Virgil And Dante


aaron2_icon.gif bella_icon.gif

Scene Title Virgil And Dante
Synopsis Aaron nearly has a breakdown dealing with the news that his newest friend, Gillian, is dying. He clearly can't be as strong as Gillian is.
Date September 23, 2009

Near Bella's City Office

Aaron thought he could handle it, the knowing. But he couldn't. He realized that when a stranger held him back and he stood in shock a moment upon realizing he very nearly died. And he can't just lock himself up in the apartment and never go out again, though clearly doing so while so distracted was a bad idea. He'd been so caught up thinking about his personal drama and milling things over that his idea of going out sight-seeing around the West Side — where he hadn't wandered since before the Bomb — was completely mangled into the background to the extent of him not being aware of his surroundings. Frankly, being so unaware as to walk out into traffic isn't a mistake someone will make more than once, and usually not because they learned anything from it the first time.

After he got away from the incident and the shock faded, what little control of his emotions he had regained from the night in Peyton's arms came tumbling down into an unrecognizable heap, and he knew he had to call Bella. He prays to the dear Lord of Mercy that she's not busy this early Wednesday afternoon, because there's simply no way he sees himself lasting until his session the following afternoon.

The phone rings once, twice, three times, then: "Hello, this is Dr. Sheridan." She doesn't have Aaron's number programmed, so there's no expectation of who it might be, hence the use of name and title. She's at her office in the Suresh Center, her computer screen open to a document where she is shaping her as-yet-unfinished proposal for clinical studies of Refrain. Pet project.

One skipped beat. Two skipped beats. Three skipped beats. The ringing of the phone is akin to torture as he processes the idea that maybe she won't pick up. When she does pick up, the first thing that sounds over the phone is a sigh of relief, followed shortly by, "Bella, thank God," and then all sorts of stuttering as Aaron's mind tries to assemble some semblance of coherency to explain his situation. It could be said he fails, except he does manage to get one more whole word out: "Help."

"I will," Bella says, at once, turning away from her computer, checking to make sure the door to her office is closed. It's not, so she gets to her feet and gives it a gentle push to slide it shut, preserving her client's privacy. "I'm here, Aaron. What's happened?"

Aaron is a building over from that housing Bella's studio apartment office when he has to sit down in an alleyway — hiding away from spectators as he has his (hopefully) brief emotional collapse. It's amazing how blind people can be to crisis. Granted, he's not crying yet, though the tears are there. "I need to … breathe." No, talk. "Talk. I need to talk." Breathing's good too, though, don't forget to breathe. He sits hard against the building wall and starts to get his breathing under control. "I nearly walked out into traffic." The way he says it is completely detached. "Somebody stopped me before … I noticed … Almost got hit by a bus." And then there's the slightly muffled sound of retching.

Bella opens up her mental notepad. Either dissociative introspection or passive suicidality. A very important distinction. "It's okay. You're safe now," however nearly he wasn't, "What were you thinking about as it happened? What thoughts were distracting you?" she asks.

Except he doesn't feel OK or safe and has gone from having trouble breathing to hyperventilating. "I was, I was…. I can't." Gillian made him promise. But then, he wasn't just thinking about her. Last night's brief encounter with Wendy played in a bit, and everything else. For all he talks about it, it doesn't go away. "Everything," Aaron says. "Everything we've talked about keeps going around in my head. Can't sleep… My fingers are tingling."

"Aaron, I want you to concentrate on my voice, all right?" Bella says, speaking steadily and distinctly, "Concentrate on my voice and try to relax. You're safe. You're going to be all right. You had a scare but it's over. You're going to be okay, and I'm going to help make sure of that. Now… say it: 'I'm safe. I'm okay.' And mean it."

It's mostly stutters at first, but Aaron eventually manages to get the words out. Though they sound unconvinced until he's said them a few times. Then at least when he says, "I'm safe, I'm OK," it sounds as though he at least means the 'I'm OK,' part, even if he did just vomit recently and has only now begun to breathe properly. Safe, however, is not something he feels. He's in an alleyway in a mostly foreign area and he's feeling very vulnerable and exposed.

"Good," Bella says, as Aaron manages to produce the words, "Now, where are you?" The open hiss at the end of his line doesn't sound like an interior.

