I understand what they mean when they use the phrase manic episode but knowing your affliction doesn’t quell the energy and it doesn’t let you sleep. At 5:30 am, I was already up and writing. The sun was barely seeping through the blinds as I sipped my second cup of coffee. I didn’t even begin my coffee until I’d written down my dream and this morning the french press was next to the window by 5:15. I don’t remember doing that.
For a couple hours, I puttered there hunched over my notebook, spine twisted into a permanent scoliotic state as I paced on paper. Trying not to get up until I got it all down, I kept my straw in hand to twirl when I felt like I couldn’t quite get the words out but couldn’t stop shaking either. There were a few birds out that morning; unidentifiable black birds with unidentifiable songs whirring around me. Sometimes I paused to gaze out the window, watching one land on the branch. Mostly, I paced on paper. In motion but stuck in my seat, my head raced and my wrist tried to keep up. I tried to empty myself. I tried to keep up with myself in anxious plotting, in soft-churning ire, in regret and motive and longing for what was coming. What’s coming, cat? the voice near my lobe said. Pressed against the sill, my own cat sat at my feet observing her mistress in a desperate attempt to be heard; both of us begging, both of us looking at something not looking at us. My knuckles hurt when I returned to my coffee cup; now cold, now old and my wrists were throbbing. My attempt at finding the difference between my dreams, fantasies and lurking premonition produced dissonance, confusion and my stammering grew more chaotic daily. Nothing of substance stayed on the page. I reread my work:
Remember: divination, and politics get in the way.
Tonight is a double moon light.
“Nonsense,” I shot up from my chair, startling Genevieve, whom I forgot was there until I felt the claw graze my big toe.
It was 7:45 when I decide to take a shower and get dressed. My stomach rumbled but I was caffeinated, somewhat rested and supported by a long light I couldn’t touch but felt was everywhere. It’s hard to explain these things to an audience so I pretend I have one in my room and begin the narrative again. It always starts in winter…and wave my hands over the floor, twirl, embosk myself in actress. I vacillate between dangerously ungrounded to stoic and frosted and when I feel untethered, I play the part of dancer for myself, the mirror, the spiders in the corner. Rehearse, rehearse I whisper at the mirror, to the elusive centipede I see on my ceiling sometimes, the cat nightly and the invisible borders lining my apartment. I spent an entire summer once oblivious that I was conversing with a dead spider the entire time. I drank tequila nearly every night and and told stories to it’s eight upward legs and slow-desiccating body. I hadn’t thought to check the web for two months and when I did, I was conflicted by my insolence, not my psychosis.
“We’ve been talking all this time,” I began. “And you’re dead,” “I spoke at it again, sweeping it up, disappointed in myself for not checking sooner.
This consumes another hour or so: an hour of pacing and explaining in gestures and fractured sentences to my invisible theater. Double moon light. It wasn’t until 9:30 am that I was out the door. I think a lot. I pace my apartment frequently. I black out and mosy and tell stories to the cobwebs.
Sometimes chunks of time are missing during these episodes. Besides the moments at my dining room table, I do remember sitting on my bed naked feeling the drops from the shower run down my leg. I remember feeling the sun stream across my shins through the curtain. I remember the spreading, sardonic grin that announces to the world this is mania, let me in as I sunk into the mattress. At some point, I was splayed across the comforter with my arms above my head. It was freezing but I ignored that and stared at the little flecks of glitter dotting the beige ceiling; a present from the last tenant. They look like constellations, a lucky man said once. Get out. I glanced at the clock: 8:03 am. Getting dressed was difficult for me. Not so much the choosing of the outfit but accepting that I was going outside today in an effort to be confirmed and seen by the rest of the society. I do exist, my saunter says. What I wanted was to hide so what I forced myself to do was go for a walk every day. It is isolative but not as lonely.
“Have you taken your prozac?”
I shake off that memory. I get through my issues fine. I needed comfort for the storm so I put on my brother’s old sweatshirt and my favorite gray cap. I wear leggings under my black pants and thick socks for warmth. It was supposed to snow. I wear combat boots with good tread. I put on my long coat and wrap the lower half of my face with my biggest scarf. You can barely see me save my eyes. Good. I do everything with caution. My hair and head are covered completely. I feel the sanctity of my shrine life so close to me and slipping away. Every moment counts and I did nothing but count time.
By the time I was at 32nd street, it was 9:37. Time fades and when I remember, I check my clock. That’s a bad habit, my mother said once. That’s not the worst, I retorted. At 32nd street I had to decide how I was feeling. The snow was light. My eyelashes were grazed with little droplets of white. I looked down and saw the sidewalk shimmer in silver tint. Ice. I do not trust myself on ice. Sometimes I won’t take the bridge. Sometimes I won’t leave the house. Sometimes I face everything no matter what and talk to myself and tell my audience to wait. Today I stand at the corner of 32nd and Hamilton for an unknown amount of time before being pulled. I take the university city side to get to the trail. It was going to storm. I was afraid.
