If I could start again
A million miles away
I would keep myself
I would find a way.
I dreamed that I put part of myself into a puppet-ventriloquist’s dummy-teddy bear (it kept changing) so I could keep my true self safe. I won’t go into detail since my bizarro hormonal dreams are not terribly interesting. But the idea is a good one. It might make a story someday after I plow through the hundreds of ”promising notions” in my notebook.
It’s a warning, too. My job is fairly mundane and not terribly fulfilling. I suppose that’s my fault. (Not that America is teeming with fulfilling jobs at the moment. Or jobs at all.) Before I dreamed about the dummy-puppet thing, I was thinking about how much time I spend being bland and formless for the benefit of strangers. The person I am becoming makes me miss my high school self, and goddamn if that isn’t depressing.
I wear the same clothes every day, in and out of uniform. I rarely wear nail polish or do much with my hair. No makeup (my high school self cringes at that) and very little jewelry. Depression, you say? Well, not entirely. I can’t really afford those kinds of self-care anymore. Even buying uniform pants strains my budget, largely because clothes aren’t made to last in our ever-wasteful future dystopia.
I don’t have time to read much anymore. My time is eaten up by my job and my health problems and dishes and grocery shopping and endless fucking laundry and fixing one more thing that’s breaking. There are times when I want to set fire to this house, pack up my cats, and drive. Ideally I’d drive to Bent Fork, Tennessee and live happily ever after with Nick and somehow we wouldn’t starve. Or hate each other. And maybe have sex or something. That can’t happen, for a number of really good reasons. Heaven knows the poor man has enough on his plate without my whiny ass under the same roof. But the fantasy is enough to keep me going as I stock milk and wipe tables.
Why don’t you leave? My friends don’t ask anymore, but they think it. They’re all sick of my whining and so I try not to talk about it anymore. Normal people don’t understand these things. Normal people can walk right out the door and get an apartment. Normal people have the social skills to get help with things and to get jobs that pay the bills. Normal people (though I suppose this is becoming less common) can even, if they want to, make major life changes without wondering when the fucking sky is going to fall on them. Because for normal people, the sky only falls once in a while.
Constant and varying problems take a huge toll on one’s personality. You end up in a sort of permanent crisis mode. Because the stream of problems is endless and often overwhelming, you can’t think about anything else. Most of my friends don’t know what I was like before all of the shit began. Actually, most of them don’t really know what I’m like now. Human beings put on all sorts of facades in order to deal with each other. I can’t pretend that everything’s all right, and I can’t pretend that I’m normal, but people want to believe that I’m both. So they do. I don’t mention the more objectionable parts of my life/beliefs/personality, and my friends/family/coworkers fill in the blanks with whatever makes them comfortable. I blame Nick for that bit of awareness. I didn’t realize that I’d shut myself off so much until he blew the doors open, so to speak.
I’m not sure I’ll ever forgive him for that.
Well, that was a nice bit of bullshit, eh? This is what blogs are for, after all. I need to sleep now so that I might be moderately functional at my dull and underpaid job.
666 words. Woo haaa.
It is late in the day and I should be sleeping. This week has been drearily awful in the way that only service jobs can be. My body seems to be breaking down and suddenly I feel old. My right arm has been going on strike lately; without warning my fingers will go numb or stabbing pains will shoot up my forearm. Typing is a real joy, I tell you. My feet are sick of the tile floors and my back isn’t happy either. I have a zillion appointments lined up to address these problems but the bottom line is that my body is slowly crapping out on me. It will take a few decades, of course, a few agonizing decades in which I will become more and more disabled until the society that houses me decides that I am no longer a person. A cheerful thought.
I haven’t even been depressed, just bored and a bit overwhelmed with various problems. But working in a hospital (and watching corpses roll by on a regular basis) can make anyone ponder their own death. I’m thirty now, unmarried and likely to remain so. I’ve known for a long time that I will die alone in a room that smells like cats. No doubt my furry bastard children will have plenty of time to feast on my corpse before my body is discovered. But what happens then? What about a funeral? Should I bother with a will? Should I try to con Nick into marrying me so I don’t die alone?
