Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Difficulties



It's funny how they say God doesn't give you more than you can handle. That's always seemed like one of those corny things that sentimental people just throw around, and in looking at some of the immense suffering in the world I've often wondered if it's really true.

What about the woman who saw both her children martyred by gang violence? What about the girl who lost her virginity to rape? What about the millions of people who are victims of AIDS or genocide or the millions of orphans they've left behind? Was that not more than any of them could handle?

In my own life, though, I have noticed a consistent trend. Maybe it's just that I have a lower threshold for pain, but whenever I'm on the verge of coming really unscrewed God, perhaps cognizant of my weakness, steps in and clears some of the weight off.

I really needed that recently.

The experiences of the past year or so, long-term therapy chief among them, have taught me a good deal about myself and allowed me to rationally understand my irrational reactions to so many things. True obsessive compulsive disorder, you see, is not the cute eccentricity depicted in movies and on television. The real thing, if you have it (and I do, having been diagnosed with a "severe" form of the condition in 2008) is a living hell of superstition, self-doubt, and worry that turns the simplest of tasks into agonizing ordeals.

One important tidbit I took away from my sessions with a Major University therapist was that stress significantly exacerbated my symptoms. That alone explained so much. It showed me why, when things are going well, the OCD can recede so far into the back of my mind that it is but a frail echo of the consuming illness that at one point drove me to act out compulsive rituals in public. Conversely, it also shed light on why, when things aren't going well, I fall apart so fast and so totally.

A negative event triggers a bout of uncontrollable anxiety, and in that anxiety's throes I map out all the horrific privations that I'm sure are the logical outcome of whatever minor thing has happened to me. Having convinced myself that doom is inevitable, I predictably fall into a depression over my certain fate.

Case in point: last year the Major University police arrested me after a party I was hosting in my dormitory apartment got a little too spirited. I spent a night in jail and faced two charges, distribution of alcohol to minors and obstruction of justice, that even I could tell were built on sand. At least, I could at first.

The eleven hours in jail, to begin with, was a horror. Nothing particularly bad happened, and to most people (including my roommate Patrick, who wound up with me in the drunk tank) it would have been at most an annoying inconvenience. Instead I had a panic attack and, when I got out, locked myself in my dorm and cried like I hadn't in years. Some of you might remember the ambiguous birthday post I wrote around that time. I woke up the following night at three a.m. calling for my parents and for several moments after bolting upright in bed didn't know where I was.

Then there were those charges. They were absurd on their face and would eventually be thrown out, but that didn't stop me from convincing myself that I would be convicted on both baseless counts, given the maximum two-year sentence (all this despite my having no criminal record), raped while incarcerated, and rendered unemployable by the criminal record I would subsequently have. This chain of events would, of course, result in my homelessness and utter ruin. All because I had that party.

Now, that might sound ridiculous to you (and that's because it is), but I believed it with such sincerity that, while interning in the City of Fate this summer, I seriously considered fleeing north into Canada. That's how the mind of someone with obsessive compulsive disorder works.

"Can you imagine if I had actually done that?" I asked a lawyer I knew once everything had calmed down. "It would have been a nightmare."

"I doubt it," he said. "Your lawyer probably would have made a very credible argument that you lacked capacity, at least in that moment. I don't think you were in a state of mind to make rational decisions."



That's really the heart of it. With OCD, all rationality gets thrown out the window. It lends itself to and compounds everything else, including depression, which is then amplified because of the exaggerated perception of negative phenomena.

For these reasons, among others, the time since graduation has been hard. An aunt recently informed me that the average college graduate takes a full year to find a decent job, which likely accounts for why 85% of them are moving home after graduation.

Naturally, neither statistic made any difference to my parents, who didn't want to hear my "excuses."

I was arbitrarily "old enough" and should be "out by now." The fact that millions of others were in my position was peripheral.

I "sit home all day doing nothing." The fact that that time was actually spent sending out resum├ęs and performing tasks for a remote internship never entered the conversation.

