Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Slice of the Truth

One day soon, I forget the exact date, will be the 13th Anniversary of my being released from the mental hospital. After I got used to the idea that I was in The Looney Bin, I enjoyed the few weeks I spent there - most likely since I had been beyond miserable for several months before the general consensus was that I needed to be locked up for my own protection.

Main drive, Four Winds Hospital, Katonah, New York

Suicidal Tendencies are a drag. I don't have them anymore, but they were full blown for a while which is why I was medicated into a coma for the following year. Although I always remember the anniversary of the day I went in - St. Patrick's Day, 1996 - I much prefer to celebrate being released since if I were really crazy they wouldn't have released me. I had good insurance.

I'm proud to say that this year I celebrate the anniversary for the first time without medication. It took months to phase off all the meds but I've been totally stable - or at least as stable as anyone every gets. I am an intense individual who has extreme reactions. Some have called me a Drama Queen, but that term is, in my view, entirely too small. Empress of Emotional Extremes is more like it. I had my drama queen crown before I went to Kindergarten.

There was a little girl in my class last year who would have worn a tiara every day if she could have gotten away with it - we'll call her The Mermaid since one morning at clean up time, she announced, "I am a mermaid. We don't clean. We sit on rocks and sing." I gave her a sponge to scrub the table with the assurance that she wasn't touching pastels or sparkles again in my classroom unless she cleaned up her own mess. She had enough sense to recognize who controlled the sparkles and sprang into action.

Watching The Mermaid over the course of some months, it became clear that she experimented with the emotional impact she could have on her classmates in much the same way some kids experimented with balance in the block area. When you're building a tower, you figure out how to support a tall structure using all kinds of sizes and shapes. Through trial and error, you grow proficient at judging what will balance and what will cause the entire thing to come crashing down. Same with the words you say to your friends and your tone of voice.

When one of the girls ran sobbing into my skirts, soul crushed to tiny bits by something The Mermaid had said or done, I sat down on the floor and looked The Mermaid straight in the eye and said, "Surely you didn't hurt her feelings on purpose?" We both knew damn well she did. Guilt washed over her smooth little face and filled her big, brown eyes. Her dainty chin tilted slightly as she formed a perfect pout, golden curls brushing her shoulders. I doubt she was a bit sorry, but she didn't like getting busted by me - with my own sparkling eyes and natural curls, flowing skirts and cozy bosom - the empress of sparkles and song. In our human essence, the only difference between The Mermaid and me is that her mom thought she farted rosebuds and mine would paddle my butt whenever I got too big for my britches. I remain grateful to my mother for making sure there was one less spoiled brat in the world.

There was another girl last year who was actually my favorite, although teachers aren't supposed to admit that kind of stuff. Well, maybe she was one of my two favorites. She's in the older class now, and we see each other on the playground. She still enjoys sitting in my lap and singing together. We actually look so much alike and have so similar a spirit that it's like having a window into myself at that age. This time last year, I watched her holding hands and skipping with her friends, and wondered how things might have been if my grandfather hadn't thought it was a good idea to introduce me to his penis while I was sleeping. I don't remember exactly what happened, and my therapist says that's just as well.

I had forgotten the whole incident until six years ago or so when Buzz Kill simply shut the bedroom door in the night. I opened my eyes at the sound of the door and saw Buzz Kill crossing the room a few feet away wearing blue oxford boxer shorts - just like he always did. We had gotten a new bed, though, and the height of the new bed put the ordinary sight of those boxers in a new position. Must have been about the same perspective I had that night when I was almost four. A few years earlier, I had begun to get a creepy feeling that there was something I didn't remember. Something significant. My shrink said not to push since the mind has ways of protecting itself, and I would remember if and when the time was right.

I guess that day was the day. For a while, I wished someone would make it all go away - but then I realized that as bad as it was, he hadn't killed me. I could be a victim or a victor. We choose who we want to be. Like the Rune Book says, "That which you are striving to become is what, by nature, you already are."

In one of life's little ironies, yesterday I saw myself on a movie screen in a theater - big as Dallas - in Amy and Kimberly's documentary. I was animated, outspoken, filled with good spirits and laughter. Not unattractive although I could be thinner. To me, my face looks like the moon - round and pale. Much too round, but shimmery pale, not at all sickly. I'm robust. I'm a bit surprised because in many ways, I'm still not quite sure who I am as an individual since I've defined myself by my relationship to others.

One of the festival's organizers said that Why We Wax is such a raucous film it had to go last because no one would have settled down enough to watch any of the other, more earnest films with appropriate respect. The small theater was filled, and these kind strangers laughed at delight at some of the things I said. They laughed a lot at what Mara said too. Neither she nor I were trying to make anyone laugh at all. We were just telling the truth. A tiny slice of it anyway.


Blogger Gail said...

Dear Empress,

"Happy Anniversary"........yes, Happy Anniversary.
I follow your words with keen interest and deep compassion and always profound out loud laughter. I would say that is skill, genius if you will.
All of your life experiences intertwine and ebb and flow within and also are tapped from without - like the Mermaid did. I SO appreciate how you don't resist - in fact, I see you dancing and swirling with the irony of it all. Amazing, just amazing -

Love Gail

keep dancing!!

March 30, 2009 at 9:46 AM  
Blogger PENolan said...

It's nice to know somebody thinks so

March 30, 2009 at 6:55 PM  
Blogger Kitty said...

Many congratulations on your 13th Anniversary. I think many of us can say 'there but for the Grace of God ...' on the issue of staying in a mental hospital. I know damn well I've been decidedly unstable at times in my life. If I had been someone else, around other people, I know I've have stayed in one too.

I love to watch kids interact with one another. The mechanisms they act out are SO telling aren't they? Their characters so apparently very early on, and the way they learn through their communications with others, entrancing.

I'm glad you don't have the suicidal tendencies anymore. I remember wanting to kill myself - the misery associated with that time is still tangible.

Keep writing.


March 31, 2009 at 2:59 PM  

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