When Did it Start?

by | Dec 12, 2023 | CNF, Issue Thirty-Six

Monday, March 7, 2016

9:10 a.m.

When did it start my husband asks. The it to which Charlie refers, means the intense emotional rollercoaster I am presently on. Holding back tears and gripping the back of the kitchen chair as if I’m whooshing down the rails of a Great America ride, I answer that I don’t know. But I do know from years of rummaging through the lumpy cushions of my brain furniture with psychiatrists (who diagnosed it psychosis), counselors (who wrote bi-polar in the blank they submitted to the insurance company), and clinical pastoral supervisors (who used the word dysfunctional) that I’m not supposed to say I don’t know. That somewhere in the fabric of my head upholstery there are answers in the warp and weave. Hidden answers. At least temporary answers. And regardless of being told by my father god I wasn’t supposed to be heard, just seen, and if I didn’t quit crying he would give me something to cry about – regardless of all that mental paternal constipation – my job is to talk.

When did it start?

A chartreuse coffee cup pops up out of my mind material.

So I begin to talk.

I tell Charlie maybe it started with a chartreuse cup that showed up in my dream a few days ago and was still there when I woke up and still quivering in my head as I made coffee. And when I opened the cupboard by the kitchen sink to pick out one of my sixteen Fiesta ware colors for the day (you know, red for Christmas, orange for Halloween, forest green for Packer Sundays, etc. etc.), there in the very front of the shelf sitting on top of the black (for depression) cup was the chartreuse one.

I stop talking because the muscles in my husband’s forehead have scrinched his eyebrows into upside down Nike swaths.

Are you worried? I ask. Charlie says he is. I tell him my mind is going really fast like the first time I was born-again wind-up, but that I’m okay. I am not terrorized. I am not seeing demons or hearing voices insisting I kill myself.

I stop talking.

He is still listening. Looking at me. Quiet.

I am still searching synapses for an answer to when it started when Charlie asks about the chartreuse cup.

I say well maybe it didn’t start with the chartreuse … and I notice my stomach is heaving … pushing into my ribs like trying to fold in on itself.

I sit down.

I tell Charlie maybe it started last week when for three days in a row three friends in Appleton floated into my candle-lit mediation silence. I hadn’t heard from any of them for months. I hadn’t seen any of them for years. Not one of them.

And not one of them – Rusty, Dorothy, or Marge – knew the others. To use a churchy word, I felt called to Appleton by something I can’t describe, don’t want to name, and can only point to. Like the “force” in the title of a Dylan Thomas’ poem The Force That Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower.

On Friday, March 4, trying to cooperate with whatever flower is pushing pushing pushing through blocks in my green fuse, I drive one hour and forty-five minutes toward Appleton and realize I will get to my friend, Rusty’s house an hour early. I call her on my iPhone from Kwik Trip parking lot in Fond du Lac to see it it’s okay to get to her house early. She laughs. Come anytime, she says and Rusty and I are only twenty minutes into our first face-to-face visit in over ten years when the police detectives come and tell her that her son was found dead at 11:00. Rusty raises her hands to her mouth and opens her eyes wide.

I slide closer to her on the couch.

Maybe it started then I say to Charlie because he asks me if I got into my pastoral role with Rusty and I say no I got into the loving my art therapist friend role, the friend who once-upon-a time played the role of a mother to me and found me hiding from the Red Rubber Demon in the Room 205 closet and helped me ask for the gift the leering spectre held for me in his fiery hand – a shoebox sized package wrapped in white tissue paper that held my mother’s heart, still pulsing and dripping blood.

Maybe it started the next morning. Saturday, March 5 – the day after I visited with Rusty – and talked with her again on the phone. Maybe at 7:23 a.m. at the desk in Room 101 in the Quality Inn on West Collage Avenue in Appleton when I hung up the phone and leaned my head into my arms and began sobbing. A mourning morning.

Or maybe later that night at dinner when Dorothy, my neighborhood friend from the 70s, and I met at the Red Ox, a restaurant that used to be Alex’s Crown and had my favorite Mounds of Shrimp on Fridays. When we were young stay-at-home mothers, Dorothy helped me turn resale stuff into posh looking decorations for my family’s three-story house on the Fox River. Dorothy was standing at the front door of that killer house on March 16, 1970 when the rescue squad carted me off to the locked room.

I’ll make 5:00 Old People reservations at the Red Ox, Dorothy said to me through my iPhone in the Appleton motel. It’s Saturday night and the Red Ox is tres poopular.

 Maybe it started at our back table at the Red Ox after Dorothy and I hugged hello and ordered our food and she talked about the suicide of her younger son – the boy that played forty-five years ago with my younger son.

Or maybe it started when Dorothy, a survivor with dark humor like mine, told me about getting caught in the car wash. How she missed lining the tires up correctly, got out of the car while the track was moving and fell. I wanted to ask her a question, but couldn’t because Dorothy was still talking and warning me. She says if that ever happens to you watch out for that first car wash water. It shoots out of the gizmo like a cannon and is really cold. And I clamp my lips together to stop an explosion of laughing and to keep the food inside so I didn’t spit lettuce all over the table.

I was afraid I would choke on my salmon salad, which, of course, had artichokes in it and I didn’t want my obituary to say the arti-choked her.

It could have started on Sunday morning I say to Charlie when I had an 8:00 a.m. breakfast with Marge at Mary’s South and while we caught up on our children, grandchildren, and Appleton – that through some miracle during thirty years I’ve been gone has turned progressive. (There is a Lesbian Hispanic Diversity Coordinator on the city payroll, but there might be a small group of people who make their annual parade to Joe McCarthy’s grave.)

Marge tells me her grandson, Tristan, who lives in New York and dances with a ballet troupe agreed to be a sperm donor for two of his friends and the woman named the baby Ocean.

Boy or girl I ask.

Boy Marge answers. At least for now.

I don’t remember hugging Marge or hitting the restroom before my 100-mile drive home but I woke up this morning, March 7, and I still don’t know when it started.

I’ve been talking for twenty minutes and still don’t have an answer to Charlie’s question when I hear the clock he bought during his first marriage chime 9:30. Amazed that he is still listening to my intermittent sobs and word plays, I notice his blue, blue eyes have stayed focused on me and I notice the chaotic cacophony in my head is slowing down.

I don’t know when it started I say to this dear man who loves me and helps me get off roller coasters and holds me until I can get up off this kitchen chair and eat breakfast. I guess maybe it started with Adam. Eve. Or the Big Bang, which could have been another Adam and Eve going at it in some far, far, off galaxy.

Who knows?

Read more CNF | Issue Thirty-Six

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