Tuesday. I lay in bed reaching out forlornly to the sleep that was inexorably slipping away from me as Orpheus to his love Eurydice when she was stolen once more from his arms to return to the underworld whence they came. Consciousness streamed in the window to me as it always did bringing increasing uneasiness, clenched teeth, impending pain, my ever-present life-long companions.
Shrink day. At least I did not have to prepare for early departure, the daily commute. Ah, today might be a little bit different. I started to recall the story that I had for the man, the exciting adventure I had had the previous Friday night, the fun.
The struggle lost, I rose sluggishly to take on my yoke once more. Here I was, in a rental room with a few pieces of furniture from GoodWill and a hastily-rescued pile of miscellaneous artifacts and remembrances from a lifetime of failed promises and disappointments. How do I accomplish the third divorce? What do I do with a career when the government contractor I’m supposed to be working with, clearly and aggressively wishes to prevent the government from developing the capabilities that I am assigned to facilitate? For what reason do I even shave and brush my teeth?
Among the artifacts was the faded blue cover of my high school yearbook. I had been carting it around now for how many iterations, how many new beginnings, and all-too hasty retreats? Here I was, faithfully carrying out the prescription of that audacious English class research paper, the one on the relationship postulated by Sigmund Freud between schizophrenia and latent homosexuality. It had turned up a predominant prescription that many patients were ordained to follow. A crisis in late teens would be diagnosed as schizophrenia, treated, perhaps hospitalized, then released. A second episode, a few years later, would be less surprising or sudden and take the person deeper into despair. Then, trials and tribulations would mark a troubled adulthood until a third breakdown, perhaps in the mid thirties, would condemn the poor person to a lifetime of mental illness, solitude, helplessness, despair and dependency, with permanent institutionalization most probably the best course.
I could remember my mother’s expressions of exasperation, “You are getting off the track again.” But here I was, precisely on the track that she and the doctors she had found for me had laid out for me to follow as if I, the engineer of my life, could control the speed of my train but was utterly helpless in steering the course.
Well, Friday night had certainly been a surprise, hadn’t it. It certainly had not been part of the prescription, the prognosis, the plan. In fact it had been off the hook!
I sipped my morning coffee and finished off a piece of jam and toast. I looked over in the far corner. Yes, the knot of smokey pantyhose tangled up with the leopard pattern briefs were still there. Exactly what had she thought that I was going to do with them? I smiled again, remembering.
So, I went back to the bathroom for my morning ablutions. Then, from the medicine cabinet I counted out the morning dosages. Two tablets of Depakote. One little Lithium. Those I had been taking for 5 years now. The little round sugar-coated Trilafon tablet, that I had been taking faithfully for almost 20 years now. The half of a Cogentin, crumbly white like aspirin, for the extrapyramidal symptoms. And 50 mgs of Seraquil, our latest little experiment. I could swallow them all without water but a little water anyway made it easier. I noted that I needed refills on the Depakote, those big orange pills always seemed to disappear so fast.
I checked outside my front door. The sky was partly cloudy, the air moving lazily and feeling slightly balmy. Spring was in full swing and the local birds were all announcing happily and loudly their amazing sexual attributes to all who would care to listen. It could be a nice day, although conditions sometimes have a way of changing quickly this time of year.
Back inside, I realized that it would be a good two hours before I was due at the medical park. I had little else to do. I shrugged, went back to the bedroom, and settled back down on top of the sleeping bag. I dozed off for a little while, almost exactly as I usually did once settled on the commuter train. A dreamless muddy sleep gained me no new alertness or sparkle.
Then I got up again, pulled myself together and went out to my little burgundy car, the first new car I had ever bought and still less than two years old. I started it up and headed out on my way. I have the radio dial permanently set for WJZW. Soft Hits. Soft Tits. The soft tit parade. It was in fact the station where I had first heard about the Bayou, the bar where I had been on Friday Night. Where I first met the girl, the girl that I had been with on Friday Night.
On my way I drove right past St. James. I had not entered there at all since the debacle. The turning point, where everything changed. We had been going there together, my wife and I, for ten years, good citizens of the town. She was secretary of the church council, I served as trustee or treasurer, and then we both sang in the choir. Everything on the surface gave a picture of a normal educated middle aged, middle class couple, doing about what they were supposed to be doing, what their parents and their counselors and everyone had trained them up to do—white picket fence and all.
