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Chapter Twelve 


 

Visigoth Code of Ethics

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            Walking across campus from the hospital, Reid couldn't help feeling contempt toward the students with their knapsacks full of books hurrying in herds to their classes. It was a never-ending race and a race he was tired of. At his house he found a note on the dining room table.

Reid,
 
If you're bummed out come over to Michelle's.
We'll have a fire going.
 
The Visigoth

            Alex came down from his room. They hadn't seen each other since before the run.

            "Is Drake still in a coma?" Uneasily he looked at Alex's dark eyes.

            "Yep."

            "Are you okay?"

            "Yep." He shuffled and was awkward.

            "I know you missed the accounting class so I can help you with the assignment if you like." Reid wanted to laugh but he was too spent.

            "I really don't care Alex." Alex's nervous tension made him red in the face. Reid sat on the couch and put on the television. Alex sat on the couch beside him. Then the phone rang. Alex handed him the telephone.

            "Hi Reid." Her voice soft.

            "Michelle."

            "Why don't you come over? We have a fire on." His first reaction was to say no because he wanted to be alone, but the thought of watching television or discussing accounting with Alex was smothering.

            "All right. I'll be over."

            When he arrived Michelle embraced him. Her roommates gawked at him as if he was a rapist or murderer. When he looked back at the four of them sitting on the couch gawking they quickly turned their heads back to their mid-afternoon soap opera on television. They went to the other couch in front of the fire in the main room.

            "How are you feeling Reid?" Michelle's voice was full of compassion. Her mouth was sad but she didn't make any attempt to hide it.

            "Oh I don't know, tired I suppose." Taylor, hearing his unsteady voice, leaned forward and put his hand on Reid's shoulder.

            "It's all right buddy. He'll be up and around in due course."

            "I don't understand how this could happen." He shook his head and choked a little.

            "The whole thing doesn't make any sense," she said, raising her hands. Taylor nodded in agreement. The unwanted silence oppressive.

            "What exactly happened?" Michelle asked, breaking the silence. Reid's fear seized him; this was why he wanted to be alone. He began telling the story keeping his voice down because he didn't want Michelle's housemates to hear him, but her housemates thought he was being considerate for not disturbing them while they watched their program. Barbara tried to listen to Reid, intermittently turning back to watch her soap opera. Reid glanced at her a few times to insinuate that it was none of her business but she persisted. He was almost finished when she stepped forward, her upper lip with a whiff of a moustache.

            "But from what I've heard," she said. "Why didn't you give him CPR?" Reid didn't move a muscle except his left hand. It started to shake all over the place so he put his hand in his pocket. Taylor noticed his palsy but no one else. But he couldn't say anything. He opened his mouth but there was nothing there. In that moment he felt a shadow come over him, like the sun being hidden by clouds, and the darkness cooled something, a light maybe, and churned his gut. He wanted to slap her like you would hit a puppy for peeing on the floor.

            "Do you mind," Taylor said to her, angered.

            "I'll catch the rest of the story from Michelle," she said.

            "It's none of your damn business," said Taylor as she left. "So rude." He gave Taylor a nod.

            "It all happened so fast," he said. "He was still breathing in gasps until right before we got to the hospital." Taylor picked up his cigarettes and lit one, seeing Reid's hand shaking again when he took it out of his pocket.

            "You know, I've always lived my life by the words of the bard: life is sweet if you know where to bite. I always thought I would know where to bite, but this," he motioned with his hands in the air. "This doesn't fit. There's no beauty in it anywhere." Taylor rubbed his Mohawk.

            "Maybe it takes something like this to jolt you out of your idealism Taylor and make you see that there are things you can't control," said Michelle, sounding maternal, caring. "You can control where to bite but you can't help when you're bitten."

            "All idealists have their utopia" Taylor replied, leaning back in the large chair, confident. Reid stared at the fire.

            "Taylor, you can't help how you feel when the things you can't control bite you," she said, emotion surfacing. "We have probably had it all pretty easy up to this point in our lives, but it's impossible to go through life unbitten." She looked briefly at Reid.

