Despite being half polluted by cigarettes, the air outside the hospital door had that sweet smell of freedom. To the east, The Plains spread out their splendor as an Indian at a rest stop spreads her jewelry on blankets. To the west, the mountains piled up, as children at a park will lie giggling in a heap. The sky appeared limitless; a few airplanes seemed to skate across its surface, gliding to exotic, wondrous destinations. Even the pavement under my feet, a concrete sidewalk poured in the sixties, containing more lines and cracks than an elderly sunbather, seemed more solid, more substantial, than any other sidewalk I had ever walked on before.
I was free. The psych tech had come to my room after that strange man left, gave me my clothes back, and I was free. I got dressed, snapped off the hospital bracelet, flung the gown in a corner, and I was free. I strode through the locked doors of the psych ward, past the groans of a melancholic, the glare of a guard, the annoyance of a charge nurse, and I was free. Down a gleaming hallway, past rushing gurneys, nervous visitors, and patients pushing IV poles, I was free. Free at last, thank God almighty, I was free at last.
The tech had called me a cab. I could go anywhere I wanted, anywhere that would have me or I could talk myself into. I could claim relation to Kim and sleep on her couch. I could collect on a rain check with Carol and sleep in her bed, or her daughters’ bed, as the case may be, but with Carol, not with the daughters in it. I could forgive Natalie, and be forgiven, yet again, and resume our travels across the country. I could even return to Kansas, knock on Joy’s door, and beseech her until I heard her flutelike voice say she’d take me back, or not. I could take down her elephant picture and put it and her husband’s stuff out by the curb. I could try any of this because I was free.
I was no longer certifiably crazy, an imminent danger to self or others, and in need of being locked up. I no longer had to restore myself to my son. I was sadly free of that obligation. My heart was fine, or, at least as fine as a heart can be pumping around the cholesterol of ten thousand bags of chips. I could buy a gun at a pawnshop of this Wild West state, take it to a roadside, and shoot myself in the head if I wanted, I was free.
If the strange man who released me was right, if he was not just a dream or a figment of my imagination, if I am fictional, as he said I was, then I’m more free than any of you real people, constrained as you are by the laws of nature. I could make a moment, a single breath taken outside a Colorado Springs hospital, last five to ten minutes, or as long as it might take to read this chapter. Or, I could skip over decades, travel back in time, and be two places at once. I could never die and could still be sailing around the Mediterranean, as is Odysseus, millennium later. I could appear at my next destination without even taking a cab to get there. I was that free.
As it is, I think I will follow most of the laws of nature, even though I don’t have to, if only so I don’t stand out.
There was so much I wanted; I didn’t know what to start with. I had a rich man’s burden, with too many toys to play with; he can’t play with them all at once. I was like a guy I knew who got a pacemaker and went for a run for the first time in years, just to see what the puppy could do.
I wanted to get to know in a family way, Kim and Sam, and get to know Carol in a Biblical way. I could leave Joy where she was, having found no Joy in her for years. I’ll give Natalie a piece of my mind. I’ll visit what’s left of Paul in his grave. I will try that undercover shrink business idea I had, if only because I need to make some money sometime. I want to write a novel and create some of my own fictional characters to do my dirty work, just as soon as I have something to say. I still want to reserve the right to murder myself if I choose to.
I exhaled that free Rocky Mountain high, having pulled all the oxygen and wonder from it I could.
What will I do first?
I was hungry. I went back in the hospital and looked for the cafeteria.