Archive for category mental illness
What if you don’t stop? What if you just keep going? Crash right in the back of that unsuspecting car?
This was the first incident, the first time Nona realized something else occupied her head. She broke free from the Voice at the last minute and slammed on the brakes, sending out a loud screech and cloud of road dust. Wide eyed fear greeted her from the rear view mirror of her intended victim. Her body trembled. The Voice chuckled softly.
Nona went home and stared at herself in the mirror. Tiny flecks of gold muddled the grey. She pressed in closer to the mirror. The flecks turned red and sparked. Nona jumped back and ran out of the bathroom.
The second time happened in her best friend’s kitchen. Nona stood, pouring olive oil over steaming noodles in the sink. Linda was stirring her famous sauce.
Nona suddenly wheeled around and said, “What do you mean?”
“Didn’t say anything,” Linda answered, her lips just leaving a wooden spoon full of sauce.
Nona stared into that steaming bowl, briefly unhinged, watching a smile materialize in the steam as it rose, the moist warmth touching her face. The large butcher knife on Linda’s cutting board suddenly took on an otherworldly glow, shimmering like moonlight reflected on a lake. Nona blinked, reached out and rested a finger on the blade. Wrapped a palm around the handle.
The Voice whispered one word, ‘flesh’, and in that instant she needed to know what it would feel like to sink the blade deep into flesh. Nona glanced at Linda’s back, partially exposed by her tank top and the hunger grew. If only Linda knew the battle, the violent war Nona raged with the Voice in those moments, Linda would’ve known real fear. Nona won by rushing out of the house, carrying the Voice far from her.
She went home, threw all her kitchen knifes in a shoebox and duct taped it shut.
The Voice began to taunt her with a sweet little sing-song of, “Where ever you go, there I am”. She tried meditation to calm her nerves. She was greeted there, in the solitude, by a humming darkness. It had no form, but it had a presence that was separate from her own mind.
Am I possessed?
You are shared.
What are you?
Sometimes paths cross accidently. Things get stuck.
Nona came out of meditation two hours later holding a paring knife and bleeding from a dozen wounds on her left arm. Meditation was out.
I’ve gone mad, Nona thought, like the dad in The Shining.
Halloween evening, dusk fell and the doorbell started ringing. She could see the little ones peeking in the window as she cowered in the dark, afraid of herself, afraid of what the Voice would try to make her do.
She couldn’t take it, finally screaming, “Why don’t you just get out of my head!”
And It obliged.
A soft swooshing noise tickled her right ear, then all hell broke loose in her house. Plants flew against the wall, the impact spraying dirt everywhere, kitchen chairs fell over, drawers spit out their contents, drapes ripped from the windows. She screamed and screamed until someone began pounding on the door. Shaking, she managed to stumble and get it opened.
“Are you alright, Ma’am?” The father of a tiny witch asked, trying to see behind Nona into the house. “We heard you screaming.”
“Oh, thank heavens,” As she was trying to figure out what kind of help to ask for… the police? An exorcist? The voice whispered in her ear. She could feel heat radiating behind her but didn’t dare turn around.
“Pretty little thing,” It said. Nona looked down at the blue-eyed, blond haired toddler with green face paint and a sagging black hat. “Mmm…bite sized human.”
Nona knew at that moment, the Voice was hers to bear. She couldn’t let it out in the world. She was its prisoner, but she was also its jailer.
“I’m sorry. I must have had my Halloween CD up too loud.” Nona said, her heart sinking. “Here you go. Happy Halloween.” She reached over and grabbed a handful of candy from the full bowl, putting on her best non-crazy woman smile.
“You stay safe tonight.”
Shaw Martin sat in his stuffy college Calc 101 class, staring in horror at the inside of his wrist. He traced the spidery, indigo lines that ran up his pasty arm. Why hadn’t he noticed them before? God, they were terrifying. Well, not the veins themselves, but the thought of them. Carrying blood round and round our body, through our heart, pumping it back out. Jesus, what a chore, huh? How does the whole thing not go terribly wrong?
Terribly wrong. Shaw suddenly felt trapped. His sandy curls grew dark with sweat. People began to glance at him as he tried, unsuccessfully, to quietly gather his belongings and make his way to the door.
