Episode 34 Transcript

34 - Frank
By lauren Shippen

[sfx: click of recorder]

Dr. Bright: Frank- do you mind if I record this? It won’t be heard by anyone but me, but I find it helpful to listen back to sessions in order to understand my patients better. 

Frank: Like Chloe does when she’s talking to people. 

Dr. Bright: Yes. Exactly.  

Frank: She’s the reason you’re asking, isn’t she?

Dr. Bright: Why do you say that?

Frank: She told me about the argument the two of you had. 

Dr. Bright: I see. 

Frank: She feels pretty bad about it. 

Dr. Bright: She shouldn’t. Did she tell you she felt bad or was it something you felt?

Frank: I felt it. 

Dr. Bright: And how do you feel about being able to do that? About being able to feel other people’s emotions?

Frank: It depends. 

Dr. Bright: On what?

Frank: On who the person is. I- I like feeling what Chloe feels. 

Dr. Bright: And everyone else?

Frank: I don’t like how anxious you feel right now. I hope I’m not making you nervous. 

Dr. Bright: I- no, of course not, Frank. It’s been- it’s been a stressful few days that’s all. I’m sorry if my anxiety is making you anxious. You have nothing to worry about when you’re in here. 

Frank: Thank you. And thank you for agreeing to see me again. 

Dr. Bright: Of course, Frank. I want to help. I’d like to start by talking about what your goals are for therapy - what do you feel was missing in your sessions at the VA?

Frank: Well, like I said the last time, they couldn’t really understand everything that I’d gone through. I suppose I could’ve told them about the experiments but…well, I didn’t want anything to get back to the higher ups. 

Dr. Bright: Why is that?

Frank: There are things that they don’t know about me - things that they overlooked when I was discharged. I didn’t want to give them any reason to get suspicious and track me down again. They’ve left me alone so far. 

Dr. Bright: You haven’t had much contact with the military since returning home?

Frank: No, ma’am. 

Dr. Bright: Remember, Frank, you don’t have to call me ma’am, unless you want to. You’re welcome to call me Dr. Bright, or Joan, if you prefer. What didn’t you want them knowing?

Frank: That I was having problems with the Unity compound. They didn’t- they assumed it wouldn’t work anymore. That’s why they haven’t been very involved. They don’t realize I can still use the empath ability. 

Dr. Bright: Was the compound - you said it was called the Unity compound?

Frank: That’s what we called it. It had a long, official name - a bunch of letters and numbers that the lab coats called it - but we called it Unity because that was the name of the Project. 

Dr. Bright: I see. And was Unity meant to be temporary?

Frank: No, it was permanent. But it was only supposed to work with the other people who got it - just the rest of my unit. It wasn’t supposed to work with everyone.

Dr. Bright: Do they know that it can work with anyone?

Frank: I don’t believe so, no. You’re confused. 

Dr. Bright: It’s just- that’s a pretty significant detail for a team of scientists to overlook. 

Frank: The scientists didn’t. When they put the Unity compound - drug, serum, or whatever it was - into us, that was monitored. We did all these tests and trials, did exercises as a unit to get used to it, had all our vitals measured the whole time to make sure our bodies could take the stress. But once they realized it worked, we were put back in the field and they stopped checking up so much. We would go back to the base and do evals in between our tours but it’s not like they knew what to look for. Once it was in our bodies it wasn’t supposed to change.

Dr. Bright: But it did change?

Frank: Yes. We were all a bit slow to notice at first - it’s an adjustment, being that in tune with eight other people. But eventually your body settles into it, finds a rhythm - a comfort - in it. Towards the end of our second tour, we noticed that something had shifted. 

Dr. Bright: Shifted how?

Frank: Have you ever painted with watercolors, Dr. Bright?

Dr. Bright: I can’t say that I have. 

Frank: It’s not my preferred medium - with oils and acrylics, you can be more exact. It’s easier to get the color you want, make the lines that you want - and you can always paint over it once it’s dry. 

Dr. Bright: And that’s not the case with watercolor?

Frank: If you’re not careful, watercolor bleeds. The pigment will stray outside the line, spread out on it’s own. And you can’t pull it back in or paint over it - if you add more paint, it bleeds more. 

Dr. Bright: It sounds frustrating. 

Frank: It can be. But the end result is beautiful if you have the patience for it. 