Then I headed on out the back road, the old road, instead of taking the highway. Anytime I was not under pressure or other peoples’ expectations that would always be my preferred routing. The back roads just did better to keep my eyes moving, my hands and feet, my imagination. I guess I enjoyed the extra activity. Even so, my mind still sought out the coming interview. And that led to reviewing the date from the past weekend, the exciting new turn. Unexplored possibilities lay ahead of me, a road I had never traveled before.
So I pulled in to the medical complex and parked in the parking place I normally used. I went in the same door and walked up to the window where I signed in again, greeted the same nurse the same way again and sat down in the same chair to look at the same magazines that I did every time. I fidgeted the same fidgets. I probably breathed the same air and sighed the same sighs.
In due course he came to call me in and I settled myself in the same chair. He sat down in his more expensive-looking armchair and asked me how my week had been. His short almost-black beard was impeccably trimmed as always, his whole appearance was one of being, well, kempt. No other word for it.
I was finally ready to tell him about my very first date ever with an African American woman and about how much fun we had and how excited I was about the possibilities. I began:
“Last Friday night I went to a bar with this new woman…” and got no further.
The doctor immediately interrupted me to begin a very forceful harangue. “I have already discussed with you several times the dangers of self-medication with alcohol, with your condition” he began.
I tuned out on his stern lecture almost immediately. I had heard it many times before. I have never found a state of drunkenness or alcoholic stupor to offer me any kind of escape or respite from my pain or my other symptoms. There are occasions when I have two or three drinks because there just was not anything else I could find I could do but there also were many other times when drinking simply did not have any appeal despite an inability to think clearly or constructively or to move forward with my life and my goals. The term “self-medicate,” so loved by the psychiatric profession, just rang empty and hollow in my head. It wasn’t done to fix anything. It was just killing time.
I had usually tolerated his little diatribes on this subject because I figured it must be part of the trappings or just the social expectations of the position, although I considered them to be pretty much a waste of our time and the money I was paying him.
But I had so been looking forward to this particular visit. My new friend had shaken me up rather dramatically. Our first date had gone reasonably well. I had held myself to one beer, being the conscientious designated driver. She had had no such restraints. She would order a unique concoction from the bartender, consisting of half of a Guinness in the lower half of the pint glass and a special pilsner in the upper half, poured in so slowly as not to swirl the two beverages together but create a pretty visible divide at the halfway point. The imagery was palpably amusing. Then she would insert a straw into the glass, with agonizing slowness, which would finally, upon nearing the bottom, spurt out froth from its top, in such a suggestive manner that even a dedicated geek like myself could understand the seductive imagery. She was fun. She was funny.
After several hours of good times, we headed out the door to drive home. I of course went to her side of my little car first, unlocking and opening the door for her. But humdrum decorum ended for me right there. By the time that I had made it around to the drivers side, unlocked the door, opened it and got in, she had succeeded in removing ALL of her clothes and putting her heels up on the dashboard, and passed out. It was quite a sight, quite a sight for my timid little self, indeed.
Well, I did not see any indication for me to change my course, so I simply started up and headed out of the parking lot towards her home. However, I no sooner pulled out onto the main road and drove just far enough to begin to feel like I still had everything under control, when I spied a mass of blue and red flashing lights up ahead. Like Christmas lights in the night. I rapidly realized that I was driving into a midnight police sobriety checkpoint. I reached over and vigorously shook my date, called out her name loudly, did whatever I could to wake her and get her attention but my efforts failed totally. I had no other choice but to stop for the officer, roll down my window, and allow him to smell the alcohol and the sweat and the fear and to put myself totally at his mercy. This was quite a baptism, this new little back road I had so audaciously started down.
So I had quite a bit to talk about with the doctor, quite a bit indeed, if he would ever shut up long enough to listen to me.
He did not. He went on like he was on automatic pilot for the entire 50 minutes of the appointment, hardly even stopping for breath. His eloquence, for which I was paying as much as a week’s room rent, escaped like the zephyrs of spring and left as little sign of its passing. He was totally oblivious that I had other completely different issues to talk over with him if he would ever shut up.
When he finally came to a halt, right as it was time for us to part, I surprised both of us by telling him point blank that I saw no reason at all to continue this relationship and so I was terminating my treatment under him. Then I just got up and walked out, feeling like a free man.
I walked carefully back to my little red car, feeling very light-headed, and got into the driver’s side. I was wondering just a little bit about my medications. Before I could even get the key in the ignition and start the engine, I looked at the control panel and spied the odometer. Marvelously, miraculously, it had been reset to all zeroes. I was astounded.
Only a pure, genuine, absolute being made of absolute love for me, could have, would have, done such a wonder. I think maybe I have a new doctor.
Thus began my new life.