Every man’s story needs a good woman. Althea should suffice. She’s bipolar too, but she’s not bad looking. She’s blond, of course, and she smiles like hell, except for when she’s depressed.
So how does that strike you, anyway? Two manic depressives, a man and a woman, having sex? Former patients getting it on? Mentally ill lovemaking? Hey, it works for me. And you? Does it alienate you? Leave you out of he loop? It shouldn’t. If it does, then you know how we feel.
With medication, everything should be fine. Without it, wow! The mood matching could get complex.
Althea and I met in a group, if you could call it that. We were across the room from each other. Like I said, she smiles like hell. It was a bright, oh so bright, happy smile. She wore jeans, nicely, sliding lower and lower in that old wooden chair.
I couldn’t get a word in edgewise in that group. Imagine, a dozen manic-depressives in the same room. A couple of them could not stop talking. To hell with the rest of us. It was boring, so I looked at Althea most of the time. She was by far the most pleasant diversion in the room. And she looked at me, smiling, looking at her. It so happened we both lived in the same town.
Once released from the hospital – free as two soaring boomerangs – we went on an early evening walk together. We walked around the block, and then another block, and then another block. We walked a long ways. We walked in the name of Exercise. The hospital had told us the importance of regular Exercise. It was a bit cold. We wore scarves and gloves. Althea’s matched. They were brown.
I wore a scarf too. Mine was a cotton and wool plaid with a tangy taste. I like scarves, collars, towels, tallit, kramas – anything I can chew. Do you like to chew clothing? I’ve always loved to do that, especially clean cotton, with just a hint of that laundry detergent flavor.
Althea and I talked about stuff – the dinky town we lived in, basketball, politics, doctors, drugs, parents, trees.
The night came upon us, and our feet got cold. We ended up going into a bar for a drink.
It was the bar of my choice. And, imagine this! It was the bar owned by my ex-wife, Gracie. I say bar, I mean restaurant. It was a nice little Italian place. Gracie was doing well, bless her little hard working heart.
She was in the front that night, seating customers, walking around on her bad feet.
She sat Althea and me at a good, quiet table. She was nice.
She asked me a weighty question. “How are you,” Gracie said.
“I haven’t seen you in a while.”
This was the woman responsible for my new life – a newfound medical treatment that works. She brought me out of the dark bondage, seventeen years of psychotherapy, the slavery of the inexact art of psychology; and she delivered me into the bright sunlight of medicine: scientific, psychopharmacological, psychiatric care. Since the hospital, I should have dropped by more often – maybe a couple of times a day with a thank you note.
“Come by and talk sometime,” she said.
Listen to this. Things get better. Things get worse. Things get better again. Here, things are getting better. She’s not angry anymore.
“I will. How are your feet?”
“Foot doctor,” I said.
“This is Althea,” I said.
They smiled at each other. Althea’s was a quickie.
I told Althea, “Gracie is an old friend. She’s an ancient friend. Almost like family.”
Gracie thought that was a good one. She put her hand on my chest and laughed. Althea said, “Oh.”
When Gracie brought me my fourth beer, she said, “That’s all for you.”
I said, “Fine and dandy, Randy.” Without this medication, it would have been a better rhyme than that. But I was doing okay with the beer. Then I said, “Say, how’s The Wimp?”
That remark cooled Gracie a bit. She pushed the beer toward me – a drop spilled – and she said, “Great.”
She turned away quickly then. She didn’t want to talk to me anymore. That’s all for now, folks, until I’m stone sober again.
But I said more, even though her back was to me. She could still hear.
“Aw, Gracie,” I said. “I’m sorry. I know you don’t like me to call her that. I’m okay now, really.”
She turned and honored me with another second of eye contact. “It’s all right,” she said. “I’m fine. Call me during the day, tomorrow maybe.”
I bobbed my head, nodding, thinking it over. Gracie got busy with her customers.
“Who’s The Wimp?” Althea asked.
“My daughter,” I said. I pointed at Gracie. She was on the other side of the restaurant now. “Our daughter.”
I remember the day she was born, and, just as interesting, that flurry of activity thirteen years ago that brought about her conception.
I know what you’re thinking. Oh shit, here comes another dot dot dot. Well, fuck it. You don’t want my dots? You can bail your impatient ass out right now. My dot dot dots are important.
I was manic, of course, and unemployed, as usual. My rhetoric was a sound to behold. So persuasive. So resonant. I said, let’s get it on and have a baby, baby. Gracie, more level headed than most, considered the economics of the situation. “Not yet,” she said.
“Hey, we’ve been married two years! It’s time! This will be the thing that will make me get a job.”
She agreed to heave ho the birth control. Hey, people don’t talk people into things. That’s kid stuff. Gracie wanted a baby. People just assist others in making decisions.
We had a mattress on the floor of our two room apartment. So, you might say that I cornered Gracie.
We maniacs are unstoppable in situations like this. We can do it over and over again. Gracie got sore. I got sore. But for me, it was that good kind of sore – like training, getting the old muscles into shape. Fucking with a purpose in mind. After all, what else did I have to do? I was unemployed. We didn’t have a TV. I read a lot, and I enjoyed nature at its best, with Gracie. I cornered her in the morning, before she went to work. I cornered her at night, when she came home. And I jacked off in between. In the middle of the night, I woke her up.
