Two days before a business trip to India I unexpectedly found myself hospitalized with a severe case of food poisoning. I had been preparing for the trip for over a month, educating myself on the particularities of intellectual property rights and patenting in the Southeastern Zone. The purpose of the trip was to sell a major Indian conglomerate the rights to use a chemical Basil & Crittenden had developed for a hair gel product that was generating huge profits. My role as Head of Cultural Marketing Relations for B&C was geared toward that kind of byzantine task: administering transactions between corporate entities located in different zones and internations, making my benign-sounding title somewhat misleading. There was of course not a lot of official reason to need an emissary with any sort of expertise in navigating cultural differences, but multinationals still had to deal with the reality that world culture remained some ways off from being fully homogenized, despite the eager positivity of World Organization messaging. Which isn’t to say world culture was a total pack of lies, either. The majority of important cultural variations had already melted away, but still there remained a noticeable veneer of regional — even national — distinctions, no matter how uncomfortable the fact. For that reason, people like myself were still necessary to the process.
I had been adrift on a half-hour lunch break somewhere in the middle of a vast 75-hour workweek, consuming the contents of a small microwaveable bowl of meat chili bought from one of the vendors on the B&C campus, when I encountered something in the food that didn’t taste quite right but that I ate anyway. Only an hour later my bone marrow seemed to have become rotten, skin so sensitive the smallest touch caused pain, and stomach full of projectile ammunition. Traces of blood in my vomit drove me to check in at New Boston Central.
I called my section supervisor from my hospital bed.
“This one was important, Stanly,” Andrea said through the phone. “The Board was counting on you being available.”
“I understand,” I said, barely able to speak without throwing up.
“We’re unable to reschedule, so we’ll have to send your assistant in your place.”
“All right. My apologies to the Board.”
“I probably don’t have to tell you this kind of sickness likely won’t be tolerated a second time.”
“As of now they’re reassigning you on a trip to Ghana in four days to meet with Abeeku Boateng, the CEO of Kente, Inc., about a proposal to acquire Flourisaide toothpaste. This is all pending the results of your psych eval, so make sure you submit your clearance as soon as possible. We’ll send along your itinerary and all the necessary documentation.”
I spent several days laying in New Boston Central at the center of an intricate web of tubes, wires and beeping instruments like a creature caught, immobilized. I was lucky not to have been fired for missing the trip given my liability to the company. Very rarely was I extended any leniency, and most often I found myself being blatantly ostracized. What kept my employment alive at Basil & Crittenden was my reliability, along with the surprising fact, for both my immediate superiors and the Board, that I was not the kind of person my past suggested I was. I was a rarity in the corporate professional world, someone with limited political rights and a poor mental health classification who had managed to achieve a respectable position. If I didn’t recover in four days’ time, however, that position would be jeopardized.
By the third day the doctor told me I still wasn’t fully convalesced (not to mention I was apparently one of the worst food poisoning cases she’d seen in recent memory), but finally she agreed after I pleaded with her gratuitously to sign a B&C form stating I was well enough to return to work. Before being discharged from the hospital I had to undergo a mandatory psych eval. This was true for all outgoing patients of any hospital worldwide, but because of my family history all psych evals were potentially dangerous, and I was routinely subjected to overly rigorous questioning.
A nurse alerted me to the arrival of my evaluator, who turned out to be a tightly-wound guy in his early 30s with a bureaucratic haircut and thin lips he bit on all throughout the process of setting up his recording equipment. He didn’t bother with a greeting when he entered the room, or even eye contact with me, and went about the procedures of getting his materials ready in total silence. He was going to be a very tough evaluator. Physically he was somewhat small, poorly dressed, and his morning shave had irritated his skin, but I could feel my heartbeat drumming in terror of him, watching from the hospital bed in my weakened state a set of humorless, efficient eyes working behind his glasses. He sat down in a chair across from my bed with a groan, situated himself, pressed a button to begin recording, skimmed briefly through my file on his tablet.
“This is Evlt. Roorback conducting psych eval on one Stanly Borque,” he announced for the sake of the recording, proceeding to slur through the date, time, evaluator number, etc., in pure monotone boredom. “I’m required by law to inform you that this evaluation will be made available to both the W.O. government and also to private employers. You have the right to claim exemption from this evaluation according to WL 2-38(i). Should you claim exemption, you will be required to appear in court to contest the mandate. You have the right to a public attorney. Do you understand these statements?”
“Okay then, Mr. Borque,” he said, transitioning to a more condescending tone, “you obviously know the drill here, but for my benefit let’s get some basic information out of the way. I see here you’ve been diagnosed with a disorder?”
His eyes flicked up at me from his screen.
“Yes, borderline personality,” I said.
“Mm-hm. And I also see here you’re a felon? Would you mind stating what your felony is for the record, please?”
I swallowed. Prompting me to make statements like this about myself was unusual in comparison to all other times I’d been evaluated.
“Lower treason. But I’m sure you can see the situation was a bit complicated.”
“Yes?” he said, placing two fingers over his chin.
I closed my eyes, unable to help my own fury at what seemed like pointless provocation.
“The charge was applied to me because of my mother’s political activity and what the court perceived as my connection to it, not necessarily because of my own actions. So there was an important degree of nuance to the ruling.”
The nuance being they wanted to classify me as a social pariah in order to purge the son of a treasonous political dissident from mainstream society.
