Three years ago a doctor unofficially tagged me with an expected average five-and-a-half shelf life under the circumstances, and I’ve been laboring over a lot of personal stories and essays recently, laying off of Kimye and Bieber and Ted Cruz. Let them do the work for me by themselves. They’re doing it so masterfully after all.
I’ve got only one colossal nimrod I have to deal with, and you’re listening to him.
We continue to evolve once we’re set in our ways,
and I figure that’s sometime around thirteen.
We spend the rest of our lives, hopefully, adapting.
“Perfecting the act”, if you will.
My saintly Uncle Ben and my blessed mother died when I was fourteen and sixteen respectively. My Dad when I was nineteen, just when I was really beginning to realize how special he truly was.
While it’s my story for the telling, it’s your response that stays with you.
It’s the story that stays with me.
Five solid years of mourning the most important people in my life. One right after the other.
Followed by eight years of artificially enhanced insanity.
I’ve used up almost all my available adjectives describing those initial five years, so I’ll let you think of one of your own that fits your take on it best.
So it was a ( insert your own adjective here ) period for me, but I was the same kid at nineteen that I had been at fourteen, having something in common with people who in their fifties.
The same kid at twenty-seven I had been at nineteen.
I just had to learn to adapt rather than trying to re-define who I had become. Different aspects of my heart, my mind, my soul had to do a little dance, a game of “Musical Neurons”:
at any given time, there were only two chairs available for all those irritating little voices calling the shots to sit in, each of them wanting to speak their (little canyon within the crevices of my) mind, and to do so at the top of their wild-eyed lungs.
Too fucking confusing till it culminates with the two most appropriate getting together to sort things out equitably. Invariably it was the bull moose Alphas in the group, the ones on opposite sides of the color wheel either by nature or nurture.
Two of “those little voices” that each represent me accurately in their own unique and singular way.
And being the ones which were aggressive enough to take a seat, they must have been the most passionately and personally rattled by things when the starter’s gun went off.
Might have been two voices from the back of the pack that made it to the chairs the next time the game was played. Or only one new voice and the returning champion. The possible permutations are endless. Easily past seven figures.
Yet each time the game clock started ticking, it culminated in a meeting of mind.
Singular, not a typo. “Meeting of mind” between part of me steering me in one direction, part in another.
And all too often I’ve hidden all the chairs. Turned it into a fucking cranial mosh-pit. Each one of those voices never stopping long enough for me to hear a single thing they had to say.
Absolute pandemonium, but at least I didn’t have to pay attention.
It was not advantageous that I couldn’t have even if I cared to.
It goes on and on and on.
A work perpetually in progress.
So I find myself approaching sixty-three and I’m still just presenting the same package in a different way. Might even be the same wrapping and ribbons.
Just the means of delivery has approached what one might mistakenly call “changed”.
It was well known to the best of my friends back home in Colorado, back in those days, that they didn’t come to my house even remotely buzzed on speed – even anything that might have been cut with speed – because their behaviors would put me way too close to my own edge. So they didn’t, and I let them choose more than their fair share of the music we listened to – which was nice of me, because it was, after all, my fucking house, okay? And that being the case, I pretty much had dibs on who was going to be either pounding or floating in the background and setting the ambiance.
What had happened was that we came to a mutual agreement: we adapted for each other. They could choose virtually any acceptable chemical of their choice and I might have to put up with the likes of Black Sabbath for thirty-seven minutes or so a number of times during the bacchanalian festivities.
So let’s just say if your guy is into getting shitfaced/wasted/mildly buzzed/starting to zone, but he knows enough not to stumble it into your reality if it brings to mind painful memories of your folks being too wasted to make you dinner each night.
In exchange, you try not to allow your BPD or Bi-polar Disorder or Anxiety or PTSD to overreact to whatever unobserved recreational usageyou sense he might be enjoying in his private times.
If he gets to spending more and more time/s (either duration or occasions) keeping you beyond arm’s length
you start eyeballin’ the phone to call 911 every time he giggles at a Three Stooges short …
then someone’s gonna have to change when neither one should have to.
It is sometimes coldly stated “You knew what you were getting into”, but who doesn’t think love will change things?
It’s just demeaning and even demoralizing to believe it will change everything you find objectionable.
It can’t. It shouldn’t.
Nobody should ever be asked or expected to become anyone other than who they are.
That can’t be the game plan.
My wife and I went through that for a long few years, even earlier than when she knew there was a name for her mindset.
We had slowly come to know about one another’s thoroughly aggravating and irritating and frustrating and exasperating idiosyncrasies.
