Category: Verity

There Is No Mystery of Ada Noble; or, a Letter from the Author to Himself

There is no Mystery of Ada Noble, because Ada is not a mystery to be solved. She’s just a character in a story, and you loved her, and she died. That’s all. She wasn’t teaching you a larger lesson. There aren’t more pieces to the puzzle, so please stop looking. You loved her and that was the point, nothing more. She gave you the opportunity to feel that way about someone, you rose to the occasion, and somehow as a result you were able to feel that way about yourself. But there was no trick to it, no cosmic conspiracy of hidden symbols and meaning. You loved her, and it changed your life, because she is you. She was there inside you all along, but you had to fabricate her as a separate entity so that you could see her. You even said so, often, but you still wouldn’t believe it. You only believed that you were the damaged, hurting characters struggling under their false conceptions and limiting beliefs, the ones who actually needed to be saved. But did they? Or was their salvation, so-called, nothing more than their own decision that they didn’t need to be saved?

No one can save you, my dear boy, because you don’t need to be saved. You already are. There is nothing from which to be saved, not even from yourself. The question itself is nonsensical.

And that’s all there is. And that’s enough, because you are enough and always have been. You just needed to accept that fact, and you will probably need to fight for the rest of your life to continue accepting that fact. But won’t that be interesting? What will that even look like?

Let’s find out, shall we?

Let’s get started.

Holy Shit, I Finally Met Elizabeth

Preface

The following scene from Verity came out of absolutely nowhere, as I’ve been struggling for several days with a really, really stupid problem in part of the software that I’m rewriting for the millionth time. It’s something that probably doesn’t even matter – I could theoretically just let it go and move on, but it’s a bone I can’t stop gnawing at. I can’t tell if it’s Resistance convincing me to waste my time on a triviality because I’m nervous about starting on the next step, or if it’s actually important to do a good job here and it’s just a challenge to overcome. Is it perfectionism, or is it being true to my vision, not necessarily of how it should work, but how it should feel? Distinguishing the two cases is not something I do well. Yet.

I’ll take it as serendipity or synchronicity, but I had also just stumbled across Steven Pressfield’s recent book The Artist’s Journey as I indulged in some internet-oriented avoidance behavior. Of course I had read The War of Art back when I needed to be reading The War of Art, as we all at some point must, but I never realized he had so much more to say, so much that I completely agree with. Things that I agree with so much that, well, for a brief moment I thought, hey, if this guy is saying all the things I think I might be saying, only saying it better, is there any point in my repeating it? But that’s silly talk. My perspective is different enough that there’s room for it, and it’s an important enough message that even if I were to parrot him verbatim there could still be enormous value to doing so.

I’ve begun taking a deep dive on his blog, which might also be avoidance behavior, might be Resistance being a dick again, but instead maybe it’s research. Maybe it’s an opportunity to spark some new connections in my brain. Like I said, I’m still working on how to tell the difference.

I can say, though, that already at least three things have come out of it. First, Pressfield speaks frankly about his sincere belief in his (and your and my) Muse, and I think I agree with him. And I’m leaning towards believing that Ada is my Muse. Everyone else in Verity I can somewhat readily identify as a version or aspect of myself, most specifically Mildred/Millie. But Ada is as much a mystery to me as she is to Millie, and maybe that’s why I can only dribble out a scene or two every now and then. For a while I thought maybe she was some higher, future, aspirational version of myself, but that never felt entirely convincing. For one thing, I really don’t want to believe it. Even metaphorically I feel no inclination towards martyrdom being my destiny.

And sometimes you need to hear something twice before it sinks in. Early this year I had exactly one phone session with a creativity coach who found me exceptionally frustrating, but after I described how Ada was always kind of there in my mind, chiding me and cryptically nudging me even when I wasn’t writing, they said in confused exasperation that I already had my Muse, but that I couldn’t do any of the rest of the necessary work of being an artist, things that every other artist apparently does before meeting their Muse: I hadn’t decided what it was that I even wanted to do, artistically. I hadn’t chosen what my work was. I don’t think that they were wrong.

Like Pressfield and I assume millions of others, I also find the theme of the Hero’s Journey extremely fertile for its explanatory power, or at least as a way of organizing my thoughts around what it is that I’ve been doing for the last three and a half years consciously and the previous thirty-nine years unconsciously. Of course, I far more strongly resonate with Kim Hudson’s ostensibly feminine flip side to the Hero’s Journey, which she calls the Virgin’s Promise. For what it’s worth, she considers Rocky to be a Heroine’s/Virgin’s Journey, not a Hero’s Journey, and I consider my own path over the last three years the same way. Just not with boxing. Furthermore, I also look at the Heroine’s/Hero’s Journey as a metaphor for the same underlying process that developmental psychologists Piaget, Richards, and Commons call the dialectic of stage change, which occurs on many levels, big and small.

What I had never considered, and for which I owe Pressfield a true debt of gratitude, is his insight that whereas all the stories we’ve told throughout history end with the Heroine/Hero returning home with a gift for her people, with everything thereafter being yada yada’d over with a happily ever after, it is in fact only then that the real work of an artist begins, the Artist’s Journey, which is no less arduous, but entirely different in nature. It is the process of self discovery, of learning to “find and speak in our true voice”, which only begins after our heroic struggle to identify our true calling.

Well, holy shit. Okay. That is a huge relief, because no matter how much I can feel all the way to my very marrow that I am not the same person I was even two years ago, that despite ongoing struggles I have an indescribable and never before felt confidence that this is what I am meant to be doing, still I have no idea exactly what the hell this is. Art, yes, of some sort. But is it writing? Is it software-based generative art? Some combination of the two or something else entirely, because neither is sufficient on its own? I have a consistent, low-level anxiety that not knowing where I’m going means that I’m still at a much earlier stage in the process than I feel I’m at. And it’s important to know the difference, because the way forward is different at different stages of the process. I shouldn’t and can’t rely on others to tell me this kind of thing, but damn, it sure does help to have this confusion normalized.

I suspect, as well, though I’ll probably change my mind later, that the second half of Verity, Millie’s search for the secret of Ada Noble, is a complete blank to me because it’s where I’m at myself. The first half is the Heroine’s Journey, where Mildred comes to throw off her belief that, because she’s not the one suffering from the disease, therefore she must be emotionally subordinate to the needs of those who are. She must maintain a distance, always be on the outside. She believes that to behave in such a way is the most loving and ethical way of dealing with their misery. But then her choice to love, to really love her patient Ada, and to accept and receive Ada’s love in return, sets into motion her rebirth in the wake of Ada’s inevitable death. But what comes after that, I think, that’s her Artist’s Journey in Pressfield’s terms.

And I know what that looks like in the very, very early days, but only in the early days, because that’s where I’m at. I don’t know where it’s going, at all, and I hate not knowing, but at least, thank God, at least I know I just need to find out. That’s the rest of my life. Finding out where the hell I’m going as an artist. Because I am an artist, a real artist, even if I have nothing tangible to show for it yet. Even though I’m a neophyte at best, possibly even an abject failure according to any number of external measures, which, at least and maybe only in this moment, mean surprisingly little to me. But I am an artist, and I could not have written those words two years ago or even have allowed my internal monologue to whisper it. Partially because it wasn’t yet true, partially because I could hardly face the fact that I wanted it to be true.

So that’s two things that came out of my taking a small break from my software: the likelihood that I can’t understand Ada because she’s my Muse, and the likelihood that I don’t have any idea what Millie does in the second half because I’m just as lost, and yet as hopeful, as she is. The last thing I got out of it was the next scene, which just popped into my head as I made my way steadily through the pages and pages of Pressfield’s blog. I finally got to meet Ada’s twin sister Elizabeth. All I had before was one vague image of her in anguish on her therapist’s couch, along with another image of her singing U2’s “Like a Song” in the club where Millie and Kimball first spy her, possessed by a demon, her voice ragged and screaming with self rage, and yet controlled and powerful and real. The audience falls silent, in awe, as she finishes:

When others need your time
You say it’s time to go, it’s your time
Angry words won’t stop the fight
Two wrongs won’t make it right
A new heart is what I need
Oh, God make it bleed
Is there nothing left?

