22 July 2015

Arthur Grunion, The Man Who Woke Up in Trees

Arthur Grunion fell out of a tree. I know that sounds like the beginning of a children’s book but it happens to be a statement of fact. Arthur landed on grass and the fall was only about six feet so he was not badly hurt at all. Aside from a slightly bruised hip and a severely bruised ego. The bigger issue, however, was that Arthur Grunion had no recollection of how he got up on that tree in the first place. He was not drunk nor in any other way high, so he couldn’t reckon what he’d been doing in a tree. When Arthur was a child... well that was different, he was always climbing trees. It seemed half his childhood was spent up in trees. It was a wonderful escape, really. Arthur would climb the walnut tree in his backyard or the oak tree in the park and be away from everything and everyone. He’d be far removed from school, bullies, bickering parents and all the world’s troubles. From a young age Arthur would watch the news on the TV — while his schoolmates were laughing at silly cartoons — and he would try to grasp all the horrors going on in the world. Arthur didn't know why he watched the news, he was just drawn to, there was something compelling about world events, maybe especially the tragic ones. The news distressed Arthur but he watched nonetheless. Of course up in a tree there was no need to worry about anything, least of all events in far away places. So Arthur would climb up as high as was safe and just sit looking up at the sky or down at the ground so far below. He never knew fear up in the trees, just contentment.

But Arthur Grunion was 34 years old now and hadn’t climbed a tree in nearly two decades. At least not that he could remember. As he lay on the grass beside the tree in front of his house Arthur wondered how the devil he’d wound up in the tree. He remembered starting his walk home from the subway station. It was too warm a day for Arthur’s tastes and he’d removed his jacket and slung it over a shoulder. It was Wednesday so Arthur was looking forward to his favorite program on TV which he’d enjoy after dinner with his wife, Kate. She didn’t care for the show so would retire to their bedroom with a book. Of course before dinner Arthur would play with little Lillian his four year old daughter and later he’d read her a bedtime story. He looked forward to seeing little Lillian. Arthur had wondered what Kate was fixing for that night’s dinner. He thought it might be spaghetti or red snapper. Arthur thought he’d be fine with either or anything else for that matter. He also thought about how his day at work had been. Pretty good. The new secretary seemed cute and nice though very young. That’s the last thing Arthur remembered before falling off the tree. He’d still been two blocks from home at the time of his last memory.

Finally Arthur stood up. Yup, his hip was a little sore. But that was it. His pants were torn and his jacket…say, where was his jacket? Arthur looked all around the tree but there was no sign of it. Then for some reason he looked up and there it was, half way up the tree. Higher than where he had fallen from. This added to Arthur’s bewilderment. He scratched his head.

Just then Kate emerged from the house. “Artie, what are you doing standing there? Come in.”

Arthur just looked at his wife. They had been married for seven years and were quite happy together. Kate had stopped working when the baby was born four years ago. She was now two months pregnant with what would be their second child. They’d only learned of the pregnancy last week.

“What’s wrong, Artie?” Kate asked. She could tell something was the matter. Nothing got by Kate.

Arthur just decided to come out with it. “I fell from the tree.”

“What on earth were you doing up in the tree? And with your nice clothes on too.”

“I don’t know.” Arthur confessed and scratched his head again.

“What do you mean you don’t know? You just climbed up there on a whim?”

“No, I mean, I don’t know. I don’t remember climbing the tree. I was walking home, I remember being two blocks from here and all of a sudden I feel from the tree but I don’t recall getting up in the tree.”

“You’re serious aren’t you?” Kate was concerned.

“I”m afraid so,” Arthur admitted.

“Well come on in and sit down and I’ll make you a cup of tea and we’ll see if we can figure out what’s what. Lillian’s over playing with Marjorie and will be home soon.”  Marjorie was also four years old and lived just three houses down from the Grunions.

“But my jacket…” Arthur said feebly and pointed up to it.

“My goodness, Artie, how did it get way up there?”

Arthur admitted he didn’t know but said he ought to go climb up and get it. Kate insisted that he change his clothes first.

A half hour later Arthur was sitting in his favorite chair sipping tea. He’d successfully retrieved his jacket after changing his clothes. For the first time in his life he was depressed and confused and frightened all at once. Kate had insisted he call the doctor but the offices were closed for the day. Kate didn’t know what to think. She hovered around Arthur while getting dinner ready. Then Lillian came home. Marjorie’s mother Debra, who was from France, brought her to the front door.

As usual, Lillian was very excited to see her daddy. For his part Arthur was especially glad to see his daughter. He needed a distraction from worrying and wondering about the whole business of the tree. Lillian supplied that in spades.

