Jack and I decided to move to Santa Barbara. It was more my idea than his. It was completely my idea. I wanted to get back to my roots, the beach. I wanted a change. I wanted to stop working in a bar, waitressing. My temper was showing. About a month before this decision to move to Santa Barbara, I'd thrown a scotch-on-the-rocks in a customer's face. The guy was an asshole, so he deserved it, I told Jack. The guy was a jerk to me and to his girlfriend. I didn't like what he'd said to her, to me, so I threw his drink right off the cocktail tray and into his Italian Mafia face. Jack listened kindly, quietly, drawing something on a napkin as he stood behind the bar, waiting kindly and quietly for me to give him my drink order. Jack didn't mention the fact that I had also, on another occasion, thrown a table vase against the wall, just missing the owner of the bar's head. Just barely grazed the side of Fred's head. I'd been mad about my pay check; it was late again. The bar was making plenty of money, but there was some heavy-duty partying going on. I did get paid a few days later, but I was also fired. Then Fred hired me back after I groveled and promised not to throw anything.
Still, I knew it was time to go, quit this job, start fresh. I was unraveling. I didn't feel right: headaches, stomachaches, dizziness, my eyes bothered me, the light was too bright. Tired all the time. The doctor said I was fine, healthy. Maybe too thin, but fine. I wanted to move. My hands bothered me, they felt electrical, little razor edges firing off sparks from my palms. I was scared. I didn't know what I was afraid of. I felt afraid all the time, nervous, a buzzing in my head. I thought the sea could save me.
So I applied to UC Santa Barbara, and I was accepted into the graduate program.
Jack and I packed up our old cars and drove our rattletrap caravan south for about seven hours. I felt so weird, but believed going somewhere new would change everything.
It did. It got worse.
We set up house in a one bedroom apartment nowhere near the ocean; we couldn't afford it. We could barely afford the apartment. Jack had decided to collect unemployment instead of getting a job. He wanted to paint. He was an artist. He had a Master's Degree in Fine Art. Right. I was a student and a fledgling writer/poet, working two jobs. I had to drop out of school, it became clear. I had too many jobs, and I didn't feel well. Jack said it would be okay; I would go back to school as soon as I got on my feet. My feet? I was on my feet a lot, teaching two freshman composition courses at the community college and working as a secretary at a bookstore downtown. I was working about 50 hours a week, and I felt very sick. I went to a doctor a few times who said there was nothing physically wrong with me. He suggested I see a psychiatrist.
Jack thought that might be a good idea. I was no longer interested in sex. Well, sex hurt me, it didn't feel right, and I was not in the mood.
So I went to the psychiatrist while Jack went to the desert with his painter friend. They both wore colorful kerchiefs around their heads and drove off with their oils and canvases in Jack's woody station wagon to paint cacti.
I couldn't afford to see a psychiatrist, but Medi-Cal paid for the first two sessions. I sat in the waiting room, staring at the lovely, gentle art. The man across from me, who was also waiting, looked like he had an invisible noose around his neck and was already in the land beyond the living. It hurt to look at him. I heard construction going on outside, the hammering and drilling. It hurt to listen to it. It felt like my skin had been peeled back and I was raw nerves exposed to the malicious elements. I hurt all over.
The psychiatrist wore a gorgeous suit and tie and shiny black wing tip shoes. He sat behind a large desk. There was a Tupperware bowl on the desk. I would find out what was in it later. I sat across from him and stared at the lovely, gentle art. Gauzy, Monet-ish, but without Monet's passion. Fake. I stared at the Tupperware bowl. It was big. The psychiatrist was rather dainty. Impeccable fingernails. He asked me questions and then, in the middle of the session, informed me that I wanted to kill my mother and marry my father. He excused himself and took the lid off the Tupperware bowl. It was lunchtime, he said. Would I mind? No. He ate brown rice from the Tupperware.
Between spoonfuls, he said I had two boxes in my head, one labeled bad and the other labeled good. I had to get my boxes together. I had to stop wanting to kill my mother and stop wanting to marry my father. These were the things we would work on. He thought I needed to see him more often and maybe attend his encounter group on Tuesday evenings, too. I told him money was a problem. He said I could ask my parents; that would help initiate the healing of the mother-murdering/father-marrying complex I had.