But then there’s this, which I didn’t expect. It’s rough and it needs to be reworked, and it’s not one of those scenes that wrote itself. I was fully conscious and aware while writing it, which isn’t quite as fun as coming out of a trance to see several pages worth of words just there. But I think I like it, and I think it might work as the opening scene to the whole story, somewhat reminiscent of Atonement.

I’m not yet sure exactly what it is, but something in the back of my mind has been telling me since I started writing this scene yesterday that it’s an extremely important clue for my own understanding of what Verity is and what my parallel work is all about. There’s something about the circularity, or the chain, of Ada saving Millie, Millie saving Elizabeth, and then Elizabeth’s apparent effect on her fans. There’s a facile, superficial well, duh in there, but is it more? It feels like there’s more. As well, I’ve always thought of Verity as Millie’s story, which means it’s my story as well. But this, this strongly hints that Verity might, in fact, be Elizabeth’s story. I have a string of implications that dissipate into a cloud if I try to look at them directly, but it could be fun to explore that in the coming days and weeks.

The Gift

“The truth is,” said Elizabeth, “that I had lost my sister, my first sister, years ago. It wasn’t just there before the end, after we fought, after I told her that if she was really going to do it, to just give up, that she could just go ahead and get the fuck out of my life right then and there, which, it seemed for some time, was exactly what she did. I never saw her again, and I gotta tell ya, the guilt of that, I mean… Well, it was really hard to deal with.

“But she never really left. I mean, of course she left, she’s dead. But she left me something, and God knows in her place I wouldn’t have done the same. But that was her, that was Ada. Always so goddamned composed. Always ready to forgive shit that I would never forgive, shit that I could never forgive. She puts me to shame, I would say, if it wasn’t for… I guess… if she would let me continue to feel that shame. Not that I didn’t, and for such a long time. But, you see, it was the gift she left me.”

“The gift? What was that?”

“A sister.”

“I don’t think I understand. You mean that your sister died and left you… a sister?”

“Yes, that’s exactly what she did. I don’t know how the hell she managed it, how any of it could’ve worked out the way it did. Quite a bizarre chain of coincidence and chance. Implausible, really. But there it is.”

“I’m still a little confused. What do you mean that she left you a sister?”

“It was a woman named Millie, her nurse. She found me. She didn’t even know she was looking for me, because she didn’t know I existed. But she found me anyhow, and it saved me.”

“Saved you?”

“Yeah, from myself. From my guilt, my shame. I mean, after Ada and I fought, after the things I said, things I could never take back, when she needed me because she was already so sick.

“But even besides that. You see, she had always been so much stronger than me, always, even as kids. She could just hack it, could tolerate things that brought me to my knees. I used to think it was because she had more support, because Mom loved her more, which you could just tell was the case. But that’s not really why. Mom loved her more because she was already so strong, and it felt good to be around her. You felt like someone when you were around her, like you mattered. And I fucking hated her for it. I hated her fucking guts. But no matter what I did, no matter how cruel I was to her, she just took it, just smiled her pathetic smile back at me. And the fact that she could take it, that she wouldn’t fight back and tell me what a wretched cunt I was, that she didn’t scream and try to tear my hair out, that just made me hate her even more.”

“But not now?”

“No, not now. I mean, I’m not entirely sure, though, right? Cuz you don’t just flip a switch and suddenly everything’s hunky dory. But I think now, I definitely feel like I can look back on her with affection and admiration. I try not to move on to thoughts of all the time I wasted, all the lost time when we could’ve been friends, confidants, you know, sisters. But she didn’t begrudge me that, God knows how. And she left me her gift.”

“Her gift. You say that like this Millie person is an object, or a pet.”

“Oh! Sorry if I was unclear. Millie isn’t the gift. Millie is the one who brought me the gift. That she became my sister in the process is just one more unexpected miracle.”

“But you said that Ada left you a gift, a sister, and now you consider Millie to be a sister, so…”

“Yeah, but the sister, the gift, that Ada gave me was herself. I mean it’s obvious, isn’t it? It was redemption. Forgiveness. But even more than that. It wasn’t that she forgave me, because she always did that. I don’t think she even thought it was necessary to forgive me. But somehow… somehow she allowed me to forgive myself, and now she’s more alive to me than she has been for decades.”

“And how did she do that?”

“Well, obviously I wasn’t there, but it was something about what she said: ‘Oh, my darling! If only you could see!’ Millie said that those were Ada’s last words, when she should’ve been too far gone to speak, or even think coherently. She used to say that to me, when we first started drifting apart, when I first started treating her like shit, when I could still catch some surprised hurt in her reaction. Back then she was chiding me. She would say it in sorrow and frustration, but from what Millie tells me, when she died she said it in ecstasy, in love. And it was for me, I believe that, though God knows I didn’t deserve it.

“I mean, it’s kind of hard to explain, and I don’t fully understand it myself. I just know that… Well, also, when I finally understood what she had meant to Millie, when I saw how devastated she was to have lost Ada, I could… It was like I was looking in a mirror. But a mirror that reveals hidden things. I knew it was real when I saw it, but not until then. It was buried under too much shame and guilt and anger. But I saw in Millie’s eyes what I was feeling, that I missed Ada so much. That I had been missing her for years, that I had been living for years with a hollowness inside that was eating me alive because I had pushed her away, even before she chose to die, before she was sick, before Mom and Dad were sick, since all the way back when we were young.

“But then Millie showed me how much I missed her, and that was… well, I was a little surprised, because did that I mean I really did love her? Was I capable of that? Had I always loved her, and had she known that all along? How else had she known to send Millie to me with her message?

“I don’t know. I don’t get it. But something broke down. Something just dissolved. All the hate, the bitterness, the acrimony and recrimination. I don’t know if that had all just been projection, if me hating Ada for so long was just externalizing my own self loathing… well, I think obviously that’s what it was. But I don’t know how she managed to convince me to stop. Or at least to start stopping. I’ve still got a long way to go. But there is something that I do feel, something that’s entirely foreign to me: I feel hopeful. And I feel love, and I wonder if those two words might just mean the exact same thing.”

“Wow. That’s… So that’s what your new album is about? That process of, would you call it healing?”

“Healing is a pretty good word, and maybe also catharsis. But then it’s also, well, I don’t quite know how to put it into words, and that’s why I had to make this album. There was no other way to, you know, get it out there, to manage it. As amazing as it feels to have all of this happening to me, to feel, how can I put it? To feel like I’m finally alive, actually a real, living entity on this planet for once instead of some kind of empty shell, even still, it’s overwhelming. In a good way, yes, but still overwhelming. I… does this sound weird? I think I needed to make this album, to share all of this with all of you so that, well… I mean, because I can’t manage it on my own. I’m sharing it because it’s too much for just me to deal with. Does that make sense? I think, I think maybe I’m asking for help in carrying this. But, you know, I really do hope you’re getting something out of it, too.”

“Miss Noble, I’m truly at a loss. I’ve been doing this for a very long time, but I’ve never had an interview like this. You say you hope that we’re getting something out of your work? Could you possibly doubt it? You’ve read the early reviews, you know what people are saying. Look around you right now, the crew, even me, on live television, nearly losing my composure. I don’t do that. Miss Noble, I can assure you, we are getting something out of your work, and out of you being here with us today, sharing what you just shared.”

“Well, thank you. Thank you for that, I mean it. And do please call me Elizabeth.”

