Earworm: Part 44 — That’s It

EarwormContinued from: Earworm: Part 43 — The Shot Heard Round the Gym

Every time Hope moved, the crinkling of the paper covering on the examining table sounded like bursts of electricity. Why was Hope on an examining table? Because her mother said: That’s it. And any time Hope’s mother said that’s it, it really was it.

After Hope had calmed down the night before, finally realizing she wasn’t being burned alive, she looked into her mother’s eyes like the subject of intense shock-treatment, and her mother, reading the surrender in those eyes, immediately said, “That’s it. Tomorrow, you’re going to the doctor.” Now Hope feared that shock treatments might just be what she was in for. As soon as they diagnosed her as crazy, it would be a steady dose of anti-psychotic drugs and lobotomizing electric jolts. Because there were only two possible outcomes to this doctor’s visit, and the two sides of Hope’s brain argued over which would occur. Hope’s rational side scolded her paranoia. You wanna know how this doctor’s visit will turn out? I’ll tell you. First, the doctor will come in, and even though she’s your mom’s friend, and has known you for most of your life, she will greet you with these patronizing words: So, Hope, I hear you’re having nightmares. To which, you answer, yes. Then she will say, Well, there’s nothing I can do for that, so why don’tcha just call if there’s any real problem. Then the doctor will vanish in a blur of her white coat, and you can scurry off the table—the sounds of the crinkling paper sounding much like a mad scientist’s lab in an old horror movie.

Will the electric-shock therapy sound like that? asked Hope’s irrational side.

No, countered her rational side, it is how it will sound when you get off the examining table, and that will be exactly one minute after Dr. Murray first enters the room.

Hope couldn’t fault her mother for insisting on this doctor’s visit. After seeing the look of surrender in her daughter’s eyes, the panic button would be pressed in any parent. Her motherly instincts had laid down an executive order, and nothing, not even intervention from the President himself, could veto that decision. It was final. It was it.

Dr. Murray, a statuesque woman with dark hair and sharp eyes, burst into the room as if ducking out of a downpour. Hope jerked, erupting the paper’s crinkling, wondering why it always seemed like doctors were bursting in and out of rooms.

“So, Hope,” the doctor said “I hear you’re having nightmares.”

“Uh-huh.” Hope regarded the doctor with suspicion, unsure of just what kind of physical prodding she was in for.

Dr. Murray sat on a chrome stool and, peering over a manila folder, said, “Do you want to tell me about them?”

“Like, what are they about?” Hope said with that suspicion in her voice.

“Sure,” the doctor said. “What are they like?”

Hope glanced at the chrome and glass cabinets and the jars filled with cotton balls, tongue depressors, bandages. “I don’t know,” Hope said, “They’re scary, I guess.”

“Scary, how?”

“I don’t know.” Hope shrugged. “Scary like nightmares are scary.”

“All right,” Dr. Murray said, nodding. “Your mom said that last night was the fourth night in a row that you woke up frightened—very frightened—and that you were pretty overwhelmed by what you experienced.”


“So, what happened?”

“I had a really scary dream.”

“About what?”

“That someone was trying to burn me alive.”

“That is scary. So how about the other dreams?”

“I don’t know. I keep dreaming that my boyfriend is trying to…” Hope stopped, realizing she’d said too much, and that now, like with Mr. Grey, red flags were rising.

“Trying to…” Dr. Murray prompted her to continue.

“I don’t know.”

“Trying to hurt you?”

“Well… kind of.”

“Is your boyfriend abusive?”


“How is your relationship with him?”

“He’s great. We get along fine.”

The doctor snapped the folder shut and stood, plugging her ears with the stethoscope hanging around her neck. “Have you been under any extraneous stress lately?”

“Extraneous stress?”

“You know, anything especially weighing on your mind?”


Dr. Murray placed the stethoscope on strategic points of Hope’s back. “Breathe deep,” the doctor said. Hope did. “Again,” the doctor said. Hope did again. “Not stressed out over school or anything?”

“No, not really.”

“Breathe. Good. And there’s no stress in you and your boyfriend’s relationship?”


“You sure? Not physically or mentally abusive?”


The stethoscope dropped against the doctor’s abdomen. It reminded Hope of the moon necklace, and if the doctor was taking Hope’s blood pressure at that moment, there would have been a sharp spike. Hope considered telling the doctor about all the dreams, but that sense of intimidation given off by doctors kept her responses to simple utterances. Dr. Murray took a wand-like instrument hanging on the wall and inspected Hope’s pupils. She peered through a small window lit by a tiny bulb. “Taking any medications?”


“Drugs? Alcohol?”

“I occasionally drink. You know, at a party or something.”

“No binge-drinking?”

“No,” Hope said, shaking her head.

The doctor traded the wand for another instrument with a funnel on the end of it. She peered into Hope’s ears. “No hallucinogens?”


The doctor returned the instrument to the wall. “Are you sleepwalking at all?”

