Part II: Excerpt: 'A Fractured Mind' by Robert B. Oxnam

For me, the Newfoundland venture was as much an escape as it was a glorious fulfillment. I was escaping a professional life that had become frustrating and running away from awful recollections of a novel I wished I had never published. Deeper down, I felt the harsh embrace of old and menacing patterns. The "great Newfoundland voyage" was possibly my most classic effort at seeking perfection. The boat had to be absolutely flawless in its preparation and in its sailing. And, come to think of it, I wonder whether I subconsciously picked "newfoundland" with discovery of a perfect new world in mind. More ominously, even in the long hours of readying Renaissance for the trip, there were big blank spots in my memory. In the frenzy of predeparture list fulfillment, I made frequent trips to the local marine supplier with an excellent staff whom I'd known for years on a first-name basis. The whole process became routine—make a list, buy the supplies, charge it to my account, return to the boat—and it put me into a sort of robotic state of doing chores as fast as I could. Suddenly one day, two of the staff suddenly came downstairs, and one said, "We were watching you on an antitheft video. We saw you stuffing all those items in your sailing bag. I suppose you really meant to buy them." I was truly shocked: "Of course I'm going to buy them just as I always do," I protested as they escorted me quickly to the cashier's counter, where I gave them everything that I had in the bag and they tallied it up, just as I always had done.

But curiously, rather than being outraged at their treatment, I left the store feeling terribly guilty, cowering like a true criminal caught in the act. When I got home, I tried to tally what I had bought from the store over the past two months versus what I had actually paid in the monthly bills. Oh, my God, I had paid several hundred dollars less than what I estimated. Could it be? Was I stuffing everything in my large canvas bag and then only removing some items when it came time to pay? Was I stealing from a store which had treated me so well for so long? Why would I do such a thing?

Filled with visions of the police coming to my door, I called Dr. Smith for an emergency meeting. His calm voice quieted me immediately: "No, it's very unlikely that they will press charges. Yes, it does sound like you have been stealing from them, covering it by buying part of the items. Yes, severe stress together with a recent history of alcoholism is one explanation for such behavior with no recollection. But there are other possibilities that I want to explore later. No, don't try to explain it to the store now—what would you say anyway? Pay them later when it's a past issue.

"You know," Smith continued, "when I've asked you about dreams, you remember nothing, except dreams in which you feel suddenly 'caught' and 'very guilty.' I think we have a clue today."

I left Smith with some confidence I wasn't about to be arrested, but scared to death about what was actually happening during the blank memory periods. A few months later, I sent the store an envelope with cash, more than sufficient to cover their losses, and an unsigned note saying to cover an overdue account.

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