Friday, August 30, 2019

Views from a Troubled Mind 
Scene #17

In For a Penny, In For a Pound...of Flesh:
Enter the Bakemono

by Anthony Servante

A Typical Bakemono

In July, as I have written in my current Trauma & Therapy Update, I attended my Painting Therapy session at the Buddhist Temple in Santa Monica, California early Sunday afternoon. I expected to continue my new therapy, that is, to draw stream of consciousness images from my dreams in an effort to free up the memories that brought on my "associative amnesia", a condition that has plagued me since August 2018. At these painting sessions, I not only drew images randomly, I also practiced two-point perspective drawings, which I found quite useful for capturing buildings and houses. These structures were not related to my condition; I only wished to expand on my learning in this new artistic field for me. The free-form style that the therapist encouraged for our dream images did not require perspective or realism. We were told to draw without thinking about form, to simply allow the lines and shades capture the dream images without "remembering". Draw quickly and let come what may. And I followed these instructions. But I wanted to understand how to draw beyond the therapy and thought this was the place for me to try to explore such lessons. Volunteers from the local college Art Department were invited to assist those of us who had questions beyond the "dream images". I asked about perspective. And two volunteers helped me.

The following Sunday, these two volunteers were uninvited from the session. We were reminded that we were there for therapy, not classes. When the therapist brought this up, he addressed the entire group, but after the session, he talked to me alone about not losing my focus on why I was there. It was then that I knew that I was causing the therapy session to stray from its goal: The dreams. I didn't realized how much more deeply this rift I was causing was until the following Sunday.

That Sunday afternoon, the Painting Therapy group and its therapist brought in a guest speaker who led an intervention to get me back on track with the goals of the therapy. They covered a lot of territory and information that was taken directly from my blog. I won't go over what was said because you can read it for yourself in the last Update. What I do want to go over was the question I had asked sarcastically, a question I directed at the guest speaker, and indirectly, the entire group and the therapist: What I asked was: Has this therapy group turned into a cult? Without waiting for an answer, I walked out of the intervention.

I calmed down since and plan to return to the session for the August therapy at the temple. But that question of the matter of the "cult" still hung in the air. I mean, I have never been to an Alcohol Anonymous session, but I've read the literature. It sounds like a cult. You have to accept a "higher power" as one of the first steps toward recovery. As a matter of fact, all the steps smack of proselytizing. Is this what I could expect from the painting sessions? Or was I being defensive because of my trauma? Victims sometimes try to protect the habits they develop to keep the bad memories at bay. Some people whistle nervously, some people crack bad jokes, some people get angry for no reason. I get angry a lot.

Well, regarding my question about the "cult", I got an answer by email. As I have chosen to return to the therapy, I thought it prudent to share this email with you readers. I know the therapy group will be reading this as well, so this is my "paranoid" way to letting you know what I'm returning to next Sunday. If anything should happen to me, you know where I'm being held captive by the cult members. But I joke. It's better than anger, I suppose. But no, I'm not going to accept a "higher power". I'm there for the painting therapy; it has been more productive for me than any medical treatment I've received over the last year. So if I have to put up with these beliefs from the group, so be it.

Well, I've said my piece.

Here's the email that answers my question about the Temple being a cult. It was a terrible thing to leave hanging when I walked out of the last Painting Therapy session. So, please take the response with a grain of salt. The therapy is held at a Buddhist Temple and the therapy is conducted by a Buddhist priest. I won't let my defense mechanisms or belief system cloud my chances for learning to deal with my trauma. I know I will never recover. I can only hope to learn to live with my trauma. So all I ask of you, dear readers, is to please keep your belief systems in check as you read this email. I know you will want to protect me from my perceived threats because that's what friends do. But just keep in mind that this Priest is trying to help me. The fact that he even sent this email to me shows his concern for my leaving the group so abruptly. I left the Shrink in similar fashion. It's something I need to work on. So, thank you ahead of time for not passing judgment on these people who are trying to help me. Even though that's just what I did.

Anthony Servante

The Email from Priest Bobue Horaguchi

Are we a cult?

This is the question you asked. You left before you could get an answer. What group of people who belief singularly is not a cult? You didn't ask if we were a religion. The word "cult" was foremost in your accusation, though you may believe you were asking a question, for you used the interrogative form. But your irony was not lost on anyone in the group. And your early departure revealed that you believed the answer was "yes". Even though you enter a Temple of Buddhist belief and practice, you accuse our therapy group of sinister motives. Let me clarify that the group is not Buddhist. The parents of our young members are part of my Temple and do practice our ways. The rest have different beliefs.

