That Which Must Not Be Named

A few days before my aunt killed herself, she showed up out our house. I was chasing my sister around the yard when my aunt pulled up in her shitty yellow car. She was wearing a trench coat and big dark sunglasses. She left my little cousin in the backseat.

My mom, smoking a cigarette on the porch, asked what she wanted. The two of them started arguing. My mom kept saying, “No, I won’t. I won’t…”

My aunt was trying to leave her kid. She said it was only for a few days, but my mom knew this wasn’t a breather. This was something permanent.

“You can’t do this to me,” my mom said. “Now, take your daughter home.”

“This is bullshit!” My aunt screamed as she got in the car and drove off.

A few days later we got the call. I remember my mom dropping the phone on our kitchen floor.

My parents wouldn’t tell me what had happened, but I knew it was bad. Kids alway do.

The next day I found my mom in the living room. There were piles of laundry everywhere. She’d washed everything in the house – every towel, comforter, the Spiderman sheets I hadn’t seen in years. She’d brought in boxes of old winter stuff from the garage. There were stacks of shirts and slacks on the couch and on top of the TV. There were two baskets overflowing with mismatched socks.

My mom just kept folding. I knelt next to her, put my head on her lap. She didn’t say anything.

She didn’t say anything for days.

When it was time for the funeral my parents said I couldn’t go. I had school.

My father said my aunt was cleaning a gun and it accidentally went off.  Even in third grade I knew how filthy the mouth was and that it was a terrible way to clean anything, let alone a gun.

To this day, “suicide” has hardly been uttered.

It’s like Voldemort.

I suppose it’s that way for most families. We talk about cancer, torture, abuse, being gay, atheism, alcoholism, amputation, depression, plane wrecks, car wrecks, jihad, Agent Orange, slavery, heart disease, schizophrenia, adultery, sodomy, STDs, dogfights, poverty, starvation…

But the mention of suicide turns everyone into a librarian.

Maybe it’s too awful, too disturbing. Since we were little we’ve been told this existence gift is paramount.

How could someone destroy it?

It unravels the fabric of, well, everything.

Religions condemn it. Governments make it illegal (yes, it’s against the law to kill yourself.)

But it doesn’t prevent it from happening, even when they belittle it, say it’s the “cowards way out.”

But try touching a stove or stepping into traffic. Our instinct is to survive.

To take your life is to override the very thing that keeps our species going.

Imagine what that person must be going through to take this step.

Suicidal Ideation

Last night my best friend as a kid killed himself. According to the newspaper, the cops tried to talk him down off the bridge, but he jumped.

I haven’t seen him since college. We lost touch a long time ago. I heard he was living off the grid the past two years. He’d been in and out of facilities to deal with his schizophrenia. He didn’t like taking his meds. Now, he’s gone, and there’s just this tidal wave of grief. Our parents are still good friends. No one knows what to say.

I don’t even feel like writing today, but I wanted to put something down, so I’m linking to the three posts where I learned I had bipolar II and my own dealings with suicide.

If you or anyone you know needs help, please don’t hesitate to call 1-800-273-8255

Here is my story in three parts:

Crisis – Part 1

Crisis – Part 2

Crisis – Part 3


The Loss of a Comic

Scott Kennedy passed away tonight. He was a wonderful comic, always smiling, always willing to throw his arms around you with a big ol’ hug. You might have seen him on one of the late shows or on Comedy Central. He’d been performing for over 20 years. A lot of civilians probably haven’t heard of him, but there are thousands of men and women in uniform who’ve laughed at his jokes. He entertained the troops in Afghanastan and Iraq over 50 times, and he would ask the soldiers to forget the outside world during the show, to just relax, laugh, and enjoy a bit of fun in the middle of hell.

I wasn’t the closest with Scott, but I’ve known him for almost 14 years and worked with him in Las Vegas. He was a good man with a big heart, and he was a shining light in the LGBT community. His passing weighs heavy on my heart tonight. I’ve noticed a lot of people on his Facebook page sharing their stories of Scott. Some people are asking how it happened. I don’t know, but it wouldn’t make a difference if I did.