Arthur passed a pleasant enough evening but he couldn't help but be distracted by the whole tree incident. Did he black out? Was this a sign of mental problems? Did he have some sort of mini stroke? Even Arthur's favorite program was ruined by these questions. For her part Kate was worried sick, though she'd never let on to Arthur. Instead of repairing to her room when her husband's show came on she sat near Arthur and kept an eye on him. He seemed fine, though she could tell he was worried too.

Everything seemed fine the next morning. Arthur was pleased to have slept like a baby. He got to his office around the time his doctor opened shop so he called straight away. They couldn't see him until the late afternoon which was fine by Arthur. He'd have time to get some work done and could just go home from the appointment. He was in solid with his boss and had no trouble getting away.

Doctor Nix couldn't find a thing wrong with Arthur so suggested two possibilities: a brain scan or a visit to a psychiatrist. The doctor even suggested that Arthur might want to try both. Arthur was fine with the idea of a brain scan but couldn't countenance the notion of seeing a shrink. It was fine for other people, but Arthur couldn't imagine blabbing on and on to some stranger. They set up an appointment for the brain scan the following week and Arthur promised to think about "seeing someone" if there was a reoccurrence and the brain scan didn't reveal any abnormalities.

From the doctor's, Arthur was able to walk home. It was only about a 20 minutes on foot. He was wary the whole way home. After all it had been while walking home the day before that he'd wound up in the tree. But nothing happened and Arthur was relived. So was Kate who was also glad that her husband was going to have the scan. She was sure it would reveal nothing and that the tree incident would prove to be a one time event that would remain forever a mystery.

Everything was, as Arthur liked to say, hunky dory, for the next week and he almost canceled the brain scan but Kate reminded him that it was always better to be safe than sorry. It was a week after that Dr. Nix called and said that they saw absolutely no abnormalities and not to worry but to call right away if anything similar happened again. Arthur felt totally confident that everything was fine and he could go back to focusing on work, Lillian and Kate's pregnancy.

It was three weeks after that and about a month since the tree incident that Arthur was walking home from the subway station without a care in the world. Sure it was raining, but he had a nice new sturdy umbrella and anyway the area could stand some rain after a hot Summer. Arthur had just passed by an old neighbor by the name of Luke something and was within sight of home when suddenly he was up in a tree. One that was several blocks in the another direction.

Arthur screamed.

He was well up in the tree and getting a good soaking from the rain. He looked down and saw his umbrella propped up against a rock under the tree. Arthur hung onto the big branch he was cradling as if for dear life. He'd never known such fear. It was worse -- far worse -- to suddenly be in a tree than it was to suddenly fall from one. At least for Arthur it was. He began to weep. He banged the branch with a fist. It was frustration and fear. This was the second time and he wasn't right in front of the house. It took a few minutes but Arthur Grunion finally shimmed down the tree. He picked up his umbrella and sprinted home.

Kate and Lillian were in the kitchen as Arthur bolted into the house. Kate saw the look of abject terror on his face though she had no idea why it was there. "What happened, Artie?" she asked with alarm. Lillian ran over to her father. "Daddy! You're soaked!" She nonetheless wrapped her arms around him.

"I'm okay, I'm okay," he assured them both, but only Lillian was convinced.

"Lillian honey you go to your room and get the drawing you made while I help Daddy get out of his wet clothes," Kate said. She did want to get Arthur out of those wet clothes but she also wanted to know what was wrong.

In the bathroom, as he disrobed, Arthur told her what happened. Kate was scared. Much much more scared than she'd ever been the first time. This sounded so much worse. For one thing it was the second time, then there was the fact that he ended up several blocks from home. But most of all she could sense the real fear that Arthur was experiencing.

"I guess maybe I'll have to call Dr. Nix in the morning. He'll probably say I have to go to a shrink."

"Well that's exactly what you should do then. Also you should stay home tomorrow. Call in sick. They can spare you for one day. Or more if necessary."

Arthur was in complete agreement with his wife.

The following week Arthur Grunion was, for the first time in his life, in a psychiatrist's office. All the trepidation he might have felt about the experience was cancelled out by the fear that he was losing his mind and his determination not to let it happen. He had a pregnant wife and a four year old. They needed him. Arthur talked about his childhood and the trouble he'd had getting along with other people and how distant his parents were  and how they always fought and all the time he spent in trees. The psychiatrist, a Dr. Norden, nodded and frowned. His eyebrows seemed locked in the furrowed position. You would have thought by looking at Dr. Norden that he was listening to the gruesome details of a horrific car accident. But he said nothing aside from a few questions, all of which were designed to get Arthur to talk more. The hour flew by, in large part due to the fact that it only lasted 50 minutes in real time.