“Sorry,” he whispered to the gawkers. “So sorry.”
Four days later, he had almost gotten used to ignoring the veins when the bones started making themselves known. He went and got his eyes checked. Something had to be terribly wrong.
* * * *
“You’ve got 20/25 vision.”
“Yeah, but I’m not seeing things right.” Shaw tried to look the doctor in the eye, but kept getting distracted by the sight of his bones.
“No. Too clear.”
Shaw watched, fascinated as the bones gripped a pen and notepad.
He left with a reference to a psychiatrist.
It rained that evening which only made the air thicker. Footsteps followed him as he trudged to Scales & Suds on campus. He could hear shoes squeak on the wet concrete right behind him but he didn’t dare turn around. Slipping inside, he pressed himself against the wall and glanced back out the door. Thankfully, they were gone.
What’s going on? He tried to think but the others were so loud, trying to talk over the music. It beat in rhythm with his pulse. Distraction.
Shaw stood at the bar waiting for his order, feeling the crush and bump of the crowd and beginning to shake. Something had to be terribly wrong. A stiff shoulder pressed up against him. He glanced. Stared. The human body really was fascinating. Humerus. Clavical. Shaw squinted. Hmm.
“How’d you break your collar bone?” Shaw asked, trying to start a conversation.
The guy stared hard at Shaw. “What the fuck, man?” he finally said. “How do you know that?”
Luckily, the waitress came out and handed Shaw his Styrofoam box of greasy fried cod and fries with a smile.
“Freak,” the guy threw at him.
He thanked her and hurried back outside. It was drizzling again.
Two days later, he was still at the park, soaked and sipping cold coffee someone had left beside their car. He had tried to go back to the little cracker box house his parents left him, but the squeaky shoes had followed him. He heard them on the kitchen linoleum and ducked out without locking the door. Why bother? They were already inside.
His gift. To see inside human bodies. Inside was a tree with branches and organs growing on the branches. There were two kidneys, like giant lima beans , two lungs like overgrown fish gills-filling and deflating, filling and deflating, intestines and the heart. Pump pump squish pump pump squish.
“Your heart is beautiful,” he said to a lady pushing her toddler on a swing.
The police came and he finally got to see a doctor that understood him.
“So, you have x-ray vision,” Dr. Mulligan said. She didn’t laugh. In fact, she nodded and looked very serious, a wrinkle forming between her brows, like Shaw’s mother used to do.
“Yes, exactly. I can’t see inside the skull though. Why do you think that is?”
“Shaw, let’s talk about your parents.”
“They died fourteen months ago. Both of them on Highway 65. It was an accident.”
“Yes. I know, Shaw. And that’s a very difficult thing, to lose your parents. You’ve been doing very well, though.” She flipped through her notes. “Attending college. I’m sure they would be very proud of you.”
“They wanted me to be a doctor.”
“And what do you want to do?”
“Well, I do want to help people.” He glanced at her to see if he could trust her with his secret. She nodded, her chin resting on the bones of her hand. “Okay. I want to be a super hero. I’ve wanted to be a super hero since I was nine. I’ve designed a cape and everything.”
“I see,” she said and stared at Shaw for a moment longer. “Okay then. I’m going to write you a prescription, Shaw, for a medicine called Haldol. It is very important that you take it every day.”
“Will it help me to become more of a super hero?”
“Well,” she said, seeming to weigh something and then sighed. “No, Shaw. It will help you to stay in society, to be a part of it and to have a more normal life.”
Did it ever stop raining in this town? Shaw came to a corner, where a homeless guy was sitting under a garbage bag, a brown cardboard mush of a sign clutched in the bones of his hand. The sky groaned and lit up.
“You all right, Kid?”
“I don’t know,” Shaw answered. “I’m not sure. I think something must be terribly wrong.”
“Ha,” he groaned like the sky. “You’re the smartest person I’ve met yet. Have a seat, Kid.”
“All right.” Shaw said, lowering himself onto the wet sidewalk. Water rushed by in the gutter, fell from the sky, cleansed the world.
He reached a wet hand in his jacket and took the first pill.
