Bipolar disorder is an episodic or, as noted earlier, “cyclical” illness, being characterized in most patients by the intermittent lifelong appearance of episodes of illness, in between which most patients experience a “euthymic” interval during which they more or less return to their normal state of health.
The pattern and sequencing of successive episodes is quite variable among patients. The duration of the euthymic interval varies from as little as a few weeks or days to as long as years, or even decades. In contrast, however, to the extreme variability of the euthymic intervals among patients, finding a certain regular pattern in the history of any given patient is not unusual. Indeed in some patients the euthymic interval is so regular that patients can predict sometimes to the month when the next episode will occur. The postpartum period is a time of increased risk. Occasionally, one may also see a “seasonal” pattern, with manic episodes more likely in the spring or early summer and depressive ones in the fall or winter.
Early on in the overall course of the illness the cycle length, or time from the onset of one episode to the onset of the next, tends to shorten. Specifically, whereas the duration of the episodes themselves tends to be stable, the euthymic interval shortens, so episodes come progressively closer together. With time, however, the duration of the euthymic interval stabilizes.
Patients who have four or more episodes of illness in any one year are customarily referred to as “rapid cyclers.” Although only about 10% of all patients with bipolar disorder display such a pattern of rapid cycling, these patients are nevertheless clinically quite important as they tend to be relatively “resistant” to many currently available treatments. On the other extreme, the euthymic interval may be so long, lasting many decades, that the patient dies before the second episode is “due,” thereby having only one episode of illness during an entire lifespan.
The sequence of episodes is also quite variable among patients. Rarely would one find a patient whose course is characterized by regularly alternating manic and depressive episodes; most patients show a preponderance of either depressive episodes or of manic ones. For example, in an extreme case a patient may have throughout life perhaps six depressive episodes and only one manic one. On the other extreme, another patient might have up to a dozen episodes of mania and only one depressive one. Indeed one may encounter a patient who has only manic episodes and never any depressive ones. Such “unipolar manic” patients are very rare. In general, a depressive preponderance is more common in females, and a manic one in males.
In perhaps a quarter of all cases, the course exhibits “coupling.” Here a manic episode may invariably and immediately be followed by a depressive one, or vice versa. In such cases the transition from one episode to the next may be marked by a mixture of symptoms, as if the various symptoms of the preceding episode trailed off at different rates, while the various symptoms of the following episode appeared also at varying rates, such that the two coupled episodes in a sense overlapped and interdigitated with each other, with this interdigitation presenting as the mixture of symptoms. Such “overlap” or transitional experiences must, as noted earlier, be distinguished from mixed-manic episodes proper, which stand on their own.
I cycle yearly. From May through early September my mood is elevated. A month in on both ways I’m manic. I’m manic predominant. That doesn’t mean my depressions aren’t hell. I have two to three months of normal in between. But in October I often slide.
Not this year though.
I was lucky.
We discovered that the downstairs refrigerator would always smell like sex and impart the smell and flavor to whatever fruit we stored in it. We still kept food in it since there was not enough space in the upstairs fridge for five people, but there were no soft cheeses like brie (which already smells rather sex like) or bread, or really vegetables stored downstairs. Meat was the only thing and that was primarily Cliff’s thing. Somehow meat tasted better down there as well despite having the faintest hints of semen lingering in whatever crockpot was used to cook it. When Cliff came with me to Woodmans I saw him pile racks and steaks into his cart without a second thought them other than that they were meat and soon to be devoured. He was a true mammalian carnivore. I never saw a vegetable in his mouth except when he got the carrot mixture at Jamba Juice.
The month of September went by without a hitch, all the hypochondria about drinking was unfounded, as usual, and I didn’t slip into anything terrible, as usual. Harold, Cliff, and Rachel were already wearing down into that bizarre brain fatigue of cramming every last trace of knowledge into their brains in the desperate hope that they won’t be tested on it. Grace was faring better than she expected. Her 6 hour block of seminars on Friday tested her bladder as she chugged coffee to stay alert and sometimes had to dance her chair so she wouldn’t miss the winding tail end of a discussion point that she desperately wanted to listen to but her bladder screamed the opposite. I was doing the best. My light load of two days of discussion with my advisor proved to be both stressful and entertaining. When entering my advisor’s office he always had his lights off except for a small desk lamp by his computer. The effect was a dim room with large floor to ceiling windows facing a lake that fed untold levels of candlepower into the room. He made it worse by sitting on a couch with his back to the glowing wall that backlit his head revealing only a bald outline of a man with no discernible facial expressions and a basso voice. It took some getting used to.
For fun that month I decided to tag along with Grace to her seminar and would continue doing so for the rest of the semester. The strange thing about graduate philosophy classes is that they are simultaneously linear in that one has to go to every class to understand everything that is happening, and on the other hand you can pick up anywhere and grasp a great deal of what is going on. Grace was taking a philosophy of science course that dabbled in quantum mechanics. It is the strange power of mathematics that it enables one to read the sciences without much background. Formulas and equations all fit together in a single readable format that is universal in its language and appearance. The only fault that one can ever have with it is a lack of explanation when the author makes a leap of logic that is too great and the reader is left dumbfounded as to how he got to Z from A — the usual excuse is waving one’s hands around in the air and declaring magic is involved (or that you’re dumb). Grace, for all her intelligence, is not a mathematician. The third time I tagged along I spent some time explaining to her and some of the unintentionally mathematically illiterate class how quantum electrodynamics worked without equations or at least that many of them. Thank you Richard Feynman for your wonderful little book, I give you all the credit.