"What do you think, doctor?" Arthur asked hopefully. "Do you think I've got some sort of deep seeded problem I'm working out?"

"We'll have to see," said the doctor as he ushered Arthur toward the door. "We'll be able to explore more next time."

"So should I take any medications?" Arthur asked, desperate for the doctor to tell him more.

"That might prove necessary later, but right now we can't be sure what's causing these...uh, episodes."

Arthur liked the use of the term "episode" it sounded much less dangerous.

"Is there anything preventive I can do? What should I do if it happens again?"

"I should think you might want to walk home with someone since both episodes have happened while you've been walking home. If it does happen before our next visit, call me and leave a message. I'll get back to you that same evening."

"Thank you, doctor," Arthur said trying to disguise his disappointment. Arthur hadn't expected a quick fix but absent that he'd hoped for some clue, or some sign of hope. As it was he feared that this would be a long process and another "episode" was quite possible.

Arthur arranged to have Kate and Lillian meet him at the subway station each night and walk home with him. It felt silly to Arthur but at the same time it provided assurance that he wasn't going to wind up in a tree.

The next weekend Arthur drove to the supermarket. Kate usually did the shopping but she was taking Lillian to a cousin's birthday party in another town and the three of them had plans to visit Kate's mother the next day so Arthur volunteered to pick up enough groceries for the rest of the weekend.

Arthur was delighted to find a parking spot right near the entrance. The supermarket's parking lot was typically crowded on Saturday's around noon. He got out of the car and the next thing he knew was in a tree across the street from the store. Arthur wanted to cry. He wanted to cry long and loud. A few people were staring up at him, a few were pointing. Arthur thought of something. He'd noticed that it was exactly noon when he pulled into the parking space. He looked at his watch now and it was 12:18. He'd lost about 17 minutes, subtracting the time he took to get out of the car.

There was nothing for him to do but get out of the tree. Shakily but carefully Arthur climbed down. As he neared the ground the people who'd been staring went on their way. One wiseacre kid, however, clapped when Arthur touched ground. Suddenly feeling panic stricken, Arthur sprinted back to his car and drove straight home. He dashed the few feet from the car to the house. His heart was palpitating.

The rest of the day was difficult for Arthur, especially with Kate and Lillian away until dark. He called Dr. Norden and left a message. He wished there was someone else to call, someone he could confide in, but Arthur boasted no close friends, he never had. Kate was only the third woman he had ever dated. There were countless people that Arthur had encountered in his life, at school, at work, in the neighborhood, who he was on good terms with. Heck, no one ever disliked Arthur. But the only people Arthur was at all close to were Kate and Lillian.

Dr. Norden called back at around 3:00. They talked about what happened for a bit. To Arthur the doctor sounded concerned but dispassionate. He supposed that's the way it is with a good psychiatrist. The doctor recommended that Arthur not go out alone for awhile, at least until after his next visit. He also phoned in a prescription to Arthur's pharmacy for valium. Arthur dared not pick it up himself. He'd have to send Kate there when she got home.

Arthur, Kate and Lillian passed a pleasant evening, mostly in front of the TV. Arthur was still in the habit of watching the evening news and fretting about it, but on this day he gave it a miss in deference to a children's show that Lillian liked. The valium calmed Arthur considerably and left him feeling a little high. Arthur had never been a drinker, having gotten drunk just once. That was during his sophomore year in college. He hadn't cared for the experience and rarely imbibed since. But the valium left him feeling "buzzed" as Arthur imagined one would feel after a couple of glasses of wine. He felt like nothing could go wrong. No, he was in the bosom of his family, safe in his house. Lillian fell asleep earlier after the day's excitement at the birthday party so Arthur and Kate watched a movie on TV.  It wasn't very good but it was cozy to sit together on the sofa with just the flickering light of the TV screen and the nightlight from Lillian's room.

At a little after 11:00 Arthur brushed his teeth and joined Kate in bed. Perhaps because of the valium he fell asleep with a minimum of tossing and turning. He was sleeping soundly, dreaming of playing with an old family dog on a farm when he woke up with a start -- and found himself high up in the backyard tree. There he was wearing only his pajamas in the cold Autumn night, shivering from fear and cold. He couldn't believe it. Of course he hadn't believed it the previous three times he'd ended up in a tree but this was worse, so very much worse. For crying out loud he'd been asleep in bed. There was no safety!

