Professor Reis Welling’s life is idyllic. A respected professor of botany at Cornell, he’s been granted early tenure, has received a grant to carry out field research in the Adirondack Forest, and has met Ellen, the love of his life. Everything is perfect — that is until the forest turns its back on him, department heads start spying on him, Ellen starts lying to him, and all start transmitting thoughts into his head. Herein lies Reis’s slow and insidious descent into a vicious and damaging world of mental illness.
Masterfully shifting between past and present, Reis’s Piecesintimately examines what transpires when all someone has ever known or believed to be true helplessly deteriorates right in front of him. How does one who has lost everything ultimately learn to accept and live life again after a diagnosis of schizophrenia? Can Reis, with the stress of this acceptance and the possibility of a new love – Kelly Adams, who, despite being committed to her seemingly perfect boyfriend, Brian, can’t seem to get Reis out of her head — remain healthy?
Reis’s Pieces uncompromisingly explores one man’s struggle for his place in an altered world and two women’s search for their place in his. Welcome to the life of Reis Welling and all his pieces, an engrossing and provocative world of love, loss, and schizophrenia.
– Xavier Amador, PhD, bestselling author of I Am Not Sick, I Don’t Need Help
– Ginnah Howard, author of Night Navigation
“A literary present.”.
– Dr. Joseph J. Luciani, bestselling author of Self-Coaching: The Powerful Program to Beat Anxiety & Depression
“A learning experience.”
– Michael J. Fitzpatrick MSW Executive Director, NAMI National
“Honest and highly entertaining.”
– Alan Gettis, PhD, bestselling author of It’s All Part of the Dance: Finding Happiness in an Upside Down World
“The human side of mental illness.”
– Randye Kaye, bestselling author of Ben Behind His Voices: One Family’s Journey from the Chaos of Schizophrenia to Hope
“Beautifully and compellingly written.”
– Bill Cross, PhD, LMFT, psychotherapist and professor emeritus of psychology
“Depicts a reality that is painfully true.”
– Nancy Kehoe, RSCJ, PhD, bestselling author of Wrestling with Our Inner Angels: Faith, Mental Illness, and the Journey to Wholeness
“Sure to be an enduring benchmark novel on mental illness.”
– Allen Klein, bestselling author of Learning to Laugh When You Feel Like Crying: Embracing Life After Loss
Reis was dreaming of the forest. He was reaching upward, his hand wrapping around a tree root, his foot finding that perfect step in the earth. He felt his muscles tighten in an almost sexual way as he ascended toward the brilliant fall blue of the sky—his body straining in pleasure, each advance a rush, a wholeness. Each part doing what was necessary—a perfect amalgamation of man and mountain so that when he woke only a few yards from the summit of his dreams, he felt initially euphoric, stretched his arms above his head, and yawned. His eyes then focused on the dullness of the ceiling. Feeling the sticky sensation of the sheets against his back, his head started to ache. The nauseous odor of mildew hit him each time he took a breath, while the incessant sound of Albany traffic assaulted his ears. He closed his eyes and tried, unsuccessfully, to draw himself back into the dream, into that sensation of perfect control. He rolled over on his side and drew his legs toward his chest, glad that he was alone—glad that he could roll up like a child and not be judged. And, if he chose to, glad that he could cry, or even weep, with no one there to hear that tree fall in that forest.
Hey,” she asked suddenly. “Are you gay?”
“What? No.” Reis stopped in the middle of the path. “Do I act gay?”
“No, rather morose, in fact.” Kelly laughed, then quickly frowned. “So, it’s me. You find me repulsive.”
Reis scrunched up his face in disbelief. “What? I—”
“Well, it doesn’t matter.” She jumped up and snapped a dead twig off an overhanging branch. “I have a boyfriend.” She leaned his way and added, “He doesn’t find me repulsive.” Reis was dumbstruck; he had no idea how to respond. He barely knew this girl. She’d shown up again at the library a week ago and now today, so this was the third time she’d joined him on his after-work walk in the park. Today she’d met him as he left the building—sitting on the steps, with her dog in tow. Last week it had been just her.
She’d just walked in, three weeks after her first visit to the library, and sat herself down at that very same table. He’d seen her before she’d spotted him, and his mild surprise quickly turned to pleasure as he watched her chew the eraser on her pencil. After considering Dr. Benson’s remarks, he’d pretty much given up on his spy theory; it really didn’t make any sense. He might have been insane, but he certainly wasn’t crazy. If this beautiful young woman wanted to befriend him, what possible harm could it do? So he’d approached the table, leaned against a chair, and said, “More research?”
She’d looked up from her work and smiled at him. “Always.”
How’s your ant project going?”
