True to his word, Damien—rejecting all offers of technology, like FaceTime or video conference calls—worked with Alicia and her team to rearrange filming, scheduling his shots around a three day mini-respite from filming. This schedule allowed him to fly in to LA on a red-eye to make Levi’s appointment with Doctor Muir for another appearance on that imaginary talk show Levi had come to call “That’s Crazy Talk.”
After they had entered to an applauding audience and both guest stars had taken seats beside one another on the sofa, Levi surprised them both by telling them something neither was aware of.
He had begun hearing things.
“What?” Damien cried.
“No, no. I know the gunfire isn’t real. It’s not really gunfire,” Levi said, smoothing him down. “It’s like. . .cracking. Like bubblewrap. That’s it. Bubblewrap. Every now and then, for a few seconds, I hear something like how it sounds when someone pops a lot of bubblewrap” He suddenly held a finger up to his forehead. “Ah! There it goes! I’m hearing it now.”
Damien laid an ear against Levi’s.
“You can’t hear it, Damien. It’s imaginary.”
“I thought maybe. . .”
“I’m like a seashell?” Levi asked, laughing. Turning to Doctor Muir, he asked her, as if for confirmation, “He can’t hear it, can he?”
“No, he can’t hear it.”
“What is this? It’s awful.”
“Is it worse at night?”
“It’s worse all the time.”
“So you hear it during the day?”
“I just heard it now,” Levi reminded her.
“But do you always hear it during the day?”
“Snap-snap-snap—all day long. It goes away for an hour or so and then it comes back, sometimes several times in an hour, for a few seconds each time” Levi told her, trying to ignore the look of concern-turned-fear on Damien’s face. “It’s like I am really, truly hearing my synapses firing.”
“What the hell. . .” Damien asked, turning to the doctor.
“They’re hallucinations,” the doctor explained calmly.
“Yes, I know,” Damien said. “Why is he hearing them?”
“It’s okay, Damien. It’s like—like when you get off a plane and your ears start popping—”
“That’s physical, Levi. You’re hearing things.” Turning back to the doctor, Damien asked, somewhat angrily, “Why is he hearing things?”
“It’s. . .it’s probably a side effect of one of your medications,” Doctor Muir told him.
“Probably?” they both asked.
“Well. . .yes. You take several medications that have that as a side effect. It’s just that usually that effect happens at night. What concerns me is that you’re hearing these sounds during the day.”
“What concerns me is he’s hearing them at all,” Damien muttered.
“Oh my God,” Levi said. “I’m hearing them now. It’s like the villagers in my head are moving out and wrapping everything in bubblewrap before they go live in someone else’s head. “This was a great head for so long but, in the last few years, it’s really gone downhill’.”
Damien ran a comforting hand over Levi’s noisy skull.
“Does it hurt?” he asked, seeing Levi’s occasional flinches to the silent noises.
“No, no, no,” Levi told him. “It’s just. . .deafening. Like a bowl of Rice Cripsies when the milk gets poured on them.”
Damien silently turned to the doctor with a soundless plea for help.
“What is this called?” Levi asked her, thinking it, being a side effect, had some type of name dripping in serious medical jargon, like auralepsy.
“Exploding Head Syndrome,” Doctor Muir told him. “it’s—”
“Exploding Head Syndrome?” Levi and Damien cried.
“His head isn’t going to—” Damien asked.
“No,” Doctor Muir assured him. “No, his head won’t explode. It’s—”
“Thanks for taking cover so discretely,” Levi said with a smirk to Damien, who had taken to holding both his palms up as if to deflect the schrapnel from Levi’s timebomb of a skull.
“It’s just a hallucination,” the doctor told them both, as if that were the most wonderful thing in the world.
“But why is he having hallucinations?”
“I have a new epitaph for me,” Levi announced, “’Here lies Levi Hastings. He may just be hallucinating he’s dead’”.
“Lee-stop,” Damien said, worry killing his humor.
“It’s just a side effect,” the doctor assured Damien, more so than Levi. “It’s nothing to be concerned about unless it causes discomfort.”
“How comfortable can he be—especially given his past–if he’s hearing gunfire in his head—”
“Bubble wrap,” Levi reminded him.
“You said ‘gunfire’ earlier. Did you think it was gunfire?”
“Originally. But I knew it was just a sound. Like. . .it’s hard to explain but I can tell the noise is inside my head. It’s like that movie where the baby sitter is being tormented by a serial killer and she calls the police and the police tell her they’ve traced the serial killer’s call and the killer is calling from inside the house. I know the sounds are in my head. The bubblewrap is inside the head.”
“Can you sleep?” the doctor asked.
“With all that Klonopin I take, it’s a wonder I’m not a corpse.”
“But you can sleep? It doesn’t wake you in the middle of the night?”
