Chapter 07 – March

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Remember irritability and hypersexuality? I get that in spades. That, that is sadly dead on accurate. Rachel didn’t mind, she rather liked it and taunted me mercilessly as I grew more and more irritated while she fished out new buttons to push and watch the slow eruption happen but never came to anything but me groaning in frustration. She would also do this with sex. But It isn’t just being touchy, it’s rampant pissed-offness followed by rants about things that didn’t really matter. It’s obsession over the smallest thing that has no significance but dominates the mind as thought it is the greatest injustice that must be remedied not through sober conversation and quiet talking but by engaging. Hostilely. Like the other is an enemy that must be broken. For me, it is not the same irritability that comes from drinking too much coffee, it’s a different beast. But when I had my rants, when she teased me to death with the promise of sex but didn’t give it and I was furiously bottled up, she didn’t mind. She found me amusing. She found it amusing. She accepted it without hesitation.

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There’s always construction across from because they are building a new apartment complex. It started in October and somehow ran through winter braving the snow and salt and cold — construction never actually ends in Wisconsin, it just moves indoors. They leave the air compressor on all night and all day. It sounds like squeaking bedsprings. I thought it was Grace the first time. I was disappointed. There’s always construction though, even in the winter.

When Grace and I first moved in together it was the first time I have lived with a woman in the house besides my mother when growing up and she had lived with someone else all together (she didn’t exactly describe her craigslist roommates as human). She had spent her years basically alone going out and drinking and drinking inside without ever thinking much about what it would be like if she had someone to watch movies with in her pajamas on a rainy friday. After we settled down with the idea of moving in together we tried to find other roommates so it wouldn’t be just the two of us, we thought that might be kinda weird and we had only known each other for less than a year but hit it off better than with anyone else in our lives up to that point so in the end it didn’t seem like that big of a deal even though we would end up like ex-husbands and wives to one another that creeped out future girlfriends and boyfriends with how intimate we were. We knew everything about each other because we lived with one another and went through hell together.

House hunting was a chore with her, I’ll never repeat that around her but she knows. While I can live in any hole she needs to be pampered like a princess. She’s still one of the toughest people I know, but when it comes to living arrangements she’s about as finicky as they come. The first place was on the first floor and she didn’t like the idea of people being able to look in when she left the blinds to the house up so that was scratched. The second place had electric burners instead of gas, so that was out. Another, she didn’t like the landlord. Another had radiators instead of forced air. Another didn’t have A/C (which is just about every place in Madison). Another had carpet. Another didn’t allow cats even though neither of us owned one but she didn’t like the restriction on potentially having a cat. It became impossible. But we did find a nice place to live. And she did mature in her opinion of radiators and A/C and just about everything, after all, it was her that found the house were currently lived in.

It didn’t take long for us to settle into a small annoyance with one another as we had different ideas of cleaning. That was always the biggest thing, cleaning. She had her way from cleaning hotels for a job and I had my way of being a guy who lived alone in my own filth for so long. She trained me and I’d like to think that I trained her a bit. Not really, she just trained me. It didn’t take long before I had a medication hiccup and attempted. She was frightened. She latched on. We wouldn’t be separated and anyone who entered our lives would have to accept our unique relationship. After all, being a study partner is lower on the totem pole of influence than saving someone’s life no matter how much we annoyed each other with each other’s quirks. Did I mention she encroaches? God she has so much shit and hoards. She still has clothes that she’s been saying she didn’t want for three years and always made plans to get rid of them but being a hoarder she just never got out of the gate on that. She also just has a ton of shit, just a ton of it. I live comfortably in a single bedroom, some kitchenware, and a chair and desk. In a one bedroom apartment I would have a frightening amount of space. She would need a two bedroom apartment to properly house everything. We annoyed the bejesus out of each other from time to time, but then we’d also stay in on a weekend and drink ourselves under with gin and watch Bladerunner for the seventieth time or spend sunday away from the bars drinking beer at noon and watching games back to back. Between her and Harold and Cliff and Rachel I don’t know what normal roommates are supposed to be and I don’t really care to find out.

And then she found the others and she found our house and the space to store all the things that she couldn’t bring herself to sort through and throw out and we both found emotional and relationship buffers to us spending all of our time together. We often spent too much time together. We sort of lost sight of what it was like to be apart.

Grace and I had a mammoth fight that shook the house to its core. Our quiet mornings together nearly devolved into a fist fight and involved us shoving and hurling things at one another. Accusations flew over our mutual property who’s rightful owners had been long forgotten as we had lived together for years and were eventually lost in the pile of “ours” that previously never amounted to anything but further evidence to our pseudo marriage. Before, Grace and I would bicker and let little things go. We often apologized afterwards and tried to do better and decided that we needed to stop fighting because it’s no way to have a friendship though it is inevitable when two people are as close as we are. We rarely do fight, which is why we bicker, a release valve for the little irritations, but that day was one for the ages. I had not cleaned my dishes for nearly a week and they sat in the sink slowly molding over with greasy slime that released a rather pungent smell into the kitchen that she noticed but somehow no one else in the house complained about because some of them were worse offenders than I was. She was more than irritated that morning, she was on a righteous warpath and I was in the way. My defense at first, I had been sick, but I still could have done them. She was right on that account. But she had started to sprawl, as she always did, into the den from her office and I seized on that as a counter argument to her attack. Grace has a way of slowly leaving things in a room and then depositing more without removing the original materials so that her various boxes and papers and things would have company, so my theory goes. With the den as decidedly mine by the end of January she began to claim it shortly there after in February. Living with her for so long meant that anything that one of us has is the other’s in an unconscious sort of way, we never arranged for it to be that way or even talked about it, it just became one of those things that we had with one another. So she moved into den. Soon she was using my desk.

