Serenity Now, the halfway house down the road from Olive View hospital in the Westwood district of LA housed twenty men, including Pop, who had just been released from the psych ward after a second attempt on his own life. The drop off the ladder would have snapped his neck but the cross beam was weaker than the force of his weight on the rope, so the game continued.
He had graduated from the bin a hero, having accidentally drawn a seeming catatonic out of her stalled awareness by sketching her portrait. Passing the time with pencils, charcoal and oil sticks, Pop zeroed in on this patient, a young woman, twenty if a day, the perfect model under the circumstances, who sat motionless for hours in her corner of the rec room, staring at the floor a foot beyond the hem of her hospital gown.
Her colorless skin and the darkened ridges around her eyes made soft pencils the obvious choice; there was no hue to play with, only the cut-outs of her features against the off white of her skin.
When completed, Pop facetiously turned the pad around to show her the finished result, a courtesy he thought she was owed even though she was apparently oblivious to her surroundings. To his astonishment she looked up, her eyes powered on, the first light anyone had seen beyond the glassy shine of the fluorescent lights. She smiled at Pop and took a second, longer look at the sketch. It was lifelike enough, an academic sturdiness expected of a textbook illustrator but hardly a Louvre bound masterpiece. He had stacked her hands, upturned in her lap at the bottom to anchor the composition even though she kept her arms pulled inside the short sleeves of her gown. The hands gave the figure an air of selflessness rather than of complete victimhood. He had given her a butterfly beret to part her hair on the right as her gaze was always to the left and he wanted to break the formless jumble of her matted black hair. He was doing what he could to get the young lady to appear as more than a goth girl too bereft of life as to even try to end it.
She looked up at Pop and smiled again, this time the line of her lips stretched wide and thin. For a moment he thought she looked ravenous and might bare blood stained fangs. But her face regressed to a mid point between lust and sleep mode, what might pass for normal in a psychiatric hospital, and she crawled over to get a closer look as her fellow inmates and startled staff looked on, stunned to silence and frozen in mid step.
Pop was as perplexed as anyone but held it in; he felt like a cameo walk-on in her epic drama of resurrection, his performance scrutinized by a full house of mesmerized patrons. Not sure what to do and not wanting to break this new spell, he showed her his pencils and calmly spoke to her about the technical uses of various crosshatches and smears that graphite can provide while she caressed his arm and beamed as if the grand justice of love had been revealed personally by Zeus Himself, her illness reduced in His glory to ashes. She extended her right index finger and traced the contour of the butterfly Pop had nested in her hair.
When he told me this story years from when it happened, he remarked at the hoary metaphor of emergence and the butterfly she was so enamored of. Because he wasn't addicted to the conspiracy candy of your messenger, I passed on offering up the possibility that he had inadvertently awakened an MKUltra sleeper agent; the urban legends of that program included the symbol of the butterfly as a trigger mechanism. Such notions were far from certain, and it was his miracle, so I left that alone, agreeing that the fates are hack writers and traffic in clichés so lame they can hide the truth in plain sight.
No way Pop would know how to demonstrate the emotional restoration his redemptive powers possessed as he was by then the most irascible of materialists, née atheists, one could hope to shun. By comparison he made the Dawkins/Hitchens set look like possessed nuns collectively bleeding the holy discharge of the virgin mother. Still, he subconsciously parlayed this miracle of the female half length to restate his mission, which, as always, was to get out, get employed and find a wife who this time would get the successful, sober spouse and show biz go-getter, not the crash and burn dipsomaniac with an ever renewable well spring of unresolved resentments- That plan being the classic demonstration of true madness: repeating the same process ad infinitum, hoping for a different result.