I truly hope that I manage to outlive my mother. She will of course manage to gain full control over my funeral arrangements because that’s how she does things. I know that I want to be cremated; I have loathed this body and its limitations for my entire life and I feel the need to be free of it death. I’d like to have the ashes scattered in the ocean somewhere so I can become one with the fish. Mumsy doesn’t believe in cremation due to some vestigial Christian beliefs. She overrode my father’s wishes regarding burial and I know she wouldn’t respect mine.
I also want a huge, ostentatious statue commissioned. I don’t really care where it goes, but it must be an overly flattering sculpture of me as a warrior mermaid (with supremely perky tits) surrounded by naked men. As of this morning, I have a standing oath that a dashingly nerdy gentleman will leave a black rose at the foot of this statue every year upon my most exalted birth date.
This is not a suicide note, I promise. I was just thinking. I had a broken phone call with my dearest this morning and two things became clear. The first is that I need a new goddamn phone. The second is that he’s not going to be able to execute my will. (It was an odd conversation, to say the least.) I can’t afford a lawyer, but I probably ought to make a will just in case. The last ten years have been progressively nightmarish and it would be fitting for me to die just as I’m finally getting my shit together. I need an executor, though. I need someone bitchy enough to steamroll over my mother (and possibly a few other family members) if I kick the bucket suddenly. I have some righteously bitchy friends, but none of them will be able to tell my bawling psychotic mother where to stuff it. Hmm.
Deep thoughts. Deep, self-centered thoughts. Goddamn my arm hurts and it took way too long to type this. At least it’s short!
For us, Valentine’s day dinner was actually a day-after breakfast. And it definitely did not take place in a swanky French restaurant, or even at Olive Garden. Nope, for such a truly romantic couple, only McDonald’s would do. At least it didn’t have a Playplace. And the bathroom was clean. But still, it was an off-the-turnpike McDonald’s. Neither of us had slept that night. I worked the night shift. He had been helping his aunt move into a hospice facility. He had driven for hours just to meet me that morning, and we had only a short time together before he had to drive back.
I may not see him again for months, perhaps years.
How do I write about that morning? I can’t talk about it. I don’t really have the words. Words like “love” and “boyfriend” haven’t meant anything to me, on a personal level, for almost a decade. Things like that happen to other people. Valentine’s Day has never meant anything except candy, and now it’s an anniversary of sorts. I’m only writing this now because I miss him desperately. I may very well delete this entry when I’m finished. I have kept him a secret for quite a long time, though at first there wasn’t anything to tell. My mother has never met him; in fact, she doesn’t know he exists. Neither do my friends. I changed my Facebook status because it amused me to do so. Otherwise, there is no outward sign of his gentle presence in my life.
I wish I had a picture of the two of us together. I wish I could show you how happy we were that morning, two refugees who’d found a brief bit of solace. But I didn’t think of it then. Later, I thought I should have taken a picture as proof, as if to show the world that I can be just like everyone else. Look at me! I have a boyfriend! I’m not a loser, see? I wanted to post it on Facebook as if to prove that I’ve finally become an adult.
And you know what? That’s bullshit. With or without a “him” in my life, I am an adult. I pay bills, I work (oh, do I ever!), I fix things and break things just like everyone else. I know a lot of women who define themselves by the men in their lives, women who have to have a man even if he makes them miserable. I would rather cut off my arm than be one of them. And you know what else? I don’t want to share him. The part of him that loves me (I typed it! I did! He does! I’m crying again!) should only belong to me.
We let our food get cold that morning. My mocha was a cup of pure sludge by the time he left, but I didn’t need it to stay awake. It had been so long since I could talk to someone, really talk and just let the words come out without censoring myself. There was no awkwardness whatsoever, not even when we stopped bitching about movies and talked about “us.” We held hands across the table. I hope I never forget how it felt to have his hands touch mine.
