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By the time I get to the bathroom, my heart is pounding so hard it hurts. My ears roar with silence, waves of it. My face feels hot to the touch even though the rest of my body is shivering.

In the mirror I see fear. I lean in with my face, close, until my nose nearly touches its reflection. The pores are large between my eyebrows and become smaller toward the scalp. There are two horizontal creases on my forehead that seem to deepen a little with each passing day. And for just a moment—a flicker, really—I swear I see a faint blue spot between them where the orb entered my head.

Doctors will tell you how stress can do funny things to the human body. I knew a guy who would sometimes go blind in one eye when he got really worked up. But nothing of the sort has ever happened to me.

All of my past migraines have, in some way, been tied to stress. The last one was a few months ago when one of my work projects was picked apart by the new vice president, Kurt Truman. Truman is one of those corporate climbers, some fast-track guy with an Ivy League education and a tropical tan. After just a month on the job he wanted to throw out or reengineer all of my major projects, and the combination of my general apathy for this work and his meddling with it drove me insane. One afternoon, during a staff meeting, I balked at a few of his ideas. Or rather I offered possible alternatives to them. Truman chuckled and suggested I forcibly insert my alternatives into a certain body cavity that had no real use for them. For the next hour and a half I was forced to sit there while this blustering phony told stories about his career experience and how he planned to transform our team from merely good to great. My migraine began the moment he opened his mouth and was singing by the end of the meeting. I went home and skipped the next day of work altogether.

I do have a hangover. No question about that. But honestly I never get headaches after drinking. I’ve always been lucky that way. In any case, my head stopped hurting after I watched a ball of blue lightning enter my forehead, so at this point I suppose the headache isn’t even relevant. What’s relevant is seeing that blue light in the first place. Healthy people do not see things like that.

For a while I’ve been worried that I might be losing my mind. I could try to explain to you why, except I’m not exactly sure myself. I think a lot about Jack, that’s for sure. Gloria says I talk about him too much, but compared to how much I think about him, I hardly ever mention his name aloud. But it’s not just Jack. Sometimes I look around at everything and I wonder if I’m even here, if any of this is even happening. And I wonder what would happen if I just rejected it, just simply refused to believe what my eyes tell me I’m seeing. How the hell can I trust anything? I just saw a floating orb of blue light in church, for heaven’s sake.

But I can’t just withdraw. From everything, I mean. If I do, then I may as well find a mental hospital and purchase myself a lifetime room. Since I don’t think I’m quite ready for that, what I should do, instead, is summon some courage and leave this bathroom and go back into the chapel.

And yet I’m still standing here.

Maybe I could pee first. It’ll only take a few seconds. I walk over to a urinal, unzip my pants, and…I…uh…


The way I know I’m losing my mind is that I continue to hallucinate. I’m not even sure how to put this without sounding pornographic. My sexual equipment appears to be larger than normal. I don’t mean “it’s hot in here” larger. I mean, the thing is never this size, even when it’s ready to be deployed in extracurricular activity. Especially different is the girth. I can’t help but stare at it. And then—gingerly—I grip it with my hand to get a sense of the heft.

Something is wrong. Really wrong. My ears are roaring again.

As if things couldn’t possibly get worse, the bathroom door bursts open, and an older man I don’t recognize marches straight for the bank of urinals. I let go of my hallucinated heft and try my best to ignore him. With four urinals, I naturally expect him to pick one at the other end, away from me, but that’s not what happens. He stops at the urinal right next to mine, unzips his pants, and proceeds to deliver a stream of urine directly into the drain. Meanwhile I can’t go at all. My brain hums like an electrical transformer. The bathroom begins to spin.

I put my hand on the wall for support. I feel sick to my stomach, and for a moment I’m sure my knees will buckle, sending me to the floor. Squares of industrial green tile corkscrew around me like galaxies, multiplying, layers upon layers, and music, a string section, violins screaming at me. I feel like I’m speeding toward some unknown destination, my car careening out of control, spinning, tumbling…

The old man’s voice booms at me. Overdriven. Distorted.


When I look up, a geyser of bile surges into my throat. He is a puffy, red-faced madman. His nose is a network of broken capillaries. His gray beard is sprinkled with occasional threads of darker hair, and his entire mustache is black.