What broke the camel’s back wasn’t any of this, it was morning coffee, once again being the morning deal breaker in life — a theme in life that I’ve theorized is due to nobody being at their best before consuming the requisite amount of caffeine to broach consciousness from the daily sleep hangover, it’s not much of a theory, it’s more of an obvious fact that I want to take credit for. I had been awake since 4am desperately trying to regain consciousness after failing night after night that week to sleep through a night without waking every hour. I left a cup for myself and took a shower. She drank the cup of coffee. Without asking. Which was never an issue before that day, but I made it one in a desperate attempt to make her seem worse than I was.

As our argument grew more heated and people retreated to the downstairs kitchen, a salvo of shots came from me about the den. A salvo about the bathroom and the kitchen came from her joined with the flinging of disgusting forks. I marched into the den and destroyed what order she had to her papers laying on the desk and perp walked them to her desk leaving a chaotic pile that would take her hours to sort out. We vowed never to live with one another again not in screams but in low pitched voices that growled at each other and indicated that a serious tension had finally been breached where one of us would have to blink and move out first. I didn’t blink, neither did she.

I went out to buy cigarettes.

When I returned we resumed a half hearted battle that was an airing of grievances rather than an actual fight despite the loud tones we used to convey our problems. That eventually led to us going outside into the cold spring air and sharing a cigarette. She went from her raging fury to quiet and tired and sad. She too wasn’t sleeping. She wasn’t doing well in grad school. She was lonely and wanted a boyfriend and barely had any friends anymore outside of the house and I ceased being a friend to her in any real or tangible way. I never asked her how her day went. I was too preoccupied with getting my shit together and spending time sneaking around with Rachel to see her unravel. She had come apart, the woman who didn’t just cry when she saw the shell I once was but took it upon herself to help rehabilitate me had fallen apart while I was too preoccupied with sex. I felt like a failure as a friend. I was a failure as a friend. Despite knowing everything about her for the first four years we knew each other, we only became silent partners sitting around a table drinking coffee out of inertia rather than anything more meaningful than talking about Politico. We smoked another cigarette together and made up. It was a long time before we bickered again and that was just morning grumbling before we had our coffee.

Looking back I should have seen it coming earlier. Bickering was how Grace and I communicated for the past year in a milder form. We were terrible at talking with one another and it always led to fight once in a while after we started living with one another, but never had we threatened to part ways indefinitely. We had been through a lot of shit together, so much that when such a threat like that is issued, the conversation stops and silence hangs over the words that were said for untold seconds while the depth of what we both proclaimed slowly sat inside our minds. Grace abandoning me to my illness and me taking away the only family she had. But we backed way from M.A.D. and had our cigarette and never spoke to each other like that again. We would still hurl forks at one another but never threaten to leave the other for good.

Spring was not technically here being the first week of March and all and in Wisconsin March doesn’t signify much at all in terms of weather given the anticlimactic breaks of warm weather followed by hellish snow. Most of it is spent wading through mushy snow and burgeoning green grass. There are no beautiful crocuses pushing up through a blanket of white reminding the world that spring was coming. We just have dirty snow that is a mixture of dirt, oil, and car exhaust. I hate March, most people in Wisconsin do. Having spent three months indoors in a pseudo depression followed by a pseudo mania that I still get to this day as I cycle through the weeks and started to just take the form of a pseudo mania makes me just a little more activated and creative than a normal person combined with constant attention to Rachel, which grew in intensity as my energy grew, forced me out of the house, I wanted to be out in the warmth of spring where 40 degree days feel like a summery day of 80 where I casually sweat beneath my clothes from the heat. March teased me, as always, with these days followed by cold. It teased Rachel as well, but we walked together anyways getting some bare exercise and blood flow that is strangely necessary for a pseudo manic mind but always seems out of reach. The bleached shit colored snow made the walks treacherous with casual slips on the remaining ice lurking underneath that sometimes sent the leg sideways and pulled new muscles the groin had wished it didn’t have. Our feet turned into puddles of sweat without the breath of fresh air that sneakers bring and with it a not-quite-like-rancid smell but also leads to the greatest sensation that one can have when taking one’s socks off. We walked and she talked about what she wanted to do with her life. She didn’t know what she wanted and every day we walked and talked about a new path in her life. We never talked about the fight I had with Grace that seemed to terrify the entire house. When Grace or I am mad it shakes foundations as we only express annoyance in our daily life in casual terms and groans which in turn makes our threats realistic. It scared Rachel that I could yell like I did, that I could threaten like I did, that one day I might turn my wrath on her. That would never happen, it only happened with me and Grace and it was only once. It would never happen, it never did for it terrified me that I could ever be like that.

I didn’t feel anything for Harold at this point. As Rachel got better he forgot about her and left her to her own devices. Of course, he had every right to. But I criticized him none the less. He treated depression as a cold that would get better after some rest and relaxation and a little bit of Dayquil combined with coffee to provoke a stimulant response that practically every sick college student uses. Pseudoephedrine is also often combined with caffeine for a little extra boost. Depression is not like a cold in any way. It just isn’t. It’s slow, it’s debilitating, it’s closer to a back injury where it may seem like a single tweaked muscle but you then realize that everything, and literally everything, you do uses back muscles and you find yourself hobbled and asking for favors when it comes to something as simple as getting groceries. It’s embarrassing, even after going through it multiple times, it’s embarrassing for no reason either, it just is. Rachel was coming out of that, she was coming back to life, not in a spring like metaphor way, it’s just coincidental that it happens like that because depressions usually strike as winter comes and the time it takes to get well usually brings people into the spring. But the timing couldn’t be better. 30 degrees felt warm and good in the second week after several flurries attempted to become something more substantial. Rachel talked more about going to philosophy classes with Grace, something stress free where academics does not coincide with perpetual testing and stress and anxiety. Later that week she did and found it wonderful.

