It’s nice to be manic, if you’ve got some money. You can do some wonderful, interesting things.
I didn’t have any.
Maybe Althea did. Maybe my sister? My mom? One of my brothers?
Maybe The Wimp had some? No, not her. I still had enough sense, between the whirly burly thoughts, to know better than that. That would fuck things up more than I wanted – or, rather, differently than I wanted. Save that resource for future years.
I’m thinking, what about Artie the cook? He gets a regular check.
But being manic doesn’t make me a blood thirsty maniac; I’m not crazy. I wouldn’t hurt a soul to get my hands on money. When I go to jail, it’s because I drive bad, don’t show up at the courthouse when I’m suppose to, write a big bad check, because I’m basically drunk or out of it and don’t know what the fuck is going on. I’m not a criminal. Wrong breeding for that job.
So I went to Althea.
She was out of the hospital. They taught her to take five pills a day rather than four, and she was out in a week.
We met in the park. She looked smashing. My movie star woman in the designer ski jacket. The brightness of life amidst the dreary gray. That blond hair around her face in the breeze. Smiling like hell. That rustic winter setting. Breathing cold puffs next to the lake. All those bare trees, that slanted light giving her color, accentuating her depth, her unique substance, her…well, there’s no other way to say it…her beauty. Althea was a nice looking woman. Sweet too. It was great to see her again, like getting together with an old friend. I gave her a big, mental-patient hug. We had been through so much together, etc, etc., blah, blah, blah, blah, dot dot dot….
“You got any money?” I asked.
“Let’s go to Atlanta. Maybe New Orleans after that, then Mexico. You ever taken a trip going straight south? It’s wild. The accents you hear.”
“Really? Hey.” She smiled. I saw a spark. My excitement was contagious. She visualized it, got amused, got tantalized by the idea of the French Quarter, the big sombreros, all that salsa.
“Everybody thinks there’s a southern accent that covers the whole region. It’s different from state to state. Birmingham and Atlanta are different. Way different from here. Hell, even South Carolina is completely different from here. If you ask me, South Carolinians have more of a southern accent than people in Georgia. I’m talking about the third world parts, not the new shit. Florida is all its own. New Orleans is another world.” I reached out for her hands, lowered my voice to a rapid whisper. “Then in Mexico, all of a sudden there’s no accent at all, just Spanish. All that food, cheap. You speak any Spanish?”
“I took it in high school. Hey, are you okay?”
“Of course I’m okay. That’s not the point. I asked you if you spoke Spanish, now. I’m doing great. Can you remember it?”
“Hell, we can learn it. It’s phonetic.”
I gave her arms a tug, pulled her in the direction of the swings.
“In-vig-o-raaaa-tion,” I sang. I pulled her arms a little more. She tightened them.
“Wimp,” I said. “Pussy.”
She let go of my hands.
“What did you say?”
“Sorry. Really, I am. Pardoawn mwa. Really, I took French. Spanish is easier. And it’s cheap down there. Once you get the hang of it, that is if you’re immersed in it. I took Italian and I wasn’t bad. How much money have you got?”
Althea grabbed me by the shoulders, let me look into her eyes. Damn, she was a dish.
“You need to have your blood levels checked. When’s the last time you took your medication?”
“Medication? Travel is medication. I asked you about money, not drugs. Both evils, mind you. Of which, money is the better of the two.”
She stared, looked like she was studying my face, nodded. It was some of that nodding a good therapist gives you. She was fresh out of that scene, keen to that hullabaloo – that understanding, listening shit. Sympathy. Concern. Fuck it.
“You’re lovely,” I said. “We can have a great time together. All we need is a little cash, not that much, really. A couple of thousand would do nicely.”
“Hey,” she said. “Medication. I’m asking about your medication.”
“Fuck the medication.”
“Call your doctor. Hey, I’ll call for you.”
A little song to her voice here, a little shoulder twitch. She liked the idea of calling my doctor. That made her happy. She was into it. Wellness. Networking. Staying calm. Staying in the same place all the fucking time.
“Fuck him. You’re right, I’ll take it as soon as I’m back home. I might have missed a dose or two. Listen, I’m extending an invitation here! Just because it’s cold here doesn’t mean you have to freeze your ass off. Let’s get on a big, warm beach. Have some drinks, some sun, some pinkish glow, some night life. If you don’t want to go, just say so.”
“I don’t want to go.”
“Well, I do. Could you lend me a little? Maybe four or five hundred?”
“I don’t have it.”