Given the fact that it was New Year’s Eve day, the campus was rather deserted which was nice. Men don’t bother me out here and women don’t make an impression at all, but people in groups distract me. I prefer men the least. They have roving eyes and a presence that stalks even in passing, even with their hands at their sides, even with their partners. I look down as I pass them or up to the sky or I suddenly check my reflection. Sometimes I will stare at them the whole way until right before their eyes meet mine. In an act of petty revolt, I will glance another direction when we are close enough to engage in small talk, to entrap each other with a nod or a lifted eyebrow. A smirk spreads across my face as they pass, as they shrink from the woman suddenly needing to check her lips in the window or adjust the volume on her iPhone or look away for no reason and feel them become smaller by the impasse. Even momentarily, these feelings are worth it. In our short lives, we are all entitled to feel giant sometimes.
The women give their onceover without much exertion. They are subtle like me. The women with men let contempt build a little in their shoulders so I only notice if I am facing them. They tense and adjust their posture but briefly and without much show. I catch them from time to time. A light shrug or shiver is all you will see. Some let their eyes roam from my head to my shoes. They always finish with a finger tucking thick hair, the thing I lack, behind their ear and a smile his way, pulling him closer. I don’t purposely provoke envy but even apathy is dangerous when you are tall. I am tall. I am armed with length and they know I am going nowhere. They know I have nowhere to be. They see my leisurely gait; one knee always braced in case of sudden fall which has created a bit of a limp but a strong limp- a limp on a journey. It is not what I look like. They can’t see me. My face is masked by my clothing and downward gaze or upward gawk. It’s not what I am wearing. I am not cool or put together the way these women in choreographed packs look. They wear boots with heels and their jackets match and they have color schemes for miles. They see me alone and going nowhere. I am mismatched unless I am perfectly manicured and on those days, I avert my eyes from everyone in mercy.
What they really covet, maybe despise or admire or grasp at, and it only lasts a second or two, is the air I possess in my awkward gait. My arms don’t swing when I walk. I clench. My knees hurt from the tension of waiting for a fall so I sometimes have to suddenly straighten or relax in my step. I am in pain. I think this is obvious to everyone but the way they play with their hair and laugh with open mouth, pulling his fingers closer to their waist and looking right at me, maybe I am wrong about what is obvious. A lifetime of covert motive has created elusion.
My jaw is usually clenched with my fist in my pocket and I am always clutching at something: keys, straw, stone, cell phone, and staring straight and stolid like a brainwashed soldier. They resent the space beside me; no one walks beside me. What is it, Cat? They fear their own freedom. What they want from me is my violence contained. I am my own container of blades, drawer of swords and growing illusions and they see it as I walk past them. My teeth grinding into my gums so I don’t suddenly bite the necks of the men they deign to love. Women know. They see me dripping in blood. They see me dripping in blood and not a man to stop me. They see me contain myself. What do men see? Only my rejection.
I continue to walk to Walnut St. There will be crowds of people now. I will blend in quickly and disappear like a concrete chameleon. I walk aimlessly for hours, waiting for and wanting nothing. My leisure is a gift from God. I pass storefronts without notice. I pass by dozens of men. I play the eye contact game the whole way and this brings me small joy. I smile on accident. My smile invites a man in a blue cap with kind, blue eyes and gray skin to loosen on his toddler and smile back at me. Instinctively, I look down and walk faster. I am at 13th street before I realize I passed the bridge entrance and I feel some strange relief. Do I want to take the parkway? Do I want to turn on Chestnut and play it safe? Hours seemed to have passed without me checking the time. It’s 11:30 am! Two hours and I have noticed nearly nothing. I look around and see couples gazing over. I see an old woman desperately trying to read the streetlight, her hands gloved and her neck craned towards the sky as she leans on her walker. She has those big black sunglasses laser surgery patients wear and it’s overcast. Should I intervene?I narrow my eyes at her and from the sideline, I see a group of men in puffy North Face jackets walking her way, stopping next to her, looking my way. They aren’t talking about me, but I can’t be sure. Let’s go. I see the woman nod at the“Don’t Walk” and she backs up a little and holds steady with the walker. I nod.
