Spare Change?

300px-Hitchhiker's_gestureA simple choice, really. Walk to the bottom of the hill, cross the street, and stick out my thumb to hitch south to Hermosa Beach, or keep trudging down the hill with my arm out towards the street, my thumb hooked forward, hoping some poor soul would be turning south at the bottom of the hill anyway.

My bare feet were like leather sole shoes now, but not quite thick enough to stop the burning pavement from keeping my steps light and quick. My thoughts were molasses oozing slowly out of a jar, so I kept walking with my back to the traffic and stuck out my thumb.

 I will hail them, my brothers of the wheel, and pitch them a yarn, of the sort that has been so successful hitherto, and they will give me a lift, of course…

~ Mr. Toad: The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame)

A faded blue beater car pulled over and a guy in a sweaty, white, short-sleeved shirt leaned over and yanked open the passenger door. I jumped in. “Thanks,” I offered. “Going as far as Hermosa?”

I was on my way to “The Zoo,” as the locals called it. Someone had even spray-painted the words on the low wall that separated the sand near the Hermosa Beach pier from the strand, the sidewalk hundreds of people strolled every day of the year.The wall was where the “freaks” like me congregated to meet, talk, exchange dope for cash, and just “be.” It was one of my favorite places to meet people. I didn’t really know them all that well, didn’t even know most of their names, but we were compadres. It was us against the Establishment. I gave them names of my own, like “Mickey Mouse Watch,” “The Poet,” and “Freakazoid.” I loved them; they were my people. They made no demands. At least most of them.

Faded blue beater car pulled over at the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Pier Avenue. He grabbed my arm as I started to open the passenger door to hop out. “Ya wanna go somewhere?” he asked. He had a wad of cash rolled up in a rubber band in his hand.

I yanked my arm away. “Go buy yourself a decent car!” I scrambled out the door and slammed it shut. Asshole.

I walked over to the corner and began making my way through the throngs of tourists and locals already out and about. “Spare change? Spare change?”

“Thanks!” I said when I felt some coins in my hand. I snuck a glance, hoping to meet a friendly face. Most looked away, disgusted. Within about six minutes (I timed it once) I had enough for some breakfast and some “red devils,” usually prescribed to help housewives with insomnia. Mother’s little helpers.

The breakfast would fill my belly. The reds would fill my emptiness. At least for a little while. Long enough to forget that no one cared. Long enough to forget that I didn’t care. Whatever. Forget breakfast. I need to find “Army Dude.”

I thought about blue beater car and slumped into the first vacant seat in the cafe. Asshole.

Learning to Fly on My Own

God gives every bird its food, but he does not throw it into the nest.

-Josiah Gilbert Holland

Learning to Fly

Learning to Fly

My mother had been dead for four months. I had become the matriarch of our family in one fell swoop.  At only 34-years-old, I felt alone on the planet. I had finally gotten my independence from an alcoholic, unfaithful husband, but my dependent nature clung to me like soot after a fire.  I wanted to wash it off, but a residue remained, leaving me longing for someone…anyone.

As I worked the microfiche machine at my desk at work, searching through other people’s family stories, I yearned to be part of a family and have a story of my own. I issued birth, death, and marriage certificates for other families daily. Performing marriage ceremonies seemed to feed my loneliness even more, leaving me empty and vulnerable.

I was working at the vital records counter in the county clerk’s office, listening to the good-natured chirping between my co-workers. Suddenly, everyone stopped talking.  The only sound in the large room came from the overhead fans and the rustling of paperwork on the desks near the open door.  Curious, I glanced up from the microfiche machine.

At first I thought everyone else recognized a movie star I had not seen before. Now I noticed all eyes were on me.  I fumbled around with the switches on the machine and walked up to the counter.

“May I help you?”  I looked up.  Our eyes met.  “Hey, I think I know you,” I smiled.

“I doubt it,” he said, dripping with sarcasm.  I took a step back.

“Well, I mean I think I’ve seen you.  Do you go to church?”  Wow…what was I doing?

He glanced up quickly, seeming to see me for the first time.

“Yeah,” he said, sounding a little friendlier.