“Your father was also charged with lower treason.”
“Along the same legal lines, yes.” I rolled my head on the pillow to look at the ceiling.
“So what we have here is someone not only classified as borderline personality, but also convicted of a felony, as you yourself have just explained to me.” Although he was small his voice intoned with the iron of sadistic officialdom. “And yet”— he adjusted his glasses and leaned forward —”here you are as head of an overseas marketing department for no less than Basil & Crittenden. Seems to me you’ve gone through quite the reinvention.”
This aggressiveness, on the other hand, was completely typical of most evaluators I’d encountered in the past, though I had never encountered one as immediately belligerent as him. In a way it calmed me down, his standard reaction of resentment and disgust at my file. I said nothing in response, only held his gaze with the most neutral expression possible.
“How is it you’ve managed to find yourself in this occupation, Mr. Borque?”
I hesitated, an enormous wheel of hot, emotional responses spinning through my head before I steadied myself and answered in the least amount of words possible. “I’m not my mother.”
“And what exactly do you mean by that?”
“What I mean is —” I cleared my throat and put a hand on my stomach. “What I mean is that my mother’s beliefs are not my own.” My stress level had built up so fast I had almost forgotten how nauseated I was before he came into the room. Something in my stomach felt like it was being tugged tight, and I reached desperately down for a small grey bucket on the floor. “The truth is I never actually agreed with her on much of —”
In the middle of my sentence I heaved once and then expelled watery brown vomit into the bucket. I was forced to sit there, face flushed red, and spit the remainder of my shame away in front of the evaluator, who was impatiently scrutinizing a bit of dirt under one of his fingernails.
“Would you like me to call a nurse in?” he asked with detached professionalism. “Obviously I’m unable to attend to you.”
I inhaled deeply, burbled out, “No, it’s okay. I feel better now.” I couldn’t afford to let him leave and possibly delay my psych eval clearance since I had to be on a plane to Ghana the next morning. I couldn’t help but notice with a small note of satisfaction that my regurgitation had ceased to show any signs of blood.
I quickly put the bucket on the floor to the opposite side of the bed. “I’m okay, let’s continue.”
He contemplated my physical state for a moment before gesturing me to complete my explanation.
“I never aided my mother in any of her political activity,” I reaffirmed, now propping myself into a sitting position.
“Neither did you make any attempts to stop her.”
I said in a tone I hoped was cleansed of any sarcasm whatsoever, “I was young. And unfortunately she happened to be my mother.”
He nodded vacantly at my file, which he was back to perusing with predatory smugness. He looked through the top half of his glasses. “Still unmarried?”
“Trouble making connections with people, or just disinterested?”
“I’m usually traveling abroad. That makes it difficult. And given my past, I prefer to focus on my work.”
“I see you’re on Pentafalex. Have you been sticking to your dosage?”
“Any thoughts of self-harm lately, Mr. Borque?”
“Not at all? Depression, listlessness, nothing like that?”
“No. As a matter of fact, I’ve been productive. I was supposed to be on a business trip right now conducting an intellectual property rights transfer, but they’ve had to adjust my schedule to accommodate my recovery. I’m trying to get well so I can go back to work tomorrow.”
This was a tactic I had found effective against evaluators in the past. Listing out some details relevant to my job reminded them I had ascended to quite a high station in spite of my damning personal history, one much higher than they themselves held, and it tended to elicit respect, even if the respect was only begrudging or resentful.
Rather than putting Roorback on his heels, he merely sidestepped my maneuver and jabbed me in yet another vulnerable spot. “Your father committed suicide when you were at the age of twenty-one, is that correct?”
My face now flushed red for a different reason. There was something bizarre about the way he was going about this, something needlessly derogatory in it that I had never experienced before, like the way he stated my exact age at the time of my father’s suicide. The detail was shocking, especially to hear it delivered in his imperious tone. A feeling of helplessness washed through me.
He jabbed even harder. “A gunshot wound to the head, correct?”
I heard grains of anger beginning to filter into my voice. “Correct. But a lot of people my age had a parent kill themselves when they were young.”
“Well, not everyone,” he said, seeming to imply he was exempt from the statement.
Something wasn’t right. I wondered if he had something against me personally to insult me like this, or if I had done something wrong I was unaware of. Even if most evaluators abused their authority when confronted with my case, always making sure to harass me and keep me in a marginalized state of mind, it never reached a point of outright invective, not even after my father killed himself and I was designated borderline personality as a continuing punitive measure against my mother’s treason. The way Roorback was questioning me seemed like he was trying to make me mad on purpose. I sank into abject fear, realizing the arbitrary whims of this evaluator could get me terminated from B&C and locked away in a psych facility. There was nothing I could do except answer his questions and hope for it to be over.
“And what about your mother? Is she still alive?”
“Yes,” I said, in the process of disassociating myself from the situation in order to guard against any emotional response. “But she’s been in maximum security prison for years and I’ve fallen out of touch with her.”
“Tell me, Mr. Borque, what were the reasons for your father’s suicide?”
This was all unnecessary. He didn’t have to ask me any of this. It was all right in front of him — it was all in my file.
AFFLICTION INCLUDED / STEVEN T. BRAMBLE
Shipping and handling included in price. ZQ-287 Mini-Book Series: Edition One.