I am stopped on a rainbow in the gayborhood outside of a sorbet shop. This is so usual. Should I make use of my time? I can’t imagine buying sorbet in this cold except I do it all of the time. It’s like you don’t realize you’re on autopilot until you’re suddenly transported to Capogiro asking to try the pineapple, the pineapple you have tried a thousand times before. You know what will happen. If he is cute, you will smile and lick the spoon and ask for strawberry after you finish with the pineapple. If he is not, you will order the mango immediately. It’s a game that you play every day, but yet, here we are, denying it.
A young white girl was working the counter so I ask for banana. I already knew I liked it and I didn’t want to waste any more time. 11:42 am. Damn. I’ve done nothing today. I sit in the back of Capogiro for a while and look out the window. A couple comes in. They are boisterous and laughing and drawing a lot of attention to themselves. Because I am already facing the door, I can see them: young and both wearing blue scarves and falling in love. I cloak myself in rage fast. I can tell they are in falling in love by how loudly she laughs when he tells the story of his friend’s bike accident which isn’t funny or even that tragic and he keeps emphasizing all the wrong words and I want to interrupt.
I hear him say, “It was, like, fucking epic. So stupid.”
He is waving his arounds a lot.
“He was going over the trolley tracks and then swerved suddenly, sharp and missed the guy with the DOG” and he emphasizes this for some reason which I think is the wrong thing to emphasize.
She says, “Oh no” and giggles and touches his arm to encourage him and I am clawing at my pants.
He continues, “And then, AFTER (he emphasizes this and I want to scream at him that he is emphasizing the wrong part of the story) he has gotten over the trolley tracks, past the dog and popped a wheelie to avoid the oncoming car, he FALLS anyway. Right on his side! Just falls like someone pushed him.”
He shows her with his hands, pushing them back against the air like his friend was standing there. And she actually laughs.
“Yeah, and I was like “FUCK DUDE ARE YOU OK??”
He cocks his head to the side like a puppy and my nails are digging into my thigh and my mouth is open.
“Oh my goood,” she says and it’s nasally and I’m sort of standing up but also trying to contain myself.
“Yeah, it was crazy. He was totally fine though.”
He made a gesture to the air before FINALLY stepping up to the counter to order. He had to finish his story first. The white woman had been patiently waiting for him, blank expression and completely docile, professional, watching him ignore her as I watched them, as I made every effort to sit and stay and behave. The tip of my tongue is between my teeth and I am crouching over the chair, adjusting my ankle beneath my leg for show. I need a reason to have stood up suddenly. I plop back down, let my shoulders reconnect to the back of the chair and what was I going to do or say when I stood up? I don’t get the point of this story. It would have been funnier if after all of that he died or had a severe head injury that rendered him paralyzed so his last moments were fruitless and as he lay dying he could think: I almost didn’t go outside today and I did and when I did I thought, don’t avoid the dog, hit the dog, but here I am, dying because I avoided the dog. He fell off his bike. He didn’t hurt himself. He fell like “someone pushed him.” I want the attention back on me. I want to walk by him and whisper “I’m dying and you’re boring and below average in looks and she deserves better stories and I bet you don’t even go down on her enough” and I am seething at the window as two children are staring wide eyed, right at me. I do not notice I am muttering out loud to myself but they do. To transition, I drop my wallet on the floor so the couple turns to look at me and I don’t have to SAAAY anything. They stare for a second and order soy lattes. I get moving. 12:10pm. How did I get here? I brush his elbow on the way out and smile to myself.
Suddenly outside and something happens. My phone vibrates. I check it and it’s a text:
Not even a question.
“Hi,” I mock out loud and an old man turns around to look at me.
I actually don’t notice this time. I’m frantic, triggered but eager to dance through this interruption. I continue on to the parkway without a response. If I take the parkway, it will be a longer walk and I will have to cross the bridge but I will have more leisure time. It’s icy.
“I know it’s icy out!” I shriek to myself.
Two men in gray hoods turn the corner and I know they heard me so I bow my head down. I reach my fingers out to tap one of them on the thigh. He turns around and I decide to make a sharp left into Starbucks. I understand Starbucks. I don’t have to think. The line is long but I have headphones on. I have been wearing headphones this whole time with nothing playing. Nothing permeates my shell. I am the milky fog on the window that shimmers but obscures and it’s freezing to the touch. I deflect on instinct. There are several men looking at me from a table near a window. I bare my teeth but look straight as if I don’t see them and I wait until I feel their eyes move back over their phones or their casual conversation before I unclench my fist. I smile. You sneer. My peripheral is that of a hawk’s. I never enter a conversation I didn’t mean to start.
