By Gil A. Waters
Photo © Dale Johnson
At the time, it seemed like the ideal moment to make my move.
It’s not every day I find myself engaged in rapt conversation with a beautiful woman fifteen years younger than myself; her eyes fixed on mine with an intensity suggesting more than a passing interest.
Smoothly, coolly, nonchalantly, I said, “We should get together sometime. Like, go somewhere. Or something.”
Perhaps my wooing abilities had grown a bit rusty. But I hoped the sincerity of my offer would convey an endearing sense of innocence.
A bitter smile broke across her face. She shook her head in a manner that unequivocally said “no” and redirected her gaze downwards to the gray surface of the metal table at which we sat. I felt crushed by this perceived rejection, but it stung for only a moment.
Suddenly, her head bolted upward and she again looked into my eyes, only this time with terror.
“Did you hear that?” she asked in a breathless whisper.
“Did you hear that?!” she asked again, a little louder, not waiting for my first negative reply.
“Uh, no,” I said.
“Shit!” She jumped up and power-walked to the nurses’ station, her hospital gown fluttering excitedly behind her.
I leaned back in my chair and sighed.
Fucking manic depressives, I thought to myself. They’re coming, they’re going. They’re hot, they’re cold. They’re listening to you one minute, they’re hearing voices the next. It’s tiring.
Yet I couldn’t be too angry at her for letting auditory hallucinations disrupt my flirtations. To be honest, I wasn’t in top form myself. It’s not easy to be suave when you’re detoxing, especially when your psychotropic cocktail of Librium, Seroquel, and Abilify causes you to walk into walls and fall down. I suppose my random bouts of crying weren’t very sexy either, although I hoped they would be a turn on for the female residents of The Ward, who might appreciate a sensitive man not afraid to express his emotional vulnerability. Apparently, I was mistaken.
* * * *
In retrospect, it probably wasn’t the ideal time or place for dating. A few months earlier, my (second) wife of scarcely more than a year had left me for reasons she was never able to clearly articulate. She didn’t want me to take it personally, though. She explained that she still loved me dearly, but simply had made a mistake in thinking she could “be married” in the abstract. Looking back, I should have seen warning signs that our relationship was unlikely to endure—like the fact that she possessed the emotional immaturity of an eighteen-year-old, even though, like me, she was in her late thirties. Then again, she also possessed the nubile body of an especially athletic eighteen-year-old, and an absolutely adorable Spanish accent, so I was willing to overlook her fondness for dressing and acting like a flighty teenager. In fairness, when she chose me as a husband, she was choosing a clinically depressed, alcoholic pot-head. But I didn’t think these were necessarily negative traits. I preferred to think of my predilection for excess and despair as an indication that I had depth of character.
By a rather unlikely coincidence, eight days after my wife moved out I found myself standing in an Intensive Care Unit, instructing the staff to pull the plug on my mother’s respirator. She’d been in the hospital recuperating from “successful” hip-replacement surgery when she mysteriously contracted an unidentified ailment which destroyed all of her lung tissue in a matter of days. Given that she was a pack-a-day cigarette smoker, and an unrepentant vodka-and-gin alcoholic, I suppose this shouldn’t have come as a complete shock. But the timing of her demise was unfortunate.
The very next morning, I journeyed to the vet’s office and had my mother’s old, arthritic, and incontinent dog put down. The poor beast had been waiting patiently for nearly two weeks to return home to her mistress, and—instead—I show up and have her killed. This proved to be the final straw that broke my tenuous grip on sanity. Within the span of twelve hours, I had found myself stroking the forehead of my mother and the forehead of my mother’s dog as I waited for them to die on my orders, only to return alone to my newly empty apartment. It’s the kind of thing that can really get to a person.
I reacted in what, for me, is the most natural way imaginable. I drank…a lot. And then I drank more than a lot. There were a few mornings when I awoke from a blackout and surveyed the unfamiliar wreckage of my apartment: overturned furniture, shards of broken glass, blood on the floors and sheets from the self-inflicted cuts on my arms. During one of these blackouts, I apparently drove fifty or so miles to a friend’s house, collapsed on his kitchen floor, and went into convulsions of some sort before passing out for the night. I checked the front bumper of my car for dents and blood stains the next morning and, seeing none, concluded that I probably hadn’t killed anyone during the drive.