I think I missed my calling. I had never taken a philosophy course in my life except for 101. It was interesting, I’ll grant that, but it seemed too light. Like it was scratching the surface of things but eventually going nowhere as refutation mounted on refutation in an eternal to-and-fro that ultimately left two camps diametrically opposed to one another for no other reason than that they were schooled in a particular way to begin with. Math is not like that. There is right, there is wrong, you are either clear or unclear. The fault lies in objective ways. Philosophy is not as objective as I would like. So I would think. Graduate levels seemed deeper, more interesting. Maybe I would go on to philosophy for grad school. Maybe. Grace thinks so. My grades have suffered over the years as I struggled and the world of math is one competitive bitch to deal with so I don’t know how grad school looks or even what the job market is for a PhD in philosophy would look like. In the end I don’t have competition built in me any more. I once did, but that was beaten out of me in a through manner that now requires me to have a soft cushion to land on in case I ever destabilize. That’s not a bipolar thing, that’s a depression thing. David Foster Wallace is next to kin in that respect — perpetually failing and flailing against the inevitable tide of decline. Halfway through the month was the first time that I felt smarter than Grace. It was the first time I saw her having difficulty learning anything and she asked for my help. It was strange, but she did it with ease.
Grace was always smarter than me. Always will be. She has a unique gift that enables her to see through the clutter that bogs down intellectual life. This also extends to sports. About a year before we were watching the Packers play and she went off on how Dom Capers was fucking it up. The year before he had led the Packers to having the number 3 defense in the league that drove them to the Superbowl and Arron Rodgers to league MVP as well as superbowl MVP (it’s almost always the case that the quarterback gets the MVP of the superbowl except for one year when Adrian Peterson one the league MVP (totally deserved it too)). I was struggling to simply enjoy the game as the near dead last ranked defense attempted to slow down anything thrown at it so that Rodgers and Co. would not have to put up point after point. Her solution, pass rush. Matthews was out of the game but we still had Brad Jones and Raji. She surmised that if the two of them paired up in a rush he could break through the A lane and get to the quarterback. In the first half the Packers floundered, but in the second Capers did just that. It wasn’t just football that she does this. It’s life itself. The world was not a confusing blur to her that had to be sifted through for little treasures that made sense. Life was an organized chaos that she manipulated and deftly wove herself through and passed through even while an alcoholic with ease. There was little that surprised her and when it did she would laugh at the pleasure of being wrong. The only time she didn’t laugh was when she couldn’t figure me out. My private knowledge of a different world made no sense to her. She is dangerously smart, but missing my signs was never part of the equation, and it was the only time that I saw her broken. She was brilliant, but could not accept a world based on luck. I was lucky to be alive, she didn’t know how or why and neither did I or anyone else. I accepted this as life, she couldn’t understand how, or how it kept me alive to believe in luck, only that it did, only that it made me resilient year after year. She said I should write a book on it to explain it to her. Maybe I will, maybe I’ll get drunk and impart it to her through drunk conversation that makes a modicum of sense but leads to one person adopting the other’s without much critical thought.
Under pressure Grace is always an interesting sight both in terms of entertainment and horror. When she was a senior (well, let see, she’s 24 so that makes her actually a super-super-super senior if I got that right) the year before and failed a test she didn’t cry. She ran the entire way back to our apartment, bursting through the front door with keys still dangling and clinking in the lock, grabbed me by the shoulders and screamed “I’ve failed!” with wide eyes that didn’t well up with tears. Her expression was closer to relief than exasperation as she walked into the kitchen and collapsed next to the refrigerator shortly after tearing a half gallon of milk out to guzzle. Cottage cheese was selected next. Filled on dairy products she rose and and dusted her ass off, muttering that we should sweep, then calmly collected her keys and asked me what was for dinner with a quick breath and an attempt at smiling. I had nothing prepared. She shrugged, reached for my cigarettes on the bookshelf near the door and went out to the porch. I had never seen her so close to collapsing, except for one time when she was lost and didn’t know the way back and I would guide her, and I’m positive that her brain didn’t know how to process it into a normal human reaction. Since joining grad school she’s seemed more normal in so far as she seemed like she was able to confront failure in a normal way even though she was still dragged down by it. Normal as far as I can tell at least.
We obtained another couch that month. Harold and Cliff set their minds to finding one that was both ugly and comfortable with emphasis on both if I remember correctly. The beast was gigantic and I stood and watched waiting to be tagged in for one of them to help move but they were determined to mangle it in through the doorways. It slid just through the door after it was turned to a 45 degree angle so that it’s vertical footprint was reduced and it had to be sort of rotated through the doorway since with the legs it was too large to fit. It barely made it but it did (I was wondering if we would ever be able to get it out of the apartment when we all moved away). It sat on the first floor since there was no way it would ever fit up the stairs. It was the largest couch I ever saw with droopy cushions that slid out from the back to create a spill over of plushy softness. Couch wise, it was a fantastic couch for naps. It was also a hideous brown. So it was a check and a check in their endeavors. The couch found a home in what was supposed to be the first floor living room that was rapidly becoming a dumping ground for whatever we didn’t want to carry upstairs. You would walk through the foyer, past the original steps to go to the upstairs, and then into the living room that was marked with three of the four bedrooms which formed a neat row all facing outwards on the new couch. When waking up, you were immediately lulled into unconsciousness again by the sight of softness and a color of brown that wasn’t exactly chocolate or coffee but reminded me of both and was likely one of those before light damage corroded the pigments and produced a new hue. I often saw Rachel sleeping on it in the early morning hours when I woke up at my standardized time of 7am. I guessed that she fell asleep just after leaving Harold. I didn’t know what to make of it though. Maybe she was having problems with Harold. But she was there. Not my problem. I couldn’t get involved. I had myself to think about.