Mildred Smiles

Preface

This character sketch for Verity was originally written on December 19, 2016. It marked something of a turning point in my approach to the story and to writing in general, because it was through writing this that I truly and madly fell in love with Mildred. Maybe it was because I discovered that she already loved me. I’ve decided not to exclude myself from this story, so I’m leaving this scene in its original form of being from my own perspective.

I wrote this while sitting in our old condo in my favorite lounge chair, listening to St Vincent’s positively sublime self titled album which is now inextricably and forever linked to Verity in my mind. “Prince Johnny” sticks out in my memory above all the other tracks, and I was disappointed that Annie didn’t perform it either in Milwaukee or Chicago this past winter, even if my mind was blown utterly wide open by the rest of her performance.

After I finished the scene a thought popped into my head, and an accompanying sensation ran through my body to show assent. A little voice in my head said, “Now I really am a writer.”

I really don’t know if that was true or not, or if it was only in that moment that it became true, but I have actually written a lot of things that might or might not be completely true, even if I have presented them as such. They feel true, or the impression I’m trying to present is true whether the details surrounding it are or not, such that I am entirely disinclined to question the veracity of it or to try to find confirmatory or disconfirmatory evidence.

A Welcome Guest

Mildred was sitting upright in her bed, the gray covers and white sheets pulled up to her waist, a pillow behind her back. She had changed into her tasteful gray pajamas and put on her glasses with the thick bridge and slightly pointed corners. She had combed her hair to the point where it fell straight and like silk to just below her shoulders, a medium brown with a slight but discernible red tinge.

Expressionless, she perused some notes she had written on a yellow legal pad, the first dozen pages flipped over the top and tucked behind the cardboard backing. She really had no expression. She was concentrating, clearly, but without looking like she was concentrating. She simply was not present, her mind elsewhere, on her notes, recreating mentally the images and thoughts and feelings from when she had written them, erasing any and all expressiveness from her features. As it was, there was no one present to witness her being lost to the physical world, and so who really was to care that she was not present?

Mildred absentmindedly sipped at her mug of herbal tea, a ritual she always found comforting before bed time. She noticed that the mug was empty, pulled back the sheets, swung her legs over the side of the bed, got up, and made her way into the kitchenette just next to the bed in her efficiency apartment, her mind all the while still on the notes. As she had done thousands of times before, without conscious intent, she set her mug down on the countertop and reached for the still half-full pot of tea that she had brewed. Tonight, however, she had placed the pot just a few inches from its usual place, and as her grasping fingers missed the handle, instead encountering nothing but air, she was yanked out of her deeply inward-turned thoughts. It took her a confused moment to recreate in her mind the purpose of her being in the kitchenette and reaching for something. What was it? Oh, tea. Right.

There was very little visible sign of Mildred’s actually profound if momentary shift in perspective. She had appeared to be staring at the counter, but with unfocused eyes. In breaking out of her reverie, the only sign was the contraction of her irises as she became aware that she would have to use them. Her mind, however, felt like it had been ripped out of the deepest sleep, as though she was waking from a pleasant dream to thick curtains thrown open to blinding mid-day sun. She was of course entirely accustomed to the sensation, as reality so frequently intruded on her inner world.

A slight tightening of her lips, not a grin, really, then accompanied her now conscious act of refilling her mug. It was still a quiet, personal moment, but only a moment, because she suddenly but without surprise became aware that I was in her efficiency apartment with her, watching her pour herself a cup of tea. In slow motion her eyes widened slightly as her mouth stretched into a warm and welcoming smile. Perhaps welcoming is not the word.

It was more the greeting of someone who had been waiting for the arrival of someone they had very much been looking forward to seeing. And yet there was no sign that she had been waiting impatiently. Her eyes read hope and vulnerability and innocence and a genuine pleasure that I had finally arrived.

Against the dim lighting of the apartment, with its whites, grays, taupes and grayish-greens, her blue eyes and her slightly crooked teeth shone brightly as she smiled, as did her lips that were red even though she wore no lipstick. Her hair as well seemed more red. In my original conception I had thought that she would be mousy and plain looking, but when she smiled, she was heartbreakingly radiant. And then the kitchenette and Mildred grew dim and blurry and slid off to the right of the camera frame that was my eyes. I tried to rotate my camera-eyes back towards her, but it had become too dark and she was lost in the shadows just beyond peripheral vision.

Ada’s Late

Preface

As I start to write this preface, after having rehearsed its beginning in my head a number of times, already I can feel that it’s going to be lengthy. And difficult. This is the first new scene of Verity since early February of 2017. This episode is a continuation of Ada and Millie sharing their life stories, and its beginning, as well, I have rehearsed in my head a million times, because it was already there almost a year and a half ago. I felt a disinclination to write it at the time, but that disinclination felt nothing like the kind of artistic resistance that I know oh so well and that’s a major theme running through all the self help books directed at those of us who live lives of quiet desperation instead of actually working on something that’s meaningful to us.

When I stepped away from Verity, for nearly a year and a half, it felt right. It didn’t feel like I was running away as I had always done before. I had other things I was working on, and I trusted that if Verity wanted me back some day, it would let me know. And then that day came last week and that’s why any of this is up here at all. But this scene. As I think through actually writing this scene, I can see how I wasn’t ready to write it before. Rehearsing its beginning in my head was a safe enough exercise, but now, now that I intend to actually write it, now I feel a profound anxiety, and I think I understand a little more clearly why, and I think I understand a little more clearly why I needed over a year to get to it.

What I’m going to write next will sound insane, and I feel half insane to even contemplate it, but I think I need to write it in order to explain what all of this is about, what this scene is about, what Verity is about, and what a major part of my own life is about. And it’s you. Maybe not you specifically who’s reading this, but you out there, you plural, the people I’ve known for years or just briefly. People I don’t know, but who are in the news. I don’t even know how to talk about it, and I’m hoping that it just comes to me as I try to put it into words, because trying to think through it in my head doesn’t work.

You’re hurting. I feel it, in the dull buzzing in my stomach. You’ve been hurting for so long, but even more so now, and I can feel it, and I don’t know if I can just go on feeling it without saying something. Nobody wants to be told what they’re feeling, because it would be horrifying if someone else knew that, but I do, I know what you’re feeling. I don’t necessarily know why you’re feeling it, though I can sometimes guess, and I don’t know what you’re thinking, but your feelings are out there, like the proverbial elephant in the room, and I’m sick to fucking death of pretending I don’t see the elephant.

Of course everyone can do this to some extent. We’ve all experienced times, for example, when we knew damn well that someone was angry with us just by their body language. Everyone can do it, but not everyone does it all the time, and not everyone picks up on the subtle things. But many of us do, and it’s goddamned bewildering. Maybe it has to do with so-called mirror neurons, or maybe it’s something else entirely. But it’s there, I swear to God it’s there. And I’m sick of it, because it’s so dangerous to talk about it, so I just keep it inside. Nobody wants a mirror held up to reflect their feelings, because a lot of those feelings are wrapped up in layers and layers of shame, and shame has a dazzling power to keep itself hidden. And my shame is that I know about yours and I don’t know how to deal with it, so I just let it in and pack it down farther and farther into my guts until, until, well, I don’t know until what.

And the pain and suffering, it’s not just people I’ve met. It’s everywhere, its effect clearly visible in the U.S. through the monster in the White House, who is but a symptom. It’s in Europe, too, evidenced by shit-stains like Geert Wilders, Boris Johnson, Marine Le Pen, and I think it was Heinz-Christian Strache in Austria. The entire so-called Republican base, the evangelicals, the authoritarians, they’re all suffering from a culture-wide depressive episode, and it’s making them so angry that they’re lashing out at those they blindly and reflexively assume to be the cause. I’m an angry depressive, too. Or maybe it’s just that I’m an angry person anyhow, and when I’m depressed I no longer have the strength to hide it. Who knows. At any rate many of us liberals have our own depression, which might be what began all of this anyhow, starting some seventy years ago. Our depression is Post-Modernism, or pluralism, which among its many astounding virtues also unfortunately counts the loss of any of the certainty whatsoever which has been available to any previous mind-set since at least Abraham’s monotheism. Luckily for humanity, pluralist depression is not violent like authoritarian depression.