Dr. Bright: I’m sure it is. 

Frank: That started happening to us. For the first year or so, the Unity stayed within the lines of our unit - it was contained to the nine of us. It was painting with oils - each person was their own color, but you could mix them in different combinations. But it was deliberate; it was in our control. And then…

Dr. Bright: And then?

Frank: It started to bleed. 

Dr. Bright: What do you mean by that, Frank?

Frank: I’d like to talk about something else, please. 

Dr. Bright: Alright. We can come back to this. Is it alright if I ask you a few questions about the experiments?

Frank: Okay. 

Dr. Bright: Was it just your unit being given the chemical compound, or were they testing it on multiple units?

Frank: I don’t know. We were the only marines I ever saw around - I mean, I guess they could have been doing more experiments elsewhere in the country but we were the first team as I understand it. 

Dr. Bright: So you don’t know if more soldiers were given the compound?

Frank: I don’t know of any specifically but I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried it out on some other people. 

Dr. Bright: Why do you say that?

Frank: The experiment was a success in their eyes - at least that was the impression we got after our first tour. It did make us more efficient - more cohesive as a unit. I think they’ve shut down the project now though. 

Dr. Bright: How do you know?

Frank: It was expensive. With each check-up, fewer and fewer people were involved. At the last eval we had, there were only…ten people there? Maybe?

Dr. Bright: And previously there had been more?

Frank: Lots more. The initial trials had about twenty doctors, at least five generals, and then a bunch of brass from the DOD and that AM organization. There were probably about fifty people there watching us as we got injected for the first time. 

Dr. Bright: My goodness. And you recognized the Hayes out of all that?

Frank: Well, they were pretty high up as far as I can tell. It was pretty easy to pick out the people that were running different parts of the show. 

Dr. Bright: And the Hayes were running part of it?

Frank: It sure seemed like it. There was Dr. Roberts, Dr. Sadler, and Dr. Rodriguez - those were the folks actually injecting us, doing our physicals, basically running the people end of the experiment. 

Dr. Bright: Have you had any contact with any of these doctors since returning?

Frank: Not really. Dr. Sadler wrote me a nice letter after-  well, right before I came back. She was always really nice to us. So was Dr. Rodriguez, but he left the Project after our second tour. I never did find out why. 

Dr. Bright: And Dr. Roberts?

Frank: Haven’t heard anything. I don’t know what he’s up to these days - I imagine he’d be retired by now, he was ancient. I guess he’d been a field medic way back in the day and moved up the ranks with the General who was running the military side of the project. General Patton - yep, that’s his real name. No relation, as far as I know. He and Dr. Roberts were pretty close - I think they came up with the idea for Unity together and then got the Hayes and The AM to make it a reality. 

Dr. Bright: But the Hayes weren’t the ones running the experiments?

Frank: No. They were responsible for the compound itself. I guess they’re some of the DOD’s top scientists so they did all the nitty-gritty lab stuff. Worked with the Director from The AM that would come in from time to time. I never caught her name but I think she may have been related to Dr. Hayes- the female Dr. Hayes. 

Dr. Bright: What makes you say that?

Frank: Well, they looked alike for one. And they had definitely known each other for a long time - you can tell that type of thing, you know? They were always whispering to each other, trying to give each other notes…before I joined up with Unity, I was with a larger unit of Marines and there were these twins. You could tell they loved each other - they would have died for each other - but they were also fiercely competitive. One was always trying to one-up the other. Dr. Hayes and this Director were like that - like sibling rivalry. Between that, the fact that the Hayes are a married couple, and that Patton and Roberts had known each other for a hundred years, it really felt like a family affair. Guess there’s benefit to such closed ranks - easier to build trust and- why did you get scared all of a sudden?

Dr. Bright: I’m sorry?

Frank: There’s this balloon of fear that just started expanding— is something wrong?

Dr. Bright: No, I- I think I know The AM Director you’re referring to. She keeps popping up in unexpected places. 

Frank: Yeah, that doesn’t surprise me. Like I said, I never talked to her, but she had a certain…something about her. Slippery or something. Slippery but strong. 

Dr. Bright: That sounds about right.  It sounds like you got a very good handle on the scope and structure of the whole project. Did they brief you on each of these individuals before you began the experiments?

