An Old Shirt

I was with Xanga for so long that writing in my blog was like wearing an old shirt, even inside out, it was still comfortable.  I am not as comfortable with this one.  Compounding my discomfort is my lack of time.  School starts on Monday, and I AM NOT READY.  Because I am not ready, I have not been sleeping well.  I had a weird nightmare two nights ago in which I was trapped in a hotel room by the clerk and told that if I did not finish my writing project that he would destroy all of my personal possessions.  When I opened the bathroom door, there was a German Shepherd attack dog in there.  Some publishers are just brutal.  I mean really, no bathroom?  What is the purpose of that?  Last night was easier, I just woke up in the middle of the night and felt sorry for myself.  I hope you are oozing with pity for me at this point because I have not even figured out how to get to the comments on a regular basis.  I am not intentionally being unresponsive.  My son updated my browser yesterday and defragmented my computer.  Today, I cannot open email for some unknown reason.  I will be a friendly, responsive blogger, but at the moment, I am just frustrated. 

In addition to all of this, over the summer, which was a summer off of my Xanga blog in transitioning to WordPress, I seem to have turned into an introvert.  Please, sir, I did not think that this was possible.  I just want to stay in my house and be happy there.

To make up for all of the hardships that you, my dear readers, are enduring, I am going to post the only thing I have written all summer other than the daily, expected stuff of life.  It was rejected by the original readers, nevertheless, you may enjoy it, a short work concerning mental illness.

What It Feels Like

There must have been thousands standing in the rain that day.

It didn’t matter.  I wanted to be one of them:  soaking, cold, miserable and uncomfortable on rows of hard bleachers.

Instead, I was stuck at home with my mom who was balancing her checkbook.  My dad and siblings were listening to the announcer on the loudspeaker at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway give calculated guesses as to when the track would be dry enough to resume the weekend time trials.

My mom was a lot of virtuous things, but fun was not one of them.  She was a hard-working, frugal, conscientious surgical nurse who squeezed in life with a husband, three kids and a large dog.  She was an over-achieving working woman in the 1970s when almost everyone else’s mom stayed home in my neighborhood.  When she was at home, she always had something to do, but never with us, never with me.  Being left out of the trip to the time trials that day did not make me feel stung.  The one-two double whammo punch felt more like a large gaping wound.  I felt sad like that a lot as a kid.

At lunchtime, she offered to take me to McDonald’s.  We never ate fast food, just food at home.  My mom was a professional, not a homemaker, but we seldom splurged on eating out because we had plenty of perfectly good leftover Tuna Helper in the fridge.  McDonald’s was a major concession on her part, an acknowledgement that she was aware of the The Great Injustice, but it meant nothing really to me.  “Here, let me stick some french fries into that hole in your soul.”

Looking back, I can see the complete unreasonableness of my pain.  I didn’t care about the track or racing.  As residents of the evil west side of Indianapolis, we were close enough to hear the roar of the cars from our backyard, but it was just one of the sounds of April and May to me, no more or less important than the sound of a neighbor’s lawn mower on a Saturday afternoon.  In fact, I could have been much happier at home doing almost anything except for being left out.

I would rather be a part of a hungry, wet, cold miserable, unfulfilled community than alone doing anything I actually enjoyed.

It looked so innocent on the outside, this desire to be a part of something larger, but it was a dangerous thing to be discontent with my own company.  The wonder of being human is sometimes eclipsed by the pain that it brings.

Somehow I found a best friend.  I was not her only best friend, but she was mine, so that was good enough.  Lisa and I had vivid imaginations that turned refrigerator boxes into a week long endeavor.  Inseparable as we grew older, we could always find something to do.  We did not sit around waiting for our families to include us in anything.  Life for me began again.  We were the ultimate tomboys, even devising a tomboy authentication test which included running barefoot over gravel driveways without even grimacing. 

Later, this was replaced with other challenges, small compromises of conscience that did not seem to matter much at the time, until Lisa discovered the joys of shoplifting.

Junior high friends had warned us not to do it.  They had gotten caught at the local mall.  It was not a decision of conscience, but of embarrassment.  “It is just not worth it,” they warned.

I believed them.  Lisa did not.  Horrified, I resisted her constant nagging at first, but eventually gave into her pressure.  She promised to quit nagging me about it if I would do it just once.  She promised I would not get caught. 

“Alright,” I finally relented, “but just this once.”

“Once is good,” she said.

The plain clothes off duty cop met us as we left the store and flashed his badge.  In his office, he informed us that we would be calling our parents.  Lisa swore at him continually.  “You fucking bastard.  I hate you.”

“I could have you arrested,” he said.

“Shut up, Lisa,”  I whimpered.  She continued on, shrieking out obscenities until her dad showed up and apologized for her behavior, which could only be described as bizarre, given the circumstances.  I think that I knew then that my best friend was mentally ill…too.  I should have thought, mentally ill too.

Before my mom ever arrived, I knew that there would be no mercy.  “I am ashamed to have you for a daughter,” she announced to everyone in the room.  “She will not only return the jewelry, she will pay for it as well.”

I slumped in the chair.  I had not wanted to shoplift.  I didn’t want the jewelry, but I never ever wanted to have to show my face in that store ever again.  Now I had to come back.  It was easily the worst summer of my fifteen years of existence.

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, severe depression arrived and set up camp in my mind that day, tormenting my emotions and shutting down hope.  The teenager light sputtered out.  I simply wanted to not exist anymore.  I began planning my last two weeks.  I was a logical person.  Pain of existence exceeded joy of existence.  Things are never going to improve.  It is time to check out.  The most painless way, as I saw it, was a drug overdose.  Until now, the joys of life always included a joint or two, which I knew was not lethal, but my mom’s drug drawer was filled with a large enough arsenal to take out a small rhino.

“Two weeks,” I told myself, “to wrap things up.”

It felt strange walking through life and knowing it was about over, but it also felt like a huge, wonderful relief.  It was an odd secret to have and the only important decision I had made in years without consulting Lisa.

No one needed to know, I reasoned.  It was not like I needed help or something.

“I can do this thing.”

On Saturday night, my regulars picked me up to babysit while they went to dinner and a movie with friends.  My favorite twins were already in bed, and it was going to be a late night.  I couldn’t watch any scary stuff, alone in their house in the dark.  I did the unthinkable.  I watched a television talk show that turned out to be a local preacher.  It had not looked religious initially, but eventually it headed in that direction. 

Honestly, my next memory is a strange one.  Kneeling beside the couch, my head buried in the cushions, I sobbed.  It was the very worst kind of crying, the kind I would never let anyone see me doing ever.  Crying and sobbing and trying to muffle the sound and yet breathe.  This went on for a very long time.

The preacher on television told me to call the number of the screen.  When someone answered, I really could not tell them what had transpired because I did not know for a long time myself.  It was a turning point for me, a night of conversion without much conversation and less knowledge than was probably good for me.  Nothing was really sticking in my brain that night, but I could tell one thing.

The death monkey was off my back.  For now.

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