Valerie had long desired a trepanation cure. The pressure that pulsed outward at her third eye spoke to her: Yes, yes, yes, it thrummed, and, Free, free, free! After several years of inquiry into the matter, she came to the conclusion that she was finally ready to take the plunge. She didn’t know why she’d put it off so long. The Trepanation Advocacy Group she’d joined along her path of personal evolution was composed of truly enlightened individuals. Each story differed, but the consensus was in.
Trepanation allowed the third eye to open its heavy lid, revealing universal truths, as well as personal truths. The group discussed their visions over Cokes—no need any longer for wheat grass and green tea once the third eye was open! All health, all soul, all body became one through the hole in the head.
But it was Joanna’s ethereal story of meeting her personal guardian angel on the planet Pluto that pushed Valerie into making the appointment. There wasn’t a dry eye in the Burger Barn lobby when Joana had finished telling of how the angel, whose name was Rembrandt, fluttered to her on the back of a brown moth. Moths were sturdier than butterflies, the angel explained to her. Angels riding butterflies was an urban legend that God had repeatedly debunked in bulletins, but He couldn’t convince some that angels didn’t ride butterflies. Aside from being fragile, butterflies couldn’t be tamed properly, and their riders never quite knew what kind of loop-de-loops they would perform in flight. God also couldn’t convince some that Pluto was actually a planet and not any mere rock, no matter how many times He had tried to explain that His categorization methods were not the methods of humans.
Here was the heart of the story: Rembrandt engulfed Joanna with his numerous wings and gazed at her with his multiple and complex eyes and whispered in her ear: In His schema, you are Categorically Free Spirit. You are like the butterflies who perform their loop-de-loops at their own whim and discretion. You aren’t meant to be ridden, but to ride the backs of others. He then let her go, and her consciousness flew back to earth, shooting through the atmosphere and, like a solar ray, reentering her body through the hole in her head.
Without the trepanation, Joanna could neither have let her consciousness go, nor gathered it up again. Valerie wanted to experience that. Her consciousness desired to travel the cosmos. It was weary of being a homebody. It wanted to experience the glowing light, love, and beauty that only trepanned people could. The universe was a veritable mass of glowing love lights, according to the enlightened ones.
The medical trip to Mexico City, where there was a neurosurgeon who would perform the drilling, began like a vacation, the thrill of it trilling in Valerie’s soul. She’d had to take medical leave from the graphic arts company where she worked, and there was no guarantee she’d have a job when she returned, even though the surgery would make her a better artist. As a draftsperson who primarily designed logos for not-so-sexy companies, such as tax brokerage and law firms, she understood that drilling a hole in her head would release her to understand the cosmic importance of such businesses. This understanding would thereby allow her to design spiritual symbols for them that they would adore without being conscious of precisely why.
The day before surgery, she visited the Chapultepec Zoo to become one with the animal world. With her arms wide open to give room for her lungs to breathe, she inhaled the fresh fragrance of manure. Then, she meandered languidly through the park to become one with nature in a way the children chasing colorful balloons and shouting mysterious words in Spanish wouldn’t because they thought only of cake and ice cream. And how much more would Valerie understand what lay beneath it all after the hole was drilled in her head? The thought of being enlightened more than others—and she was by the very nature of having chosen to be trepanned!—filled her with smug, yet benevolent feelings toward the poor little brown Mexican children. If only they knew the truths embedded in the earth where they played….If only, but, no, she couldn’t think of it. They would grow up to be ordinary and do ordinary things and never recognize truth symbols, let alone create them, unless they were trepanned.
“This is the world the way it was,” she said aloud so as to permanently capture the image in her mind. “It will never be this commonplace again.”
Back at her hotel, her head buzzed with dizziness after she downed her last glass of fresh vegetable juice. After that day, she would be able to maintain her health off Cokes and burgers slathered in special sauce, which were decidedly better than the salads and juice she’d subsisted off of for the last several years.
