Lunch With Dave
by Brad Jasperson
We hadn’t seen each other in almost a year. He lived in Chicago; I lived in Boston. I was in town on business and we agreed to meet for lunch. I sat in the same deli that we used to haunt when we were kids. It hadn’t changed at all, from the tattered barstools to the jukebox that would play songs for a dime, the good stuff too: Little Richard, Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison. It wasn’t just a deli; it was a time capsule.
He was almost an hour late and I was about to give up on him when he walked through the door. I almost didn’t recognize him; he looked like hell. He must have lost at least sixty pounds and not in the good way. Everyone seemed to ignore him, as they always did. The same way they ignored me.
He had been committed for a short while when we were kids. Whenever I asked him about it he would change the subject. I wasn’t very popular either, no one ever seemed to give me the time of day except Dave. My mother always disapproved of him and would constantly nag at me to find new friends, but he was my best friend, we were both outcasts.
“Sorry I’m late,” he said as he took a seat.
As he sat down people began to stare at us. Everyone in the neighborhood would pick on him as a child and call him names. Now, they either ignored him or would stare at him as if they were afraid of him. Some things never change.
“No problem. Are you okay? You look awful.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
He seemed very tired. I thought about asking if it would be better to do lunch another time, but I knew him too well. He would insist that he was okay, and if I persisted he would only get angry. I also hadn’t seen him in a long time.
Things were hard for me in Chicago. I was lonely and felt like I was empty. Dave and I had a special bond. I feel happy and whole when I’m around him. Time and time again I thought of moving back to Chicago because I was happier there, but then I would think about how I needed to get on with my life and find a wife to settle down with.
Dave seemed to be ahead of the game in that respect. He had been seeing Claire for almost a year and a half. That is one of the reasons I moved. I felt that I was getting in the way. Claire and I didn’t get along. Not for lack of trying, it just seemed like a tug of war between her and me and poor Dave was the rope. I decided to move so that Dave could settle down with Claire and I could try to do the same with another woman. I didn’t have much success.
“How’s Claire?” I asked.
As soon her name came out of my mouth an expression of utter misery came over his face.
“She’s gone,” he said, and no matter how much I pried he would not tell me anything more.
I decided then and there that I would do everything I could to move back to Chicago. My friend needed me. As I was thinking this, Dave suddenly collapsed and fell out of his chair.
“Someone call an ambulance!” I yelled, but it seemed that Roger, the owner of the deli, was way ahead of me.
Dave was having another one of his seizures. This one looked bad. I knelt down next to him to make sure he didn’t swallow his tongue.
“Tony,” he said looking up at me with almost vacant eyes, “don’t let them get you, too, not like Claire.”
“What are you talking about? Who took Claire?” It was too late; he was unconscious.
I followed the ambulance to the hospital, the whole time wondering what the hell he was talking about. Who took Claire? Why? Even more importantly, what would they want with me? Claire probably left him and he’d invented this story to cope with it, I thought. It wouldn’t be the first time this happened. He just seemed so scared and he did not look well at all.
I got to the hospital and found his room. I went inside and sat next to him. He was asleep. The door opened and a nurse came inside to check on him. I asked her what was going on. She told me nothing and simply left.
I decided that Dave needed to rest so I left to clear my head. There were so many things racing through my head at once. This seizure was a bad one, the worst I had ever seen. The thought of losing him crept up on my mind like a spider but I pushed it back. I paced the halls for hours and tried to ask nurses or doctors what was going on but none of them would tell me anything.
I finally decided to go and see if Dave was awake yet. Dave’s mother, Miriam, was outside his room talking to a doctor. They were talking in low voices.
“I thought this was over,” she whispered angrily. I hid by a wall so that I could hear.
“We were able to eliminate Claire, but there are others that have resurfaced that need dealing with,” the doctor said calmly.
Panic hit me; I couldn’t breathe. Dave wasn’t imagining things. These people actually did something to Claire, and his own mother was in on it. I waited to hear more but their conversation was interrupted.
“Toooooneeeee!” Dave screamed. The doctor and several nurses ran into the room.
“Hold him down, dammit,” I could hear the doctor say.
I ran toward the room and looked at Dave’s mother.
“What have you done to him?” I screamed.
She didn’t even look at me. She merely said, “Damn you, Tony. I thought you left.’
Dave was still screaming my name. Then suddenly he started to get quiet; then all went dark.
I awoke feeling disoriented. I could hardly see, it was so blurry.
Dave’s doctor was sitting across from me. “Tony?” the doctor said.
I tried to stand but then found that I was strapped down in a chair. “What the hell is going on? Let me out of this!” I screamed.
“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Tony. We need to have a little chat.” The doctor was speaking to me in such a condescending tone, it only infuriated me more. “Where have you been all this time, Tony?”
“Let me go... now!” It came out as almost a growl. This must have been what happened to Claire, and I was not going to stick around to let the same thing happen to me. Dave needed me now more than ever; he needed his friend.
“I just want to ask you a few simple questions. Then we will all be glad to see you leave. I am not going to hurt you.”
“Why am I strapped down if you don’t intend to hurt me?”
“Just a precaution.”
“A precaution for what?”
“This can be traumatic sometimes for the subject.”