Frank: No, ma’- sorry. Hard habit to break, especially when talking about this kind of stuff. No. It was just things I picked up from being in the room. Most of the time, scientists and generals and all those types don’t really pay attention to you when you’re a soldier. They kind of forget you’re there, I think. So they talk like they’re alone. Makes it pretty easy to get the lay of the land.  

Dr. Bright: You said you liked Dr. Sadler and Dr. Rodriguez - how did you feel about the rest of the team?

Frank: I didn’t have as much contact with the rest of them - General Patton was a smart man, but very serious. Same with the Hayes - very smart and very stubborn. The military was trying to rush them but they wouldn’t let the docs inject us until they were one hundred percent confident that the compound was safe. 

Dr. Bright: It sounds like…like you were in good hands. 

Frank: We were. You’re surprised again.

Dr. Bright: You can feel that?

Frank: No, I can see it on your face. 

Dr. Bright: Ah. I’m not surprised at the fact that the team working on Project Unity was the best of the best, but- well, I suppose I’m a bit surprised to hear you talk about it so easily and in such positive terms. 

Frank: It wasn’t the scifi horror show that it might sound like. I get it, the term “military experiment” is a bit…intense. 

Dr. Bright: And it wasn’t intense?

Frank: Oh no, it was. But not that much more than anything else I did in my years with the Marines. It was a lot like regular training, but with more needles and monitors. But it’s not like we were being tortured. We all volunteered. 

Dr. Bright: And how do you feel about it now? 

Frank: About volunteering?

Dr. Bright: Yes. 

Frank: If I could go back, knowing what I know now, I would make the same choice. I’ve surprised you again. 

Dr. Bright: Yes. You have. 

Frank: It’s not the volunteering I regret. 

Dr. Bright: But you do regret something?

Frank: I regret a lot of things. 

Dr. Bright: Like what?

Frank: I’m- I don’t think I’m ready to talk about that just yet. 

Dr. Bright: Okay. Let’s leave the past for a moment - how are you feeling now? Today, this week - how are things going?

Frank: Better. There are still- well, you know, there are still bad days. But going back to the counselor at the VA a few months ago really helped me deal with- with some of the more normal military stuff, I guess. Chloe has been a big help. It’s nice to have someone who knows what’s going on in my head without having to explain.

Dr. Bright: I’m very glad to hear that. And Mrs. Turner? Are you happy living with her?

Frank: Very much. I try to help around the house as much as I can - fixing things that don’t need too steady of a hand but Vanessa…well, she doesn’t need a lot of help, does she? I’ll offer to carry something heavy for her but she just…

Dr. Bright: Uses her mind?

Frank: Yeah. It’s pretty amazing. 

Dr. Bright: It is. I’m sure she appreciates the offer of help all the same.

Frank: Yeah, I think she does but I don’t want to overstay my welcome. Once I get a job, I’ll start saving up so I can find my own spot. 

Dr. Bright: How are you feeling about the job search?

Frank: Alright. Some people get weird about hiring vets. They either don’t want to deal with the trouble of someone like me - someone who hasn’t had a job since he left the military, who maybe they recognize from the streets - or they feel like they owe you something because you served. That’s almost worse. They make you feel like you’re special in a way that’s…well, I already have plenty of reason to feel different, I don’t need someone pointing it out by thanking me for my service or telling me how brave I am. 

Dr. Bright: I know that it must be difficult being an even smaller niche of the military, but you are not alone in feeling this way. Last time we spoke, you mentioned you still went to meetings at the vet center from time to time - I think that’s a wonderful idea. 

Frank: Yeah, it’s good. But even that- well, sometimes I don’t want to relate to someone as a soldier, you know? It can be great to hear other vets talk but sometimes I just want to be me. Nothing else. 

Dr. Bright: That’s perfectly understandable. I hope that’s what this space can be for you - you can just be who you are, in this moment. I’ll never ask you to be anyone else. 

Frank: Thank you. That’s why I was even willing to talk to Chloe all those months ago. She was so odd - she came out of nowhere and just started talking to me. A few words here and there until she mentioned painting and then it all just came pouring out. And I didn’t get it then - how she knew I was an artist - but I was just so relieved to have somebody see me as something more than a homeless vet. 

Dr. Bright: I’m very glad that the two of you met. I think it has been good for both of you. 

