"I rejected instrumentality... I chose to live in a world with others even if it meant rejection or denial. I had willed myself back into a physical existence, back as an individual.
I was the first, but not the last. She came after... and I'm not proud of what I did when she appeared again. We were alone for a long time after that, and I think she might have even forgiven me. Too late to ask her now.
That's the thing, isn't it? As you get older you start to ask yourself 'was I ever happy? Was there ever a time in my life where I truly was happy?'
But then again, maybe that's the answer.
Maybe you never know when the best years of your life are, maybe you never realize when you're happy and then, when suddenly you're not… it's already too late. Happiness is there and gone in the blink of an eye, and only then do you realize that it's gone. Everything after just blurs, you try to be happy but it's only when you look back that you see what it truly felt like.
Or maybe I'm wrong; maybe I was never really happy after all. Maybe all I ever had were little glimmers in the dark. Fleeting moments of not sadness, but perhaps not happiness either.
Doesn't matter anymore.
It took time, but others started to come back too. People strong enough to come back did, they started coming back in droves. But they came back to a broken world, a world that changed too quickly for them by the time they returned.
A few years later everything fell apart. We tried to help them at first, but people are people. Factions formed, territories made, lines drawn.
War came again.
Those foolish old men who brought about instrumentality didn't know what they were doing. They were wrong... Instrumentality was never meant to be rejected. It was never meant for us at all. Fanatics blinded by fear and greed. This was never meant to happen, everything that followed is my fault.
Years of running away from that fact, but not anymore. I mustn't run away, so I'm not. Not anymore.
I'm gonna set it right. I'm gonna unravel all of this... all for 'her'. Not for me, never me… I don't even know if I was ever really happy at all."
- the broken man.
The lonely little boy sat nervously in his chair, watching as the older lady wrote notes on her clipboard.
He didn't want to be here, not in this empty white room, but his teacher had said that they'd had no choice but to see a specialist. A specialist who worked with children just like him. The lady looked up at him from her clipboard, and she smiled softly at him trying to put him at ease.
It only made the little boy more nervous.
"Hello there, I've heard a lot about you," she said in perfect Japanese.
The lonely little boy shifted in his chair, his feet not even touching the floor from where he sat. He nodded at the woman saying nothing.
"My name is Dr. Page. And I came all the way from America to see you. I came because your teacher sent me to help you. Now, when you meet someone you're supposed to introduce yourself," the doctor said speaking in a calm soft voice. She was very used to speaking with problem children, even children who had lost their mother as he had.
"Hello," the lonely little boy said meekly. He looked away from Dr. Page, never once meeting her eyes as he spoke.
Dr. Page waited patiently. She'd learned over the years that you mustn't push a patient, but rather let them work things out on their own, at least in the beginning.
"I'm Ikari. Shinji Ikari," the lonely little boy said slowly.
"Shinji Ikari. That's a lovely name, and how old are you?" Dr. Page asked again, still with that warm smile on her face. But the smile was fake; he knew the lady was pretending to be kind. Why did adults pretend to be something they weren't, he wondered?
"Se- Seven," Shinji said slowly.
She knows. She already knew everything about you before you ever walked into the room.
Little Shinji let out a small whimper, and he flinched back as if struck. Dr. Page froze, frowning at him, she seemed unsure of what to do for a moment.
No, not again. Teacher said I mustn't listen, the lonely little boy thought.
Dr. Page adopted another warm smile, this one softer than the one before. Calm, relaxing, and giving the lonely little boy his space.
The smiles mean nothing. They're manufactured. Don't tell her.
Shinji closed his eyes tight.
"Shinji," Dr. Page called to him sweetly. He opened his eyes and managed to look back at her.
"Do you know why your teacher called me?"
Shinji shook his head saying "because I'm sick. Because… I see things. Because I hear things. Because of my dreams."
Dr. Page added more notes to the clipboard.
Don't tell her.
