They build shame. Once you are ashamed of what you feel, and how you think, you will lose all hope.
- I had to be kind to myself, and show compassion for the amount of pain I was in, and the events that had caused and built up that pain. I had to listen to it, and tell myself how horrible it was, and how painful it must be to feel that, or see that.
Offer that to anyone who is suicidal. And then call 911. Suicidal thought or actions are fatal without professional help. It is not a cry for attention. Ever.
It is how a person with mental health problems bleeds. It's how they show the painful mental injury they are dying from.
That person needs help. Be that for them.
And then call 911.
Save a life.
I knew you, long before we met. Before I ever spoke to you. When you did eventually cross my path all those wild seasons ago, I saw you, raven-haired, brilliant and beautiful, for exactly what you were to me. You were the woman I was going to love. And I did. And I have. And I do.
And as hard as I find it now to be so far from your life, your laugh, and being able to be there when you need a friend, I still feel our connection and smile every time I do.
I knew, long before we met, that I wouldn't be the man for you. I knew I was incomplete and wouldn't be able to love and live like so many do. I saw a dark world, where I would fight for bits of bright and temporal shards of joy. I didn't believe I would ever find the kind of peace I would need to be enough for you.
I knew that you had to find happiness without me, because my world was going to deny it to me.
So I didn't chase, or go too far, or let me fall into you. But I couldn't let go either. And it was hard - especially when we were young, and hope still flickered in the tiny lantern I kept and protected in my heart for the good things. I wanted to fall, to be with you, to feel you in love with me.
So desperately at times, when my life and head are calm and quiet have I wanted to know that feeling with you.
But at 17 I decided that would be selfish, and unfair to do to you.
And even then, I was terrified that if I felt that love with you, and then lost it to my darkness and pain, I would never find any love at all again.
I was a coward.
But I think my life, my huge mistakes, being so lost so much of my time, that I would have lost you entirely from my life long ago.
And, at least right now, that can be enough.
There's a white woman in her 50s, I think, sitting across from me on the City bus. She's wearing a long, dirty, green coat, about three sizes too big, and far too warm for today's weather. Her grey-streaked hair hasn't been cleaned in weeks, and the smell suggests neither she nor her clothes have either.
She's making herself as small as she can. Her shoulders rolled forward, head down and her hands are gripping a small plastic bag with a few belongings in it on her lap. She leans away from the aisle and into the window and wall of the bus.
She sits still, not moving. Uncomfortably still, not trying to get comfortable. Her hands are shaking noticeably in her lap and her mouth and side of her face twitch randomly, almost like she's chatting about something the rest of us can't see. Shouldn't see.
I wonder how far I am from being her. How close was I, when I was really off-balance, living at the shelter. Watching homeless men openly despair, and broken kids tweaking and OD'ing on fentanyl in a horrifying seizure, carted away from the church dinner in an ambulance.
Have I escaped her suffering and state of being? Will I ever see that?
I want to touch her shoulder and say, "don't give up. Keep fighting. Keep moving," quietly so the rest of the bus doesn't hear, doesn't notice her more. But I don't. I know how big a trigger touch, or a stranger can be.
But really, I'm just not that generous. I'm selfish. I want her to fight, to make it in my mind, so that I can believe that I will. That I have a chance. It's my shoulder I'm aching to touch and it's my ear that wants to hear, "don't give up. Keep fighting. Keep moving," from myself.
A Consequence of Violence
A commercial, character-driven, international espionage thriller. A former top Canadian Intelligence Operator, long ago forced from the game after a mental break down, is dragged back into the field to help a friend, and expose the violence and corruption that cost him his career. He has to battle his former agency, African Terrorists, corrupt American officials, and his own mental illness to save those closest to him, and ultimately himself.