Carl is not a true paraplegic, but he believes he is. Twenty-one years ago, Carl stopped walking and joined a Conversion Disorder (CD) support group and has received a weekly care-package ever since. Inside each care-package is a cup of balm. Every Tuesday, Carl rubs the balm into his legs.
True paraplegics often suffer phantom pain. Carl, and everyone else in his CD support group, without the balm, would also suffer phantom pain. Suffering phantom pain, for Carl, and everyone else in his CD support group, is their worst nightmare.
Carl believes in his CD support group’s truth. Their truth is this: everyone in his CD support group receives a cup of balm every Tuesday; Carl also receives a cup of balm every Tuesday. Everyone in his CD support group rubs the balm into their legs every Tuesday; Carl also rubs the balm into his legs every Tuesday. Everyone in his CD support group is pain free; Carl is also pain free. Everyone in his CD support group’s worst nightmare is also Carl’s worst nightmare.
Dear Conversion Disorder Support Group Leader,
My name is Carl. I’m a CD survivor, a longtime member and your biggest fan. I know you’re busy shipping orders and saving lives so I promise I’ll be brief.
Today’s Thursday and surprise surprise our socialist communist postal system failed to deliver my Tuesday care-package. They say the problem’s not on their end but I know the truth. Still, I am concerned that without the balm, the phantom pain will soon take hold.
Considering your position, I wonder if you’d be so kind as to investigate on my behalf. And hastily intervene.
Carl will not hear from his CD support group for some time. His Tuesday care-package will not come tomorrow, or the next week, or ever again, and Carl, not a true paraplegic, the worst paraplegic, believes that without the balm he will suffer, as his CD support group will suffer, the worst pain.
Tomorrow, Carl’s phantom pain will begin. A week from tomorrow, a neighbor will find Carl floating face-down in his bathtub, dead. Clutched in Carl’s wrinkled hand will be his navy-blue CD Strong! baseball hat.
On the last day of the month, Carl’s CD support group will charge his credit card $299, just as it has on the last day of every month for the past twenty-one years, a charge that Carl, despite not receiving his Tuesday care-package, and despite his recent demise, will be most happy to pay because what Carl will learn late in life (or perhaps early in death) is this: the worst nightmare is not, despite his CD support group’s teachings, suffering phantom pain. The worst nightmare is abandoning yourself.
One week from now, Carl’s letter to his CD support group will arrive back in his mailbox, unopened. The official stamp on the envelope will read: PO Box inactive, return to sender. Six months from now, on a warm Wednesday in June, a new care-package will arrive in Carl’s old mailbox. The letter inside will read:
Dearest Ma’am or Sir,
Thank you for your unwavering support. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, we experienced a pause in our business. As a result, our legal department has advised a rebranding.
Good news! Starting next Wednesday, for the low cost of $499 a month, you will receive a new weekly care-package. Inside you will find a cup of oil. Meanwhile, please accept this new logo tee-shirt on our behalf. Wear it proudly!
Delusional Parasitosis (DP) Support Group, LLC
Carl, of course, will never open this new care-package. And yet, I wonder, if Carl had survived, despite his phantom pain, would he read this letter, then scratch at his arms, and at his neck, then stand, don this new tee-shirt, and walk across the room? Or would he toss the tee-shirt aside and wheel himself across the room—taking a certain comfort from his pain—as he searches for his old hat?