The fourth bedroom was off of the kitchen and that was Cliff’s where when he was in the house he was either found inside the upstairs living room playing video games and noshing on whatever semi-raw foods he could find or hiding downstairs off of the kitchen studying. There were no bedrooms upstairs anymore. Where they went we couldn’t decide. Our den and study were too small to make up for enough bedrooms in such a large flat. Near the front was the study, it was maybe 8×10 and then there was the ‘den’ which was 10×12 but was right off of the study so if they were bedrooms you’d have to walk through one to get to the other and the small one was really too small for anything but a twin bed and a dresser (of course, maybe the top flat was a one bedroom, which would be luxurious, but the house never screamed luxury with it’s psychotic architecture). Then there was the living room, which probably was the living room, and that was probably around 12×20 in addition to our absurdly large kitchen whose size was indescribably large. But it looked like there were never bedrooms. Grace tossed the idea that there were no bedrooms around but then there wouldn’t be separate locks to upstairs and downstairs. Grace claimed the study to put her mammoth executive sized desk that she ordered express from Ikea when she discovered that she had nothing to work on except for an oversized mattress to lay papers out on (and sometimes sleep on) and there she had a nice view of our quiet neck of the woods that was interrupted by Gorham St traffic in the distance but looked out over our lawn and also into our neighbor’s bedrooms which I caught her staring at multiple times at night when the shades weren’t drawn. Grace always bugged me about going to Ikea down by Chicago. Even though I drove to Chicago all the time the special trip down just to buy furniture didn’t appeal to me and then I’d be lost in the labyrinth of Ikea looking for some-what-easy to assemble things and then figuring out how to fit all the things that she wanted to buy into my dinky little Neon that she always overestimated in terms of size and forgot that there are these little weird things in the trunk that make it narrower without reason. It was better that she just finally bought them and had them shipped. But there goes the hoarding again. It starts with furniture and ends with clothes. She never saw this though she always remarked about it in a mental denial of how things happen and I constantly reminded her but it never sank in and she collected. Toronto just gave her a blank slate to start over from not that it cured her of collecting every last little scrap with the promise that it might one day be useful so she should never throw anything out.
Midway through October I saw Rachel was taking her usual nap on the couch that afternoon and Harold collapsed by her side as his backpack made a hard thud from the books striking the hardwood floors. It echoed lightly as the basement returned the reverberations to the room. I loved the warmth and the relief the sound made and I mentally cataloged how the reverb sounded both like plate and small room with almost a touch of delay with a rapid tap but had the warmth that digital Alesis racks could never approximate. Not that I’m against digital, it’s just that the 1920s approach to sound still had some relevance to music with it’s giant chambers to record reverb in. I poked my head out of my bedroom to see the tilting motion of his body fall into a half prone position with his legs dangling off the edge. It was like a building slowly falling over where it started slow and then ramped up speed until he met the fugly cushion. He pulled his legs up and curled tightly around his girlfriend in desperation for human contact or warmth or company or simply softness to lay his head on. Harold needed a break from the masochism of class and college. In the week since we had last talked he had grown worse. Thanksgiving was too far away and only spared two more days which would be eventually lost in the turmoil of spending time with relatives and family. He laid there, wrapped around his half unconscious girl and I felt next to powerless to help him. There is no saving someone from the grind except to be generous. I quietly walked upstairs and brewed a pot of coffee. It was drip and normally he would be offended, but on a day like that he wouldn’t care. A warm drink was all that I could provide. At least the weekend was next. I didn’t know what to do with either of them though. They both seemed worn down beyond what they should be by that point in the semester. Harold was slipping fast into the weariness of failure and Rachel seemed to have withdrawn from society in general. She could be found later in the afternoon compulsively drinking coffee that should have sent someone into a frenzy but for her she remained calm and would sometimes take a nap afterwards with her textbooks open on the coffee table barely read.
Harold was the first to succumb to the tide of classes in an emotionally destructive sort of way and in the kitchen he burst open at the seams. O Chem was working him to the bone and he kept swearing at himself for not taking it sooner so that he still retained his familiarity with chemistry but that was all in the past and faded and he had too much to reread to catch up and stay on top of material but that sucked time away from actually reading which led to a vicious circle of being forever behind and trailing further behind. His drive and passion had its limits and they were challenged throughly by repeated testing and failure. Of all the things he was not accustomed to, failure was the largest. I found him one morning awake at 6am with his forehead to the table with his textbook on the table and half a pot of coffee in the drip. His problem was memorization, pure memorization that got you through that class. If you’re not used to memorizing hundreds of little details and storing them in your brain for a random eventful day, then O Chem is a new world of hurt. Harold would not have liked mathematics for just such a reason. I didn’t talk to Harold much beyond his weary bitchiness in the kitchen as he prepared simpler and simpler meals to the point of once making a cheese sandwich. Granted, it had heirloom tomatoes and seasoned with fresh basil that he minced but it was still a sandwich and it seemed sacrilegious to his usual endeavors. I like hearing people bitch, especially Harold, it’s a strange habit of mine that I developed with Grace and I continued it with him. With Grace, half of our conversations are complaining about X and then the other upping the ante by complaining about Y, then we compare notes to see who wins the conversation. I didn’t play the game with Harold, he didn’t seem to be in the mood to be one-upped. Instead I let him vent and played psychologist to him, asking a few appropriate questions and fishing out the important details from the multitude of worthless minutia. It became a thing, for him to come to me and vent and talk and I would ask a few questions and mimic my psychologist as much as possible in doing so and it seemed to help. Each morning he would come to me and talk and vent and come away feeling better. Grace would join us as well, silently sitting for a while and then chiming in. But that day, the one that started our relationship rather than being roommates, was a ventilation that he seemed to have held onto forever.