I helped him with his paperwork, trying not to stare at him.  After he left, several of the women standing close by tittered and made little comments about his gorgeous good looks.  I was thinking about how I could sit nearby him at the next church service and try to catch his eye again.

Within two weeks he had volunteered to head a committee of men who would help me get my newly rented home ready for move-in.  It needed paint, some electrical work, and the carpet ripped out, and he was handy.   He came over every day, bending, stooping, and reaching.   I admired all 6’4” of him in all of his various positions.  He talked about the Lord constantly, incessantly in fact.  I tried to admire this, but it felt off and more than a little odd.

One day, coming back from running errands together, I asked him for a hug (sneaky strategy, huh?).  He sat there for several moments, not moving, not speaking, his eyes closed.  My stomach lurched.  I wondered if I had just made some terrible faux pas.  He reached over and hugged me so hard it hurt and whispered,  “The Lord told me I could.”

At first we found ways to spend time together without really calling it a date.  It was important to him that we went about this the “right” way for the Lord.   Nearing Christmas, we made a plan together (I thought) to take my children to get a Christmas tree.  My kids and I got up early.  They were clearly excited as we scrambled around the house, getting ready for the big day. Then we waited.  And we waited.  He didn’t show up.  He didn’t call.  Finally, I called him.

“Hi, what are you up to?” I feigned cheer.  “I thought we were going to take the kids to get a Christmas tree together?”

“You sound exactly like my ex-wife!”

My breath caught in my throat and my eyes widened as I tried to process what I just heard.  A sound came out of my mouth, but instead of forming a word, I slammed the receiver down on the cradle.  I began to hyperventilate.  It felt like something was being ripped away from me. The kids and I remained home for the day while I wrestled with my anxiety.  We were disappointed, and I felt totally confused…like I had just met Mr. Hyde.

Of course his next phone call smoothed away all my fears.  He was just tired, busy, something had happened at work that had upset him, he was sorry, and he’d make it right.

One night we double-dated with another couple.  He had planned the evening around dinner at a sushi bar and then it would be off to the Sycamore Mineral Springs Spa in Avila Beach, California, one of the most romantic places for a date.  Each oak barrel tub is separated enough from the others for maximum privacy.  Little lights line the dark paths winding up the hill through a sycamore grove.  I was looking forward to showing off my new bathing suit I bought, just for this occasion.  When I saw the truck drive up, I ran out to greet my friends. I opened the passenger door, jumped in, shut the door, and turned to smile.

“Don’t slam my door like that!” he glared.  Everyone went silent.  “Sorry, I didn’t mean to.”  My face reddened, but I struggled to normalize the request in my mind.  Of course he needs to make sure I don’t slam his door.  It’s a new truck.  I worked hard in the next minutes to pretend I didn’t notice his anger in front of our friends.  It was clear they were as surprised as I was.

We ended up having a wonderful time and I let myself relax.  But my mind began to compartmentalize my experiences.  One part held fear, caution, and lots of confusion.  The other part held the picture of the six foot, four inch, romantic man with the movie star looks.  He had a good job; he was handy around the house and good with money.  He was a gourmet cook and loved to grow orchids.  And he was a super spiritual version of what was on my top 10 list.  He was everything a good Christian woman should want, right?

It seemed like every woman in the church, single and married alike was riveted on my relationship with this mysterious man.  I was suddenly catapulted into a type of churchy celebrity status.  For the first time in my life I had something that others wanted too.  Other single women approached him, and asked him out for coffee or for lunch.  He turned them down and I felt pride that he had chosen me over so many others from our large church.  Only I never felt I had a firm grip.  My stomach began to do a play by play of events and I ended up in the doctor’s office almost weekly after being diagnosed with colitis. My feelings were on hyper alert.  Is this what love is?

The next time we argued, he told me he was just tired, busy, something had happened at work that had upset him, he was sorry, and he’d make it right. And besides, I had pushed a button of his, and if I just had not done that, this would never have happened.  I would have to try not to do that.