“Oh, that. I had to scrap it. Turns out something very similar had already been done.”
“That’s too bad. It sounded interesting.”
“Oh, I have lots of interesting ideas.” And then she’d smiled up at him, and he just couldn’t refuse her desire to join him on his Wednesday stroll through the park.
And now here he was, on a path in the middle of a woods in a city park in Albany, New York, looking at this strange, beautiful girl who was accusing him of either finding her repulsive or being gay, but then telling him, in almost the same breath, about her boyfriend. “I should hope he doesn’t find you repulsive.”
Then she began to walk again, so he followed. “You know, Reis,” she said, breaking the twig in tiny, little pieces and drop¬ping them to the earth, “it seems as if I do all the talking. In fact, it seems I never shut up.”
And it was true: she talked constantly—a trait he found most endearing. She talked long hours about herself, her job, and things that happened to her as a child, chattering pleasantly as they walked through the woods, sat among the branches of a tree, or ate a simple dinner by the pond. He knew that she grew up about an hour north and that her parents were still there, still married and happy with one another for the most part. Her father’s obses¬sion with fishing, perhaps, was the main source of contention. He knew she had an older sister in the area, six years her senior, and that although the two of them had never been terribly close, Kelly loved her niece and nephew and made an effort to see them regularly. He knew she’d broken her arm falling from her bike when she was five and that she had split her sister’s lip open with a rock when she was seven, laughing as she told him that her sis¬ter was being an unreasonable thirteen-year-old. But now, when she looked at the small scar adorning her sister’s lip, she was still burdened by guilt. He knew she loved her job and her ideas—the rush of conception and the satisfaction of completion.
While resting against a tree or staring at the ripples of the pond, Reis would close his eyes and gather her words. He was calmed by the way her voice rose into a laugh and the way it dropped into a whisper. He preferred to listen and not talk, and certainly, he did not wish to talk about himself. And she, up to now, had had no problems with that arrangement.
“I like to hear you talk,” he told her. “You have a great voice.”
Her eyebrows lifted a bit in surprise, and he smiled at her then. “Well thanks…. I think.” She paused a moment before con¬tinuing. “We’ve known each other for weeks now. You know most of my life story, yet I know practically nothing about you. Let’s see…. What do I know about you?” She looked up at the branches of the trees. “You work at the library. You used to teach. You’re not gay. Whether or not you find me repulsive is still in question.” She turned her face to him. “It’s not like I haven’t tried, you know. You have a way of evading my nosiness.”
“Come on. Give me something.” She shrugged. “Where’d you grow up? Where’d you go to school? Why are you working in a library when it’s pretty damn obvious that you’re pretty darn smart?”
He narrowed his eyes. “There’s not much to tell.”
“Oh, but I think there is!” She stopped walking and placed herself squarely in front of him. Her dog, Max, paused from his spot up ahead and trotted back to them. “Why are you so sad?” she demanded.
What? he thought, exasperated, but managed not to say it this time. “Do you always just say whatever pops into your head?” he asked, shifting his face into his best boyish charm. “There you go again.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “Evading my questions! You know…” she continued, her voice dropping to a whisper, “I just want to help you.”
Well, this was really just too much. She’d crossed the line and was stepping into places she just didn’t belong. Reis shifted his weight on his feet. “What makes you think I need your help?” “I don’t know. I just sense it. You’re struggling with some¬thing. I just don’t know what. I’d just like to help.” She sighed gently and lightly touched his arm. “I want to be your friend.” Reis frowned and attempted to put an end to this ridiculous conversation by sliding past her and continuing up the path.
“Reis,” Kelly pleaded gently, blocking his route of escape with her body. “Talk to me.” Reis closed his eyes and sighed. He felt the subtle sensation of anger, mixed up with the predictable panic. “Kelly,” he said quietly, forcing his voice into normalcy, “you are my friend. Hell, you’re the only friend I have. I’m sorry if you feel I shut you out. And I certainly don’t find you repulsive. It’s just that…I guess…I have nothing to share right now.” He watched her face fall from stubborn determination to shame. She looked away. “No, I’m sorry. I have no right to pry into your life.”
They walked on in silence, and Reis felt the day slipping away, the surrounding woods growing dark and foreign. Crickets, ea¬ger for the night, began to chirp, and the distant, low rumble of a bullfrog joined the chorus. “I grew up living by water.” She stopped at his words, and he stopped as well. “On the Hudson River about forty-five minutes from the city. When I was little I’d sit for hours watching the water roll by.” She tilted her head ever so slightly, the details of her face fading with the light. “I remember how excited I’d get when the big tankers floated by. I’d leap up and down on the shore, yelling, ‘Come get me. Take me for a ride.'”
