Chapter 06 – February

In hypomania the mood is heightened and elevated. Most often these patients are euphoric, full of jollity and cheerfulness. Though at times selfish and pompous, their mood nevertheless is often quite “infectious.” They joke, make wisecracks and delightful insinuations, and those around them often get quite caught up in the spirit, always laughing with the patient, and not at him. Indeed, when physicians find themselves unable to suppress their own 2 laughter when interviewing a patient, the diagnosis of hypomania is very likely. Self-esteem and self-confidence are greatly increased. Inflated with their own grandiosity, patients may boast of fabulous achievements and lay out plans for even grander conquests in the future. In a minority of patients, however, irritability may be the dominant mood. Patients become demanding, inconsiderate, and intemperate. They are constantly dissatisfied and intolerant of others, and brook no opposition. Trifling slights may enrage the patient, and violent outbursts are not uncommon. At times, pronounced lability of mood may be evident; otherwise supremely contented patients may suddenly turn dark, churlish, and irritable.

In flight of ideas the patient’s train of thought is characterized by rapid leaps from one topic to another. When flight of ideas is mild, the connections between the patient’s successive ideas, though perhaps tenuous, may nonetheless be “understandable” to the listener. In somewhat higher grades of flight of ideas, however, the connections may seem to be illogical and come to depend more on puns and word plays. This flight of ideas is often accompanied by pressure of thought. Patients may report that their thoughts race, that they have too many thoughts, that they run on pell-mell. Typically, patients also display pressure of speech. Here the listener is deluged with a torrent of words. Speech may become imperious, incredibly rapid, and almost unstoppable. Occasionally, after great urging and with great effort, patients may be able to keep silent and withhold their speech, but not for long, and soon the dam bursts once again.

Energy is greatly, even immensely, increased, and patients feel less and less the need for sleep. They are on the go, busy and involved throughout the day. They wish to be a part of life and to be involved more and more in the lives of those around them. They are strangers to fatigue and are still hyperactive and ready to go when others must go to bed. Eventually, the patients themselves may finally go to sleep, but within a very brief period of time they then awaken, wide-eyed, and, finding no one else up, they may seek someone to wake up, or perhaps take a whistling stroll of the darkened neighborhood, or, if alone, they may spend the hours before daybreak cleaning out closets or drawers, catching up on old correspondence, or even paying bills.

In addition to these cardinal symptoms, hypomanic patients are often extremely distractible. Other conversations and events, though peripheral to the patients’ present purposes, are as if glittering jewels that they must attend to, to take as their own, or simply to admire. In listening to patients, one may find that a fragment of another conversation has suddenly been interpolated into their flight of ideas, or they may stop suddenly and declare their unbounded admiration for the physician’s clothing, only then again to become one with the preceding rush of speech.

Hypomanic patients rarely recognize that anything is wrong with them, and though their judgment is obviously impaired they have no insight into that condition. Indeed, as far as hypomanic patients are concerned, the rest of the world is sick and impaired; if only the rest of the world could feel as they do and see as clearly as they do, then the rest of the world would be sure to join them. These patients often enter into business arrangements with unbounded and completely uncritical enthusiasm. Ventures are begun, stocks are bought on a hunch, money is loaned out without collateral, and when the family fortune is spent, the patient, undaunted, after perhaps a brief pause, may seek to borrow more money for yet another prospect. Spending sprees are also typical. Clothes, furniture, and cars may be bought; the credit card is pushed to the limit and checks, without any foundation in the bank, may be written with the utmost alacrity. Excessive jewelry and flamboyant clothing are especially popular. The overinvolvement of patients with other people typically leads to the most injudicious and at times unwelcome entanglements. Passionate encounters are the rule, and hypersexuality is not uncommon. Many a female hypomanic has become pregnant during such escapades. If confronted with the consequences of their behavior, hypomanic patients typically take offense, turn perhaps indignantly selfrighteous, or are quick with numerous, more or less plausible excuses. When hypomanic patients are primarily irritable rather then euphoric, their demanding, intrusive, and injudicious behavior often brings them into conflict with others and with the law.