I understand the desire to find out, the need to make sense of something so unexpected. When someone passes like this everyone scrambles for answers. We need to believe there’s order, there’s some guiding hand, that we’re not all perched on the brink of death. But we are, and we’re full of shit if we try to convince ourselves otherwise. We’re wiping smudges off the Hindenburg

If Scott was here, he’d probably agree, but he’d remind me it doesn’t matter, that of course we’re all going to pass eventually. It’s why it’s so important to let go of the pain and just laugh at the absurdity.

R.I.P. Scott.

My Bully was a Bigger Man Than I

In high school I got my ass kicked by a guy named Joey.  Yesterday I found out he passed away.  It made feel sad and old.  It’s been 18 years since he kicked the shit out of me.  It started because of a misunderstanding.  We were at a party.  I was sixteen and drunk, trying to make the girls laugh.  I slammed a shot of whiskey and felt the puke rising.  I stumbled up the stairs, found a toilet, then passed out on some girl’s bed.

The door flew open and suddenly Joey’s yelling at me.  Apparently, someone had told him I’d grabbed his girlfriend’s boob.  I told him I’ve been throwing up and that he didn’t want to keep shaking me.

Two girls ran in and forced him to leave.

Joey was Italian and tough.  I was a scrawny Polack challenging his manhood.

He stood out on the lawn with a bunch of guys demanding I come out.  I didn’t want to go, but a “good” friend of mine said, “You either go out there now and face this or go through the next year looking over your shoulder.”

So like a dumbfuck I walked out and found thirty guys in tracksuits standing in a circle.  Joey stepped out from the pack.  I threw up my hands.  “Everyone, look, I want to apologize.  I want to say I’m sorry to Joey and to everyone.  I meant no offense.  I’m just drunk and if someone thinks I touched a boob, then I apologize.  Really.  But I would never touch Joey’s girlfriend’s boob.”  I knew I should stop saying boob, but it was like I had Tourette’s.  “I’m not a boob toucher.  I’m not.  I’m just sorry.”

I offered my hand, and surprisingly, Joey shook it.  I put my other hand on top to, you know apparently, “seal the deal.”  It was mistake #2, because Joey grabbed both of my hands, reared back, and cracked me in the eye.  He hit me with his ring.  It should have knocked me cold, but I was so drunk I didn’t really feel it.  The booze was delaying the pain just long enough for me to slur, “Isss that all you got?”

This was mistake #3.

Joey threw a hook to my temple, then a jab to my throat, and another to my jaw.  I fell hard.  The yard was on a slope so I just rolled and rolled and curled into a ball as he kicked me in the gut.  Why didn’t I just shut my stupid mouth?

Finally, some guys pulled him off and helped me back into the house.  A girl got me a bag of ice.  Two others consoled me.  I felt my eye swelling.

I could barely see as the two girls helped me to a bed.  My head was pounding, but I still tried to rub their vaginas through their jeans.  One girl patted my head and I stopped trying.

The next morning I saw my face and tried to come up with an excuse to tell my dad.

I told him, “I was dancing, and some girl tripped, knocked into me, and I hit the table.”

He didn’t even blink.  “Who beat the shit out of you?”

I admitted the truth and he took me to the emergency room.  I had a small fracture on my cheek and a nasty black eye, but the real pain was emotional; it was mental.  I hated this guy, hated how he’d humiliated me for something I didn’t even do.  I wanted to hurt him.  I wanted him dead.  And I carried this anger with me, even when I moved to California years later.  I felt it every time I saw a fight in a movie or someone picking on someone smaller.  I’d wake up in sweats remembering Joey kicking me in the chest.  I’d clench my fists, grit my teeth, and savor the fantasies of revenge.

If I ever saw him again, I told myself, I’d make him regret everything.

Six years later I got my chance.  I was back in Kansas City for a visit, and I saw Joey at a bar.  He was with a group of guys wearing newer tracksuits.  He called me over.  I’d envisioned this moment a thousand times.  I told myself I’d punch him before he could say a word, but now that it was reality, I was scared shitless.  I walked over in these tiny steps remembering how I’d said, “Is that all you got?” after he jacked me in the eye.  He’d probably been holding onto that, letting it burn and fester.  I saw the beer bottles on the table, pictured Joey smashing one into my throat, the blood spraying the table, the windows.