Grace was in a better mood after our argument, she was always better after a cathartic battle, she was stressed though and I had to make a conscious effort to be better where I once effortlessly once was good. Grad school presents its anxiety in a way that undergrad does not. A bad class here or there is nerve wracking in undergrad as it effects one’s GPA while grad school is more lenient. Instead, grad school requires you to be a genius and come up with something actually original in your life that you never really had to do before and write an insane amount about it and pass critiques and prelims and panels and every last grueling measure to test the will and soul. It was already eating away at Grace and her crisis about her future loomed in a rather definitive way. Though she had plenty of time to begin with anything of substance she felt like a failure with struggling to understand some of her classes. I was of little help beyond lending an ear, Rachel was better at helping her, much better. While I toured through the classes and kept mental notes that amounted to little more than me selecting interesting material to store for maybe an hour later, Rachel vigorously took notes that paralleled Grace’s — she had never felt like taking notes before but felt compelled to do so with philosophy. I wished that I had a pipe to smoke as the two talked while I would provide miscellaneous information that was interesting but tangential to their involved conversations. They dominated both living rooms, alternating between them based on food and coffee more than any intellectual reason. Cliff would join me and absorb what he could and then shrug his shoulders and roll his eyes at the futility of it but then for some reason that he wouldn’t say and stay a little longer and ask a question or two for clarification. Harold stopped coming by the kitchen as often as the two of them talked and would sometimes bottle himself up in his room when they took over the brown couch. He stayed downstairs and studied or played video games with Cliff who was in and out at random times and never seen for weekends at a time. The downstairs kitchen became safe in the mornings over the weekend by the second week of March. Later I’d find out that he did have a girlfriend, he started to like unicorns because of her. Over coffee Grace would not stop talking about Rachel. She loved her and found that explaining her lectures to Rachel reinforced ideas and Rachel reconnected with school without stress. I didn’t know how to feel about it — the strange merging of my past and my present with the possibility of them swapping notes. It was inevitable, but I hate inevitabilities in relationships.

I was alone in the house more often than I expected. I would go to one seminar but Rachel went to all three. Silence ate away at me around mid-day when the house was empty and I would roam around it in my underwear (I ditched my robe when I discovered its superfluity) but I quickly rediscovered coffee shops and movie theaters rather than looking for a job. Rachel had drained me emotionally as I kept an eye on her and I needed a break as much as she did. And so I led a rather boring life filled with music, books, and hanging around the house in whatever I fancied with the semi-daily walks outside to James Madison Park without her to look out on the slowly unfreezing lake while construction was springing up around us in the eternal landscaping of concrete that pervades Madison from early spring through November and being so familiar with it through the years in the spring and summer I’ve come to love the smell of dirty diesel pumped out by aged CAT front loaders. My sophomore year at UW we had an ice quake. What that is is when the the lake thaws enough to allow water into small cracks in the lake’s ice sheet and then quickly freeze at night pushing the entire bed against the banks until at last the lake itself buckles and shoots a new mountain range into existence. It is a perfect realization of the geological wonders of the world and quite bizarre to have a small earthquake interrupt your late afternoon. I keep hoping for another one to happen.

Half way through March I stayed out all day in a rather cold March freeze while Rachel was at Helen C White 5th floor distracting Grace from accomplishing anything (but in a good way). I made snow angels and had a snowball fight with the lake which I clearly won. I had rediscovered what it was like to have alone time that amounted to nothing substantial except for childish enjoyment of doing things that adults routinely felt was beneath them. I went back home feeling refreshed for the first time in ages, if not my life, and felt perfectly normal. I felt normal. It had been years since I last felt normal. Without Rachel I wouldn’t have. I sat down on the bench and thought of her, how I wished we would have a snowball fight together, to go ice skating, to play broom ball or go out to Picnic Point and maybe camp in the cold where we would snuggle under a sub-zero sleeping bag and have passionate sex and keep each other warm. She was the reason I felt good about life again and take advantage of my freedom.

Grace told me to get a job.

To the utterer of such words it seems like an easy task. You go out suited up in nice clothing and apply to establishments and get interviewed and finally land a job. It’s a simple equation that should take next to no time at all. I’ve said those words and for some reason thought the exact same thing. Get a job. But it’s never that simple. It’s never as simple as going up to HR and pleading with them ever so nicely to give your suited self a position entering mind numbing data that you swear you’ll never reveal to anyone because that could actually be a terrible thing if processing or shredding HR complaints. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, all I wanted was to not be bored.