———

Summer started early this year. I felt the rush and warmth of uppedness come early. Meds always fuck around with rhythm and it takes a while for the old to overpower the new. Sometimes its the reverse. The brilliant thing about drugs and mental illness is that drugs can either do X or do the opposite, moods can do Y or do not-Y. It could be used as a definition for ‘clusterfuck’ since there is no rhyme or reason to anything other than it happens and you have to deal with it. This year, I went up but just a little bit that was noticeable but welcome. And I didn’t come back down in the weeks that followed. When this clusterfuck happens when you don’t expect it to happen it becomes harder and harder to sort out what you’ve actually done of your own free reasoned will and what is just a mood fluctuation that you’ll regret as soon as the downturn arrives. If it ever arrives. That’s also always a possibility. It’s possible go up and never come down.

Hypomanias feel great. It’s one thing I won’t ever give up.

Even though I often do stupid shit during them.

That year it was about half and half me and my mood.

Probably just me.

———

Our floor boards and stairs squeak like any old house. Ours sound like an old man groaning after sitting on the couch watching back to back football games while drinking cheap beer suddenly rising and discovering that his knees were in fact the consistency of jello. It was prolonged far beyond the short exclamation normal physics demands. They never squeak in the same place too. Sneaking around is impossible because of this fact.

Grace and I met in a bar watching sports on a projected screen. I was there for the Packers, she was there for the Niners. In Packerland she was outnumbered by at least 20 to 1, and in the bar she was outnumbered by the entire bar. I didn’t save her from jeering that resulted from the eventual loss to the Packers, I had no such valiant instincts at the time, instead she spilled beer on me, right on my crotch. Our friendship was born around that perceived humiliation that led to her buying beer after beer for me as we waited for it to dry. I would reek of alcoholic piss water that PBR imparts to whatever it touches and she would reek of alcoholic piss water as her skin vented the weak beer that her liver was not processing. After the loss she continued to justify the Niners to me, how their defense was second to none and Alex Smith would one day the league MVP and how she was eyeing Aldon Smith out of Missouri would become a force that could match Clay Matthews, one of the best linebackers to rush the weakside of an offense. Smith was a first round pick by the Niners and would one day prove to be one of the more terrifying linebackers that played the game, almost on par with Brian Urlacher in terms of play making according to her warped view of the NFL. I didn’t agree with her at the time but we both settled on the fact that a 3-4 defense provided a more versatile approach to balance pass rush and coverage.

My pants had dried but I didn’t notice. We switched to her field of study — english. I will still never fully understand what an english major does beyond writing and studying writing. It seemed frivolous to me at the time and still has an air of frivolity. Beyond copyediting for books it looked like it had not job opportunities — not that I could really argue considering my focus on pure mathematics rather than applied but at least mathematics has an air of superiority and intelligence that it does not fully deserve. I get my pragmatic side from my father, though I rarely use it. Cliff is pragmatic, I think it’s an engineer thing. Grace attempted to explain Derrida to me and how any sentence could be interpreted in both its positive form and its contrapositive. She didn’t use those words, I do, they make more sense to me. I thought it was hogwash coming from a black and white discipline of mathematics. There is right and wrong when using numbers and clearly Derrida had never taken a calculus class. Grace attempted to persuade me by saying that mathematics is an abstraction and without a concrete interpretation it had no basis in reality beyond what we think it fits. I still wasn’t sold. Later, in grad school, she came around to my way of thinking and rejected her continental leanings that seemed to permeate english departments around the globe. She would still have a love of Nietzsche, but that was about it. We stayed behind for the Sunday Night Football screening and remained at the bar until midnight. We didn’t really pay attention to what was happening. I think it was the Dolphins playing before they got Tannehill and became reasonably good. He’s no Russell Wilson (go Badgers), or Andrew Luck, but he brought the Dolphins some well deserved wins.

I was rather drunk, she was rather drunk, and in our drunken state we agreed to watch the noon game for the Packers and the 3:30 game for the Niners the next week. I can’t believe I remembered it considering how much I had to drink. Though, I didn’t have a hangover the next day — I’ve only had one hangover in my life — I felt the sense of camaraderie that would carry us through the worst of it. We watched the games, and then the next week, and then she invited me to a little reopening of a small music venue called the Project Lodge that is has since closed. We sat on blankets and listened to Breathe Owl Breathe. It was the first music show I had ever been to. I thought it was a date while hoping it wasn’t a date considering that I had a girlfriend at the time and it seemed like Grace and I wouldn’t click in a couples sort of way. It wasn’t a date. Thank god. Grace and I are a little too much alike to ever be together.