He put out his hand.  I didn’t know what to do.  I shook it.  I remembered how he’d held my hands while he drove his ring into my skull.

Joey said, “I just wanted to apologize, Anthony.”


“For what happened in high school.  I’m sorry.  I don’t even know how it started.  I just remember feeling like I had to be a tough guy.  And it was wrong.  And I want you to know I felt bad.  I was just a dumb kid, you know?  It was stupid.”

“Ohthat?” I laughed.  “I’d forgotten about it.  It’s nothing.”

“Well, I’m still sorry.”

“Don’t be.  It’s water under the bridge.  I’m sure I deserved it.”

“Well, still, for what it’s worth…”

I walked off feeling like an asshole.  Here I was thinking I was the better person, but I was just the jerk who couldn’t let go of the pain, couldn’t forgive.

So this morning as I scrolled through Facebook and read the grief of his friends, saw the smiling pictures, I understood why they loved him.  He was a standup guy, strong enough to admit to his mistakes, and willing to apologize face-to-face to the people he’d hurt.

He was a bigger man than I.

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Crisis – Part 3

Other parts in series:

Crisis – Part 1

Crisis – Part 2

The following took place January 2008.

Part 3

At any given moment, without proper context, all of us can look deranged.  Your kid kicks the back of your seat while you’re trying to merge, some dirtball at Applebee’s grabs your ass on the way to the bathroom, the placekicker hooks it left, a mouse skitters out from under your bed, you get stung by a bee, a gallstone passes, or maybe the air conditioner just broke and it’s really fucking hot.

Take a snapshot of a person during these moments and you’ll record the eyes of madness.

Without context, one can only assume you’ve lost your mind.

It’s with this understanding lawyers and representatives have made it difficult to have someone committed.  The rules and guidelines are very strict, which I’m sure frustrates a person trying to save a loved one, but these laws keep many of us in our homes, allow us to walk the streets, and raise our children.

This is why after the crisis center I’ve decided to continue navigating the Los Angeles Mental Health Gauntlet.  With my wits and self-awareness, I feel I can avoid long-term confinement.  I’ve contacted Dr. Marcos to make me the appointment tomorrow in West L.A.  I’m fairly certain it won’t end with me in a straitjacket, but I am still worried.

In California, they can hold you for 72 hours if they feel there’s eminent danger.  Usually, this comes in the form of a confession.  A person admits he’s going to do something awful.  That’s why Dr. Marcos asked if I had a specific plan for killing myself.  If I’d said yes and they let me go, they’d be liable.  Thankfully, I lied and kept myself free for another night, which I am using to scour the Internet.

I need to know what I’m up against.  Obviously, I want to get better, but I don’t want to be locked up.

I also realize the crisis center was nothing compared to what I’ll face tomorrow.  The facility in West L.A. is state-run, meaning there’s going to be bureaucracy and a lot of pitfalls.  In Culver City all I had to do was not shit my pants or try to bite someone’s dick off and they were happy to shuffle me out the door.

Tomorrow, I’m going to have to be on guard.

Jess and I wake early and drive to West L.A.  We park down the street from the concrete citadel.  It’s like someone decided to build a prison next to a 7-11.  The elevator smells like vomit.  We get off on the wrong floor.  There’s an entire wall of children’s drawings, but I don’t see or hear a single kid.  For some reason my heart starts to swell.  I feel the tears coming and my face tingles.  I shake it off and push the elevator button.  The stench of puke helps stifle my emotions.

The waiting area is packed.  No city in America can compete with Los Angeles when it comes to crazy.

Jess helps check me in.  There are forms we have to fill out.  We take a seat next to a nice Hispanic family.  The kids are crawling on the ground, while the mother stares blankly at the wall.  Her husband strokes the back of her hand with his finger.  Their little boy struggles to his feet.  His legs shake like a newborn calf as he tries to keep his balance.  His father smiles and the boy looks at me, almost as if he’s expecting applause.

I give a little wave.  Jess takes the clipboard from me and starts filling out my info.   I see plops of smeared ink on the top form.  I didn’t even realize I was crying.  I wipe my face and focus on the social workers moving behind the partition.  I have to get a hold of myself.

It’s fine to be sad, that’s why I’m here, but I need to stay in control.  I can’t slip up.

