Lawrence and the Great Sadness

There was a great sadness in Lawrence. It had been in him for many years. It was the type of great sadness that sustained, clung to, crawled about, until it was no longer sadness, it was simply Lawrence. This was what he felt, even when he didn’t feel it.

Alcohol didn’t cure it. Drugs didn’t either. There was sporadic numbness, but never a solution. Experimentation in this arena never spoke to Lawrence. He self medicated not out of exploration, but conciously in an attempt to resolve the sadness. It was fruitless, and thus abandoned.

Productivity seemed to help. The simple act of staying busy brought focus on other things just long enough to stay distant from himself. But eventually everyone gets tired, no one can stay busy all the time.


Lawrence had hobbies. He built model airplanes, collected labels from cans of soup, wrote letters to a penpal in Istanbul, grew radishes, watched curling on television, learned sign language, wove things, played the viola, juggled and even began restoration work on a 1954 Triumph motorcycle.

He didn’t do these things for the express purpose of burying the great sadness, he had become the great sadness, how can you bury yourself willfully? He did these things because they were things to do and somehow these things got done.

Lawrence was aware from a young age that his life was and would be a difficult one. Everyone around Lawrence knew it. They saw what he went through. They knew. This made it worse. He couldn’t hide from any of it, it was right there on his face everytime he saw these friends, this extended family, those neighbors and them people everywhere else.

Lawrence was 5 when his father died, killed in action overseas, death before dishonor. He took it hard. His mother took it harder. Lawrence was 7 when he came home from school to find his mother hanging from a laundry rope in the kitchen, his 9 year old sister suffocated in her bed. He was instantly alone in a house where he could not even reach the telephone to call for help.

The great sadness came early, it came often, it just came, over and over again.

Beaten by foster parents, sickened by anemia, shadowed by his own suffering – Lawrence took it all in, never learning how to release the valve and let the pressure loose. A guidance counselor once told him if he didn’t find an outlet for his feelings he would swell up like peeps in the microwave until he finally popped.

Lawrence didn’t want to pop.

Hence the soup labels and radishes and model airplanes and letters and the juggling. It worked. He didn’t pop. He seemed to have found ways to keep the great sadness at bay. He felt normal. He did normal things. He went to school and worked and cooked dinner and washed the dishes and watched television and jerked-off to underwear catalogues and brushed and flossed his teeth every night before bedtime.

He lived.

He planted Azaleas in the planter box on the window ledge of the kitchen of his first apartment. He learned to make spaghetti sauce. He bought comfortable shoes and wore them outside in the world around all the other people in their comfortable shoes.

Lawrence began to believe he was normal. Then the therapist showed Lawrence the picture of himself in his fathers chair with his sisters doll and his mothers flag. He told Lawrence he wasn’t happy, that he never had a chance to know what happy was. All of his life Lawrence had tried to keep busy and be in the world and he truly believed he was, but now it turns out he wasn’t happy.

This was a problem.

To come to the realization that he had been missing out on this emotion, this happy, for all these years was a lot to ingest all at once. How could he have known? Nobody taught him happy. People taught him trades, skills, activities, exercises and applications, but not happy. How did all the other children learn happy?

His uncle took the picture of Lawrence in the big wooden chair with the doll and the flag. His Uncle was a photographer. He said it was an important picture. Lawrence never knew what that meant. Not that he thought about it all too often, the picture slipped from his memory not long after it was taken.

His uncle published the photo in a magazine. Lots of people saw it, but Lawrence didn’t it. Not many 7 year olds read magazines. The shrink saw it. He saw it in an old magazine and found himself captivated by the story. Here was a boy, now a man, with pain. This pain needed the healing touch of an ambitious therapist. This great sadness needed to be gone.

He found Lawrence after a year of research. His initial notes from their first meeting described Lawrence as high functioning, autonomous, inverted. Lawrence never thought of himself that way. He never thought of himself in any way except as being Lawrence. This is the problem with repressed memories the shrink told him, the patient is incapable of experiencing resolution because he simply can not recognize there is another option. No one taught Lawrence there was another option. Now it seemed there was.