Frank: I hope so - I hope that it’s been good for Chloe, that is. I don’t know where I’d be without her, or Vanessa. I actually have a job interview this afternoon that Vanessa set up for me - security at the university she works at. 

Dr. Bright: That’s wonderful. 

Frank: I hope it goes well. I think it’d be perfect - it’s a night shift covering the main library and a couple administrative buildings so it’d be quiet and then I could paint during the day when the light is good. 

Dr. Bright: It sounds ideal. Are you comfortable working alone?

Frank: I think so. I’ve been on my own for a little while now and it’s…it’s easier when I’m having a bad spell if I’m not around other people. 

Dr. Bright: I can understand that. I’m curious - do you feel a difference between being around Chloe and her mother versus non-atypicals?

Frank: I don’t know. When I was on the street, sometimes there would be these rushes of emotions so strong that I felt like I was drowning. But I’m not sure if it was from the people passing by or if it was just…

Dr. Bright: Just what?

Frank: It definitely feels stronger with people like Chloe and her mom - it feels more like it did with my unit. Like we’re on the same wavelength. Being around Caleb is sort of the same except- well, he’s a nice kid and all, but I can’t say I enjoy being around him all that much. 

Dr. Bright: Why not?

Frank: It’s like…okay, so we had these walkie talkies we used over there - these relics - old, clunky tech. We didn’t really need radios because of they way we could communicate but we carried them just in case. And sometimes when two walkie talkies were on and next to each other, there would be an awful screeching sound. Being around Caleb is like that- like our minds are trying to tune in to each other but we just keep getting feedback. I guess because he’s a real empath.

Dr. Bright: That makes sense to me - I’ve heard a patient describe something similar before. 

Frank: Let me guess - was it Caleb?

Dr. Bright: I can’t tell you that. 

Frank: Right.

Dr. Bright: Is there anyone else you have a strong reaction to?

Frank: I guess it must be easier with atypicals because, yes, I can feel Sam’s emotions sometimes. Not a lot of them but…it’s like I can feel the ones I recognize, if that makes sense. With Chloe, it’s the creative things that always feels the strongest - when she gets excited about something she’s working on, it’s like this little spark jumps into my body and I want to pick up a paintbrush right away. And I try but…well, I haven’t gotten my hands to stop shaking for long enough to finish anything. But it’s nice to watch Chloe paint. She’s better than she gives herself credit for. I can feel her sadness too - she tries to hide it, but I know her well enough now to feel it. 

Dr. Bright: So your ability to “tune in” increases the more you spend time with someone?

Frank: It seems to. With Sam though, I got a signal right away. 

Dr. Bright: Because she was feeling an emotion you recognized?

Frank: Yeah. That’s right. 

Dr. Bright: What was the emotion?

Frank: Guilt. She’s swallowed in it. A lot of people in my unit had stuff to feel guilty about - myself included - but…she wears it like a straightjacket, you know? I thought it was going to choke her. 

Dr. Bright: Is guilt something you feel frequently?

Frank: Around Sam? Yeah, a fair bit. 

Dr. Bright: No, I meant yourself. Not other people’s emotions - do you feel guilt yourself?

Frank: Of course I do. 

Dr. Bright: Would you like to talk about it?

Frank: I already know why I feel that way - it’s not like it’s unusual for someone like me. I feel guilty about the things that I did, the people I killed. About my unit. Survivor’s guilt and all that. Standard stuff.

Dr. Bright: Just because other people may feel the same things doesn’t make your emotions any less valid or any less worth examining. 

Frank: I’ve talked about all this with the military counselor. 

Dr. Bright: So you don’t feel that you need to talk about it more?

Frank: Well, I- the thing is, that- well, I couldn’t tell the counselor everything. 

Dr. Bright: Why not?

Frank: Because there are some things that happened that don't happen to every soldier. Maybe other people kill and lose people but no one- no one…

Dr. Bright: No one what?

Frank: No one else has to feel all of it. 

Dr. Bright: What do you mean, Frank?

Frank: That’s- that’s how we noticed the difference. 

Dr. Bright: What difference?

Frank: The- the bleeding - the Unity working on people other than us. I- I don’t know that I can- it’s not pleasant to talk about.