The first job I found was in life insurance. I found it on craigslist and it sounded okay. It paid well enough and all I would be doing is reception work despite it being way the fuck far away in Monona. Really, it wasn’t that far, but I’m lazy when it comes to driving. My anxiety did nothing for me when it came to interviews and I would become incredibly awkward when pressured. I look and sound like a person struggling to speak and move for the first time in my life as I try to figure out how to look normal when the very act of trying means that the end goal will not be accomplished. Gabapentin has since helped with that but at the time I was a mess. I suited up and went out hoping to impress. The job sounded boring as hell but again, the pay was good. They told me I was a top contender and I felt that was going in my favor considering my bizarre yet complete work history. I had worked a lot of jobs and been fired from nearly every one of them. I would get them in spring when I was pretty normal and then through the summer my energy levels would ride higher and higher as I grew more and more manic until I would finally reach the end of July. The end of July, last week of it, or the first week of August, like clockwork, I would breach the barrier between energetic and a frenetic manic state. My mind would run wild with delusions of grandeur and fantasy about whatever I was doing where I would first think and pretend that I was doing a good job and then delude myself into thinking I was doing the greatest job when in reality I was getting sloppier and sloppier. Attention to detail goes quickly when I’m manic as my rapid thoughts scatter far and wide and rarely latch onto reality or the task in front of me. So I failed, a lot, and was fired. I’m used to failure. The only thing that I didn’t fail at was an unpaid position at the Lodge where I ran sound for three years and helped it survive through a rough patch with my own money.

What I did at the Lodge was pretty much anything and everything. Impromptu plumbing using tree branches, getting kinda electrocuted when figuring out the circuit breaker and after I installed a ground lift and a short decided to develop and the rest is history, donating a sound system, running sound for a while at 5 nights a week without pay, and it led to other things as well. It was a job where there was never the same day twice and that was what I always wanted.

Insurance is the same day twice and thrice.

I also didn’t get the job.

They actually said I was too intelligent.

True story.

What that really means is that I wanted a job with more stimulation and I would likely be looking for other jobs while working there, such as a legal assistant position or anything other that insurance. They were right. That actually was my plan. I didn’t get that position or the position for a debate coach job or several other jobs that one included learning how to weld that I thought would be an interesting thing to learn and add to the strange things I know and I’d get some muscles working in a physical job (the kind of strength that can actually do something rather than just there for show).

The strange thing about all the interviews for me was getting dressed up. In general I dress nicely, often a button down shirt that is slightly higher end and actually fits me, mostly Banana Republic, and a pair of nice blue jeans that are rarely blue coupled with some worn leather shoes and mismatched socks because I’m often too lazy to actually pair socks either when folding laundry or fishing them from the dresser. My shirt is untucked and generally a bit crumpled (purposefully in an attempt to appear that I do not under any circumstance give a fuck) and tends to have at least one button undone, sometimes two, I shave the few chest hairs that poke out so I don’t look like I’m 19 with a goatee but instead shave my chest like someone who is insecure about how they look at the beach. I also don’t shave my face that much. I pull down with my razor blade with the grain of my facial hair to get a Hugh Laurie effect with stubble that hides the baby fat that I still somehow have. I do trim my goatee often enough because my curly hair often makes it unruly and bizarre if left unkempt. That’s really the only part of my body that I pay any attention to, the scrap of facial hair that forms a perfect Van Dyke and absolutely nothing else and the only reason I have it is because the facial hair makes me look my age rather than 19. Looking younger than age will be a good thing in the years to come to look younger than I am, but right now I like to go to a 21+ venue like the Frequency and not get double carded. The downside is that I sometimes look like I’m 30 something and that is kinda awkward with Rachel where it looks like I’m dating someone half my age. Dressing casual nice is what this all leads to and that leads to a poverty of interview clothes.

When I had my first interview it was rather casual, I got to wear jeans while the woman interviewing me wore shorts and a t-shirt. But then I had to go business casual, which in reality is not really casual since it involves everything except for a suit coat and has so many different interpretations that it’s like size 6 for women’s dresses, anything goes. It was when I tried to pull on my old dress pants that I had from who knows how long ago but it was when I was really skinny that I realized how much weight I actually put on. Zyprexa is a wonderful drug in that it works as advertised for a lot of people, but one of its advertisements is weight gain. 140lbs to 190lbs. I felt good at that time having lost twenty pounds but I was still a far cry from where I was. I went to TJ Max and found pants that didn’t really fit and loafers that I never want to wear again. Then I had business casual for an total of $30 that I didn’t really want to spend seeing as how I didn’t have a job and lived a rather lean life and for clothes that I hoped to never wear again. Grace said I looked nice which was really that I was passing. The shirt was tucked in and I had to lift my arms up over my head a few times to pull enough fabric out to hide my stomach. I was ready for another failed interview.

I didn’t find a job that suited me in March and I half heartedly gave up trying. I still looked at the ads but I became more picky and tried to find the right job rather than an all out rush to land whatever would pay me cash on a regular basis.

Cliff and I bonded during my joblessness hunt. He was indeed seeing the Unicorn Girl and it was becoming rather serious. He asked me for advice when we were playing video games together — video games were the only times I ever talked to him — and he wanted to know what to do since he wasn’t exactly a master of dating. I wasn’t either, but some how I seemed like I knew more since I was dating Rachel. Unicorn Girl and he had only been going out on a few dates and he quickly realized that he didn’t have much he could say. Most of his time was spent playing video games while she was off back packing in the mountains or taking photos of wildlife. She was an outdoors girl to his indoor man. I thought they would be cute together. She liked art, she like music, she like sports, she seemed to like everything but thought video games were a waste of time. So I suggested he take her to some sporting events. Like hockey or something. I didn’t know what was played in the spring only that football was done except for the Draft which would be coming in just about a month. Grace and I had our picks for the Packers and the Niners though we couldn’t agree on whether the Packers needed a better O-line through drafting (I thought Belaga being shifted to left tackle would be enough to protect Rodgers) or if they should expend some capital and get a good running game going since Starks was constantly injured and Green never seemed to do well going north and south as a bruiser that could break tackles and pick up more than 2 yards per carry that by luck would sometimes turn into 4 and I would envy the Ravens for having a back like Ray Rice who just smashed through defensive lines. Cliff smiled at patted me on the shoulder and said that was a great idea (as though it really was a great idea and not patronizing me). Then I mentioned that maybe he should stop playing video games. The pause was excruciating as I just told him to give up his one and only. He paused the game and set the controller down and turned toward me and folded a leg up on the divan and almost tried to lean back so we could have a conversation but remembered the geometric lacking of said divan. He asked me what should he do then. I casually said read a book, listen to some music, maybe take her out to the Frequency or the High Noon to a band neither of them had seen, that sort of thing to spruce up life. He nodded his head but glanced at the paused screen of Kirby delivering a kick to Mario like he was saying goodbye to his lover of many years. Then he asked me for a good book since he didn’t own anything but textbooks. He wanted something short but well known for being interesting because he didn’t want to be bored and finish in just several hundred pages. I gave him Crying of Lot 49.