            "I agree," replied Taylor. "The very foundation of life is pain and sadness because of our mortality. With this underpinning, any beauty that you can find becomes that much sweeter." He took a drag from his cigarette, looking comfortable in his grey tweed. "And if the foundation of life is pain and sadness, one must be strong to deal with it, and strength I believe, is a derivative of one's spiritual muscle. The weaker spirit is broken by a lower threshold of pain and the stronger spirit affirms the sadness as the first premise of life. It thus seeks strength from precisely all the non-sadness in life. One is regressive and one is progressive."

            "Oh come on, that is such rubbish," she said. Reid was weary but Taylor was animated.

            "Spiritual muscle, I believe, does exist. And to build muscle of the spirit one must cultivate the little barbarian within. Overcoming pain is as simple as choosing to value the non-sadness over the sad. I have come to refer to this as the `Visigoth Code of Ethics.'"

            "Visigoths," Michelle incredulous.

            "My family name, Goth, is Spanish so I am a Visigoth. The western branch of Goths, though Visi doesn't mean west. It comes from the word visual, meaning beautiful." The ancient flame in the fireplace reflected his toothy grin. Michelle looked at Reid and then back at Taylor.

            "You're unbelievable," she said.

  

Chapter Thirteen 

Cognitive Dissonance

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            The next day when he and Taylor were in the living room he had a call from Mrs. Ketchum saying that Drake had come out of his coma. They left on their bikes for the hospital.

            There was a feeling of hysteria in the room when he and Taylor arrived. For a second they stood sheepishly in the doorway. The Ketchums, one on either side of Drake, turned in fright when they saw them standing there staring at Drake. Reid thought he was drugged because he was slurring his words. A nurse approached them from behind so he stepped through the threshold into the room. It was stuffy. Mrs. Ketchum turned to Drake, who was sitting up.

            "Do you remember Reid?" He thought it was all a bit theatrical but when he looked at Drake something in his stomach sank.

            "Drake, how're doing?" he said, trying to keep things light. Drake looked drunk when he rolled his head over to his father with his mouth slightly open.

            "Do you remember Reid?" Mr. Ketchum asked. Drake rolled his head again in the excitement, still with his mouth half smiling. Mr. Ketchum pointed at Reid. "He's your good friend." Drake was looking below his eyes so he bowed a little to meet his gaze.

            "Yuh," he said and then laughed. Again he swung his head over toward his father and then back to his mother. He tried to lift up his arm but it was caught by Mrs. Ketchum.

            "Now now, Drake," she said with firmness. Drake laughed again, and drooled. Reid saw the saliva soaked in his hospital gown below his chin. He kept his crooked smile on Reid as Mrs. Ketchum wiped his chin. Drake looked at the nurse when she left and then mumbled something unintelligible. He whipped his head around to his mother this time, then rolled it back. Again he lifted his arm only to be caught by Mrs. Ketchum.

            "You're excited dear. Try to relax." There was the quietest momentary pause Reid had ever experienced. The silence was broken awkwardly by Mrs. Ketchum.

            "It's been a lot for Drake. All of it has been overwhelming. He's having trouble remembering. He's a little groggy."

            "Groggy," he repeated. Groggy! He's not groggy; he's got brain damage! He wasn't breathing when he arrived. How could I not have seen it?

            Reid felt an overwhelming urge to grab him by the arm and yell "No!" The tragedy of it all hit him first in the windpipe, then in the nose.

            "Ah..." He took a step toward by reflex. Mr. Ketchum looked at him from behind his tired eyes.

            "The doctor said it will take some time for him to regain his memory and motor skills. Dr. DiLeo also said it's natural for there to be a slowness of co-ordination after an accident like this. He believes the first days are the most important. Drake has what is called `cognitive dissonance.'" As he said this he nodded his head, which was meant to tell Reid something but he didn't know what it was. Concealing his confusion, he gave Mr. Ketchum a nod in return, just enough for there to be an unsaid understanding between them - an understanding that he didn't get.

            Drake lifted his head and with his clenched hand reached towards Reid. He tried to say something but fumbled with the words as if his lips were numb after a visit to the dentist.

            "Drake is going to be moved out of intensive care up to the second floor," said Mrs. Ketchum.