Of course, he spoke in a much more doctorly, psychiatric way, but this was the upshot. I had an Electra Complex, among other problems. Had I read Oedipus Rex? I nodded.
I thanked him and walked out of the office into the aching, buzzing street. The construction workers whistled at me. My bones felt chipped, crumbling. I knew I was physically very sick, and now I really did believe I could be crazy.
At the next session, the psychiatrist told me I was crazy. He didn't use that word; he said I was manic-depressive and most likely schizophrenic. He gave me pills, a bottle of Lithium. He told me to take two a day.
I drove back to the apartment. Driving through a residential neighborhood, I pulled over to cry. Crying released the pressure for a few minutes. The fear. It is difficult to describe this kind of fear, except to say it was relentless. I didn't want to describe it to anyone; it would look like I was crazy. But I was seriously mentally ill; the psychiatrist had said so. There was a terrifying canyon between one minute and the next. I never knew how to bridge it, how I would get to the other side. Time did pass, yet it seemed like it couldn't pass. It felt like I couldn't live.
I stared out the windshield at the Santa Barbara mansions with their wide expanses of emerald lawn, palm trees, and marble porticos. Someone would probably call the police if I didn't drive away soon. My car was a faded red MG sedan with quite a few dents. It was not a car fit for this neighborhood.
On the passenger seat, next to the bottle of Lithium, was a book from Jack. He had given it to me after I tried to describe to him how I felt. The book was one of his favorites, Freedom from the Known by J. Krishnamurti. Inside the front cover, Jack had written, This is for you, with all that I could ever give you-love.
I had immediately read through the table of contents. Chapter Five: Fears and Total Fear-Fragmentation of Thought-Ending of Fear. I was reading this chapter, desperately thinking it could help me end my fear. But it was difficult to understand, an intricate and subtle philosophy. Reading the passages over and over, I could figure out what was being said, but how could I put it into practice, how could it help me live: As you watch, you learn that the observer is merely a bundle of ideas and memories without any validity or substance, but that fear is an actuality and that you are trying to understand a fact with an abstraction which, of course, you cannot do. But, in fact, is the observer who says, "I am afraid," any different from the thing observed which is the fear? The observer IS fear and when that is realized there is no longer any dissipation of energy in the effort to get rid of fear, and the time-space interval between the observer and the observed disappears. When you see that you are a part of the fear, not separate from it-that you are fear-then you cannot do anything about it; then fear comes totally to an end.
I was afraid of these words. But they sounded true. Every word that I had read so far in this book sounded true. But I was too sick to apply it. The back cover of the book said the author lived in Ojai. I wished I could see this man, talk to him. Ojai was only a few miles away, in the mountains.
I was afraid of the bottle of Lithium. I didn't know anything about Lithium, but maybe I should take the pills. I had to do something.
At the end of the street, I could see the brilliant blue of the ocean. I cried some more, weeping for...I didn't know what. The sadness was immense. I was twenty-four-years-old and too sad to live. I made a pact with myself that day so I could get through the rest of the day: if I felt this same way in five years, I would commit suicide. I don't know why I picked five years. I wanted to live, so maybe five years seemed a long time to me then; surely, in five years, something would change for the better. But it wasn't that long, either. I could do it. I could make it until then with this suffering.
I drove down the street and parked in the beach lot. I took the bottle of Lithium with me. I sat on a piece of driftwood and watched the waves. The sun was low in the sky, making the water silver. I cried for the beauty of the world and the terror I felt in it. I cried because I wanted to live, and I didn't know how.
When I left the beach, I passed a garbage can. I dropped the Lithium in the can. Then I drove home to see Jack, to hear about his day painting in the desert. I would act normal. I would not be crazy. I would tell him that the doctor thought I was a manic-depressive schizophrenic with an Electra Complex and a brain full of good/bad boxes. We would laugh about it. I would make it sound funny. I would cook dinner with Jack and eat it and try not to be so afraid. My head hurt. My tongue felt like a razor. Sharp pains in my abdomen. The steering wheel hurt my hands as I drove. There were electrical charges coming out of the plastic, shocking me. I gripped the wheel, no matter how much it hurt. I drove.
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