"Why do you think you're sick?" Dr. Page asked calmly.
Shinji fidgeted nervously in his chair, thinking of what his teacher had told him. To trust the lady, to tell her everything because that was the only way she could help.
Lie. Don't tell her the truth.
"Sometimes my head hurts, and I have dreams. Teacher found me bleeding from my nose more than once." Little Shinji said looking away, his eyes glued to his shoes.
"Now Shinji, tell me what do you see when it happens?" Dr. Page said, her hands were gripping her clipboard tight, pen in hand, eager for what came next.
She does not care about you.
Little Shinji trembled at the thing in his head. He closed his eyes remembering what his teacher had told him, to tell the doctor lady everything.
"When I sleep… sometimes I hear a woman screaming," Little Shinji said slowly. Dr. Page's pen flew across her clipboard scribbling notes.
"Go on," Dr. Page said listening carefully.
"And sometimes… I see flashes of people. Too many to count, the people are lying down... and they're not moving. Then I see the people vanish… and instead, there's… there's a liquid in their place." Little Shinji said forcing himself to remember the dreams.
"Hmm, a liquid?" Dr. Page said frowning. Her pen froze mid note taking. She noted his vocabulary skills.
Little Shinji nodded saying "like an ocean. But not water... a strange orange thing... almost like blood."
Don't. Tell. Her.
"Other times I see a woman… I think she's my mother," Little Shinji continued, he wanted to finish this quickly.
Mother is dead. She's gone, and she won't come back.
Little Shinji felt tears well up in his eyes at the thing inside his head. He knew it to be true; he was always told how much more mature he could be than other kids. Of how he could understand some things better than children his age. He could already understand death, but he hated it. He hated thinking about it.
Dr. Page scribbled more notes, the doctor's pen tapped against her clipboard, as she considered that. Her eyes peered into Little Shinji so that even looking away; he could feel her gaze on him. He could feel those cold eyes looking him up and down like he was a puzzle waiting to be solved.
"Shinji," she called softly. "Do you see your father too?"
Not him, never him, Little Shinji thought. He shook his head.
"One more thing. I… I see a stick, a stick with a point on its end," Little Shinji said.
The images began to flash through his mind again.
Little Shinji closed his eyes tight. His heart started beating faster and faster, the room felt like it was getting smaller, the walls were closing in on him. It was like a panic attack... but all the while he could see flashes of imagery going by at a rapid pace.
Suddenly, the little boy began whimpering as the images kept going, they never stopped even when he closed his eyes. How could he see things when his eyes were closed? He didn't know and that scared him.
Shinji felt his breathing grow harsher and harsher. His hands started to shake.
He felt something warm on his face, and suddenly Dr. Page was at his side calling out to him, but he didn't listen. He couldn't have, even if he'd wanted to.
You shouldn't have told her.
The images flashed before him, and he couldn't stop them no matter how hard he tried.
He saw people bleeding on a floor somewhere else, saw the stick with a point on its end, saw a woman in the dark looking at him, saw a boy older than him alone on a stretch of land surrounded by water, saw a man with greying hair standing in the ruins of a city.
Stop. You have to stop… it'll hurt if you don't.
Little Shinji shook as the blood slid down his face and over his lips. His nose was bleeding, and his head hurt so much that he felt like he was going to pass out. He had trouble breathing, and he wanted to shout or cry, but he was in so much pain that he couldn't even open his mouth.
The image of the woman in the dark wouldn't leave. She watched him, her face hidden from him, and smiled. She never blinked, she never moved.
Stop. Please stop... Shinji pleaded. He wanted to cry.
"Shh, it's okay. Here," Dr. Page said suddenly. Her voice had lost its calm, and she seemed to be on edge. Seemingly at a loss as to what exactly had happened.
From her perspective, they'd been talking, and then her patient had begun shuddering before suffering a nosebleed and clutching his head so hard she was afraid he might pull the hair from his scalp. Not good for someone so young.