Grace and I started to spend Saturdays at the Lodge together with our six packs of beer that they allowed us to bring in considering that they didn’t have a bar, and then Sundays watching the games together. We stopped caring whether it was the Packers or the Niners playing and watched whatever was on. I began to forget about my other friends. They were obsessed with video games and I was too before I met Grace. After her I was exposed to a more diverse culture than sitting in on Saturdays trying to beat the Water Temple for the nth time. Maybe that’s what an english major does to someone — making someone more diverse and interesting by exposing them to a panoply of writing and ideas. Our meetings became a ritual of showing up about ten minutes late and grabbing beer or whiskey from Cork and Bottle down the street on Johnson and then getting drunk while listening to poorly mixed music. We would talk about our week outside in between sets sharing a cigarette — she got me started on them — and our conversations went from the deep interesting kind that drives intellectual conversation to the humdrum of daily life as a student. It’s impossible to sustain intellectual conversations over a vast time period for the mind of a student, and even a graduate, does not have enough material to constantly pull from and expand on being neither fully trained in the art of extrapolating and not well schooled enough to supply the foundations for such extrapolations. Inevitably, conversations led to where we were at. I was a sophomore at the time which lends credibility to my claim that I was a rather shallow person, she was a senior and would later become a super-senior and a super-super-senior. She wasn’t shallow, she was just a drunk. I would later become a drunk and a full blown alcoholic. I would dry up as well, she still has a drink when watching a game which is no longer that often.

In February I took up the hobby of knitting hats. It was something that nearly everyone suggested to me every single year so that I would have something to do when I was bored out of my brain but too foggy or too scattered to really accomplish anything of substance. I chose hats because I didn’t need another scarf but desperately needed a hat. Having graduated and having little success finding a job, I became obsessed with my new hobby. My first hat looked like it belonged to one of the seven dwarfs off to the mines to strip mine precious jewels for what purpose the movie never really elaborated on or why they had to be so punctual since there was never a foreman involved. I supposed that they mined was for money but there were never any traders featured in the film. Children’s films always leave something to be desired. What started as a rather innocent hobby became the obsession to create but was stifled by my lack of skill and overreaching. It took all the rest of February for me to complete the second hat — I kept dropping stitches or had to undo an entire row and find my way back to where I could begin again all the while picking at the small little hoops in hope that I could wiggle them back onto my needles. Rachel started knitting scarves — I saw then why people start with scarves, they’re easy and relaxing. Still, determination won out and I finished my second hat. It was a grey affair without much going on aesthetically. A poof ball went on top. It did not keep my head warm. With wool instead of cotton yarn, my third time around finished with an acceptable hat with time to spare in the never ending winter of Wisconsin. I wore that dorky looking hat with pride everywhere and always told everyone that I made it myself.

February, I saw less of Grace than usual. Our rhythms became out of sync with one another as she was going to bed later from studying and subsequently waking up later. Mornings were now spent with Rachel. And Harold. Harold had grown overly cautious about Rachel and now followed her around the house whenever he was in it. She rarely had time alone without him in the room and it began to crush any last independence she had within the warm walls of our house and she barely had time to steal with me beyond our morning and afternoon cigarettes which still kept an agonizing distance between our bodies. We wanted to be back in the insulated world of the hotel and the Institute. Harold started waking up early with her and joined me with her for morning coffee. My silent routine that I had established with Grace, and quickly with Rachel over January, was interrupted by him talking about his day. He didn’t sip and read and attempt vague conversation. It was something I learned about Harold in terms of talking, once he opens up he doesn’t stop. The banalities of his life drove me insane as he talked endlessly about the hospital in couched terms such that he didn’t break any supposed doctor-patient confidentiality but he would allude to in enough detail that were a friend ever in the hospital I would know who it was and what was wrong with them. It was a stark difference between him and my mother. She would leave work behind her and move on with her life, one would have to if surrounded by the slowly dying. The hospital was filled with the slowly dying and the not-recovering and the fearful and the distraught. Doctor-patient confidentiality is as much a protection of one’s privacy in terms of leaving the control of information in the hands of the patient as it is to prevent the patient from becoming a freak show to be displayed to the prying eyes and ears of the voyeuristic masses. Harold had never stayed in a hospital, he didn’t understand what privacy really meant, all doctors should have to go through an embarrassing illness to discover this fact. I started to hate his childishness. I summoned everything I could to hate him.