"I'm in an alley, um, a building … a building over from your office," Aaron says into the phone. He slowly sits up and leans his back against the building wall, having lain down after vomiting.

"My city office?" Bella says, "Oh, crud. I'm at the Suresh Center right now. I… hmmm," this requires some thinking. She wouldn't want to give Aaron open access to her office, even if she could, which she can't because the key's with her. "There's a deli just half a block down from where you are. You should get inside. It looks like rain might be coming on pretty soon." She must remember to bring an umbrella for her foray later that day, to Roosevelt Island.

"OK," Aaron says. "I'll get inside. Need to get rid of this taste anyway."

Vomiting again, Bella discerns. But the crucial question for her, whether or not the near-death experience was just an accident or some unconscious intention towards self-annihilation, remains unanswered. "Consider having the Reuben," she suggests, "It's excellent."

It takes Aaron a bit of time to cross the street and head down half the block to the deli. Once he's there, he says, "OK. I'm here. You're, you're coming right?"

Bella checks the time, "I… yes. Yes, I can come," she says, lips pursing. This may involve cutting things a bit close, "Fair warning, Aaron, I have something I have to do in not too long, but it's near where I work, so I'll be swinging through anyways. Give me twenty minutes, I'll meet you at the deli."

"Th-thank you," Aaron says. "Twenty minutes." He hangs up, reaffirming himself. Twenty minutes, twenty minutes. He walks into the deli. He goes straight to the bathroom to wash out his mouth and wash his hands. Nineteen minutes. He takes his place in line. He's not hungry, but he should eat something. His stomach twists when he takes a seat. Fifteen minutes. He spends the next five minutes staring at the Reuben sandwich, and the following five holding it as though maybe, if he tries hard enough, he'll be able to eat it and his stomach won't be wrenching around so hard. The ginger ale he got with the sandwich isn't helping as much as he'd like, but at least his mouth no longer tastes like vomit.

Bella hurries out the door, and in her rush she forgets her umbrella. Stupid, but she's got other things on her mind. She travels via public transit; she doesn't even own a car. It'd be crazy to, when she has nowhere to park it and nowhere to go that can't be gotten to through the metro system. After some twelve minutes in the city's rumbling bowels, she emerges and hustles the remaining distance to the deli. She enters, suited but a little tousled from travel. She spies Aaron and sweeps over to him, taking a seat across from him and offering him a smile. "I see you /bought/ the Reuben, at least."

Aaron would smile back if he were prone to smiling. Instead he just stares glassy-eyed at the sandwich, his right foot fidgeting under the table, and him swaying slightly left and right. "I don't… I…." He closes his eyes and looks down, shaking his head. His dull stare is replaced with tear-filled eyes. "Why is this happening to me? Why can't I have peace?"

"Aaron, your trouble is tied up in the question," Bella says, lacing her fingers together and leaning forward across the table, voice pitched fairly low so as not to draw attention from other customers, "You've taken the terrible things that have happened to you and internalized them. Even when your life eases up, you compensate by being hard on yourself."

The tears roll down his cheeks, and despite Bella's efforts to keep quiet, Aaron feels exposed again. He sniffles and wipes at his eyes with his jacket sleeve. "But how do I stop?"

"You have to get rid of the toxins," Bella says, "Flush your system. It's what grieving is for, it's even what nightmares are for. But your system is clogged up. We need to help you flow again."

He's not without nightmares. But it's when she says grieving that he looks worse than she may have seen him before. It makes Aaron remember what Gillian told him, and that starts him up fidgeting again. He takes a moment to breathe a bit before asking, "How do we do that?"

"First," Bella says, with a tone of practicality, matter-of-factness, "We need to talk it out. Get it out in the open so we can really get a sense of it all. Nothing can be held back or pushed down. You'll be in a much better position to handle your pain if you can name it and understand it. The fact is, nothing is unbearable. No pain is going to kill you. So all pain is conquerable."

It takes Aaron some time to respond to that, illustrated best by his unsteady breathing. Talking about it makes it real, and he promised. He promised he wouldn't say anything. Even if it kills him, how can he break that? Because it tried to kill him. He was dwelling on it almost the whole time he was out, and he almost walked out into traffic. He reaches out a hand — for comfort, for connection. He needs strength. "I don't know how much longer I can bear it."