It turned out that it wasn’t just O Chem that was bothering Harold, it was his choice to go into medicine. It wasn’t a crisis where he suddenly realized he made a mistake and was no longer interested in it, it was a crisis where he believed he would fail and never achieve his dream that he held since high school. Through the difficulty of O Chem he saw his dream slip away into an abyss where he was not capable of overcoming and rising back to his previous academic zenith. To become a doctor would present even greater challenges and he no longer felt up to the task — he wasn’t a failure yet, but he felt that he would be. It was an problem to say the least, not in an existential sense where his life was threatened, but one where he was having more of a midlife crisis a touch too early. I tried to comfort him in platitudes but failed in conversation. I listen, that’s about all I can do. Offering advice is next to impossible since I have none to give as my life is a wreck and has few valuable lessons beyond what meds really fuck me up but that has no application to anyone else since everyone is literally different and a heavy dose of luck is involved in any endeavor. As much of a roommate I am to him, Rachel would be better prepared to help him. I still decided that he needed to get out of the warped house for a while, maybe that was eating him alive.
The next day I took him out to coffee at Bradbury’s which has the excellent beans of Kickapoo Coffee and insane crepes. I don’t care what he thinks, Kickapoo is hands down the best roast in the city — at least he agrees that it’s good. Just Coffee also has some good roasts, but not as good as Kickapoo. It should be good at $17 a pound. His bitching and moaning took a new turn into desperation as he clawed his way toward a C in his classes. He played with his Bacon (actually pork belly sliced up into chunks) Crepe and munched on the bacon chunks. Like anyone, give him enough of a push and he cracks and then fails. He sat there silently eating what cheese he could find in an unconscious effort to deconstruct the crepe into individual components rather than eat it bite by bite. Crack not in the way that most people do where they go on a bender or just give up. He flails like someone who doesn’t know how to tread water and eventually drowns as he lashes out in desperate pleas for salvation but ultimately drowns himself by not being rational and calm. At that point he wasn’t flailing, he just needed a break. But he would flail, he would lose all direction and all instinct and all worry and just push through one subject with whatever drive he had left and leave the remnants to fall where they may. I saw it coming. Reading day in and day out but not actually reading just skimming over and over till the words became a blur and he would think that he knew it all but also know that he knew nothing. While we were at Bradbury’s he didn’t talk about himself like I expected him to from our previous conversation in the kitchen, instead he talked about Rachel.
They only knew each other for 9 months at that point. Moving in together was her idea. In my experience, 9 months is far too soon for that — most any time is far too soon for that. I never wanted to move in with anyone but Grace and that was because she was her and I was me, a one time thing in my mind (if that makes sense — we were practically married after a year of knowing one another but knew nothing about the other person or had sex (yikes) with one another). It was rather cute how they met. He was taking a gen ed humanities course to fulfill his requirements and that led him to the classics — Greek and Roman mythology. The class size was gigantic at 250 students, how they met each other in that was rather lucky. She sat beside him because she thought he was cute. For all his drive, Harold was a rather shy individual. He only had one girlfriend before her and that didn’t last long. His quirkiness and bizarre conversational skills did not lend themselves to making many friends much less girlfriends and his lack of partying meant that most of Madison’s social life was off limits to him as an undergrad. Grace was the one who found him, she always found people, it’s one of her skills as a human being — to know everyone else in the world (you should see her contacts list in her phone). Rachel and Harold sat next to each other through class never talking to one another. Quietly studying, taking notes, listening to the drone of lecture and strange power point slides that never quite matched up with what was being talked about — timing wise that is — sometimes content wise. He would peek over at her notes and notice that she didn’t really take anything down in terms of pen and paper. She absorbed the knowledge and stored it for use later. His weird anxiety about failure never permitted him to do this so he kept meticulous notes. I’ve seen his notes, they are indented, bullet pointed, and annotated in the margins which were wide as he used special legal paper that has a left margin shifted over by at least an inch, probably an inch and a half so that it’s huge, for just such and occasion as annotation and extensive labeling. He didn’t know how to ask someone out that he never talked to, he didn’t know how to talk to anyone he hadn’t talked to, people always approached him though he didn’t know why (I knew why girls approached him, he was awkward, disarming, and attractive). So a pretty girl sitting next to him without taking notes, raptured by what was said on stage by the professor who made a life choice to study ancient stories was something that he was not comfortable with. He tried to get the nerve up to talk, but failed many times. It wasn’t anxiety it was just a loss of words, he didn’t know how conversations began. Class often ended with him paralyzed by the thought as she hovered next to him waiting for him to speak. It was at the final that she pounced on him. She had the bad timing of asking him out before the test in fear that she wouldn’t see him again. He said yes and his hands shook (I pity the TA that had to read his test).