When they were my age, they already had five houses, nineteen children, and a small principality in Europe. The fundamental economic and societal shifts since 1990 were irrelevant.

It took barely three weeks after I completed my higher education for my parents' patience to wear out. My mother suggested that, with my degree a fortnight old, I should seek work at a fast food restaurant, and when I objected sneered that I thought I was "too good to do real work."

"I don't think I'm too good to do it," was my answer. "I've worked those jobs before, as recently as this summer. But I didn't take out $40,000 in loans to go make subs. If I take a job like that right out of the gate then going to college was completely meaningless."

Their harping and financial demands only grew, adding to anxiety that was already keeping me awake at night. I knew before I even left Major University that I would be entering a deeply unhealthy environment on returning home, but also knew (and here's the real beauty of it) that because of my parents' refusal to pay for my education and the massive financial outlay I consequently had to make I would be unable to leave. My savings have been decimated. Until I can start a real career, I'm stuck here.

Before long my feelings of failure at not having found work, my excessive worries over finances and being kicked out, and the sheer loneliness of a recent graduate suddenly separated from his friends had contributed to a major spike in my OCD symptoms. The obsessions came back, along with the feverish compulsions to keep them at bay. The depression came, too, so quickly, and with it the most vivid thoughts of suicide I'd had since 2008, when I very nearly killed myself.

It's so easy, when I fall into one of the periodic crises that have plagued me for years, to dream up a horrific eventuality and decide to avoid the imagined destiny by taking my own life. I have very little doubt that, if things ever get awful enough, I will be pushed over that edge.

And what's more, my parents knew all this.

They were fully aware of my bout with anorexia (which I experienced for the first time this fall after a summer of bingeing), fully aware of the school's near decision to hospitalize me, fully aware of my being made to see a psychiatrist and fully aware of my precarious position. I warned them. I told them what the psychologist told me: that I should avoid stress as much as possible, that doing so was crucial to my wellbeing.

Instead of adjusting their behavior to help me they maximized the stress of an already hugely stressful situation.

"You can't handle the pressure? I don't care!" my father screamed at me in a moment of anger. "It's time to move on!"

"Oh, I may just 'move on,'" I smiled wickedly. "I really think I might."

He either didn't get that or didn't want to.

Now, I know what everyone's going to say: you have to get out of there. Nothing is worth that. You need to leave.

To which I would respond: to where? And with what money?

Most college graduates can count on their parents to provide a place to stay and crucial emotional support during a challenging job hunt. That presumed mainstay is absent for me.

Just when my sorrow reached critical mass, though, just when I knew I could take no more, just when I began to contemplate exactly how I would end it, an e-mail appeared in my in-box.

"BB," the reporter with a local newspaper started. "I loved the review you wrote. Come in on Wednesday and fill out some paperwork so we can pay you."

A job.

Not a full-time job, at least not yet, but an awesome one, and one that actually pays.

I'm heading in tomorrow. I'll tell you all about it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Looking Glass

I stand before the looking glass
And there behold a faded husk
Whose eyes are wide with haunted pasts
And skin is coated in red rust

I stand before the looking glass
That awful place where terrors lay
The horror I find staring back
Not drink nor dreams can chase away

I stand before the looking glass
Where once there shone a midday sun
The golden hues are gone to black
Their lighted weavings long undone

I stand before the looking glass
Before what was and could not be
This reeking, bulging pile of ash
Is what remains of what was me

I stand before the looking glass
Before regret, despair, and dread
Before a will begun to crack
Before a gaze that would be dead

I stand before the looking glass
Before the things I threw away
Before what's gone and won't come back
A haggard ghost of yesterday

As I turn from the looking glass
Before my soul breaks from the pain
The very fact of what I am
Envelops me like jagged rain

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Selected Entires: June 2004

In June of 2004 I was entering the summer that I was sixteen. My family had departed for our new home in Deep South State and, after a fortnight at my grandparents' house, I was undertaking a summer with my birth-mother, Anne, that would forever change our relationship.

