The Day My Face Fell Off
By James Swingle
One morning I sat up in bed and my face fell off. It landed in my lap with a sound like slop being poured from a bucket. My girlfriend stared down at the face lying upside down in my lap. "What are you going to do?" she asked. She looked up at me. I had no face to hide behind; she could see directly into my thoughts.
"If you felt like that, why did you stay?" She started to cry.
I rose, scooped up my face, and left her sobbing on the bed.
On the subway to work, men laughed, some suppressing it into a muffled snicker, others laughing outright—-a few of those nervously, too loud. Most of the women gave me dirty looks. A few of them winked.
When I arrived at work my boss took one look into me and yelled, "If you're so much smarter than everybody else, find someplace else to work."
While I was packing my things, I made a doctor's appointment. When I arrived there, her receptionist showed me into her office. The doctor was turned away from the door, bent over the bottom drawer of her file cabinet. It was an unfortunate position.
She straightened and turned toward me. "Good morn..." She stopped. "What can I do for you," she said coldly.
"I'm sorry, Doctor," I said. "I can't do anything about...that." I paused. "You got to help me."
The doctor glared at me, then put on her professionalism like a mask. "Okay," she said. "What happened?"
"When I got up this morning my face fell off. I have it here." I took out my face and handed it to the doctor. She studied it for a few seconds.
"Come into the examination room," she said.
I followed her in. She pulled a fresh sheet of white paper over the examination table and I jumped up on top of it. She put my face down next to me.
First she ran the usual battery of tests—-took my blood pressure, listened to my heartbeat through a cold stethoscope, that kind of thing. Then she felt around the edges of the hole where my face used to be. I could see she avoided looking directly into my head.
"Put your shirt on and come into my office."
When I was seated in the chair opposite her, she said, "I just made an appointment for you in forty-five minutes with another doctor."
"Well, yes. He's a psychiatrist."
"There's nothing physically wrong with you."
"My face fell off."
"That's just a symptom. You should see this man." She handed me a business card with his name and address on it.
"Can't you do anything?" I asked.
"I am doing something," she said. "I'm sending you to someone else."
I arrived at the psychiatrist's office just in time for my appointment. I sat down and he began to speak.
"We'll end this first session ten minutes early so we can discuss payment."
"You're discussing payment as part of my session? My God, you're a Freudian."
"I don't have time for deep analysis. My face fell off. My problem isn't that I don't know I want to sleep with my mother. My problem is that everybody else can see I want to sleep with my mother."
"And how do you feel about people looking into you?"
"No, no, no. I don't have the time and I don't have the money to pay you to listen to me talk to myself for the next five years. I need my face back on."
The doctor slouched slightly, a puzzled look on his face. "I have some Scotch tape," he offered.
"Now we're talking," I said. I held my face in position while he taped it back onto my head.
"How's it look?" I asked.
"Good." He was smiling.
I smiled back at him. He was a nice guy when you got him away from that Freudian bullshit.
"I will have to charge you for the full fifty minute session," he said.
It's damn hard to transcend your milieu.
No one looked at me funny on the way home. As soon as I got back to my apartment, I checked my face in the mirror. You could barely see the tape holding me together.
That was twelve years ago. I haven't had any trouble since. I have a good job now, better than the one I had back then. And I started going out with a different woman. We're married now, in fact. We have a five-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son. Of course, I still sometimes worry that one day my face will fall off again, and everyone will see what I'm thinking.
James Swingle is a corporate trainer and consultant in New York City. He also edits the online literary journal, Noneuclidean Café.
Photo courtesy of Image*After.
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