Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A night

Blue strobe lights beat at the side-view mirror by the passenger seat. The police officer approached our car.
Tim cranked down his window. The cop bent down to talk to us. His face was in shadow.
Tentatively the cop informed us of our high speed, which was high enough to be considered reckless driving. Was there any reason for us to be driving so fast?
I prayed that somehow Tim would control himself.
"I guess not," Tim said in a sarcastic tone.
The cop hesitated. You could tell he wished there had been a reason, maybe that I had gone into labor and needed to be rushed to the hospital. He looked from Tim to me, and to Tim again.
The cop said, "I'm afraid I'm gonna have to write you up. You were going 80 in a 55."
He didn't want to have to do it.

Farther down the road there was more trouble. Tim was still the one driving; it was his hometown, his car, he knew it best.
He tried to bite at his wrists, to claw at his face. I struggled with him, fought with him, tried to physically restrain him. 
At a red light, I said: "I'm driving us home."
The people in the cars around us must have thought we were playing "Chinese fire drill."
With one hand on the steering wheel and the other clasping his hands together so he couldn't hurt himself, I drove us to Tim's parents' house, where he still lived.

Before we got there, I pulled over into the abandoned-for-the-night parking lot of a factory. Tim had been trying to open his car door and tumble out into traffic as I drove. He insulted me.
We struggled. I screamed and cried. An opened can of Coke splattered my dress. He screamed and broke free, running across the field of grass beside the parking lot.
For a moment he was gone. He had run away, vanished into the dark.
I worried about what any passersby might think of us.
Responsibility tugged at my hem. I ran after him, entering the darkness to bring him back.

As soon as I reached him we seemed to merge. We were one screaming, wrestling mass, we were a dance.
I noticed that the moon was pretty, shining brightly over the grass.
Just offstage, gliding along the sidewalk at the edge of the field, a man in a motorized wheelchair paused. He called out.
"There are some people," I said to Tim. "They're gonna come over here." I hoped they would.
Another man was a few paces behind the fellow in the wheelchair. He stopped, too. They both looked out across the field at us.
I herded Tim back into the car. I said: "I'll be right back. I have to tell them we're OK."
I ran to the men.

"Hi," I said, oddly cordial, almost upbeat. Polite-chipper, stiff-upper-lip.
I gave them my speech: "My boyfriend is manic-depressive, and he was just having a bad episode. But it's alright. We're going home now, just up the road."
The man in the wheelchair who had first noticed us had crazed eyes. His mental illness was visible. So was his sweetness.
His companion -- a brother, maybe; a caretaker himself, like me -- did all the talking.
"Just as long as you're OK, honey. That's all that matters."
His "honey" was a balm to me. Not creepy or flirtatious. Just caring. It was dark but in my mind's eye he has gray hair and blue eyes, wears a flannel shirt and a baseball cap. He drinks beer and watches NASCAR and listens to country music. And he's been taking care of his brother for a long time, for so long that it's his identity.
He tells about the rabbits when he's asked.
I thanked them. All I said was, "Thank you." But I wanted to say something like: "Thank you. Sometimes it's hard to remember that I'm not alone. Sometimes the insanity is so everyday that I forget it's insanity. Sometimes I need to feel like someone cares. You have made me feel like someone cares. So thank you."

Back in the car, the madness glowered and stewed.
"I'm surprised you made it back without fucking them," Tim said to me.
I had never had sex; I was waiting until Tim and I were married.
Tim loves me.
As we drove past the men, Tim held up his middle finger at them.

It didn't end there. It will never end there, or there, or there.
It will never end.

I pulled the car up to Tim's parents' house. He frothed because the next-door neighbors had parked their huge pick-up truck in front of Tim's house again instead of in the neighbor's own empty driveway. I tried for a moment to stop him, but sometimes I give up. I just sat there in the car as he rushed over to the neighbor's door. Let him suffer the consequences of his actions.
"And we'd like to be able to park our own fucking cars in front of our own fucking house!" He said this before he walked away from the neighbor.

I followed Tim inside his parents' house. His parents were awake, just inside, in the living room of their small house. They asked what was wrong.
Tim raced to his room. Once back there, he began to drag a souvenir alligator claw across his wrist.
The claw was a gift from an uncle who lived in Florida. Tim loves Florida. Years before I met him, a family trip to Florida had brightened up a bout of depression he'd been unable to shake.
"I love Florida because even early in the morning you open the door and the heat hits you -- it almost knocks you down -- and you can't escape the fact that it's summer."
Tim's dad, a former police officer, got the claw away from Tim and restrained him. His mom tried to soothe him, while his dad held him down expertly.
To no one in particular, I said I was going to go apologize to the neighbors.