He read it that afternoon and said it was brilliant.

I gave him all of my Pynchon.

Grace started dating again. It’s like having a sister date, you really want to know the details but when it comes to sex the interest is only in so much that you can tease but know no more because it becomes disturbing to think of your sister like that. She already knew everything about me and Rachel though. It was only fair that I would finally be able to turn the tables. I would pry the details out of Grace after each date with a crowbar and she would give up the goods begrudgingly but also because she desperately wanted to tell someone how it went. Grace has had some terrible luck when it comes to the opposite sex.

One time she went out with a guy and fell head over heals for him (this was early on in her dating history so falling quickly is inevitable). He did all the right things, almost too perfectly and in retrospect I always thought he was playing her from the stories though she didn’t think so. It was the little things that she liked, he opened doors, bought her food without hesitation, politely asked her what she was thinking without letting her drive the entire night because he had plans for her as well. They went out on three dates, which is for some reason the requisite number of dates for sex to be acceptable though I’ve always thought one was enough, and they slept together. It took me a while to find out what happened next and it required more than several gin and tonics to do so. The sex was good in that it wasn’t bad but as soon as he finished he pulled out, rolled off, hit the light switch, and said good night. She had yet to move by the time he was asleep. She kicked him, hard too, as she got off the bed and left. Grace has some dignity and also likes to cuddle afterwards. It depresses me that I know that. I also know how she sleeps in her bed when alone: spread eagle, face down, arms and legs stretched to the corners; with someone: curled around them on her side with her leg wrapped around along with her arm and face buried in the guy’s hair because she loves the smell of shampoo over cologne.

Another bad date that wasn’t a date ended without her leaving her apartment. He tried to kiss her hello when she opened the door for him, it came with a side order of tongue.

Another was a picnic where he expected her to bring the food.

Another talked about having kids together on the first date.

Another blabbered on how he hadn’t been on a date in forever.

Another invited her to the park where his parents were. It was intentional.

Another mentioned his dick size. She stuck around to see if it was true. She was disappointed.

Another was going well for some time. They had been out on a few dates that were acceptable. He was married.

Another used baby talk while they were having sex.

And then there was Carl. He was the reason she swore off sex and relationships until March. I didn’t see her at the party after she disappeared with him and I disappeared with April. While I was having a good time, she was in his room having the time of her life. One does not need to be a sexy M&M to get some. Grace thought she had finally landed a guy while he dressed and left while she laid in his bed running her eyes over his bookshelf to discover more about him through his selection of literature. She should have seen that he had left her instead of laying in postcoital haze. He did leave. And then he came back. With another girl. She was still naked. He gave her a thumbs up and then gestured backwards with it. It wasn’t subtle and was complete with him half smiling and clicking his tongue against his teeth. She looked all around for me but didn’t check the back porch. Grace walked home crying and alone.

Somewhere along the way Rachel and I inspired her to try again. Rachel was away to the psychiatrist that day which would eat up nearly two hours since she demanded to use the bus instead of having me drive her and left me alone with Grace sitting and drinking our afternoon coffee that came after breakfast coffee and before evening coffee. Grace sat down and opened her laptop to reveal google with “Madison Singles Dating” already entered. I had been down that road before, one of internet meet ups with complete strangers in the vain attempt to form some sort of relationship only to find out that they were usually interested in marriage and that’s just too much for a first date to handle. Grace knew this. She had been there for the horror stories, like the insanely attractive girl (definite 11 out of 10) that would only sleep with me if I got my dick pierced (I considered it until Grace slapped me senseless) — I’m an idiot when it comes to dating. She still wanted to try. I loved helping her write her profile in so much as she squirmed the entire time. I could sense the discomfort as she asked questions and I enjoyed it as much as I wanted to help her.

Interests. What the hell does one ever put down for it? When I was putting myself out to the public interest that might scan my page I didn’t know whether to playfully exaggerate in the hope of landing someone and then disappointing them but having hooked them already with a first date and maybe the promise of a second where they would learn a little more about the “real me”, or to put down my actual interests which are rather boring and technical and while I could talk my socks off about Abelian groups and how beautiful they were especially since they have commutativity and that’s absolutely glorious (fuck matrices) it is not exactly something that lands a date, so I was always in a bind and with Grace I had no fucking clue either. But she’s more interesting than I am.

She likes to watch movies with me, so I told her to put down movies.

She reads voraciously despite it being philosophy that no one would understand without a graduate degree, so I told her to put down books.

She jogs for fun and exercise but not really with any intensity that would ever lead to a marathon. I said yes, she said no, she thought it was too boring but acquiesced.

She loves music, she got me into it, so music went down.

Then we started to wrack our brains.