I pitied Harold less as I talked more with him and wrapped my head around a piling mound of reasons for why I was doing nothing wrong except for liberating Rachel from her insipid boyfriend. When his alarm sounded for him to leave I breathed relief and the tension from my body ebbed. An hour of nodding my head and pathetic attempts at driving the conversation to something more substantial, like sports or whatever, wore me down. The front door would bang shut and the storm door would slap twice against the frame when he left. And I would often groan and head out for the morning cigarette just to get some air and silence. Afterwards I would wrap myself around Rachel and we would lay down on the couch and read together with our legs laying over each other as we stroked each other’s thighs with our toes.

Rachel and I hadn’t slept together through out all of January. Sex was not something she was interested in and the antidepressant pushed it down even more. She hadn’t slept with Harold either, he never would see the scars that covered her legs, he would never know anything about them, he never looked down when she wore a skirt, he couldn’t bring himself to do that. Harold is in fact a good guy, but he is woefully and dangerously ignorant at times. The strange thing with depression is that it’s as though the thought of sex is plucked from the mind and turns an individual into an asexual being that didn’t know what it was missing or what it once enjoyed. Not that sex during depression is enjoyable to begin with. It just gets lost in a daze of performance anxiety and a burning desire to go to sleep. Myself, I have tried sex repeatedly when depressed out of a vague sense of duty to my girlfriends at the time only for the two of us to be disappointed in the end. Rachel was getting better and she rediscovered a lost part of her mind in the first week of Februrary. It began on the couch and ended in my room. She was laying on my chest with her arms folded under her head when she moved her hands over to my shoulders and pulled herself up. We hadn’t kissed in the hotel, we hadn’t had a passionate kiss at all, but she pulled my head into hers and wrapped her legs around my waist. When she released me she pulled me to the bedroom not smiling but like she was exorcising a demon that she had to release. She stripped immediately and laid down on the bed with her legs spread apart waiting to be used as though she was performing a duty. I ran my hand along the inside of her thigh and kissed her scars slowly moving up her thigh. She wrapped her legs around my head and started to tear up. I laid down next to her and she was lost not knowing what to do next. I ran my hand down her side to her hip and kissed her neck. She burst out laughing and crying and scrambled to take off my clothes and pull me inside of her whispering that she needed me while tears dripped down and she came quickly and then just pressed herself against me as hard as possible slowly rocking her hips saying that she needed me and she wanted to feel me inside her that I wanted this that I deserved this. I eventually came and she moaned and then cried laying on my chest. I ran my fingers through her hair and kissed her forehead. She stopped crying but tears still flowed and she hovered in front of me locking eyes with mine. I pulled her hair back and kissed her. The tears stopped and she laid her head down and kissed my neck. We laid like that until she rolled off an hour later. She laughed a little and sighed and then lightly kissed me and said that she thought she was finally happy.

I don’t care much for the term “making love”. I’m not even sure why we have that term. I’ve never used it for a long time and I refused to. For starters, it sound ridiculously old fashioned in the way that my parents might describe their wedding night where they made love to one another, just thinking that makes me reject the words. It’s also strange to tie sex down to love and especially intimacy in this day and age and while there is a significant difference between having sex with someone to have sex and having sex with someone you love in neither case are you making anything. I’m still shivering from the thought of my parents. Sex is sex in the end. For it to be loving you need a back story.

We had sex twice that day and the second time felt better than the first because it wasn’t just a one time thing and Rachel wasn’t in the death throws of emotion. It was after she said that she was happy that we had sex again and she enjoyed it for the first time. It was as though whatever needed to be exorcised was gone and she was finally with me, she had what she wanted and needed. After the second time we quickly showered together to brush the stink off of us and erase the evidence. Sneaking around made it better for me, it made it something more precious like I had something that could easily slip through my fingers and I had to desperately dance to keep it as mine. That wasn’t the case though. If she ever had a problem with Harold she would stay with me. But she enjoyed the secrecy of it as well even though Grace already suspected that we were sleeping together even though she was wrong on the timing and location. Oh Grace. She would also find out about this too when I or Rachel would tell her all about it. Everyone told her everything. She was mom.

As always with secret relationships it doesn’t exist in the concrete. We drew close over shared experiences that bring the necessary foundation for any significant relationship and form a concrete set of experiences to always fall back on during hard times. The life of sneaking around is one of fantasy and the abstract of desire and possibility that doesn’t lead anywhere except to the bedroom every morning after Harold left and then a quick shower together where we played and reengaged, and in the kitchen I would still attempt to see through her towel as she passed by and think about it at night filled with thoughts of tomorrow and weeks later — a life of hoping and fantasy surrounded us. We didn’t go out on dates, we didn’t go off to Chicago on the spur of the moment, we didn’t do anything beyond what originally brought us together which was bringing her to normal but not what would happen once she was normal, so in the end there is little to go on since life is at a stand still. And then the relationship is filled with fantasy. What-could-be is more dangerous than what-if since it isn’t just a hypothetical that is actionable, it is one that for all intents and purposes wouldn’t be acted upon in any foreseeable future unless drastic steps were taken by one of the parties but because of the delicate arrangement of life it was more difficult so fantasy becomes what drove us.