I blink. A camera shutter.


I blink again and he’s gone.

My mouth tastes like the leads on a nine-volt battery.

Where the hell did he go? Was he even here? I know he walked into this bathroom, I watched him do it, but where the hell did he go?

Or maybe the hallucinations are growing worse.

I look into the open fly of my pants. Just as big as before.

And somewhere—in the distance, in my subconscious?—I hear a woman’s voice counting out numbers in a measured, almost robotic tone:


These numbers: even in the haze. I could stand here listening forever. But I can’t. I have to find my way back to some kind of reality. I have to go back into the chapel. Gloria must be worried sick.

I reach down and try to zip myself up, but my hands are shaking like I have Parkinson’s. I shuffle to the sink and finally manage to close my pants. Splash water on my face. Blink a few times and shake my head.

Now, the bathroom door. It’s right there. All I have to do is open it and walk back to the chapel where my wife is waiting for me. That’s all. And yet part of me is afraid to leave this bathroom. Part of me is afraid if I open that door, I won’t like what I see on the other side. There should be a foyer out there, and beyond that the chapel doors, and beyond those a few hundred people worshipping the Lord. But what if that’s not what I see? What then?

My feet scrape across the tile, inching toward the door.

This is ridiculous. I’ve never been an anxious man. Not until recently, I mean. Recently everything is all confused, but I can’t go on like this forever. I have to pull myself together. I have to open that door.

The foyer is there. Empty, but there. I walk out of the bathroom and into sunlight. Through plate glass windows I see trees rocking back and forth in the gusting wind, cars in the parking lot, an old man pushing a woman in a wheelchair. This looks like reality. Maybe everything is going to be okay.

I hear a commotion, like scuttling feet, and then scores of relieved-looking people pour through the chapel doors. I see Gloria before she sees me, chatting to a red-haired woman whose husband seems to be enamored with the back of my wife’s slacks. This looks even more like reality. My wife has a great ass. I don’t usually like it when men stare at it, but right now it seems like a pretty good thing. A normal thing.

Gloria laughs at something the woman says, and for whatever reason it makes me think of college, our first time alone together after the big scene at Goose’s. We sat in front of a television set, bloated on cheap pizza, playing Super Nintendo like it was the first time either of us had ever seen a video game. At first we boxed and raced cars, but only when I plugged in SimCity did Gloria truly become hooked. She was (and is) the most intelligent woman I’ve ever met, and the logic of the game appealed to her in a way that thumb-intensive games did not. I showed her how to organize her city, how to zone for industrial and commercial and residential construction, but Gloria figured out the rest all by herself. For hours we played, drinking beer, lying side by side on the floor, our arms and legs brushing against each other. With each touch my skin felt electric, as if her body was made of pure energy. On screen, our city grew until it was a sprawling metropolis, and at one point Gloria wondered aloud how much more fun the game might be if we could get to know the actual people living in it. Which is generally the premise of The Sims, the best-selling PC game of all time.

Gloria had long hair then, dyed blonde, crimped perm and dark roots. Sometimes, when she tied it back in a ponytail, it almost hurt to look at her. She was so gorgeous, so alive, like nothing in the world could ever slow her down.

Today her hair is back to its natural color, a sort of light brown, and several months ago she cut most of it off. Said it was too thick and difficult to dry. She’s still beautiful, of course, and I would love her even if she were bald, but sometimes Gloria baffles me. She spends hundreds of dollars on her skin, exfoliating this, microderming that, and then she gets a “mom” haircut. It would be like if I intentionally shaved a bald spot onto the crown of my head.

Gloria finally looks up and sees me. She reaches forward and touches my face.

“Are you okay?”

“Fine now,” I say, which is the appropriate answer if not entirely the truth. “I thought I was coming down with a migraine, but I after I got some water I felt better.”

“Are you sure it’s gone? You looked awful in the church. I was worried.”

“It’s gone for now. Hopefully it stays gone.”