This option found Lawrence beginning the recognition of his own pain with shortness of breath, flushing of the skin and a wall of tears. Then there was the anger.

Lawrence broke things. There was the incoherent mumbling and the glassy eyed stare. Finally, the catatonic state that Lawrence fell into some 4 years ago.

The penpal in Istanbul was sad that Lawrence stopped writing. The motorcycle sat idle in the garage, rusting a little more everyday. There was no more weaving, no more TV curling, no more underwear catalogues.

Now Lawrence spent his days being rolled from side to side every 6 hours so he wouldn’t develop bed soars. Nurses and doctors came and went, changing tubes and drips. Orderlies bathed and dressed him. Lawrence was no longer High functioning or Autonomous. He was still Inverted though, so he had that going for him.

The problem with being in a catatonic state is that while you are unable to respond to those around you, to be active in the world, to physically take part in your life – you are still alive. You are still awake.

Lawrence was still awake. He just didn’t move.

Lawrence laid in bed all day and night because he could. He chose to. He continued to receive intravenous medication and nutrition only because he never told anyone he didn’t need it anymore. He never told anyone anything. He found that if he laid still all the time somehow the staff would tend to his medical, nutritional and hygenic needs while leaving the rest of him at peace. He liked it.

Lawrence didn’t have to look at the picture anymore. He didn’t have to find an outlet for his feelings, he didn’t have to do shit. Well, he did, but there was a tube and a bag for that so he didn’t even have to get out of bed. Catatonia wasn’t so bad. Especially when he owned it.

He knew the moment he came through to the surface. For 3 weeks he had been in a legitimate state of catatonia, complete with psychic and motoric distrurbances. He showed signs of waxy flexibility, a condition where his body would hold a pose he was placed in by someone else. He overheard a doctor discussing this symptom with someone once and nearly blew his cover with a coy smile. It is common in catatonic patient care for the patient to be moved and re-positioned frequently to avoid muscle atrophy. Lawrence liked this part of the treatment.

The only real downside was having to keep his eyes closed all the time when people where around. He opened them at night when they were gone, counting ceiling tiles and threads in the curtains and leaves in the trees. He could not get out of bed voluntarily, this would give it all away. At least that was the case initially, now his joints and muscles had weakened to such an extent where he could barely wiggle three toes on his left foot and one finger on his right hand. Faking catatonia for nearly 4 years does have side-effects.

He also had little power to escape the sessions with the med students and their mentor therapists, wandering into his room to analyze and diagnose, prospect and subjugate. But this wasn’t so bad, for the most part he had learned to drift away from all such probing and prodding to a place in his own mind where he didn’t even feel the needles anymore.

He had forgotten what real food tasted like. That was a bummer. Although he had overheard a doctor once describing a meditation technique wherein a person could achieve a realistic sensory reaction from deep meditation. Now his water, salt, carbohydrate and fat solutions tasted like french fries and pop tarts, sometimes even spaghetti sauce.

Every now and again a particular orderly would do unseemly things to Lawrence. He put makeup on him, put cigarettes out on his arms and legs, even once tried to perform fellatio on Lawrence. This was disturbing not only for the obvious reasons, but also because it was the only time anyone had ever performed fellatio on Lawrence. In a sudden stroke of brilliance Lawrence farted, abruptly ending the ordeal.

Over time it had gotten easier and easier to fake it. He just existed, in his own state, in his own mind, in his own great sadness which in this sense was far less sad than his previous life. This was all fine and well.

But now his kidneys were failing and his lungs were weak and his body was a mess of ailments that made long-term survival a slim prognosis. If only he would wake up, then he might get better and be able to live a normal life, the doctors said.

But he didn’t wake up for them. Lawrence simply didn’t want too. And now he was no longer being given his intravenous meals and medications. He was no longer being examined by aspiring doctors who believed they could cure him. He was not part of any medical treatments designed to fix him, only those designed to let him slip softly into death with the least pain.

He was hungry, but the hunger would pass soon. He was tired, but he would sleep soon. He was sad, but he knew he would be happy soon.


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