Crisis – Part 1

The following took place January 2008.

I’m on the floor in my bedroom.  I don’t know how long I’ve been here.  I’m on my back.  My fists are clenched.  So is my jaw.  My eyes finally open.  Everything’s blurry though the tears.  I see the sun sneaking through the blinds and the stupid Utah Sky blue we painted the walls.  There’s so much pressure.  It’s suffocating.  I know it’s not a heart attack.  It’s not panic induced either.  This is what I’ve been going through since the third grade.

This is the basement of depression.

This is where my body locks up and I squeeze and wait for it to pass.  It always passes.  That’s what I’ve learned.  That’s what I tell myself, even when my mind keeps flashing to the skyscraper downtown.

I drove by it last week.  They have a rooftop bar.  It’s over seven hundred feet from cocktails to concrete.  There aren’t any security guards watching the four-foot barrier around the edges.  The barrier is transparent thermoplastic so people can gaze at the smog over Southern California.

If I go now, I’ll beat the crowd and lessen the chance of someone trying to grab me before I jump.  At night, the place turns into a club, one of those trendy hangouts where trust fund babies and wannabee actors snort cocaine and talk about their amazing yoga teachers.

I need to get up.  I don’t want to be lumped in with those people.  I don’t want anyone thinking this has something to do with my career.  Even if I was successful, it wouldn’t change anything.  My brain is a toilet pumping poison.  I’ve been flushing it for twenty years, but it always fills back up.  Now, it’s overflowing.

I need it to end.

People who’ve never experienced real depression think it’s sadness, something we all go through; what they don’t understand is that for people like me it’s always lurking and it gets stronger, or maybe I’m getting weaker.

I’m just tired of fighting this invisible monster.  It’s not this single bout; it’s the years in the ring.  Each body shot has taken its toll, each elbow to the ribs has made it that much harder to breathe.  The worst part was when I realized I have no say in this.  I’m just a sparring partner, the monster’s punching bag.

Something clicks.  I hear footsteps.

It’s Jess.  She’s already off work.

Fuck, Anthony, get up.

I promised myself I’d be gone before she got back.

I have my date with the skyscraper.

Just get up.  Or crawl to the bathroom.  Don’t let her see you like this.

The door opens.  “Oh, my God.  What happened?  Anthony, are you hurt?”

My throat’s closing.  I can’t say anything.  I force this smile and shake my head no.

“Oh, baby, hey, it’s okay.  It’s going to be okay.”

She’s holding me, and I wish I had the strength to push her off.  It’s so much worse having someone in the room.  Jess and I have been living together for over a year.  Normally, when this thing hits, I find my way to the bathroom or take a drive.  Jess knows I get really down, but she’s never seen me like this.

In four months we’re supposed to get married.  Maybe this isn’t the worst thing to happen.  She deserves the truth.  Plus, I’ve been trying to blow up the wedding for the past three weeks, cowardly picking fights, yelling for no reason.  Maybe I’ve done this on purpose?

She needs to see how bad it gets.  I mean really see it, so she can walk away.

Her voice changes.  I’m waiting for her to say I’m a piece of shit, that I should just kill myself, that I’m the biggest mistake she’s ever made.

She says, “Get up.”  Her voice is cold.  It’s like a drill sergeant.  “Anthony, I said, GET UP!”

“No, I’m…I’m sorry—”

“I don’t give a shit if you’re sorry.  Get the fuck up.  Now!”

I don’t know who this person is, but she’s pulling my arm and I guess I’m helping because suddenly I’m standing, looking down at her.  She steps into me.  She doesn’t blink.  “We’re going to get you help.  This is what we’re going to do.  You hear me?”  She’s nodding.  I must be nodding too, because next she says, “Now, I need you to put on your shoes.  Can you do that?”

I’m a fucking child.

“I need you to work with me here.  Can you put on your shoes?”

“Yeah,” I say.

“Okay, I’m going to pack you a bag, while—”

“A bag for what?”