We fantasized about everything that we could do to the point of the absurd. Places to go, friends we would meet and talk to openly with and suppose they would stay with us after the break up, and vacations we could go on and that I would meet her parents sometime soon. Our relationship was already more intimate than any other I had had and more than she had before (so meeting parents is not that big of a deal and especially considering that she had met mine and they liked what they saw). But more so that she knew what I was and I knew what she was and that strange connection, that we both were close to death and I had been there just before the end with her when there was no one in her life to save her, that was a deeper connection, that was not love, it was something different that would always bind us in a different way. We both felt it. I felt it when she laid on top of me and I didn’t want it to end. She felt it when I wasn’t just another guy looking for sex, that I accepted her fucked up mind when she couldn’t. And so we spent days on the couch laying on one another talking about what-could-be as though they were actually our life.

But we didn’t do anything to make that happen.

We just stayed on the couch or in my bedroom.

We talked about our future, about moving to New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, laughingly Detroit.

We were already planning our lives together.

It felt natural.

One saturday somewhere before midway through February Harold and I talked. Rachel was with Grace on the porch, cigarette in hand, and Cliff hadn’t been seen for at least two days and no one knew where the hell he was. Harold was retaking organic chemistry.

He failed last semester, or at least failed in so far as getting into any respectable med school in that he got a D. Harold had never gotten a D before in his life and when I first heard it I thought that it was good for him. I thought that everyone needs a little failure in life to build character or something. I can be a callous dick at times while also being right. Being with Rachel had naturally indoctrinated me into thinking the least of him and reacting in such a way that I felt like towering over his failure while laughing. But I didn’t. It devastated him. And looking at his sullen face opening up this dark secret to me I felt bad for him and regretted more than just being a callous dick. I wanted to tell him right there what was happening without his knowledge but knew that it would be a blow I couldn’t deliver to him after he revealed what he thought was the worst thing that could happen to someone. It wasn’t, but he thought so and he felt that way. He started to cry. I didn’t know how to comfort him but I tried. It told him that he could erase the D and that the second time through he was assured a better grade, he just needed to study, that what seemed like something insurmountable would be easier than he thought if he just set up a plan. I did that. It seemed to help some. I told him that I had failed a class, I didn’t tell him that it was when I first encountered serious depression, but that cheered him up. There’s life after failure, there always is. He stopped crying and wiped his eyes and inhaled several times trying to restore normalcy and sorta did. Rachel came in, asking if he was alright, he said yes and smiled at me. I felt like a dick.

Valentines day was three days away. I had forgotten it because I’m just dense like that and my density had sucked Rachel into the same lapse. Harold hadn’t. I saw him bring chocolates home and he asked me to stash them in my room so that Rachel wouldn’t discover his early remembrance of the holiday. I told Rachel immediately. There was no good way to do it and our lack of planning didn’t help it in any way. Harold was looking forward to the day with his usual optimism and Rachel dreaded it. She didn’t want to go through with it where she would go out to dinner on some date like thing where she would be expected to swoon and she would hear the same tired stories from him that he always repeated but did so in a good natured sort of way because he was in fact rather forgetful but he always remembered holidays like Valentine’s day. She couldn’t do it. She didn’t want to do it the day before because that would be cruel, the day of was just senselessly cruel, and the day after would just seem like toying with him before crushing his soul so she resolved to do it that night.

The house was used to morning grumpy bickering coming from me and Grace that only once in a while erupted into us swearing at each other for not making enough coffee or drinking the last cup, or one time not buying coffee and using the last of the grounds and drinking all the coffee (that’s unforgivable). Grace and I would swear at each other but our voices never raised above exasperated volume levels. Harold did yell. Rachel went in composed and ready and breathing appropriately to control her feelings that she realized were still there for him but she had discovered that they were poor reason to be with someone but still they had a history and that he was in fact a nice guy despite being dense and sometimes self centered. She started off by telling him that she couldn’t do it anymore and that she was moving in with me. He collapsed. She said that he wasn’t really there for her while she was depressed while I was. He erupted. Having his girlfriend stolen from him was one thing in his mind but being a failure at caring for someone sent him over the edge. From the kitchen above his room, Grace and I could hear the litany of complaints that he listed against her instantly transforming her from the girl he was excited to surprise just three days from now into the worst person he would ever meet. We listened for the first few and then shut it out. Grace was smiling.

