The morning after my stepsister’s wedding (an epic event at which I danced with a photographer from Martha Stewart Weddings who wore a checkered suit and a shy good ole boy from Mississippi, among other victories), I walked into the hotel dining room breakfast, and my family were joking about being quiet and not making loud noises. “I’m not hung over,” I said to my minimally-drinking family. I actually wasn’t.
I was annoyed that they perceived me as anything less than always 100% in control, which is, of course, a virtue admired by pretty much no one (well, maybe it was actually admired by the stoics, but they are not exactly my heroes).
It’s usually more of a sleep hangover for me, as I need a lot of sleep, and after dancing for hours, it takes a long time to fall asleep.
Last night, when “our” team was in the Super Bowl for the first time in my lifetime, I had offers of watch parties (a thing I am grateful for, having gone without, often, when I was in New York). But after a long and lovely party Saturday night, I had no interest in… getting dressed.
I watched the Super Bowl once. It was actually in Lawrence. The man with whom I watched it is possibly still bragging to people that he got me to watch it. In my defense, I was in town, and had nothing better to do. It seemed like the kind of thing a person should do once.
This year I watched “Parasite,” and was mildly disappointed in cinema’s ability to move me.
Finally I found a video stream of the last five minutes of the game, after determining there was hope for “us” to win. I watched. They won.
I really enjoy a community event, everyone feeling the same thing at the same time. It is something I feel in the jam-packed lines to buy food in the university food court at noon, and I miss feeling (sick as it is) when we were all navigating the rush hour subway, especially the change to the 6 at Union Square, when I was trying to go to THERAPY FOR GOD’S SAKE.
Probably a lot of us were.
My place is on the corner of go-downtown-to-climb-stoplights and this-way-to-underage-beer, so without leaving my bed, I was able to peek at both directions, and hear people cheering, screaming, revving their cars.
I felt some happiness for them, and then tried to force myself to feel more, rather than focusing on my creeping in thoughts of, why don’t people freak out like this about injustice? If they would freak out like this about health care or gun violence, we could fix those things.
Then I was like, why you gotta be like that?
And then I started thinking about how football is just a way to use black kids for their bodies and discard them, how I sat in my classroom with my dear sweet student telling me he would quit football, and give up his scholarship, if he had more than three concussions, and I thought, he is so wise, and also, why does he have to be wise like this? Why doesn’t anyone protect him?
I regularly had the feeling that while I was trying to put things into the kids’ brains, the football field was knocking them out again.
People don’t often allows themselves bold displays of joy. I had just been at a Mardi Gras celebration, where we had big displays of joy, but most of the time, the WASP-dominant middle is reluctant to celebrate. Americans are so obsessed with work and its virtues that taking time to celebrate or have a holiday is barely tolerated. One must control oneself and work so that one is tired.
Then the crowd was war-chanting, and I felt my neighbor in the apartment below, my neighbor who is Indian/Native/Indigenous, whatever person prefers, I haven’t asked, I guess I should. They’re imitating person’s ancestors in a cartoony way, right on the land where we killed them all and moved them off to places no white people wanted to live, and then let them go to their own school where we could teach them how to behave, a school about a mile from my house. The fact that is is mostly white, and the students are mostly affluent here, reminded me more of a Trump rally than a sports celebration. Just name sports stuff after animals. It isn’t hard. There are so many predatory animals, none of whom need ethical intervention to guide their choices.
There are always reasons to be angry, but the bigger problem was that I was lonely.
The best part of the first party of Mardi Gras this year: I ended up walking with a little girl and her mom. The little girl started chatting with me, and asked if I wanted to meet her dog.
So then I was standing in these strangers’ living room, being introduced to some dogs, who were lovely, and being handed a guinea pig, which I gladly held, he was brown and white, and seeing some pictures the girl had drawn, and chatting with the mom about local education.
Then both the mom and I were carefully counseling the little girl about how she looked beautiful without makeup, although makeup is fun.
The mom was very apologetic about her extroverted kid, but I like listening to kids.
The little girl asked me to come upstairs, and I explained that since we had just met, her parents would probably be more comfortable with me staying in the more public areas of the house. This little girl is amazing, and I felt it was a good time to teach about boundaries.
