A new series by writer Nathan Hansen.
There Was Light
To set the record straight, though this is the first article in this series, it isn’t. This is my third. Maybe fourth. But in the back and forth agreement of when to publish and what angle to take, I had forgotten the impetus that made me feel as it were necessary to disclose so much of my life, be it through quasi-philosophical thought transfused through a column, experimental fiction, or a revealing memoir that would leave an individual feeling insecure.
To set the record straight, an editor saw possibilities in a pitch and felt courage enough to give me the green light. A column. A series. About “whatever”.
But first, before the deluge, an honest explanation of what this column is and why.
In the beginning there was light, but I can give no credit to our Lord. He wasn’t present. He and I were not likely of friends at the time. In the beginning there was light, and it was a cursed, eerie embrace of white warmth around my shoulders and into my peripherals as if a truck was barreling down on me in the open road. I cannot remember the first instance of this glow, but it picked me up and transported me several places throughout the years.
Bars and brothels.
Back alleys and beds.
Paris and Prague and poverty.
In this heat, my eyes fiery and blood fuming, I’ve made choices that have caused reprehensible damages to people I’ve loved.
I’ve been more faithful to my mistresses.
I’ve seen the bottom of the bottle more than I’ve shared moments with my sons.
I’ve squandered inheritances.
But it’s never until the light is extinguished when reality sets in, the proverbial needle pulled across a black vinyl lake. It’s there in the dark I see every haunting ripple. It’s there pitch black I begin to realize what I’ve done.
Brett was the name of my best friend who took me to the hospital the first time. Manic for months, surviving on a couple hours sleep a night. Drinking myself to unconsciousness. Finally I could take no more. The high could go no further. It peaked then plummeted.
It took five weeks for doctors to diagnose me in the veteran’s hospital. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? Depression? Mania? No. Schizo-Affective Bi-Polar Disorder. Extreme highs and lows with visual and auditory hallucinations. My heaven explained. But it never prevented me dipping back into hell, discarding recommendations for my health and well-being, leery of the pharmaceutical arsenal they assigned. Trash the meds. Fuck a nurse in her car outside. Prescribe me some ethics.
Over the years I fluctuated between various mood stabilizers and anti-psychotics. And in these variations followed a pattern of people who associated with me based on a medicinal or natural high, the latter of which was most dangerous. Depending on the drug, I was rational, thoughtful and kind. But in the ever moral context of what a psychiatrist was offering, I strove for the contrary flurry of ideas, spontaneity and lust I’d experienced when off the cocktails of Lithium, Risperdal, Depakote, Geodon and many others. While addicts found highs popping pills, I was elated and euphoric off. And each time, the soaring ended in utter collapse, often with suicidal ideations leaving me harbored on a mental ward for evaluation, psychoanalysis, and a new remedy packaged in milligrams.
For the past few years, grounded by a dire need to support a family instead of being enabled, I’ve been a slave to nightly doses intended to stabilize. Each evening at eight I walk into my bathroom and open a medicine cabinet sequestered for me and me alone. I pull open a mirrored door reflecting a perplexed face and read the labels for the appropriate medication, passing over empty bottles or expired meds of the past I keep as a reminder of the journey. I open bottles and shake tablets and pills into my open palm, staring in resentment. Staring in admiration. What a complex controlling device packed so simply.
This is now. There was a then.
The first person to suggest I become a writer was a recovering alcoholic. And though she was the catalyst to my first bylines in newspapers, she soon realized I was toxic.
“I can’t take another sip of Nate,” she said, as she took a final step out my door. How ironic it was that my substance would have saved us.
I married the next woman who told me I needed to write a novel. My third wife. That relationship also strained from my inability to recognize that the rollercoaster ride on which I flourished wasn’t for everyone. Separated and spiteful, I wrote a novella over a long weekend. I dedicated the book to her, but to this day wonder if she’s ever read it. That time is too painful to recall, even if it’s only on a page.
These days, when asked what I do, I answer that I teach. It’s my profession. I’m an educator. In order to do it, I know I have to be medicated. I used to say I was a writer, but as that same medication settled throughout my body I felt the connection to the art form loosen followed by a slow deterioration of urgency to meet the page with any sense of love.
So as I reflect on this passion and how much it needs to be a part of me, I sometimes forget the meds. And I do more often these days. For the purpose of this column and other projects I work on, I devote a single night a week to the craft, skipping that eight o’clock date with my devil, discovering the heaven I crave. It’s then I pull out my laptop and run my fingers over the keyboard letting go of anything on my mind. I write furiously until the sun rises, feeling an unmatched elation through the hours; my skin rolling gently in an invisible gale, heat from moon beams, a stillness watching the caress of light envelop me as I wait for the eventual impact of that truck barreling down on me in the open road.
I’ve never believed the mantra writers often spout about Hemingway when imbibing on drinks over their own stories.
“Write drunk, edit sober,” they say.
I think it’s foolish.
With that said, I’m testing the same grounds. Using the time my body can allow, foolish all the same thinking that perhaps one night a week will result in any good writing at all. In the end, it was a pitch and I’ve some leeway for a limited time. Who knows what I’ll come up with, but I invite you to follow and read along. After all, it’s the journey.
Nathan Douglas Hansen was a journalist for many years before becoming an educator for at-risk kids. He lives in Arizona