June 1, 2004

Today was a bit painful. Grand Ma and I went to Beautiful Town today. While there I spoke at length with First Twin and Short Boy. First Twin and I talked about the future and what lied ahead, while Short Boy and I discussed the past and our memories. We talked about playing ding-dong ditch and the time that I pretended to be pregnant while Short Boy was the doctor delivering my baby.

In the end it was hard to say goodbye.

I am reminded of a quote from the book Poland: “This was supposed to be a place of light for a thousand years.” It was.


June 2, 2004

Aunt Crazy, Uncle Responsible, Cool Cousin, Grand Ma, Grand Pa, and I went out to dinner tonight. We ate at a 1950s-style restaurant called “The 1950s Diner.”

Dinner was nice. I had spaghetti, a milk shake, and fries, a combination that wound up leaving me so full I thought I’d explode! It seems that this is a growing trend during the past week. Grand Ma and Grand Pa routinely make such good food that I often find myself full.

Cool Cousin has been going through a lot of stress lately. Her business isn’t doing very well and she is in quite a financial pickle. Aunt Crazy and Grand Ma were talking when they didn’t think I could hear, and they believe Cool Cousin should file for bankruptcy. The strain has taken its toll on Cool Cousin’s health. I am so glad I am only sixteen and I don’t have to worry about all of this. I will pray for Cool Cousin tonight. I hope that everything will work out for her.

Tomorrow, Grand Ma and I are going to the movies to see The Day After Tomorrow. If I had known this yesterday, on June 1stI could have said that we were going to see The Day After Tomorrow the day after tomorrow.


June 6, 2004

I’ve been e-mailing Christian Girl [a friend from Beautiful Town High School] as much as possible. Hearing from her is such a joyous feeling. I already miss her so intensely. I have to put that out of mind, though, as I’ll be leaving this sanctuary on June 8th at about three o’clock in the afternoon and I’ll have other concerns.

I am worried about having a job.

I know that it’s just Wendy’s but I’ve never had a real job before and I don’t want to screw up. How embarrassing would it be to be fired from a fast food restaurant? I would never get my parents to shut up about it. Well, actually, I wouldn’t even tell them about it in the first place. Better to not even give them the ammo.

However, I still wouldn’t be too happy to lose my employment. Two days. I also worry about crime in the area. Anne's Town can be pretty rough from what I’ve heard, and I’d prefer not to die this summer. There’s a way to have positive thinking, imagining yourself being brutally murdered, meeting your maker as your blood mixes with the salt and grease on the floor of a burger joint.

I am frightened about all of this, although I haven’t told anyone yet. I plan to discuss my concerns with my mother Anne on Tuesday. She grew up in the ghettoes of Independence City, in downtown. I don’t want to share her fate. And, though I love her, I mean that in more ways than one.


June 7, 2004

We made the long drive to Maryland and went to the United States Naval Academy today. I’ll write more about it tomorrow but, for the record, it was amazing.


June 8, 2004

The Naval Academy was a huge facility. It was like a self-contained city! There was a breathtaking church that I can say, without reservation, is one of the greatest structures I’ve ever set foot in. It was topped by a gorgeous, impossibly high dome. My grandfather Weird Family went to the Naval Academy, as did his father (my great-grandfather) and as did almost every generation of his family since the school’s founding.

We looked up records on my grandfather and great-grandfather. I found out that Grand Pa’s cousin was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Go figure, right? I left my grandparents’ house today and, after a hellish ride, arrived here at my birth-mother’s abode in Decaying State.

Mom’s car doesn’t have air conditioning so we had to ride with the windows down. In addition her indicators are broken, so we were never entirely sure how much gas we had plus, we got lost. We stopped at a McDonald’s and got into an argument but we were soon reconciled and back on the road. It was mercilessly hot, but as we neared Anne's Town and night approached it became nice.

I did my “Fabulous Life” impersonations for my mother, my mother’s husband, my uncle, and my uncle’s friend. They found the parodies to be extremely funny, but I’ll go into that tomorrow. We have a busy day ahead of us beginning in the morning.


