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.”

Thank You, Doctor . . .

There was a time, oh, not so long ago that friends Michelle and Peter and Nick would remember that I sat in a chair in a public forum and wept because I never became a doctor.  Friends recommended nursing, but on my first day my instructor, wearing one of those origamitized hats mentioned the adjective caring in hundreds of examples.  By the end of the day I’d grown so weary of the word caring I returned my shiny new mules and knew I didn’t have the dedication to the lives of total strangers simply because your unyielding care and uncompromising affection for humanity seemed as close to grace as most of us will ever know.

I’ve been very lucky to have been able to continue my 20 year relationship with my primary care physician.  In 20 years we’ve both learned a lot about each other: he more so of course, especially with those physician distributed x-ray glasses (and we thought they were some manifestation of a cartoonist’s imagination) because how else could doctors have the degree of insight simply by engaging in an innocent conversation.

I’ve been thinking lately that all these men and women who voluntarily step up to education and raise their hands so strongly, so surely, and so hopefully that witnessing that depth and degree of service to strangers must be one of the most moving examples of humanity stepping into a life where their life is secondary.

Why they do this happily, proudly, compassionately in order to be in the presence when most of us aren’t gussied up for prom astonishes me and thanks God for loaning humanity a few hundred thousand angels to leave Heaven and come to earth (by way of unimaginable hours pouring over manual after manual after manual and I can’t even remember 3 things to buy at the grocer’s), then share their own type and degree and experience of the comfort they know to be true once we let go and become fine examples of colorful balloons rising higher and higher and out of sight but not out of mind.

To all those selfless and defenders of the weak or ill or mentally compromised or children or any other of the millions of disenfranchised a mere thank you will never repay your kindness. But maybe God’s set up a 401(k) for you in heaven.