“Just in case.   Now, get ready.  It’s going to be okay.  It’s going to be okay.  It’s going to be okay…” She keeps saying that as she puts a notebook, some clothes, pencils, and a few books into a backpack.  One book is Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut.  Even in this crisis, she knows exactly what I like.

“Baby,” I say.  “Hey, look.  I’m okay.  Let’s just stop here for a second.  I just need—”

“We’re not talking, Anthony.  Put on your shoes.”

“No.  Where are we going to go?  We can’t go anywhere.  I don’t have health insurance.”

“I don’t care.”

“We cannot afford it.”  I’m feeling stronger.  My mind is working.  “I’m going to be okay.  I just–”

“STOP!  JUST STOP!”

She throws something.  I feel it whiz by my head, but I don’t see what it is.  I just hear it crash against the Utah Sky.

I don’t understand why she’s so angry, so adamant, but when she looks at me with those eyes, I realize this isn’t the first time she’s seen me like this.  I thought I’d been so clever, keeping everything hidden.  How could I have been so stupid?  Of course, she knew.  On the floor, I see the comedy CD I recorded last year.

“Okay, you almost ready?” Jess says.  “It’s time to go.”

“Yeah…just, uh, let me get my belt.”

I need it because I haven’t been eating.  My pants are almost falling off.

Jess takes my hand and leads me down the hallway, down the steps, and around to the car.  She’s dialing a number on her cell phone.  I’m not paying attention, just following orders.  I strap in.  She’s talking to someone.

She says, “No, he hasn’t hurt himself.”  She looks at me for confirmation.  I shake my head no.  “No, we don’t have health insurance.  We just need him to see someone…No, we’re not planning on committing him…We just need to see a doctor…”

Committing me?!

“…Culver City…Yeah, okay, hold on…” Jess writes down the directions.

I don’t know how long the car ride takes.  Buildings, trucks, and billboards pass by like streaks of fingerpaint.

We park and walk into this non-descript medical building.  There’s no one in the lobby.  This can’t be the place.  It looks deserted.  Jess takes me upstairs.  The walls are pink.  There are a few wheelchairs sitting at odd angles, but not a soul on the entire floor.  It’s like one of those zombie movies when a person wakes up and the whole world is dead.  Maybe I’ve already jumped?

We’re heading back down the stairs.  We find a small placard for psychiatric/urgent care.  The doors are locked.  I see a security guard through a little window.  He buzzes us in.  There’s a metal detector.  We pass through.  There are a lot of people who look homeless wandering around.  Jess talks to the guard, then a nurse.  I see a TV off to the side.  The sound is off, but there are six or seven patients watching.  The walls are cream-colored and soothing.  The carpet is green.  The nurse behind the desk is asking me stuff, but I only hear someone screaming in the other room.

“It’s going to be okay,” the nurse says.  “We just need you to step over here.”

“Huh?”

“Just follow the guard,” she says to me.

“Wait!   What?”

Jess touches my arm.  She makes me look at her.  “They just want to evaluate you.  It’s going to be okay.  You don’t have to do anything you don’t want.  They just want to talk to you.”

She’s nodding again, and I nod, because I can tell she needs me to.  I follow the guard to a folding table.  He says, “Do have any needles?  Anything I might stick myself with?”

“What?”

He’s unzipping my bag.  “I need to know if you have anything in here I might stick myself with.”

“No.  I mean, wait.  I have, uh, pencil.  Front pocket.”

“Okay…just relax.”  He takes out the pencil.  “I can’t let you have this.”

“Can’t let me have a pencil?”

“I’m sorry.”

“Yeah…keep it.”  I look over at Jess by the door.  She’s doing everything not to cry.  I give her a smile and wave to tell her I’m okay.  I’m in good hands.  See, they won’t even let me carry a pencil.  It’s all safe.  She walks out.  Now, I’m doing everything not to cry.

“It’s alright,” the guard says.  He looks bored.  “We’re almost done.  I just need your belt.”  He says, “Sir, your belt?”

It’s so I don’t hang myself.

“Sure,” I say and pull it off.  I hold my pants up with one hand while I grab my pack with the other.  The nurse walks up.  She gently touches my arm.

“Anthony?”