Dr. Bright: I’ve heard many things in this office, Frank. I- I’ve done many things that I’m not proud of. I’m not going to judge you. But if you’re not ready to talk about it, you don’t have to. I’m here whenever you’re ready. There’s no timeline for this. 

Frank: No, I want to- there’s so much that I haven’t said since- and so much I’ve never said- and Chloe doesn’t even know. I mean, maybe she’s picked up a thought here and there but I don’t think she- I don’t know that she’d ever understand. I don’t know that you’ll be able to understand.

Dr. Bright: I can’t say with any confidence that I’ll ever be able to understand what you’ve been through, Frank. But that doesn’t mean you have to keep your experience to yourself. If you want to say it out loud, you can. 

Frank: We- we went in for a raid. And there were- well, there were bad people, okay? And the intel was solid - these guys were the enemy - they were the enemy - they were holed up in this house in the middle of nowhere, totally alone, no civilians or anything like that. It was a clear-cut mission. And- and-

Dr. Bright: Did something go wrong?

Frank: No, no- not in the way you’re thinking. It went off without a hitch - these guys were dangerous but by then, we were working together seamlessly. We’d had the Unity for a year or so and it was like we were one person. So we go through this house - quiet as can be - and take the men out. And that’s the first time we felt the bleed- the- there was something else seeping into our bodies. Someone else’s emotions. 

Dr. Bright: Did you find out where it was coming from?

Frank: Yes. It wasn’t one of ours it was- it was the men we killed. They- well, once the first shot rang out, they picked up their weapons and it was harder to get a clean shot in. So some of the men- the- they were our enemy. It was our job to- we had to- but we didn’t know that it would- that we would- We felt them die. All of us - we felt these men lose their grip on life and take their final breaths. And it wasn’t pain - not the pain that you see on someone’s face when they die, not the pain that I- that I- it was something else. It was fear and disappointment and hate and sadness and I can taste it on my tongue even now and I’m just- we’re so sorry. We didn’t know and then we felt it and it made things so hard and we- you have to get used to it, to do what we do and we knew it wasn’t okay but we did it anyway. And we didn’t tell anyone because we didn’t want to leave- we just kept doing it, kept feeling it, every time because if we- if we left- if they shut us down, we wouldn’t be together anymore and we had to be together, we had to stay together, we had to die together and we didn’t. We didn’t. 

Dr. Bright: Thank you for sharing this with me, Frank. I know this must be incredibly difficult for you but saying it out loud is an important step in accepting what happened. 

Frank: I don’t want to accept it. 

Dr. Bright: I can understand that, Frank, and it’s perfectly normal to feel that way. But you don’t have to do penance for your past actions. 

Frank: Of course I do. 

Dr. Bright: No, Frank. Punishing yourself forever is not going to get you anywhere. It doesn’t honor those men, or your unit, or the life you still need to live. 

Frank: I don’t deserve it. This life. I should have- I should have gone with them. 

Dr. Bright: Of course you deserve this life, Frank. Everyone deserves to live. Think about all the things you have in your life - art, Chloe, your own progress. Even without all of that, you have a heart beating in your chest and air in your lungs. You are alive. Despite everything you’ve been through, you have survived. You are strong. You are strong enough to accept what you cannot change. I know you are. 

Frank: How? How do you know?

Dr. Bright: Because you were strong enough to share what happened to you. That takes so much courage. 

Frank: I don’t feel courageous. 

Dr. Bright: I can understand that. But coming in here, talking about what has happened to you, that is an act of courage. We cannot change the past, Frank. As much as we may want to. All that’s important now is what lies ahead. 

Frank: How am I supposed to move forward from this? These feelings, they- they cycle through my body like poison working its way through my bloodstream. And I can’t suck it out. No matter what I do, I’m infected with it. The colors bleed and I can never get them back inside the lines again. I can’t forget and sometimes I wish I could but that wouldn’t be fair - I have to remember them. All of them. Everything that happened. I can’t forget. 

Dr. Bright: Frank, earlier you said you didn’t regret volunteering. Why is that?

Frank: They were my family. They were my family and I let them down. 

Dr. Bright: It is extremely difficult to lose your family, Frank. It’s okay to feel sad or angry or guilty about it - it’s expected, even. But I’d like you to tell me about why you volunteered in the first place. What made you want to join the Marines?