An hour passes and I tell Jess she can leave if she wants, get a cup of coffee or some lunch.  She tells me she’s fine and stays focused on the TV in the corner of the room.  It’s CNN.  You’d think they’d be running cartoons or PBS.  The ticker on the screen says there’s been an earthquake in the Philippines.  It says hundreds have died.

I look at my shoes, at the wall, a bulletin board of support groups.

A young woman calls my name.  I get up and follow her down a hallway.  She looks like she’s in college, probably getting clinic hours for this.

We get to a table with no chairs.  She says she needs to go over a few things.

“So you’ve been having suicidal ideation?” she asks.

“Yes.”  I just learned that word last night.  It says I’m thinking about death, but not necessarily in specific terms, which was why I wrote it down.

She continues to ask me questions.  Two women pass by, and I move to the left.  I don’t understand why we’re not in an office.  I feel like I’m in everyone’s way.  A guy wheels through a mail cart.  I’m turning, angling.

“Are you okay?” the young lady asks.

My head feels like a water balloon filling with tears.  It’s going to burst.

The lady looks scared.  She goes over to a female coworker, who comes over.  The woman brings me to a seat, hands me some tissues.  I’ve sprung a leak, but I’m not gushing, not yet.  I smile and eek out, “Thanks.”

“Can you tell us what you’re thinking?” the woman asks.

“I just…really don’t want to be here.”

“In the office?  Or do you mean something bigger?”

I nod at the second one.  And I see their faces.  It’s the look of pity, and it makes me want to rip out my eyes.  These women see people at their most frightening, most disturbed on a daily basis, and I’m breaking their hearts.  I’ve never hated myself this much in my entire life.

Their supervisor comes over and I secretly dig my thumbnail into the side of my finger, focus on the pain.  I need to pull myself together.  I need to do it now.  The supervisor is calculating.  She’s assessing the situation, placing me into a category before I open my mouth.  I calmly wipe my cheek.

“I apologize,” I say.  “It’s just been a long last couple of days.”  I’m smiling.  My back’s straight.  This is the image they need to see, this is not the face of someone in eminent danger.

They call over a doctor, and we go into an office.  I answer questions.  The doctor is short, pudgy, and wearing a corduroy jacket.

I’m trying to look relaxed.  I feel like a lab animal.  I make eye contact, but not too much eye contact.

The supervisor asks, “It says you drink?  How many drinks would you say you have a week?”


She scribbles something.

“It’s not a lot.  I haven’t had a drink in weeks.”

“I see…” More scribbling.

Fuck!  It sounds like I have a problem.

“I don’t drink when I get depressed.  I don’t touch it.  It’s not a big deal.  I’ll go months and not even think about it.”

The three confer.  I try to breathe.  I know I sound like I’m trying to cover something.

The supervisor is not even trying to whisper.  “We should think about including some substance abuse counseling in his treatment.”

Fuck, fuck, fuck…

This is what happens.  These are the pitfalls.  You can’t bring up alcohol.  You can’t even mention it.  Once you do, they put you in N.A. or A.A.  Doesn’t matter that I don’t do drugs.  Doesn’t matter that I don’t even think about drinking when I’m depressed, which would be the exact opposite of someone with a problem.  But substance abuse takes the pressure off of them, because they don’t have to get to the root cause if I’m just an addict.

The pudgy doctor says, “I don’t know.  From what he’s saying, I don’t think this is a dependency issue.  I’d like to talk to him more, if that’s okay”

I want to thank the doctor, give him a high five, but I keep my mouth shut.  The supervisor clearly has control in this room.  I don’t dare enter the discussion.  It won’t be me that sways her.  Finally, she’s says:

“Alright, but keep it as an option.”

The two women leave the doctor and me alone.  His accent is Eastern European.  I think he likes that my last name is Szpak, even though he doesn’t say it.  His name is Dr. Jimenz.  He seems like someone I’d like to go fishing with, quiet, calm, willing to give me my space.  I also get the feeling he enjoys a cold beer, which is probably why he just saved me twelve steps.

Dr. Jimenz asks me some follow-up questions, but he can tell I’m drained.  He asks if I can come back in a few days.  I say sure.

