On the Brink of Sanity
I’m tripping on the insanity. My shrink tells me I should get “Fresh Air,” every day. “Take a walk,” he says. “Ride a bicycle.” Opening the windows doesn’t count. “Movement is key,” he had said, leaning into me. The act of needing to draw in fresh air is important, I guess. I can’t walk. He doesn’t understand how controlling the insanity is. It makes one foot step onto the other. It makes my brain form mean words at the people around me. It makes me unable to endure the sun and tells me to put sticks in the spokes of kids’ bicycles. I don’t hate them. The insanity does. You don’t really know how awful this psychosis is until it’s gripping your insides, tearing at them with every action you take. It’s a physical pain. It insists that, instead of going out to a movie, you stay at home and search Netflix for something to absorb the next four hours. You watch documentaries that you know you will hate, just because it will take up the time. You know that seeing a movie will hurt, maybe in your pancreas, or in the bone marrow of your femur. You don’t know where or why it will hurt, only that it will, and you’re afraid of the pain. I wonder, then, why I went to the shrink in the first place. I knew it would hurt -- it gave me a horrible toothache. I held my jaw the whole time. I winced at every word I muttered, because they turned into three-ton weights and monster trucks, a torrential downpour on a single nerve. There was a small, runty, mewling kitten, abandoned in the corner of my brain, and it cried. The kitten was so tiny, like a speck of dust, a human cell, and its cry was almost impossible to hear against the chainsaws and riots in my brain, but it’s been there for years. I want it to stop. That’s why I went. It didn’t work. The kitten grew a little, maybe. Maybe I’m listening closer. So I walked. It hurt. My fingernails rattled painfully, acquiring needles that dug into my skin. I’m going to tell him tomorrow how much pain he caused me. I bet he’ll tell me, then, that I can stay home. You know how, sometimes, you sit in one spot on the couch long enough that there’s a second you in the couch? I think it’s the real you sitting there when you move away. Flat. Comfortable. Easy to determine. There’s no complexity to the you in the couch. Just couch pattern and shadow. The you that walks outside and endures the pain of movement and people and the air of outside has to be complex and have dimension. You have to transform yourself for every person you meet. If someone smiles at you on the subway, you become a welcoming person. If someone mugs you, you transfigure into a victim. Sometimes you are the fierce victim, and you fight, or you are the regular kind and cry as your wallet is running away from you in someone else’s pocket. Someone tried to mug me once, when I was in high school. I stared at him blankly as he jutted a knife at me, and my gaze moved to that flitting knife, and I studied it. I noticed that it was a smooth-edge knife, a switch blade. It shined like a hospital room in the street lamp. The blade looked new, and very sharp, but I regretted that it was not serrated. I recalled my history teacher saying that ancient swords were -- they were more likely to cause gangrene. We stood there for a long time. He realized I wasn’t listening, and he slammed me into the wall and held the knife to my throat. “I said give me your damn wallet!” He sounded like a city kid. Desperate, angry at his condition. The blade made my blood run hot. “Well, are you going to cut me or what?” He pulled away a little. “I will if you don’t give me your money.” “Screw the money. Are you going to cut me? Well? Do it, then! My blood’s on fire, honey, let’s go!” He backed up, screamed, threw his own wallet at me, ran. “You damn freak!” I used his money to buy popcorn and mushrooms. I needed the movie snacks. I handed his wallet, with his I.D., to a little girl on the playground. I sat on a bench and watched her explore the leather. An older woman, mom or sister or something, rushed to her. I imagined her asking the child where she got the wallet. I watched the girl point to me, and the horrified look on the older woman as she turned her face to me. She seized the wallet and stomped to me. Threw it down, scolded me. I stared. My blood was still hot. I gave the wallet to a hobo. I imagine he ate it. I want to return to the me on the sofa. When we merge, I feel completely invisible. The phone rings and I can ignore it to watch terrible documentaries. Answering the phone hurts. It resonates in my lungs and gives me diabetes. When the phone rings, the kitten jumps through the riots and avoids the chainsaws and shouts in my ear, or wriggles into my nasal cavity to make me sneeze until my eyes tear up. My blood is hot again. Every time that happens, I have to sit in the bathtub, halfway full of water -- precisely, so my body orders it -- and let that blood out. Someday, my arms will run out of space. I’ll worry about that when I get to it. The shrink tells me it’s insane -- so did my landlord and the neighbour. I think they don’t understand the requirement of filling the tub halfway. If you don’t fill it exactly halfway, the blood doesn’t cool properly. My shrink says it’s dangerous. He doesn’t understand that there’s a safe way to do it. When the blood is cool, I close the door, wrap it, and drain the tub, shower, and join myself in the couch and eat popcorn and mushrooms and maybe a burger. Doesn’t