Dizziness aside, it was difficult to pinpoint the moment when everything changed from positive to negative. For a start, she couldn’t sleep at all the night before her scheduled surgery with Dr. Aurora. When she finally arose from the stiffly bleached sheets on the hotel bed, her head had gone from dizzy to stuffed-up. Her sinuses pulsed and pounded, and she instinctively knew that the hole in her head would only let out the pressure beneath her skull, and wouldn’t begin to help the sinuses.
When the cabdriver deposited her at the trepanation clinic, she wasn’t at first leery of it, despite her head congestion. Potted plants waved in the breeze by a quaint gate, which opened onto a shady courtyard decorated with river rocks. Once inside the operating room, however, she found herself staring at a tray of hand-crank drills that looked exactly as if the surgeon had ordered them from an eighteenth-century medical equipment catalog. Surely, they were simply for display, she reassured herself, but she wasn’t to know. Before she saw his face, Dr. Aurora had covered her mouth and nose with a sickly-sweet-smelling pad. Darkness consumed her, and her dreams led her down hand-cranked paths, rolling in front of her bare feet. She shivered and shook with delirium, and yet, she walked down the path because it was the only direction she could see to step.
Then she awoke, and rather than the lightness that others claimed to have felt from the holes in their heads, she felt only a searing pain. Lightning flashed behind her eyeballs, and she instantly rolled over and vomited. Her head was so heavy she couldn’t hold it up. Eventually, she gave into the desire to sleep forever in a black and heavy place. Where were the glowing lights, the love? Where was her guardian angel?
“I’m here, Jane.”
“I’m not Jane,” she muttered.
“You are Categorically Jane.”
She rolled over in her sleep, and there he was: a small black troll of a beast with shriveled wings.
“Come, give us a hug, Janie,” he said. “I have so much to tell you.”
“I can’t move. Too heavy.”
He hopped on top of her and flopped his arms around her. “I’m here to reveal reality to you. Are you ready?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“No, not really.”
And then the visions of truth began: images of hunched black creatures in shadows, of darkness, death, and writhing people covered in sores. There was no enlightenment, only endarkenment, if such was a word.
“Stop, please, stop. Where’s my consciousness, hell?”
“Hell? No way! You’re here on earth, Janey, my girl.”
“Lightness, love. Truth. Where is it?”
“Enlightenment, don’t know what that is.” He wiggled a little on top of her and pinched her waist. “I know what lightning is. And gamma rays. I love gamma rays.”
She tried to throw him off her back, but she was too heavy to move. “Please, I beg you, go away. Bring me back to myself.”
“So soon, Janey? Don’t you have any pressing questions?”
“Do you travel around on brown moths?”
“Urban legend!” he shrieked. “I use a spaceship shaped like a comet.”
Because her eyes were closed, and the world was generally dark, she didn’t see him go. She felt his pressure ease off her back; she even felt it leave the room. But the shadows didn’t leave her for a long time while she slept and slept with no sense of time or dreams. A long time later she opened her eyes–and the world appeared normal.
“Why don’t you turn on the lights?” she asked nobody in particular.
Through the dim shadows of a warm summer night, she saw the figure of a nurse bustling around. As she tried to focus, the searing pain in her head belatedly woke up. Never mind, she thought. Never mind.
Before she checked out, she accepted the pain meds the surgeon’s assistant offered her; she never did see Dr. Aurora’s face. Would the searing pain ever subside? she asked him.
“Pain is a gift from God,” he said. “Truth an even greater gift.”
She didn’t smile or thank him. Instead, she popped a pill. She had a flight to catch. Was it possible for the world to appear even more broken and gritty than before–even more commonplace? She popped another pill on the flight home.
She popped another one the first time she spotted a hallow-eyed demon in the food court of the mall. Another pill slid down her throat on her first day back at the office, where she worked tirelessly at exposing truth. From under her fingers, demon horns sprouted from twisted lawyer faces. When she lost her job, she went on the state health insurance so she could keep buying her pain meds.
When she could no longer afford the Burger Barn, which didn’t accept food stamps, she turned to freelance, but for some reason, nobody was interested in the calligraphic words she painted for them over and over, swirling in between ugly brown moths:
Enlightenment, don’t know what that is!