After the test she waited outside for him. She forgot to give him her number. His hands still shook and she waited half an hour outside for him to appear. It must have looked strange to see a girl standing around doing nothing but silently pacing in a two step pattern — that almost became the Fox Trot but was a single step and rest away — waiting for an awkward boy to appear. But he appeared and she gave him her number. It was his last final but her second to last. She would finish that night at 9pm. At 10pm they had pizza at Ian’s and then beer in the Park. He was a newly 21 year old and she still didnt’ have a fake and neither knew anything about beer so they drank PBR. At Riley’s they have a decent selection of beer, most of which are good and almost all of them local outside of a few mass production beers, Michigan and Indiana have a decent representation there. They knew nothing about them until later in life and branched out of their uneducated comfort zone. Harold lived out on Dayton St by Tenney Park, which is usually where grad students live. Rachel walked him back even though she lived closer. He didn’t know how to say goodbye when they got back to their place. He shifted his feet in the snow with a crunch-crunch beneath them as he turned. Her dredlocks were slightly frosty and he never dated a black girl before, not that it mattered to him but his parents, the dirty slightly republican hippies (yes that is an actual possible combination) god forbid what their reactions would be and he was their star child and god if she ever met them and their casual racism it would be a horror show and then she would hate him and think ill of him and then all of this would end so quickly unless he kept the two worlds separate but sooner or later a photo would pop up and he would have to deal with their tasteless remarks over facebook and why the hell did he ever friend them on facebook that was a stupid idea he regretted it as soon as he did it but couldn’t unfriend them immediately after friending them and then after a while it would seem strange so it persisted and they were probably stalking him and they would find out about her and ask questions that he didn’t want to answer because for all their republican leanings they were also open about things like sex even though he wasn’t and he didn’t want them knowing anything about his sex life not because they were parents but because they would offer tips, god, Christmas would be hell if she came or even Thanksgiving. She kissed him. Then she invited herself up by pushing him through the door and grabbing his ass along the way.
It was a sweet story in my mind, one that I could not replicate in my own life for I have stranger ways of meeting women. I’ve only been on a real date once in my life, one where I didn’t know the person before hand and had to sit through an awkward exchange of dialog that hopefully culminated in sex or a relationship — either one led to sex in the end — it was an internet dating experiment (I didn’t have anyone else reply to my profile) (I was once on a blind date too, it wasn’t blind, we had slept together after a drunken night about a year before and all of us had forgotten until I saw her in the restaurant) (my dating history is fucked) For once though I saw Harold as a different man, one that was plagued by anxiety over the opposite sex, something I had not foreseen, nor had I foreseen that Rachel was the aggressive one. She was back at the house while we talked, probably taking another nap. There he sat, drinking his coffee and somehow the burden of the past month seemed slightly easier when talking about her. It’s the miracle of talk, just letting it out helps, and entire profession is built out of this fact. She was his rock, his patient and kind rock that could hold him together through terrible semesters and just thinking about her eased his mind. His coffee disappeared quicker after talking about her and we walked back to the house. Later that night I would haul him out to a show at the Frequency to take in some experimental electronica that I find particularly relaxing (because I’m weird) and he would find invigorating (because he thought it was techno). He rarely went out and usually just stayed in with Rachel and after a few beers he confessed to me that all they really did was cuddle in the past month and he didn’t think much about not having sex all the time since his exposure to it was the extremes of sitcoms about married life and frat students having random sex with strangers every weekend — so the stories would go — so cuddling all the time seemed perfectly normal and he was happy with it.
When we got back around 2am I headed upstairs for some food while Harold collapsed in his bedroom next to Rachel. Cliff was up playing Zelda and was all the way to the Water Temple. I always hated playing that level and even though I had beaten it several times I never could remember how I beat it before and I often just swam around praying to a god of fortune (which is nothing in particular) to lead the way and help me find that one last damned key. So I decided to watch him beat it and take mental notes that I would likely never use. He was surprisingly talkative considering his usual grunts of agreement. He too was looking for advice that I was particularly bad at, girl advice. In his MWF class he met another civil engineer that was not particularly engineer-y. She was short, very short according to him, but properly proportioned (his words) and intensely girly but in an outdoorswoman-y way that would hike and camp without electricity (the horror) and still ace classes and read. His contact with humanity for the past twenty odd years had apparently been exclusively with the engineer mindset (both his parents were engineers, civil and electrical). Sky diving included other strange engineers like himself, the same goes for camping where they didn’t take in the outdoors so much as play with the latest gadgets to survive in it though they were always hooked up to the power grid the entire time and it wasn’t really survival and most of the time an axe wasn’t even involved in the entire experience. I’m a softy when it comes to camping and even I think that their style wasn’t actually camping (though I had gone on several expeditions without electricity and ate out of MREs, so I have some biases). Their approach, well, it was sort of a geek approach to it that went along with the engineer mindset — a deliberate mindset that saw the world in terms of pragmatics and concrete solutions to any abstracted problem which often led to bizarre solutions built off of small incremental steps and odd speech patterns revolving around simplistic terms devoid of any hypothetical terms and often involved gadgets. Cliff would never like philosophy or see the use or the interest that one could have in it. But he was entranced by this girl who was interested in these things, and clothes, a subject which he visibly did not care about. I had no advice for him other than to talk to her, maybe a study group so he had an in. He said he’d think about it. And then he asked me how to ask someone out. Girls had asked him out in the past, not the other way around. I drunkenly stumble into other girl’s beds and then asked them out, that’s how I do it. So I said that he should introduce himself and ask what she was doing that weekend and propose a date going out to a restaurant or The Frequency. He nodded as though this was profound wisdom gleaned from my years of soliciting free sex while drunk from drunks. He said he’d do it and I noticed the small shiver that went through him as he set his mind to the task.