He says, “I would like you to attend at least one group session between now and our meeting.  Just to give me some piece of mind.  Will you do that?”

I agree to it just so I can leave.  I came here hoping for answers, but I’m more confused than ever.  The next day I go to group and sit in the back and listen to sad people talk about sad memories.  They talk about medication and trying to hold a job.  One guy is getting evicted.  A girl just gained forty pounds.  She’s also really horny lately, she says.

I go home and help Jess make dinner.  We don’t say much, but I can tell she’s happy I’m seeking help.  She doesn’t ask too many questions.  She can tell I’ve answered enough.  We fall asleep on the couch watching TV.

A few days later I have my next session with Dr. Jimenz.  They’ve moved him to another office.  All of his stuff is in boxes.  He asks me how things are going.  I tell him alright.  I’m a little more open about the depression and suicidal ideation, but I keep the specifics to myself.

“How long have you been experiencing this current depression?”

“A month, maybe a little more.  It comes and goes.”

“Describe what it’s like when you’re not depressed.”

No one has ever asked me this before.  “Uh…happy, I guess.  Really.  Happy.”

“How so?”

“I don’t know.  I’m just good.  Emotionally.  Mentally.  I’m a writer – for a living – sort of…and there are these times when, I don’t know, I just can’t stop.”

“You mean you can’t stop writing?”

“Yeah, it’s strange.  I just get zeroed in.  It’s like a freight train.  I don’t even sleep.  I just sit and type and…  It’s like a puzzle, you know?”

He shakes his head no, that he has no idea what I’m talking about.  I can feel my pulse rising.  I start speaking faster.

“Like if you break a story into pieces.  You’re, uh, left with the words, right?  You’re left with characters.  Plot.  Themes.  Setting.  Beginnings.  Ending.  They’re pieces, right?  Pieces of a puzzle.  And when I’m in this place, this electric place, I can see all the pieces in my mind and I just know how to put them together.  I see how they fit.  When I’m writing, it’s… it’s the only time I fit, if that makes any sense?”  I give a little laugh, realizing I’m jabbering and sounding more insane than when I was sobbing the other day.

Dr. Jimenz stares at me.  It’s making me fidget.  Puzzle?!  Writing is like a fucking puzzle?  I do it like a freight train?!

Dr. Jimenz stands and walks towards the door.  I know he’s going to open it and call in the supervisor.  They’re going to sedate me and shove me in a padded room.

“Are you familiar with hypomania?” he asks.  He rummages through a box in the corner.


“Oh, where is it?”  He goes to another box.  Pulls out picture frames.  “Ah!”  He yanks out a copy of the DSM IV and flips through it.  “See, hypomania is mild form of mania, where a person experiences elation or ‘happiness.’  They also go through hyperactivity, like extreme productivity.”

He hands me the book and for the next few minutes he explains the basics of bipolar II, which isn’t as intense as bipolar I, which often comes with delusions.  Dr. Jimenz says there’s evidence a lot of writers, composers, and scientists suffer from it.  The hypomania allows for long bursts of production.  It can create a certain euphoria.  But when the pendulum swings back it often leads to severe depression.  The drop is so steep, it can destroy a person.

As Dr. Jimenz continues to explain the symptoms and treatments, I start to cry, but for the first time in years, it isn’t sadness.  I finally have an answer, some explanation as to what’s happening inside my mind.

“I take it this sounds familiar?” he says.

I nod and sob and curl into my knees.  Twenty years.  That’s how long I’ve been unraveling.  I just assumed I’d die without an explanation.  I thought I was doomed, but this sweet, pudgy doctor is telling me I’m not.

Dr. Jimenz sets the book on his desk.  “How long have you been writing, as you say, like a ‘freight train?’”

Why did I use that stupid phrase?

“I don’t know… A long time,” I say.


“I guess…” I picture the countless nights in L.A., pacing the floors, guzzling coffee.  But it started before that.  When Jess and I were living in Brazil to write our theses, I had plenty of all-nighters clacking away at my laptop.  Then there was grad school.  I’d go days without a wink until I could barely string together a sentence.  But as I think back further, I see more and more pacing, more and more writing.  In New York.  In Florida.  In Kansas City.

And then I finally hit it, the first frenzy.