I would have killed myself, but I was afflicted with a six-year-old daughter (from my first marriage) who stubbornly refused to let me die. No matter how drunk I got, I simply could not envision an acceptable scenario in which her mother informed her that she wouldn’t be visiting daddy next weekend because he had blown his brains out. Children can be so inconvenient at times.
I checked in to The Ward late on Thanksgiving Day. At the insistence of my daughter, who didn’t want me to be alone on Thanksgiving, I had gone to her mother’s house for an early dinner. Seated at the table next to my daughter, attempting to make small talk with my first ex-wife and her husband, the dangerously surreal nature of my situation suddenly became apparent. After dinner, I hugged my daughter, took her mother aside, and said that I was going to check myself into the hospital for a heavily medicated vacation of indeterminate length.
* * * *
But tragedy and heartache are not particularly relevant when you’re really, really horny. And so I waited little more than an hour after being rejected by the hallucinating bipolar babe before I turned my attention to another, more promising resident of The Ward. This lithe young woman seemed to stand on firmer mental ground than the previous object of my affections. No hospital gowns for her. She wore blue jeans, black high-tops, and a black Tom Waits tee-shirt. She combed her hair regularly. She had an air of cosmopolitan, or at least metropolitan, sophistication.
I engaged her in a discussion of alternative music, which seemed promising until she started mentioning the names of bands with which I was unfamiliar. I asked her what kind of music they played and was horrified¾nauseated, in fact¾to hear them described as “Christian rock.” Adding pointless insult to needless injury, she then told me she had recently converted to Catholicism and felt, well, “just so full of Jesus.”
The conversation headed downhill after that. I told her, with all due sympathy, that I had personally survived twelve years of Catholic schools and was therefore intimately acquainted with the delusional psychosis that is religious fervor. I informed her, with hopeful optimism, that most of the unfortunate souls afflicted by this madness respond well to modern anti-schizophrenia medications and that she probably would too. And I pointed out, with matter-of-fact objectivity, that the popular stereotype of Catholic Schoolgirls Gone Wild is unfounded, and that “good” Catholic women are actually no fun whatsoever because they won’t put out before marriage. She responded with a serial-killer smile that seemed to say “Jesus may love you, but I would disembowel you with a butter knife if I had the chance.” At this point I lost interest.
I probably would have had better luck with the paranoid schizophrenic who ran up and down the hallway the next day screaming, over and over, “I’ll kill all you motherfuckers!” She was a short woman, but it took two orderlies the size of dump trucks to take her down, and she had to be “chemically restrained” for the remainder of her stay. I had to admire her spunk, but she was too chubby for my taste.
In the end, I did snag one date with a reasonably attractive older woman who, I thought, was just an old-fashioned, meat-and-potatoes depressive like me. In solidarity with her depression, and because she had two of the most amazing breasts I’d ever seen, I was willing to overlook the fact that she’d completely removed her real eyebrows and penciled in a couple of abstract-looking replacements.
We had dinner at a Mexican restaurant about a week after being discharged. Despite some initially pleasant and flirtatiously promising banter, it soon became clear that neither my lust nor sense of psychiatric camaraderie could compensate for her more peculiar behavioral peccadilloes. The hysterical laughter at random moments, for instance. Or the obsessive-compulsive disorder that compelled her, once we’d finished eating, to stack our dirty plates, one atop the other, each separated from the next by a paper napkin that she unfolded and smoothed with her fingertips.
I have now learned my lesson. No matter how much I may have in common with women who qualify as poster children for each and every dysfunction listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, they are terrible dates. Maybe I’ll have better luck in rehab. There are some really hot junkies in my out-patient program…
A slightly different version of this essay appeared in Gloom Cupboard (December 11, 2009) and was excerpted on The Short Humour Site (December 23, 2009).
Gil A. Waters