            "When?"

            "Probably tomorrow."

            "Ah, I'll try to be by tomorrow."

            "That will be fine," Mr. Ketchum replied in a voice constricted with emotion. At that moment, just as he wanted to leave, Drake giggled like a child. Reid thought he should stay but he had to leave. With a million things running through his head, he and Taylor left the hospital through the automatic doors. He felt the cold air hit his moist face and the impact was reality.

 

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            After leaving the hospital, they walked towards campus in silence. The truth was that he didn't understand why Drake had a heart attack and didn't understand why he was now slurring his words and drooling. It wasn't my fault he had a heart attack, he thought, and it wasn't my fault he was groggy!

            He watched students rush off to class and remembered a commerce test he was missing. But he was indifferent. Learning about profit and loss statements and how to maximize revenue through selling widgets just didn't turn his crank since this thing with Drake. It all seemed trivial and beside the point. Since he always cared about things and always made an effort, it was strange he couldn't muster any sort of play. Reid couldn't find his footing.

            "Wanna go in for a coffee McFetty?" They were passing the Sidewalk Café where students read and drank coffee and munched on banana muffins.

            "Nah," he said. They were almost home when he felt Taylor's hand on his shoulder.

            "Listen man, that was a biggie this morning. Whaddya say we merge to the pub for a pint of beer? We can play hooky for a day and forget about things for an afternoon." Reid was pretty tired because he damn near cried. He had this sensation hit his nose and then his eyes started to water, so he looked away from Taylor, shrugged his shoulders and kept walking down University Avenue straight for the off-campus bars downtown. Sometimes words don't need to be spoken.

            They ended up in a bar called AJ's Hangar. It used to be a movie theatre so it was huge with high ceilings and the original stage where bands play. Two airplanes hung from the ceiling. One was a white Cessna and the other was a smaller red one, but both were real planes. It was dark inside so you could sit in the corner all day and never know it was daylight outside. When they found a table in the corner and Taylor went off to get a pitcher of beer at the bar. Reid didn't see him go to the telephone but when he came back with the beer spilling in his hand, he said he called Alex to tell him they were here in case anyone called.

            "Al said he might join us." Reid didn't really mind as long as they didn't talk about what they saw this morning at the hospital. Taylor kept filling up Reid's glass with beer even if there was only half in it. He had to hand it to him; the guy knew what to do in situations like this. Reid had to admit that as far as roommates go, Taylor was all right. He had enough sense to realize that Reid wasn't too interested in school today. When he noticed Reid's hands were shaking, he started in on Daphne and how hot she was and how he thought she liked Reid. It worked for a little while because Reid started thinking about her and what it would be like to be with her. But he didn't really care one way or another. If it happened then so be it, if not, then no big deal.

            It ended up being almost fun after a few glasses, sitting there without worrying about classes and getting mildly drunk. Taylor was paying for the beer and they were both throwing them back at a rower's pace. Reid was just starting to relax when Alex came in. He looked at Reid nervously, which made him uncomfortable.

            "You didn't miss much at the test," he said, hesitating. "It was pretty easy. Ah, it was the stuff you and I were studying, so I'm sure you'll have the same test when you write it. I can write out what was on the test if you want." Reid felt like laughing.

            "I don't care Alex." Alex's nervousness made him red in the face. He was trying to be one of the boys but the guy was like one of those square pegs trying to fit into a round hole. Reid wondered for a moment if he was a bit like that too. If he was then his square edges were becoming more rounded.

            "We don't talk shop in a bar," said Taylor, scolding Alex for his transgression. The guy took it to heart and Reid felt sorry for him. That's just how Taylor works - he always says it like it is. He poured Alex a beer and after the first glass he mellowed out. His tolerance was probably half a beer. Reid didn't mind him some times because he always knew what he was dealing with. No deception and manipulation there to be sure. There was something in his eyes that was so innocent that Reid couldn't help trusting him up to a point. The guy could swipe a pencil off your desk or use your shampoo but if you missed a test he would tell you exactly what was on it. He realized he was lucky to have these two guys as housemates.