We first met at Lycoming, though he transferred out after freshman year. Every so often I’d get an email from him, and every so often I’d send one, usually with some random thought or book recommendation I wanted to share. The emails stopped coming shortly before my dad died. The next few years-well, I wasn’t really thinking about him. We connected again on a sci-fi website and the emails resumed, but longer this time. And then phone calls. And sometimes texts. He lived in D.C. and we talked about meeting. Until his dad had a stroke, and my brilliant computer geek had to leave his job and move to Tennessee.
He looked so tired. I probably did too, but he said I was beautiful. And for a little while I felt like it might be true. I forgot that my hair was frizzy and my glasses were smudgy and my teeth too yellow for television. I wanted to hug him, to come with him and make the stress lines disappear.
It is deeply frightening to feel this way about another human being. It is terrifying to spend years searching for acceptance and to find it in this one person. I don’t know how it is for other people, but I suppose at least some of them feel the same way. Perhaps it would be different if we lived together and did normal couple things. Perhaps it would be different if we had better, more prosperous lives, and perhaps then we could afford to take each other for granted. But that’s not the way it is, is it? We’ve both heard the word “foreclosure” too many times, we’ve both dipped a toe in the pools of suicide, we’ve both watched life and liberty and happiness slowly drain away over the past few years. So we’ll take what we can get.
What that means now is that we email back and forth whenever we can. We get on FaceTime when possible, which has been exactly twice in six weeks since our schedules don’t match up at all. We write about the things we want to do together and the places we want to see. We try not to talk about the latest shit going wrong in our lives because shit is always going wrong in our lives. For him, I try to stay positive. I don’t know if I’ve ever done that for anyone. Sometimes it’s the only positivity I have to spare; work has been a mess lately and the house is falling down some more. But he doesn’t need to know. I suspect he keeps things from me as well.
I don’t think I can call him a boyfriend. I think of him more as a lifeline, or as a tether that holds me to my true self. Maybe someday we can actually be together, and maybe we’ll fizzle out and be “just friends.” I don’t know, and I have learned that the future is quite a nebulous thing. All I know is that I no longer suffer from a terminal case of loneliness, and neither does he. ‘Twill have to be enough.
I think I am going to hit the “Publish” button after all. This piece is terribly melodramatic, but that seems typical for the lovelorn so I’ll leave it. I hope these fucking hormones level out soon because I am weepy as fuck. I would ask my friends to PLEASE PLEASE not tell my mother. She doesn’t need to know and she’s already paranoid that I will “abandon” her. She has her claws in most of my life but she will not have this. And no, he doesn’t have a Facebook, largely due to his job. And no, I’m not telling you his name. It doesn’t matter in the slightest. In fact, you can just imagine this as a work of fiction if it makes you more comfortable. I believe some of my old coworkers suspect me of being a lesbian (horrors!!!), and I wouldn’t want to spoil such a good story.
Old poem here. I’m still kinda proud of it despite the flaws because it marked a major shift in my style.I can’t seem to get it to format correctly. Maybe I’ll fix it later.
The Juniper Tree
I was found in the snow beneath the juniper tree,
lips blue but smiling.
Waking in the blank hospital room,
I tried to explain to them
that the heart that once beat below mine
now rests beneath the juniper tree.
Red blood and white snow gave me a miracle
That melted with the coming of spring.
Leaves spiralled joyfully on the day he was born;
They swayed quietly overhead
when his weakened heart stopped.
Beneath the ancient juniper tree,
where dandelions and tiny violets
dance like faeries around a hand-sized stone,
All that was good and joyous in me
sleeps in the smug arms of Mother Earth.
When these unknowing faces finally let me sleep,
let my bones be wrapped in silk,
and lay them beneath the juniper tree.
O sweet bluebell, white anemone,
grow over my moss-swept bones
beneath the eternal juniper tree.