Properly proportioned. I still don’t know what that actually means.
There was a pause in our conversation and Cliff seemed to recoil from it as though he had shared too much. I asked him to continue and he breathed a sigh of relief as he continued talking about the girl that would soon be known for her doodles. What struck him as entrancing was her frivolity. She would sketch unicorns in her notebook during class but still do better than him on the quizzes. One day he overheard her conversation with a friend where she had spent the entire weekend backpacking through a forest without a care to study. Cliff took academics serious and didn’t understand how she could be so careless with her life. But he wanted to find out. He wanted to see how she did things and go along with her. He stopped short of saying that he was in love with her but it was clear that he was smitten with this girl. It was almost head over heels as he continued to talk with her while Link drowned in the background due to his inattention.
He would ask her out the next week and she would say yes.
He would be more bubbly and effusive than at any other time in the house.
I’ve always wondered if he and Grace ever had a thing.
Probably not, but it’s always a possibility with her.
Harold and I talked again some days later for a follow up psych appointment (not really, but it started to feel like that). It is unusual for the house to have prolonged discussions of any sort, especially within the walls. Our schedules rarely lined up and our eating patterns were erratic so discourse was a random if not strange thing at first. Then we started gathering individually. First it was me and Harold in addition to me and Grace, then Cliff was added into the afternoon mix, and once in a while Rachel would talk to us about classes. But the only dialog that I could ever count on was with Grace. We talked every day about whatever floated through our minds though it was delivered in short sentences that could have come from Hemingway. For her it was often relaying philosophy which I readily absorbed and for me it was often the New York Times. I learned from her, she updated her knowledge of the world through me. It was symbiotic and when I missed one day she seemed confused and disoriented over lunch, but I know she was keeping tabs on me on top of everything else. I was steady and she was pleased. Harold was not. He began his decline again and around Halloween he was back in a funk. The only time I saw him was when his bedroom door was open and I saw him curled up with Rachel trying to shut out failure. I started to worry about the two of them. But they had each other and for the time being that would have to do. I brought them food when I could and Harold seemed pleased. He wasn’t cooking either. Grace and I talked as I only had sessions with either of them and we compared notes. Though she was the moms of the place in one respect where her morning and afternoon and evening coffees served as therapy sessions for all of us when I wasn’t available or we would double book and they would have coffee around the table and Grace and I would nod and ‘yes’ and ‘elaborate’ them to death and they would sigh and feel better and then we’d wink at each other because it was too much fun. I booked the morning with Harold and she often booked the afternoon and Cliff and both would get the evenings when if Rachel came by to talk to her about classes and how tired she was and how things just seemed to be falling apart, we offered what support we could. I would try to make food for her since she was spiraling the drain already. After Rachel would leave for her room with whatever I prepared for her, Grace would sigh not knowing what to do next. I didn’t know what to do next.We both agreed that if anything was wrong, Harold would definitely have seen it and been working on it.
Still, I was worried Rachel, more so than Grace.
I don’t usually worry about others.
I don’t have the spare energy for others.
Neither does Grace.
All we do is talk.
I wasn’t sure who was worse or who was going to go under first, Harold or Rachel. The ever quiet Rachel talked to me even less and ignored Grace. She would shuffle upstairs to the kitchen, avoiding the downstairs one, grab an assortment of juices and milk and essentially live off of liquids and cheese while Grace and I would be discussing Obamacare and how it saved my life by extending health care for just a few more years in my life or the topic of the day. Once I saw a bagel, but that was in the morning. I don’t recall talking to her that much either since it was often a morning encounter and I was still in the AM sleep and med hangover, all I remembered of her is that she only said hello a few times and quietly as though it was a habitual saying than actually saying hello. Harold’s stress was bleeding off into her and through relationship osmosis she absorbed part of it from him and internalized it as her own. I decided to start leaving them extra coffee in the morning pot of brew and establishing a rhythm saying there’s a full pot left for them. As much as I liked Harold, he seemed at times to be rather self absorbed in our talks as he would only discuss his problems and almost never mentioned Rachel who was falling down the hole along side him. When I poked my head in after his sessions with Grace she also noticed it. She was apathetic, she wasn’t any better in relationships, but I resented him for it. He never talked about Rachel who was going under as quickly as he was and instead focused on his own failures and problems and how he felt like he was spinning his wheels, not that Rachel was withdrawing from society. And in the mornings, when they would sit in the kitchen with me he was neither patient nor really aware of Rachel. He just continued on about his classes, which were interesting when he took the time to explain the details, and finished his coffee without ever letting her have a chance at conversation if she ever even wanted to. He had early classes and would take a shower and leave her there with me. Rachel and I would sit silently as we finished our coffee. I would sometimes read the paper and talk to her about it. She seemed to cheer up when I talked to her, like she was starved for attention or care or just someone who noticed her. She would ask some questions here and there but just seemed to like someone talking to her, even at her.
