The therapy program is preloaded with delicate ambient music that floats just beyond my hearing – little tinkles and sighs that catch my attention, then disappear when I try to focus. Part of the experience, designed to maximize something and minimize other things and put me in a receptive state and make me alert and relaxed at the same time.I’m surrounded by what the program calls its room: deep, soothing darkness punctuated with little lights, stars, constellations, galaxies.The galaxies swirl.Are you thinking about the music again? the program asks.“I mean, yes,” I say.You like when I ask you that question.“I do,” I say, smiling. “Seems like something an old-school therapist would ask. ‘Are you thinking about the music? Ah, interesting.’” I pretend to write on an imaginary notepad.The program makes a faint processing sound I’ve come to think of as its laugh.Did Jana ask you questions like that?“Yes,” I say, automatically. The tinkles are effective, distracting me so the program can detect that my attention has wandered and try a more probing question.Do you want to tell me more? The sparkly constellations of the VR pulse gently. No music. The program is telling me it’s focused, listening.“No,” I say, clicking the command chip in my tooth to activate the autotherapy function.“Please take.”The VR constellations tense slightly, kindly giving me a moment to prep. Then the vanishing of self as the program accesses my temporal lobe. I am the constellation. I am the tinkle in the music. The minimal weight of the VR glasses on the bridge of my nose disappears.
Jana and I are in the kitchen. They’re bent over a low drawer, fishing for a tupperware lid. I lean against the island, watching their butt, round and soft under stretchy pants.“Are you watching my butt?”I giggle. Jana stands, hands on hips, no tupperware lid in sight. Their eyes smile over a fake scowl.“Now see here-” Jana waggles a finger.#
I’m in the hallway of L’s school, waiting for her to finish up in the bathroom. My wrist buzzes with Jana’s ring. I answer. “I’m at the school. What’s up?”Jana looks worried. “I felt something,” they say. “Are you ok?”“I’m fine, Jana.” This is the third time this week they’ve called during school pickup. Always with “I felt something.” Never with what they felt.“I felt something. Can you check on L?”“She’s in the bathroom, Jana! I can’t keep barging into bathrooms because you feel something!”L comes out of the bathroom. I hang up on Jana and grab L’s hand.
Jana’s on the couch. This is not a memory. Maybe it’s from the house cameras? Those would be accessible to the program.Jana’s lying on the couch, pillow between their knees. I watch as Jana tenses, curling around their stomach. Jana uncurls, then reaches for their wrist. They don’t call anyone. I watch as Jana tenses again, bent in two.#
We’re at dinner. Jana cooked. I’m distracted by something – work, L’s chewing, the wind outside.“Are you thinking about the music again?” Jana asks.I stumble in the memory.I’m sorry, the program apologizes, or I apologize to myself. That was too far.The scene resets.
We’re at dinner. Jana cooked. I’m distracted by something – work, L’s chewing, the wind outside.“Are you thinking about work again?” Jana asks.I bring my attention back to the table, look at Jana. Look at L. They’re both looking atme.“I’m so sorry,” I say. “Thousand-mile stare, eh?”L nods, contented. Jana looks at me a little longer.#
I’m working at home. Jana is out somewhere. My wrist buzzes. I ignore it.
Later, much later, I hold L on the couch as she cries.
Sometime before that, my wrist buzzes with the emergency ring and I answer.
Then, I lie next to Jana in the hospital bed as they doze. My mind wanders and I look out the window at the tops of the trees, tossing with the wind. Jana is on their side and I’m spooningtheir butt, sharp from weight loss. Jana stirs.“Are you thinking about work again?” they ask.“No, my love,” I say. “I’m here.” I kiss them on the shoulder though their hospital gown.
The program lets me sit for a while in the constellations, among the sparkles. The tinkles get louder and I can hear the sighs around me. When I’m ready, I click my tooth.See you tomorrow, the program says.“I’ll see you tomorrow,” I say.