So, what is it that our group believes? We believe that our trauma has affected us each in a special way. We believe that our trauma is related to each other. We believe that we are the last of our group, and that one year ago this month of August 2019, the group was nearly twice its size. We believe that we cannot overcome our trauma, but we can learn to live with it. We can learn to endure and prosper if we shed a light in that darkness that traumatized us.

What is in that darkness? Well, now we must turn to Buddhist teachings. Just as every religion has a good and an evil, a heaven and a hell, our "cult" relies on the Buddhist learning to find the light to shine on the darkness. The therapy is just a tool to relax the troubled mind. Yes, I do read your "Views from a Troubled Mind". Very insightful. They are echoes of the very thoughts of every member of our group. What troubles you is the darkness because you can feel what is inside, but you cannot see it. Some in our group have seen it. They are no longer with us. Those who have not seen it are the current members of the group, the smaller version. I'd like to keep it from shrinking further.

What is in the darkness is called "bakemono" by the Japanese, "demons" by the Catholics, "devas" by Buddhists. But I am quite sure that there are better words for these creatures. They are also called paranoia, anxiety, loneliness, amnesia, regret, shame, and fear. This covers the demons of our group. And what's the commonality? Trauma. Where is this darkness? In our minds. What is the light? Dreams. And how do dreams depict our devas and bakemono? For us, it's a combination of real and unreal. A mixture of memory and fantasy, or false memory and the fantastic. We've seen it in the drawings. The birds with human features.

How do we conquer our demons? Well, listen to the children for starters. The Plumage Pvnk pajamas. The children plan to wear their "armor" next time they enter their dreams when they will face the bakemono. The trouble is, there are more than one. Again, paranoia, anxiety, loneliness, amnesia, regret, shame, and fear are the devas. To conquer these creatures is to conquer the source of the trauma. That is, take control of it. Fear, for instance, will remain, but we will each have our own armor to deal with our own demons.

Allow me to explain, in the metaphoric language of my first language. I will translate to English. Please forgive that which gets lost in translation.

Dreams mutilate memories by feeding the demons hiding in our minds. When trauma shocks the body, a door to the mind opens. The bakemono enter. These are normal things that we see everyday in our waking life. The demons eat parts of the memory till only the crumbs of the memory remain, and when we wake, we remember the half eaten memories as if they were the real waking ones. These mutilated remembrances are thus deemed real. For instance, the memory of a homeless man that is killed in a flashflood becomes a two-headed reptile, one head a man's, the other a gila monster's. The beast is the bakemono. We created it by giving it residence in our troubled mind. The news showed us the tragedy of this man's death. Then our dreams alter the memory into a bakemono. When we wake, the bakemono replaces the news report. The beast killed the homeless man, and we believe it because the mutilated memory is now real. Everyday we wake with such twisted memories. We must learn to separate the real from the unreal memories, which is hard for those of us who deny that these memories are not unreal. That's my struggle as a therapist, to strip away the denial in order to find the first layer of the mutilated memory. You believe we are trying to cover up the existence of these winged demons who are preying on the homeless and other victims, including your petting zoo animals.

These monsters have taken on a life of their own. We see them in the real world, in our waking world. One year ago this month, our group had a joint trauma. You and I, SaraH and Norinko's father, Torinko, entered the Santa Monica Tunnel that bridges the 10 Freeway to the 101 Pacific Coast Highway. This is where Norinko was lost. We found that inside the tunnel, there was an opening to an old office space that the railroad company once used while building the last leg of the train passage to the West Coast. A homeless group found the opening and used the old office as a living space. It was in the news when the Santa Monica Police evicted them from the site. But before they could seal off the opening, you believed that Norinko may have found her own way into the opening. Once you found that she was not among the group that was evicted, we agreed to enter the opening the night before the opening was sealed off the next day. We entered the opening around midnight, pressing ourselves against the wall of the inside tunnel as freeway traffic whizzed by. You cared not about the danger. You knew in your heart that we would find Norinko in there.

