To read part one of this series, click here.
I went to jail when I was nine years old.
The day started just like any other horrifically normal day, the day I went to jail. I ate my mini-wheats, soaking them just long enough to make them smoosh but not long enough that the white frosting slipped silently into the milk. Then I brushed my teeth, remembering to scrape my tongue because, as I had learned, that’s where the stinky bacteria lived. I gagged but did it anyway. Then, before tucking in my shirt, I lifted it to make sure no lint was stuck there, in my belly-button.
Once I had found lint there and that day was an awful day because things hadn’t been right, right there from the beginning so I sassed someone in charge and broke a rule or two and everything just was wrong all because of that one piece of fuzz from who knows where.
So when I went to jail, that day, on a day that no lint was found, on a day that I had brushed my tongue and eaten the perfectly sogged mini-wheats, I couldn’t figure it out.
“That’s enough,” the teacher had said, then plopped this box, probably something a washer or dryer had come in, right over my head, right over my desk.
I remember wondering what happened to my daydream bubble, the kind that was always in the comic strips above people’s heads. Did it squish through the cardboard bars only allowing me to see the chalkboard and nowhere else? Did it hover above my head, smashed, flattening toward the corners of the box? Why didn’t the teacher care about the daydream, haphazardly throwing that box over its head and why couldn’t she have given me some notice so I could’ve released it back to the other clouds, back to its friends in the sky?
I’ll have to be its friend, I thought, and I liked this box, instantly, the way the lights glaring were cut out and I wanted a candle to flicker across the paper in front of me, to cast a cozy glimmer across the picture I’d been drawing for the cloud above my head.
“I suppose that was the first memory,” I tell the therapist, this bald, shiny foreheaded man with kind eyes. “That was the first memory I know of where my reality couldn’t be seen by others.”
“Do you remember what was happening before that?” he asked.
“I knew my spelling words. The teacher wanted us to write them five times each. It was such a waste of time. I remember talking a lot, goofing around. I was the life of the party. She kept telling me to be quiet. I couldn’t. I laughed at her. She got mad. I didn’t care. I kept going, going. Everyone thought it was fun.”
“Did you have many days like this?” he prompted.
“No. Not until I got older.”
“What made you realize you needed help?” he asked.
“My wife. It had been a good day at work. I remember wishing there was more to do. I remember how happy I was; how my coworkers became incredibly interesting and I poked fun at them. I had the perfect comeback for every joke. Colors were bright, flying at me. Thoughts came even faster than the colors. I couldn’t keep up; couldn’t sit still. On the way home from work, that night, I saw a man standing by the road. I thought maybe he needed help. So I pulled my car over onto the gravel shoulder and yelled at him. He just looked at me, sad-like and walked into the woods. I screamed at him. Screamed loud enough that he could hear over my car’s engine. But he just kept walking. So I shut my car off and stumbled after him, using my flashlight on my phone the best I could but I tripped over some twigs and some viney thorns ripped at my pants. I wasn’t scared. I stared up at the sky trying to make sense of where I was but the trees had covered all the stars. I couldn’t find my way back to my car. I suddenly shivered and it was like I woke from a horrible dream. I started shaking and crying and I wondered if maybe I wasn’t dead and this was hell, being alone in the woods at night. I eventually found my car and drove home. When I got there, I went straight to the shower and threw my clothes in the washer when I was done. Climbing into bed, I wrapped my arms around my wife and imagined giving her a one-way ticket back home, begging her to climb on a plane headed away from me, away from whomever I was becoming but I knew she wouldn’t take it. That girl loves me something fierce. I don’t deserve it. Never have. I vowed to myself that I would get help, that night. For her, mostly. So here I am.”
And that’s the magical, craziest thing about love; someone else can hold us together when we’re undoubtedly falling apart.
“You have to tell me something is wrong with me. You have to. Everyone has their limits. What if this happens when she’s around? Worry is killing me. I can’t sleep. Can’t eat. I won’t be able to hold it together much longer,” I told him. “Pretending is horrible. I’d rather be dead.”
And I thought about the swerving of a car, sudden, into a concrete underpass or walking slowly into a field, the corn tall, letting my arms hang loose by my sides and the sharp edges of their leaves cutting at my arms, reminding me of what I’d come out here to do…
“Something is wrong,” he replied, as if everything I told him didn’t scare him and this surprised me about him, how calm he was in the face of a monster and I thought maybe he was a little like God in that way, unafraid of even my darkest secrets. “But it’s not something wrong with you. It’s something wrong with your brain…”