Has Been’s, Could’ve Been’s, Once Was’s, and Children

Note: Like a sliver that’s penetrated the thick skin, it needs to be removed by a sterilized needle and constant squeezing. It will continue to ache until its presence causes you far more anguish than it’s extraction. The parallels are one reason why this post means so much to me.
Me (right) and my brother (left)

My brother got my dad’s physique; I got his mental illness.

Once I assumed the role of cook a couple of years ago, I planned my menu so that every other day I’d prepare a new meal.  The only cookbook I owned was a 1960’s copy of Betty Crocker’s Cookbook.  This cookbook was my mother’s, and if you saw it, you’d think Betty Crocker herself passed it along to my mother.  It was a solid first-step for me, my hesitation quieted by my mother’s obvious use of the cookbook, evidenced by the incredible number of batter-splattered pages; missing pages; half-pages; and an index at the rear which resembled the color palette of Crayola’s 64-Color box of crayons.  There were highlighted recipes; notations at the margins; and just a few, but oddly significant in an extreme way, an ad infinitum decree by way of thick, heavy lines, one or two eliminated altogether by a formidable, dense marker, applied as determined and repeated coats, forbidding any chance that these recipes might appear on our kitchen table.

My father was already a train wreck when my brain began recording his presence.  Failing at life (mainly due to his undiagnosed mental illness, bipolar), his appearance was infrequent: his social mask was one of humor: albeit acidic sarcasm and shearing, pointed wit composed in the key of tease and enacted before an unending column of untried yet promising second-shift ladies.  His role as a bullying, boorish big shot, whose sole domestic purpose was to reprise the 1963 verbal variety of water boarding. His peacocking drove us  closer and closer to suffocation, as though with each matinée he pressed another thick pillow of despair onto our faces and then, just when our desperation went quiet and we felt that first, foamy wave of disappearance, back we’d go into his second act and the shrill, ingenuous cackle of his subordinate’s callow laughter warned us that he was gaining adoration.  And the louder the laughter, the more lewd, raunchy, and viscous his anecdotes became, and our mention increased proportionally until, by the end, the three of us, his family, descended well past indecency, a good way beyond degenerate, and somewhere between contemptible and worthless.

And as the ladies stood and he, broadcasting his manners, helped them with their coats, those ladies whose saturating attention fueled my father’s mania sending him further and further afield, looked at the three of us, fodder of my father’s insanity, and delicately lifted the corners of their mouths in an effort to produce a symbol of empathy that my father couldn’t decode.

But what those lips produced was that sneer tossed at has been’s, could’ve beens, once was’s, and children who repeatedly witness their father falling apart.

Which Is Which?

aa-allnighter
Night after night after night after night for the past three weeks I’m awake well past 4:00 am.   Last night I was awake until 3:10 am, just awake, not anxious awake or fearful awake or even we-leave-for-Prague-in-six-hours awake.  Just awake even after swallowing three milligrams of Clonazepam.

I still awaken at 7:30 or 8:00 or 9:10 am.  Today my day didn’t start until 3:00 pm.  But I can’t untangle the ball of yarn because I can’t pinpoint the beginning of this wakefulness: Is it one of three dire maladies that come and go like my sanity was a delicatessen (and bedeviled generations since expelled from Pandora’s Box with other evils) or if the distress of my brother’s death only appears in solitude; then today this torment advanced by adding a threatening malaise. Teasing the debilitating effects of mental illness with the expeditious death of my brother, my routines have been stirred, causing an atypical night/day composition causing great distress and exhibiting itself in one of three years in great part by one three infirmities: 1) Mania (this ain’t a party; 2) Depression (which routinely involves sleep; or, 3) Grief.

But today, today the symptoms were clear: sleeping well into the morning, sitting on the side of the bed for two hours; no concept of passing time.  When I first was diagnosed we accepted odd sleep patterns as a component of bipolar.griefpoem But now, when the inevitable death became evitable, my grief churned the sediment of negative memories, their decay rising to the surface like the Magic Eightball, and I precisely recall that day or incident or mounds of work to what?  End in death? Four years now sours like wet rags lying on the basement floor for two weeks and turn into deep, powerful, and dangerous emotions like hate, retribution, and bitterness which poison even my brightest memories like an elixir or potion.