“Sleepwalking? No.”

“Any talking in your sleep?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Any history of night terrors?”


“You know, really intense nightmares?”

“Not before now.”

“Not as a child?”


“So this is all recent.”

“Besides an occasional nightmare about failing a test or something—yeah, this is just recent. But these dreams are different.”

“Different, how?” The doctor looked a little too interested for Hope’s liking.         “They’re just… more intense.”

“Intense? Like how?”

“They just… seem real, like, really detailed. And they seem to follow some kind of progression.”


“They pick up where the last one left off. And they have, like, characters.”


“Yeah. Like my boyfriend is a character, and this new kid from my class is another character, and my father…”

“Your father?”

“Yeah,” Hope said. The interest of the doctor’s expression made Hope feel as if she was naked in a crowded room.

“Has anything happened lately to trigger thoughts of your dad?”


“Everything’s all right at home?”


“Have you been sleeping all right, otherwise? No insomnia? No over-fatigue?”

“I’m tired, but I think it’s because I can’t get back to sleep after the dreams.”

“Anything else?” the doctor said. “Not hearing voices or anything, right?”

Hold on. Did she just ask if I’m hearing voices? Hope’s belly rolled out of her abdomen and plopped onto the floor. She shifted on the table’s paper, the sound exploding with unnaturally loud crinkles and crackles. “Voices?” Hope said.

“Yeah,” the doctor shrugged, brushing off the question as if it was something a doctor’s handbook told her she was supposed to ask. I don’t actually think you’re crazy, Hope, but hey, gotta ask these questions, cause frankly, it’s what the symptoms suggest. “You know, are you feeling all right mentally?”

“Uh-huh,” Hope spat out the response on desert-dry lips.

“I mean, you’re definitely asleep right, when these dreams happen? You aren’t having hallucinations or anything, right?” Dr. Murray said with another dismissive, don’t worry, shrug.


Yeah, you know, Hope, this is all formality, she doesn’t really think you’re crazy, said Rational Hope.

Of course she thinks you’re crazy, why else would she ask this? said Irrational Hope.

Hope didn’t want to be there anymore. The fact was, she did hear voices—William’s calling to her each night—and she did hallucinate—the shimmering of Samantha Stuart’s binder in English class, the ghostly feeling of the moon jewel upon waking. “Hallucinations?” The word was like a foreign language.

“Yeah, you know, not seeing things that aren’t real when you’re awake, right?”

How about seeing things that are real while I’m asleep, isn’t that the issue here?

They’re just dreams. These questions are formality.

What about the moon jewel in English class?

Quiet, you sound like a crazy person.

“No,” Hope sputtered from her dry mouth. She attempted a reassuring shrug of her own—just to show she understood these questions were formality, and, yes, they could move on with the examination.

“Well, Hope,” Dr. Murray said, “frankly, I don’t know what could be causing these dreams. People don’t usually develop night terrors at your age. They generally begin in young children. You tell me you’re feeling fine emotionally, all’s well at home and in school, you’re not taking medications or drugs… In the past, doctors would prescribe something to help you sleep soundly through the night, hoping the bad dreams just went away.” Hope nodded, but she felt as if she was somewhere far-off controlling her body via remote control. The doctor saying, “But now, with sleep labs and sleep studies…” The doctor shrugged. “I think we should get you into a sleep lab and find out what’s causing these dreams, see what’s going on neurologically in there,” Dr. Murray pointed to Hope’s forehead. Hope had the sinking realization that the doctor had just suggested that Hope had a neurological disorder. Hope was going to be poked and prodded by “head doctors.” And, of course, that is just a way station, one short step to the cuckoo’s nest. She wanted to say, Oops, I was just kidding, let’s forget I said anything, okay? Because this was real, seemingly as unreally real as… well, as a dream. “Now, it’s tough to get into a lab right away, there’s a waiting-list, so for the time being, you’ll have to endure these dreams. Just be sure you’re not sleepwalking, putting yourself or anyone else in danger”—Danger?—“and try to think of good dreams.” The doctor said this with an almost painful grin, as if saying she wished she could do more, but she didn’t deal with crazy people.

Hope wanted to blurt out, Dr. Murray, can someone control your dreams?—she recalled William’s face beyond the rising flicker of heat, her saying to him, It’s you. You’re behind the nightmares—but asking that question would be the craziest thing Hope could do at that moment—apart from maybe climbing on the examining table to doing the Funky Chicken. Of course no one can control someone else’s dreams. And Hope could imagine the doctor’s response if she did ask that question. The doctor laughing and saying, Wow, Hope, you really are crazy.

The doctor stood. “I’ll give your mom the information about the lab.” Lab? The word conjured images of mice running mazes and electrodes spewing from patients’ heads. “It was good to see you, Hope,” Dr. Murray said. She then burst from the room as if avoiding another downpour—or as if running from a lunatic.

Continued in: Earworm: Part 45 — Just Crazy After All These Years

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