I gulp and nod, suck snot up my nose.

“Hey, it’s okay.  Don’t worry.  We’re here to help you.  Isn’t that what you want?”

“Yeah…I think so.”

End of Part 1

I’ll be posting the rest over 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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Tick…Tick…BOOM!

My wife’s biological clock went off, and like any honorable husband, I took cover and hid.  We were living in a small apartment, so it didn’t take long for her to find me.  I was frightened.  I didn’t recognize this woman.  She just kept saying, “Baby, baby, baby…” At least, that’s all I heard.  It was like a zombie movie, you know, the moment when the husband realizes his wife’s been bitten.  He doesn’t have a choice.  He has to kill her.  She’s no longer human.  She only has one purpose, only instead of “brains” it was “baby.”

The thing was, we’d had this talk.  She knew my feelings.  Long before we said, “I do,” I told her I would never bring a child into this world.  I was very clear.  There was no deception, no manipulation.  I’d been diagnosed as bipolar II, and I’d made the decision to never put that on anyone, especially a child.  Studies show that it is, in all likelihood, hereditary.

My youth was filled with darkness.  I was in third grade the first time I thought of killing myself.  I should’ve been chomping on Big League Chew.  I should’ve been playing with my Hulk Hogan action figure.  I should not have been dangling my feet outside my second-story window telling myself to lean forward so I’d land on my head and not just break my legs.

It’s hard for me to write that.  It might be hard for some of you to read.  That’s why I had no problem with my decision to never have kids.  No one should have to go through that.

Now, I’m not saying people with bipolar should remain childless.  There are a lot of parents out there who can provide for a kid suffering like I did.  My parents couldn’t.  They didn’t even fully know what was going on.  I kept most of the awful thoughts to myself, because even as a boy, I knew it wasn’t “normal.”

And I don’t blame or hate my parents for having me.   They didn’t know what they were getting into, and when I was growing up in Kansas City, people didn’t go to shrinks.

But I know exactly what bipolar means, and to risk passing it to a child would be selfish at best, and bordering on abusive.  Yes, I’d love to have a kid, teach her to read, ride a bike, to hide a dollar under her pillow as I swiped a fallen tooth, but I couldn’t live with myself when the tears came, not the crocodile ones from skinning a knee, the ones that come with the need to end everything.

I reminded my wife of this.  She said, “I understand, Anthony, I do, but you’re not hearing me.  I need to take care of something that’s not you.”

It broke my heart.  There was no question she’d be an amazing mother.  It was criminal to block her from sharing this gift with another.  Still.

“I just can’t risk putting this on a child, Jess.  I’m sorry.”

The look on her face told me I’d made a grave misstep, that’d I’d woken the zombie.  In any second, she’d be feasting on my damaged brains.  Then she said:

“I’m not talking about a child!”

“Jess, I’m… You’re…not?”

“No!  We can’t even take care of a plant without killing it.”

“So…you’re saying…?”

I don’t want to have a baby.”

“You…”

“I want a dog.”

“A dog…?  A DOG!  Oh, thank God.”

The next morning we rescued Sunny from a shelter.

It’s the best decision we’ve made since walking down the aisle.  Every morning, Sunny wakes me with a few licks and her wagging tail.  We’ve taught her a half-dozen tricks and sat by her side at the hospital when she almost died from a reaction to a bee.  She’s given me responsibility and shown me that even when the depression hits, I can still get out of bed to take care of this sweet girl.  She might never cure cancer, run for office, or learn to drive a car, but she’ll also never need braces, bail money, or college tuition.  She’s a dog, but sometimes we treat her like a baby, wrapping her in a blanket and singing “The Rainbow Connection” in our best Kermit voice.

I’m still not ready for a child, and honestly, I don’t know if I ever will be, but if in a year or two my wife wants to have a discussion, I’m not going to just immediately say, “No.”

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Varying Degrees of Gay – Part 1

Part 1

When people hear about my mom coming out of the closet, they always ask about my dad.  They want to know how he took the news.  The answer is, not well.

