Chapter XVII: Oppositional Absolutes
For a little more than two years, he had listened to countless variations on the reasons that people got sober.
Mostly, people stated that they’d achieved sobriety through some sort of extrinsic interference, often legal or familial intervention. There were the stories of broken families and shattered relationships; tales of the courts that stepped in to remove children from dangerous environments or tacked on another DWI to a growing list of a myriad other offenses; and parents who told their sons and daughters to get clean or to get out. Lists of infractions were fraught with litanies of misdemeanor possessions and felonious intents-to-distribute. Men and women confessed that they dried out because they’d lost jobs and apartments, licenses to practice and the freedom to drive. They claimed financial destitution, crippling physical and mental fatigue, and the notion that the drugs and alcohol had ceased to be their ally – often reporting that their substances of choice no longer produced the desired effects on which the addict’s brain had come to depend.
Unlike so many of the people with whom he’d come to mix and begun to respect, none of these motivations was the case for Trystan Alexander Van Meyer.
When he had finally begun working to clean himself up, he really hadn’t lost any of the tangible things that he had in any of his previous, fruitless attempts at sobriety. There was no termination of employment and no notice to immediately vacate a premises. There was no letter from his family pleading with him to get help and no boyfriend angrily telling him to take a look at himself to see what he had become.
This time, the reflection he’d seen was his own misery in the mirrored eyes of everyone around him. He’d seen himself as others did.
And it made him shudder with self-contempt.
There’s a look with which all alcoholics are familiar. It’s a combination of shame, pity, despair, and terror, and it cuts more sharply and more deeply than the finest blade ever could. When Trystan had seen that look in the eyes of virtually every person in his life, he’d known that there was only one option left, and he knew that – more than anything else – he just wanted to be happy. And to be a good dude. And he never wanted to see that look in the eyes of another human being again, especially not if that look were focused on him.
But there it was again.
And, of all people, in the eyes of his mother, standing just beneath the foot of his emergency room bed, at the base where the sheets were rumpled and wrinkled and smeared with blood and urine and all the other body fluids that seep out of the system when its host has just been heavily sedated. Where a crack team of sophisticated personnel had just worked against the clock to suture the damage inflicted and to do everything they could to pump replenishment back into the body of the man who had tried to make it all go away.
Trystan really was in no shape to exert himself in any way, and all the hard-focused thinking he had done after this brief raise from extensive sedation to hyper-consciousness left him acutely mentally dehydrated. The sight of his mom only compounded the emotional drainage, and he felt the sickening, sinking sensation of his gut swimming in shame as he realized the full gravity of what he’d done. For the first time since dragging the straight razor along the blue rivers of the highly visible veins of his wrists and forearms, Trystan second-guessed himself and realized that it was too late to turn back, too late to take it all back and search for another solution outside of the deep, dark tunnel that had led him to such an unspeakable, irreversible, intentionally permanent act.
And the sobs were gut-wrenching, unquenchable, and felt like they would never end.
“Ohhhh… Mmmaaahhh Mmmaaahhh…” he lifted his arms as far as the straps and the exquisite pain of the movement would allow, reaching out for his mother, who was prevented from coming too near by the nurse who was watching the scene with a combination of empathetic consternation and despair. “I’m… soo… sorry…. Mmmaaahhh Mmmaahhh… I’m… soo… sorry!” Trystan’s words were staggered, separated by more sobbing and true remorse.
Melora Van Meyer met her son’s guttural, heart-felt waling with unconstrained pain. “Let me go!” She was shouting, flailing at the nurse, and trying to reach her son, but her petite captor was surprisingly strong. “He needs me,” Melora was nearly ready to fight to be released.
“You can’t,” Blair spoke into Melora’s ear, barely a whisper, and Trystan’s mother suddenly eased her struggle. “Not right now, Mrs. Van Meyer. He has to rest. He needs to sleep.”
Instantaneously reactive, Trystan focused his eyes on the nurse restraining his mother and raised a power in his voice that even he wasn’t sure he was capable of. “Let her go, you stupid bitch! I want my mama!”
Melora froze, her mouth hanging open and her eyes widely staring at her son, flailing in the soft restraints that held his heavily bandaged arms. “Trystan?” Her voice caught in her throat as she felt the cold, incomprehensible sense of deja vu.
She hadn’t heard such words from her youngest child in many years and the language shot her right back to where the family had been for so many years when they fought with one another against the determination to help him and the need to end their enabling.
“Ohhh… Mmmaaahhh Mmmmaaahhh!” Trystan launched back into a tearful, animalistic screech. “It… hurts…. Mmmaaahhh… Mmmaaahhh… it… hurts… so… bad… Mmmaahhh Mmmaahhh… I… want… my… Mmmaaahhh Mmmaaahhh…!”