He planned beautiful, romantic dates at the best restaurants, including roses and wine, and ending with long walks on the beach.  He drove me up to the mountaintop late one afternoon.  He brought a quilt, champagne and flutes, and smoked salmon and cheddar cheese, and spread them on the ground.  He helped me out of the truck and gently wrapped a blanket around my shoulders.  We sat and ate and talked until dark.   He tipped my chin up towards the sky and whispered, “Just wait.”  Soon, a trail of light blazed across the sky.  Then another.  Then another.  Then he kissed me.  I flung my doubts out to the sky and let them disappear into the black ink.

Our relationship became a series of conflicts, retreats and pursuits, the pattern repeating itself over and over.  I believed the only way to bring a stop to my insecurity was to marry him.  I was sure my own fears about his love were what were causing problems.  I believed it would be good for my son to have a strong male figure in his life.

The night we got back from our honeymoon was a turning point.  Now that we were married, Mr. Hyde quit playing hide and seek and decided to stay for dinner.  I felt helpless for several minutes while I listened to him bully my children about helping.  They weren’t doing anything right.  The silverware didn’t go the way they put it on the table.  They weren’t fast enough and dinner was getting cold!  He looked at them as if they were stupid.  They became quiet, and nervous, giving each other sideward glances.

“I sure hope you are listening to the Holy Spirit right now.” I said.  He glanced down and seemed embarrassed.  My chest swelled a little.  I had stepped in and taken care of it, just like that!  I am a good mother.

Soon, none of us were doing anything right.  Nothing happened without his approval.  If it wasn’t originally his idea, the answer was “no.”  If he said yes, he would change his mind at the last minute.  My friends could come over when he said they could.  They came less and less.  My sister could visit, but she walked on eggshells and spent time crying in the guest room.  He always answered the phone on first ring, screening all our calls.  He wouldn’t let my teenage daughter lock the bathroom door.

Then we were battling over how to cook ground beef or when to start a load of laundry.  He was disgusted when I didn’t know to put two slices of cheese on a grilled cheese sandwich, so he threw it in the trash.  I began to filter everything I did or said around what the consequences would look like.  What would he say if he knew I thought this, said that, or did this other thing? What would he do?  Mostly I knew what he would do, and it wasn’t pleasant.

At times I escaped by hiding in the tree house in our backyard.  I took long walks or I got in my car and drove to a nearby gas station and cried to a friend from the payphone.  My anxiety attacks and depression worsened and I needed medication.  My children were miserable.  I started calling some friends to see if we could come stay with them for a while and no one could help.  I began stashing change from the market in a shoe along with a spare set of keys.  I ordered a credit card in my own name.  I knew I had made another stupid, stupid mistake, and I felt ashamed.  I stopped looking into my friend’s eyes when I went to church.  I lied to everyone.  I’m fine, how are you?

My church family and pastor seemed to turn their eyes away, as if they couldn’t stand to watch the train wreck happen.  No one called; no one came to help. The church counselors knew I had bruises, but by this time his charisma and charm had landed him a position on staff at the church. They believed him when he told them I was out of control.  Many times I drove onto the freeway and just screamed out to God in desperation.  But I didn’t believe I deserved his help.  After all, I had done this…with eyes wide open.

Finally, I was ready.  I called my husband and asked to meet in the middle of a parking lot at the shopping center.  With others around for protection, I told him I was divorcing him. It had been two and a half years of pure hell.  I was a shell of who I had been starting to become.  Thin, hollow-eyed, defeated.  I was filled with guilt over what I had allowed to happen to my children and myself.  I believed God was so disappointed in me that he had turned his back altogether.  In one month’s time I had managed to lose a husband, my home, my car, and my job. It was my third divorce.  I was wrecked.

So I did what I did best.  I ran.  There’s a story in the Bible about a concubine of Abraham’s.  Her name was Hagar.  She gave birth to Ishmael, before Abraham’s wife had her own son, Isaac.  In Sarah’s jealously, she mistreated Hagar to the point of desperation.  Hagar ran out to the desert with her son, alone, and seeming without friend or protector.

I thought of her as I ran out to my own desert, away from church, friends, family.  I ran empty-handed. And then, just like God met Hagar in the desert, God met me there too.  He picked me up and carried me like a wounded little bird in a cardboard box.  He was gentle, tender, giving me little sips of water.  He slowly restored my spirit and eventually, he restored everything I had lost.