My bouts of burrowing myself somewhere in our room and not wanting to be bothered – for no apparent reason whatsoever – were almost legendary: nothing more than staying on our bed, under the comforter, with our dog Jack next to me, listening to Old Time Radio horror stories to keep my mind away from everything else. For the best portion of an entire weekend.
It wasn’t just the pressures of the office.
After a week at home with only Jack, his brother Frodo, three cats and Ellen De Generes to keep her company while I was at work, Liz had this inexplicable need to be attached to me at the hip. It wasn’t just a matter of missing me, looking forward to our time together. This was not letting me out of her sight. Those times were far more frequent than one might expect from a woman who scrupulously avoided intimacy.
We both understood what was happening and quite possibly more about one another than we understood of ourselves.
Can’t remember how many times they’d up my meds or how many times they changed Liz’s. And / or the other way around.
But we had both opened up about things long before things hit Crisis Mode. We knew where each other had been, what we had gone through to get where we were.
We recognized we didn’t choose to be the way we were.
I used to say Liz was loopy and I was bat shit crazy, the difference being I didn’t care who knew it, didn’t care to hide it, and might even let some of it loose for the world to see as long as I could keep it somewhat entertaining. Liz was hardly as flamboyant,
If I went ahead and talked about it, explained it as the medical condition that it is (“They don’t called it ‘Mental Blahs’, do they now?”), described the state of mind I had taken residence in (“You have Depression and Anxiety and ADD?!? I don’t believe it!?! You seem so laid back and happy!?!?!”) and maybe try to take some of the fear out of the concept.
Hide the sharp objects, break out the plastic sporks, replace all the pens and pencils with crayon stubs.
Don’t worry. I’m safe around your kids, but I hate fucking Chihuahuas, okay? Eat them for breakfast and shit out Maltipoos in time for my morning smoke break.
It wasn’t an ice-breaker for me: “Hi, you the new guy? What’s your name? Nice meetin’ ya, I’m Harris and my diagnoses are … and I feel pretty good today … and we went to the zoo on Saturday and I didn’t get nauseous in the crowds… and today I wanna work on my rabid distaste for this cocksucker who works up on the second floor….”
But I didn’t mind when sometimes it just snuck through, whether it was the tears out of nowhere, the shaking and staring at my knees, the wildly unforeseeable remarks …
because the people I cared about – my direct co-workers, our cozy little family out in The Smoking Section – knew me completely. Not as a job description, a Chinese restaurant menu of symptoms out of the DSM IV (“Three out of seven from Column A, two out of five from Column B…”), they knew me. The lump-sum total, bottom line package.
And they were starting to understand, and for those around the plantation who didn’t, well … I took all the fun out of making snarky remarks about me behind my back or exchanging gossip.
I had already made it obvious I didn’t care what people thought or said.
Some of them were asthmatic, morbidly obese, diabetic, lactose intolerant or even anorexic.
So I was sick too.
Years after I had learned it and confirmed it and embraced its exhilarating truth, Liz also came to understand it is nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to deny, nothing to be used against you. It was just more difficult for her to explain: “Borderline Personality Disorder”. Pictures of Joan Crawford chasing her kid around the room with wire hangers would come to mind.
Once we were both on the same plateau, we realized that there was indeed hope.
Fuck being cured. Get real, dipshit. You can’t x-ray it and put a cast on it, wrap a tape measure around it and figure out exactly how far you were gonna have to run that by-pass or slice-and-splice it. I can takes meds, just like they did for their allergies. Can’t get shots for it, like insulin, except sometimes when, well, you know ….
And I can talk about it, and they can sit and listen and try to relate and actually learn, or they can sit there and wait for me to jump up and down in my cubicle, stark naked, my ever-present forty-four ounce Coke in one hand, my whacker in the other, screaming “I am the fool for Christ, and the Paraclete of Caborca, and I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take any more!”
I’ve been retired almost three years now and I’m sure some of the Presbyterian ladies are still sitting there waiting.
They didn’t matter.
Liz and I had to work around those things of ours.
You can’t control what you think: that’s the sum total of all the things you ever learned flexing their muscles.
You can’t control how you feel: those are the results of your reactions to your years of collective thoughts.
You can learn to manage how you respond to those thoughts and feelings.
We came to understand that. As a matter of fact, I think we intuitively realized that before we could put it into words.
And we kept working both on and around things and it’s been forty years together.
I’m still married to that same gentle girl from the Plains who married this starry-eyed cynic from twelve miles outside the heart of Manhattan.
We just kept working at it.
To the point we didn’t even have to think about it at times.
Love can indeed do at least that much.
Each time that it seemed to be harder to do than the time before…
made the next time easier.