Bella extends her own hand and takes his, squeezing gently, then adding its partner, enclosing him in her grasp. "What does it feel like, to you? How would you describe your pain?"

"Suffocating, torturous, alone," are the first words that come to Aaron's mind. "My own personal Hell from which there's no escape." He squeezes Bella's hand far tighter than gently. It's his lifeline right now.

"Then you need a sense of freedom, fellowship and relief," Bella says, fixing his eyes with her own, "You need to counter those feelings, let them vent, let them out. And that's part of our work together, and part of talking with me. Having someone to walk with you," she smiles, just a little, "A Virgil to your Dante, escorting you through hell until we finally emerge."

Relief is something he could definitely use, the only problem being how his relief is almost invariably tainted by some catastrophe or another. Just once it would be nice to feel good. He sniffles. "That friend I mentioned, of Peyton's, who stayed with us for a bit. Well, she's my friend too. It's hard not to bond with someone when you're taking care of them." He wipes his eyes with his free hand. "After our last session, I was supposed to pick her up and… she'd already gotten a ride home. So I went and picked up some dinner and went home. She'd gone out again…. it wasn't…. She called, well, she sent a text to come pick her up and — she made me promise I wouldn't say anything, but it's killing me." He quiets his voice down a bit, taking a slightly paranoid look around the place. "I… I…" It's a struggle as he fights with his conscience. But he has to say it, he has to make her understand. "I knew something was really wrong just looking at her. She'd been fine that morning, but she was so black when I picked her up. She couldn't hide it from me — she knew that I knew something had happened." As he goes on, his grip gets tighter and tighter.

As long as she doesn't start feeling pain from that grip, she maintains the contact with Aaron. Heck, even a little pain might be important to put up with so as to allow the man the connection he so badly needs. "Whatever you say to me, stays with me. I'd hope your friend would understand the need to speak to your therapist about this sort of thing."

Aaron hopes so to, especially with how they're in the middle of a deli full of people. But that's all faded into nothing with him, as the battle rages on, his hand trembling despite its grip. "She, she told me she's not going to live to see … live past October." When he finishes, he takes his hand back and buries his face, trying not to sob in the middle of a restaurant. He just made it real.

Bella takes the back of her chair, grips, swings and scootches in a neat little maneuver that ends with her sitting next to Aaron. She loops an arm around him, her touch gentle and sensitive to any negative reactions it might cause. She leans close so as to maximize their limited privacy. "Which friend?" she asks. There is a trickle of anxiety in her mind as she asks this.

"Gi… GiGil… Gillian," whom Aaron only once mentioned by name and even then didn't explicitly tie her name to the 'friend of the roommate' who 'showed up sick'. The gentle touch oddly makes Aaron feel like he can refrain from crying this time, even though he knows it will come eventually. He's spent a large amount of time crying recently — some might argue it's been excessive.

"It's a terrible thing," Bella says, "But it is what it is. You cannot carry pain around for you, nor would she want you to. Let yourself accept it, and let it fall away from you."

"It's just not fair," Aaron says, shivering a bit in Bella's arm. "Peyton's abducted a few days after I meet her. Gillian's dying…" So now he actually is starting to think he's cursed. At any rate, he certainly has a bad string of luck with making friends. Not nearly as bad of luck as Gillian or Peyton with their respective situations, but still.

"You can't expect fairness from the world," Bella says, "If you feel that the scales ought to be balanced, the only person who can take steps to do it is you. Balance your life, make something good out of the bad you've had to suffer. It sounds trite, I know, but cliches are irritating because they're so obviously true. Help make your relationships with Peyton and Gillian mean something in the face of tragedy."

Aaron wipes the tears from his eyes. "I'm keeping you from something, aren't I?" Not that he's any rush to go anywhere. He's so taking a cab home, or something. Clearly he's too distracted to walk.

"I have something I have to see too," Bella says, "But I'm not being kept, don't worry," she leans back, away from the half-embrace. "I should get going now, though. I don't like taking public transit when it's too late, you know?"

Aaron nods. He only has to last twenty-four hours. He can do that. He almost made it to their next session, after all. Six days. What's one more? "I'll see you tomorrow, though." For another session that will likely be as difficult as all the past ones.

Bella smiles, getting to her feet, "You will," she promises, "Now, eat your damn sandwich."

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