“Hmm,” Levi tried to recall. “Maybe once or twice. Yeah. One night definitely. I remember thinking I heard a canon.”
“A canon?” Damien cried aghast.
“An imaginary one,” Levi said, placing a calming hand on Damien’s knee. “Don’t worry; the house has not been fired upon by an invading army in your absence.”
“We should probably have you see a neurologist—” the doctor began, before Damien swung on her.
“No,” Damien told her. “I want him off the medication causing this.”
“But we should have him see someone to determine that what he is hearing is a side effect—”
“And then they’ll put him on another pill he has to take three times a day—and to counteract the side effects of that pill, here’s another, and another. When does it all stop?”
“Mister Lanchester, we can’t just take Levi off medications,” Doctor Muir said, leaning forward to make her words more gentle. “He’s been on some of them for quite some time. If you pull someone off—”
“And they are damaging him!” Damien shouted as Levi felt, for perhaps the first time, what it was like to have someone stand up for him. “Look at this. He is hearing things. Do you not hear him say that? That is not normal. That is not acceptable!”
“Mister Lanchester, I heard him. It’s a side effect and we can take him down slightly on some pills but we need a neurologist’s input to—”
“His hands! What is the issue with his hands trembling? I see his right hand, his right arm, his right leg—all shaking from time to time.” Damien turned to Levi. “Tell her!”
“I’m having a lot of trouble with my balance,” he admitted. My right foot sometimes—not all day, just every now and then—just. . .gives way.”
“And my handwriting. I know you said it was no big deal the last time we were here together but, really. Some days. . .I don’t even recognize my own handwriting.”
“Go on. . .” Damien told him.
“And I’m having trouble handling money. Not financially. Physically. Like, I can’t separate one bill from another. It’s—”
“So you have reduced dexterity?”
“In both hands?”
“No. Just my right. Like one whole side of my body—”
“Can I just interject here?” Damien asked, rubbing Levi’s hand and angrily turning to the doctor. “When I came here, I thought we’d be talking about Levi’s moods. You know, how does he deal with this mood and that mood and how he can maybe better handle this or that in the future. Is he depressed? Sad? Happy? Wild? Irresponsible? Instead, it seems all we ever do is talk about what the pills you put him on are doing to him.”
Levi could not meet the doctor’s eyes as Damien tore into her and so he stared at the back of Damien’s head of thick hair, which he wanted to run his lips through right now.
No one had ever championed him like this. They usually told him–as X had–to seek help and start taking some pills.
“It seems to me that he had a problem, he came to you for help, and you, in turn, gave him more problems,” Damien said. “Why are you putting him on so many pills and disregarding what those pills are doing to him physically? You are making him a cripple”
“I’m not trying to make more problems for him,” Doctor Muir explained. “But to fight a chemical imbalance, you use chemicals.”
“And those chemicals are killing him,” Damien snapped. “He can’t tie his shoes some days. He can’t button his shirt on others. He’s hearing things.”
“Again, side effects that we can counteract with the help of a neuroloigist and, yes, maybe some additional medic—”
“And here we go with more pills,” Damien sighed. “Tell me. . .when these pills make it so he can’t balance—we’ve already seen him stumbling, falling—when he can’t write his own name. . .what is that doing to his emotions? We know he’s a smart ass. We know he’s going to crack a joke about it—”
“Just a reminder: I’m in the room!” Levi said to the two who proceeded to ignore him.
“But what happens when all those side effects cause more emotional problems for him. On top of his bipolar disorder? Is the answer yet another set of pills? I’m just asking for your help here. Stop helping the drug companies push more things on him. . .and just fucking help him. Him.”
“No one is pushing drugs on Levi,” the doctor told him, surprisingly calmly. “And I understand your worry. I do.”
“Okay. Then fix it. Help him.”
“I am doing my best, Mister Lanchester. I promise you, I am doing my best.”
“I need more than that, for him,” Damien said. “I mean that. I need you to listen. This is not some small thing, him not having—what’s the word—”
“Dexterity,” the doctor quietly answered.
“Dexterity. He needs to be able to grasp his shoelaces and button a shirt. He needs to be able to stand up. And to go up a staircase without tripping. And these noises!”
“We will get him help. I will arrange an appointment with a neurologist to take a look at him—his trembling, his walking, the aural hallucinations—”
“But no more pills. No more than what he’s taking now,” Damien told her. “And I want him taking less than he’s taking now. They’re causing too many issues for him.”
“Mister Lanchester,” she said as gently as she could manage, “That’s not a possibility. Levi will always be on medication. Always. And taking him off the medication is not an option.”
Damien sighed into a frustrated palm balled around his mouth.
“So, basically. . .you’ve created a drug addict who hears things that aren’t there and looks like he’s in the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease. Nice work.”