The disease in Verity, I’m pretty sure, is just life. Like, a pretty fucking direct metaphor for life itself, and you’re all suffering from it. I don’t even know if I am or not, because all I can see is you suffering, and I don’t know how to deal with it. Some people are more in tune with their own feelings, while some people are more in tune with the feelings of others. I’m solidly in the latter camp, as I think is true for something like half of the world’s population. There’s nothing weird about it. But the intensity, it’s just so much.

This scene is when Ada is 16 or 17, and possibly ready for yet another developmental transition. It’s written from her mother’s perspective, and I am effectively her mother here, as I was when Ada was 12 as well. The episode is inspired by a number of things I was told in high school or college by young women I’ve known, some of whom I have loved. It’s specific enough and of such a nature that it highlights my difficulty with all of this. It’s about rape.

I don’t have any ability to comprehend the horror of rape. I have never experienced anything like that. However, I have felt the pain that can linger in a young woman’s life as a result of it, but just to say that, the second those words are out, I’ve made it about me, and it’s goddamned not about me. I wasn’t the one hurt, but I still feel your hurt, viscerally. I don’t know how to deal with that, and it’s sure as hell not up to you of all people to help me feel better about it. It’s the basis of my reluctance about this scene, a scene whose beginning I’ve pre-written a million times in my head, but whose ending I’m hoping will come to me as I write it.

Even worse, I’m using the topic of rape here as a metaphor for all pain, as with the mysterious disease in Verity. It’s bundling up everything about everyone else’s pain into one single topic that I don’t feel I have any right to discuss. I can already hear the recriminations. As a man, I can’t understand. I’m making it about me, as all men do about everything. That’s not untrue, but I’ve allowed the fear of those expected recriminations, or others like them, to keep my mouth sealed shut tight my entire life, and I just can’t anymore. I don’t know what else to do.

Throughout the time I was first working on Verity, I was talking and corresponding with Lauren about the process of writing and about just living as a person who feels compelled to do such a thing. Early on she proposed that when I didn’t know how to proceed, I should just close my eyes and try to picture what the characters were doing, that they would take on a life of their own and all I had to do was write down what I saw. I was primed for that to be effective, because Brené Brown had proposed something not entirely dissimilar in one of her books, and that had for damn sure worked for me. I felt weird about how easy it was, even if afterwards I was sometimes only able to squeeze out a paragraph or two. It was nothing like the crushing frustration I so often felt in so many other creative attempts as I tried to think my way through everything by brute force to a logical and conclusive result.

At first I always saw Millie and sometimes Kimball. Ada mostly stayed away, and I haven’t even met Elizabeth yet. But during my hiatus it was always Ada. I would close my eyes to see if she was doing anything that might indicate it was time to start writing again, but always she just stood there, inches from my face, sometimes nodding encouragement, sometimes making a well-what-do-you-think? face, sometimes indicating that I was doing everything all wrong.

Last week, as it started to feel that Verity might be coming back into my life, I realized that this scene was the transition back to it. It was then that it dawned on me what a challenge it might be, and so I closed my eyes, tried to picture Ada to see if my imagination might provide any clues. And she was there and she told me to write it, to take her story of when she was 16 or 17 and her innocence was shattered. I tried to plead with her not to make me do it, but she just said “take it, I give it to you.” Obviously it’s just my own brain doing this, but if that’s what my brain needs to do in order to push me forward, if I have to personify the things half buried in my mind so that I can “see” them, because the only feelings I can see are other people’s feelings, well, so be it.

Ada’s Late

“Mom, I’m late.” There was a leaden weight in her voice.

Mrs Noble didn’t register the tone, didn’t turn around to face Ada, but continued making breakfast while replying, “Honey, you’ve got over an hour until school starts. And you have to eat first.”

“No, Mom. I’m late.”

Then it clicked. Mrs Noble spun around, surprised, bewildered, but ready to be supportive, even if her first reaction was to wish that her daughter had been more responsible.

“Oh. I didn’t know you were already…”

“I didn’t…”

“Honey, it’s okay. I just wish you would’ve talked with me before you decided…”

“I didn’t…”

“But, Honey…”

“Mom!” Ada pleaded, gritting her teeth and clenching her fists, her arms going rigid at her side. “I didn’t…” It was a whisper then, “I didn’t want to.”

And then Mrs Noble understood. Later, when thinking back to this moment, she had a parallel thought about something she had once read about the sacrificial rituals of the Aztecs. She had read that an obsidian knife was shoved up under the rib cage of the victim, from below the sternum, followed by the priest’s hand, and the heart removed. In retrospect that’s how she imagined her guts felt in that moment, that something deep inside her chest was being pulled sharply and forcefully downward, being ripped out through her abdomen, only it wasn’t being cut out. The guts and connective tissue were being ripped apart instead of neatly sliced. She nearly fainted. She lost sense of time, of being in the world at all.

“Oh, Honey!” she shrieked. She made a move towards Ada, her arms stretching out to take her into a protective hug. But Ada recoiled, and Mrs Noble lowered her arms.

“Mom. Stop.”

As tears rose to Mrs Noble’s eyes, Ada pleaded, “Mom, no. Mom, don’t cry. I can’t take it. I didn’t tell you to… I can’t take it if you’re upset, too. It’s too much. I just, I just…”

Mrs Noble stood immobile, stupefied, wanting to die for her impotence, for her inability to know what to do, how to make it better, to do anything to help her daughter, or to deal with this horror which she would allow to happen to herself over and over until the end of eternity if it would mean that it didn’t have to happen to Ada.

And an eternity is how long it seemed that they stood facing each other, neither speaking, a holding pattern as any word, any thought, any action waited to present itself as an option. And then Mrs Noble disregarded her daughter’s plea, ran to her, grabbed her fiercely in her arms and sobbed. Heavy, thick sobs, as Ada went limp and muttered, “Mom, mom, mom, …” Slowly, over and over again until her words were nearly inaudible.

Postscript

Well, that’s rather shorter than I expected, and I’m not sure what to make of it, even after I’ve gone back over it a number of times, waiting for it settle in. But now, if I close my eyes, I can see Ada and Millie, standing together, smiling at me. They’ve never stood together before, so I think that might mean something, though I really don’t know what.

I should also add, now that all of that is out of my system, that it’s not just your pain that I feel, and this was brought home to me yesterday at the Chicago Pride Parade while my wife and I celebrated our brothers-by-choice who were riding on one of the floats. The buzz and excitement in the air as we walked down Broadway from the Wilson Red Line station was intoxicating. I felt high. The crowd’s solidarity in joy and celebration of our differences and our similarities was overpowering, and I swear that I nearly cried. Everyone felt it, I’m sure, but I don’t know how conscious everyone was about that feeling. Maybe I’m overstating my case, maybe everyone sucks up other people’s emotions the way I do and keeps them buried inside, but if so, my God, people, ya gotta start talking about it.

She Didn’t Need Me

Preface

This episode of Verity from February 6, 2017 was the last before my long hiatus from the story. It was also an absolute joy to write. I held in my mind an image of Millie manically speaking into the phone, hearing only Kimball’s voice from the other end of the line, as I tried to type out the conversation in real time. I felt a delicious urgency, that if I paused to reflect for even a second, the dialog would just stop and I would be unable to continue. But each response came exactly as I needed it, as I was ready to write it down. It was pure exhilaration.