We had been given permission to talk together because I was wearing a huge sequinned hat, and the mom was wearing a crazy wig. People who had loved me and done so much work for justice were having a good time they richly deserved. It can be very difficult to make people feel comfortable and show them a good time, but I felt good about how we had done.
Maybe I was hungover from that, if hung over is agitated and flopped over and needing a nap in the sun.
Image: The Morning After “He Greatly Daring Dined”Hill and Adamson, British, Scottish.
There are two images that come up when you search the Met’s art for “hangover.” The other is a piece of Greek pottery from 500 BCE that may have eyes painted on it in order to prevent “sickness and hangovers.” The information on “He Greatly Dared Dining” is so great I’m including it here:
In this cleverly staged scenario, Hill (seated) appears to be suffering the effects of a hangover. Holding the artist’s hand and fixing him with a disapproving look is his friend James Miller, a temperance reformer and professor of surgery at Edinburgh University. The Roman bust between them—by Hill’s friend John Stevens—seems to be turning away from the artist in disgust. The title of the photograph is a pun based on the epitaph on Phaethon’s tomb from Ovid’s Metamorphoses: “Here Phaethon lies who in the sun-god’s chariot fared. And though greatly he failed, more greatly he dared.” In Greek mythology, Zeus struck down Apollo’s son Phaethon after he lost control of his father’s chariot. Hill may have recognized himself in the doomed figure of Phaethon as he attempted to harness and control the power of the sun to create his photographs.
The way places live in me is that I see and feel a flash of a spot. The subway exit in Park Slope with the store where I bought ping pong balls, and the pizza place I ate a couple of times. I walked up the steps, and the dollar store emerged. The feet ahead of me. The backs of people.
The tunnel transferring at Union Square, from or to the 3/4/5. White tile forever. The incense selling table. Or a comic book table. A movie with a scene on the subway, and that’s where I am. There.
Or on the godforsaken 6 platform at Union Square, where the tracks curve and the platform does that crazy bridge move. So loud. So hot. Likely a gateway to hell.
Not postcard places.
The station at 72nd on the west side, where I went through on my way to the psychiatrist with the black dog and the plastic covered floors. Lots of glass, open as subway stations rarely are. It had a pleasant feeling, like here comes my drugs that help me function, and the history of the west side, too, scruffy, cheerful.
A corner across from the cemetery Pere-Lachaise in Paris, I remember my hands being so, so cold. There was a restaurant there. This is something I saw only once, fifteen years ago, but I have a mental snapshot.
The square in Brooklyn where that one theater was, an old theater I only saw one movie in, and the movie was “Her,” and it made me quiet and open for a long walk home. Sometimes my friend Michael drove me past it, when he took the very, very long way, driving me home. It was such a novelty to be driven in New York City, I didn’t mind.
Not even, really, significant places. One of the corners by Bryant Park, with a nondescript bank, and scaffolding.
The bagel place in Crown Heights where I never once went. It was always too crowded, and too many white people. There’s no reason for me to remember it. The decor was all black and white. It made me think about how I like butter on a toasted bagel, and how that is some heretical shit.
The escalator at Broadway Junction in Queens. A long ride, past ’60s style stained glass windows. A true locals only, and annoying spot, that. The platform there is high up, and rainy and windy and awful, and sometimes the train would appear to be ours, and then not open its doors, and depart, a silent judge. Nope.
So many of my New York place memories are associated with the subway. So much of your time, as a New Yorker, you are underground waiting or traveling.
On the sidewalk across the street from my apartment, a bit of industrial glue in a glob, that stayed through rain and snow and ice.
All the times I counted down the blocks to be where I was going, because my shoulder hurt, my feet hurt, I was tired, crabby, broke, wet, on my last nerve.
An Ann Taylor Loft downtown, between my church and the Statue of Liberty. The little outdoor restaurant on the water, where it seemed no one ever ate.
If I were away from Lawrence, I’d say the religion building on campus, that corner. The mural and the opening of the door in the back of Aimee’s.
Not places I love, but places I can be, and can feel their way, wherever I am.
New York is a place it is so easy to miss, so hard to avoid seeing it just watching television and movies.
On K-10, the tall cross with the red banner at the Methodist church in Eudora.