When Grace smiles it doesn’t light up a room. She doesn’t smile like a normal human being does. I’ve never been able to put my finger on what exactly it is beyond the fact that it isn’t symmetrical in a normal way. It’s almost as if it had rotational symmetry but when you turn your head to check to see if it’s there your head just hurts and you can’t discover anything. Her smile is also crooked in a way that it isn’t higher or lower than one side or the other but that her face contorts itself into an inhuman expression that is unreadable to anyone but those close to her. I guess you could say that she smiles with her face instead of her mouth, maybe. But I knew she was happy though it looked like she was giving birth while blitzed on morphine.

She said that she wasn’t happy that our nice little family had been disturbed but that I found someone who accepted me. That now I could go out and be happy with someone that I clearly loved. That we had done the right thing though it hurt her friend. We had done the right thing. It didn’t feel like it.

I wasn’t sure I loved Rachel, I’m never sure when I love anyone.

But that was it.

For all of her disapproval it came down to me being happy in the end.

I’ll always love Grace, that I know.

I did think I could love Rachel.

The torrent continued though it was heaving with crying from both sides as Rachel attempted to return some of the nastier comments that Harold spit. Grace grew chatty. She wanted to know when Rachel and I were going down to Chicago again and what we did there and all the dirty details that had happened because she knew we had sex but for all her powers she wasn’t able to pin down when exactly it began or how it began and if we were being safe and using condoms and if we had both been screened for STDs especially after my little fling with April because she was positive that it was bareback the first time we did it considering that I was drunk or if we didn’t need condoms since Rachel was on the pill or something or what if I had already impregnated her and she could be an aunt (she was actually happy at that idea). It wasn’t mean spirited by any means. She wasn’t trying to pry out the details to make me uncomfortable because of how this was happening. She was doing what she always did once I had someone. With April she missed her shot at being sisterly after being down when Carl slipped through her fingers. Now, with Rachel, she could be my sister again and make me uncomfortable for its own sake. That and she loved gossip when it didn’t actually hurt anyone which it almost invariably does except for when its the down and dirty details of sex.

The argument ended.

Rachel was sobbing from layers of regret that had all surfaced in a single momentous surge to the surface. We went out back and smoked a cigarette while Grace went downstairs to talk some sense into Harold and how his violent yelling was solving no problems except to relieve himself temporarily of sadness. She would also give him a cigarette. He would join the legions of doctors who smoke and discover that it solves the big things in life more so than the small things. Harold calmed down, Rachel did as well. It wouldn’t be until midway through March that he would start talking to me again.

Rachel moved her things out of Harold’s bedroom and into mine. There was barely enough space for the two of us since the middle bedroom that Harold had now was the largest of the bedrooms and partially intruded on my room. He and Rachel had it because they were a couple. It was only decent to let him have the room. But it was too big and it depressed him to feel the emptiness. Grace would tell me this. I moved some of my things into my little den and filled it with things that I did not need and let Rachel into my life sooner than I had expected but timed with what I wanted. Rachel didn’t have much, it was enough though. I helped her move what I could and watched Harold sink deeper into the corner while she left. I had done him wrong. I let it get out of control. I should have said no and just been a friend. But I wanted someone to be with. Seeing Harold I saw what my selfishness brought. I wanted to feel like I was going to be sick to relieve some of the guilt.

Rachel laid down on the bed exhausted from the move and grabbed on of my pillows to wrap herself around. I sat down next to her. It was Februrary. Six more months before the house could split apart again if it so decided. She didn’t have it in her to move immediately and Harold probably wouldn’t either considering how hard it is to move in winter. Grace walked in and closed the door. It wasn’t tense, it wasn’t uncomfortable, she just browsed through my things as though they were hers and leaned against the wall and sighed. Then she said that she was happy for me. And then for Rachel. She made it a point to reiterate this to the both of us despite her dismay. She was going to take Harold out for some drinks and then a show that he would mope through but eventually enjoy for a brief moment and then fall back into sadness which he would pull himself out of once he met someone knew. She was passive through this as though she was following a formula that guided human grief. Grace came over to me and hugged me, she would always support me, and then left to clean up my mess, she always did that too.