Generic words were absorbing the interesting details. “Music” doesn’t do justice to her obsession with finding new bands to listen to or her complete abandon in music as I often find her in pajamas rocking out to music while singing off key in her office when she should be doing work. Her headphone collection is as extensive as mine. She lives for music, she breathes it as a release, to put down music doesn’t tell anyone what they’re getting into because music to most people is something to see on the weekends or put on in the background and not a soul enchanting medium. Everyone likes music, few love it like she does. Jogging doesn’t mean anything since she doesn’t jog for fun or for a marathon or with any determination to do anything with it except that she gets wiggy and depressed if she doesn’t move her body. She knows books, she reads books, but it’s only philosophy that turns her on and she can’t stop reading and she’ll sit in her room for an entire day diagramming arguments and find release instead of a headache from doing so. Talking to her about philosophy is like entering a forked diagram where you come out a better person who is more aware of the world but how you got from A to B is indecipherable because you can’t remember which path you took. Not exactly date material for most people. Most. And as for movies. She likes some, not all, mainly just loves Blade Runner, she really loves Blade Runner.

We continued to wrack our brains.

She put down learning. I didn’t know how that would play.

Then coffee went down.

Then Buzzfeed.

She erased that one immediately.

Under profession it was philosopher. Grad student sounds less interesting.

There were multiple tabs open on her browser and she copy-pasted all the details into a single form letter for sex.

Then we came to the ideal man. It was impossible not to laugh when thinking of what ideal man she would have. She glared at me while I was visibly stifling an outburst. The laptop was slammed on my hand as I prevented her from giving up. We went through what her ideal man was. It wasn’t Carl. It was just that she didn’t know. It was as follows.

A smart man who does not need to be well educated but (lack of punctuation is both of our faults) is ambitious and proves himself through his work. Ideal professions are small business owner or graduate student or professor. Looks are not important but am interested in large noses and English/Irish descent with curly red hair. Must love to read and learn and listen to music with more than just a passing interest. Must love Lady Gaga. Must have a car. Must be able to cry. Must not be a drama queen…

She insisted on the musts which continued on and I pared it down to just half a dozen (the one she had the hardest time letting go was “must not be a bro”). I had never written one of these in detail while I was filling out the form, I just said well-read, pretty, understanding, and I didn’t know what my ideal woman was. I thought of Rachel. She might be ideal. She might just be of the moment. I was starting to think of her as ideal though. It was time for Grace to have a Rachel of her own.

Pictures were fun. Grace is very photogenic, but all the photos of her were when we were both drinking. We drank a too much back then and it shows in the fact that all of our contemporary pictures are of us, together, drinking with stupid expressions, often in Niners and Packers jerseys. Her groan while leafing through Facebook brought Cliff out of the living room. He went back in when he saw that she was okay, it was that kind of groan. Cliff is like that. There in times of need, playing video games when not, though that time he was reading V.. Grace got up, went into her room for a while, put on a nice blouse, kept the pajama pants, put on a minimal amount of makeup, and asked me to take a picture. It was good. She thought it was crap but it was in fact good. We were done.

Grace collapsed on the couch as though she had gone through a day of hell that began at 7 and ended a midnight. I had been there. It’s worse than a blind date because with a blind date you have a friend to build you up and all that you really worry about is if your friend got it right about you. But it’s also expected that you’ll be built up more than what you actually are. So disappointment is nothing new. Internet dating, you don’t know what to expect. You just don’t. There’s no friend to vouch for you or to vouch for the other. It’s just a haphazard biography and whatever weird metric they use to determine what is “scientifically” your soul mate but I think the commercials lie because by the bare facts of probability there will be a soul mate through whatever avenue you take so long as you persist: what really matters is if the soul mate matching is superior to dating in terms of the number of dates. Basic math (I’m persnickety with probabilities). Grace was hoping for some non-scientific luck to happen. She didn’t know how long it would take to get a reply. I would have to be there if she didn’t get any replies.

Thank god she did. She only checked her accounts every hour.

It took three days of her hiding in her study constantly checking to finally have a hit. I was watching a movie with Rachel when she ran in and put her laptop down and gestured for me to read. The guy was a legal assistant. I raised my eyebrows, Rachel “ooh”ed. He had the same interests, which didn’t amount to anything, but at least something lined up. Grace had me read her reply. She thought that because I wrote shitty short stories that I had a grasp of language. I often checked what she wrote. I was okay at it. Rachel was better. She corrected Grace’s grammar, something that I’m atrocious at, and her punctuation, something I never learned, and made some revisions that I would have never seen. The reply went off and Grace giggled. I’d never seen her giggle before. She said thanks to Rachel and left us to our movie. Rachel and I gave each other the same look, Grace giggled. The moms was going to have sex sometime in the future. We sorta got used to her being an asexual being that we drank coffee with, but at least now we could pry details out of her as she did to us. I’m sure Grace felt the same way about me finding someone much less than hearing about it every morning and night against her will, the dads’ getting some while she wasn’t. We buried ourselves deeper into the divan and waited for the aftermath.

Rachel curled against me with a pillow on my shoulder so she could cuddle with comfort. She was ending her meds in a week and seemed better than I had ever seen her. We weren’t inseparable like we were before. I had things to do to keep me busy that I had fallen behind as the AMA mailing list piled up email after email in my inbox longing for me to read and her going to Grace’s classes which led to a ridiculous amount of reading and she was also working on her dropped incompletes to pull herself back into academia. She never stopped talking about how free she felt. At night we would talk about the boring minutia of our days and long to go back to Chicago which we eventually set plans for again. We would get pizza this time. After our relationship had jumped into the state that it was and after the intensity of closeness we needed distance and independence to take over our lives again. It was good. It felt good. I loved her. I didn’t expect that. Though I didn’t really acknowledge it at the time or know exactly what it meant. We were still dancing around Harold’s feelings which meant that when we were carrying on in the mornings we would revert to boring conversation when he came in a bad attempt to spare his feelings. They were not spared, we couldn’t really spare them. And so our days went. We were a boring couple already but we didn’t mind.