As soon as I walked in the door, I could smell it: that peculiar blend of entitlement, sleep deprivation, and just plain specialness that permeates the air on a Friday night. Unfortunately for me, this was Thursday. Before I even clocked in, I reached for my flask. There was a kid in the corner chewing on a houseplant. Six years old, blonde and blue-eyed. His mom had that where’s-my-Ativan look that’s getting more common these days. Not for the first time, I thanked my lucky stars that the only children I had were a couple of lazy asshole cats. I thought the kid might have ADHD or something but it certainly wasn’t my problem. I rounded the counter to begin the day’s business. It was then that I saw the half-empty case of Red Bull sitting on the floor. The red stickiness on the kid’s face suddenly made sense. One thing was for sure: the kid was eventually gonna leak like a Wal-Mart garden hose on the sale rack. I spared a little prayer for the houseplant.
The second thing I noticed behind the counter was the cash drawer, full of the good green and out in the open for any Tom, Dick, or Harry to help himself. Not for the first time, I cursed my coworker, the blondest brunette I’ve met in a long time. The third thing I noticed was an inch of dirty water on the floor. The smoothie machine had pissed the bed again. I was done with noticing things. This wasn’t gonna be a night to dream of marrying rich and running off to Tahiti. This was gonna be a night to get my ass on Match to start looking.
He wasn’t my first case of the night, but he was the prettiest. Six feet of yummy fun. He blinked his big brown eyes at me and asked for something sweet. How could I say no? He was so polite about it after all. I was just about to ask for some green (pretty or not, I got bills to pay) when he said, “Oh, and my wife wants a smoothie.” He held up her ID badge. It was Tonya’s. He was Tonya’s. She’s a good broad if ever there was one; she’s a tipper. Putting her husband in my trunk and running off to the tropics might be seen as a breach of etiquette. A flash of the badge and he was gone, leaving me and the pissing smoothie machine.
The rest of the night passed smoothly. There were a few gripes about the lack of decent soup and a visiting family from the sticks who couldn’t tell a mocha from their own shoes. Nothing I couldn’t handle. No, the next special case came when I was dumb enough to hit the ladies’ room without dumping the coffee first.
Hey, even a coffee dick’s gotta answer the call of nature. Some nights, nature calls more insistently than it should. It was just after closing time and I was coming back from the ladies’ when I heard a slurping sound. I looked over at my coffeepots and there’s some wag in scrubs sucking back the French Roast like it’s his own mother’s milk. I might have been less inclined to violence if he’d at least used a cup. So I did what any self-respecting barista bitch would do: I gave him a flying boot to the knee. I’ll be damned if the dipshit didn’t pull the coffeepot onto his own face as he hit the tile. Made a nifty “bonk” sound, though. I could tell I was dealing with a criminal mastermind.
I checked his tag. A new resident. How nice. Nothing better than a freshly minted scrub puppy who doesn’t know the rules. On the other hand, I was pretty sure that med students were taught to use cups; this genius just put his dirty lips on the coffee spout.
He was rolling around on the floor as I got myself a straw and some Equal and prepared to ask a few questions. It didn’t take long for him to cave. Aspartame and nostrils are a painful combination.
“Who sent you?” I demanded. “You can’t be this stupid on your own. If you are, that zillion-dollar med school debt won’t be going anywhere, will it?”
“Buh-Big Charley.” He gulped. Hmm. Big Charley. There’s a name I hadn’t heard in months. Big Charley Rossman is 300-plus pounds of insecure asshole who fancies himself a doctor. My first night on the job he showed up at closing time with a self-righteous demand for free joe. I sent him packing with all the passive-aggressive snobbery of a Camp Hill socialite. He hadn’t shown his face again, though he’d definitely tried to get me fired. Now here he was, trying to fuck with me by proxy. Asshole.