Dr. Page grabbed a pair of napkins from her coat. She had been warned this could happen, and gently wiped the blood from Little Shinji's face. "Keep the napkins on your nose, put pressure on it," Dr. Page said cooly.
The child took a moment to calm down.
The images stopped.
Shinji blinked and found that tears were in his eyes, but the boy managed to hold them in. He was breathing slowly and deliberately. After seeing that the boy had calmed himself, Dr. Page stood up and began furiously scribbling on her notes again.
"I think we'll call it a day, you can go home. I'm sorry this happened to you Shinji, but we need to get you better. I promise I will personally do everything I can to help you," Dr. Page said.
She gave him that fake smile again like he was a puzzle just begging to be solved and not a person.
Somehow, Little Shinji found that he did not like Dr. Page very much.
In the days that followed, Little Shinji's teacher brought him to Dr. Page's office many times. Each time the doctor was careful to steer the lonely boy away from another nose bleed, but all the time gathering more notes. Asking him questions.
Dr. Page told Little Shinji to draw what he saw in his dreams with color pencils. Dr. Page photographed and scanned the drawings, heavily documenting the boy's case. She made note of his attachment to his deceased mother. She took blood samples but found nothing out of the ordinary.
Page personally escorted the boy to a facility to have an MRI done several times. She told him how lucky he was, that the doctors cared so much about him that he didn't have to get on the waiting list for the MRI's. The results were heavily documented and eventually sealed.
Little Shinji was prescribed sleeping pills and a variety of new experimental drugs that seemed to improve his situation. His night-terrors stopped, but he still found himself visiting Dr. Page regularly.
Every day, he took his pills just like his teacher said, the action became almost second nature to him. From his teacher to the nurse at school, to even other children who came into contact with the lonely little boy, the words 'Shinji, take your pills' became commonplace.
Then came the day that Little Shinji found himself placed in a mental ward by Dr. Page. His teacher and caretaker signed the forms with very little convincing.
He spent five years there. Five years in the mental ward with other children who had problems, but none of them were like him. None of them had problems like he did.
Little Shinji was considered a special case by the staff. He was given his own private room, but it felt more like a punishment. Little Shinji alone in a ward with nothing to do but wait for the doctors and their tests, or else homeschooling via his teacher when the man came for a visit.
Teacher was his only visitor. His father never came to see him. Not once.
Shinji was quiet and shy, but well behaved. He was told that he was very mature for his age despite his lack of social skills or social interactions, that he understood concepts a normal child should not. He was told that he sometimes spoke with a vocabulary that was higher than someone his age should have. The staff, the men and women dressed in white, made him take tests for his IQ and intelligence.
They told him that he was 'interesting.' That he could read on a reading level of almost a young adult already, that he could understand things other children could not, yet he was not a prodigy as he lacked the pure intelligence of those special few. Little Shinji heard the doctors call him 'a truly unique case'.
That was what he was to the doctors and staff of the ward, another patient, another thing to be studied and fixed, but not a person.
"Take your pills," the doctors and staff told him.
They always dressed in white, always giving him a fake smile. Artificial, for they were afraid he'd have another breakdown, or an episode, or a nosebleed.
"Take your pills, Shinji," his teacher told him whenever he came to visit, which was only four times a week to give him his homeschooling.
So many tests, so little people to talk to. No friends.
"One day you'll get out of here, I promise," his teacher told him. A promise to a lonely little boy in a mental ward, a promise the boy stopped believing in.
He was allowed comforts that other patients were not, he was given a cello and allowed to take lessons from his teacher and the staff. He got pretty good at it, not much else to do when you're in a mental ward but practice your music.
One day, the lonely little boy met a friend. Another patient.
A little girl a bit older than him, she was wilder than he was. Where he was timid and shy, she was adventurous and blunt. Where Shinji was quiet, she was loud. But for two lonely children in the ward, they were perfect for each other. He met her when he caught her stealing extra food from the cafeteria when no one else was looking; he didn't report her. She had looked at him as he spotted her in the act, and she had thrown him a cup of stolen pudding before running off.