Grace went out on her date a few days later. The house cringed as she whipped around between her room and the bathroom in an attempt to look casual but beautiful and not slutty but sexy and determined to wear jeans that were insanely tight that she kept asking if it made her ass look good until she finally settled on a dress, out of seven that she tried on before, that hugged her body and she accepted that it made her boobs look small though I didn’t think so and neither did Rachel and then did a little twirl for us to see what we thought before slipping on the highest high heels that she had that made her sound like a horse stomping through the house. She’s so small but so loud when it comes to walking, especially stairs, it always sounds like she’s carrying an extra fifty pounds wherever she goes. She had done all this before for me, many times, but not so helplessly. She had changed since Carl and me leaving her alone while I was off with Rachel. There was still an air of confidence but it wasn’t the fuck all attitude that took no prisoners and could laugh off a bad date with a groan and a cigarette and a glass of bourbon and a recounting of how bad it was complete with necessary exaggerations to make it go down easier. She left. Rachel and I were glad we didn’t have to go through the ordeal of dating.

She gave me a look and went to the bedroom.

🙂

I heard the front door open and shut with a plop coming from a purse and heels stomping toward our door. Then I heard my name quietly called out with a small scratching on my door. It was 11pm. I was logically in bed at this point. Rachel and I put our robes on and saw Grace sitting in the middle of the couch expecting as much. The date was bad, but not bad bad as Grace’s record held. It was just boring. Apparently, being a legal assistant means having all the work of a lawyer, all the life of a lawyer, without being a lawyer. All that the guy would talk about is going to law school and being denied entrance to law school at UW because his GPA was 0.1 too low to make it past the automatic cut off. Ugh. That’s all I could utter because I had no reply to a date that went no where. He also didn’t pay. Bad move since he could afford it and grad students tend to be in another world of broke. Grace ughed. The Daily Show was on. We didn’t go to the living room, we piled on my bed and watched a hacked stream that was pixilated and you could hear the distortion in the compressed audio but we were a pile on the bed watching John Stewart and the Moment of Zen was the only thing that really mattered.

Grace continued to modify her profiles and added more descriptions. Rachel helped her more than I did. There were a few more bad dates, and a couple of good ones too. None of them went anywhere but she cheered up. We were talking more. And it included Rachel. Rachel talked me into getting out of the house and do more reasonable things than read and hang around. So I started coming with Rachel and Grace to class. She would show up the other grad students with her questions. I was impressed, so was Grace. For myself, I don’t know how Rachel was able to raise her hand and ask questions like she belonged to the group and could be engaged in such a direct way without a shred of self consciousness about her. Through college I rarely spoke in class. By rarely, I mean sometimes to never. I leaned on a friend to voice my questions for me as I wrote the question down in her notebook and tapped at it and wiggled my eyebrows and she would ask it for me and lead me to the professor after class where I had more vocal luck but she still did most of the talking. She didn’t know I was using her. I just couldn’t speak. A pit would form in my stomach every time and tie my tongue and then fear would spring from the fear since I felt the pit turning me dumb which only made me more anxious. It wouldn’t be until summer that I would finally get help for this only to be too late for college but early enough for my life. Rachel didn’t have these problems, I silently envied her.

By the end of the month Harold and I had started to bond once again, in loose terms of course. Grace was right, it was better that we weren’t that close so we could start over once again. Through casual conversation he seemed to have matured since breaking up with Rachel and started to join in the morning therapy sessions again with me and Grace. Rachel had laundry listed him with all of his faults and it seemed like they were sticking and he started to work on them. Grace would nod and ask him what he thought that meant to him and I would offer up suggestions and we would all sip our coffee and leave feeling a little more fulfilled; Grace and I would compare notes afterwards and discuss how to proceed with him next time. One of the laundry listed problems was expanding his interests. He asked me what I was reading one day while I was alone on the couch. I was reading Maus. A small love of mine is comic books. Not superman or xmen, but more in the graphic novel vein. They fill more than half a bookshelf. Maus is one of my favorites with its simplicity but is emotionally raw and profoundly disturbing portrayal of the Holocaust (more disturbing because of the simplicity). I started talking about it. Then Ex Machina, then Sin City. Harold listened and asked if he could borrow them. Next came Ronin which he devoured in a sitting and then all of Frank Miller’s stuff after he fell for Sin City. Ronin was his favorite followed by Sin City followed by Miller’s take on Batman. In our spare time we would not converse, that’s too hefty a word, but chat lightly in passing about what we were reading. I started to read medical journals. I sucked at it and waited for him to explain them. It was good. It was better than we were before during our therapy sessions where all he would do was complain or just heave with exhaustion while drinking as much coffee as possible. We had found common ground beyond Rachel. And we found more common ground in our hates.

He too is a biker. And he hates dog walkers almost as much as I do. Joggers too when they’re on a bike path. And children followed closely by children on leashes roaming around and closing lanes begging to be inadvertently hit by a thirty pound steel bike crashing in to them at 20mph.