And today I feel like shit; disinterested, loathsome, hopeless, belongings reduced to ordinary objects; all over, two men smiling or laughing in picture frames remain unrecognizable; too many functional, but inefficient appliances, especially my computer.  In order to simply write I’d have to troubleshoot half a dozen issues:the writing is slow to the surface anyhow, and when buoyant is likely to blather on about how shitty I feel, and how long am I expected to stave off this darkness?

Oh yeah, and when will someone like me rush to my side and avail his own life to repair mine?  When will that be? When do you think? How long did you wait? When generosity runs as thin as this a damning selfishness takes a seat at my table: “Hear you’re tired of saving people even when you’re risking yourself. Hear you’re looking for your “generous man” to shoulder your burden and top-off your short-comings.  Well, today’s your lucky day, ’cause they sent me instead. I’m what you’d call Selfishness.”

The Time Spent To Read This Post, Equals The Time You Have To Save Your Life

Back in 2008 when the shit storm incinerated the first 20 years of my adulthood, I made an oath while dragging what’s left of a . . . of a bespoke walking stick through four inches of gray ash – some sizeable went aloft and rode a breeze – only to land in some other year; this oath was directed at loss, or better, surviving loss which is always, always more painful than the combustion of mortality which is hard-wired to flee extinction.

Appointed to this life: Two tiny, perpendicular scratches amidst millions of other’s noting everyone’s start and finish on (what we’d like to believe) linear straight-edge of time. And my time – time as living – a selfish amalgamation of loneliness, caution, exposure, intimacy, maturity, judgement, patience, learning, strife, letters, confessions, achievement, and the likely propagation of another generation or the unlikely dog-eared page noting a dead end by a period placed unerringly after the last letter of the last name annotating The End, A Willful Extinction.  The simple decision to stop production thus beholden to past generations, or, the decision of propagation thus bound to the future.

We’re putting a stop to this tributary of our bloodline; my older brother never purposely or haphazardly discovered the merits of fatherhood, and I, being of the gay-persuasion fell in-love when fatherhood and matrimony were simply off-limits; thusly denying my partner and I any marginal hope to have children.  My partner yearned to have a child, Jack (because I simply grew tired of our constant referral to “It”), but by the time the stork delivered to same-sex households, I, in all honesty, was too old and too tired and too responsible to entertain my partner’s fundamental need to nurture.  My father was well beyond my reach; that life, that engaging and interested life, was at least a decade before I consciously understood that I was bereft of any gargantuan, mitt-like hand to hold.  And that sadness burrowed deep, deeper than any other heretofore denial ever tunneled.  And honesty foretold of my family’s dearth in the health department by my adult-life diagnosis of a mental illness, a disease, not a sickness or an infection or a fever but a disease, not an alien landing, not a vampire, and not a plague, but a disease nonetheless. Mental illness is handled, not treated but handled by this nation’s body politic.  It’s a dispassionate and treacherous handling, like the negotiating cop that placated the felon’s demands until one, perfectly aimed .32 caliber round stops the demands. “They” know how to dilute the alleged discrimination; the mistreatment of patients in county facilities;  blaming us, the patients, for their on-going ignorance and antiquated seclusion as a “well-informed, empathetic, and public safety response” to the irrational and grossly illogical . . . blah-blah-blah. . . Um, hello, hello? (is this thing on?) mental illness is a disease as bona fide as cancer or chronic kidney failure (except mental illness lacks a “celebrity endorsement).

And yet, we’re not alone: patients-in-general have devolved into a 15-minute generic; that is, the disappearance of importance, the disinterest of ailments, suffering, and cause.  Today’s Western Medicine Patient has become an Accounts Receivable entry in the ledger; a doctor’s statistic of efficiency; appointment number 58.  We as patients have been reduced to a test result followed by a prescription or passed along like a troublesome foster child to a series of specialists and more tests and more prescriptions.

It’s a cold and alienating model of efficiency and profit, and we, the patients, the commodity are fought over by insurers and institutions chanting “To Hell With Life!”