he know that people believed bloodletting cured illness? Most people lived -- doctors have to know how to do it right. He asked why. Is he insane? How would he like it if his blood became so hot he felt as though he was ready to catch fire? He asked what my friends thought. If they’d seen my arms. I laughed at him. Friends? I told him I don’t have any. Did you know that I am incapable of holding long-term relationships? I used to have a few -- they lasted a long time. The insanity grew to hate them, and drove me to drive them away. It wanted people to hate me. It made me tell them mean and untrue things, and to act unhappy around them, to make them think I didn’t love them. That was back in the old days, before I cozied up with the madness. When I begged and cried, it showed how pitiful I looked. It said that I was disgusting, and because of that, I didn’t deserve to be happy. That’s when the chainsaws started. They churned and gurgled, and they dug into my ribcage and shook my lungs. I want to go to the library -- that’s inaccurate -- the kitten wants to go to the library. The kitten has dodged the noise and is lodging itself in between my kidneys. It is telling me to learn more about my “condition.” The shrink doesn’t really know what to call it. Depression. Paranoia. Bipolar. He says it comprises symptoms of multiple things. We’ve settled on the word “psychosis” or “condition” when he doesn’t want me to feel as bad. He said he wants to try therapy before medication. Wants the healing to be “natural.” So he tells me to walk. Listen. See. I walked yesterday. Kind of. I walked to the bus station. Got on. Sat on it for three hours. I watched the people come on and get off. Talk on phones, to the person sitting next to them. When I got on the bus, my feet hurt -- the bones had snapped. I watched these two lovers get on. They were probably in their early twenties. The woman looked like she had borrowed someone’s face to give to her lover, and the man looked like he knew it. Still, he loved her, you could tell. He waited patiently for her to remove her mask. He sat with his arms around her, tickling her or kissing her nose and holding her hand. The man next to me leaned to the side. His fat breath whispered to me, “Ah, young love, yes?” His French accent pierced my colon. I grunted. I wanted to kill them both. It was not jealousy -- the insanity had ensured that I could not love. My murderous desire was centered around their disgusting denial of their own insanity. I could see the girl’s bones rattling, surely causing her pain, but she ignored it. I’m sure she woke up each morning and thought, “My love will help me ignore the pain.” I imagine she’ll kill herself someday. She will slit her wrists in an overfilled bathtub, listening to The Magic Flute as her hot blood flows into the water, cooling and cooling her body. She’ll cry softly, with her eyes glazed over, regretting her life and her love. At the last minute, she’ll change her mind. She’ll try to get out of the tub, or scream to her neighbours for help, but she’ll be too weak by now, and her last words will be the name of her lover. Her note, folded into a delicate triangle with his name on it, will tell him how much pain she was in, how she loved him dearly, how it wasn’t his fault that his love couldn’t cure her. He’ll eventually realize that he’s free and marry and be happy. The bus driver kicked me off, eventually. He realized I’d never moved from the seat in three hours. As I stepped off the bus, he grumbled. I went home and merged with the me on the couch. I watched The Magic Flute and imagined the girl in her tub, bleeding. She would not have died if she had filled the tub halfway, I bet. I told my shrink about the girl, and the tub and Mozart and about popcorn and mushrooms. Why those? Mushrooms are a fungus. They spread and grow and soak up moisture. Their texture is unique. Popcorn is good. That’s it. They’re not my favourite. I don’t have favourites. I barely have likes. Mostly just hates. My shrink says I contradict myself. “You like popcorn,” he says. He smirks like he’s caught me, like he knows how to cure me now. He misunderstands. I said popcorn is good, not that I like it. It is hardly the same. He doesn’t think so. He wants me to make a list of likes and dislikes for next time. To keep getting fresh air. To bring a notebook with me everywhere, to observe things that catch my attention and how they make me feel. I went out to a diner after that. I wanted burgers. Seven of them, specifically. The ambiguously-gendered waitstaff gawked at me from behind the counter. She/He whispered to fellow waitstaff. I caught words like “so many burgers,” “wish,” and “fat.” I ignored the noise as I stuffed burgers, fries, and sodas. Halfway through, I started to feel intense pain in my shoulders. I finished my burgers and left, running home to join myself, who was listening to the radio -- jazz. I picked up the notebooks and wrote under dislikes, “diner waitstaff.” I stared at the table for a long time. I don’t have likes. Only dislikes. I started writing under that column. Chainsaws. Revolution. Organ pain. Bone aches. Grocery shopping. Lead feet. Scratching. Paper. Insanity. Shrinks. Noise. Documentaries. Fish. Couches. The list ran for three pages, triple-columned within the half page section reserved for dislikes. I looked at my work. Halfway down the second page, on the “like” side, appeared “kittens” in tiny lettering. Damn. He got me.