We live in what we have, and we don’t know why. We don’t know how much we control or decide upon what is significant to us. What our mind saves because it fits in paradigms already handed to us. My parents divorced, so I must prove myself loyal. If I befriend you, I will befriend you and defend you forever. All data related to me being loyal, or disloyal, goes in a file stored in the front, with clear letters: PROVE LOYALTY AND STABILITY.
I am pathologically late to almost everything, so I also have a big file marked REASONS WHY YOU ARE DISRESPECTFULLY LATE AND DON’T DESERVE LOVE. That one is overflowing.
TIMES YOU SAID SOMETHING YOU THOUGHT WAS FUNNY BUT IT HURT SOMEONE’S FEELINGS YOU MONSTER.
TIMES YOU SAID SOMETHING WRONG AND MADE YOURSELF LOOK LIKE A DUMMY. Not as many filed in here, but the ones that are… ooh.
In my elementary school, the steps that went from the primary wing to the upper grades. There was a turn. Two flights. Above hung a little hot air balloon with Snoopy in it. After our amazing principal left, after third grade, Snoopy disappeared.
There was a lot of “cherish” and “no guarantees” after we learned Kobe Bryant died. I saw someone had put a “Kobe,” in perfect Helvetica, above a “Bryant Park” subway sign. That’s the best of New York City.
I wonder if after death, something like the vapors of these places are where spirits are, where energy is, or how we still are, or how we perceive, or experience, or what we leave in the air. These other levels we live in, dreams more vivid than consecrated realities.
Images from the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “”Dream Catch,” Alfred Levitt, 1951, “Subway,” Fritz Eichenberg, 1934, “Boite-en-valise de ou par Marcel Duchamp ou Rrose Selavy,” Marcel Duchamp, 1935–1941/1961.
On New Year’s Day, I began construction on the rose window of Notre Dame. No one had asked me, no one had sought out my expertise, and still I sat on my kitchen floor with circles of various sizes, oatmeal silo, vanilla bottle, lid from a jar of dirt that came from Kurt Vonnegut’s yard. I cut some twine– what a great material– and tied loops to make a compass, which I wasn’t able to operate well. I got ahead of myself, didn’t keep the twine tight.
I worked from the rose window I painted at our family reunion in small town Nebraska. A copy of a copy. Well, I’d already simplified it. And stuck out like a sore thumb weirdo by painting a medieval religious treasure, rather than “Welcome” and a jaunty succulent.
With my x-acto knife, I spent quality time cutting each section where glass should go. Then piece by piece, cutting and setting and gluing cellophane in each panel.
If I say that the cardboard Notre Dame will be in the Mardi Gras parade this year, perhaps I seem less scary.
Friends came over a few days later, and they built the side towers, painted them gray with tempera, did all the structural calculating I’m incapable of, so the thing will stand up. Advised me how to build the spire, which we will include, as ours is a sort of City of God Notre Dame, not a historical representation.
I cut up a foam boulder that used to say 98.9 The Rock, and made gargoyles, which are stone snowmen, basically.
I fell in love with them.
Once I had the frontage of Notre Dame sitting in front of my hearth, covering it up to the mantle line, I went to sleep.
I dreamt that I had been to Paris, to Notre Dame, with my family, but I couldn’t remember it. I was upset that I had been “in a fugue state.” (My precision of language in dreams intrigues me… when I remember Shakespeare quotes, are they real?)
And water. I dreamt of water that night, and again last night. Water, water, water.Waves, floods, lakes. “Overwhelmed, emotional state,” says dream interpreters.
Our Notre Dame will be as flame-resistant as cardboard.
Nothing is stone, apparently, not even stone.
While I was moved by the Notre Dame fire to recreate it, I annually, at least once, build and burn a paper Bastille. You want to use newsprint. Cut your towers. Use scotch tape. You won’t need much. I’m sure it’s not great to burn, but you’ll live. Then cut your outer wall. Cut all your crenulations (a word I learned from my sister when we went down this road). The “castle” jig-jag. Tape outer wall to hold towers together. You can paint it, but bear in mind you’re just going to burn the thing.
There are objects created just to be burned, more than my Bastilles. Maybe more in eastern cultures, where they burn the dead, too? A whole industry of “joss paper,” which is made into money or objects for the dead. To get them to the dead, you burn them. I get it. I don’t have a particularly better method for getting things to the dead.
The idea that dead people would want or need money strikes me as tragic, though. Perhaps the only good thing I can imagine about death is not wanting or needing money anymore.