We find our car in the parking lot and head home. The sky is postcard blue, the clouds sparse and wispy—so perfect you’d think it was filmed that way. Speaking of filming, did you ever notice how marriage is sort of like a television series? Week to week things are pretty much the same, little joys and calamities come and go, but over time gradual changes occur. For instance, in the fall, Gloria and I enjoy a lazy Sunday routine: mass in the morning and football in the afternoon. I usually open my first beer when the late games start and coast into the evening with a nice buzz. I’ll grill some steak and chicken and vegetables. But whereas Gloria used to sit next to me on the couch and flip through magazines—and drink a few beers herself—now she spends the afternoon writing a blog for the Council of Catholic Women.

“I’m sorry about your head,” Gloria says. “And you missed communion again. But I guess you can make it up next week.”

I want to tell her what happened in the church, about the man in the bathroom, but I don’t. I can’t. I’ve been coming apart for a while now and I’m afraid to tell her. I’m afraid she’ll look at me differently, she’ll see me broken, and whatever thread we’ve been holding onto will snap. My arms are cold. They’re marbled with goose bumps. Out of nowhere I wonder what would happen if I steered the car into oncoming traffic. Here comes a big, white Cadillac, a ’70s-era monster with huge fins. It’s a convertible but the top is up. Would the collision be fatal? Or would airbags and crumple zones save us?

“What did you think about the homily this morning?” I ask Gloria.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean when the Father called your brother evil.”

“He didn’t say that.”

“He said homosexuality was evil. Or did I only imagine it?”

A second ticks by. Then another. I can still see the old man’s red cheeks, the spidery capillaries in his nose.

Everything you know is a lie.


She doesn’t answer me. We reach a stoplight. It’s red.

You’re a prisoner.

“The Father stood there and ranted against homosexuals for ten minutes, and you nodded and smiled like someone waiting for their crazy Kool-Aid.”

Now Gloria’s eyes glower in their sockets. For a moment she looks mad enough to spit on me.

“The situation with Michael is extremely complex,” she says, “and I won’t have you of all people try to characterize my feelings about the subject.”

“Then why don’t you characterize them for me?”

“Why are you trying to pick a fight?”

“I’m sorry,” I say, my voice almost wavering. “I’m not trying to pick a fight. But I don’t understand why you and pretty much everyone else in the congregation bought the Father’s speech so easily. It’s like you were all hypnotized. I’m not even sure why I go to church anymore.”

“Thomas Phillips! Don’t you say something like that!”

“Don’t say something like what?” I ask. “Don’t tell you how I really feel?”

“That’s not how you really feel!”

“Why are you yelling at me?”

“Baby, please don’t do this. When you came into the other room last night and kissed me and hugged me I felt so close to you. Do you know that’s the first time in months you’ve said the words ‘I’m sorry’? It made me think I mattered to you again. Like we were finally reconnecting. I thought maybe we could finally push past this.”

“I know, Junior. I know. I felt the same way.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

I should let it go. I know I should. Who cares what the Father thinks about homosexuality? He doesn’t even know Gloria’s brother. Michael hasn’t been to church in years.

But it’s not the homily. It’s not the Father. It’s Gloria. She’s different somehow. I can’t put my finger on it but I know it.

“You’re changing the subject on me,” I finally say. It’s like I’ve lost control of my own mouth. “We are not talking about us. We’re talking about your brother and the church and why it’s anyone’s business who he sleeps with.”

We reach our house. I pull into the driveway, put the transmission in park, and turn off the ignition.

“It’s God’s business,” Gloria says, looking away from me, out the window. “Everything is.”

“But why create gay people and then condemn them to Hell?”

“It’s a—”

I wait for her to continue, but she doesn’t.

“It’s not fair,” I say.

“God has a plan for all of us, but sometimes it’s difficult to see what that plan is.”

“Okay, but if your brother doesn’t stop being gay, is he going to Hell?”

For a long moment Gloria doesn’t say anything. But her eyes turn glassy, and her bottom lip quivers, and I hate myself for it. I wish I knew where we went wrong. Have I changed? Has she? Have we both?

“You’re horrible,” she finally says, and gets out of the car.

I watch her walk past the car and into the house. I want to follow her inside, apologize, but I don’t.

My mind isn’t right. I need to compose myself before I talk to her again.

I close my eyes and picture the bathroom. I watch the old man striding across the floor, headed directly for me. I think about his black and white beard and the spidery capillaries in his nose. I’ve never seen that man in my entire life.

So why on earth is his face so familiar?

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