I meet with my therapist. She begins the session by telling me that she will be attending my reading next week. On the day of the reading, she will call me, tell me that the weather might prevent her from coming, and if that were to be the case, she apologized. The roads will clear, though, and she will sit in the audience at a highboy in a highchair by herself. People will ask me who she is. I will tell them.
But this day, this one, we talk about my crash the weekend before. Not the closest I’ve ever come to killing myself, but the closest I’ve come to wanting to in a very long time. The scene was as follows:
I am reacting poorly to a recent exchange of e-mails between me and a former lover. I am sitting on the futon which serves as a couch in the combined living and dining space of my apartment. Wrapped around that futon is rabbit fencing. This is so that my rabbit, when I let her out, does not get under the futon to chew out the mattress, which she has a history of doing.
I am drafting a furious response which I do not send. Instead, I respect her wishes and proceed to drink heavily, smoke weed, and sit there dazed.
And thank fucken god that I was sitting there dazed and not indulging my desires. From the vantage point of the futon behind the fence, I was looking at my knife collection, hanging on a magnet strip above the sink. I looked at each one, at the straight razor, and the scissors, too, taking time to dialogue with each one. At least four of them have cut me open on purpose.
I learned the word dissociate in therapy. I still have a hard time telling when I’m dissociating and when I’m just spacing out, but I’ll be goddamned if those knives, that evening, weren’t fucking singing to me.
I would tell a friend later, in writing, that I was scared to shit that I was going to pull a “lights out,” and just unseam myself like a goddamned fish. The only good news is that I was too inebriated and too glazed to act upon the furious voice that wanted blood and guts. It wanted a mess, it wanted to flip the switch. Somehow, I made it to my bed and slept like shit.
The next day I busy myself with coaching, running, and a date. As soon as I’m driving back home, though, maybe even before I get in the car, it all starts again and it’s a dialogue in my head on the drive back home.
I write a rough copy of an essay entitled “Tailspin,” which recounts the prior evening. I have violent dreams and I wake myself up because I think I’ve broken a tooth from clenching my jaw.
On Sunday, I called my therapist. Told her that I’d like to talk today if possible, and not wait until Thursday to see her.
I tell her: Hi, I’m not in crisis right now, but I’m wondering if we can meet sooner rather than later this week. I was in a really bad place this weekend.
I recount the scene, and she tells me she’s going to get her appointment book.
And here it is, Tuesday, and I’m still freaked out, and she tells me that she can tell. I am wondering aloud why the fuck I reacted so strongly, why this, of all things, caused the closest call I’ve had in years? Wherefore the intensity, wherefore the violence, from where the power of that all consuming anger that wanted a head on a fucken stake?
The summary of it was that I was still processing my breakup. That the summer into the fall and early winter had been so full of distractions that I never gave myself the time to think much about it until the Holiday break, at home with my family. Home, where I always have time to think and the sluice gates of memory open up thanks to the magical power of Southern Comfort Manhattans that my father tends to make starting atnoonduring these vacations.
The summer, fall and early winter: rebounding, falling back down, running for hours on end in the woods around my neighborhood, writing a book. And now, with the lull of the holiday break, I settle back and think about the fact that I have lost something.
OK, sadness, OK, loss, OK grief. But the anger and the panic that are tangled up in there?
I tell her that I’m lost. That I’m still not getting it, that it’s all one big, sad, hungover mess.
My therapist, for the first time, brings in visual aids. She places stones on the ottoman where she is usually resting her legs if she hasn’t tucked them under herself in that big white chair of hers. Each stone is a part of me.
From left to right, here is the setup that together we create:
A translucent pink stone is young and vulnerable. It freaks out easily. It seems unable to defend itself. A blue stone, then. This stone wants harmony and silence; it wants to obtain these things at all costs. Then, a gray stone. This stone is the murderous rage, this stone is anger, this stone is a wolf with a bloody jaw.