It wouldn’t have been right to punish the scrub puppy though. Shit, he was one of those rubes they pull in from Hickville who jumps at the chance to work in a big city hospital. He couldn’t say no to Big Charley. If he did, his ass would be forcefully introduced to the nearest curb.
I sighed. “Get up, kid.”
He looked offended at my choice of words, but kept his mouth shut as he got to his feet. Wise move. I handed him a couple of napkins so he could wipe his nose.
“Look, I don’t know how else to put it. There’s no free coffee at this establishment unless you rack up points on a punch card. Ok? I’m real sorry you’re all in debt up to your eyeballs, but you’re making four times my crapass salary so it’s hard to be too sorry. Make your own damn coffee or pay for it like everybody else. Tell Big Charley that, too.”
He nodded, though he looked pissed. Too bad. I picked up the fallen coffeepot.
“You’d better put something on your face before it bruises,” I said.
“I know that,” he said in a huffy sort of way. “I’m a doctor.”
I could tell he wanted to bitch at me for my extremely poor customer service, but he was too scared. Good. Maybe the scrub puppy had some sense after all.
“I know. Good for you. And if you can avoid pissing off the wrong people, you might get to stay a doctor.”
I turned to my cleanup duties and ignored him until he finally got the hint. I was busy thinking about Big Charley. It seemed that I would have to pay him a visit.
To be continued…hopefully.
I started to chronologically describe my struggle with Madame le Doldrums, but that became rather long. So herein let me detail the college years so I can get it out of my head and move along to better things.
I started at Lycoming College in 2001. I was not medicated at the time, since college was going to fix everything. I was going to be a great writer (I won one of the few writing scholarships available). I was going to meet someone who would actually date me. There’d be people who understood me, I was sure of it. All I had to do was get out of this hick town. I made so many promises to myself. (Of course, I’d told myself many similar things about the transition to high school, and that turned to a big fat pile of shit, didn’t it? For someone who’s supposedly smart, I am so goddamn stupid.) Nobody told my brain that things were supposed to be different now. And the lump of pinky-gray crap in my skull didn’t feel like cooperating.
It was fine at first. Lyco is about a two-hour drive from home, distant enough to make me feel independent but close enough to call mommy for help. It was a school for bright upper-middle-class kids. White, mostly Christian, mostly heterosexual, normal kids. I probably haven’t bitched about this yet but I have been extremely sheltered for most of my life. Don’t worry, I’ll ramble about that eventually. College was a culture shock despite being as close to home as a college could be. I had the Internet and cable TV for the first time in my life. So when I began to miss class to sit in front of my computer, it didn’t really seem like depression. I talked to people from all over the world via a chatroom that I found at random. Some of those relationships were beyond dysfunctional, which likely didn’t help with the depression issue.
One of the really shitty things about your brain turning against you is that you don’t notice. To you, it’s normal to sit in a chair for eight hours and play the same mindless game without ever speaking to another human being. When I say mindless game, I mean Snood. That’s right, I played that stupid game for hours and ignored everything else except perhaps a certain Goth dude. This was before World of Warcraft, fortunately for me. So I didn’t notice that I was skipping meals to stay on the computer and skipping classes to sleep. I didn’t think it was odd to shower in the dark. You see, if I turned the light on, I just knew that the water would become acid and kill me. It was a communal shower with three shower heads separated by a curtain. I had to shower at about 3 A.M. or so in order to shower alone and without lights. That was okay, though, since I only slept during the day. If I tried to sleep at night, I heard voices.
Oh yeah. Voices. See, when depression gets bad enough, it can lead to symptoms of psychosis such as hallucinations (unpleasant ones, of course) and delusions. Most people don’t know this, which is why very severe depression can be misdiagnosed as schizophrenia or something similar. I never knew what the voices were saying, but they were creepy-sounding. I could hear whispers, many whispers, and I caught a word here or there but never anything clear. I could only hear them in my bunk at night. My roommate couldn’t hear anything at all, but she said maybe I was hearing the wind or the people above us. I had the best roommate. If my behavior scared her, she never let on at all. She treated me like I was normal. She had no way of knowing what was wrong with me, but she was very kind about what I was going through even if she didn’t understand.