“Hell money” has been used since the late 1800s. Okay, we call it “hell money” because it sounds fun, but it’s really for “underworld court” or “underworld prison.” It’s a common belief in world religions that “there will be hell to pay” after you die.
You can get hell money featuring JFK, Einstein, or Marilyn Monroe.
I’m just going to leave that right there.
In 2006, the Chinese government banned the burning of paper mistresses and viagra.
I’d also like to leave you this sentence from the Wikipedia article on joss paper: “Another common feature is the signatures of both the Jade Emperor and the lord of the Underworld, both of whom apparently also serve as the Hell bank’s governor and deputy governor….”
The only regularly burned-until-gone Christian item are our palm fronds from Palm Sunday. They become the ashes for Ash Wednesday.
But I have ceremonially burned my sophomore year geometry notes, and slips of paper listing regrets or sadnesses.
Burning or burial? Once I took my sadnesses on slips of paper and dug a hole and buried them. Different. I wondered if anyone ever found them. It was out in the country. Probably not.
Maybe there was enough rain, and the covering dirt was washed away, and someone saw blurred strips of paper with black ink inscriptions, illegible.
Note: all my research on joss paper is just as lazy as it sounds. So accept or fact check at your own risk.
Image: one of my Bastille burnings. Only a newsprint Bastille was harmed.
Every once in a while, I have a flash of a geographic location. A corner in Manhattan where there was a bakery that was downstairs, behind an iron railing.
I had a dream I was in New York, and women were running up a hill naked, and we were trying to talk to them, make sure they were okay, because they were coming from some wild party, and we were not sure if they were okay.
I tried on a dress I love, and it was snug, and I thought, will this end? I have accepted being a slightly larger 43-year-old, but come on. I had a feeling of a string around my throat all evening, and decided I had digestive trouble. Then I started burping over and over. I went to the grocery store and bought a baby blue bottle of off-brand Maalox, as the internet suggested. Then for real I could not read the directions without my one-off pair of reading glasses, from back when I only needed them to read on some subway platforms.
I met friends at an art gallery. I had felt much weakness of brain, and had gotten some rest, forced myself out of the house, which made me rather anxious, but I persevered. My two friends were standing looking at a restaurant menu, wearing pants and jackets like people do in winter, two people who showed up to see me. And had been showing up for a long time. That made me happy.
I value longevity, almost pathologically. I’m still trying to prove that unlike my parents, I can maintain a relationship, in spite of them repairing and maintaining their relationship like fifteen years ago.
One must strive, I suppose.
I was feeling very middle-aged, I told my friends. They didn’t give a shit about that, we’re all the same age, and sometimes we feel old, for reasons legitimate or illegitimate, if there is such a thing as legitimate reasons.
We went into a room of gold painted headpieces, and another room where model ships were hung from the ceiling, making a river without a river, or boats without boatness. Or something.
I went to see an exhibit about Genghis Khan. This reminded me of an art show we had at the mansion, Marco Polo themed. A few friends accidentally came a day early, so we had drinks in the Venice room. There was a bridge to walk over, and there was blue fabric, with boats set on it.
My family watches this TV show that I think is insane. It is in HDTV, and it takes place in New York City. I watch and try to figure out from the too-crisp picture where they are filming. I can rarely figure it out.
I bought a package of cellophane on Amazon. I regretted buying it on Amazon. I took out square sheets and scotch taped them to my windows. I wanted color in the windows. It looked like a preschool. That was okay.
As we went into the place where the Genghis Khan exhibit was, I saw a stack of Sunday New York Timeses. I have a New York Times fetish. I bet you want to bring one of those into the car, and then I’ll have to fumigate, my dad said. I chuckled.
On the way out, I picked up one paper. There were like three others! The day was over! Who would notice! How dare they leave baby NYTs out in the cold!
I took it home and did not read it.
Genghis Khan was all for religious pluralism. His wife was a Christian. The Mongols had a big city, and a huge empire, but now they are footnote people. Quite ignored.
“I hope you get to hear some jazz while you’re here,” I said to the Mongolian musician. The white local guy said, “They do want to hear some music. They want to see a musical.” I was like, okay, then. Maybe he was protected by that guy, protected from feeling foolish. I wanted to talk to the Mongolian musician and his painter wife, but also I wanted to say something that would show how thoughtful and sympathetic to their situation I was, which limited things. I wanted them (and everyone I ever meet) to say, “She gets it.”
