On Fire

I am two people.

I am now. I am then.

I am a disheveled man riding in the back seat of a van. A church van. Wilmore First Baptist. I watch the trees go by. The road bends this way and that. I grew up here in this small community. I avoid thinking about why I have come home. Why I am being carted off to First Baptist Psychiatric, an old elementary school turned mental ward. I am in a daze from the drugs they’ve given me. Anti this’s and anti thats. Anti me. But I do not blame them for this chemically induced detachment. This suppression of an ego that believed getting drunk on cheap whiskey and slitting my left arm from wrist to elbow bend was a sensible thing to do. I am suicidal. I am a danger to myself and possibly others.

I am a younger man driving a 1997 Buick LeSabre. White. I am tapping my fingers on the steering wheel of this land yacht and singing along to classic rock blasting from a stereo that still takes cassette tapes. I am speeding up I75 with the Atlanta skyline on the horizon. My suit jacket is hanging from the passenger seat, and my tie is loose. I am happy. I am ready for my life to begin.

I am a man in a church van stopping at the gates of a loony bin. I am listening to the driver and guard discuss the upcoming football season. They’re praying for a championship. They refer to one another as brothers. They’re confident that God will grant them their wish. They drop their voices to just above a whisper, and I’m sure they’re speaking of me. The guard peers through the window, a pitying looking wiping across his face. A nod. Better get him inside, they’re saying. Better get him some help. My arm itches beneath the cast. Sixty stitches to close the wound, and they feel like fire ants gnawing at my skin.

I am a younger man parking my old Buick among new BMWs, Mercedes, and Volvos. Most of them are sleek, black or grey, and I stick out like sore thumb. I’m straightening my tie, and I’m putting on my ill-fitting jacket. I’m a hick come to the city. I am Jefferson Smith and this is my Washington. I cannot believe that I was ever considered for this job. That my dream of becoming an architect is coming true. I cannot believe that those old adages about hard work paying off have apparent roots in reality. I cannot believe that I am the proof. I make my way into a building, trying not to look up for fear of vertigo. I’m in a forest made of steel and glass, and I am nervous. I am excited. I am nervous. I am excited.

I am numb. I am a man being directed to exit the van and enter through the doors of a building once meant to mold the minds of the future leaders of America. A building that is now dedicated to piecing together those minds which have fallen apart. I am ushered to the principal’s office. To the door upon which the name Dr. Morris Lahey, M.D., P.C., ETC is stenciled. I am made to sit in an uncomfortable chair and stair at an uncomfortable wall full of motivational posters: “Healing Begins with Jesus,” over an image of open hands. “Wholeness, empowerment, and freedom with the body of Christ,” under an image of a distraught woman with her beseeching arms in the air. When the door opens, a man with respectably grey hair asks, “Are you Ryan Oliver Dolan?” He does not await my reply, leaving his door open.

I am walking through the lobby of an impressive building. I take the elevator to the eleventh floor. “Mr. Dolan?” the pretty receptionist confirms as I approach the desk in my borrowed suit. “You’re right on time. Mr. Traeger is in the conference room.” The offices are full of bright-looking people. Some of them notice me. Some of them ignore me. The conference room is easy to find behind the wall of glass. A man stands over a set of blueprints, black marker making notes with confident slashes and hash marks I think I could decipher if they were right-side-up. His sleeves are rolled onto his forearms. It’s early yet, but this is the sort of man who doesn’t sleep unless it’s prescribed by a doctor. His name is Harold Traeger. He is a legend in his field, and he is the man who hired me. Plucked me out of the ether from my small state school upon my graduation. His letter said that I have potential. His letter said that I deserve a spot on his team.  I am very glad / nervous / glad / nervous / glad to meet him.

Am I Ryan Oliver Dolan? It’s hard to say now. It isn’t the drugs that muddy the question. The drugs are fine. The drugs are perfect for the occasion. But the question itself: Who am I? I am who I am now. I will never be who I was again.

I am two people.

I am then. I am now.

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