“Did your father work in New York City?”
“Yes. He worked long hours in that city.” Reis took a few steps and sat on a bench at the edge of the path. She sat down also, so close that he could feel her thigh tickle the hairs on his. Max lay down on the ground between them and rested his head on one of Reis’s feet. “He took the train,” he continued. “Each day.” The sudden, bright light of a firefly flew by his head, and he paused until it glowed again a few yards away. Kelly leaned a tiny bit his way, and he could feel the full weight of her existence. “A stockbroker. Long train rides never bother stockbrokers. Com¬ing home late into the night…. So many hours on that train. All those buildings…. I could never understand why he loved all those buildings.” He finished with a sigh.
“Did it bother you?” she whispered. “Growing up without your dad around much?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I just remember what a great man he was and how much I loved him.” He turned to her and let the sadness settle in. “He died…about a year and a half ago.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“So am I.”
Reis settled into the leather chair and sighed at the doctor. “I feel like I’m being tested.”
“Tested?” asked Dr. Benson.
“Well, more like a child, really…or a criminal. Like my life isn’t my own.”
Dr. Benson frowned, then nodded and waited.
“It’s like, now that I’m part of this system, there’s no way out. So many people looking after my welfare…. It’s rather insulting.” Reis stood up and began to pace. “It’s not like I committed a crime against society. I’m not a criminal.” He stopped and ap¬pealed to Dr. Benson. “Why do I feel like I’m trapped? No longer able to man my own life?”
Dr. Benson leaned forward, rested an elbow on his knee, and placed his chin in his hand. “Reis, the system’s there for you. As you said, to look after your welfare. As long as you’re not a danger to yourself or anyone else, you’re free to walk away.”
Reis sat back down in the chair and ran his fingers through his hair. He tried to stop the gasp of sorrow that escaped from his mouth, but he just couldn’t. He rubbed his fingers into his eyes and looked at Dr. Benson. “But don’t you see? Don’t you under¬stand? I have nowhere to go.”
excerpt: chapter twenty-two
Reis,” Ellen said as she passed him the salad bowl, “you’ve been acting a bit off lately. I know you’re not sleeping well.” He took the bowl from her outstretched hand and placed it gently on the table. He did not move to put any salad on his plate. “I assumed you had a lot of work-related stress. God knows I get like that. But it’s gotten to the point…” she put her fork down and implored him with her eyes, “I can’t help wondering if it’s me you’re having the problem with. You barely talk. We haven’t made love in over a week.” She looked so sad; Reis had to look away. “Reis, have I done something?”
Reis turned back to her blue eyes, looking more blue, more intense, more soft with concern than he thought possible, and he felt a rush of love that pushed into his throat and made him gasp.
“It’s not you!” He urgently grasped her hand. “It’s them! They’re always watching me.”
“Who, Reis? Who’s watching you?”
“The heads of my department. I’m not sure why.”
She shook her head, and he immediately saw the error—his miscalculation of trust. “Reis, that doesn’t make any sense. Why would they do that?”
His hand came down hard, shaking the salad to attention. “Don’t you think I wish I knew?” Ellen jumped, and Reis looked away. “Reis,” his name com¬ing out with caution, “I think you’re under a lot of stress right now. Maybe it’s from not sleeping. I don’t know. But think about this rationally.” She continued, slow and patronizing. “You just received your tenure. There’s no reason for anyone to be watch-ing you.” She paused. He waited. “I think you’re being a little paranoid.” “Damn it, Ellen!” he yelled, his hand assaulting the table once more, the salad jumping out of the bowl. “What the fuck’s wrong with you? Don’t you think I know that? That’s what makes it so bizarre!” He stood up and began taking angry steps around the room. “Maybe they think they’ve made a mistake! Maybe they think they have something on me! Why don’t you believe me?” He stopped his movement and took in her tears—saw them roll out of her eyes and trickle down her cheeks—turned his eyes to the quivering salad, and felt the shame.
“Well, even if they are watching you,” her words slipped over the salad, “it’s not as if you have something to hide.”
Then it smiled his way, its green lips curling up around the tomato. “Oh, Ellen,” he said, turning his face away from the salad and into his hands, reaching for his chair and sinking into its seat. “I’m so sorry. Of course, you’re right. Of course, I am being paranoid. They can watch all they want. I have nothing to hide. I just wish they wouldn’t be so obvious about it.” He looked at her and could tell, even with his apology, she was still hurt and con¬fused. He regretted bringing the whole thing up. He’d be sure not do so in the future. “Everything’s fine, Ellen.” He picked up the mischievous leaves of lettuce and popped them into his mouth. “Really, it is.”
excerpt: chapter twenty-five
The introductory botany class, which consisted mainly of freshmen students trying to fulfill their science requirements, was large, almost filling the two hundred and fifty seats of the lecture hall. Reis entered the room just as the class bell rang, knowing that his well-deserved reputation among the students was the rea-son that many of them had picked this particular class. As always, he smiled as he stepped up to the podium. He felt a surge of pleas¬ant anticipation.
