Monday, April 17, 2006

Ted

My other head is named Ted. That was not my doing. That was Ted’s doing. That’s pretty much the problem in a nutshell. Ted is the kind of head that would name himself Ted the head.

The doctor says that this is a fixable situation. He says that there’s technology and procedures. Ted doesn’t hear any of this because I bought him an Ipod and he listens to music while the doctor is describing how we could remove Ted’s head from my body and make me just like everyone else. I could have one body and one head. It could all be mine.

Ted likes country music and songs about the stars. He hums to himself while we talk about incisions and sutures. He whistles when I ask how long it will take to heal.

The doctor says he thinks we should really give this some thought first, that it’s not reversible, that it’s somewhat extreme. He says that some might look on our situation as a blessing. Something special. A team. If we’re having problems, maybe we want to see a counselor. I tell the doctor that I’ve been trying to become a vegan for the last eight years. Ted, however, is addicted to barbecue. He likes sausage and ribs and his steaks cooked rare. I ask the doctor if he knows what it’s like to share his stomach with someone else. He says he doesn’t.

We schedule the surgery.

Ted asks how the appointment went. He’s under the impression that this is all related to my veganism, which in some technical way it very much is. I tell him it went well and he’s satisfied with that. Ted is satisfied with whatever you tell him. He’s a sucker, which is why we own a lot of kitchen gadgets and have changed long distance carriers so many times. It’s also why Ted can’t watch TV late at night or answer the phone anymore.

What are you thinking about?

This is one of Ted’s favorite questions.

Nothing, I tell him, even though it’s not possible to think about nothing. Even thinking about nothing is thinking about something. But Ted never questions this.

Oh, he says. I was thinking about my favorite color. Do you know what my favorite color is?

Your favorite color is blue, Ted.

It sure is. It sure is. Blue, he says while licking his lips as if it’s something he can taste. Blue.

***

Elise is French. Her hair is straight. Her nails are long like garden tools. When we have dinner she sends things back until they are exactly the right temperature.

This duck should be 167 degrees.

This salad needs to be 14 degrees cooler.

Her tongue is very, very sensitive. When she kisses me she can read my mind.

You are thinking about something, no?

I check to make sure that Ted is asleep. When she drinks properly chilled wine, Elise tells wonderful stories about herself and her travels and stupid people who don’t even realize they are stupid. These stories put Ted to sleep because he is not sophisticated.

I saw the doctor, I say.

Elise raises her eyebrows. Her fingers unfurl across the table and get mixed up in my own. Yes?

I’ve set a date. For the, I lean in and whisper, surgery.

Elise brings her lips to my ear and takes in a breath like she’s going to say something. Instead I feel her magical tongue brush against my earlobe and I vibrate like a guitar string.

She pulls back and licks her lips, deciding something.

Almost perfect, she says.

The vibration in my core stirs Ted to life.

Well, hey E-lise. How’s dinner?

Almost, she says again without acknowledging Ted at all. As long as she looks at me I can never look away. If she decides I should stay at this table for eleven months, three days, and six hours, her eyes will be enough to keep me.

***

Ted wants his party at Chuck E Cheese. He doesn’t even ask what the party is for. Since it is a going away party I allow it.

All of the neighborhood kids are there. They love Ted. Brice, Kenneth, Tyler, Andy. They all think Ted is so funny. I’ve tried to explain to them that there’s more to life than being funny. There’s work and success. Assets and finances. Books and politics. And living with Ted is no easy task, I’ve told them. But they don’t understand because they’re only kids and kids don’t understand anything. As soon as they do, they stop being kids.

I let Ted play in the ball pit for almost an hour. I let him waste money on video games and air hockey. He eats almost a whole pizza by himself, one covered in layers of greasy cheese and ground meat. I can feel the pizza mix with the lentil soup I ate before the party and I feel sick.

This is the last time I will ever eat pizza, I think as Ted takes another bite.

At the end of the night Ted takes all the tickets he’s collected and spends them on a stapler. It’s a tiny stapler that wouldn’t hold three sheets of paper together. I try to tell him that we already have a stapler, one that, in addition to being functional, probably cost less than what we spent in order to win this one. I try to steer him towards the big lollipop on the grounds that it’s at least useful for its intended purpose. But the economics of the situation mean nothing to Ted. He wants the stapler. So at the end of his going away party Ted comes home with a very small, very expensive, and utterly useless stapler.

***

My house is my house. It’s not Ted’s house. I paid for it with money I got from doing my job. I got that job with my degree. And I earned that degree with the facts and figures that I stuffed into my head. Ted’s head is just along for the ride. So Ted’s head doesn’t get to make decisions.

I’ve meticulously collected and arranged everything in my house. It flows. Things complement one another. There’s a sense of purpose, of intent. It is a sanctuary. I have pictures of it on my desk at work the way other people have pictures of their children. It calms me to look at them. It fills me with pride. It’s very nearly perfect.

Except for one little spot.

It’s a spot near the top of the wall in the bedroom, the spot Ted stares at when I lay down to read. To keep him from complaining incessantly and asking how soon we could turn out the light I decided to let Ted decorate this little space. Ted thought about it for several weeks, looked at paint samples that I had suggested, looked through catalogs. At night I could almost feel him imagining the possibilities. I admit to being briefly hopeful about his decision. Then one day as I was rushing through the mall Ted cried out that he saw what he wanted. And since then there’s been a poster of Garfield the cat eating a tray of lasagna on the wall of my otherwise perfect home.