I was twenty-two years old.  It was the week after Thanksgiving.

My mom had just come out of the closet.

I didn’t sleep for six days.  My friends almost took me to the hospital.  I couldn’t stop writing.  No one could keep up with what I was saying.  It was like someone had shoved an electrical wire into my brain.  Visions and ideas sparked and crackled in the dark unused matter of my mind.

As Kay Redfield Jamison would say, I was “touched with fire.”

My mother coming out didn’t make me bipolar.  My disease was stamped into my DNA long before my mother told us she was gay.  But her declaration shook the foundation of me and set off my first real hypomanic episode.

Now, seven years later, the invisible monster finally had a name.


This is the last post in the crisis story, but that doesn’t mean the crisis fully went away.  If you or anyone you know needs help, please don’t hesitate to call 1-800-273-8255

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Crisis – Part 2

Here’s Crisis – Part 1

The following took place January 2008.

Part 2

I’m amongst the crazies.  The nurse gently grabs my arm, guiding me, telling me, “It’s going to be okay.”  It’s what Jess said after she found me on the floor.  She scooped me up, got me in the car, and dropped me here.  Now she’s gone, and I’m surrounded by lunatics.  They’re everywhere, picking, scratching, wandering the halls, shuffling in these half-dead steps.  This isn’t a state-run facility.  This isn’t Cuckoo’s Nest.  This is Culver City, and the crisis center looks more like an office, only instead of desks and cubicles, there are Barcaloungers lining the walls.  Most of the patients stare at the soundless TV.

The nurse walks me past the front desk.  She asks, “You got any jewelry?”


“What about your backpack?  You got anything valuable?”

“No, just a book and some clothes.”

“Well, watch your stuff.  Some people like to get handsy.”

I still can’t believe Jess is gone.  I wonder if she’s heading back to our apartment, or if she’s just going to keep going.

The nurse points out a little break room with a vending machine, payphone, and Kleenex boxes stacked to the ceiling.

I hear a growl, and I turn.  A man with half his head shaved is coming at me.  His eyes are wild.  He wants to know why he can’t have more fucking water.  I back up against the wall.

The nurse steps in.  Her voice is soft and calm.  She’s looking him straight in the eye.

“Charles, you need to stop right there.”

“This is bullshit.”

“What’s the problem, Charles?”

“I want my goddamn water!”

A few patients inch closer.  They’re almost licking their lips.

“Charles, you can go to the drinking fountain,” the nurse says.  “No one’s stopping you.  You just have to walk over there if you like.”

“Yeah, well…I just…” he trails off, suddenly confused.

“It’s okay.  You’re alright.”  Gently, the nurse touches his arm – the same way she touched mine.  Is this what I am?  Am I Charles?

I see two huge patients sizing me up.  My heart’s pounding.  I realize the irony.  An hour ago, I was ready to step off a skyscraper.  Now, I’m afraid to die.

The security guard comes out of the restroom.  He’s on his cell asking someone what she wants to do for dinner.  Earlier, when he said to give him my belt, I handed it over because I was scared shitless.  I realize now he’s just a rent-a-cop.  He doesn’t even have a gun.  If these lunatics wanted to, they could rip out his throat and take back our pencils.  The only thing preventing a full-out riot is the nurses.  They’re so calm.  They listen to every concern and request.  They never raise their voices.  It’s all about de-escalation, diffusion.  If one patient goes off, they need to put out the fire quickly before the rest ignite.

I ask the nurse, “Is it always like this?”

“Nah, this is slow.  Weather’s nice.  Most of these folk just came in here for prescriptions.  Some of the others like to get out of the sun.”

I realize I’m basically at a homeless shelter.

When we get to an open door, the nurse stops and says, “I need to ask you something, okay?”

I’m ready for her to question how a guy like me ended up here.  I have a master’s degree, all my teeth, and I don’t smell like pee.

She says, “Are you going to hurt anyone?”

“Excuse me?”

“I need to know you’re not going to get violent.  I’m putting you in the side room with some very sweet people, and you won’t be in our direct eye-line, and I need to know I can trust you’re not going to do anything.”

“No, I wouldn’t…no.  I’d never…”

“What about yourself?  You gonna hurt yourself?”