And we did. At great cost. But, also, at great success. For we found many lost people behind another false wall inside the office. We literally walked in darkness for miles, following the cries echoing the the dark caverns. We followed the cries, touching the scaly cold walls. When we saw the light in the distance, it was not a friendly light, but still we pushed toward it. Once there, we entered the glowing redness. I can only imagine that there were hundreds of homeless people living there. The redness came from the many fires burning throughout the great cavern. It was easy to see how the police did not find it. Easy to understand how so many people searching for a missing girl could get lost in it. We found Norinko and the other children, the three policemen, and others who could not find a exit, who wished to leave this place. There were those violent men in the cavern who prevented the lost group from leaving or from searching for a way out. But when we found a way in, we also found the way out for those who wanted to leave. We held hands and returned to the cavern opening leading back to the office. But some of the firestarters, the trouble-makers, were angry with our being there and attacked us. I could only imagine this is how many of the people here got trapped here. Thank God for Torinko, who fought off the firestarters while we escaped. You were attacked as well. Still you managed to escape. Together the rest of us found our way to the office, out of the tunnel, and back to my van. But Torinko never made it out. Later the police returned to look for him, but the cavern was collapsed. 

Honestly, I don't believe that we were believed about the cavern. But the missing people were found. And since we each told a different version of what happened, the truth was lost. Subconsciously, you wrote about this in your essay on "Chinese Whispers". Little did you realize, you were remembering the truth.

Afterwards, each of the group of survivors dealt with their ordeal in their own way. We never learned what each of them suffered, for we suffered in silence for months. We pray for those who couldn't bear their memories and took their own lives. We reach out to those who yet live, but who live a life between dream and reality. You were hospitalized. And after you were released, you cut all contact with us. But then you started your Trauma & Therapy series. You were trying to reach out without knowing it. Each of our group sent in their narratives about their ordeals, but you also received my accounts by people who are not part of our group. You couldn't separate us from them. That is, until we invited you to the Painting Therapy.

SaraH was already part of the group. She helped convince you to join us here at the Temple. This is why we seem so familiar to you. You know us and we know you. While you saw your psychiatrist and took your drugs, we waited. But with the direction your blog was taking, we knew we had to reach you soon. Your denial was growing stronger. You were abandoning medical help and medicine. That's when we decided on having the intervention as the first step toward awakening your memory. We needed to put you back on track to remembering the real homeless people in that cavern. For you, those poor people became bakemono. But those creatures are the mutilated memories that have begun to tilt the scale of your perception. We must tilt the scale back to a real waking perspective where birds are birds, dead squirrels are acts of nature, and conspiracies are a cult of your own making.

There is yet more work we must deal with. Your memory is fading with age. Your short-term memory is also beginning to deteriorate. We'd hope to tell you this in person. Let this email be the second step of your recovery. The intervention being the first. The third is the Plumage Pvnks. There is much we can learn from these children, for they have insights to the ordeal that only they can share. They waited a long time for you to re-join us. It's the next step in your therapy. You need it, and we need you. You and your blog are our voice.

I understand why you left so abruptly. You saw a glimpse of what is in your darkness. The bird-creatures of your dreams are real--real to your traumatized mind. Are you ready to face them with your eyes wide awake? Then join us this Sunday on the Labor Day weekend. We'll be serving barbecue, French Fries, and coffee.

The next step is up, and that is Pajama Therapy. You don't have to make any pajamas. What you will learn is how to make armor that you can wear in your dreams. Sound foolish. Good, because if that makes sense, you sure as hell don't need this group. We're the crazy ones. We're the cult. But you even have an iota of a memory of that night last August 2018, we need you here this Sunday. It will mark our one-year anniversary of our trauma. And the beginning of recovery. It's okay to get angry. We're all angry. That's how we know the Bakemono are among us. We haven't learned to control our emotions and defense mechanisms. 
Priest Bobue Horaguchi

Summary: I don't remember any of this. But at this point, it doesn't matter. Like my friends on Facebook, I know them and I don't know them. As long as I like them, that's all that matters. These are my friends now, traumatized victims each and every one of us, each of us dealing with our demons in our own way. For me, it's being with people like me that "may" help. Or not. In either case, I will be returning Sunday. Hell, it's time for Pajama Therapy. And barbecue. 