Growing up, I only saw my dad cry once.  We’d gone to visit his father’s gravesite and it freaked me out.  I suppose if he hadn’t cried I would have thought he was a sociopath, because that was the only time.

I, on the other hand, cried ritually.  I cried when I struck out in little league; when my mom’s steak was too chewy; I cried when my dad made me use public restrooms; when I stared at The Black Hole in my room; when I lost my homework; when the doctor drained the cyst on my knee; I cried when Darth Vader killed Obi Wan Kenobi; I cried because I heard monsters; I even cried at cauliflower, because my cousin called it an “Albino vegetable.”  He told me it had no soul. 

I was always traumatized.

As Vonnegut would say, I had bad wiring.  I still do.  My aunt had bad wiring, as well.  She put a shotgun in her mouth and pulled the trigger.  My parents told me she was cleaning the 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.

The first time I thought of killing myself was a month after my aunt checked out.  Third graders shouldn’t have thoughts like that.  They should be drinking Capri Sun.  They should be playing with their Star Wars action figures.  They shouldn’t open their bedroom window and sit on the ledge, two-stories up, staring down onto the driveway.  They shouldn’t think to lean forward so they’ll hit face-first and not just break their legs.

I never told my parents about wanting to die.  My emotional problems caused them enough stress.  My father didn’t know what to do with me.  He tried holding me.  He tried yelling.  What he should have done was take me to a shrink.  But we didn’t know anyone in therapy in Kansas City.  Only crackpots went to head doctors.

My father kept his feelings in check.  His dad had died when he was seventeen, which meant my father had to grow up quick.  Grandpa Walter was fixing a flat tire two blocks from their house.  My father was watching TV, while his dad died of a heart attack. 

The earth was pulled out from under my father’s feet. 

It’s why he was always telling me to prepare for the worst.  When he taught me to drive, he said said, “Just assume everyone is going to run into you.”

And that’s exactly what happened.  After twenty-five years of marriage, his wife came out and wanted a divorce.  He wasn’t a bad husband or bad father.  They had a good marriage, and he didn’t turn her gay.  He was just the guy who got hit by a bus.

When my mom moved out, my father started calling me just wanting to talk.  I was living in L.A.  Sometimes it’d be four in the morning.  He’d never called before without a list of things I needed to do.  One morning I could tell he’d been crying.  I pictured him alone in the house weeping.  He told me if it weren’t for our dog, Ace, he wouldn’t get up in the morning. 

I should mention Ace was female, which just furthers the evidence of my family’s sexual confusion.

But the dog saved him.  My father took her for walks and I imagine he shared his feelings with his canine buddy.  Ace became his confidant, his therapist, and in return, my father helped her hunt the squirrels living in our backyard.  Unfortunately, Ace had developed arthritis.  She could hardly walk, let alone chase these furry bastards.

My father called me one day, said he was thinking about borrowing the neighbor’s BB gun to kill the damn things. 

My father lived in a nice suburb, where people had children and barbeques and waved while mowing the lawn.  I pictured him stalking around the cul-de-sac in his tighty-whities.  Arthritic dog in one hand, a gun in the other.

“Dad, are you, uh, okay?”

“Yes, Anthony, I’m fine.”

But he wasn’t.  He needed to talk to a professional, someone who didn’t piddle when the doorbell rang.  I asked him to make an appointment.  I told him I’d call for him.  He said not to worry, that he’d handle it.

Months went by and I started to worry.  He didn’t call as often.  I had a hard time getting a hold of him.    

Finally, I flew home.  My father picked me up at the airport.  He looked healthy, he sounded calm. 

“You seem…good?” I said.

“Yeah, I am.  My doctor’s given me medication.  Just temporary.”

“That’s great… When you say, ‘doctor,’ you don’t mean Ace, do you?”

No, smartass.  I…took your advice.  This guy’s been very…helpful,” my father said.  

“Well, I’m proud of you.”

“Yeah… Look, since you’re in town, I’d like you to come along to one of my…sessions.”

I said yes.  I couldn’t wait to meet the man responsible for helping my dad. 

I had no idea I was about to meet the biggest whackadoo in Kansas City.

To Be Continued…