A Summer Thing

There is nothing in the air. There is nothing on the wind. There is no palpable change in temperature or shifting of atmosphere. There is nothing about this time of year, except that it is Summer, that beckons forth the demons from my bipolar brain. And yet, like clockwork…it comes. If you could see me at this table right now you would not notice the way I am crumbling. You would see only…a woman…a person taking up physical space, blinking, breathing, shaking, swallowing. You would not see the way my surface epithelial cells are destructing. You would not see my skin on fire. You would not see that bitter, unrelenting tremor. You may not even notice, unless you were really looking at me, how absolutely terrified I am. What you would see, if I pointed it out for you, is an uncanny absence of stillness. And once you do see it, you cannot un-see it. Jerks, twitches, shivers, quivers, jolts, snags. An overreaction to a door shutting. An exaggerated response to a dog barking or a phone ringing. A deluge of tears while discussing a new brand of coffee filters. This is the systemic assassination of your soul at the cellular level. Madness in its most brutal execution will not begin and end with your mind. That’s only where it gets fun.

I work through long days with it standing behind my chair and watching me type. Most of the time I can forget it’s there. I get lost in my job. I love my patients. I love what I’m doing. But then I reach for my cup and there it is…right there, in the tremor. I laugh with a patient and there it is…an audible voice saying, “Yes, no one can understand a lunatic like another lunatic.” I go to the bathroom and can’t pee. I try to eat lunch and can’t swallow. I can’t remember my password. I can’t remember what day it is. I miss a call. I forget a meeting. I don’t know an answer. I’m so cold. I can’t stop shaking. And then a simple tap on the shoulder, random, casual. “Time to cry.” And then I can’t stop. I am lucky I am so new at this job that my coworkers mistake my insanity for stupidity.

I started grad school yesterday. There is orientation and papers and forms and downloads and financial aid statements and professors and questions. A simple email: “Forwarded the link for the tuition reimbursement criteria.” I read it a thousand times. I still don’t know what it means. Well, in the larger scheme of things, it doesn’t mean anything, but still, I should be able to figure it out by simple reference. Another email with the subject “Cognitive Dissonance.” For some reason, it makes me furious. Who decides to go to grad school when they’re not even sure if they’re going to live? Who decides to go to grad school when they are going days and days on end without showering? Who decides to go to grad school when there is a malicious silence pounding in their ears? When they are being tracked and sniffed out by homicidal wolves? When there is so much heartache and doubt and despair that even breakfast is intolerable? When there are simply not enough meds…

Not even the water offers a reprieve. There is no beauty more serene than Oak Hollow Lake on a Saturday morning. I glare at the shimmer as we launch the boat. I wait for it to fill me up when we’ve paddled out far enough. And I wait. I wait to hear my number called. “Six! We’re at the catch!” and then “Six! Firm up!” and “Six! Hard on port!” And there is an echo in my head: Six, six, six, six, six. This word means nothing to me. It is a snake. It is a sizzle. It is a whisper. I look at the water and smirk. This lake doesn’t impress me. I’ve cried many more tears than this.

New job, new school, rowing club, a possible weekend job, new car, seclusion, withdrawal, waste, wildness, reckless driving, wasting away, reckless endangerment of cerebral functioning. It is only Summer. It happens every year. It comes, it smashes me in the face with a two-by-four, and then it goes. I have only to live through this one moment…this one melancholy moment…this one goddamn, merciless, masochistic, gut-wrenching, soul-starving moment. This moment doesn’t impress me. I’ve lived through many more agonizing moments than this.

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