Friday, March 18, 2011

Something Was Broken

-On or around February 23, 2009-

Somewhere, wherever Los Angeles trash goes, is a worn pair of New Balance cross trainers, white and blue, size 10.5 6E. They were keeping me from the earth, and they had to go right then.

Right then was a sidewalk on Jefferson Ave, the north side of USC's campus. Right then was a public trash can - I only had about a fifth of a mile to where my car was parked, but sock feet would be less conspicuous if I didn't have their former sheaths in my hands. The grey, worn insoles - I remember; I looked - were besotted with the black hair from the pug I'd parted with in the previous month, and I had no other athletic shoes at my disposal, but fuck that, the shoes had to go.

They had been bothering me all day - I had parked wishful-thinkingly in the 1 hour slots on Figueroa, hoping to get in a conference or three with my composition students before the always-fickle meter gods betrayed me. My whole body buzzed as I exited the car, late as usual. The music from my iPod was changing with every tangential thought that flowed electric through my synapses. I wasn't touching the thing - it felt like electronic telekinesis, both exciting and utterly horrifying. If this was possible, then what was impossible?

I plopped down on the grass, only halfway to the library where my students were probably waiting. I took off those damn shoes and regarded them as a new amputee might a prosthetic - artificial things, not meant to come between my feet and whatever was below. Every time I moved, either in physicality or thought process, the music kept shifting. I kept shifting. Stillness was an impossibility, and these conferences just had to get done somehow. I realized that I hadn't eaten since yesterday afternoon. I also realized that I was sitting in quite a strange place - not on the commons grass maybe 100 yards away, but somewhere in the relative hinterlands of the campus, a strip of green between a sidewalk and a bike rack. People were watching me and my preoccupation with the iPod that had just changed again. Maybe I should put my shoes on again to see if my feet would still reject them, I thought to myself.

Being the yoga dilettante that I was, I thought it would then be a good idea to try and ground my energies, to settle down. After a bit of public meditation, appropriately cool, blue tones filled my ears (my doing?), and I gingerly walked the remainder of the way to the library courtyard, minding my breathing the whole way.

To my surprise, none of my students were there, and as I sat in the courtyard surrounded by people, many of whom I knew as colleagues, the sobering reality began to set in. I had lost complete track of what day it was. The conferences were scheduled for the next day, and I had instead completely missed class. The class *I* taught. I began to disintegrate into tears, walking as fast as I could so not to be seen by anyone I knew. For no reason in particular, I began walking faster and faster, unable to fix my brain on any single coherent thought. The music now an insistent beat thrumming in my ears, the blue sunlit sky all oppression.

Something was broken. Something I couldn't fix. The soles of my feet began to tingle, not in pain, but in a feeling I can only describe as my body not being entirely mine anymore.

It was then I knew the shoes had to go. I had to feel cold concrete under my toes - the abrasion would make me remember that yes, I was still here on Earth. I removed the shoes, glancing around, comforted by the fact that I was in Los Angeles, where you are always surrounded but only in the most egregious cases scrutinized, and with a silent prayer, said goodbye to my shoes.

The block-and-a-half walk to my car remains a blur, but I remember a distinct sense of achievement in my arrival. Stepping down to the grimy asphalt, noting the coarseness of the tar-suspended gravel, I walked around the car - no ticket, thank goddess - and got in.

By this point, my thoughts were not so rapid-fire; rather, they were alternating between hazy consciousness and snaps of compensatory alertness. I cranked the car, and began to drive home. Similar to the earlier uncanny simpatico with the iPod, my car seemed too to be in sync with my brain. As the haze would encroach, the car would begin to labor, I'd sharply inhale - focus! focus! - and the engine would thrum approvingly. The mile home was peppered with these episodes - it felt like I was in one of those cars that bump to the beat of a sound system.

The relief was palpable as I got home. I closed the door behind me, stripped naked and crashed down on the mattress lying in the middle of my living room floor. Seeking desperately a touchstone for the life I had been living but which was beginning to seem all too fleeting, I pulled out my silenced phone from my backpack. One message, stern: I had forgotten to send in my vote for a singing contest I was judging on YouTube.

I walked across my bungalow to the computer desk, relieved that there was a small thing I could do to prove, if only to myself, that I could handle this, whatever *this* was. First, though, put on the teapot. Call the number. Oh, right, that burner doesn't work. "Hello? There you are!" Oh wait, that burner doesn't work "Charlie?" - the smell of gas shut it off - "Oh hi! Just calling to give you my vote!" (Smiling Too Wide) - "Whew! Put on the wrong burner! Jussssst a second. Gotta get outside, getting light headed from the gas!" (Awkward Pause)

"You're not gonna die on me, are you?" (a forced chuckle in her voice)

I hesitated. "No, ha! Just crazy old me, can't remember which burner works right!" I gave her my vote, and came to the realization that this phone conversation, the filament that was connecting me to another human being for this moment, was about to end. And then, the dread.

I had hesitated because, honestly, I wasn't sure.


  1. I don't know what to say except I wish I could extend to you a real hug right now. And that you are brave for writing about these experiences.

  2. Hmmm, used to write like this. Now I just hear reminders. It cuts, it stings, it bites and burns. Make it heel. Make it stay, so you don't find yourself searching for it tommrow.

  3. Charlie, I don't know if you know who I am; I'm not sure we ever even talked, and I have only a vague memory of being introduced to you at some point. I came across your blog via mutual friends FB pages, and am touched and humbled reading it. This, in particular, is such a beautifully written if heartbreaking post. I wish I'd known you better, and could have helped in some way. Thank you for your honesty and courage, and for sharing your experiences with us. Shefali R.

  4. p.s. i've also met people with bipolar disorder who are extraordinarily articulate and typically possessed of more coherence than i am on even my best days!