This scene also marked a change in the direction of act two. In the synopsis I reference Millie’s intent to descend into a destructive and depressive alcoholism after Ada’s death. Originally she was going to go through with it, but instead this episode came to me and changed that path. I’m deeply grateful that it did. The idea that she become self destructive was a cheap and facile way of dealing with my not knowing what would happen next. I really have no idea at all how to write about Millie’s and Kimball’s attempts to unravel the mystery of Ada Noble, but it will be infinitely better than trying to write about a descent into alcoholism.

The Phone Call

Her phone played the dial-tone sound three times before Kimball picked up. “Mildred? Oh thank God you called back! Mildred, what is going on? Everyone at work is talking. What did… Did you do something?”

“Kimball, listen. She didn’t need me. And call me Millie. Always call me Millie.”

“Mildred! Er, Millie, what are you talking about? What do you mean she didn’t need you? Who didn’t need you? What is going on?”

“Kimball, I had a dream. She was lying in a hospital bed on a theater stage and she kept repeating ‘You can’t save me’ over and over.”

“Mil… Millie, who are you talking about?”

“Ada. I’m talking about Ada. Who else?”

“Millie, what is this? Of course she needed you. Well, not you specifically, but one of us. She needed someone to help her pass, and for her that someone was you. She needed you. Is that what this is about? Are you freaking out about the job? Do you need to talk to the staff psychologist?”

“No, Kimball, I’m not freaking out about the job. That’s over now anyway. There’s no way they’d let me see the psychologist even if I wanted to.”

“Over now? What do you mean? They didn’t fire you, did they? Just come back and clear everything up. They’ll understand. Just come back. Everyone’s really worried. I’m really worried.”

“No, they didn’t fire me, I don’t think. But they will, or they would if I let them, but I’m done. I can’t go back.”

“Can’t go back? Mildred, you’re scaring me.”

“Millie.”

“Okay, Millie, you’re scaring me. You’re not gonna… you know what I’m going to… what I have to ask. You’re not going to hurt yourself? Are you?” He whispered the last two words.

“God, Kimball, no. I’m not going to hurt myself. That’s not what this is.”

“Well then what is it? Please, Millie, I’m trying to understand.”

“I told you. She didn’t need me.”

“Millie. What does that mean?”

“Look, Kimball, you already noticed something was going on. A couple weeks ago.”

“Yeah…?”

“Well, you were right. And they could never let me back, but I don’t even care. Kimball, I loved her. I loved Ada.”

“Oh my God, Mildred, Millie, what did you do?”

“I just told you. I loved her. Try to keep up. And you know what? She loved me too. I could feel it. When someone feels that way about you, you can’t not feel it.”

“But Millie, you… That’s… Well that’s not okay. God, Millie, what were you thinking?”

“What was I thinking? I don’t know, Kimball, probably I wasn’t. But she’s gone and now I’m gone so it’s not like I’m going to do it again. But that’s not the point.”

“Not the point? You did something completely unethical and you’re telling me that’s not the point?”

“No. It’s not the point at all. The point is that she didn’t need me. She just kept saying ‘You can’t save me. You can’t save me.’”

“Wait. She said that before, too?”

“No, just in my dream. But it was real. I mean, I know it was a dream, but it was something I’d been trying to piece together for a while. There was something about her. She was… God, how do I explain. She was tough. That’s not even it. The way she handled the pain. She never had that pleading look in her eyes, you know?”

Millie paused her energetic description for a moment and lowered her voice. “Kimball, I think she could’ve stuck it out. I don’t think she needed to be there. In my dream, when she said I couldn’t save her, I don’t think she needed to be saved.”

Kimball’s voice lowered to match hers and he slowly responded, his words measured, “Millie, I just don’t know what to say. I don’t understand what you’re trying to tell me, or how it changes anything. She’s gone. Like all of them.”

“I know, but Ada was different.”

“Because… you loved her?”

“Yes, and because she loved me. I know she did. But she didn’t need me, and I don’t know what that means.”

“Millie, I’m really uncomfortable about a relationship like this between you and a patient. You didn’t… You didn’t cross a line, did you?”

“What? God, Kimball, no I didn’t ‘cross a line’. I mean, sure, we got close, and ethically I guess that’s a line. But not a physical line. I assume that’s what you mean?”

“Yeah, sorry, it’s just… That would be serious.”

“What is wrong with you? I just said I loved her and she loved me. It was real. And you immediately assume something physical.”

“Millie, I had to ask. If I’m going to help, I need to know how bad this is. You say there was nothing physical, and I believe you.”

“Help me? How do you plan to help me?”

“I don’t know, Millie. You’re the one that called me.”

“Yeah. Yeah I guess I was the one to call you.” She paused for a moment. “Meet me tonight for dinner. Szechuan Garden.”

“Okay. I can be there about 6:30.”

“Great, see you there!”

“See you there.”

Young Mildred’s Bad Day

Preface

This episode of Verity was written on January 17, 2017. By then I had realized that I could show Ada and Millie’s love develop as they shared their life stories with each other, and here Millie is around 12 years old like Ada was on her own bad day. I specifically chose that age because it is around the time that a person can begin to transition into what developmental psychologist Robert Kegan calls the Socialized Mind. That transition is the hallmark of the adolescent struggle, as a young person tears down their old self-focused yet developmentally appropriate world view in order to rebuild it into an ability to “see” their peers’ wants and needs as truly real and equal phenomena to their own. During Ada’s parallel story, Mrs Noble briefly thinks back to her daughter’s previous developmental transitions, which are more thoroughly described by Piaget than Kegan. I know far less about Piaget.

It was not clear in my first brief glimpses of Verity that it was a story of psychological development. Growth, yes, but even though adult developmental psychology is one of my great obsessions, the ties are far more direct than I was at first able to see. Specifically, Verity is about Mildred’s transition from a conventional to a post-conventional Ethics of Care, as per Carol Gilligan. I’m sure that I’m getting aspects of it wrong, because I really don’t know what a post-conventional Ethics of Care feels like. However, I do believe that I’m in the process of making a transition similar to Mildred’s, and I don’t believe I’m alone in attempting such a transition at this time in human history. There’s just something in the air.

Briefly, I believe we are entering an era no less momentous than the early Renaissance. Eric McLuhan said as much, many years ago. Only this change feels perhaps more like a Reawakening or quite simply an Awakening of sorts, though of course that might just be a prelude to the real thing. As of yet, and I suspect for decades to come, there is nothing obvious happening. But it’s there, hanging in the air. Countless people across the internet are writing about aspects of it from their own unique perspective, explaining their own glimpses into it. A number of people I know or have met are doing surprisingly similar growth work in their lives, and I think that whatever is happening is exactly about growth and the mechanics or dynamics of change itself. But that’s all I know. Actually I don’t even know it, I just feel it. And yet it’s there, for sure, just hanging in the air.

But I digress. I didn’t even read Gilligan’s treatise on an Ethics of Care, In a Different Voice, until I had already worked out the overall arc of Verity and written a number of scenes. I had meant to get around to reading it ever since my wife’s mention of it many years before, but, egotistically, I assumed it wouldn’t hold any discoveries relevant to my own life and personal growth because it is ostensibly about women’s ethics. Though entirely understandable, and given its theme and its place in feminist history I have no right let alone desire to offer any real criticism, I think Gilligan got it wrong in presenting an Ethics of Care as a uniquely feminine world view, because every word of In a Different Voice spoke directly to me and my life.

I also ended up reading Gilligan’s fictional novel Kyra and was very surprised to find that a major thread throughout the story was the titular Kyra’s desire to have a much more deep and meaningful relationship with her psychotherapist than is permitted by any existing ethical rules governing the boundaries of the therapist/client relationship. This was well after the relationship between Ada and Millie was already established.

At any rate, Verity is about Mildred’s journey from a conventional Ethics of Care, a focus purely on others’ wants and needs, to Millie’s nascent post-conventional Ethics of Care in which she is able to truly see, I think, that not everyone else’s burden is for her to bear alone, unidirectionally. The change in her name marks the change in her world view, and below her nickname Mil is a signal that she still operates under a developmentally appropriate pre-conventional Ethics of Care.