And then he began to teach me how to fly on my own.

 

 

 

 

 

In the Well with Tolstoy

edvard munch - the scream  1893

edvard munch – the scream 1893 (Photo credit: oddsock)

My brother’s suicide left me feeling as if I had been pushed over an emotional cliff, arms flailing as my body hit the jagged edges of rock outcroppings on the way down. The suicide of my father felt like I had been tied to the front of a runaway train that broke away from the tracks and headed over the edge going 110 miles per hour.  I hit bottom and lay there, stunned, and unable to move.

Slowly, I rolled onto my back, exposing my belly like a trusting cat. But it wasn’t that I trusted, it was that I no longer cared.  Hurt me if you want to, kill me if you must, just get it over with.  The God I knew had broken me, but there was no supervisor above him to take him to task.  In a small, dark corner of my mind, I thought there may be a hell worse than the one I was in, so I got up and kept moving, and spoke to no one about how I really felt about any of it.

My father’s suicide coincided with a time when churches all over America were chatting it up big time about the end of the world.  Author Hal Lindsey was pushing his theory that the planet was headed for disaster very soon. He had written a best-selling book and a film, aptly titled The Late Great Planet Earth.  Another lovely end of the world scenario was published under the title, The Jupiter Effect, a best-selling book by John Gribbin, Ph.D, and Stephen Plagemann (1974) that predicted that an alignment of the planets of the solar system would create a number of catastrophes, including a great earthquake in my area of the country.  This was supposed to take place in eight years.  I was sitting on death row without the right to an appeal.

In response to all this, pastors hurriedly began studying and teaching the Book of Revelation, readying the flock for the Great Tribulation.  A conversation amongst believers hardly took place without the mention that time was short. The solid rock became shifting shale. I smiled as I sat in on a conversation about the fruitlessness of getting a living room re-carpeted (considering we were all about to die) but the tentacles of fear and sadness crept over and around me, squeezing the very breath from my lungs.  My therapist added “with psychotic features” to my major depression diagnosis.  I began “seeing” bushes dying, stairways crumbling, as if I could see the end of the world taking place before my very eyes.  God had pushed the “fast-forward” button.

The God I loved and trusted became the God I feared.  This God had some bizarre plan for mankind that culminated in the “rapture of the church” and the “Mark of the Beast.”  I observed those around me.  I could not figure out how those who knew that this horror was on our very doorstep could go on living as before.  Why weren’t they on their knees day and night, or snatching poor souls off street corners and away from death’s grip?  I literally could not figure it out.  It never occurred to me that they did not believe what they were saying.

I found myself a member of a club to which I no longer wanted to belong.  I tried to ignore the leader, become invisible in the crowd.  I had become afraid of Him.  I politely listened to the others, but one of us was crazy, and I was pretty sure it had to be me.

My pastor tried to help me.  He was the voice of reason.  I sequestered myself in my house, not daring to come out and face the zombie apocalypse.  I asked question after question but the thoughts in my mind were tangled, like a rubber band ball.  Trying to untangle them was exhausting, and I began to lose the ability to keep a thought in my mind for more than one or two seconds.

He had compelling reasons why I should not succumb to the hysteria of the moment, but his words were like vapor, slipping through my fingers and away.  So I made him write all the good thoughts down…the ones that gave me hope that the zombies out in the street had it wrong, had come out too soon.

I was coming to a crisis of faith.  I read My Confession, by Tolstoy, and I identified with his plight.  I was precariously close to releasing my grip on the branch in Tolstoy’s well.  I may as well let go of my grip and sacrifice myself to the dragons below than wait for the mice to gnaw through it.

Once in awhile I would have a thought, and to quote Tolstoy himself, “life rose within me.”  Then, like my hallucinations, the thought would melt away and I’d be left with nothing but a desire for death.  Over and over this happened.  I suffered from circuitry overload, and thoughts continued to disintegrate as fast as they would come.

