This series is called Sans Meds for a reason. In order to write, all gimmicks aside, I often go off my medication and become dependent on the withdrawal, which is an immediate insomniac high. The drawback to coming clean off of meds that keep me from flying abroad for soirees in brothels is that the natural high inevitably ends with a debilitating low.
Though many times, in this depressive state, I’ve been hospitalized for suicidal ideations, I’m most likely to simply withdraw into my guest room and curl up in the fetal position, tearful for a few days.
Sometimes I write.
It is a struggle, but the process of finding an accurate description on how I’m feeling removes the emphasis of focusing on what I’m thinking. Despite how painful, it’s healthier to write about my delinquency as a young absent parent, a broken Veterans Administration, or the rules of writing I continually find myself breaking. It’s healthier to hold a pen and contemplate a beginning, than grasp a knife and anticipate an end.
So in celebration of a solid year without any major breaks, happy and meditative on being present, I feel it’s suitable to reflect on the past. After all, the past, regardless of how dysfunctional or traumatic, disheartening or disappointing, made me into who I am today. Today, I’m a better father. Today, I’m a better writer. Today, well, never mind … the VA still sucks.
The following are three short shorts, composed quickly during those formative moments.
No Card Says Us
It’s that time again, and there it stands, slipped from its paper womb, propped open, ajar, ready to read, front and back cover canted at less than 45 degrees and still upright. There it stands—this year’s card. There it stands so strong and confident among the bills and takeout menus and junk mail, postmarked 2,000 miles away, three days ago.
I sit with my cup of coffee watching the cover as if it were a foreign film absent subtitles and sex.
It’s a Norman Rockwell scene. A shaggy dog sniffs at a small tin pail of night crawlers set between two generations of men sitting at the end of a wooden dock that reaches a short distance from a marshy bank out over a nameless pond. The father, wearing blue denim dungarees with red kerchief in back pocket, holds rod and reel in his left hand hugging the shoulder of his son with his right. The boy, head hidden beneath a straw hat, sits hunched over himself, both hands upon a frail bamboo pole bowed with line taut.
Ripples an artist sketched hastily run perpendicular to coffee stains seeking the same escape.
Handwriting on the inside cover is quick and deliberate. It reads as sharp as the pen that wrote the words. The words—a 16-year old jests at the fallacy of moments such as those depicted by the card’s cover.
“Like we’ve ever done anything like this!” he writes.
There’s never been a rod and reel—nothing’s real.
There’s never been bonding over bobbers.
There’s never been the emotional hug or need for a kerchief.
There’s never been the metaphor that compares one’s love with an infinite dock.
Memories are stamps; some torn and kept treasured, some discarded with time.
Class doesn’t matter, as it’s the content, and no matter how often the day is celebrated, Father’s Day is always belated; a constant, nagging reminder that blood means little more than embrace and distance pays more postage, rather than makes any love grow fonder.
We’re told as writers to exclude the weather from our stories. It doesn’t matter.
“Nobody cares about climate.”
An editor will advise against mentioning whether the setting is a balmy 74 degrees, or if it’s the proverbial dark and stormy night. Not being prolifically published, I’m ignorant to reasons why, but do what is necessary to find my way into the annals of literature, be it ink or Internet.
After all, there are rules.
But the thing is; everything was beautiful the day she was born. Had I been dizzier I wouldn’t have known heads from tails. The sky was a vast ocean, unstirred by clouds that had been lurking in previous days. A warm desert breeze danced lively from all directions. The moon shone full at midday.
The next day the sky burst into a blinding white, snow flowing from every direction as if carried by my heart beat; temperatures dropping faster than flakes to stinging spikes; asphalt turn black ice turn, road advisories turn nothing to do but “oooo” and “aaaah” at our precious newborn.
And it wouldn’t be worth talking about, but …
… as quickly as the blinding whiteness faded—dangling in icicles from wilted apple blossoms and juniper, eaves and wind chimes’ rest—followed a clarity mirroring the shock and awe of change; birth, childhood, parenthood.
We’re told not to write of weather, but there’s something to be said of that. There’s something in the cliché calm before the storm. There’s something in the eery quiet when all is said and done.
Rain will baptize Bourbon Street; the Santa Anas will fuel Hollywood’s fame; blizzards will blanket the Eastern seaboard; thunderstorms will strip America’s heartland of possession and pride. And once in a while, the desert will surprise us with winter.
Advice Upon Re-Entry
“You are about to re-enter the real world but this time with the tools to make you a more functional part of society; we’ve established who you are but in order to make you more successful – and we can’t truly expect that – you need to take heed to the following pieces of advice; consider these rules and regulations for the rest of your life, your standard operating procedures; we know it works from this point forward; every person is different; people with your diagnosis need medication; these are the medications that work best for people like you; take 150 milligrams of Sertaline Hydrochloride each day, these are the blue pills the size of Skittles, but sometimes orange and small like Tic Tacs; take a half tablet of Quetiapine Fumarate 300 milligrams, one half in the morning, the second half in the evening, there’s a pill cutter in the bag we’re giving you; take 2000 milligrams of Depakote each day, but separate them in two doses—morning and evening—1000 milligrams each dose or 500 in the morning and 1500 before bedtime because you would not have had anything to eat and it is a medicine that doesn’t sit well on an empty stomach; you have the option of using Depakote, either white or orange tablets, or the generic brand which is cheaper but in soft capsule form called Divalproex SA; both types of medicines contain Valproic Acid which requires food or milk be taken; don’t think of this as a coping mechanism; block out any stigma that might alleviate the stressors in your life; you are Bi-Polar and Manic Depressive, not crazy; monitor your behavior; keep a journal and note your mood, whether or not you feel overly sad and depressed or elated like when you do with women or spending exhorbent amounts of money; avoid relationships; don’t mistake lust for love; don’t find comfort in sex; expect a decrease in your libido; find a support network; don’t forget medication; forgetting medication risks relapse and you don’t want to return here; there are plenty of medications to try in the future but stick to the ones we have given you and let us know how you feel; the medications you are on can damage your kidneys, pancreas, and liver; you will fit in better; establish a routine and follow it religiously; begin each day not by getting up at the same time, rather by going to bed early the night before; begin each evening not by preparing for sleep, rather by winding down after the day then rise regularly each morning; use nighttime to recuperate from the day and understand excessive alcohol inhibits the ability to rest, as does caffeine and sexual promiscuity; use daytime to savor the energy saved from a good night’s sleep; use the night not as a venue for promiscuous activities; try meditation; yoga; acupuncture; here is a list of phone numbers of agencies – some charitable – that will help you get back on your feet; if you need transportation to your residence we can arrange that; if you need to make an appointment there is a shuttle service free of charge; if you need dietary advice we recommend calling this number; again, the medications you are on can be damaging to your kidneys, pancreas, and liver so watch the alcohol intake; we recommend abstaining from alcohol; stay away from drugs; we recommend abstaining from sex; the medications you are on will cause a decrease in your libido; do you have anyone to go home to?; let routine be your religion; allow steps be your god; make lists and obey them as you would the Ten Commandments, even if there are only six things to do throughout your day; don’t put too much on your plate, you have a lot to deal with; break the monotony of your routine with time spent doing the things you love; you don’t want to come back to this facility but we are here with open arms if you need us; here is a toll-free number if you have any other questions; son, this is your life.”