My current theory is that Ada is fully post-conventional. I don’t understand Ada any more than Mildred/Millie does, and that provides me very convincing evidence that my own personal journey of growth is still very much a work in progress, just as Verity is, and which is why I currently believe that I will never finish Verity the story, because it’s nothing more than a dramatization of my own story.

Going Away

She pedaled her bicycle hard down the country lane, trying once again to beat her fastest time, and to get home for dinner before her parents became upset. An old mechanical stopwatch in her pocket counted the seconds. She knew it would take longer this time, as she was coming from farther away than usual, having found a new quiet place down the creek. She was thrilled with her discovery – she knew almost every nook and cranny on her family’s farm, and to discover something she had previously missed was quite an accomplishment. On her ride back, her legs pumping furiously, her fine, straight hair flapping behind her, she struggled with whether or not to tell her parents about her discovery. On the one hand, she wanted to share her excitement, but on the other hand, she realized it would be delicious to have her own secret place to go and dream and read and stare at the sky and wait to become an adult.

She tore up the crunchy gravel driveway to the farmhouse where she lived and where her parents were probably already getting a little bit impatient with her tardiness. Yup, her stopwatch told her, three minutes off her best time, but already ten minutes past dinner time. Still, not too bad!

She skidded up to the front porch, threw her bicycle with a practiced smoothness to the ground, and flung open the screen door. In the heavy, humid Midwest summer, in an old farmhouse with no air conditioning, the long hallway leading along the staircase and back through the kitchen to the rear door was able to set up just enough of an air current to take the edge off of the sometimes oppressive heat. She felt the breeze on her face as she ran in.

“Mom! Dad!” she called. She stopped short, surprised to find them in the living room instead of in the dining room or the kitchen. Her mother sat on the sofa with her face drawn, her hands clasped in her lap. Her father stood beside her, beaming. An odd mixture of crackling excitement and ponderous stillness pervaded the air. She stared from her mom to her dad and back, trying to comprehend what could possibly be going on.

Slowly her mother spoke, “Mil, listen, please sit down.”

“Yes, yes! Sit!” her father chimed in, somehow unaware or unconcerned that his excitement in no way matched his wife’s somber quietness.

“What? What is it?”

“Mil, Honey,” her mom went on, “we’ve had a couple meetings with your principal and some of your teachers.”

From her mother’s tone and posture, Mildred assumed that this must be terrible news that she was about to hear. Was she in trouble for something? She couldn’t imagine what it could be. She always tried her best to be polite, attentive, and responsible. In fact, she was known for it, sometimes even teased by her classmates for being such a goody-goody. Her grades, as well, were always excellent. Surely there couldn’t be a problem with her performance?

“Honey, they’re concerned that they can’t offer you the kind of challenges and opportunities that you need. It’s such a small school. They just don’t have the resources. They’re afraid that you’ll be held back from, what was it they said, from ‘your full potential’ if you stay.”

“Wait, ‘if I stay’? What does that mean? Am I being kicked out?” Mildred demanded, a stabbing shame mixed with indignation welling within her, her face turning bright red. “But I like it there! Don’t they want me?”

“Oh, Mil! Oh, Honey, no! That’s not it at all!” her mother cried, even more upset now to see her daughter’s reaction.

Her father chuckled, still oblivious to what the two women in the room were experiencing. “Mildred, look, this is actually really great! They think you’re great! They want you to go to a better school, a school where you’ll be around other kids like you, as smart as you. Mildred, we’re just so proud of you!”

Mrs Sheffield sniffed while quickly pulling herself together, now in somber but heartfelt concurrence, “Yes, Honey, really, we are so proud of you.”

“But Mom, Dad, I like my school! I like my friends! Where is this new place anyhow? Am I going to have to take a bus? Or, what, are you going to take me there and back every single day? That’s stupid. You’re both always so busy as it is, it would be dumb add to it. Why don’t I just stay where I’m at? That would be the best, really, the best for all of us.”

“Um,” her mother began to respond, a pit forming in her stomach. “It’s… No, we won’t be driving you, and there is no bus. It’s just too far. You’ll… You’ll be staying there. In the dorms.” Her voice trailed off into silence almost before she finished the last word.

“But! But, Mom!”, Mildred pleaded, “That’s a boarding school! I don’t want to go to a stupid, stuck up boarding school!”

“Now, Mildred!” her father nearly barked, his excitement beginning to roll over into displeasure to be greeted by such an unexpected reaction from his daughter. “This is an excellent opportunity. What is not to understand about that?”

Mildred shot him a horrified look of confusion, hurt that he could be so ready to ship her off to some godforsaken place far away from home, the only home she’d ever known. She turned and ran upstairs to her room, slammed the door, and put on her headphones, Disintegration playing loudly enough that it could be heard throughout her bedroom. She crossed her arms tightly across her chest, her lips pressed firmly together.

“She needs to understand…” Mr Sheffield began to say to his wife in exasperation, back downstairs in the living room. He took a few paces from side to side, his eyes on the floor. Then he snapped his head back up and set off to follow after Mildred. He only made one determined step before Mrs Sheffield quietly reached out her hand, gently grabbed his arm.

“Shhhh. Just give her a little time. This really is a big change. It must be a huge shock to her.” Mrs Sheffield smiled reassuringly to her husband, trying to mask her own distress about sending her daughter away, even if it was for a very good reason. “She’ll come around.”

After so many years of marriage and after so many years of raising Mildred together, Mr Sheffield was entirely accustomed to trusting his wife’s instincts and guidance in managing matters of such an emotional nature. He might not have truly understood her reasoning, but he did trust her, and the outcome was usually entirely satisfactory if he waited long enough. Once again now he found himself yielding to her. He let go of his impulse, his impatience to make his daughter see why it was so important what they were doing for her. He sighed deeply. His wife was probably right. Time would probably take care of it. “Why don’t we go ahead and eat,” he said.

Time did indeed take care of everything. Mildred relented and left for school, where she ended up thriving. It really was a world of greater opportunities to learn and to stretch her talents and her intellect. She saw her parents two or three times a month, usually one at a time while the other tended the farm. They spoke often on the phone. In some ways the separation even brought them closer, because the relationship, being squeezed into more regimented time slots, became a direct focus in those moments, less something taken for granted as simply existing, present, but easily ignored because it would still be there in an hour, or the next day. That is not to say that Mildred did not ache with missing her parents, or they her. Tears were regularly shed when a visit began and when it ended. Even Mr Sheffield’s eyes became noticeably moist on more than one occasion.

I Don’t Need You

Preface

I think that this scene, originally written on January 17th, 2017, is the last chapter of the story that I call Verity. I don’t see anything beyond it, but quite a bit still needs to be filled in before. At first I was angry about this plot line. There was never supposed to be any romance at all in Verity. The love between Ada and Millie is explicitly non-romantic, but I am explicit about that fact in order to draw a parallel, to show that it is of an intensity usually reserved for stories that are in fact about romance. That was to be the love story behind Verity.

And then one day, once again closing my eyes to visualize what my characters might be doing, I saw Millie and Kimball walking away from me down the sidewalk of what looked like an English village just after dusk. Without pausing or breaking stride, without looking at him or he looking back at her, she reached over a few small inches to grab ahold of his hand, and they continued walking, hand in hand, while the scene faded to black. Upon opening my eyes my only reaction was for fuck’s sake this is not supposed to be a romance! But that’s what they wanted, and who was I to argue. In the end I’m happy about it, though, because I really like this scene. It feels a little bit hurried – I’d like to draw it out more, even if only because I don’t want it to be over so quickly.

