Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Cautionary Tale

Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball

A Cautionary Tale

How had this happened? I sat inside the wood paneled great room, too depressed and exhausted to leave my chair. My surroundings looked like the offices of a huge guest lodge for a ski resort, not an upscale psychiatric hospital. Fellow patients fought their own demons, seated on the chairs around me. One of them knitted compulsively as a means of keeping herself occupied. This was far from her first stint and she’d developed over time what was for her an effective coping mechanism.

My mental health, biologically speaking, was not where it needed to be, nor was I psychologically well. Three months before, I’d been engaged to be married. The courtship would have seemed excessively whirlwind to even the most hopeless of romantics. I knew, logically, that most people didn’t sign up for marriage within a month of knowing someone else. Had I been more discerning, less throw-caution-to-the-wind, I might have questioned the feasibility of such a decision.

She had, in effect, enabled my mania, stating that she loved me more while I was in the middle of an episode. I’m sure for a time I was entertaining and high-energy, but neither of these qualities can be sustained forever. The infamous night I came home from a dysfunctional workplace, raving and ranting, it was over. I admit I’d been excessively angry, but I expected a bit more compassion. Past fits of temper passed by without comment by some girlfriends, but not here.

My aggressive venting had an undesired effect. Terrified, she fell to the floor in the fetal position. This was not what I’d expected from someone who otherwise seemed strong and self-reliant. As punishment for placing her in that position, I was cast aside after three or four nervous days of contemplation. I’m not sure what it says when a person prefers that his or her lover should be sick, rather than well. Provided I stroked her ego sufficiently, I could stay. When I turned out to be human, the invitation was withdrawn.       

Staring at the skylight above, which warmed the entire room with sunlight, I reflected on how I’d gotten here. Seeking a fresh start, I’d moved to a new city. As I’d done many times before, I sought a new church, looking to find a social network of friends and acquaintances. Within a week or two, I did find a large group specifically set up for those in their twenties and thirties. I concede that I was also looking for someone who might serve as one half of a long term relationship. I’ve always preferred to find a partner both willing to worship with me and to take an active role alongside my own. Faith has been an important priority in my life.  

Though well-organized, what was essentially a singles group had one major flaw. It contained multiple women in their early thirties and beyond who were overeager to find someone to date, if not to marry. I initially found myself in demand on all sides, not recognizing what might soon be asked of me. I never questioned the institution of marriage, believing that I would eventually walk down the aisle myself, but not like this.   

I had no idea what would follow. As it turns out, I began a friendship with a woman who I knew to be well into her forties, though she never shared her real age. Working at a dead-end job I’d only taken for a little while, all with the hope of finding something better later, I wanted out as fast as I could manage. I thought I might eventually stumble across something else, which is why I’d asked her for her assistance. She presented me with her phone number. Though she let me know she had no real leads to share, she did encourage me to keep calling.

Doing my best Casanova imitation, I began to supplement our conversations by singing to her while strumming the guitar. She was appreciative. Within a couple of weeks, I proposed to take off work one day in the middle of the week to spend time with her. In the back of the dining room, I sat on a sofa while she took the floor, applying gloss to one of her paintings. We talked as she worked. In between our conversation, I put on an impromptu rock concert for her benefit.       

Within an hour, I found myself giving her a back rub on the couch. After planting a kiss on her neck, she turned towards me, smiling. Jumping to her feet, she grabbed me by the hand, literally propelling me forward towards the bedroom. The impetuousness of the act was common to all of our dealings from then onward. We lived on adrenalin. My mania continued to build to a crescendo, closer and closer to dangerous territory.  


Though my daily routine was crammed full of activities: art therapy, music therapy, gym, group therapy, lunch, dinner, there were always opportunities to sit and think. She never left my thoughts for long. The two of us had crammed a year into three months. The time felt compressed, intense, insistent. And much as it began, it ended.

You’re going to have to go into therapy, she said. It was said more like a demand than a request. Should I not, I gathered she fully intended to conclude our relationship. Later, I recognized that I wasn’t the first man she’d ever dated to be given this ultimatum. I didn’t realize it at the time, but she’d already decided to get out and not look back.

At first, I felt shipwrecked, inconsolable. The anger didn’t descend until months later, when the grieving process had time to adequately work through my brain. Fortunately, I’d found an excellent psychologist by then, who guided me expertly through each stage of the process. She’d kindly, but pointedly expressed her summation of my general well-being by the end of our first session.

Can you come in twice a week for a while?  

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