“No reason why you shouldn’t know.” He paused and lit an already lit cigarette. “You understand, of course, that from the beginning we had the highest hopes of permanence, and we still do… we definitely do—”
“I’m sure of that,” I said.
“Of course, taking you on in this experiment was a serious responsibility. I don’t know how much you remember or how much you’ve pieced together about things in the beginning of the project, but we tried to make it clear to you that there was a strong chance it might be only temporary.”
“I had that written down in my progress reports, at the time,” I agreed, “though I didn’t understand at the time what you meant by it. But that’s beside the point because I’m aware of it now.”
“Well, we decided to risk it with you,” he went on, “because we felt there was very little chance of doing you any serious harm, and we were sure there was a great chance of doing you some good.”
“You don’t have to justify that.”
“But you realize we had to get permission from someone in your immediate family. You were incompetent to agree to this yourself.”
“I know all about that. You’re talking about my sister, Norma. I read about it in the papers. From what I remember of her, I imagine she’d have given you approval for my execution.”
He raised his eyebrows, but let it pass. “Well, as we told her, in the event that the experiment failed, we couldn’t send you back to the bakery or to that room where you came from.”
“For one thing, you might not be the same. Surgery and injections of hormones might have had effects not immediately evident. Experiences since the operation might have left their mark on you. I mean, possibly emotional disturbances to complicate the retardation; you couldn’t possibly be the same kind of person—”
“That’s great. As if one cross weren’t enough to bear.”
“And for another thing there’s no way of knowing if you would go back to the same mental level. There might be regression to an even more primitive level of functioning.”
He was letting me have the worst of it—getting the weight off his mind. “I might as well know everything,” I said, “while I’m still in a position to have some say about it. What plans have you made for me?”
He shrugged. “The Foundation has arranged to send you to the Warren State Home and Training School.”
“What the hell!”
“Part of the agreement with your sister was that all the home’s fees would be assumed by the Foundation, and you would receive a regular monthly income to be used for your personal needs for the rest of your life.”
“But why there? I was always able to manage on my own on the outside, even when they committed me there, after Uncle Herman died. Donner was able to get me out right away, to work and live on the outside. Why do I have to go back?”
“If you can take care of yourself on the outside, you won’t have to stay in Warren. The less severe cases are permitted to live off the grounds. But we had to make provision for you—just in case.”
He was right. There was nothing for me to complain about. They had thought of everything. “Warren was the logical place—the deep freeze where I could be put away for the rest of my days.
“At least it’s not the incinerator,” I said.
“Never mind. A private joke.” Then I thought of something. “Tell me, is it possible to visit Warren, I mean go through the place and look it over as a visitor?”
“Yes, I think they have people coming down all the time—regular tours through the home as a kind of public relations thing. But why?”
“Because I want to see. I’ve got to know what’s going to happen while I’m still enough in control to be able to do something about it. See if you can arrange it—as soon as possible.”
I could see he was upset about the idea of my visiting Warren. As if I were ordering my coffin, to sit in before I died. But then, I can’t blame him because he doesn’t realize that finding out who I really am—the meaning of my total existence involves knowing the possibilities of my future as well as my past, where I’m going as well as where I’ve been. Although we know the end of the maze holds death (and it is something I have not always known—not long ago the adolescent in me thought death could happen only to other people), I see now that the path I choose through that maze makes me what I am. I am not only a thing, but also a way of being—one of many ways—and knowing the paths I have followed and the ones left to take will help me understand what I am becoming.