“Hey, it’s okay.  No reason to cry.  I just gotta ask, that’s all.”

“I know, I’m sorry.”

“It’s all fine.  Come on.”

The side room is more like a conference room.  There’s a long table and a huge dry erase board.  Two heavyset women in their forties are at one end of the table gabbing.  A guy wearing a green cellophane visor is at the other end.

He’s flipping through a stack of legal pads.  Next to him is a man with a bulging torso and painfully skinny arms.

“Everyone, this is Anthony.”

The two women nod and smile.  The guy with the huge torso blows his nose.  Green visor keeps staring at his legal pads.

“Alright, you just sit tight,” the nurse says.  “Someone will be back to get you when the doctor’s available.”

“So I just wait here?” I ask.

“Yeah, unless you need to use the restroom.  It’s across the hall.”

One of the women asks, “Can I go out and have a smoke?”

“There’s a group going in about ten minutes, just wait here.”

The women go back to gabbing.  The nurse leaves.  I take a seat in the corner, clutch my backpack to my chest.  I can hardly breathe.  This is it.  I’ve been caught.  All I have to do now is come clean to the doctor, tell him everything.

It’s what I should’ve done years ago.

Two months before I met Jess I went to see a psychiatrist at Columbia.  I’d spent that morning standing on the bridge connecting the main campus to the Law School.  I was leaning against the railing over Amsterdam Blvd.  Cars and trucks passed underneath.  I tried to guess what type of automobile would crunch my skull.  Finally, I got the courage, started to climb over when a Chinese delivery guy zipped out on a bicycle.  I pulled back, realizing I could’ve killed us both, or worse, just him.  I walked straight to the mental health department and sat down with a serious German doctor.  I didn’t mention the bridge, only the paralyzing sadness I’d been feeling.  I told him about a recent breakup.  He asked a few more questions.  I told him I could barely get out of bed most mornings.  He said I had acute depression and prescribed me Zoloft, which made everything numb, mainly my dick.

If I’d told him the truth about the bridge, he might have had me committed.  I might never have met Jess.  She’d still be in New York pursuing her playwriting dreams, instead of following me to L.A.

“That guy’s an asshole,” one of the middle-aged women says.  They’re back from their smoke break.  Earlier they were talking about automotive parts.  One of them works at Pep Boys.  She apparently hates her boss.

Green cellophane visor man is pacing, mumbling something about twelve million dollars.  He goes over to the dry erase board and pulls out a marker.  They took my pencil, and this guy gets a marker?   He starts scribbling numbers, calculations.  It’s memorizing.  He says, “How can you keep twelve million dollars, if you already owe someone twelve million dollars?”

For a second, I start thinking I might be witnessing brilliance, a genuine savant in action, but I’m distracted by the man with the skinny arms and huge torso as he peels off his Polo shirt.  There’s a t-shirt underneath.  He takes that off, too.  There’s a yellow t-shirt under that.  Off it goes.  Then a blue one.  A green one.  It’s like a magician’s scarf trick, only with filthy shirts.

I close my eyes, start humming.  Suddenly, the room’s quiet.  I open my eyes and see everyone staring at me.  My humming must have been really loud.

I can’t help but laugh.  I’ve lost my fucking mind.  The foursome doesn’t care.  They go back to drawing, ripping off t-shirts, talking about windshield wipers.

I look up at the clock.  The second hand barely ticks by.  I look again and two hours have passed.  The automotive ladies have been released with new prescriptions.  T-shirt guy is gone, too.  It’s just me and green visor man.  He’s sitting at the end of the table like he’s Chairman of the Board.

I don’t want to be a part of this company, so I get up and head for the front desk.  There’s a different nurse.  She has long, red hair, like my mother’s.

“I’m sorry,” I say.  ”I think someone was supposed to come and get me…Is there a doctor I can see?  I’ve been waiting for awhile and—”

“Your name?”


She flips through a stack of papers, finds my file.  “It says you left.”


“So you didn’t leave?”


“And you haven’t seen a doctor?”

“No, the nurse told me to wait…”

“Well they should’ve gotten you.  You’ve been here the entire time?”

Yeah, I’ve been waiting two hours!”  I catch her eyes searching for the security guard.  “Look, it’s, uh-uh-uh, okay,” I stammer.  I just…I just want to be seen, that’s all.”