Their world is white. White walls. White halls. White dressings on my damaged head and eyes. My heart still pumps blood because I can’t yet remember who I am and they think I am someone important, someone with information that they need. The foreign bed my body lays in is an enemy I have escaped. Who are they to say I haven’t?
Sometimes I hear the sucking sound of my feet in the muck, metal ripping my flesh. Sometimes I only see the heron glowing, sailing like a ghost against the blackened sky before a storm. I am learning how to make the switch, it just takes practice and I seem to have all the time in this world. It ticks away in slow motion. Tick. Tock. Eternity is my clock.
They slip into my dream with their foreign tongues, their foreign way of turning thoughts. I smell them over the infection, the cardamom on their hot breath as they push into my burned flesh, broken English being thrown at me along with threats that ceased having meaning the day I figured out God.
I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. Courtesy of my Sunday school teacher.
I don’t remember my mother, but I do know this. The only way something can be the beginning and the end is if it’s a closed system. A circle. A bubble. God is a closed circle. I have learned how to step outside the circle. Is it hell? You tell me.
Vengeance floats like lethal smoke within the bubble. Blood swirls like lava, spilling and spilling. Life is pumped full of hot metal, gassed, poisoned, thrown in rusty dumpsters, covered with dirt like an accidental spill. Celebrated when taken.
There is a pinch in the soft fold of my arm and I am jolted back into their world. A memory seeps in.
Hey, boy. Come ‘ere. Don’t be afraid. Hungry? That’s it. I am affectionately stroking loose fur on bone while pure hunger gobbles up my dry bread. Through the dust, I see them converge. White robes, black hands.
Muzzle against muzzle. NO! Laughter. Deafening boom. Dust and pain and the sharp stench of blood.
I don’t remember who I am but I have learned how to step outside the circle. Who are you to say I haven’t?
Mario fell in love with the goddess of war. Of course, he knew her as Alice Lois, the green-eyed woman trapped at Lake View Sanatorium since the courts deemed her insane at aged seventeen. He had been sticking pills on her tongue for a decade. Two months ago, she had looked at him for the first time. It shook him to his core.
He snuck into her records, finding a yellowed spiral notebook with crude drawings and symbols etched in the cover. He stuffed it into the waistband of his scrubs and took it home, violating all the laws of his personal ethics. He had to drink three Lagers before he could bring himself to open it.
When he finally did, her words made him want to take up a sword and protect her, fight whatever demon was harassing her:
‘My fears are winter wolves charging through the snow, tongues wagging, murderous eyes locked onto me. I don’t know why she has chosen me to destroy but I am the damned. Bitten by a darkness so black, it has seeped into my soul like an oil spill.’
He flipped forward, sinking deeper into her story, his heart being kneaded like dough:
‘I can feel her possession of me. My body is now just a furnace with an angry goddess burning within. She wants revenge, freedom from the chains of anonymity, to not be lost, forgotten or laughed off as a myth. She is hungry for bloodshed.’
He read until stars replaced dusk, until his eyes tired and his heart softened.
Morning found him standing over her, eyeing the pale curve of her cheek, a colorless mouth, the impossibly thin frame, the wide straps holding down this ghost of a woman.
She did not belong here. As if she could read his mind, her eyes opened. The brilliant life within her almost blinded him.
“My name is Enyo.” The only words she would ever speak to him.
He carefully released her, lifted her, placed her waiflike body folded into a laundry carrier, stripped her sheets and lay them atop her, being mindful to leave an air pocket for breathing.
The basement door was not monitored.
It took twenty four hours for the Asenapine to wear off. He fed her oxtail soup, bathed her without removing her underwear, washed her hair on the couch from a bowl and wrapped her in his grandmother’s blanket. He played her an awkward song he was writing on a second hand guitar. He wondered what their kids would look like. Would they have her blinding green eyes?
Two days later, he awoke from his post on the living room floor and she was gone. He scoured the streets for hours then days then weeks. He forgot to shave and change his clothes. Sometimes he remembered to eat. Mostly he wept and tried to hold her image in his mind. It was slipping with his weight, his hygiene and his sanity.
“Breaking news from Washington. The President of the United States is dead.”
Mario froze in front of the portable radio, the centerpiece of people gathered on the apartment stairs. They shushed him when he approached. Shock twisted their mouths and eyes.