We stood and listened to a Mongolian musician, using a horse hair bow (of course they had horse hair!) and two long instruments that were between a viola and a cello. The droning unlocked my parasympathetic nervous system before I knew what had happened. hanting, organs, bagpipes. I had felt iffy, anxiety-wise, and then I blamed the darkness of the exhibit on its continuance. They make the area really dark, and they herd you by spotlights.
Image: an ancestor of Genghis Khan. Detail of “Tumanba Khan, his wife, and his nine sons,” ca. 1596. Public domain.
The baby is handed the communion wafer, and looks at it. When we are very young, we do know how to clutch. Baby clutches it. Examines. Priest takes it back, breaks it (as one does in part of the ritual which precedes this), and offers baby a tiny piece: “You want to try it? It’s not bad.” She opens her mouth, he sets it on her tongue. She chews it, or gums it.
“What do you expect, Dad, it tastes like sawdust,” says the priest’s kid, who is kneeling next to me.
When my Catholic grandmother was dying, a priest tried to put a wafer in her mouth, but she kept spitting it out. My grandma had never talked about church, or God, or anything. She went to mass every Sunday. I don’t really know why.
To me, being raised Protestant, by very religious parents, meant that church stuff was about 50% of our lives. I was exposed to more evangelical Christians, and learned that they not only talk about Jesus and God, but they talked about their personal relationship with Jesus. I was like, well, I don’t know how personal it is. Is Jesus being standoffish with me? I thought we had an understanding. I was into him, he was into me.
My dad went through this period (between marriages) when he would force us to eat a vegetable. We were not allowed to leave the table until we had eaten so many bites of peas or green beans. “A” for effort, but I figured out I could spit things out in a napkin, or in the bathroom.
Episcopalians give communion to babies. It’s magic, and because it’s magic, nothing can hurt it or offend it. I mean, we are reverent with it. The wafers all get eaten, are never discarded, and the wine is either kept for later, or poured into the earth. Some churches have a special drain for communion wine that goes not into the sewer, but into the ground.
Those are the absolute best.
I sat next to the priest’s kid and thought about how awful being a preacher’s kid must be. But I have no idea that this kid feels that way. I just remember that my dad being a prominent person at church, I felt like telling them to go fuck themselves, or giving them a long list of differences between my dad and God. Although this is always a tricky thing, most of us, probably, still have an idea of God that is much in line with our idea of our dads.
This priest’s kid sat and drew pictures in the bulletin. Traditional things kids do in church: practice buttoning and snapping and zipping with a “Quiet Book” made of cloth, scribble on offering envelopes, write notes back and forth, flip through the hymnal, crawl under the pew, pretend to be Sea World trainers (okay, that was just my sisters). The church I grew up in, kids were there for the whole service, if they were amenable to being kept quiet, or old enough to be expected to be quiet, for an hour. I think this is a little unusual. Many places, kids get taken off for some kid thing, so they are not there for the whole service.
Now, I was a kid, but I felt that the church I grew up in, and Lutheran churches in general, are especially good at carrying through Jesus’ interest in kids. Kids made noise in services, and kids belonged in services. Jesus was unusually positive about kids and the way they saw things, for a guy of his time. Kids, back then, were workers, or burdens, or creatures who might make you fall in love with them, and then die.
When someone makes you food, you have to take it. We can talk anthropology, about distant tribes and eating rituals, but when people make you food, here, now, you must eat it. It’s terrible if you don’t. Once a friend made me a special vegetarian thing with broccoli. I hate broccoli. But you must eat. I did.
Images from top left, clockwise: food serving vessel, 12th century BCE, China; food warmer with insert, Vienna, ca. 1730-35; food bottle, possibly German, second half 17th century; stacked food box with taro plants and chrysanthemums, 1807-1891, Japan. All from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The flat world that we usually see, where we are felt cut-outs on a felt board, being moved around from bed to work to play to bed, the board had turned so I could see the cracks, and how it was put together.
How I’d been told to think of things, how people did, how I didn’t want to not think, my idea of cycles and emotions and events come and go, on their time. Nothing happens on my time. Now I know this.