            "I just got a part-time job," said Alex. "I found out today. Boy, I need the extra bread." He was in good spirits, and glowed with a shade of resigned self-esteem. He had just started to date a Chinese girl who seldom came over to the house because she was afraid of Taylor. He had recently picked up the habit of smoking and had learned how to blow smoke rings, or as Taylor called them, `rolling `O's'.

            "What's the job Al?" Taylor asked.

            "I got a job with the Queen's Walk Home Service. They were looking for people so I applied."

            "What's a walk home service?" Taylor grabbed one of his smokes.

            "You don't know what a walk home service is?"

            "Why do you think I asked what it was Al?"

            "I don't know."

            "Well, what is it?"

            "Oh sorry. It's a service the school provides to walk girls home after dark."

            "Why?"

            "Because it's dangerous. You know, sexual assault. And because of the union they pay well."

            "Well, it's certainly a way of meeting girls."

            "I guess so."

            "Bring them by our house if they want to warm up on the way home."

            "I can get some studying done in the office when it's slow."

            "Reading any good books these days Al?"

            "Well, finance is interesting."

            "I mean non-academic stuff."

            "You mean outside school?"

            "Like novels."

            "Novels?" Alex looked at Reid.

            "Discombobulated?" said Taylor.

            "What?"

            "Are you reading any novels?"

            "No. I don't like reading." Taylor's eyes opened wider. "I don't have the time Taylor." There was condescension in Alex's voice.

            "Dan Aykroyd once said: `we mock what we don't understand.'" Alex took a puff on his cigarette and sat back looking fidgety. Reid couldn't think of two guys less alike. He let them talk while he made himself invisible. It's just what he wanted, but at the same time he didn't want to be alone.

            "Listen Reid, we're all sporting some inner turbulence. Try to shake it off." Taylor filled his glass with more beer. He was staring in space because he was reliving the images of Drake's swinging head and his clenched fist.

            "Reid, snap out of it!" He was startled out of his thoughts.

            "What do you want Taylor?"

            "Listen, take it easy. No one is saying you have to justify how you feel. I know it must be hard but there's nothing you can do about it. There's absolutely nothing any of us can do. Nothing."

            "Yeah, but..."

            "Answer me something Reid, what can you do about it?" He was motionless as he waited for an answer.

            "There has to be something," he said.

            "O.K. then, what is it? Brood, is that it? Pout? Sulk? Look morose like you? If there's something we can do then tell me what it is. I'm all ears." Reid supposed he was right but he just didn't have the energy to joust with him. Instead he looked at Alex saw the awkwardness of how he smoked. He held his cigarette like a woman. Taylor, seeing what he was looking at, said to Alex:

            "Nice smoking technique Al. Come on man, get some style for Christ's sake!"

            "What?" With his mouth half open, the smoke from his cigarette billowed into his eyes causing him to squint. Just then Taylor reached over and put his hand on Reid's shoulder.

            "It's O.K. brother, Drake will be O.K." Reid's eyes began to water again. Boy, he thought, am I ever tired.

  
  

  

Table of Contents

1.     The Student Ghetto
2.     The Living Tree Principle 
3.     Overcoming Neophobia 
4.     Socrates' Big Swinging Ice Pick 
5.     Life As An Adjective 
6.     The Timestealer 
7.     Range of Multiplicity 
8.     The Banks 
9.     The Means is the End 
10.  The White Haired Doctor 
11.  Mortally Wounded 
12.  Visigoth Code of Ethics 
13.  Cognitive Dissonance 
14.  The Chinese Laundry Café 
15.  Catching a Crab 
16.  Sheer Recklessness 
17.  Shattered Glass 
18.  In His Father's Voice 
19.  The Dreamstealer 
20.  The Vine of Resentment 
21.  The Golden Mean 
22.  The Altered Eye Alters All 
23.  Missing the Middle Part 
24.  Anima 
25.  Taylor Not Afraid 
26.  Beyond the Monoperspectival Norm 
27.  The Grip 
28.  Visigoths in Tweed 
29.  The Unseen Hand 
30.  Dislocation 
31.  Pouring Heavens of Valhalla
32.  So Then...       
 
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