“Treaties have broken down in the past few weeks between the President’s special Peace for Progress Council and the terrorists who held four major US cities hostage just twelve months ago. Details are still coming in…” the voice paused. “We also have reports of coordinated attacks in Atlanta, Chicago and Austin. Thousands are believed perished.” More dead air and then an ear piercing siren.
“This is an emergency message from Homeland Security. Please stay calm and walk to nearest terrorist shelter for further instructions.”
As the message repeated itself–echoing from car radios, shops and bars—Mario sat down on the sidewalk curb and watched the scampering, the screaming, the panic. He began to chuckle, to laugh in loud, manic bursts until he was holding his stomach. What else was there to do but watch and listen?
It was a symphony. And his beautiful goddess was the conductor.
(Pablo Picasso’s “Nude Woman in a Red Armchair”)
Lou is a girl. She paints angular ladies with red bee-stung lips, wild chocolate hair in the shape of Z’s with cherry or lemon highlights. They dry on metal racks in the pantry and then they are carefully wrapped and stored in the coat closet. They haunt her dream world, swaying their hips and laughing wildly. These things are Lou under the spell of starlight and anonymity.
In the sunlight Lou is pressed and varnished, placed at a sharp right angle in a square office.
Gene is a boy. A dreamer. He smokes peyote and gets visits from dead poets and painters. Only they are not dead. Somehow their space-time overlaps his. Sometimes he has to help someone off the refrigerator or out of the bath tub. Mostly Cummings and Picasso. Apparently when two dimensions of space-time merge, there is no accuracy involved.
In the sunlight Gene wears tight shoes and stares out of a sky rise window, pretending to crunch the buildings between his teeth like popcorn.
The space between Lou and Gene consists of a hallway and two doors. This space is breached when Gene collapses with an open, foamy mouth and a thump that pulls Lou from her dream world and then her warm bed.
Lou stares at Gene lying there like a chalk outline, seeing him for the first time. She pulls her oversized bathrobe closed and leans down, two strong fingers searching pale skin for a pulse.
Dead. Dead. Dead.
She wipes his mouth with a corner of her robe, touches his lips with a finger first and then her own lips. She presses softly against his flesh.
At another point in time, one that has obviously passed, this might have been pleasant.
She vaguely tries to remember if she’s supposed to blow or press first. Then she shrugs, stands and pushes on his door instead.
There are two men sitting there looking vaguely familiar and yet utterly alien in the paper-and-book-strewn apartment.
“He’s dead,” she informs them.
“I see,” they nod to each other.
“I’m alive, right?”
“Unbeing dead isn’t being alive.”
“Huh,” she pokes at her cheek with her tongue. “E. E. Cummings, is it?”
“Okay then.” She unleashes the knot on her robe and lets it slide to the floor. “Show me how to live forever.”
“Come, sit,” Picasso pats the red armchair beside him.
Mona’s brain began to rust first. She would sneeze and spray solid bits of orange into her hand. She began to forget things like where she left her car, if she fed the cat, the fact that she no longer had a cat and, on a rainy Tuesday, she forgot to slip on her pants before walking out to the mailbox.
One day she sneezed and her teeth popped out onto her lap. She screamed, but then did remember she had dentures and this would sometimes happen when she forgot to buy denture cream. She would also need to buy skin lotion, she thought, as she scratched at a patch of brown scales on her arm.
“You should move to Yuma,” her doctor told her. “Low humidity. Will help delay the oxidation.”
Mona scratched at her flaking, cracked lips. “But, how?”
He shrugged. “These things happen.”
Yuma was all limitless sky, blue and more blue. Mona wondered what she was supposed to do with all this limitlessness. It only made her feel more small and insignificant.
In a folding yard chair, she sat, rubbing lotion into her pits and cracks and waited. It took longer to fall apart under a Yuma sky, but she waited patiently.
Her bones became brittle. Her pitted heart groaned at the exertion of pumping and circulating. Her lungs stiffened. The scent of acid and iron swirled around her. She shooed away neighborhood kids as they tried to polish her, thinking they were desert squirrels. Her mind was the first to go.