We started biking together and made space in the basement for a shared repair stand so we could keep our bikes in good shape without getting on our hands and knees. At the end of the month St Vincent’s De Paul has a bike sale in the fall and spring where they clear out donated bikes. Doors open at 8am. You have to get there really early if you want to find a good bike for $100 to fix up. Harold and I walked and got there at 7:30. There was no one else there yet to compete with and we talked about who would find what. I ride a 52-56cm bike (I have weird legs and arms so I can comfortably ride multiple sizes) and he rides a 56 or a 58. We both found Peugoets in our sizes and I also found a Fuji from the 1970s that weighs a ton but would be a pleasure to take on touring rides because it stretched me out in all the right ways. Harold walked back with me and my two bikes itching to ride his half broken find through the cleared slush of a trail. We oohed and ahed at each other’s finds. It was good in a way that I never expected when I first met him since he wasn’t a biker in any serious way before from what Rachel reports but after breaking up he wanted to take up the hobby again to relieve the stress and the sadness and fall in love with the sport once again but had sold his bike collection long ago so he only had a hybrid that he toured around with (hybrids are nice but no fun for really cranking out top speed, for that you need a touring or a road style bike). Long story short, he needed to work things out physically.

We went for a bike ride once we got back. Him on his Peugeot where a link was fused with the other from rust so it caused the derailleur to slip a little and me on my Fuji trying to discover everything that is wrong with it while finding the original cassette and rear derailleur to be in better condition than I expected from just a visual assessment. Riding with someone is not like jogging with them. Jogging with Grace proved to be ridiculously unfun as she does intervals and any sort of rhythm that one forms is broken by walking for a block and then sprinting for two which just leads to lactic acid build up and sweatiness and discomfort. People who jog and run always look like they’re in pain. Bikers (yes, cyclists are bikers too even though that term has a double meaning to a select part of the population) always smile . There’s the rush of speed from traveling at 20 mph on your own strength with the wind rushing and the lakes quickly passing by and then out into farmland that the Capital City Trial cuts through before going into forest and then residential broken up by just a few roads so you can really unleash speed. There’s one hill there that I always hated because of how steep and high it was and wouldn’t allow the down hill rush because there was a road just at the bottom. Harold agreed that it was a bitch of a hill. We drafted off of one another — a strangely intimate act of trust as wheels come within inches of one another and the other person needs to maintain speed and make no sudden movements and call out maneuvers and road problems and pedestrians and dogs and children on leashes. A mistake on the front’s end will cause two people to crash. Harold is good on point. Even with a bad chain.

We survived the 20 mile trail. We were sweaty. We were rashy from wearing jeans. We started to become friends, through what is an obsession that ensnares anyone who tastes what it’s like to ride a good bike.

It only took six months to get to this point.

Rachel came back from her trip to the psychiatrist out in Research Park that is way the fuck out there on the Westside. It’s a good place. Her DO was fantastic. And she delivered some bad news when she got back. Rachel was like me. Not as bad, but still there. She had the pattern. She was a 2 while I am a 1. It’s like being diagnosed with cancer in a lot of ways. It carries a death sentence if not properly dealt with and even then still poses an ever present risk even when properly medicated. She would always face the impending doom while depression would always eat away at her winters and become the sole thought of her mind until medications were figured out which could take years as she cataloged every last mood every thought everything that could be relevant to whether medication was working or not. What she went through would happen again, it did. Rachel would cut again. I caught her one day down the line. She would be depressed again. I would be there. We were locked into one another’s life being the rock for the other and hoping to god that we wouldn’t be depressed at the same time alone without anyone to help us without Grace to be there for me to help pick up the pieces that fell away. Rachel cried. She never wanted to go through the winter like that again. She didn’t want to know that it would probably get worse before it got better. She didn’t want the half dozen pills to swallow every day and brave the side effects and endless visits to the psychiatrist and psychologist revealing what she didn’t want to say to anyone but had to pull it out somedays so she could get better and remain stable even though her soul would be exposed and possibly ripped apart when the psychologist or psychiatrist was finally abused by the system enough for them to leave the practice for another and insurance wouldn’t allow her to follow and she would have to start all over again in baring her soul to a complete stranger. She didn’t want it. She didn’t want to die. She didn’t want to die and have me find her. She just wanted it to end. She wanted to be free. She wanted to be normal. And that would never happen. She saw it in me, scraping together the normal things and latching onto them to build a life in between swings. And she would never have the joy from mania to counter it, she wouldn’t have that miraculous drug no matter how dangerous it is. She would just be depressed. Endlessly fighting the tide that only lowers as the moon sat sideways to the earth draining the ocean but never rising like me to high tide swept up in a thrill of energy. She collapsed. She didn’t want to die but saw that one day she might by her own hand. And she was terrified of herself. She hated what she brought into my life, that she wasn’t healthy, but I reassured her that it meant nothing and I would be there as she got better, as I got better, and that I would understand what she was going through. She hugged and kissed me and held me tighter saying how lucky she was to have me in her life, to have me step in, to have me even nearby, and hoping the day would end and it would and it wouldn’t bring much change but enough each and every day as she accepted it the looming diagnosis became easier to swallow.

I had gone through the same realization. I was in a haze when I first was told it and didn’t internalize it in any other way than freak out and learn as much as possible in an effort to avoid every experiencing anything manic or depressive again but ultimately would fail and leave me where I am now where I just ride it out.

There is no reaction that is appropriate to mental illness.

Rachel stopped crying and I lifted her from the floor where she had collapsed to her knees. We went to Walgreens and picked up her titration of lamictal. It was $15 a month for the rest of her life, $200 without insurance. I spent $85 a month for the rest of my life, over $1000 a month without insurance. If geodon ever failed and I had to go to the one last antipsychotic that would be tolerable it would go to about $250 a month — with insurance. Geodon hasn’t failed yet.

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