Nine months later, voila, The Wimp.
The Wimp, of course, is not a wimp. She’s a wonderful twelve year old, having a blast at middle school. She’s got friends. She’s smart. She’ll probably inherit, and thereby develop, some of my funky mental shit – but that won’t be any big deal. Gracie will find a doctor, get some pills, and life will proceed with high hopes intact.
I’m the wimp. What is that, when you call someone else what you are yourself? Transference? Projecting? Cruelty? There’s a psychological term for that great American pastime. Give me a few minutes and I’ll look it up.
I was a good father – not that I ever worked and brought home any bacon – but a good father, oh, eighty percent of the time. All those years of therapy. Hey, I knew a little bit about myself, and a little more about interpersonal human relations than the average guy. But the other twenty percent of the time I was a horrible shit…too many dots to go into now.
So, back to Althea.
I had asked her about the whacko marriages of her whacko past.
“Twice, but the first one was annulled after two weeks.”
“Any wimps?” I asked.
Most women would have clobbered me, but I knew Althea wouldn’t. She smiled.
I looked at pictures of a five year old girl and a seven year old boy, both living with the dad.
“This guy,” I said. “The father? The ex? You want to get back together with him, don’t you?”
“That’s what I’d like,” Althea said. “I still love him. But it won’t happen. He’s remarried.”
I thought, did he remarry another manic depressive, or somebody normal? Thanks to my new, good goddamn sense, a direct result of the medication, I sensed that this would be far too obnoxious. I didn’t say anything.
Althea said, “He’s a good person. But he doesn’t understand what I’ve gone through. He’s moralistic about it. But if I’m nice to him, he’s nice back. I mean, he’s trying. He’s all right.”
She didn’t smile when she said this. As a matter of fact, she got dead serious and leaned over the table. She put her face right in front of mine and nearly split my head open with the laser beams coming out of her steady blue eyes. Then she smiled when she finished.
“Did he bring the kids to the hospital?” I said.
“You have them on weekends?” I said.
“Every other. More if I want, really. I don’t have a place for them. No home.”
Thus, this was our problem as well.
When we left Gracie’s restaurant, Althea and I wanted to get it on. Two adults, freshly maturated, thanks to the miracle of therapudic blood levels. Teenagehood revisited.
But there was no place to go.
We walked a few blocks, looked at a few street people (our mental colleagues), and Althea reached over and took my hand. She took it with a firm grasp, so I twirled around and gave her a hug.
Then we kissed. This was not a teenage kiss. It wasn’t exploratory, nor was it animalistic. Okay, it was romantic, yeah, yeah, yeah. But this was foreplay for medicated adults. We knew what we wanted – at least I did. It was a long, deep kiss, with a little clutching, and some damn good rubbing, seeing if we could get the juices flowing. We did.
After that, I shivered in the cold like water drops in a hot, oily skillet. Althea felt like melting butter – warm and satisfied.
“Are your folks home?” I asked.
“Sure,” she said.
“You got any privacy there?”
She lived in a nice, big house.
“Not this kind of privacy.”
“It’s your house too,” I said. We were standing on the sidewalk, beside a downtown building. She stared at the yellow bricks in the wall. “Listen to me!” I said.
She smiled like hell again.
“They’re my parents!” she said.
“Sure they are.”
“Your place,” she said, leaning against my side, checking my pants with her hand. Melting butter, she was, I’m telling you.
“Impossible,” I said.
And it was. I lived in a three room apartment – part of an old, big, divided house. It was private, all mine. I could do whatever I pleased, in it and with it. This is the problem. I’m a slob. My apartment was Slobville.
Do I need to describe it in order to convince you that this was an impossible place to bring another human being? Do you insist that I suffer, even more than I already have?
Okay, okay. Briefly. I have a cat. I have clothes. I have food. I have glasses, plates, beer cans – all kinds of dishes. I have dirty socks. I have a bathroom. I have wastebaskets (I call them garbage cans). Imagine them all in horrible condition. Think fingerpainting. Think stew. Think mixing batter. Stir fry. Mixing, messing, mixing. Think compost, mold, mildew. It was impossible.
There were motels, here, in this small town. Decent ones. We both knew half the people here, but that wasn’t the problem. Really, even for two people suddenly concerned about sanity, that was not the problem. The problem was, neither of us had any money. Here we were, in our thirties – me on the upper side, Althea on the lower – and we both continued to get our money from our parents. And thank God we did! That’s what separated us from our colleagues on the street. But parents are willing to give out only so much to children in their thirties.
Neither one of us even had a car!
We walked to Althea’s house. Standing on the sidewalk, I looked around. It was a nice, quiet neighborhood. No cars. No pedestrians. I slid my hands all over Althea’s thighs.
“Let’s do it here,” I suggested.
She smiled like hell and slid away, rolled right out of my reach, down the driveway.
“Thanks for the drink,” she said. “Want to go for a walk tomorrow?”
“Earlier,” I said. “When it’s not so cold.”
I shivered once more. One big, last time, and then I stopped.
“Maybe,” she said. “Call me. I have to check with Mom.”
That made me think of my mom. I needed some money.
“Me too,” I said.