The Yuma sky began to rust, too, right before it bruised and then was shot through with pinholes. Mona tried to touch the light shining through the pinholes. She couldn’t get her heavy hand to move.
A neighbor rested a washbowl in her lap, mumbling something about being useful to nature. Sparrows and mockingbirds soon came to dip their dusty beaks and feathers. Their beady eyes were curious but unafraid. She knew she had lost her humanity. She was now just a curiosity.
In the silence, only the sharp edge of forgetfulness remained. She had forgotten to do something. But what?
Her last breath beneath the limitless blue was a soft sigh of relief.
I have only come here because I am following instructions and not the ones from my court appointed attorney. Well, maybe “instructions” is the wrong word. They are more like signs. You see, I am trying to save my soul.
How do I know there is such thing as a soul? I know because I can feel mine trying to scratch and claw its way free from the confines of my body, its prison. And I know it is a thing separate from my mind, because my mind is its tormenter. I wonder if this is what it is to be crazy?
The woman trying to find out if I’m crazy is Dr. Leeds. She has done the socially acceptable things to make me comfortable: body-temp water in a paper cup, skin-so-soft handshake, flat-lined voice as uniform as her teeth. As she pulls some cards from her desk, she is using her voice, but I am concentrating on those teeth. They are bringing me closer to clarity than her words can.
I lift my fingers to press my own teeth and then walk them around the mask of my skin. Pressing harder, I feel the bone, the skull, the eye sockets. Hm. This is all that will be left of me one day. A skull like those in the science books and museums which have been excavated and displayed for the purpose of teaching, of learning. Of learning that time marches on. That we exist in a blink of an eye.
I jump. She has cleared her throat loudly. This means she is unhappy, and I need to pay attention to her. I will try.
She pulls up a chair beside me. “Okay, Mr. Collins. I’m going to place a card in front of you, and I want you to tell me your first impression of it, all right?”
I want to touch her teeth. They are so close now. I grip my hands together and nod instead.
Her sun-freckled arm moves smoothly to place the card in front of me, and I feel my soul fling itself violently at its cage, its wings beating my ribs. My chair scrapes the wood flooring as I thrust myself back from the image on the card. I can feel the heat of her stare now which means I have done something wrong. I feel myself shrinking, sucked inward by the vortex of her disappointment.
“Why don’t you tell me what you see?”
I shake my head vigorously as I watch the black ink splotches unfold their wings, their beaks screaming, trying to rip free from the face of death placed between them. The black face of death grips them like a vice between his teeth. I know there is no escape.
“Okay, we’ll just move on then.” She takes the screaming birds away and places a second card in front of me.
Blood. Blood everywhere! I begin to shake and look away. My skin is becoming slick with fear. I stare at the starchy white curtains behind her desk. I try to make my mind a white space, too.
“Mr. Collins? Mr. Collins? Are you all right?”
I can smell her worry. It smells like lemons. It breezes through my mind, quieting it. My soul quivers in its cage, exhausted.
“Okay. Why don’t we just talk for a bit.” She returns to her place behind the desk and slips the cards back in a drawer.
I know what I have to do now. Those cards were given to me as a path to the last image I need to see. A path to the answer. The signs are always so clever. I feel my lips pulling away from my teeth in what I believe to be a smile. By the look on Dr. Leeds paling face, I am wrong.
The gun is heavier and cooler in my hand than it was in my jacket pocket. She screams as she pushes herself away from the desk, trying to put distance between her and death. It is the scream of the black birds. I pull the trigger. The loud bang silences the screams. The smell of burnt powder and flesh, the tang of blood replaces the smell of lemons.
I barely notice the late doctor’s secretary open the door and stumble back out of the room.
Dr. Leeds’ soul is free now. It has flown from the hole in her chest. I can’t help myself. I lean over her and run my finger under her lip. Her teeth are hard like bone and still damp. Then I see it. The last sign! I scoot backwards and stare at the blood splatter on the white curtains. She has sacrificed herself to give me one last image. Her blood is alive, running like veins along the fabric, spelling out words for me. Instructions, after all. Of course! I am in charge of my own destiny. Escape is possible. Thank you, Dr. Leeds.
I hold the still warm gun barrel to my chest and free my own soul.