Frank: Well, like I said, it was my dad’s idea. And it seemed like the thing to do, to make him happy. But then…I like protecting people. I want people to be safe, for their lives to be better. And I thought the Marines was the way to do that. 

Dr. Bright: How do you feel about the Marines now?

Frank: I don’t know. 

Dr. Bright: Last session you said you were excited - honored - to be part of Project Unity. Why is that?

Frank: I wanted to make a difference - to be part of something that could change the world. My nana was always going on about how scientists were the real heroes. She was married to a scientist - I never met him, but he helped make some breakthroughs in vaccines in the sixties and nana was always so proud of that. She didn’t like that my dad went to war and she really didn’t like that he wanted me to go. She would always say that wars come and go but science is always there. She liked the certainty of it. Project Unity felt like my chance to live up to her - to the man she wanted me to be. Unity was cutting edge, it- it changed things. What we did - it wasn’t perfect, maybe, but it could help a lot of people. They know that it works now - making normal people better, stronger. That could save lives. It did save lives. That’s what I don’t regret. Progress is progress and I’m happy to die for that if it means the folks who come after me get to live a better life. 

Dr. Bright: Next time you start to remember the difficult moments in your past, focus on that - on the fact that you were part of something bigger that you feel was bettering humanity. Nothing that happened can change that fact. 

Frank: Yes, ma’am. 

Dr. Bright: But you still need to try and accept the things you cannot change. Are you willing to try an exercise with me?

Frank: Okay. 

Dr. Bright: Okay. Make sure you’re seated comfortably, close your eyes, and focus all of your attention on your breath…

[sfx: ticking clock and deep breaths as time passes]

Dr. Bright: …now let the last leaf float away and begin to bring your attention back into the room. Whenever you’re ready, open your eyes. How was that?

Frank: It was…interesting. I can’t say I’ve ever done anything like that before. 

Dr. Bright: I know it can feel a bit foreign at first, but any time you become overwhelmed, imagine your thoughts as leaves on a stream. Accept that they are there and let them float by. 

Frank: Okay. 

Dr. Bright: Alright, we’re out of time for this week. 

Frank: Thank you, Dr. Bright

Dr. Bright: Any time, Frank. Thank you for sharing with me. 

[sfx: footsteps and opening door]

Dr. Bright: Chloe?

[sfx: music coming through Chloe's headphones]

Chloe: Hey. I came by to see- are you alright?

Frank: I’m okay. I- what are you doing here?

Chloe: Don’t worry, I had my headphones on, I wasn’t listening. I thought I’d take you to lunch before your interview. 

Frank: Oh. Okay. That sounds nice. 

Dr. Bright: How are you, Chloe?

Chloe: I’m alright. I- I’m sorry about-

Dr. Bright: It’s fine. We clearly have some things we need to talk about. 

Chloe: I guess we do. Could I come by this weekend? 

Dr. Bright: I would like that very much. Sunday?

Chloe: Fine. Any word from Mark?

Dr. Bright: Nothing new. He should be here soon. I hope. 

Chloe: Me too. You ready?

Frank: Yeah. Thank you, Dr. Bright. I- thank you. 

Dr. Bright: No need to thank me, Frank. I’m always happy to listen. I’ll see you next week? Same time?

Frank: Yeah. Yeah, okay. 

Dr. Bright: Wonderful. Good luck at the interview today. 

Frank: Thank you. 

Chloe: Bye, Dr. Bright. 

[sfx: click of recorder]

[music & credits]

Lauren Shippen: Episode 34 was written and directed by Lauren Shippen and produced by Mischa Stanton. The voice of Dr. Bright is Julia Morizawa. The voice of Frank is Phillip Jordan and the voice of Chloe is Anna Lore. Our music is composed and performed by Evan Cunningham. The song that Chloe was listening to at the end of the episode was “Ride” by the band Far Places. For more information about the show, special bonus content, and official merchandise, please visit our website at thebrightsessions.com. You can also like us on Facebook, follow us on tumblr, and on twitter @brightpodcast. The Bright Sessions would like to thank Elizabeth Laird, Anna Lore, Elizabeth and Matthew Harrington, Ken Hertz, Ilyssa Adler, Oswaldo Rossi, and Authentic. The Bright Sessions will return next Wednesday, on March 22nd, with a mini episode. Until then, thanks for listening and stay strange.