Little Shinji had smiled, and the next day she sat with him at lunch.
They became friends, playing together and talking for hours when the staff let them. Her name was Mari Illustrious Makinami, and she was Shinji's first friend.
They became attached to each other, someone for the other to talk to. For many of the children in the ward were incapable of speaking coherently, and many others too unstable to speak with at all.
"Don't be scared," she would say as she took extra sweets from the cafeteria when the staff wasn't looking, or else dragged him along on an adventure inside the ward. The ward itself was not a pretty place. It was all in white and lifeless, sterile, but for the courtyard which the patients were allowed to use under careful supervision.
And yet two children and their imagination breathed life into it. She made Little Shinji remember the promise his teacher had made him.
"I'll get out of here someday," Little Shinji said one afternoon.
The two children were sitting in his private room atop his bed, both eating a cup of pudding that she'd taken from the cafeteria when no one was looking.
"You think so?" Little Mari said, her long hair ruffling as she rocked back and forth, she was always a ball of energy.
"My teacher told me. One day, I'll get out of here. One day I won't be so sick," Little Shinji said. That was something they never talked about, they never talked about their problems, they never talked about 'why' they were in the ward, to begin with.
Little Mari had paused at that; the first time she'd ever grown serious in all her young years. She looked away from him and set her pudding down. She looked so sad, her long hair falling over her face as she seemed to consider that.
"And me? You think I'll get out too?" the little girl said.
Little Shinji smiled, smiled for perhaps the first time since his mother had died.
"Why not? Maybe we'll get out together. And we can eat pudding every day and go adventuring," Little Shinji said.
Mari looked at him from underneath her long hair. The little girl smiled at him, tossing her hair to her side as she raised a hand saying "pinky swear?"
"Pinky swear," Little Shinji said taking Mari's hand in his own.
But that didn't happen. When Shinji was 11 years old, Mari left the ward without him.
He looked for her in the cafeteria one day but couldn't find her, he looked all over the ward but he couldn't find her. He asked the staff and they avoided his eyes telling him that Mari had been released the night before. She was there and gone just like that. He hadn't even been able to say goodbye.
Little Shinji sat alone in his private room trying not to cry for days.
Her name was Mari Illustrious Makinami, and she had been Shinji's first friend. And in the blink of an eye... she was gone
When Shinji turned 13 years old, he was released from the mental ward. Dr. Page and his teacher had signed the forms, and they had deemed him healthy enough to leave.
He lived with his teacher, and the kind man taught him how to cook. Shinji finally left the ward, was placed in a school and got to see the outside world again. But he wasn't completely free, he was sent his medication and he took his pills every day.
"Take your pills, Shinji," his teacher would tell him.
For a time, Shinji thought he was happy, or at the very least not sad. He had left the ward. He wasn't as sick as he had been when he was younger. But then months later on his 14th birthday, his father sent him a letter. A single envelope with his name on it.
It came in the mail, and when his teacher had handed it to him, Shinji hadn't known what to feel. He opened it to find an I.D. card with his name on it, along with a single word written on paper for him.
That was all his father had said. No mention of his many years since seeing the man, no congratulations on leaving the ward, nothing but a single worded letter. He tried not to let it bother him and moved onto what was left in the envelope.
Enclosed beneath his father's letter was a picture of a young woman in her late twenties, dressed loosely and beaming with eyes full of life.
Misato Katsuragi, the thing in Shinji's head told him.
"Misato Katsuragi," Shinji whispered. He spoke the words before ever reading the card telling him that she would pick him up when he was inside the city. He had known her name before ever having read her message, and he had a feeling that she'd be running late when the day came.
Bonus: a podcast has featured a portion of this story as an audio drama.
Check them out: https://youtu.be/0W7CwGNoV7Y?t=573