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Update 12C

Trauma & Therapy

Painting Therapy
Revelations, Foggy Weather & An Intervention

Cornered by Concerned Friends

Those of you readers who aren't in my Facebook circle are going to hear this for the first time. When I went to my Painting Therapy last July, I was surprised by an intervention by the group. All the group participants, Priest Bobue, the teen girls, their parents, SaraH, and the rest waited for me to sit down at my usual seat for Painting. I had my materials ready and I had ideas that I wanted to work on, namely two-point perspective drawings of the houses in my dreams. But there was no painting. Today's topic was me. And my blog. Especially my Trauma series. My assistant, SaraH, was in on the surprise and didn't let on what was awaiting me while we drove to the Temple in Santa Monica, where the therapy sessions are held. 

When we arrived, SaraH walked into the Temple ahead of me. Once I entered, I was greeted by a woman in a Sheriff's deputy uniform. I wasn't sure what was going on. She asked me to sit, and I thought she was our therapist for the day's session. But then she called me by name, told me that she was glad I could make it, and started in on her prepared speech, which she had on a cheat sheet at the podium used by the Priest for services. 

What follows below is a combination of my thoughts before and during the intervention as well as the minutes of the intervention as best as I can remember them. I didn't take notes. I was in shock for two reasons. I was addressed by my real name, not my blog name; and the subject matter of the intervention sent me into a dream state. I felt like I wasn't even there as I was talked about. I felt exposed and vulnerable. My eyes stung as I fought back tears. It seemed like a surreal movie. 

But it was real, and when I snapped out of the initial shock and came back to my senses, I got up and walked away from the intervention. I made the decision there and then to never return. 

A Few Thoughts Going into the Intervention
Winter stole half of the Spring with snow, rain, and winds. I rely on Spring to set my body clock to the change in weather. And with the weather comes the signs of the changing season. I can always tell it's Spring by the birds that build nests in the trees that line our street. The eggs hatch, and the mother birds swoop down on any pedestrians who walk under her tree as she protects her young. This year, there was no swooping. Lots of cawing, strange whistles, and chatter in the foliage. Then Summer stole the other half of Spring with 100 degree weather, excessive humidity, and unnatural animal and bird deaths instead of Spring hatchlings. This week, we are four weeks into Summer.

I mentioned to my brother that for Spring weather, it feels like Summer. He told me that Summer had already started. School was out, and it was time to dust off the air-conditioner. At first, I didn't believe him. Summer!? No way. It's July, he said. He was right, of course. Did I forget the time of year again? Or did Spring get gobbled by Winter and Summer. In either case, we had no Spring in California this year. Sure, you hear that It's always sunny in California. But not like this. The lines are beginning to blur. Californians talk about it, about the weather. We love to say Global Warming. But not me. I say that my trauma is manifesting in the weather. I dove head-first into understanding my trauma, and I've learned to point my inner eye outward, watching other trauma sufferers, contemplating whether the weather is a symptom of my mood or my mood a symptom of the weather. And when I hear others echoing my same concerns about the loss of Spring, they remind me that for them, they've lost dozens of seasons, that I'm lucky: I only lost one season. 

This is an important revelation for me. I remember lies, lies that fog the truth. The others in my therapy group as well as the others who share their experiences on my blog share this fog. Together, we're helping each other to lift this cloud bank, even if only for a few seconds, a few minutes. Part of the fear of remembering the truth is that the day the fog arrived is also the day that started the trauma. There are two ways to deal with the arrival of trauma: Fight or flight. Fight to remember and face the trauma AGAIN! Only this time with a support group, with a Shrink, with medication. Or run away from the memory, avoid it, block it. Sometimes I feel like therapy serves flight, whereas the therapists believe it helps "fight" the bad memory. At times I cannot tell which side of the fence the group is on: Are they there to face the wicked past or to build a wall around it? We know we share PTSD. But why do we have therapy?

That's why I try to let the participants speak for themselves. Whether they talk about fight or flight is up to them.  We'd all like to believe we're going to "get well", that our sunny days will return to balance out our rainy days. But for every revelation, there's the truth, and it's the truth that brought on the fog in the first place. We're one month into Summer, and some of us are still waiting for Spring to begin.

So, today, we had a visitor. Our speaker, Janet, from last week brought a friend with her. She spoke to the group. I took notes again. That's my "flight" pattern. But when I read the notes at home, I realized the new speaker was a fighter. Her fog had lifted. Her words poked a hole in my fog, if only briefly. 