Slowly and carefully Arthur climbed down but the tree was slick with dew and from the recent rain and a few feet above the ground Arthur Grunion fell awkwardly to the ground. He hit the lawn with a thump and howled in pain. Arthur had hurt his ankle. He limped back into the house. When he opened the bedroom door Kate woke up.

"What's the matter, Artie? Can't sleep?"

It broke his heart to have to tell her. Kate had such faith in Arthur and so much love. Their marriage wasn't perfect but it was as close as a couple could expect to get. They'd gone through a rough patch shortly after Lillian was born, mostly because of monetary concerns, but it had never been anything serious and they rarely quarreled anymore and then only briefly and always followed by quick reconciliations. Kate thought Arthur was a wonderful husband and a terrific father to Lillian.

Between the pain of the injured ankle and the fear and depression brought on by the latest "episode" Arthur hardly slept a wink the rest of the night. Lillian too was barely able to doze. The next morning Arthur called Dr. Norden again, he prescribed a strong sleeping pill and advised Arthur not to be alone. He also moved up their appointment to first thing Monday morning.

Arthur and Kate made it through their visit with Kate's mom. It was painfully dull for Arthur to sit through these visits. Kate's mother was a depressive even before she was widowed two years prior. She perked up the littlest bit when Lillian visited. Arthur was not exactly in a buoyant mood either. That night he just stared at the television set. Only playing with Lilian gave him any pleasure. Exhausted, Arthur retired early.

The sleeping pill worked, Arthur slept like a baby. The next morning Kate dropped him off at Dr. Norden's office. She'd be by to pick him up in an hour.

Dr. Norden sat in his office waiting for Arthur Grunion. He always left his 8:00 am slot open for emergencies. Usually, of course, there wasn't one and he had the time to catch up on paper work. This particular day he had no paper work to do so was reading a book about the philosopher Martin Heidegger. Dr. Norden glanced at his watch and noted that it was 8:05. He'd only seen this Grunion fellow once but he didn't strike the doctor as the type of person who would be late. Dr. Norden shuffled uneasily in his big leather chair. He couldn't abide tardiness. A couple of minutes later he glanced out the window and was amazed to see Arthur Grunion climbing the redwood tree across the street.

Arthur would remember getting out of the car and waving goodbye to Kate. He hadn't thought that just walking a few yards to the doctor's office would present a problem.

Dr. Norden ran out of his office. He hadn't run in many years so it was not easy, but he felt a sense of urgency. Not to mention excitement. Here he was about to observe and try to help a patient during what was in all likelihood a psychotic episode of some sort.

It was a very tall tree. The top was certainly higher than a nearby four story building and Arthur was making his way towards the top. Dr. Norden worried that the shock of coming out of his spell might cause the patient to lose his grip -- both literally and figuratively. As the doctor neared the tree he had the twin realizations that the closer he got to the tree the harder it would be to see Grunion and that calling his name and perhaps snapping him out of it might be the worst thing he could do. Dr. Norden spun around and returned to his office to call 9-1-1.

Arthur was nearing the top of the tree where the branches were smaller and frailer. A few people were watching now and they feared that a fall was imminent. Suddenly Arthur stopped. A few seconds passed with Arthur -- just a few feet from the top of the tree --gazing off into the distance.

It was like waking from a bad dream but the dream is real. Unlike the previous occasions, Arthur gradually came out of whatever spell he was under. It slowly dawned on him that he hadn't made it from the car to the office. He was dangerously far up a redwood tree. Arthur thought for sure he had gone mad. What use was he to Kate and Lillian if he was in an insane asylum? Arthur was more afraid of being crazy than he was of falling from the tree.

There's nothing for me to do but to get down, Arthur Grunion thought. He'd find Dr. Norden and beg to be committed until he was cured.  Slowly and carefully Arthur made his way towards the ground. He tried desperately not to look down, to just look at the next branch below. He had made it about 20 feet down when the sound of emergency vehicles filled the air. Arthur had no idea they were for him. Arthur sobbed as he continued his descent. He thought: is this a metaphorical descent into madness? Then there was nothing. No sight. No sound. No feeling. Just a vague consciousness. Arthur's mind grasped for what had happened. Then one of his hands grasped too. At air.

Now he was fully awake and could see and hear and smell and taste and understand. Now Arthur was in the walnut tree in the backyard of his childhood home. Arthur Grunion realized that he should be quite frightened indeed about suddenly being in another tree on the other part of town, 25 years ago, but he felt nothing like that at all. It was pure and unadulterated contentment. He was a kid again and he was in his tree and he was safe. At last.


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