(This is an edited memoir excerpt that I had originally posted as a note some time ago on FB and had also been previously posted on a website devoted to spirituality and recovery. I wrote this four and half years ago in an attempt to summon my precise mindset during my 14th and 15th years, after being diagnosed with having Bipolar Disorder. At that time in my life, I was prone to these nightly walks that were as senseless as they were somehow mandatory. Looking back, I think I was simply in a manic state and maybe that constant motion helped me keep one step ahead of the pain I could never seem to elude. If the writing or sentiment seems like that of an adolescent, then I have succeeded, for that is the very voice I was trying to both resurrect and reconcile in this piece.)
After a strong year of creeping, I had learned by now to be quiet and not let the screen door slam behind me. The real trick was in tiptoeing down that last stretch of creaky flooring just past the hallway where the carpet met the parquet flooring that led to the front door. The porch light was alive in a competition of frantic moths and swirling dust that all seemed covered in a blinding whiteness. A familiar pink gecko looked on unimpressed. My hands were shaking but they always shook; yet another side effect of the Lithium that had been prescribed in part to end these senseless walks. I lit a cigarette and the bluish smoke and cold, invisible night air became one in my breathing. I tried my best to conjure camouflage inside of that.
I knew which way to walk. I had been traveling this particular path every night. Months earlier, I had been removed from the ninth grade after my brain had stopped cooperating with the rest of reality. Class had been dismissed. Over the past eighteen months, Pre-Schizophrenia, Borderline Personality, even the possibility of brain cancer had all been scribbled down as possible culprits, but ultimately Bipolar Disorder won the prize. I had been pushed from the pack and I was learning to survive the woods alone. I was learning to enjoy this abandonment. As I stood in the night, my ears felt like they were rising up from my head and all of the hairs on my body seemed to curl outward in an awakened state. As I walked east towards the beach, I would hear an occasional car purr behind me over my shoulder on Penman Road.
A few nights back when I was on my march I came upon a cat lying down in the middle of the street. He or she was a still, tan thing and seemed perfectly calm on its side. I slowed my pace as I came up closer to its body. Why didn’t it run or move? That cat was in the exact middle of the road, right where they would have ran a painted, yellow line. I stopped and stared at the cat. Kitty, kitty I said. The cat didn’t move. We were at a standoff. Its eyes were staring up at me.
I finally realized this cat was dead. I didn’t know what to do or how to feel. I couldn’t really fathom how it had died (twenty years of hindsight led me to believe it was simply a car) or how it was placed so perfectly there. This was a powerful omen in the moonlight. I enjoyed the intimacy and power inside of this moment, the shrapnel of my thoughts bending into contemplation. I bent down and stroked its fur. I smelled my hand but nothing had truly changed. I accepted all of this as prophecy and kept on walking on.
I moved in a newly familiar and now comforting simmering hostility, and with each step I forgot that I was even afraid. I knew how to be mad and played around in disappointments. I had learned how to dig in my heels. I knew how to tell those around me to fuck off and the perfect place to kick a door so the hole would look like an angry crater in the wood. I would spend hours in the bathroom mirror with the window cracked, perfecting the art of slow motion smoking with a rehearsed glare. In the mirror I stared into myself and my eyes were furious embers. Weeks earlier, I had angrily spray-painted Rimbaud’s “I is Another” on my bedroom wall, hoping that I would become someone else as the black paint hissed out the words. My parents would randomly stop me at times when I came in late at night after returning from some misadventure with my mute and denim clad friends. Let us see your eyes, they would say. We want to see if your pupils look dilated. Lately I had gotten in the habit of staggering in the house and taunting them in a singsong voice, do my eyes look ‘related’? Only years later when we were all more sane and civil and starting to heal would we joke that it was as much the Lithium as all of the LSD that made my eyes look like they were about to launch out of my head.
It was impossibly quiet outside, a kind of dull silence afforded by living in the suburbs. The grass was wet from the now-quiet sprinklers. The street itself was dry and black. I could faintly hear the ocean sighing the short mile away from the shoreline. As far as a midnight walk went, Second Avenue was a fairly safe place for a fourteen year old to be. Now and again a police car would slow down to a crawl but the cop inside would usually stare at me with tired disinterest and roll on. I was a deliberate anomaly in the mid-eighties, a chubby, hippy kid wearing sandals and sadly at times even a dashiki which I would then customarily drape with beads. At 2 a.m., in Jax Beach I was an ass-kicking waiting to happen. There must have been some fed up angel working in my life, some supernatural figure that protected me, sent by the religion of the deranged. I would stay on my street for as long as I could but at some point would have to step onto Third Street or Beach Boulevard to continue my quest. There I would be like a dumb lamb drifting into the wolf’s side of the forest. I would no longer be under spiritual protection.
My eyes would be troubled by the brighter activity on the main road and the street lights and gas station signs would seem to flicker and jump in recognition of my presence. There were a few people around and cars would race by but it was always more frightening when they would slow down to yell or taunt or even worse just stare. This was the only real obstacle on my nightly course, but they probably thought why bother and they too would soon speed off back into their own lives and be erased back into the night. I would look up to the moon hoping that it would surprise me and change its shape or location. I would seek constancy in everything and then be saddened by all of this appointed sameness. I would walk and walk and feel like I was in full blown demonic possession of myself.
Sometimes if it wasn’t too late, I would go bother the girl that I considered to be my girlfriend. At least I had threatened her as such. I’d find her there in the same bathrobe, tired but opening the door for me. She had been a good sport, and would sit with me in quiet boredom as I talked about all of my big future plans and discoveries I had unearthed over the course of the past year, but she treated this news with same measured equanimity she had practiced when I would rant about the power of The Velvet Underground or Richard Brautigan. I had dreams and held her hostage with them. I went to her one night after consuming my suicide dose of Tofranil. I ultimately survived that attempt at self-destruction, due in no small part to her calling my parents that night. But I regained my strength to aggravate her even further. Her patience was like a buoy I would acknowledge and pass before swimming into the deeper waters that called me.
The beach was an unfailing place, comforting in all directions. It met me with the smell of the water and the hissing foam of the waves that could overwhelm me. I would look south down the shore and the moonlit sea shells, beach glass and bottle caps looked like punctuation marks on a sentence that would never end. The pulsating, orange glow of my cigarette was in communion with the moon. I used to stand there in all of this total incompletion and unwanted silence and hope that someone would come along and do something, or at least ask me why I was even there.
And I had my answer for them because I too had my own question. It was what I had been loudly asking myself over the past year and a half, what I had sheepishly asked the frowning doctors since my diagnosis, and what I asked every lamp lit or darkened window when I made my midnight rounds. My question was one that surely preceded the Bible as I knew it. It was on me like a birthmark. It was a mark of protection. It kept changing form. It is what kept walking me there. I was standing on that beach because all I ever did was live hour to hour with the same baffled and blurry investigations. And this is what I asked the ocean, the moon, the God who was deaf to me: How do people sleep when all of this pain is occurring? Does everyone feel this partial, so fully incomplete? I had been reduced to praying to myself and in my own name over this. Do they all walk in the same guilt and shame? Is everyone else hiding their halos? What god would do this?
And I had the same answer every night, like cheating on a test in hell. The ocean would see me coming and curl its lips as if to smile and she would shush me between waves. “Without wait, without wait…without wait…” the ocean would say and I would walk home even angrier, but even more blind and deaf, and even more loyal to the original amnesia that sent me there every night in the first place.
Daniel A. Brown