Now I had to make reparations to my partner in crime, Althea. Had to. It was a must. I think she was my future.
So I called her and asked her for a date. Wanna go to the movies with me? Oh, isn’t dating nice? How much more normal could a person be?
She, of course, was not very interested.
“Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “The other day, I just felt like, I mean, I just wanted to tell you, I mean you were so….”
“But you told me to go fuck myself,” I said. “And you should have.”
After all, didn’t that balance the equation? A equals B? Manic episode inflicted equals one go fuck yourself? No, maybe she should have called me something. ‘Go fuck yourself, you slime ball son of a bitch.’ Maybe it was still out of sync between us. Anyway, it was close enough.
“But that was then, and this is now,” I said. “My blood level is right where it’s supposed to be. You can trust me now. I may be depressed, but it’s masked. It’s way down there, underneath the surface. You can have a good time with me. I promise. Please, give me a chance. We can talk about it.”
I had to win her over again. This, I knew, was possible. But it wasn’t going to happen naturally. After all, being the alienated character I am, I had done a little alienating here. What was required was clear intent – just like my therapist said.
“Oh, God! I just want us both to be normal. Why do we have to have this thing?” she said.
Poor Althea. Grappling with her new awarenesses.
Busting her pretty nose against the old reality wall. Hey, lighten up, baby. Everybody knows normality it relative. What happened to that hell of a smile? There comes a time when you’ve got to weigh it all out. The psychiatrists have their ideas about normality; it works for them, it helps us. The family has its ideas about being normal. We have ours. The poets have theirs. Use what you need and then give yourself a break.
“When I see you,” she said. “It reminds me of, of, myself – and I hate it! It’s not the disease. The disorder. Damn! That’s under control. It’s all the weird shit that comes from having it. You know, we’re both warped. We could have the most normal moods in the world, and we’d still be warped because of what we’ve been through.”
“That’s why we should be together,” I said. “We can support each other. Rage, rage, against the, well, rage against the rest of ’em.”
“That’s why we should not be together,” she said. “If I’m with normal people, it rubs off. When I’m with people like you, I blend in with that shit. It’s not good for me.”
“Hey!” I said. “I’m a human damn fucking being. I understand you. I can support you. That’s worth something. It’s worth a lot.”
So we went to the movies.
Lights, action, roll-em! Images flashing. Surround sound smashing. What a spectacle it is, and for only a few bucks a pop.
We sat there, quiet, and watched. We were as normal as a man and a woman could be. We didn’t say a word to each other during the show. No observer could have made any judgments or determinations about us. No diagnoses possible. Two people, sitting, watching, listening. You take a room full of people watching a movie in the dark, and — generally — you can’t distinguish the normals from the crazies. If psychology experts had wanted to know something about us, they would have needed to hook up wires to our brains, stick flashlights in our eyes.
Then, when we walked out of the theater, we continued the conversation, which was just as nutty as the one before the movie.
Solution: spend lots of time in the movies. Double features. Marathon viewings. Film festivals.
“Let’s become film junkies,” I said. “We could be great together.”
“Yes, they are fun, aren’t they?”
After the movie, of course, we went to the soda pop shop and had a cup of cheer – a couple of soda pops, on me. How normal. How life-like.
“I’d like to meet your children,” I said.
“Pshhh,” she said.
That idea put things in perspective again. It changed the way she felt about her own soda pop. She took another sip through the straw and didn’t like it anymore, pushed the glass away. She got a cup of coffee, and I ordered a beer. Oh dear, dear. My beer, my beer.
“I’m going to spend some time with my little girl,” I said. “That’s my new goal for myself now. It’s a good one, too, isn’t it?”
“Very good,” she said. “That’ll make you sane again.”
“I think so.”
“Most parents say their kids drive them crazy, but they don’t realize what they’ve got. It’s exactly the opposite. Not being around them is what makes you crazy. The kids are the ones who make life livable. In fact, that’s what life is about. Some mothers have everything and have no appreciation at all for what they’ve got.”
What ‘most parents have got was custody – more of it than Althea and I. Sanity, hell, that could have been a toss-up, given a comparison with most of them. What Althea had that most mothers didn’t have was a diagnosis and a prescription; what they had was custody. Judges are not big fans of manic-depressive parenting (when it’s diagnosed, when it’s diagnosed). This was the way it should have been, for me. Althea, well, she was a mother, her heart was already a little broken by just brushing up against the subject, so I certainly wasn’t going to say anything even close to the word “custody.” If I had said something like, ‘Hey, how about a bowl of custard? I hear they have good custard here. It’s a custom. All the customers have it,’ – that might have been enough to whack her out of the ballpark. A little passive aggressive thinking here, but no action. This, in itself, was a sign that I was doing well, re-entering the safe speed traffic.
“Is your ex a good father?” I asked. Me, the questioner, the caring listener.
“Sure he is.”
Well, we could go on here, but let’s not. It was a good date, a real date, and a wholesome date. No necking took place, no steamy back seats. No invitations. Not even a peck on the cheek at the door.
“Call you again?”
Normal, friendly – that’s all it was. You, for one, should appreciate that. I set out to make amends with this woman friend of mine, clean-up a little old business. Get something new going. By George, being the smooth operator I am, I did it.
I believe in reparations. I do.
Or maybe I don’t.
Well, maybe I do, but only to a point. Not with pounds of flesh. After all, a guy like me, you start talking about pure equality, full reparations, and I’d be sunk. All the abuse I’ve dished out over the years? I might as well give up, crawl into a hole somewhere, or change my name and move to another state (many of us do that).
People like me: we have to operate on a sliding scale in more ways than one. The damage is too great; the costs too high. Slide, baby, slide. That’s why we have to hang out with good folks, ones who let things slide. These folks are around, after all – you’re one of them. You have to find them, seek them out. But the common ignoramus in our society, the moralistic baffoon, the prevailing order – forget it. Finding the sliders – this is the key to life, the whole challenge. This is what converts that lonely existential angst into meaningful stuff.
Meaningful stuff? Love, buddyroe. Peace. Co-existentialism. Being together. Acceptance. Just like all the songs say. It ain’t so complicated in theory; it’s a bitch in practice.