One day, a spark of hope lasted longer than usual.  I realized that in all my railing against God, I had never felt his presence more sweetly.  In all my anger and confusion, I had not succeeded in pushing him away.  The opposite was true.  Instead of allowing me to turn my back and walk away, he seemed to be relentlessly pursuing me.  The hallucinations began to melt away along with the block of ice surrounding my heart.  A cloak had been gently placed around my shoulders, and it felt a lot like love.  My heart and mind began to heal. I had walked through the valley of the shadow and survived.  Now it was time to stop awhile and rest by the stream, and then pick up my pack and keep moving.

Without knowing what I am and why I am here, life is impossible.

~ Leo Tolstoy

Another Think Coming

Walking on Water Hajdudorog

Walking on Water Hajdudorog (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my last post I wrote about how I expected that asking God to take over my life would lead to instant emotional healing.  I would love to be writing about how much better life got after I made a commitment to Christ.  In some ways, life got worse, at least at first.

The church was small, and about fifty to seventy-five members attended on any given Sunday.  The atmosphere was warm and intimate. It was like an incubator of sorts, and I truly do not think I would have survived in a large, mainline denominational church.  Even the pastor who recommended I start attending did not invite me to his own church!  I’m sure he pictured how difficult it would be for the proper ladies of his congregation to reach out to this poor, wretched, emotionally scarred scarecrow of a young woman.  They may have been tempted to simply ignore me, or tell me how badly I needed to clean up my act.   And it wouldn’t have taken much to push me over the edge, to make that break between me and life on planet Earth.

The people in this little congregation cared deeply about me.  Not one word was uttered about the state I found myself in.  I was legally married to my first husband, never having bothered to file divorce papers, even though he had abandoned us many years earlier.  I was living with my boyfriend, who was smoking dope from the moment he got up in the morning.  Looking back on this, I think it’s very unusual that no one proffered his or her opinion about all this.  It was almost like someone called a meeting and they agreed to allow God Himself to do what he does best when it comes to changing people’s lives.  Like I said, very unusual.

But this was a time of great confusion for me as well.  A well-meaning parishioner would throw a Scripture my way that was supposed to take all the fear out of my brain like a vacuum cleaner sucking up sand.  All those particles making noise and then silence.  Ahhh! But when quoting these Scriptures didn’t seem to work for me, I became sure that God saw me as an imposter, attempting to squeeze by unnoticed.  To me, that meant I was rejected.  My feelings of abandonment rested on a hair trigger.  It didn’t take much.  And if God abandoned me, that meant I was going to hell…no matter what.  And if I were going to hell no matter what, I might as well go ahead and make the trip rather then knowing about it for years ahead of time.  Who can deal with that knowledge?  Like a doctor telling you you have one to three years to live.  Yikes!

So I would be on the verge…making the plan.  I wrestled with it, worrying about my children, but thinking they’d be better off without me.  I worried about the church members, feeling all guilty and everything.  And then, like clockwork, it seemed like the Lord Himself stepped in to keep me planted on this side of the veil.  Once in awhile he just stepped right in to the scene in a dream I was having during stage 4 REM.  Other times, I would be pretty close to ending things when the phone would ring and one of the church ladies asked how I was doing, or there would be a knock at the door.  I became more and more sure that God was the one doing the knocking.  “Hello!  I’ve got a plan, and it doesn’t include repeating “fear not” while pointing your finger in the air or pretending to stomp on ‘ol’ slewfoot’s’ head!”

Winter’s comin’ on and it’s twenty below. And the river’s froze over so where can he go. We’ll chase him up the gulley then we’ll run him in the well. We’ll shoot him in the bottom just to listen to him yell.

“Old Slewfoot,” by Johnny Horton – The Legend – 1975 Columbia House 2P-6418

And it was enough…enough to keep me coming back to the little white church with the mural of Jesus walking on the water…enough to hang in there and keep breathing long enough to live another day.  I was still grieving the death of my brother, still waking up and crying first thing.  I still couldn’t drive a car, go grocery shopping, and I was still lying on the floor all day long just trying to get my breath at least once a week.  And I was still seeing Dr. Teemis.  And Dr. Teemis was still royally screwing with my head.  But things were definitely looking up a little.