“Maybe you could sell something.”
I thought about that country club house of hers. All that expensive shit inside it. All those spending outbursts of hers. Hell, this woman knew how to get money. She hadn’t gone through the family’s whole wad yet. She knew every trick in the book.
“Shit, you’ve got some money. You’ve probably got a damn savings account. You’re a trusty fundie anyway, aren’t you? That’s probably half your problem.” I raised my voice, blasted the next part into her ears so she heard it good. “Never had to stand on your own two feet!”
“Man, you’re out of it. You don’t go to the doctor this time and you’ll end up committed.”
“I’ve never been committed in my life!” I shouted. “I’ve never tried to kill myself, wouldn’t even consider it.” I held out my hands, pulled up my sleeves. “These are virgin wrists. No blade has ever made their acquaintances. That’s the difference between you and me. You’ve got a worse case of it than I do. A lot worse.” I pointed at her. “Underneath that calm exterior, there’s a bubbling cauldron of turmoil. You’re passive aggressive right now. Full of hate. There’s no telling the kind of shit you’ve said about me behind my back. You think that group therapy will do me any good? All those manic-depressives in one place? Everybody talking at the same time? You can’t get a fucking word in edgewise. What do I need that shit for? Playing basketball with a bunch of suicidals? I’ll bet your parents hate you still living there. Your kids probably laugh about you behind your back. A boy and a girl, right? You probably couldn’t see them at all without mommy and daddy’s legal assisstance, and all that per-sua-sion.”
“You’re sick. I don’t want to talk to you anymore.”
“Right. After the way I helped you?
“I’d like to help you too.”
“You just want me to go there too. Even up the score. Let me tell you something about that hospital.” I pointed at myself. “It ain’t for me, baby. Come with me to Mexico, where it’s warm. This climate up here sucks bad. That’s what I need. Warm weather. You want to help me? Help me get to warm weather. Weather affects the mood too. Weather is a drug. Better than lithium, or carbomazapine, or both of them put together. Lithomazapine. Hey, that’s a new one. They ought to mix the shit into one pill and sell it that way. Save some of us some bucks. Naw, they wouldn’t do that now, would they?”
She turned around and took a step. I caught up and jumped in front of her face again, took her head in my hands. It felt soft, gave me some company. Big eyes, one of them trembling. Her face was changing now. I wanted her with me, so I could keep watching it change. I ran my freezing hands through her hair.
“No! Althea, come with me. A vacation would be good for you. What are you doing today, anyway? Tomorrow? All next week? Got any plans? Ever since we got out, what have we been doing? Trying to put our lives together? That’s a fucking joke. Why not live a little? We need a break from this putting together shit. A change of scenery would be perfect. Hey! We could go to New York. Knock around there for awhile, if you don’t like Mexico. I’d prefer the warm weather myself, but if you’ve got a thing about foreign soil, I understand that. New York could be great in the winter. Maybe Canada? I’ve never been there. Great medical care. Vermont? All that snow. Brrrrr.”
She put her hands on my belly, gave it a patronizing little shake, talked to me like I was a child.
“You need help,” she said. “Not a trip.”
I knocked her arms away.
“Then go fuck yourself!”
She shook her head, turned and walked toward the lake.
“I asked you first because you’re my first choice,” I said. “But not my only choice. Lots of people would love to go with me. Lots of people. You had your chance. I’ll just find somebody else.”
I stood while she walked away. Watched her leave me. She gave me the rear view. She was pissed, walking hard, each step her heels stabbing the ground. She stuck her hand in the air, flipped me a backside bird – just a quick flip, nothing major – then she shoved her hands in her coat pockets.
I ran to the swings, jumped in one and got it going as high as I could, freezing my nose off, watching Althea. She went around the lake, up the hill, and onto the road, getting small in the distance. I called to her, my voice loud, travelling across the lake. She couldn’t help it. She swung her head around, saw me flying through air with the greatest of ease. With all these bare crape myrtle trees around me, it probably looked like I was swinging from the trees. She kept going, just a tiny person walking now, hoofing it down the road.
Well, a truly alienated guy like me has to do some real live alienating once in a while. I had done my share, knew the ins and outs of the process; it’s all about repulsion, disgust, nausea. What is it they do to POW’s? They capture them and torture them. Everybody gets alienated. They make ’em real happy once in while, give ’em a bit to eat. Then, hopefully, they give ’em a hell of a blast when they let ’em go. Yeah, it’s a little like that, in theory. So, that was my alienating deed for the day.