When Ted looks at it he giggles, and then within minutes he’s asleep.

The poster should have made it possible for me to read in peace. Instead, I often find myself distracted, my eyes picking at it like a little scab, going over and over it so that it never heals, never fades, never gives up my attention. Often I turn out the lights in frustration, but even in the darkness I know it’s there.

I’m looking forward to taking it down.

But tonight I’m not distracted. Tonight my reading has engrossed me. The materials outline the procedure in detail. They say that it’s remarkably simple. The head is removed. The nerves are clipped. The wound is sewed up. When it’s over I will have a scar. That’s all. Just a scar.

Hey. What does cranial amputation mean?

I look over and discover that Ted is awake, his eyes squinting as if looking into a sunset as he tries to make sense of the words and pictures in my hands.

Nothing. It’s just work stuff. Go back to sleep.

His eyes drift back over to his poster. He giggles. His lids droop and seal.

That’s Ted. Too innocent for his own good. Too trusting to survive. I’m helping him, I think. I’m protecting him from a world he’s not equipped to handle. This is mercy, I think, for both of us.

What do you think Heaven is like, Ted suddenly asks without opening his eyes.

I don’t believe in Heaven, I say. I think this life is all there is. That’s why each of us must do what’s necessary to live it to the fullest.

Ted doesn’t respond and suddenly I find myself staring at the Garfield poster. Frustrated, I turn out the lights.

Then, from the darkness Ted says, I think it’s probably a very pretty blue.

***

I’m intentionally vague about what we’re doing. Lying there, I keep thinking that Ted will ask more questions, but he doesn’t seem the least bit worried, not the least bit suspicious. They draw some dotted lines with a felt tip pen where they’re going to cut. They put a big X on Ted’s forehead to make sure they know which head to take and which head to leave. Ted laughs when they draw the X. He says it tickles.

I see the doctor through a window. He’s in the other room washing up, getting ready. I begin to feel nervous. Ill. I want Ted to ask what’s going on. I’ve spent hours preparing my explanation, now I feel the need to hear it again. Not for Ted, but for myself. But Ted doesn’t ask.

The doctor comes in hidden behind layers of plastic and rubber. His voice is the only thing familiar.

Are we sure?

I make a decision. I decide it’s up to Ted. I decide that if Ted wants to stay I will let him. All he has to do is ask. But still he doesn’t say a word. And in the end I can’t forgive him for that. If Ted can’t speak on his own behalf, if Ted isn’t interested enough to wonder what’s happening, then I will not feel guilty. I will not be responsible. I wait and I wait and the nurses wait and the doctor waits. Everyone waits and Ted only smiles.

Finally, I nod. We’re sure.

The doctor turns to someone. That someone presses a button, turns a dial. I begin to feel heavy. My limbs sink into the bed, my muscles let go of my bones. The weight tips my head to the side and as my eyelids give way, I find myself staring at Ted. There is a giant X just above his eyes drawn in blue marker.

Then the world feels like it gets sucked up by a vacuum, pulled away as I try to hold on. The last thing I remember is Ted smiling at me.

Goodbye, is what he says.

***

At dinner Elise kisses me.

Perfect, she says again and again.

Meat no longer sneaks its way into my stomach.

At work I’m no longer interrupted by silly questions, not embarrassed in meetings. My boss tells me that he’s eyeing me for a promotion.

The neighborhood kids stop coming by. Even on Halloween, when I turn on the light and have a bowl of candy waiting, they all stay away. By Thanksgiving I’m sick of all the leftover chocolate and I end up throwing most of it out. I realize I never really liked chocolate. It was Ted’s thing.

When I visit the doctor he says that I’m healing very well. He says he doubts there will be much of a scar at all.

There is, however, the issue of disposal.

Disposal?

What would you like us to do with the… removed item?

Oh.

I end up taking Ted home in a jar. I think it’s a jar. I tell them to put the jar in a box, and even though I keep thinking I will, I never open the box. I take it on faith that Ted is inside.

On a Sunday afternoon in the fall I take the box to the park and I dig up a hole in a place I think Ted would have liked. I put the box inside along with Ted’s stapler and I say a couple things. I say that Ted liked country music and that he was very naïve. I say that the neighborhood kids miss him, and that while he was not that bright, he was also not that bad. I want to say that I miss him, because I think that’s an important thing to say. But the truth is, the scar is almost healed. The evidence is almost gone. By the time I cover the box up, it’s almost like Ted never was never here at all.

That night Elise rakes long fertile rows in my back and makes love to me like an adult. We hold each other and she says that she feels like a cigarette, but neither of us smokes. Instead, we just lie there tangled up in one another. Two bodies. Two heads. The silence tries to fuse us together, presses on us like an ocean crushing a submarine. But it never quite works. We end up staying ourselves.

Elise looks at Ted’s poster on the wall and wonders when I’m going to take it down.

It’s hideous, she says.

Tomorrow, I say.

But when tomorrow happens, I leave the poster right where it is.

3 comments:

rev_justin said...

Absolute brilliance. As usual, excellent work.gru

mr. kyle said...

Many thanks. Will pass your kind words on to the boys along with their weekly gruel rations.

Monica said...

I wrote a limerick once about a chicken named Ted (or was it Fred?) who lost his head, but yours is MUCH better.