One day I was talking to the pastor about my fear-filled thoughts about the future.  “Linda,” he started, if we got a list of all the things that would happen to us at the beginning of each year, we would go crazy with fear.  But all those things take place one at a time, and God gives us the grace to handle each one as they come.”  That helped a little, alleviated some of the dread I felt inside when I had certain thoughts.  But there was one thought that produced so much adrenaline flowing through my veins that the thought of God’s grace coming in after the fact wasn’t comforting at all.  Turns out all that dread was justified.  If I thought I was done with trauma just because I had become a believer, I had another think coming.

Free Fall

Year Two, Day 26: A Touch of the Crazies

Year Two, Day 26: A Touch of the Crazies (Photo credit: Bryan Gosline)

(If you are new to this blog, a good way to read it is to start with the very first post, “It Was A Dark And Stormy Night.”  This is a memoir, the story of my life.  If you are offended by expletives, you may want to skip this post.  I do not use them to add shock value, but to just tell the story of what happened as honestly as I can).

The terror was relentless.  It punctuated every waking moment.  On the worst days, I lay on the floor all day long, just attempting to breathe. My thoughts went pinging around my head like a highly polished steel ball in a pin-ball machine.  I lost all ability to daydream, as I attempted to control each thought; making sure one didn’t get away from me like a runaway semi-truck.  There was no emergency ramp in sight, no way to put the breaks on going very quickly and completely insane.   I didn’t understand what was happening, how I could suddenly lose myself so quickly, so easily.   I had no name to pin on it.  I knew no one who had ever experienced it.  I felt alone in my madness.

I went to my physician and he put me on Valium.  He sent me to a psychiatrist, Dr. Teemis.  Every two days I waited in Dr. Teemis’ waiting room until he called me in, holding the door to his private office as I walked through to the inner sanctum for those privileged enough to have gone crazy.  Then he shut and locked the door, then shut and locked another door, which was right in front of the first one. I thought all psychiatrists must have double locking doors, although for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why this was so.

I sat in a chair, as far away from Dr. Teemis as possible. Each visit began the same way.  He’d lean back in his black leather and chrome office chair and put his feet up on his desk.  He folded his hands in his lap and stared at me from across the room. I would wait for him to speak, to take over, to offer a solution, some answers.  But he almost never spoke first.  Once in awhile, he broke the silence by asking a question, but he never seemed satisfied with my answers.  He asked about my relationship with my parents, the alcoholism, the neglect, and traumatic events of the past.  I left every session feeling worse about my life than I had when I was actually living it.  There was no way I was going to talk to this guy about Michael the Archangel.

Lunatics are similar to designated hitters. Often an entire family is crazy, but since an entire family can’t go into the hospital, one person is designated as crazy and goes inside. Then, depending on how the rest of the family is feeling that person is kept inside or snatched out, to prove something about the family’s mental health.”
― Susanna Kaysen, Girl, Interrupted

Dr. Teemis always asked what it was that I was really afraid of.  I was afraid of being afraid for no apparent reason!  What’s not to get about that?  Didn’t he understand that one day I felt fine and then the next day I felt such horror and dread I thought I would die from it?  I believed Dr. Teemis had the key and was waiting until just the right moment to give it to me.  I grew to rely on him to keep me sane enough, to keep me from ending up back in the state mental hospital.  I didn’t think he liked me very much but he seemed resigned to see me week after week nonetheless.

As the fear increased, my world narrowed.  It became terrifying to drive a car.  At first I just stayed in the right-hand lane so I could turn the corner and take the side streets back home if I had to.  That worked for a while, as long as I didn’t have to get gas and sit there, waiting for the attendant to take the nozzle out of my gas tank.  I was sure that one day I would panic and drive off, pulling the hose right out of the pump. Another day I panicked in line at the market, and I realized that even if I told myself over and over and over again that I could make it through just a few more minutes while the checker rang me up, the truth was, I couldn’t make it.  My fear was that one of these days I was just going to start screaming at her and run out of the store without bothering to pay.  I left a full cart of groceries in the middle of the store more than once, and drove quickly home, picturing the ice cream melting all over the floor before the cart was discovered and the food put back on the shelves.  Shopping soon became a thing of the past.