I pushed the cart, a tank of a vehicle. I needed to lean on it. Still weak from some tiny particle that got inside my body and tossed the whole place like a thief looking for jewelry.
What was beautiful about taking a box of Quaker Oatmeal Squares and putting it in the cart, from the shelf at Checkers in Lawrence Kansas in October of 2019 wearing my new-to-me black sweater and denim skirt an flip flops? What beautiful about gazing on the humble but colorful bags of frozen fruit, Best Choice? Drawings of the fruit before it was frozen. What beauty in me being alone, and past the mourning of what I wanted, mostly, on the balanced place of (if I’m very lucky) half my life behind, and half ahead. Beautiful about the bags of frozen fruit, in the hand identifiable pieces, but hard frozen, no longer themselves, exactly.
Beautiful about not having the ghosts of Whitman, Melville, James Baldwin, for comfort, people who had walked the same street and ridden the same subways and looked at the same river, the East River. My ghost friends who felt the horror and hysteria and very heavy, settled love of New York City and its endless arms. Manhattan sleepy Sunday off-tourist time downtown, when it’s unseasonably warm, its oldest and narrowest streets, where the new gloss and grubby greed and the African burial ground and the Statue of Liberty all coexist as New Yorkers do: crabby, internally focused and also presenting themselves, hard, always planning: where to get off the train, how long will it take to get, how the Sunday trains will fuck you, at a time they think you should stay home, say, noon.
I had actual living friends in New York, too. Some of them were writers, and all of them were alive.
No, I was in Lawrence, Kansas, on land taken from the Sac and Fox and Kickapoo and Potawatomi. I’m at the grocery where they tell all the newbies to go: “it’s the best.” Best selection of “ethnic” food for people who came from China or Peru, to study or research. Cheap. Local. Big American flag. Annual meat sale. The longboats of meat, red, red, red.
Here there aren’t so much ghosts of writers as there are actual writers, people who put down words about what happens, and some of them stick to the insides of others’ minds. The imposing bulk of The Greats is less a discouragement, but it’s less an encouragement, too. Could anything good come out of Nazareth?
And the land here, you see lots of land that just belongs to plants here. Just outside town, there are farms and open lands, with hay roll-ups and dark cows at leisure and many enormous birds, hawks who make the lazy circles they are accused of making in “Oklahoma.” They do this without pay.
I push the cart: bananas, frozen raspberries in an opaque white bag, box of cereal, fresh spinach in a plastic shell, box of granola bars, wearing plastic coats inside, and a vat of fatty yogurt. Presealed bag of cherry jelly beans.
The skies are the main difference. In the Checkers parking lot, the whole sky is like, this is what’s up! Look at me! And in New York the sky worked with the buildings (the ones I miss most at the Bloomingdale’s stop, for some reason), and the bridges, and the rivers. It was a team effort.
Stars here, lit windows there. Narrow restaurants both places (nothing helps a restaurant like being narrow). In Lawrence, people regularly stirred by the comings and goings of kids who become almost adults, and buy suits and sit up straighter and get jobs, and in New York, people regularly stirred by rent increases, far away wars, going to a bar in a different neighborhood one night, being willing to chat one day when you’re both so sick of the fucking Sunday trains.
And the Kill Creek exit. And Key Foods. And a Metro card. And a Turnpike ticket. And a gas pedal. And a pole to hold. And the Nostrand stop. And the uneasy pale faces, and the uneasy dark ones, and the wigs of the orthodox, and the leggings of the college girls, and the limestone of the school on the hill conquering nature, and the brownstones that have never heard of nature, and don’t trust her, that’s for sure .
Taking the train into the city, climbing up, seeing how long the line is, turning around to go straight back to Brooklyn. Leaving a full grocery cart and walking the whole line of the city limits, where the Mr. Steak used to be, the factory with the white smoke, where the house tracts become field that are the just outside town strip club, and the roads, gravel, wander toward another town.
Images: Flat surface and part of the curved wall of depression for an Aten disk,
My friend is having electromagnets shot at her brain for a half hour a day. When I first heard of this treatment, I thought it was like those magnetic bracelets they want to sell you at the fair. But no, it’s an FDA approved (trademark) treatment for several mental health problems.
