Six Months in a Coma

by a contributor

Nicola DeRobertis-Theye

They first rolled out the plan at certain Ivy League universities with unusually high suicide rates. The students, they theorized, could go away for six months and pick up where they left off the following semester. Then they branched into fast-paced Asian capitals, renting entire wings of hotels at discount rates. At the next phase of the plan they installed call boxes at choice sites—the Brooklyn Bridge, certain skyscrapers, math buildings on the campuses of the Universities of California. Clock towers.

Soon it was a number that could be called from any cell phone. Usually the pickup took twenty minutes; in more remote locations, up to two hours. The driver of the white van, always partnered with a paramedic in the front seat, was instructed not to talk to you. If at any point you said, “no,” or, “I’ve changed my mind,” they dropped you off at your point of pickup or a reasonable destination along the way.

Once you woke up you had a week to decide what to do. They would discuss with you strategies for dealing with friends and family, reentering the work force or reregistering for classes. There was an extensive library of movies. Wine and beer were available at every meal, but only up to a second glass.

It was originally the doctor’s daughter’s idea. And it wasn’t that she wanted to kill herself, really, but while on a long walk through San Francisco in the wrong shoes, she found herself on the pedestrian path of the Golden Gate Bridge thinking not that she wanted to die, but that the water looked inviting. Her feet hurt and it was a long walk home. Her father, to whom she was close, gave her a glass of scotch which, he could tell, she did not appreciate. It was a mundane reason—the end of a five-year relationship—and, though she was sure she would get over it and would go on living, she didn’t want to deal with living right now. She hadn’t slept in a month unless she went to bed very drunk, and even then she would wake up by three or four, heart beating so quickly she was sure it wouldn’t be able to take it much longer—that she was burning through her allotted number of beats, beats she wanted to save for the future.

The doctor’s grant proposal talked of societal costs and benefits. The IV drips could be bought in bulk; patients had no need for private rooms. Upon exiting the program, patients were expected to enjoy an eighty percent success rate. If successful, the remaining twenty percent were advised about methods; the program aimed to neutralize the disruptive capabilities of cathedral towers and subways tracks.

When the doctor’s daughter woke up she ate her first meal in the cafeteria like all the others. She poured herself a large glass of Malbec, a cheap bottle, as the program’s budget was not unlimited. She had hoped to have vivid memories of dreams and visits. But she just felt tired. Still, unimaginably, tired. She remembered, a long time ago, bicycling through vineyards in Mendoza. On the way home her back wheel went half-flat, not enough to run the rim on the pavement, but she could feel the drag, the pull from behind for the rest of her miles home. She thought of her feet on the pedals. She thought of her boyfriend. She sipped her wine.

Nicola DeRobertis-Theye is an MFA student at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, where she is a coordinator of the Young Writers Workshop and the fiction editor of Ecotone.

See Nicola’s list of 5 Things You Should Read tomorrow in our ongoing contributors’ series.