Perhaps Trystan was unaware of his strength or perhaps whoever had fastened the strap at his left arm was somewhat careless. Whatever the case, Trystan gave his arms one good jerk and his bandaged left limb broke free from the strap just as the bandage that encircled his forearm and wrist twisted off and a dark maroon spray showered across the soiled bed garments and the palm of his hand connected to his forehead with a resounding slap that made both women jump.
Trystan’s head fell back against the pillow and Blair took only a split second before breaking into action. She pulled Melora out of the room before calling out toward the nurses’ station: “I need some help in here!”
As the sprightly nurse moved toward her patient, she suddenly realized why Trystan looked so familiar to her. Ironically, it was at the same moment that Trystan’s loose hand smacked himself in the face that it came to her.
This was the guy who was always hanging out with the chick who lived in one of the second-floor apartments above her own, the girl who had kept her up half of the night before with what Blair had almost mistaken as someone breaking into the apartment, ransacking the entire space like a thief in the night.
Blair re-fastened the straps and held pressure against the sutures that had loosened, giving a quick glance to see how many stitches had opened. Another nurse came into the room, assessing what was happening.
“Is Dr. Sheridan still out there?” Blair asked as she stared down at Trystan’s face, wondering what the hell could have possibly gone so wrong in his life to make him do damage as extreme as this.
“I think he’s-”
Blair cut the response off: “Just go see what else he’s got ordered for agitation! And page Sheridan if he’s not out there. He’s ripped out some stitches.”
The other nurse blanched and paused only a moment before turning to follow her instructions, nearly jarring Melora Van Meyer from her feet as she bumped into her just outside the door.
“Mrs. Van Meyer,” Blair was sympathetic, but she had a job to do, “please go back out to the waiting room. I’ll have Dr. Sheridan come out there once we get this fixed up.”
“But he’s…” Mrs. Van Meyer appeared to be nearly in a state of shock.
“He’s okay,” Blair stopped her. “I promise. He’s going to be fine, he just tore one of the stitches. We’ll get it fixed up, get him calmed down, and we’ll come back to get you.”
“Please, Mrs. Van Meyer,” Blair’s look implored her and Mrs. Van Meyer began backing away as the other nurse returned.
“Sheridan’s on his way,” the nurse told her. “How’d he do that anyway?”
Blair turned her gaze back down to Trystan’s face as she continued her constant pressure against his wrist.
She managed a slight shrug in the direction of her co-worker, maintaining eye contact with Trystan’s slack, narcotized gaze.
More importantly, she wondered silently, why’d he do any of it to start with?
As the incredibly intense heat continued to raise the mercury levels on thermometers across the Ark-La-Tex, everyone welcomed the growing cloud cover hovering toward the skies overhead, and everyone hoped that the front approaching from the north would arrive sooner rather than later to really work its magic at cooling things off. Unfortunately, the canopy of heavy, greyish cumulonimbus clouds were only working at present to create a veritable greenhouse hanging over the area. As Thursday afternoon wore on, so did the temperate kindling for anger, restlessness, and general irritation in the citizens of the area.
Moods and demeanors at the office of Dr. Nathaniel Dupree & Associates were overwhelmingly edgy, due not only to the staff’s overheated return commutes from lunches, but also because of Dr. Nate’s decidedly dismal disposition that day. He was already in a perceptibly foul humor that morning, and things had only gotten progressively worse as the work day continued. One of the aestheticians – a usual suspect – was late, two appointments called for last-minute cancellations, and it seemed that not a single staff member was performing to the expectations of the man who had built one of the most successful private practices in the Shreveport-Bossier area.
They had all spent the morning walking on egg shells, tip-toeing as they were accustomed to when these situations – increasingly frequent – with the doctor presented themselves. When Nate spilled his coffee all over his beautifully pressed shirt and slacks, he roared at the office manager as if it were her fault before stomping into his office to change into a pair of scrubs – a truly horrendous omen, as they all knew that he detested wearing clinical attire in his own practice.
Later, when the office manager nervously knocked on his door to announce the arrival of the day’s first patient, Dr. Dupree told her to have one of his associates work the kid in and to reschedule his remaining pre-lunch appointments. Saying that he wanted to get away for a while, he apologized for his surly behavior and told the woman that he promised to start back right after lunch and to be in a much better mood.
Dupree had left, returning — as promised — shortly after lunch.