The Intervention

Deputy Evelyn Mitchell stood at the podium and unfolded her notes. She introduced herself as a trauma victim. We're here today to talk with Anthony Servante. What is trauma? Simple. It's there in his blog, yet he doesn't see it. Instead, he sees us. He needs to see himself if he is to truly see us. Anthony, everything you dream is real, everything is false when you wake. That is trauma. Our trauma. You write of it, but you do not acknowledge it. We figured it out. So we meet here. You're here because somewhere between waking and dreaming, you figured it out too. That damn shrink of yours had you so medicated, you were trapped between memory and dream. You dumped your shrink. Have you dumped the drugs? Something is holding you back. You see what we see. The weather patterns. The decay of the neighborhood. The missing homeless. The corpses found in the riverbed. For us, the corpses wash up on shore. I'm stuck behind a desk, so I hear about it from my old partner secondhand. My trauma sentenced me to a desk. I don't do drugs. I shoplift. You wrote about me in your blog. You have a good eye for detail on our cases. What about your own? Without a shrink, without drugs, will you then return to this group for some real therapy. Not to write about it, but to face your own amnesia. What do they call it? Associative amnesia. You block the memories, but your dreams remember for you. Just like everyone here faces their own trauma through their dreams. This painting crap--it only captures glimpses of symptoms, not the core of the trauma. Are you ready to see the forest? Your amnesia only lets you see the trees. We need to snap you out of it, but you must be willing to work on it with us for the therapy, not your fucken blog. It's time we got back to work. Do you think you are ready yet?

First, you must stop the drugs. Second, you must blog only the healthy side of the therapy--the progress. Third, you must really join the group as a victim, not a blogger. Are you ready?

I answered, When did we become a cult?

Evelyn replied, We became a cult when you started the damn Trauma and Therapy blogging. We're a cult, and you're the leader.

The words sent a chill into my spine while I saw everyone in the room nod in agreement. Then Evelyn Mitchell read this poem.

Adrift, I walk within a space
Destined to stay in this place
Here, I will defy what they say
Never to defer to their ways
I will fight with every breath in me
I will never bow to their ascendancy

I wish I could see
Where it is that I am
But I feel if I did
I'd be even more damned

The participants all glanced over to me to see my reaction. I have none. I'm still stunned.

My name is Evelyn Mitchell, Deputy Mitchell of the Santa Monica Sheriff's Division. Just under a year ago, my partner and I were part of the investigation into the disappearance of a young girl. [Here she looked at Norie for a second; the seven people in the Painting Therapy group turned to face Norie as well]. A missing girl. A community searching for the girl. As many of you here know, we were all part of that investigation, whether as family, friends, law enforcement, or clergy. [Here Priest Horaguchi cleared his throat loudly; Mitchell shrugged her shoulders]. My partner at the time was also involved. When all was said and done and Norie was found, I was assigned to a desk and my partner returned to street duty. I found this group, thanks to Anthony Servante's blog. My partner did not. After six months on street patrol with a new partner, he committed suicide. Maybe he should have been sat at a desk as well. Too late to second-guess the decisions that were made. But we all here lost people we care about. Norie lost her dad. The Namura family lost a daughter. The Segawa family copes with therapy and Temple. The Hanasaki family lost a husband and a father. And Anthony, well, Anthony, he seems to have lost track of all of us here. He now comes to our group and sits there like he doesn't know us.

Let me help you remember. From Santa Monica, California, coastlines to the San Gabriel Valley mountain communities, we have all been experiencing breaks with our homes, our jobs, our friends, our families. Our reality. You're not the only one who follows the news. [Her gaze fixed on me]. You're not the only one who doesn't feel right about the weather or the slew of deaths along the river or the deaths of small animals and birds found in our yards and porches. We all have the same experiences because it's all in our heads. You're not the only one seeking mental counseling. You're not the only one taking drugs. How many people here are taking anti-anxiety drugs? [Everyone, including Horaguchi, raises their hands]. Your blog, Anthony, brought us together. You hit a nerve in all of us. Maybe it's mass hallucination or some such thing, but my partner is dead. That means it's real. And it's time to separate the real from the damn rationalizations we've been told by our counselors and therapists. This is the only place I feel that things are real. Because you remember what I remember. You experienced what I experienced. What we all are experiencing. 