June 14, 2004

Yesterday I made a stupid joke to Anne about a caviar smell coming from her legs. She freaked out and called my parents, who weren’t mad but were shocked. I apologized. In all honesty I never thought that my mother would be offended by the joke or I never would have made it.

She forgave me, but I was still embarrassed and highly angry; if Anne wants to be my mother for two months she has to handle me herself, not resort to calling in the real parents when she finds herself in over her head.


June 19, 2004

From what I’ve heard Blonde Cousin, Thomas, and my parents say, our house in Deep South State is like a mansion. I find myself eagerly anticipating my arrival there on August 1st, as I long to swim in our indoor pool, long to sit in our hot tub, long to have SOMETHING to do!!! I long for Marie, my true mother; for Pie, for Thomas, and, to an extent (although not a large one), my father. I do not miss Powell at all.

I used to love Powell not only as a brother but as one of my best friends, however he’s turned into a vulgar, violent pig who I want nothing to do with. My father, on the other hand, has become continuously more pleasant and controlled. I retain a deal of caution when dealing with him, though, because I’ve seen how quickly he can become vicious; such days as December 6, 2003 still haunt my mind.

The way I see it, if I don’t open up too much with Powell or my father then neither one of them can hurt me anyway; I won’t even give them the opportunity.

I wish that Marie was less of an impenetrable emotional fortress, as I have a great deal more love and respect for her than for either of my biological parents. I don’t think she knows how much I admire her or how much she means to me. I am so happy that she is my mother.

Anne's drama irks me.


June 27, 2004

I went to the Serbian Orthodox Church today, and it was amazing. The church was indescribably beautiful, lined in oak and gold, watched over by magnificent chandeliers and Orthodox crucifixes.

When I walked into the church there was no one there and so I went behind the iconostas (oh, I don’t know how to spell it), the wall that separates the pews from the altar. It is adorned with icons of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, St. Nicholas, and other religious figures.

No women are allowed behind the iconostas, which at first seriously affronted me but, as my mother tells me, is for a perfectly good reason. She said it has something to do with a woman’s menstrual cycle, although unless she were to bleed through her pants and onto the altar I don’t see how the place could be “contaminated.” My mother assured me that it has nothing to do with male supremacy and I was placated, but here’s my thinking: men ejaculate, right?

Anyway, there was no priest because their original one tried to murder a parishioner who was elected to the church presidency after failing to install Communists who would have helped pilfer some $250,000.00 left by a deceased worshipper to the church. They’re trying to find a new preacher and are convening this Saturday to be addressed by one of the candidates. For the record, the old priest is in fail on attempted murder charges.


June 28, 2004

Apparently my mother does not possess quite the fortitude I’d attributed to her. She has decided to “play it by ear” with regard to leaving Angry Man, her emotionally abusive husband, because she needs the rent money and he’s been acting unusually nice recently.

Also, she remembers that when she was struggling with heroin addiction he stood by her side and put her through rehab. She feels that she owes him something, and she’s right; to kick him out now would leave the man homeless and without money or a way to receive income. I think that what she should do is allow him to stay until July 14th so that he’ll have enough money to find another home. Then her debt to him will have been repaid and he’ll be moving out, nothing odd, no vengeance to be taken.


June 30, 2004

The rent here, a total of $600.00, is due to my Uncle Nose-Hair on July 1st, which is tomorrow. Legally, if it isn’t paid on that date, my mother has thirty days in which to come up with it. She and Angry Man are tightly strapped for cash this month and she asked Uncle Harry if the rent could be paid a few days late, upon which he said, “I don’t want to hear it.”

Given that my mother and Angry Man have paid the rent early in the past I find this statement to be incredibly imbecilic, especially if one understands that Anne forwarded the money ahead of time only because Uncle Nose-Hair and Mexican Aunt drove themselves to near bankruptcy with stupid and irresponsible purchases. Mexican Aunt won a $50,000.00 lawsuit against her employers and managed to spend all of it inside of two months on cheap furniture and clothing from the Fashion Bug (which she’s worked into her head is some kind of elitist boutique).