After such a rough start to their Thursday – the last day of the office’s work week, and one just before a long, holiday weekend to boot – everyone appeared more than a little relieved when Nate was called away from his one o’clock consultation to take an emergency phone call that carried him away from the office, presumably for the rest of the afternoon.
“What the hell was up with him today?” Clara, the office manager, was sitting at one of the work stations, billing the one o’clock for the individual procedures that were performed and clicking off those that were to be billed to the associate who actually saw the patient.
“Well, how would you feel if you had to wake up next to that bitch every morning?” Kelli, the notoriously tardy aesthetician who replied was wrapping used instruments in autoclave packaging in preparation for sterilization. She shared in the general consensus of the entire practice, a group of men and women that hated Kate and felt terminal pity for his former wife, who had never really recovered from the doctor’s torrid affair, subsequent divorce, and quick second marriage.
“No shit,” Clara snickered as she clicked the mouse to send the charges into the computer’s software to where they would appear up front for the billing girls to deal with. “But he doesn’t, ya know?”
“Doesn’t what?” Kelli asked, not really interested in the conversation, just glad that the doctor was gone and those staff members assigned to his service for the day might be looking at an early weekend.
“Doesn’t wake up next to her,” Clara replied. She rose from her chair and walked in the direction of Kelli’s work, ready to help get a head start on everything they needed to do to close the day and get out of there as soon as possible. “Not anymore. She made him move to another bedroom months ago.”
Kelli snorted. “Well,” she began, “serves him right anyway, marrying that gold-digging bitch and letting her break up the whole family the way she did.”
“Honey,” Clara jabbed a finger at Kelli’s ribs, “Ya can’t break something that was already broken.”
The duo’s brief dialogue subsided and their remaining duties slowly dwindled toward the inevitable conclusion.
No one at the practice ever bothered to wonder what sort of emergency might have pulled Nate away from his afternoon patients.
No one at the practice really even cared.
Detective Brent Peters and Dr. Daniel Sheridan stood on the far side of the cold table that held the body. Although Sheridan felt hurried to complete the necessary task of positive family identification — he had a critical suicidal patient upstairs who had just had to have his stitches sewn back into place — the doctor couldn’t help wondering if he had forgotten something important, something that would lead to a lot more paperwork than he really wanted to deal with. It was a feeling that medical professionals often experience, if and when they ever find themselves in the midst of something that just doesn’t seem right.
Eager to be done and ready to head back up to his emergency room patients, Dr. Sheridan reached for the tarp-like cover beneath which lay one of Shreveport’s most recent homicides. Detective Peters stopped Sheridan’s hands before the revelation and identification could continue.
“Just a quick note, Dr. Dupree,” Peters spoke as sympathetically and carefully as possible. “This was a truly violent crime. It’s possible that the sight of your wife may upset you a little more than you’re prepared for.”
“Violent?” Nate Dupree looked into the detective’s face and Peters saw something briefly pass through the doctor’s eyes that he didn’t quite understand. “She didn’t OD?”
Peters and Sheridan exchanged a look as Peters searched for the best words to respond. “Drugs were found at the scene….” Peters looked at Dupree, realizing that this investigation was going to prove much more interesting than he’d originally assumed. “Was your wife an addict?”
Nate nodded, looking down at the still-shrouded body beneath the tarp. “She was murdered?” He looked back to Peters with a quizzical and clearly disjointed expression.
Sheridan looked at him. “Yes…. she… she appears to have been stabbed repeatedly. Slashed, really. She -”
Nate cut him off. “I want to see her.”
Sheridan looked to Peters, who tilted his head slightly to indicate his approval to lift the covering from the dead woman’s face and upper body.
For several moments, there was total silence. It was the voice of Dr. Nathaniel Dupree who broke it.
“What the hell is this?” Nate was staring accusingly at the emergency room physician and the detective, backing away from the still visible, mutilated face of the woman on the table. “This isn’t my wife,” Nate was now shouting, visibly frightened. “I don’t know who the hell this is!”
In the heart of Shreveport’s pleasant Broadmoor neighborhood, there is a street that looks just like the other streets running parallel and perpendicular.
It’s a thoroughfare that begins near Fern Avenue — right where Susan Dupree had abruptly ended her morning run — and crosses over Youree Drive to conclude on the Ockley side of Shreveport’s well known Duck Pond.
In the middle of that totally ordinary road sits a house that could just as easily be any of the other houses on either side.
The house was totally ordinary and wholly uninteresting to the passing eyes of anyone driving by.
The thirteenth house from the corner, its simple exterior totally masked the true nature of the structure’s contents.
Inside, blindfolded and bound, Kate Dupree began to regain consciousness.
Outside, the first rumbles of thunder announced an approaching storm.