She looks me over.

I say, “Sorry.  Really.  I’m just tired, and I just want to talk to someone.”  I just want to come clean.

“Alright, just take a seat in there, okay?”  She points towards small room with half-dozen recliners.  A few homeless men are covered in blankets.  I see their dirty socks poking out from the quilts.  I try not to breathe and take a seat.  A huge black guy is sitting across from me.  One of his eyes is completely bloodshot.  A nurse pulls up a stool next to him.  She has a clipboard.  She’s asking him questions, but he just stares at me.  I look at my fingers, pretend to clean my nails.  I tell myself this will all be over soon enough.

The nurse says to him, “What are you hearing in your head, Randolph?”

“I just want…”


“I just want to kill someone.”

I can’t tell if he’s looking at me or through me.  Jess is going to feel guilty when she has to identify my head and body separately.

Another nurse walks in.  “Anthony?”

I nod, wipe the tears.

“Dr. Marcos is ready to see you.”

I follow her through the main area and towards a little office.  Dr. Marcos is filling out forms.  His desk is piled with cases.  It looks like he hasn’t slept in years.  The nurse points me to the seat and closes the door behind her.  Dr. Marcos keeps writing.  He says, “Just be a minute.”

I close my eyes, try to formulate how to start my confession when he says, “Says here you were on Zoloft?”

“Yeah, I was, but…” I trail off.  I don’t remember writing that down.  “That was a couple of years ago.”

“Uh-huh.”  More scribbling.

“I didn’t like it.  I couldn’t function.  I just felt like I was in a fog.”

“I see.  Well, sometimes it’s a little bit of trial and error.  Have you ever tried Wellbutrin?”  He starts writing on a pad of blank scripts.

“No, but I’m not really… I thought this would be more…  I thought there’d be more talking?”

“Well…there can be, but that’s not really what we do here.  We deal more with refills on prescriptions.  This is urgent care.”  He looks at my file.  “You mentioned that suicide runs in your family, yes?”

Again, I don’t remember writing that, but I must of.  “My aunt did,” I say, “but that was a long time ago.”

“Have you ever had suicidal thoughts yourself?”

Just tell him.  Say you were going to kill yourself this afternoon.  You were going to ride the subway downtown, take the elevator to the roof and jump off the fucking ledge.

DO IT!  JUST FUCKING DO IT!  “No,” I say.  ”I mean, in the general sense, sure.  But mostly I’m just sad, you know?”

“Sad, huh?”

“Yeah.  It comes and goes.  I already feel better just being here.  I think I just needed a break.”

“And you have no specific plans to kill yourself?”

One foot over the four-foot barrier.  Then the other.  Lean forward.  Let gravity take hold.  It’s only 700 feet to concrete.


“You swear?”

“Yeah, I swear.  Really.”

He stares at me for less than a second.  “Alright, I’m going to write you a prescription for Wellbutrin, and I’ll let you go.  But I want you to speak with someone at one of other facilities.  They have great doctors and group sessions.  I can make a call to get you an appointment.  Sometimes it takes a while to get one otherwise.  Will you do that?”


“And you’re okay?”

“Yeah, I’m alright.  I’m fine.”

I’m a fucking coward.

“Okay, then take this form with you to the front desk and they’ll finish up the paperwork.  And here’s the info about the other facility.”

I take the paperwork, thank him for everything.  The nurse checks me out.  I’ve never walked so fast in my life.  I cross the street and realize I don’t have a way home.  I’m at least ten miles from our apartment.  I turn back to the crisis center, wondering if I should go back to use the payphone when I see our car down the block.  Jess is inside.  My knock scares her half to death.  I get in.  We hug.  She won’t let go.

“I love you,” she says and finally pulls back.  “So how, uh…?”

“It’s fine, they cleared me to go home.  It’s all okay.”


“Are you…disappointed?” I laugh.

“No, of course not.  I just…how are you?”

“I’m…”  One step.  700 feet.


“Can we just go home?”

“No, please talk to me…”

“I’m…I’m not alright.”

End of Part 2

I’ll be posting the final installment in the next couple of days.  If you or anyone you know needs help, please don’t hesitate to call 1-800-273-8255

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