Outside the house I saw a still-life, a tableau. It looked like a painting or a posed photograph. The woman from next door stood at her doorway, the light above it shining. Her husband stood mutely in his front yard as if expecting to fight. His rage was just below the surface. Tim had cursed at the man's wife -- the man was ready to deal blows. The woman was already beginning to yell out her offense.

The houses are not that far apart. The neighborhood is redneck working-class, and Tim often complains about the single-celled, white-trash organisms that inhabit it. It was just a few steps from Tim's parents' front stoop to the light-bathed yard of the neighbors. But in my mind I see the distance stretched out laterally, and I see the scene from far away.

I see a girl tripping as she runs -- and she's been running all night, with as much purpose as if she had a baton to hand off to the next runner -- into the light, the blame, and the accusations. This is southwestern Virginia, and here she is wearing a preppy dress from the Gap, with a northern lack of accent. She's a young Yankee yuppie, and she knows all of this will make the neighbors feel alienated and defensive. She's out of breath and has dropped the car keys somewhere in the dark grass and is stumbling over her words as she tries to explain.

I gave the man my speech, which sounded so rehearsed by now. He interrupted me.
"He cursed my wife out!" He said more. And then he softened.
He looked down -- he seems very high above me in my memory -- and he could see that I was floundering, that my life is crazy, that I truly regretted something I had not done. He stopped yelling and became a statue again, glaring at Tim's house.
His wife came over to us. I recited my explanation to her. To my surprise, she said: "Well, two of my boys are manic-depressive, too."
Two of her children.
But she yelled some more, said she didn't know whose car that was parked in front of their house.
I said, "Well, I don't know about that. But I'm very sorry."
And then I broke. I cried shamelessly in front of these strangers.
Two of her children are manic-depressive, too.
The woman hugged me as I cried. The intimacy felt natural even though we were strangers. I remember that her blouse was white and pink, and that I got some tears on it.
"Honey, how long have you been with him? Long enough to really know him?" Her words sounded like an eerie psychic hint.
I didn't answer her questions because I remembered that I was needed inside the house.

Inside, Tim was pinned to the floor, flanked by his parents. His dad had threatened, lovingly, to take him to "a hospital" if he didn't calm down. In a hysterical shrill, Tim screamed: "I'll kill myself tonight if you take me to a fucking hospital!"
His dad said, "Well, what do you want me to do, son?" in his gentle Southern voice.
Tim said: "Get me a gun."

I was standing in the darkness of the bathroom doorway. I was hiding. Tim's parents called for me to come into his room to help calm him down. I entered the room and knelt beside him, dutifully taking the hand of this person I didn't know.

In what we all hoped was the calm after the storm, as his mom "shushhh"ed Tim and stroked his hair, and his dad rubbed his back, I relived Tim's insults from earlier. "Let me go, you fucking slut!" is what he said to me after I parked the car in the lot, before he ran across the field. It's hard to say what had triggered this; it could have been that the hem of my dress stopped too many inches above my knees. The cause never mattered anyway -- all he needed was a trigger, pick a trigger, any trigger.

I loved Tim. I remembered the way he was when I had first met him, a guy who read Byron during his breaks while working the midnight shift at a steel foundry, a guy who had a soft spot for animals and always gave a dollar to homeless people, a guy who had fallen in love with me.

Lately when I need to think of something happy, I think of a book I bought recently. It's full of ideas for decorating your first apartment. Tim and I had talked about getting married and renting a little apartment together as soon as we could after I graduate from college. It's just a small dream, a little candle at the end of the tunnel, but it gets snuffed out when this happens. It happens a lot.

I don't know how we can have an apartment, or anything, when his depression is keeping him unemployed. I don't know how I can have a job when already I'm missing classes and cancelling job interviews to take care of him during his "episodes." I don't know what my parents will say or think, how they will feel, about me marrying a man who is unemployed and mentally ill.

I don't know how I can live like this.

When thinking about the apartment book, I'm careful not to fall prey to any white-picket-fence visions, thrilling instead at the most mundane aspects of the dream: Tim and I would get to share a bed, we would shop for groceries together, we would take the coupons out of that glossy part of the newspaper.

Just a small space of our own, with our toothbrushes hanging side by side, and our books lumped together into one large collection, a toilet plunger and dish-washing liquid, and rabbits.

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