Depression piled itself on top of the fear, and suicide became an option.  I thought about it all day, and then at night too, when I would wake in a sweat, my breathing shallow, and my heart racing.  The thick wool blanket that felt like the top of my head got heavier by the month.  Soon, I spent most of my days in bed, just trying to make it through the next five minutes.  I would watch the clock as the minute hand ticked on, and felt good about making it through another day without dialing the number that would bring the paramedics to my door.

During one of our sessions, I began to talk to Dr. Teemis about how these crazy feelings were affecting how I felt physically as well.  At times I was sure I was having a heart attack.  I ended up in the emergency room at least twice a month, positive I was close to death.  I explained how during the week before, my left leg had felt numb.  Dr. Teemis explained how being a psychiatrist meant that he had medical training as well, and he asked me to lay down on the couch while he checked my femoral artery.  He pulled down my pants and pressed his fingers on the artery, close to my crotch.  He stared into my face, attempting to gauge my reaction.  I went stiff and silent.  Disgusted, he pulled my pants up and told me to have it checked by my own doctor the next time I went.

I worried about that femoral artery.  I was sure it was clogged and I was about to stroke out.  That look on Dr. Teemis’ face was proof something was wrong!  Who cares that most twenty-three year old young women don’t have strokes? Maybe it was the years of drug abuse.  Maybe it was the blows I took to my face and head at the hands of Michael the Archangel.  I had to do what Dr. Teemis told me to do and ask my own doctor right away.

“What did he tell you?” Dr. Hutchinson asked.  I noted the tone of his voice but chose to ignore it.  I repeated the conversation I had with Dr. Teemis and how he felt my artery with his fingers and told me to have it checked.  Dr. Hutchinson paused, watching my face, then quickly looked away and began writing in my chart.  “Nothing is wrong with your femoral artery,” he said.  He sounded irritated or impatient.  I couldn’t tell and I didn’t understand.  Certain thoughts ran through my mind but I couldn’t let them land.  After all, if there was something wrong with my psychiatrist, then I was done.  There was no one else who could help me.

Months went by, and I continued to deteriorate.  I believed my visits with Dr. Teemis were the thin thread keeping me hanging on to reality.  I sat in his waiting room, two or three times a week, trying to make it through the ordeal of being out, away from the one place I felt somewhat safe; my bed at home.  One day his receptionist sat behind the tall counter and chatted away on the phone.  It sounded like a personal call, but I didn’t care.  Where was Dr. Teemis?  Thoughts of suicide had overloaded my brain that week, and I did not think I could live through another day without a session.  I waited for 45 minutes and finally got up the courage to interrupt her and ask where he was.  She covered the mouthpiece with her hand.   “I’ll try giving him a call.”   She hung up the phone and dialed another number.  I heard her ask someone if he was there, and a few moments later she said, “Linda is here to see you.  She’s been here for quite awhile.”  She hung up the phone without another word and told me he’d be there in a few minutes.  She quickly redialed to continue her own call.

Another fifteen minutes passed and suddenly the door to his private office opened.  I sighed and smiled as he asked me to come in.  As soon as I entered the room I smelled the alcohol.  He loosely waved his arm at me, gesturing at me impatiently.  He seemed angry.  He leaned back in his chair and it tilted back a little too far, forcing him to grab the edge of his desk for support.  He swung his feet up on the edge of the desk and laced his fingers behind his head.  “How’s the fucking?” he asked.  My stomach lurched and I stared down at the floor, unable to speak.  “How’s the fucking?” he repeated, more forcefully.   His tongue tripped over the words and it sounded like he had too much saliva in his mouth.

“I don’t know.” I stammered.

“What do you mean you don’t know?” He sneered and I looked towards the double locking doors.  “Well, I don’t really feel like it much right now,” I offered.

“I bet you’d feel like it if a sexy neighbor down the street asked your husband to screw her!”

“I guess so,” I said.

“I guess so,” he mimicked.

We both grew silent. Dr. Teemis can’t help me, I thought.  I was at the bottom of the pit now.   There was no deeper, darker place to go.  But unfortunately I was wrong about that.  I had stepped off the edge and was in a free fall.  But I was just bouncing off of ledges.  The bottom was there, and eventually I would hit.  And when I did, I would lay there for a long while, stunned, and unable to move.