I wait about ten minutes without doing a single thing to prepare for ordering. Intensely focused on avoiding the gaze of everyone, I only snap out of my trance when I notice movement in front of me. People scatter and I am suddenly in front of a young black girl with a green cap and ponytail and a look of general dispassion displayed across her face. Her attitude calms me but the performance around ordering wasn’t rehearsed properly. I place my book bag gently next to the register and begin to pull out my cup. I have waited this long to do it for no other reason than I forgot. This annoys everyone in line and I can feel it. It irritates them because my cup is buried underneath everything else I own. I am charming. Pulling out my wallet, keys, bag of pens to mark the passing time on my hands or write errands I have to run on my palm, chapstick, comb, I smile. I have rehearsed this the way kids rehearse their classroom speech and are braced for feedback. The kid knows everyone’s asleep, but that doesn’t mean the kid doesn’t struggle with a sense of grandiosity. They’ll all remember me, the shaking child believes. The cup is last. The girl remains deadpan. She furrows her brows slightly at my bag and then at me. I am tall.
“May I have a coffee with soy milk in this cup, please?”I straighten my spine and hand her my plastic mug, quickly removing the top as I always do, praying I can get it off.
It pops right off today. Please, God, give me another no mistake day.
“Do you want this rinsed?” she grabs it, lowers it so I can see inside.
There is milky residue everywhere. I have washed that cup seventy times and it is never clean. It is filthy.
“Yes, please,” I look down, filled with shame, as she fills the cup with hot water.
As she begins the confusing coffee shop coffee process, I am sure I am being rude to her and that everyone can see it. I continue to pull out a notebook, then a half empty bottle of hand sanitizer and a gum wrapper before I get to my lipstick which I suddenly have to put on while I wait so I am not just standing there waiting for someone to serve me my coffee that I think I was rude to and everyone can see. My nerves are on fire. Today is going badly. I feel unnerved. I don’t like when I am unprepared. I should have had the cup out. I say this out loud on accident and I know because the woman behind me makes a weird squinty gesture when I glance back at her. Stop saying things out loud.
I don’t make any small talk inside. Things have been rough enough with ordering. I pay attention to her name tag in case I need her name as she hands me the coffee back: Crystal. Ok.
“Thank you, Crystal.”
She rings me up and says you’re welcome under her breath and I fiddle with my wallet. I have cash. That makes it easier. I receive the change easily enough and throw it in the bag and zip up the wallet. I move to the side still carrying the wallet, upset that I will have to fish the loose change out later but grateful that I am out of line. I can put the wallet back now, over here, by the counter. The line has grown behind me. I was fastidious enough. I want to scream and see if anyone will look up from their phone but I also want nothing to do with the world. It is a terrible ballet between constant fright and need and the in between is that I keep confronting my own shrinking mortality. I am somewhere floating and I see the men staring again, this time at my cup as I stand, murmuring lowly to myself. The thermos is green and black and says “Safety Starts With Me.” Nothing I own is that significant but it always draws attention. I decide to ignore them and sit.
I check the time. 12:42. I don’t have anywhere to be tonight, although I pretend I have somewhere to be. It’s New Years and I don’t really want to be found by midnight; I don’t want the invasive kiss even on the cheek. I don’t want to wear the ball gown draped on my bed. I don’t want to put on the plum lipstick and purse my lips in an effort to get you to think of them. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to meet you or feel your fingertips brush mine as you pass me on my way to somewhere else. You are ice cold. I am the villain? I don’t want to see you. I don’t want to know our fate and meet it anyway. I don’t want to see this.
Someone knocks over the sugar container behind me and I snap out of it. I drink too much coffee, I think. Jittery, my body is in motion, gnawing on the straw I keep in my pocket without noticing. I don’t remember taking my hand out of my pocket and pressing the straw in between my teeth. I was gnashing it loudly before I even felt my jaw bend. Grinding your teeth is a subtle grounding practice that everyone admonishes, but it is the only thing keeping me rooted to this Earth. When I am like this, I sometimes do not come back fast enough. When I am in public, I rely on mechanisms to save me. That’s a bad habit, my mother said. You should see the others, I snapped. The men at the table near the window catch me muttering to myself again. I look the other way hoping they do not see the flush of red hit my cheeks or have the density to assume that I am just coming from the cold and that is why I am so rosy. I am an exotic prisoner everywhere I go. I cannot take up but so much room and every eye is on me. There is no escape. I glare on instinct. I get up suddenly and leave without warning as if I remembered something.
You ghosted me.
You ghosted me, he said.
I did not.
You left without saying goodbye?
That’s how I leave. You knew I’d come back.
I never knew anything.
These conversations play in my head as I walk the street. I am a walking ambush. I am turning the corner of 22nd and Market already and I let my fingertips graze a stranger in a thick black parka. He has brown hair and a beard and I don’t recognize him. These conversations play in my head. I am never alone. I let my fingertips graze a stranger so he is not alone anymore either.
“December 31, 2016”