"You don't have depression. You are not psychotic. It's not borderline personality disorder either. It's much worse than all these combined."
Roar's eyes become two glistening drops of distilled fear. Outside the window, the raindrops sitting on a leaf seem to send a wink back.
"You're in love."
It used to be so tempting. The daydreams of murdering his neighbors or traveling through outer space were always one of the best treats for inspiration. He never got bored standing in line at a store or the post office. There was always something to think about.
Now it's just another piece of routine. As if he was transported to Pleasantville and instead of infecting the world with colors, he was turning into a black-and-white character. The only vibrant spot in this new, washed-out world was that girl.
He didn't know where she lived or what her name was; they met in a grocery store where he was working part-time in the summer, and ended up locked inside because the store owner was drunk when he left. It was a freak accident, like when in the movies people get stuck in an elevator and have conversations they would never have otherwise. They spent the night talking to each other, too. At the time, it seemed nothing much. Two months later, Roar was sitting in a hospital bed, wondering what he could've done to avoid the situation altogether.
The first weeks after weren't that bad. He was waiting for her to enter the revolving door again; at first, each customer could've been her, and the man worked harder and longer, earning the store owner's appreciation. Gradually, though, his expectations faded. The girl never existed in the first place - and even if she would've existed, how could he expect to be anything of interest for her? Obviously, the whole effort was a mistake. Roar eventually quit the job.
When he was drunk or drugged, however, he lingered around the place, a memory of something forgotten bringing him back. Which was kind of funny, given that he never drank or took drugs before. I disprove the theory of state-dependent recall, he thought in a blur. Of course - at the time he didn't admit to having any feelings for her. Even psychology students can be in denial.
It was in a sober state that he sat down in his customary ottoman to read the assignment for one of his courses - having nothing better to do. So drugs were no excuse about the fact that he did so in the middle of the tram tracks. The vehicle stopped with a jerk and the irate driver dragged Roar up from the ground, yelling obscenities and something about his responsibility.
Roar was not suicidal - as far as he knew. His location relative to other things in the world simply lost significance. As did a lot of other details about his life. First, his looks, then his so-called friends, and at last, his grades. He lost his scholarship due to the steady decline in them. As a result, he lost weight. But even that didn't register in his own mind somehow.
He didn't even remember how he got hospitalized.
"Tell me about this woman."
The words came slow through the haze of tranquilizers.
"Um. Blonde. Somewhat overweight, as you doctors would say. Pointy chin, slightly slanted eyes, sea green. I don't think I ever saw her smile. She's smarter than me; probably that's why."
"Mhm." Scratches of a pen on a notepad.
"We talked about things like what stars are made of. And I remember...telling her about my dreams, and she was like she already know. She had the same dreams. That was the first sign of her being just a hallucination."
"What dreams were these?"
"Running with wolves. Tank battles where I lost my friends. Living in the woods as a lynx cub, losing my mother to hunters and being raised by another. Flying... being inside a world of waving green light, as if I was inside the northern lights."
"Yes. As far as I can remember."
"Did you use to live in the northern provinces or the countryside?"
"No. I'm an Oslo East kid."
Noises of writing again.
Once he woke up to a heavy-set nurse shaking him. A mousy intern was standing beside his bed and told him he's got a visitor. He was escorted to the dining hall, which was functioning as common room and lounging area between mealtimes. Probably his mother, he thought.
The world turned into a vortex, blurring the sick neon light and the green walls with the empty faces and struggling potted plants like trickles of watercolor paint from art therapy running together. And in the center, there was the woman.
"They told me it might be of therapeutic importance that you see me. What's wrong?"
Roar was confused. He wondered whether they forgot to give him his medication or something - hallucinating again couldn't be a good sign. Maybe if he doesn't talk to her, she will disappear?
"Come on. I know you remember me. We met at the grocery store. You were wearing that cute little green cap as part of your uniform." She put her hands on her hips and circled round him. "You're a lot thinner now. Are you eating well? I brought smoked salmon for you. And chocolate."
She looked awfully real. But a complete stranger doesn't bring food to the mental ward for another complete stranger.
"You probably wonder how they found me. Well, I seem to be a bit famous around town. I got a book out and stuff."
Roar turned around to go back to his room. She followed.
The intern was still there. "Hello, Miss Arngren."
"What?! You see her too?" Roar jumped. The familiar condescending smile of the intern convinced him; his beautiful stranger wasn't a figment of his broken mind. He felt dumber than on an exam he didn't prepare for.
Miss Arngren laughed. It made her even more unreal, as if an angel had alighted on Earth and chose to bring salvation to this godforsaken ward, of all places. "You thought I was just a dream?"
She hugged him. "That is so cute. I've never received such a compliment."
"Why didn't you show up again?"
"I was abroad - on a literary conference in Berlin. I don't usually go to small stores to buy things anyway, there's a shopping center near my apartment. Ugly, but cheap. If I've known I'll find you here, I wouldn't have gone to meet those critics with cabbages in place of their brains. What happened?" She only took a breath once while talking.
"Um. I don't really know. I was thinking of you a lot. After a month I decided you aren't real, and just... gave up."
"Gave up? The job, you mean?"
"So you tried to kill yourself for me?" She smiled warmly.
"No. Just stopped caring."
A moment of silence. Then her face lighted up. "Mind if I write about this?"
"Heh. Not at all. But you forget something."
"You still didn't tell me your name. I can't call you Miss Arngren..." He wanted to say he can't call her that all the way to the altar, but swallowed the end of the sentence.
"Oh. Well, I'm Sigrid, and I've come to get you out of here."
Honeymoon in the mountains. A house in the highbrow Western quarter. Successful literary career for her, a decent job at a logistics company for him. It all happened like in Hollywood. Some days, Roar knew it was too good to be true, but never dared to question reality again. After all, everybody attested to his happy marriage being a fact. He was finally at home in the world, and didn't even need to daydream to keep him going.
"Do you think we did the right thing?"
"He is no danger to himself or society, after all."
"Sure. But look at him."
The patient lay on his bed in a chemical stupor. He didn't move on his own effort for ten years. He was kept under sedation and administered a new treatment called Virtual Reality, which they used only on hopeless cases. A fine trickle of saliva ran from his dumbly smiling mouth to the pillow.
"I see only happiness, professor."
"Would you like to be happy?"
"Of course, like everybody else."
"Then why don't you put yourself in there?"
The professor stormed out of the observation room and left his mousy apprentice to wonder.