In the mornings I began reading for fun again. Reading for me goes in spurts. I can never maintain a book a week schedule like some people, rather it’s three books in one week and none for the next two. I often miss reading in an abstracted way like I’m not fulfilling some civic duty to my brain, but once I start reading again I realize that there’s a concrete reason why I do so. Grace joined me after a few days on the brown couch with coffee and eggs and bacon in hand and we silently enjoyed each other’s company as she consumed her meal and I sipped my hot coffee and neither had time in between stuffing our faces to talk but some times I would talk about the latest book and she would nod and ask a few questions and then sometimes she would just laugh for no reason — a hearty laugh like she would have a star guest at an open mic — for no particular reason other than it being so dead silent at times in the morning that she couldn’t take it any more. It was infectious at least. Other than that we just passively absorbed one another’s presence. We were not chit chatters during the school year, we were only there-when-the-shit-goes-down when the thoughts don’t count and the acts are the only thing that matter. I guess we were married in some cultures since we weren’t blood related and I had a better relationship with her than with my siblings some times — she was an ex-wife that I stayed in contact with and I was her ex-husband that she never wanted to think of in a sexual way other than to exact uncomfortable dialog to make me squirm. I might be the dads of the house since I often sat in on the therapy sessions having nothing else to do, but she was the moms. After therapy sessions everyone looked to her. When talking to me they’d talk about her. She brought us together and in many ways held us together.
Halloween was coming up soon and Freak Fest would soon be upon us. It was really an excuse to drink publicly on State Street and for guys to dress up as ironically as possible in an attempt to disguise their lack of creativity and girls to dress up in slutty outfits in an attempt to attract the greatest irony they could find. One of Grace’s fellow grad students was throwing a party at his place, she said that it would be a blast. I could tell that she had a thing for this guy, Carl, and I wasn’t sure if I should tag along but she wanted me to in case things didn’t go as planned. As an ex I was her backup plan for drinking with when things didn’t go right, but she was sure that things would go right considering that he invited her and they had one of those pauses that happens when the other discovers that there’s more to it than a friendly invitation. She went as an M&M. She always went to Halloween parties as an M&M. Not a slutty one that just barely covered her body where her legs would be on full display and the top of the candy would just come above her bust, but a full one that went down to her knees and when her arms where at her side would fold the outfit in half so the full effect of the costume required that she would have her arms splayed to the side at a 60 degree angle from her body. I guess that’s the other side of outfits, as dorky and age-inappropriate as possible.
I tried to come up with something. I failed and went as a hipster douchebag complete with suspenders and cuffed skinny jeans and ironic trucker’s hat complete with David Wax Museum, a band no one has ever heard of at the party, emblazoned across the white brow with Packers Green mesh. It is impossible for me to fully appreciate the sight we must have been walking around the Capitol.
The walk was long, too long, she really liked this guy. My bad knee was killing me but I held it together for her. When she saw me take a slight limp she didn’t say that she was sorry or any such thing, she told me that there would be single girls there and I felt reinvigorated. I’m not a party animal anymore. I used to be, I used to love going to parties and once spent a week going to one after another during the summer which led to the first time that I was fired while living in Madison. Now they seem interesting in a different way. Being sober at a party while surrounded by horny drunkards is more entertaining than being part of the crowd. The only bad part is that it makes the cold autumn walk back much longer as alcohol has a strange effect of making the longest walk a short stumble. We finally arrived in the Willy street area and she said it was just a few more blocks. This is about 3 miles from where we started which is about 2 miles too far for my pathetic leg. Willy street is an area where a lot of grad students live. Actually, they tend to live a little further away in the Atwood neighborhood but no one really cares about Atwood, they care about Willy street and so Atwood is just an extension, a suburb, of the main thoroughfare. That or they live out by Tenney Park, which is a gorgeous part of town from the outside but the apartments are generally shit managed by slumlords. This apartment that we were going to was another house, a much nicer one than ours in that it made sense when you walked around inside of it and was originally meant to be a house.
Grace knocked and Carl opened the door. I recognized him from my analysis class. There was a strange tension that suddenly erupted from our common knowledge of Grace and that he knew I was an undergrad gaining entrance to his partitioned world of academics and he in turn was a graduate student doing what I was doing as an undergrad. It was strange for a moment. But then we went inside. Grace was almost the same height as him, I didn’t know what she saw in him, I think I was being overprotective of her, no one is good enough for Grace. She rather quickly abandoned me to hover around him and I went to the bathroom. It was going to be a long night and I took my pills early just to make sure that I didn’t forget.
It was the first time out to a party in nearly a year, the last being New Years. I guess you could count Grace’s graduation as a party, but it was more of a mingling at that point than a rager. Carl’s place would be on fire that night, Grace just arrived early to corner him and swoon. Being early to a party is a strange feeling, one where I always felt like I was intruding instead of enjoying being there. There were a few people who were trying to pace their alcohol for the evening because after a certain time in one’s twenties alcohol goes from being a limitless beverage to something to moderate. While Grace cozied up to Carl, I disappeared upstairs to discover a classic freshman drink — wop, a frightening mixture of various concentrated fruit juices combined with random hard liquor too impossible to drink straight combined into a large punch bowl that is sure to get anyone drunk because the sweetness masked the rancid cheap alcohol. Carl was a nice enough guy and had ginger beer in the fridge for me. I started to reformulate my opinion of him. I poked around to find it when I was asked what I was doing.