But Anthony Servante doesn't react. [She addresses the others while pointing at me]. He writes about it. His tongue-in-cheek attitude toward our experience and reality means he has not come to terms with his own realization. It's not the weather. It's not something supernatural. We are all traumatized. We see the world through traumatized eyes. The same trauma that took the life of my partner. This group here--we're happy to have you here at last. You've been writing about us for close to a year. No, two. We've sent you accounts of our trauma, our therapy, our thoughts on the subject. You put them in your blog. We found each other by reading your blog. We formed this group. The only thing missing was you. And SaraH. I contacted SaraH and with Horaguchi's and SaraH's help, we managed to bring you into our group--finally.

We can't lose any more time. We can't lose any more people. We've lost three people. We have one in a coma. And the rest of us are here drawing pictures. I'm not laughing at this. It's the commonality that brought you here. What we draw is that commonality. And that's what keeps you coming. Familiarity! The drawings. The faces around you. The dreams of the past. The foggy memory of the past. The denial of the past. Well, here we are--the past! Staring you in the face. We are your amnesia. Remember us yet?

But no, you are keeping a distance from us; it's part of the denial. And without you in the group, we are still broken. We know you don't truly remember. Lot of us here don't want to remember, but we do. You don't remember, but we need you to. So I'm going to sit down now. I've said my piece. I just want to say one more thing. You're not crazy, and if you are, we're crazy too. So you are not alone. You may not remember this, but you need to hear it nonetheless. [She nodded to Norie, who stood up].

It was at this point that I got pissed off and walked out of the temple and went home. 

The Following Sunday

Things picked up where they left off when last I left. Norie stood on the second step behind the podium. She lowered the microphone to her lips. She sighed. I couldn't tell if she sighed from nerves or dread. She began, My name is Norinko Hanasaki. I am fifteen years old. I am in my last year of middle school. My friend, Bridget, is in a coma. Tubes feed her. I believe she dreams. I believe she dreams what we dream. When you walked out on the group last week, we were on the verge of talking about that. You cannot hide behind your blog. You cannot write about us as if you are not part of us. You cannot detach yourself from this as if you are the host  from The Twilight Zone, separate from the story. Your distance from this group makes this therapy useless. During our sessions, you noticed that we draw and dream similar things. Two years ago, I was abducted and held hostage by some kind of terrorists. Anyway, that's what my therapist said. I don't even know what a terrorist looks like. And I was not alone. I saw many of the people in this group held hostage too. I don't remember how long I was held, but I'd guess it was about a year. I know it sounds crazy, but everyone in this room remembers our trauma, our forced detainment, our captors. Last August, 2018, we were finally found and freed. But at a cost. For each of us, the cost was different, and we each continue to suffer the trauma differently. We even remember the details differently. But it happened. And it happened to you too, Professor Servante. You were part of the group who liberated us. As was my father, SaraH, and Priest Horaguchi.

A year ago, I remember you as a younger man. Now look at you: A forgetful old man complaining about the weather and your aches and pains. Welcome to the club, Professor. We're all a lot older. And getting older. Not just in our faces, but in my minds as well. Everyone in this room turned years older in one year. Last year, August 2018, we were together. But we don't talk about it. We talk about birds. About the weather. And the death of the homeless. We focus on that because it's in our dreams. So what's the connection. Well, we don't remember. But each of us, we remember pieces. And if we were to put all these pieces together, we might have something. Some hope. Some road to recovery. Or closure. Together, this group shares a single piece of the puzzle. My friend cannot talk; she's in a coma, so her piece may be lost. But Suz and I have our pieces. We can solve the puzzle even if there are missing pieces. As long as you, Professor, start to remember, for you have the most important piece, because you blogged everything. Since 2017, you've blogged this trauma of ours. The kidnapping. The rescue. The aftermath. The therapy. It's all in your blog.

So let's begin. I'll start. These are the pieces we have so far:
I am Norinko. I lost my father in August 2018. That's one piece of the puzzle.

My name is Suzie. I kept my eyes closed during the whole thing. I prayed. The kidnappers left me alone. So I kept praying. I don't know if that a puzzle piece.
[It all counts, said Norie].

I am Evelyn. My partner and I worked with Detective Jian Wu on the missing child case. We were ambushed by the kidnappers. We must have been drugged. My memory is questionable. But it's a piece of the puzzle.

I am Priest Bobue Horaguchi. I provided the van that SaraH drove to find Norie and the others. We escorted them from the cave where they were being held. That's a piece.

I am Chris Dubois. I covered the story for the Santa Monica newspaper. Last thing I remember was waiting for Detective Wu to ask him some questions. I woke up in the cave. Yeah. I felt drugged up too. I kept a flashdrive of the newspaper story. That's for sure a piece of the puzzle.