Living with someone you haven’t actually dated is a peculiar thing and I was new to it. She was better. I was doing fine. We sat on the bed wondering what to do next but the answer is always obvious. The sex was wonderful. I won’t go into details. But freedom from shackles sex is orders of magnitude better than sneaking around sex. Though, it’s less creative. But that doesn’t matter. We went until we were exhausted and the sheets were wet and the room reeked of sex and the strange odor of sex and sweat once they mingle and her voice was hoarse and my back was sore and my triceps were buckling and sex finally ceased to be interesting and we collapsed. We collapsed and laid loosely entangled. We didn’t know what came next. We were already living together, we jumped several pages in the relationship handbook without anything in between except for the drama of depression that led to a deeper intimacy than come from just dating but does not build a relationship.

Lacking ideas we fell asleep in each other’s arms tired from the day and night of drama and moving and confusion.

Morning brought us back to the kitchen with Grace and normality was restored. We sipped our coffee and Grace finally asked how our first night was, turning a nice coffee into a strange sisterly grasp for details that I tried to resist but Rachel gave up the dirty deed. It was disturbing how easily she talked about it with my sister. It was embarrassing not in a way that I was embarrassed for what we did but that Grace would have detailed knowledge of it in a way where your parents finally catch you masturbating though they knew it all along. I had a dream like that once. I had a dream precisely about that. I have the shittiest dreams. Then Grace winked at me. I held back the vomit. Rachel almost finished talking about the finer details of my technique, which I had tried hard to prevent Grace from ever knowing so that she would have ammunition against me in the morning to make me squirm, and I cautiously drank my coffee listening to an open report on how well I performed. Now Grace knew. And she loved it. But she was good about it and said little beyond begging for more details.

We made it through coffee in the end. That was something to do.

The day stretched out into agonizingly long hours. There seemed to be a million things to go out and do but we didn’t know what we wanted. We did want to go back to Chicago. I suggested that we go out into Madison’s nightlife that night. But there was nothing good happening at the High Noon or Frequency and all the other places half assed the mix, except for the Dragonfly, they tried damned hard to be good. We watched Drive, then Bronson, finally Valhalla Rising. It was a settling that brought us back to movies complete with an emotional malaise that hung over what happened. It wasn’t exciting anymore, it wasn’t therapy anymore, we were just a couple. It was strange. It was weird. We would have to function in a normal way that neither of us really knew how to do.

We tried a walk. That was nice.

We talked about football. Nice as well.

We talked about philosophy. That proved better.

We ran out of topics.

It’s the fear of any first date, to run out of things to say. The stunted pause in not just conversation but the entire flow of the evening where eyes don’t quite meet for fear of something deeper happening if gazes met or of the evening coming to an anticlimactic boring halt. We found company in the pause. We walked hand in hand and were happy.

Chicago came next.

I told her that when we got back.

The week passed quickly as we had impetus to our actions. Our old routine regained its comfort after the strangeness of that our newly couple status seemed to impose and was on the quick route to being a massive mistake by going too far too quickly and would only end in a radically disappointing and awkward situation. But this was alleviated by the prospect of Chicago. I was already there along with Rachel as we both fantasized about the city. We laid down on the couch and she propped her feet up on my lap asking for a foot rub of sweaty boot feet that I obliged without thinking twice about. She’s ticklish. She talked. She talked to no end about the art we saw the last time and educated me about the surrealists to the point that I could write a dissertation on it if necessary. I looked forward to spending hours in the exhibit listening to her talk. I looked forward to going to a nicer hotel with her. I looked forward to escaping the mess. It wouldn’t be heaven, it wouldn’t be close to it, I’m not sure what heaven would feel like, but it would be comforting.

She finished talking long after my hands tired.