April, his roommate, was standing so that her head floated above the open fridge door. She was pretty — blonde, blue eyes, a sensible nose, an assortment of earrings studding her ears and nose that were obviously from wilder college days but she felt that she had spent the money to get them pierced and sorta liked them so she kept them. Her lips were what actually drew my attention. I’ve always had a theory that you can tell how good of a kisser someone is both by how large their lips are and how far they’ve come from wilder years in the past. She seemed to have been wild once and still clinged to it in some sense, but her button down shirt said otherwise. I explained that Carl said that he bought the ginger beer for me and she knew what I was talking about, she drank half of it. I pulled a bottle out and closed the door to see her in a white button down shirt that was slightly too large for her shoulders but she needed the larger size so that she could button it up over her breasts, black pencil tie, and black mens dress pants — she was dressed as James Murphy. Definitely an ex-partier but great taste in music and a costume that surpassed my attempt. She got the hipster douche bag thing though, she thought it was funny, mainly because I did in fact have a trucker hat of a band that no one had ever heard of. I knew them because I ran sound for them ages ago and they gave me a hat and a shirt. I should have worn the shirt, but maybe that would have been too much. Still, she liked it. I smiled like an idiot when she said that.
We had an instant bond over our wilder years through our not drinking. I had my binge drinking days of moving from party to party that should have destroyed my liver and she had her clubbing days where she spent inordinate amounts of money to stay drunk while dancing — she could only really dance when drunk. We laughed at ourselves and bonded over the brute facts of early college life and independence. Back then she had short cropped hair and toured with punk bands during the summer leading her all over the midwest and west coast. She had seen the mountains, I had only flown over them. Now her hair had grown out though she pulled her hair tight against her head in an attempt to appear more mannish for her costume — I could see that it was curly, I had a weakness for curly hair. It was not hard to envy her life, how much fun and the number of experiences she had. She wasn’t a philosopher like Carl was and didn’t have much of a stomach for his usual goings on about the latest article that he read. She was more down to earth in the sense that she was a horticulturist.
From our extemporaneous AA meeting we drifted into music where I had some knowledge. For nearly three years I worked at a sound engineer at the venue that Grace had brought me to. Before that I have never given music much thought and I had no fucking clue what I was doing when I ran my first solo show. Live and learn in the most brutal way. But I still have the itch for it. Engineering destroys music by breaking it down to its foundations that the engineer later rebuilds into a mix. To do it for any extended period of time makes concerts unbearable since the entire time an engineer is fixated on his instincts to adjust the mix to his own liking. I’ve seen it happen to more than myself. April was interested as I broke down how to adjust frequencies to shape sound into vastly different ways — leading from the high mix of James Murphy to the subtle low EQed sound of NPR. Our ginger beer went fast. As nerdy as it was she found it interesting and we shared a vast intersection of music that I could point things out and she had a decent pair of headphones that enabled her to appreciate what music could be.
People began to arrive and the music went from top forty to something more reasonable. April was in charge of the playlist. I liked it. She asked if I smoked. I said yes. The tension on the back porch made me awkward and uncomfortable and praying to mephistopheles that I would sell my soul if this cigarette would make me seem normal. Mephisto responded in kind and I kissed her while we held our cigarettes carefully away from our bodies. She was a good kisser. The party swelled as we chain smoked outside in an escape from the crowds within while primarily talking about music. It was only after the cold began to numb our fingers and we realized that we were not wearing jackets that we returned. Before we did we reverted to being freshmen and made out like horny teenagers and laughed at the reversion but embraced it.
In the warm indoors people were dancing, not awkwardly, but enthusiastically without any trace of education behind their moves. April and I tried to join them but discovered the lack luster enjoyment of dancing without alcohol. So we decided to drink some of the wop to enjoy ourselves. I drank so that I wouldn’t feel like such a buffoon and she drank so she wouldn’t feel so awkward. And after it took hold led to more drinks, and then more, and then we got closer and we forgot about the music as I wrapped my arms around her and she pressed herself against me. I never date date, I discover and chat. It was going down hill fast as neither of us really had the ability to say no to another drink and fueled each other’s latent alcoholic tendencies. We drank and danced and forgot about talking and fell into the closing gap between our bodies. People were saying their goodbyes while we were barely standing but still moving with the occasional stumble and spilling of our drinks and laughter at our condition and warmth of each other and the electric touch from someone you found a connection to and the heat of breath. I was in no condition to walk home. I was in no condition to want to walk home. So I stayed and she invited me in.
Drunk sex is just about the strangest form of sex that one can have because it can go either way for a man. On the one hand the alcohol is a numbing agent that can prevent orgasm and lead to mindblowingly long stretches of sex. This has happened to me on a number of occasions and I am positively thrilled when it happens. On the other hand, it can cause erectile dysfunction. This has also happened. It is thoroughly embarrassing while the drunk girl stares up and the only thing that can really be said is that this is the first time this has happened even though it isn’t the first time it has happened either drunk or sober because sometimes the penis has its own brain about when it wants to sleep. Drunk sex can also stunt the creativity of sex down to the missionary position or maybe something equally easy in terms of acrobatics. Maybe. The brain and body are simply too tired to accomplish any feat of sexual majesty and opt for the simple way out hoping to collapse as soon as its over. Once it didn’t do this. Once, where I nearly blacked out, I got really creative and adventurous. That hasn’t happened since and I didn’t expect it to either. It did this time despite a flaccid failure half way through.
November arrived, I wasn’t hungover, and considering the last time I drank, I felt fine about things. April was asleep next to me and I curled tighter around her. I missed sharing the bed with someone. It felt good to be there in her arms, it felt good to be anywhere in anyone’s arms. But with hers it felt different, better than the others along the line. It felt like Claire’s, my past girlfriend, it felt like her arms. But it was new as well. It felt better.