As a result of this idiocy, Uncle Nose-Hair and Mexican Aunt are now in serious financial trouble and have taken two mortgages on their house.

Knowing that my mother would never refuse, Uncle Nose-Hair insisted that he must have all $600.00 by tomorrow. So distraught was my mother that yesterday afternoon she sold her wedding ring for a measly three hundred dollars, only to come up over $200.00 short. I am absolutely furious with my aunt and uncle, whom I haven’t visited in days.

How dare they put this pressure on her when she’s working so hard? Their level of moral deficiency is unfathomable.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Move and Other Things



On a more indulgent whim earlier this Fall I accompanied Cool Cousin, my 40-year-old chiropractor relative, to see a highly regarded psychic.

This was mostly an exercise in silliness; the entire car ride to his place of business was punctuated by terrible Miss-Cleo style proclamations from both of us, but when we actually arrived he proved surprisingly accurate in some respects.

"Are you planning a move soon?" he asked me.

"I'm not sure," I answered.

Of course, I was planning a move and knew that full and well, but I didn't want to give him anything to grab onto.

"Well, I see a big transition coming up for you," he said. "And not just occupational or personal; this is definitely a physical move. Are you in school?"

I nodded.

"Well, I specifically see you leaving your current school. Maybe you'll transfer or take a semester off. And you're moving, too. You're going to be living somewhere else very soon."

He was right--righter than he knew--where school was concerned, as I graduated months after seeing him. And, though we delayed and debated and attempted to avoid it, it has come about that Out Family will also be moving.



This move has occasioned great debate within Our Family, namely because of my parents' choice of a new home. On one of their periodic kicks, they determined that we were going to use our relocation to go "back to basics" and they put a contract on a cramped 200-year-old farm house on the outskirts of Mountain Town.

For several reasons this is not a desirable situation.

First of all, our family is a large one. Between my mother, my father, Beautiful Cousin, Thomas, Pie, three dogs, a cat, and me, we already occupy a great deal of space. Add in the real possibility that Powell will soon be moving home and we require as much square footage as possible.

Even without Powell's presence the farm house is tight; its four bedrooms provide insufficient accommodation for the six current residents and that fact has already necessitated Beautiful Cousin's rooming with Pie. Should Powell come home he will effectively be living on a couch.

Beyond space considerations the house is unsightly, has a vague odor, and lacks basic amenities such as public water and air conditioning (we'll have to make due with window units to get through the Southern State summer).

My parents appear to have recognized the folly of their decision, as they tried at the last minute to secure a contract on another house, but they came to their senses too late and now everyone else has to live with the consequences of their momentary enthusiasm.

The problem with my parents' ill-advised step, one they're about to encounter in a very big way, is that after a decade of leading an upper-middle-class existence they're unequipped to live like the working class people they pretend to be.

"We've lived in nothing but new homes for ten years," I told Beautiful Cousin. "We've had domestic help for ten years."

"I know," she said. "Your parents think this is so great--wait 'till summer rolls around and your father has to live in a house with no air conditioning."

"They'll probably try to break the lease," I said. "Just you wait and see."

The circumstances of our move are awkward enough. Our house was auctioned off at short sale after my parents, faced with an intransigent bank unwilling to renegotiate a mortgage worth twice the value of our home, refused to make payments on a loan they could afford. That was bad enough. Their absurd choice has made an already unfortunate set of circumstances even worse.

The aftermath of that choice has been about as flattering to them as the choice itself. True to form, they've celebrated their newfound financial freedom by planning to purchase a pool, a hot tub, another dog, and all-terain vehicles. My irritated rejoinder that the disposable income expended on such luxuries should be diverted into a college fund for 16-year-old Thomas has been met with their telling me to "mind [my] own business."

Things are going well with us, though. I've learned to pretend I'm not angry, and they're happy thinking I've come around to the fact that they're never wrong. There's more going on but I'll have to share it another time. My professional endeavors, complex and tenuous as they are, merit a post of their own.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

For New Year's Eve



In at least one respect, 2012 started out better for me than any year before it. To be sure, I've had my share of enjoyable New Year's Eves, but each of them, without exception, has seen me alone or in the company of family members. In fact, from 2005 to 2011 I had an unbroken stretch of watching the Ball drop in my living room.