I had missed the fact that the house was now moving with people. I missed Grace coming in and sitting down in the chair against the far wall just next to our bedroom door at the end of the row only to notice her when I got up to fetch a book to read and another for Rachel to surprise her with something she hadn’t read before. Grace looked up and winked at me in an exaggerated fashion that involved the entire side of her right face in a sarcastic sort of way that also felt familiar and friendly. It seemed like it was a good sign. I chose Americana by DeLillo for Rachel. It was a book that I thumbed through years before and vaguely remember but particularly enjoyed the prose and the fixation on Hitler in the beginning but how that factored into the book I forgot and marked it up as being part of the post modern absurdist surrealist something or other that thwarted convention sometimes just to do it rather than artistic license. It is also the right size for a book. The only writers who should ever write a long book are Gaiman, Pynchon, and David Foster Wallace. I guess I’ll throw Proust in there as well. Rachel hadn’t read it and I looked forward to her updating me on what it was about. Family. I think it was about family. I’m probably wrong about that or oversimplifying it. We read and casually played footsy and carried on like as though we were a couple stretching over years that still did the little things and we continued until Harold shuffled in and went to his room where we immediately stopped but just after he saw us. It wasn’t like being caught by your parents when making out thinking that they were gone, parents aren’t hurt by relationships. The tension produced a subliminal communication where we ended up in my room propped in the corner with the excessive number of pillows because I refused to throw out the old ones so they sat by the side of the bed unused except for these circumstances. And they didn’t have pillow cases so the old yellowing from drool and sweat formed outlines. It was disgusting but I got used to it. Rachel never noticed it. She was as much of a slob as I was.

We began power coupling in bed. Sex at night. Sex in the morning. Coffee. Bagel. Juice. Daily Show. Back to the bed to sit and read and do our work and catch up on the day while still in relatively close proximity to one another. Sometimes sex was in there in between as well. It was comforting and loving and I hadn’t ever had a relationship that had progressed to that level before. We huddled up in our bedroom to escape Harold and retreat to “us”.

I stopped having coffee in the morning with Grace.

I forgot about Grace.

I forgot about asking her how her day went.

I forgot to think about her.

She just existed in the chair downstairs in the company of me and Rachel rather than up in her study working alone and powering through materials.

I missed it. But I forgot to miss her.

We went to Chicago on a weekday to avoid the rush of apartment dwellers and families coming in from the suburbs to gawk at art to feel cultured but really weren’t because they just toured the place without pausing to emotionally absorb the aesthetic, the thought, the experience of creating the work as well as observing the work itself. The presence of these people annoyed me in an existential sort of way as though their raw existence was an affront to me. Rachel shared my irritation that wasn’t quite an irritation since it maybe amounted to an annoyance, but it was there all the same and we bonded over it. The ride was filled with an airing of grievances. People who talk with their mouth not quite closed so that they can claim that it is in fact closed but you can still hear them masticating their food in a loud manner. People who bring dogs on the bike path and allow them to run all over the place scaring the living shit out of bikers who realize that they might be killed by a self serving prick who never heard of a park. People who bitch about not being able to smoke in bars anymore when neither of us want to sit next to a smoker in a bar and find the inconvenience of lighting up ten feet from where we were sitting to be no inconvenience at all. It’s called getting some air. People who are not just video game players but also feel the need to talk about playing video games as though they were actual experiences. Children. That we bonded over immediately. We don’t hate children, but the thought of procreating was just not in our futures. That, and children are immensely annoying. I don’t care how cute people think they are, they ask stupid questions and are self centered. Acupuncture, holistic massage, homeopathy, anti-vaccine, anti-medicine, anti-global warming, anti-reality people also made the list. It is amazing how many things can be discussed at length over two and a half hours just about things that are irritating and still not get through the list itself. It’s also amazing how much you can bond over mutual hatred and how much better it feels than mutual likes.

We hated the same things. We shared the same taste in things. Maybe it was kismet. Though I’m still not sure what that word actually means. I doubt anyone really does. Rachel and I found one another, that’s all. It didn’t come like a thunderbolt into our lives, no, we were pushed together and found an empathetic voice in the other. It was luck.

The institute was filled to the brim with new artwork as they had just rotated in some new work. We weren’t going to make it all the way through that day and we didn’t care, we had all of tomorrow. The pace was slower this day but we were able to skip some exhibits as they were reruns. We made it past the surrealism installation. Though, we made out in it. That was a first. We continued when we got to the Hilton. It was as good as the last time, we stayed the night. It wasn’t an attempt to replicate how we ended up together or to revisit it or in anyway compare this to that. Chicago was simply a break from the house where we could be free of guilt for two days.

On the ride back we were prepared to spend more time in the open guilt free. At least determined to live like that. How it would actually go, that could go both ways. It didn’t, thankfully. The house accepted us once we got back and we discovered that Harold was less put off by us being together than we thought. He sat down and told us that we didn’t have to hide anything while looking disheveled and uncomfortable but like he had to get something off of his mind. I had forgotten that Harold is a good guy, even if he is a bad boyfriend.

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