Horaguchi stepped back to the podium. Anthony, you ready to share you piece of the puzzle?

Is this the new therapy? I asked. I dumped my Shrink. I dumped my drugs last week. I returned today because it's a new start. I don't know anything about a puzzle. I don't know anything about "my piece" of the puzzle. I'm here for therapy. I got my painting materials. I'm ready for that.

Horaguchi continued, Then the puzzle is still incomplete. But we have a plan. Norie, could you update the group? The Priest stepped aside and put the steps behind the podium for the short teenager.

Norie stepped onto the second step and looked over the podium at the group. She began, My friend Bridget is another piece. She's in a coma. Her mother and a part-time nurse care for her. Suz and I visit her often. One thing I know about her: She dreams. Like us. I see the REMs. The rapid eye movements as her head rests on the pillow. She was in the cave so she holds a different kind of puzzle piece. We dream, and we see the cave. We wake, and we forget. Bridget doesn't wake. In her mind, she is still in the cave. Simple. Suz and I see Bridge in our dreams. I'm sure she sees us.

Which brings us back to the Plumage Pvnks. The pajamas. My mom started to sew three sets of PJs: one for me, one for Suz, one for Bridge. In the waking world, the PJs are just that, pajamas. But in the dream world, they are protection. We just need to believe that when we fall asleep. We need one of you, one of the puzzle pieces to be with us when we go to sleep. Together with our mothers, you will protect our sleeping bodies. In the dream world, the PJs will protect us. I think we can bring Bridget out of the dream coma. I also believe that we can find my father and bring him out. Three of the hostages from the cave committed suicide. That means they're back in the cave. You'd have to be Buddhists to understand. But we don't need your understanding. We just need your presence. Humour us. You don't need to remember to help [she said looking right at me]. So yes to your question, Professor. This is the new therapy. Pajama Therapy. The Plumage Pvnks are designed to keep the cave, uh, "things" away from us. We're not even sure they will work. Maybe we'll just sleep, wake up, and return full circle. Nowhere. But all of us here believe. the non-believers have left our group. My teacher, the school janitor, the school bus driver, the Detective. So, Professor. Decide. Now. We need to be ready by Halloween, the two-year anniversary of the kidnapping and the one-year anniversary of the rescue. The rescue you cannot remember.

Priest Horaguchi spoke, Enough, Norie. As you said, we don't need faith, or memory. We simply need a physical presence.

I said, Sounds dangerous.

Norie laughed. What?! Sitting by the bed of two sleeping girls. We're the ones in danger if you're a perv.

Horaguchi, Norie! Enough. Still, Professor, Norie speaks truly, though without tact. You and Norie's mother will watch over Norie. Evelyn and Suzie's mother will watch over Suz. Bridget's mother and SaraH will care for our coma patient. The nurse will not be part of this. We will need a decision by next Sunday. Mr. Dubois is willing to take your place if you cannot or will not participate in our new therapy. That's the end of the session for today. Please give us a decision by next Sunday. If you don't show up and we don't hear from you, Dubois is ready. You have my email and phone number. Group dismissed.

The group dispersed. No pleasantries. No goodbyes. No small talk. SaraH came over to me and said, Let's get back to the Valley. Santa Monica gives me the creeps.

The Decision

I called Priest Bobue Horaguchi, I'm in. What do you need from me?

He replied, Take care of your shoulder. I hear you injured it. I'll let the group know you're in. What I will need from you is another update for your Trauma & Therapy series. Catch your readers up on the latest. We will sound crazy, but that's okay. We are crazy. And now we have to prepare a crazy plan. This is called the Therapy of Confrontation. Either fight or flight, remember? You've just joined the fight. Check you emails daily. I'll be sending you the important meeting dates. We have less than two months to prepare. Thank you, Professor for humouring us. After all, dreams can't hurt you, right?

I snickered, Not if you're wearing bird pajamas, I guess.

He laughed and hung up the phone. I was suddenly scared and I didn't even know why. That means there is real danger that only my sub-conscience can sense it. That's the worst kind of danger. I played with the bottle of Xanax. I shook its contents and listened to the clickity-clack. Then I tossed the bottle back in my computer desk drawer. I needed a clear head. It occurred to me that I needed clarity for a crazy plan. A new therapy, my ass.