“What are you talking about?” I was really getting scared.
“I assure you all of this will make sense once we are through. For now, please just tell me where you have been.”
“Boston,” I replied. I hated giving in, but I thought it would buy me some time to think of a way out of this.
“Why did you go to Boston?”
“I wanted to start a new life,” I said. Suddenly I noticed that the restraints were somewhat loose and, if I could buy some time and be careful, I could get out of them.
“How did Dave react to this?”
“Dave and I weren’t on the best of terms then. His girlfriend and I pretty much hated each other, and he picked her over me.”
“Would you have left if it wasn’t for Claire?”
“No, in fact I’m moving back as soon as possible. Dave needs me and I need him. He’s my friend.” My left hand was nearly free, and the doctor didn’t seem to notice. I found it odd that I was volunteering so much information but it felt good to let it out, even if I was terrified.
“But Dave wouldn’t want you back if Claire were still here.”
“I guess I owe you one for killing her, then.”
“Let me be perfectly clear, Tony. We did not kill her.” He paced the room for a bit then asked, “What have you been up to in Boston?”
“I’ve been working for an investment bank.”
“What is the name of the bank?”
“Boston Investment Group.”
“Did you go to school for that?”
“Don’t you find it odd that an investment bank would hire someone with no experience or education? Don’t you find that a little too convenient?”
The questions were getting aggressive. I felt like I was on the stand in a big murder case. “No,” I said. “They hired me because I’m good at what I do.”
“Could you tell me exactly what your job entails?”
For a moment I couldn’t think of what to say, like there was a fog in my mind. “I look at companies and see if they have any potential for our clients to invest in them.”
“Would it shock you to learn that Boston Investment Group does not exist?”
“Then why do I get paychecks from them?” I asked sarcastically. My left hand was free now and my right seemed tighter but still possible.
“You haven’t been getting any checks.”
“My bank records will tell you otherwise.”
“You have no bank records, Tony.”
“What?” What are these guys trying to pull, I wondered. Are they brainwashing me? My right hand slipped free of the restraints. I could escape but I needed to wait for the right moment.
“What is you last name, Tony?”
The fog came again and I couldn’t think of my last name. They’re actually brainwashing me, I thought. I can’t remember my own name now. I jumped out of my chair and began to strangle the doctor, knocking him to the ground. Hands grabbed me and put me back in the chair before I could get away. They moved the chair so that I was on my back looking at the ceiling.
The doctor gasped for air and stood back up. “I have run out of patience, Tony. Now I will get straight to it.” I saw a light on the ceiling and knew that the doctor was coming toward me with some brainwashing tool. I’ve failed Dave, I thought. What is going to happen to me now?
Nothing could have prepared me for what would happen next. The doctor was holding what looked like a mirror and he held it in front of my face. I closed my eyes as tightly as I could trying to resist.
“Open your eyes, Tony,” the doctor said. “Then this will all make sense.”
“No!” I screamed. I thrashed in the chair but it was no good. Two men were holding me down and the restraints were very tight now.
“Open your eyes,” the doctor said angrily. “Martin, pry his eyes open.”
The fingers jabbed my eyelids and moved them up. I looked into the glass.
Dave’s face was staring back at me.
“What have you done to me” I screamed.
The doctor sighed and sat down. The chair was raised so that I could see him.
“What did you see when you looked in the mirror?” the doctor asked.
“My reflection,” I said in a nervous defense.
“No, you saw Dave’s face,” the doctor said calmly. “Do you understand why?”
“Because you brainwashed me!” I yelled.
“No, you saw Dave’s face because you would not exist without him. You are a figment of his imagination.”
“Let me lay it out for you,” the doctor said. “When Dave was a child he was committed. He was committed because he has a severe mental illness. The neighborhood kids made up stories about how he went crazy so, naturally, they wanted nothing to do with him.
“That’s when you came in. You are, essentially, an imaginary friend. That is why no one acknowledges your presence. The only interactions with people were the ones that Dave created. You were best pals, and then Dave started having seizures as a result of his illness.
“Moving on, enter Claire. She was invented to satisfy his need for female companionship. The problem with that was that Dave could not focus on both of you without wrecking the illusion. That is why you and Claire didn’t get along and why you ‘moved’ to Boston. You were put on the shelf for later.
“As the months went by, Dave began to get very sick; the seizures became more and more frequent, requiring several hospital visits. We then diagnosed him with dissociative disorder, multiple personalities. We were able to confront Claire and get her to leave.
“Then the next problem came. Dave began to get lonely. So you conveniently come to Chicago for a business trip.”
It all made sense. There was no fooling myself now. Yet I wondered why I felt a sense of being. Could Dave’s delusions be so powerful that they gained their own mind?
“You have a choice,” the doctor said. “You can either leave Dave be, or we will be forced to use electroshock therapy. I believe that if you truly care about Dave, you wouldn’t want him to go through that. Let him go.”
I nodded. I could sense Dave now in a way I never could before, as if we were one. “Gotta go buddy,” I said. I did not leave him entirely. I could never do that. I went to a place in his mind where he would no longer be aware of me, but if he ever needed me I could whisper to him.
Copyright © 2007 by Brad Jasperson