This year I decided to spice things up.

"Listen, Mature Girl can't come," Black Dress Girl cautioned me on the phone.

"Yeah, Beautiful Cousin bailed on me, too," I replied.

"What a hooker. So, are you still going to come? It might be boring with just the two of us here."

"It's better than being home by myself."

"True."

With less than an hour to go before 2011 retreated forever over the horizon I got in my car and drove out to Western City. Black Dress Girl met me at the front door of her house and then together we went to downtown Western City, where a surprisingly large crowd had gathered to watch a citrus fruit be dropped from atop a telephone pole at midnight.




"Oh, my gosh!" I exclaimed, looking around the cobbled square and its adjoining restaurants and shops. "Black Dress Girl, this is so nice! How have I never known all this was here?"

Western City is known, even beyond our region, as a nexus of working-poor misery, but the section in which we stood was filled with fashionable restaurants, quixotic boutiques, and well-dressed young people.

"This is the nice part of Western City," she said. "I'm surprised you don't know about it. There's even an art gallery in that building over there."

She sniffed.

"It's not very good, but it's the principle of it."

As we awaited the fruit's descent we reflected on the end of 2011 and the uncertainty that the future year would bring.

"I'm really glad you're here," she said. "And I'm glad it's just us. Gosh, it's so weird to think of where we'll be this time next year."

"Do you have any resolutions?" I asked.

"Well, I really do want to move to Humid State," she replied. "I have family there and housing is so much cheaper in that part of the country."

I grimaced; Humid State, where Uncle Car Salesman, Aunt Ostentatious, Blonde Cousin, and Pretty Hair once lived, is hundreds of miles away.

"That would suck," I said. "I'd miss you a lot. I'd be happy for you, though."

"Well, you might not be here anyway," she reasoned. "Don't you maybe have a job out in Movie State?"

"I have an internship, which I'm doing remotely," I clarified. "But if they offered me a position I'd take it in a heartbeat."

I realized then that, sad though the thought of being gone from Southern State in a year's time made me, it was something I wanted. I'm ready to start a career and a life.

A falling fruit, half a movie, and a warm parting later I drove home and promptly walked to my neighbors' house, where the mood was far less reflective.



Black Boy and, to a lesser extent, his brother, have been neighbors and friends to my family since we moved to Mountain Town on December 17, 2005. Black Boy is twenty now, but his penchant for a good joke and a good time has been undimmed by the years since we met as teenagers.

"This nigga," he exclaimed as I walked into a house filled with people. "One beer away from being fucked up."

"That's so not true," I denied.

"Yeah," he smiled incredulously before turning back to a girl he'd been talking with.

"BB!" Blonde Boy Friend, my brother Powell's 21-year-old best friend, yelled when I crossed into the kitchen. "BB, do shots with me!"

"No," I held my hands up. "You know I can't. I'll have a beer or two, but that seriously has to be it."

Four shots later my reservations were a great deal lightened.

In that state of mind, with my face pink and my laughter uncontrollable, I didn't so much believe I was a good dancer as I didn't care that I was a bad one.

"Oh, gosh, I'm so terrible at this," I said, stumbling in a way that had nothing to do with my inebriation.

"No, no," Black Girl giggled. "You're totally good."

"You do not believe that!" I laughed, and then we were both cackling as I continued my arhythmic jerking to the music.

"BB!" Black Boy called over.

I turned a rosy face his way and he started laughing.

"Nigga, you drunk, aren't you?"

"Absolutely not."



The rest of the night went on in a procession of absurdity and good cheer that ended with me walking back home and falling into my bed at six-thirty in the morning.

So, I spent the first hours of 2012 in the company of happy and loving friends. I hope that augurs well, and I hope I'm able to ring in many more years in similar fashion.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A New Year

As always, a happy New Year to you all.

I'll be posting more soon.