Another Ending, Another Beginning

Millie opened her eyes slowly to the soft filtered morning light passing through the bedroom curtains. Already Kimball was awake, lying next to her, gazing at her face with an innocent and joyous reverence. She smiled softly, her eyes drooping, under the warm duvet naked, half awake. Her smile and her languid stretching conveyed a voluptuous and vulnerable joy as she remembered the night before, waking to find it was more than just a delicious dream. Even with her unkempt hair, without makeup the wrinkles around her eyes clearly visible, even still she was radiant, maybe not despite but because.

Smiling again to realize that Kimball was looking so intently at her, she said to him, her moist lips giving her slowly and softly spoken words a sensual and dreamy edge, “I don’t need you.”

“Oh?” Kimball sucked in his breath, completely taken aback by this unexpected pronouncement. “Oh,” he continued, quickly regaining his composure, quickly realizing that their momentous discovery of Ada’s sister had not brought some kind of closure to Millie’s obsessive mission and their romantic holding pattern, had not provided space for a transition to something more permanent. “Okay.”

He looked away, trying to hide his hurt and disappointment. Of course nothing had been promised. He had no right to expect anything more than what had been offered and what had been given thus far. And yet he had hoped for so much more, so very much more.

Millie’s eyes flew wide open as she immediately recognized that she had misspoken, that what was so obvious to her was not what her words conveyed.

“Shit! No! That’s not what I mean!”

“No, honest, it’s fine,” Kimball tried to head off any further discussion, which would surely only make him feel even more wretched.

“No.” She said. “Listen.” She reached to touch the cheek that he had turned away from her, pulled him back, forced him to look at her. “I don’t need you. I… I could survive on my own. If you left, I could find a way to be happy, and still love you, and want you to be happy, too, wherever you were. I think I could do that, and I can’t even begin to tell you how important that is to me. It’s everything. But the thing is, I want you. God, Kimball, I just really want you. It’s just… it’s so much better with you here. And I think that, without needing you, I think I can let myself have you, really have you. I mean, for as long as you’ll have me. If you’ll have me.”

The sudden shift as her words started to sink in left Kimball once again in a moment of confusion. He blinked several times and opened his mouth to speak, closed it again, unable to put together any words. He continued to look in Millie’s eyes, which for their part read hope, love, and concern. A few heartbeats later her words registered, and the tears of loss that Kimball was fighting back now welled in relief.

“Of course. Yes. Of course!” he forced a wet smile and kissed Millie clumsily and awkwardly and with too much force, their noses bumping together. They both laughed a short laugh, his in apology, hers in understanding. They looked in each other’s glistening eyes for quite some time, saying nothing.

“Lies es in meinen Augen…” murmured Millie, finally breaking the silence.

You Can’t Save Me

Preface

This scene from January 9, 2017 was written from my own perspective, directly recounting imagery that I visualized in my mind. It falls in line with several character sketches I had already written for Verity, which at the time I considered to be background research or something to be rewritten later into proper narrative form. However, since Verity is not a novel and this is not its serialization, since I play fast and loose with perspective anyhow, shifting between characters sometimes within a single paragraph, and since I am already being intentionally explicit with my own commentary before most episodes, I don’t see any reason why I should exclude myself from being part of this story. I am most certainly part of this story, or rather, it is part of me.

On Stage

Ada’s hospital bed lies in the middle of a theater stage, its back tilted forward as hospital beds do, such that Ada is half sitting, half reclining. It feels like the upstairs stage at Steppenwolf which is in-the-round, and it occurs to me to feel bad for the audience seated behind the bed since they can’t see what’s going on. But maybe there are no audience members behind. Everything is pitch black except for Ada, her bed, and Mildred puttering about next to her, all illuminated by spot lights. All is completely silent, except maybe the soft sounds of Mildred’s shoes against the stage floor.

Mildred wears a traditional light blue nurse’s dress with white smock and white bonnet. She has her back to Ada and faces a small stage-prop table meant to represent something medical. A small assortment of medical tools and supplies have been carefully arrayed across the top, intentionally appearing haphazard, so that the actress playing Mildred can rearrange them during the scene, giving her something to do with her hands instead of dangling them lifelessly at her side. In a stage voice that at first always sounds so disconcerting as the actor projects what should be quiet words, Ada says, “You can’t save me.”

Mildred’s shoulders tense, but she remains silent. She stops rearranging the tools and supplies on the table.

“You can’t save me,” Ada repeats, observing Mildred’s reaction.

Mildred turns, looks Ada in the eye, and in her own stage voice, with a considered lightness and bravado that she doesn’t feel, replies, “I know.” She says it as though responding to a reminder about something of utter insignificance that had just slipped her mind, but which she feels slightly silly to have forgotten.

Holding Mildred’s gaze with her own, Ada repeats yet again, “You can’t save me.” Mildred nods her acquiescence as the two of them continue to look into each other’s eyes and the stage lights fall and all becomes blackness.

Postscript

It is important, perhaps, to point out that Ada was not saying “You can’t save me” in the standard cinematic or literary sense. Usually the character who says it has given up hope and is saying so to their interlocutor. It usually means “I am beyond saving.” There is an implied “from” that follows the verb “save”. For Ada, however, there is no “from”. She cannot be saved because there is nothing from which to save her. She does not consider herself to be in peril, or to be suffering from anything that would permit the word “save” to be used in a logically and grammatically correct way.

Of course she does also mean “You can’t save me” in the standard cinematic and literary second sense of “You must not try to save me,” but here again, for a different reason. For in order to save someone, the would-be savior must believe that the other needs to be saved, and that salvation is possible. Perhaps it would be more correct to say that Ada’s second meaning is “You must not believe that there is anything from which I need to be saved. You have no responsibility to try, because there is nothing to try.”

The Death of Ada Noble

Preface

I originally wrote this episode on December 21, 2016. Many scenes in Verity are simply direct and relatively immediate transcriptions of what I see during mental visualization exercises. By the time I wrote this one, though, I had replayed it in my mind a million times with a million variations. Below is only one possible way that it could play out. It is of course the climax of the first half of the story, and as such my natural perfectionistic inclination would be to obsess over every single word of it in order to do justice to its pivotal role. And yet for some reason I went the other direction.

I just picked a version, any version, and wrote it down. I think it turned out okay, but its imperfections don’t bother me as much as I would expect. I suspect that’s because even if I were able to write well beyond my current ability, even at a level of pure excellence, even then I think that words would be too limited to fully express how I feel about Millie and Ada, their love, and this moment in their story. As such, any written recounting can be no better than a mere approximation, so I might as well simply pick one and move along.

An Ending

“It’s time,” said Ada with a calmness and certainty that would allow no argument.

Millie had known this moment would come soon. She knew she could easily find a reason to delay it for one more day, and maybe another day after that. Eventually, though, she would run out of reasons, and Ada would leave her. Even if she could convince Ada not to end her life unnaturally, she would most likely be gone in a year anyhow. She could never ask Ada to do that, and yet she could not let go. Against her will, Millie’s eyes brimmed with tears.

“Please, not yet,” she whispered with no hope of acquiescence.

Ada did not respond, but continued to fix Millie with her implacable, unperturbed, knowing eyes. Millie wanted to scream at those eyes. How can you be so calm? How can you just decide to go? God damn you and your calmness! All of this Millie fought back, because she knew it would do no good, and because she knew it was selfish, that she had no right to ask Ada to prolong her suffering.

Of course Millie knew it would end, and yet of course she held out the hope that somehow this case would be different, that somehow Ada would be the one who survived. Never before had she been so desperate and fervent in her wish for such an impossible fantasy to come true. Now that she had met this woman, now that she had grown to love her and need her more than anyone in her entire life, even her own mother, now she felt she could not bear to let her go. Her heart thudded in her chest, her throat felt as if it would be ripped open from the inside as she fought back every urge to burst into childish, pleading sobs.