Over the blue stone, she places a wire dome the color of gold. This is the part that calls for the firestorm, that wants the system shutdown, that is overpowered by the gray stone.
The gray stone attacks the blue. The blue protects the pink. The gold wire crashes down on top to render the whole scene blank, so that there’s only the white ottoman. Peace at the cost of life.
The gray stone. The object of my inquiry. We talk about it: it attacks in any direction, outside and inwards. Since it was not allowed to attack the former lover, it attacked me, it attacked the blue stone, the pink stone. It sees in black and white, and it fucken comes to play.
She then asks: is this your mother’s rage or your father’s rage?
I want it to be my mother’s, for some reason. But I know that it isn’t. I tell my therapist that it’s his, not hers.
My father’s rage. Something I’d known, something I’d seen, something that sat at the dinner table, yelled at coaches and referees during my hockey games. It had power, it had depth, and it was loud.
I tell her this one. The one in 2004, the summer after I returned fromFrance. The one where I really thought he might go for it, that he might kill my mother.
He was on a business call in the family room. I can’t remember what it was about. My guess is that it had to do with the Republican National Convention inNew Yorkthat summer, but I can’t really be sure. Most of his calls at home were around natural disasters, armed robberies, or big upcoming events.
My mother had asked him if he wanted us to wait on dinner for him. He waved her off, I guess, not giving an answer. I think that I also tried to check in. I think he was there with the phone up against one ear, a finger in the other, until I appeared and asked if he wanted us to hold up on dinner, which was, at that point, almost ready. He flashed his index finger, either to say, “one minute,” or “I’m on the phone,” or, “go away.”
Absent an answer, my mother, a former lover of mine, and I had dinner.
We should have waited.
His call ended. He came out of the family room, and saw that dinner had been served and that he had not been included at the table. I do not remember if I was in the kitchen or in the hallway or somewhere else when he first started screaming, but I got there quickly.
He was standing by the kitchen sink. My mother was seated at the kitchen table. I stood directly in between them, with my lover immediately behind me.
He said things that were approximately as follows:
Don’t fucking wait for me, no.
Some fucking treatment.
Jesus Christ, you people.
You people. All of us to blame. All of us the reason that he was still hungry.
The door slammed and he drove away. Where did he go? I’m guessing that he went to D’Angelo’s, and ordered a large steak and cheese grinder with peppers, but no onions. He might have even brought it home and eaten it alone in the kitchen as a way to reclaim what was his. His goddamned kitchen table. His goddamned dinner.
What freaked me out the most about the scene was my mother – she just sat there and took it. She always puts up a fight and usually wins or at least has the last, passive aggressive word. But she just looked back at him while he fucken screamed and gave it to us all. She just looked back at him. Didn’t even try to make a move, to get a word in. She was frozen.
I almost wanted her to get up and tell him to go fuck himself, that he fucken waved all of us off when we asked. That, in my own narrative, would have been more fitting. He shouts, she shouts back, they fight, they quarrel, I tell them both to shut the fuck up or to take it outside. The fact that even she was freaked out, well, that was something new.
OK, so he leaves. He slams the door and drives off to get a grinder, maybe some chips, and a Dr. Pepper.
My shoulders drop as I make my way to the stairs. I can feel it coming, and I want to make it to my bedroom to be alone.
But I don’t fucken make it. I lose it right there on the staircase. I’m halfway up, I collapse, and there’s my lover, trying to console me as I sob my fucken eyes out. Snot and tears and a lover doing her best to calm me down.
I am twenty years old. He yells, and I’m a puddle on the floor. While he was screaming at her, I was torn between running to hide and launching myself at him to beat his ass. I did neither, and like my mother I stood there and took it, and then I fucken cried on the stairs.
The gray stone. My father’s rage.
You people. That’s me, you asshole. Your fucking son.
But I don’t tell him this. I never do. I just stand there and take it, and take it, and take it.
My father’s rage. A small gray stone.
Enough to break me every time.