The students, who were not already seated, quickly sat down, and all eyes turned to the man who would determine their final grade. He flipped through his papers. A silence fell over the room. Reis looked up from his notes and began to scan the class, already trying to learn the faces that he would be seeing three times a week for the next four months. An eye, a nose, a soft, wet mouth. A puff of blonde hair. A flash of white teeth. A foot bouncing on the end of a leg. The unpleasant glare of the lights. The squeak of a chair. His notes slicing into his finger. He looked down and studied with great interest the red that pooled on his fingertip. A soft murmur broke his concentration, causing him to turn away from the fingertip and turn to the projector, where he wrote his name in large, sweeping letters on the transparency—a curious red smearing with the blue of the marker.
“I am, of course, Dr. Reis Welling,” he began. “My office hours are on the top of your class syllabus, which I’m sure Dr. Green gave you last week. I apologize for not being here, but it was unavoidable.”
He turned back toward the class with a slight smile, trying once again to scan the room. His smile dropped, and he began to scan his notes. “It’s my understanding that last Friday you began a discussion on photosynthesis. Photosynthesis, of course, being not just a chemical reaction whereby the sun’s energy is converted ultimately to water and glucose,” he wrote out photosynthesis on the transparency, “but the very basis on which life depends.” The students bent their heads and began taking notes.
Can you imagine a world without light? A world without photosynthesis? A world in which there was no sun? No. It cannot be imagined, because there would be no life. No light reaction. No dark reaction. No reason for chloroplasts or carotenoids. You would have no reason for taking this class.” The students laughed a bit nervously. Reis stopped and briefly checked his notes again before continuing.
There are two basic steps in photosynthesis: number one being the light reaction,” he wrote this on the page, “whereby the sun’s photons are absorbed, and number two being the dark reaction, where the energy that has been absorbed and stored as ATP and NADPH2 is used to reduce carbon dioxide to organic carbon. We’ll look at each of these steps in some detail over the next few days.”
The students’ pens scraped against their paper. A small cough, a slight sneeze, the rustling of paper, the soft murmur of discord. He turned away from the distractions and glanced up to the high windows of the auditorium. The sun was shining. Tiny particles floated haphazardly. “You might wonder, ‘What is a photon?’ Is it energy stolen from the sun? Without its energy, the sun would no longer be in power. The sun has, after all, ultimate power over whether we live or die.” He turned from the window and queried the room. “Is it any wonder many societies worship the sun as their god? We might be wise to consider this.” He paused a mo¬ment and paced gently, allowing each student the opportunity to ponder his words.
“Does all this come down to depending on the absorption of one small photon by a tiny fern struggling to survive next to an acid-filled stream?” he continued, turning back to the window. “The power of the solar system—this solar system—does it come down to depending on one little photon?” He turned back to the class and pointed at the sea of faces. “You may think the answer is no. After all, the sun is only a very small speck in the universe—a mere photon in the universe, so to speak.”
Reis stopped and smiled a bit. He had always known the im¬portance of photosynthesis, but he had never fully understood its impact on the entire universe. It all seemed so clear. He didn’t know why he hadn’t seen it all before. It was very important that he make the students understand. “Be it not for that photon,” he went on, his voice rising in his enthusiasm, “wouldn’t the earth just spin out of control? A sun without power! And what, you wonder, would happen to Jupiter and Mars?” One by one, students stopped taking notes; the room grew deathly silent. It was only right that they give him their full attention. He smiled at their confused faces. He could—he must—make them un¬derstand. “The death of the sun,” he said, quietly, dramatically. “Surely the whole solar system would be lost…floating around, banging into other solar systems. And yet,” he smiled ironically, “we take the sun for granted by not recognizing the importance of one tiny photon.”
“Dr. Welling? Dr. Welling!”
Reis stopped his movement and saw the young man, midway back in the center of the sea, his arm held high above his head. “Yes?”
“That bit about Jupiter and Mars. Is that going to be on the test?” Several students laughed, while others sat up straight to lis¬ten for his answer.
Reis stared at him. “The test?” he finally said. “It is, I suppose, only natural for you to wonder about the test. But you know what they say about curiosity. You think right away of dead cats, and no matter how you picture a dead cat in your mind, it’s not the lovely yellow kitten you had as a child.”
Reis turned and checked his notes. “Now where was I? Oh, yes. Chloroplast, I believe.”