Because this is a five-days-a-week and seven weeks long thing, you get to know others getting treated, and their spouses or siblings or parents who have brought them. I’ve sat in plenty of therapists’ waiting rooms, and the feeling there is always tense. You’re always like, is that person REALLY crazy? Are they more messed up than me? Don’t make eye contact!
At the magnetic treatment clinic, we frequently chat. Everyone knows we are there to either have treatment for mental health problems (depression, maybe other things), or supporting someone who’s already run the gambit of every SSRI and all the therapy.
At this clinic, we can all trust each other. We all get it How long has your person been getting the treatment? Has it helped? Can it work? Yes, I say. I think it can. I think it has.
I chat with a husband about Hamilton and Jefferson. I chat with another husband whose wife hadn’t left the house in ten years.
There have been two very young women. One of them has a helper dog, and the dog’s family have warned everyone not to flirt with or pet the dog while the dog is working. It’s very difficult. It’s a very attractive dog.
The clinic has gone from terrifying (first visit) to comforting. We have a routine, all of us who take my friend. The techs know us. The glass jar full of candy. The off-brand cookies laid out for us. The felt autumn leaves that have been taped on at some point in our seven weeks. The Chiefs banner has gone up.
The styrofoam head (the tech told me her name, but I forget), used to show how the little cap the patients wear works. They shoot magnetic impulses at your head. Your eye may twitch. Your teeth may ache. They may need to move the magnet around a little if you get sore, though nothing is touching your head at all. The magnets are pulsing hard.
Now we are more worried about how it will feel to stop treatment.
Last week, I was sitting in my usual spot. I was plowing through another dense abstract text for grad school, gritting my teeth and wishing I had oxen. I glanced down when I thought I saw a movement. It was a movement. It was a big carpenter ant making his way across the floor.
I went back to reading about how nation states and democracy and colonialism affected the spread of secondary education around the world.
“What is it?” the receptionist said.
“It’s just an ant. If it was something worse, like a roach, I would have said something, but it’s just an ant.”
He walked over and leaned down. “Is that an ant? It’s big!”
I currently have the tiniest of ants trying to settle in the corner of my living room, lured by snacks I occasionally eat there. They are so tiny I haven’t bothered to do anything more than squash them with a piece of paper. Or even my finger. Which is gross.
In the house I grew up in, every spring we had the big carpenter ants, like the one in the clinic. Big black gobs of body.
“I’ll take care of it,” the receptionist said, going to get a kleenex or something.
“No! I’ll take him outside,” said the other woman in the waiting room. I hadn’t seen her before.
“Well, okay. If you want to.”
She picked up a business card from his desk and tried to set it in the ant’s way. The ant wasn’t having that. Then it was on the card, and it quickly walked off again. “I love insects. I know it’s weird.”
“Here, use this,” I said, offering her the big 8×10 envelope I had put my school paperwork in.
“Thanks,” she said. She crouched down with the orangey brown envelope, got the ant on this larger life raft, and rushed out of the office to change the ant’s life forever. For all I know, the ant met his true love this way. He would never have met her if he had stayed all his life in the magnet clinic waiting room.
Or it ruined his life. He thought he had achieved enlightenment, turns out there are other worlds of suffering he had never imagined.
One of the songs my dad sang to us was “The Ants Go Marching.” His other songs were “Summertime,” and “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime,” and “Won’t You Come and Climb the Mountain With Me?”
He would get a little scary with the ants marching song. That was his job, as a dad, to push our fears in front of us, where we could see them. My mom would scoop us up and cover us with her body until the ant departed.
The ants go marching one by one,
The ants go marching one by one
The ants go marching two by two,
the little one stops to tie his shoe,
and they all go marching
down (here his voice got scary)
to the Earth (still scary)
to get out of the rain
Bum bum bum.
We had matching red nightgowns with white lace trim, technically Christmas pajamas, because mine came with a cap that made me Mrs. Claus. We had matching bedspreads, which were pale rainbows. We had a large population of stuffed animals on shelves hung on the wall. We had a record player to listen to music, and a tape recorder to make our own radio shows.
I could never live in the south. The bolder racism and the insects. Nothing ever dies there.
The young woman came back. “Here you go,” she said, returning my envelope.
She set the business card, which hadn’t been big enough for the job, put it back on the receptionist’s desk.
“Let’s just throw this away, why don’t we,” he said.
My friend came out, finished.
More about transcranial magnetic stimulation.