When the virus hit, Ram could not understand that it was a disease that afflicted his parents and not him. One evening Sue sat down with Ram to explain that she was going to leave the house and never return. As she spoke she arranged and rearranged a dense quantity of canned foods on the table, like an elaborate game of shells.
Ram watched her hands and ignored her words, picking up only bits and pieces of sentences. He did not hear his mother’s passionate plea that he understand that she was dying, not him, and that she was leaving so that he didn’t have to watch her. But he heard her tell him she was leaving for his own good, his own safety.
He mixed and twirled her ideas in his head, until he envisioned himself as a decrepit, sickly monster who breathed foul air upon the world and grew constantly more sickly and wretched. He hated himself for his illness, and didn’t blame his mother for wanting away from it.
Ram sat still for a long time after his mother left, and then stood up to check all of the locks on the doors, later to nail and screw the doors into place, so that he was locked inside, living in a fortress of sickness and rage. He tore down the mirrors and covered the windows with sheets, creating a perpetual twilight.
Then Ram sunk into himself, gratifying his need for affection by feeling relishing in self-satisfying misery, and he shivered and shook in place, buried in his thoughts for days at a stretch, lying in his own filth until the stink overwhelmed him and he stood up dizzily and forced himself to bathe.
After that, Ram’s desire to survive overcame him. His anxiety lessened. He no longer feared the outside world, he understood that some day he would need to step outside; there was a world out there, and he must feed off of it.
In the meanwhile though, he was gathering strength. Building a digital fortress. Ram knew nothing yet of the future, but he sought to rearrange the past, typing and clicking away, wiring and rewiring, quietly building something new to rewrite the old, creating his first, personal version of Reality.
He built a program and a headset, used his fathers high-tech military equipment to build a mind-machine interface. Ram wanted to create a dream world, a special, beautiful place where he had lucid control of a past so real he could almost taste it; a different reality, one so pure that he had no reason to fear, where he could go back to his childhood, and re-live it, this time doing it right, this time really living, this time facing the world in a way that would not force his parents to leave him.
But Ram underestimated the depth of his own fear and self-loathing. Where he thought he would dream himself a paradise of past, Ram’s mind built a night-mare, in which his every fear was realized.
He went back to his childhood, poisoned himself with polio, weakened his system and sweated from feverish palms so that when he visited the playground he fell from the bars and kept falling falling falling until he grew used to the fall, and calmed for a moment before landing on a ground bristling with insects.
In his dream, Ram stood up and tried to walk away, but his bones stuck out of him in shards like the quills of a porcupine, and with each step he took, a few frail quills clinked together and shattered like glass.
Then he fell to the ground crying from every pore as he wailed and sweated.
Ram paused for a moment to remember he was dreaming, then pulled the mask from his face to reveal the blue twilight of his house. He understood that he had lived a nightmare,that Reality was not quite real, but when he made an effort to stand, he could not convince his body that he was able.
The problem that would always plague Ram’s work was perfection. He had created a reality too real, too in keeping with his devastating understanding of life. And he had built a dream too perfectly for his body to separate it from reality.
Ram sobbed on the floor, screamed until he felt that his throat must bleed. But he could not fathom the will to move his legs.
Still, his desire for life overcame him, and, crawling along the floor, pulled by his own sweating palms, Ram began to move about the house at a painstaking pace, dragging together the equipment he would need for a new life.