Allen and Alene

Alene had been in Seattle around two years when she first encountered Allen. She was unaware that I had got to know him a few months before we were connected in 1999. I wondered whether I should tell her — and then I wondered if I should first tell Allen.

I have kept this story largely to myself — and unfortunately may have missed the window of opportunity in which I might have been able to prove my connection with Alene, thanks to the ever-growing sophistication of communications possible via the internet. But in the summer of 2000 I gave it a try.

My wife and daughter bullied me into therapy, because I was no longer the person they had known. I cooperated and rather liked the psychologist I ended up working with. In the confines of her office, I felt OK to tell her about Alene — and how I could see with her eyes and hear with her ears. I suggested I could prove it and one day I asked Alene to drive to the nearest airport in time for my appointment. Alene looked on the monitors for flights that were either cancelled or very delayed. In front of my counselor, I wrote down the details of each such flight — and suggested she verify them herself later. She took the list and put it in my file. I’m not saying that she didn’t believe me — but it seemed to me that she’d rather not know either way. That summer, Alene and I thought up other exercises. She suggested using the real-time numbers of the Dow Jones Industrials Index as they updated in the corner of her TV screen on MSNBC. The doctor could watch the numbers somewhere online as I read them off with my eyes closed. But that somehow never happened. And I started doubting myself sometimes — even though I had had plenty of confirmation that what I saw through Alene’s eyes was real. For example, on the day Concorde crashed, I slept late and heard about it first via Alene’s TV. When I finally got up and turned on my own radio, I heard the news there too. So I knew this wasn’t just “all in my head.” And once we were both in Seattle, I was able to “ground truth” everything I saw — then I knew for sure.

But for Alene, it’s really all been just “in her head” — until Allen came along — forging a link between the reality around her and the scenario in her head. I decided I ought to attempt to explain it all to Allen. I intercepted the bus for the last run of his shift — and he didn’t question why I stayed on the bus as he deadheaded back to the base. He dropped me off somewhere on Second Avenue and asked where he should meet me later. I was staying at the Olympic Hotel and suggested he just show up there.

Over beers, I told him the whole story. It took a while, because he kept interrupting me and asking questions. It’s one of his irritating habits — and he wants to know the minutest of details. Earlier that day, while Alene was on his bus, I had witnessed Allen interrogating an old lady who had been complaining to him about a plumber who she felt had overcharged her for some rather shoddy work. I quoted to him the content of that conversation almost word for word — and for once, he was speechless!

“I don’t know why the US government wastes money holding Al-Queda suspects in Guantanomo Bay,” I said to him. “They should just bring one of them to Seattle and make him ride your bus. By the end of your shift you’ll have got him to tell you where Osama bin Laden is — moonlighting as a cab driver in Kandahar, or something like that!”

We enjoyed a long laugh over that — and then he let me finish my story about Alene. If he were surprised or disturbed he didn’t show it. Instead, he asked what I wanted him to do about it. I asked if he could keep an eye out for Alene and perhaps be a casual friend — the way he was with the other regulars on the bus. But he wasn’t to tell her anything about me. I told him what had happened the time I attempted to meet her in person.

“Ah, so that’s why she’s so skittish with me,” he joked. “I was wondering what I’d done.”

The next time Alene was on his bus, she found that the rear door didn’t open when she requested her stop — and she had no choice but to go to the front door. Allen stopped her and asked her name. Then he introduced himself. She got off the bus a little perplexed — but rather excited. And on the way home to her apartment, I told her about him.

And thus opened a rather sweet chapter in her life.

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