“Okay,” she said after getting control of herself and her emotions. “Okay.” She averted her eyes, afraid to look at Ada lest she once more be overcome. Her shoulders slumped in resignation, and she slowly turned to begin the process of termination.

Mildred left Ada’s room and walked quietly to the administrative office. “She’s ready,” she informed the Chief Administrator, who did not fail to notice something peculiar in Mildred’s demeanor. Together they filled out the requisite paperwork, and together they walked to the dispensary to get a vial of La Verdad. Together, and now accompanied by a clinic guard, they carried the vial to the room of the patient Ada Noble.

“You’re ready?” the Chief Administrator asked Ada.

“Yes.”

“You understand fully that this decision is irreversible once the process begins?” he continued.

“Yes.”

“Please sign here,” he said handing Ada the official release form, which she signed.

“First witness,” he said handing the same form to the clinic guard, who signed on the first witness line.

“Second witness,” he said handing the form to Mildred, who signed on the second line.

“Third witness and administrator,” he said, pro forma, to himself as he signed the bottom line. He then inserted the vial into the machine attached to Ada’s IV.

“God be with you,” he said to Ada. He said this to every patient, and every time he felt and showed the same compassion while saying it. He turned to leave the room, giving Mildred one last look, checking to see if there was legitimate cause for concern or if her earlier demeanor had been a misapprehension on his part. Now she seemed perfectly in control of herself, and so he exited, followed by the clinic guard who softly closed the door behind him.

Now Millie was alone with Ada to finish the process. It would be monitored and recorded, but there was no need for Ada or any patient to be surrounded in her final moments by relative strangers such as the Chief Administrator and the clinic guard. Clearly Ada trusted and felt comfortable with Mildred, and since she had no family by her side, Mildred alone would be with her as she made her way beyond.

“It’s going to be okay, my sweet Millie,” said Ada very quietly, but with a calm assuredness that surprised Millie, who despite the calm exterior she was managing to convey was fighting a tremendous battle within herself. Ada’s words nearly tilted the course of the battle towards an onslaught of pleading for more time. Just a little more time. Instead she made eye contact with Ada, smiled a half smile to show how brave she was trying to be, to show that she would allow Ada to leave her, no matter how much she could not tolerate her leaving. She would not let her selfish desires keep Ada from the relief which was her right. Had she known that relief was not Ada’s true aim, certainly then she would have pleaded, but she did not know that.

“Press here,” instructed Mildred after she handed Ada the small mechanism that triggered the pump that would inject La Verdad into her IV, moments later to enter her bloodstream and take its effect. Ada gave her a knowing and reassuring look, and then she pressed the button. A single “bing” of the machine as it started to administer the drug was the beginning of the end of two lives, one literally, the other less so. Millie lost her composure as tears began to stream down her face.

Knowing that such a display of emotion would be cause for her removal from the remainder of the procedure, she jammed a chair underneath the handle of the otherwise non-locking door. She knew that no one would try to break down the door in these, Ada’s final moments, but she also knew that she would lose her job over this, and she wished for nothing more at this point. Her continued employment had not the slightest importance to her now, nor did anything beyond her remaining moments with Ada.

She crawled into the bed with Ada. The drug would still not take her for at least a minute. Clutching Ada’s hand in hers, she lay with her face just inches from Ada’s, who had turned to face her.

“Read in my eyes…” Millie began. She did not finish the sentence, as her throat tightened, grinding with thick phlegm, and her eyes ran over with tears.

“I know,” said Ada, whose eyes also spoke thousands of words, not all of which were understandable to Millie.

Moments later every muscle in Ada’s body loosened as the bliss of La Verdad started to take ahold of her. “Mmmmmmm,” she murmured as her eyes took on a faraway look. “Ohhhhhhh.” This was the common response. The faraway look would never return and it was just a matter of a short time until Ada was truly gone.

Most patients in their final moments would exclaim wonder at their experience as they were opened to a profound unity with everything. “It’s beautiful! My God!” patients would gasp. Always it was about their personal experience of these few moments of ecstasy, but of course Ada was different than all those who had gone before her.

“Oh, my darling! If only you could see!” were her last words, spoken with surprising clarity, as her eyes pulled their focus from infinity to far closer. And then she smiled one last time and then she died and so did Mildred.

As the monitors showed their proof of Ada’s passing, so began the pounding on the blocked door to her room, a room that would no longer be hers, and a room that Millie, for her part, would also never see again. For she could never go back. After the loss of this woman who had been her mother and her daughter and her sister, she could never continue on in her previous life, the life of Mildred, nurse at the Verity Clinic. She removed her hand from Ada’s still warm hand and kissed her gently on the forehead, whispering, “Thank you for giving me the chance to feel this way about you.”

Millie walked resolutely to the door, removed the wedged-in chair. The clinic guard and the Chief Administrator spilled into the room. Millie thought that they were yelling at her and demanding an explanation, but she barely heard them. She walked out the door from Ada’s room, down the hallway, and right out the front entrance. Perhaps she had been followed by the yelling administrator and perhaps every staff member nearby stopped and gawked at the commotion, but Millie simply had no ability to care about any of that.

The Strength of Ada

Originally written on December 5, 2016 as part of the story Verity

Mildred looked up from her reading as the monitors started to make the soft pinging noises that indicated a wave of pain was about to overcome the patient. Ada had been sleeping quietly, but just as the monitors knew what was coming, so did her body. Her eyes opened gently, and she took a brief moment to gather her senses and realize where she was and why she had woken. And then it hit her.

The first wave was always the weakest, and yet so did it wrench a patient from their relative tranquility that most immediately cried out in pain. Ada merely gritted her teeth and closed her eyes again, though of course she would not be drifting back to sleep.

Already Mildred had rushed to her side and upped the pain killer dosage, for all the good it would do. She mopped her patient’s brow, held her hand until the contorted grip became too tight. Of course she knew how to handle this situation, but it was nonetheless terrible and heartbreaking to witness. This was her primary reason to be there: to be present with the patient during their worst suffering, so that they need not go through it alone, at the very least. If it truly helped or not it was hard to say, but it was something, and Mildred knew and believed deep in her heart that no one should have to bear such agony in solitude.

After a very long moment the pain subsided to a manageable level, and Ada’s muscles decontracted. It was however a very brief reprieve. The second wave passed through, more terrible by far than the first, and she tried again to grit her teeth and bear it. Most patients would now begin to sob and gnash their teeth and plead between labored breaths for relief in whatever form it might take. Ada did gasp, and did begin to whimper, as tears began to form in the corners of her eyes, but she did not cry out, she did not plead, she did not curse the world and everyone in it for her suffering.

An episode would often last nearly five minutes, wave after wave, which, according to reports in the aftermath, felt as though they lasted several hours longer than eternity itself. Midway through, the shrieks and wailing would typically be nearly deafening, though by the end the patient would have so exhausted themself that the force of their cries would be rather lessened, their throats ragged, their lungs clutching for air.

Ada reached the six minute mark, and still she made little more than a whimper and a thick, wet gurgle in her throat. Tears streamed freely down her face now, and her muscles contracted forcefully with each wave. Her face contorted, her back arched, she thrashed almost delicately in her bed. And then it was over.

She panted from exhaustion, sweat and tears drenching her body. Her grip relaxed and she sank lower into the bed. After many seconds had passed, she said in a near whisper: “I think I’ll sleep now.” And sleep she did, and for many, many hours.

Mildred observed her carefully for many minutes, wary of any aftershocks or other complications. She had been so focused on the physical manifestations of Ada’s episode that it was only now after it had ended that Mildred became aware of how unique the situation was. Never had she witnessed or even heard tell of a patient maintaining such a level of what, even under the circumstances, could only be called composure. Beyond that, the six-and-a-half minute long episode was far beyond the norm. Not unheard of, but definitely rare. She really didn’t know what to make of it, but it was consistent with her initial intuition that this was no ordinary patient.