Hey, guess what else comes along with severe depression in the majority of cases? Go on, guess. That’s right, anxiety! Whee! Yes indeedy, Madame le Doldrums invited Monsieur Anxiety to the party in my skull. As a present, he brought a whole suitcase full of panic attacks to dole out on an irregular basis. Not only was I afraid to leave my room, but I was terrified of going to class. Everyone was going to look at me! The professor would ask me questions! Something terrible would happen. I knew it. I was having concentration problems, so my work was shit anyway. I was terrified of what everyone would say or do because I couldn’t get my work done.
I distinctly remember getting lost in the hall near the middle of the second semester. I was so disoriented, even though I’d been to this classroom a zillion times, that I couldn’t seem to process the numbers on the door. I ended up on the floor outside a classroom that I thought was mine. I’m not sure because I never made it into the room. I had the mother of all panic attacks outside that room. I still remember the tiles on the floor and the wall. They felt very cold because I was sweating and sweating as I tried to breathe. My chest was tight and the shaking wouldn’t stop. I thought I was going to die. Nobody stopped to help. People walked by, classes went on, and nobody asked why I was sprawled on the floor gasping and shaking. I don’t remember how I got back to my room. I do remember that I didn’t tell my roommate, or anyone, what had happened. I didn’t have the words then anyway.
This, by the way, happened after I began taking Wellbutrin. My English professor had bipolar disorder. She called my parents to tell them what was wrong with me. This broke the supposed rules of the college, but it may have saved my life. My parents had noticed that I lost a lot of weight and I wasn’t doing very well, but they really didn’t know how bad it was. They took me to a psychiatrist who put me on Wellbutrin and insisted on monitoring me regularly. The Wellbutrin was not considered to be a standard antidepressant at the time; it was mainly approved for weight loss and smoking cessation. It was hard to eat while I took it, so it did work for weight loss. It also kept me going long enough to ace some very difficult classes in my sophomore year.
The Wellbutrin began to stop working around the end of my sophomore year. My doc supplemented it with Provigil, which kicked it up again until about September of 2003 when shit hit the fan. My own navel gazing is making me queasy so I’ll make it short. I had to be rushed to the hospital for a pain in my gut. This resulted in the removal of a seven-pound ovarian cyst as well as the remains of my ovary, which had developed gangrene from the cyst’s growth. Keep in mind that I had never had surgery of any kind, so the whole thing freaked me out a lot. I learned later that I would have died if I hadn’t called 911 when I did, since Campus Health told me to take ginger tea and try to poop while one of my internal organs was fucking rotting inside of me. Depression probably would have set in anyway, but my grandmother chose to die a few days after I got out of the hospital. I was too sick to attend the funeral, not that I wanted to deal with my family anyway. The fallout from that was a bitch, and someday maybe I’ll rant about it. Then my goddamn incision got infected. Really infected. It didn’t heal for months. I shouldn’t even have gone back; I was offered a medical leave but I was an idiot and didn’t take it.
The college was not very helpful about any of this. When I got back to Lyco, none of my professors knew why I’d been gone. The office didn’t know how to process my doctor’s note, and I was in danger of failing all of my classes due to excessive absences. In addition, I was not the only depressed student. I knew quite a few students who bombed out because they never left their rooms or couldn’t stay awake. The college had no idea how to deal with the problem. There was no support system whatsoever, and trying to explain things to college administrators was like talking to the wind. I’d like to think they’re better now. I hope so.
I left Lyco at the end of February 2004. I just couldn’t manage the work anymore, what with the family problems, depression, and nightmares. I don’t exactly regret it, since an English degree is nearly worthless now. I wish I’d made a few better decisions before that point, and I wish my brain hadn’t sabotaged me, but there isn’t much point in agonizing over it now, is there?