Tumbling down the hole. Not realizing I would be set up for the perfect detour years later.
An excerpt from Left of the Dial.
As I neared my twenty-fourth birthday, I wanted to book out of the day program fast, so I was willing to change my tune if it meant that Abby would refer me to OVR—the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. This New York State agency trained people with disabilities for jobs or sent them to school. If I could learn word processing, I’d get a job in publishing.
Browsing magazines, I saw that all editors had a look: barely any makeup except foundation, a dark slash of eyeliner only on the top lash line, and brownish pink or pinkish brown lips. I wanted that look, and I knew I had to get it.
“Kiddo, come on, I want to treat you for your birthday,” Zoe suggested. Her gift was a makeup session at the Prescriptives counter. She had gotten a job as a music therapist at a day program in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and had the money to burn.
“Okay,” I couldn’t resist, and so I drove us in my Mustang to Macy’s.
The woman in her black smock “color printed” my cheek to determine the exact shade of foundation, like my skin’s signature. “Fresh Peach” she pronounced, and she placed the round glass bottle aside. I was an “R/O,” so she found the perfect lipstick: Fado for work. She swiped Pompeii blush—a deep apricot—on my cheeks and finished off with Espresso eyeliner. A dramatic quad of eye shadow completed the look with four colors, all variations of brown.
The transformation was subtle, as if I was sun-kissed, and I looked healthy, not like the undead with my black hair and pale skin. “Time for an Italian lover.” Zoe laughed. “I could imagine you in a villa in Tuscany.”
“Oh, please,” I shrugged her off, though it felt good.
“You look mahvelous, dahling,” the counter woman sang and handed me the green tote bag with my goodies. My gift-with-purchase was a sample of Calyx perfume.
“Let’s go shop,” Zoe said, and so we walked out into the mall.
I wanted to get a pair of pants and a shirt for when I had the appointment with the OVR counselor, who, if I was lucky, would send me for testing, and I’d come back approved. You had to be screened for a training program, and I wanted to give myself every advantage.
I found the black slacks and white button-down shirt in Paul Harris, where they had petite clothes, yet I’d still have to hem the sleeves and pant (I’m that short). For five weeks I’d saved ten dollars a week, so I had enough money for the items.
Zoe looked at the outfit when I came out of the dressing room. “You are so going to be an editor, baby. I can see you in a little convertible zipping down the road.”
Oh, I lived for that dream. It propelled me. I would do whatever it took to make that happen. I changed back into my regular clothes and took the new items to the register.
Next we went to the food court to get lunch. We ordered salads at the vendor where you could get a fresh salad tossed on the spot. I always bought the spinach with bacon and egg.
We gossiped about famous people who were supposed to have bipolar.
“Tracey Ullman and Carrie Fisher,” she outed the comedian and actress.
“Sure, it’s cool to be hypomanic,” I suggested. “You buy twenty pairs of Manolos, and everyone thinks you’re the life of the party.”
“Hey,” she cut into me. “It’s not hip to be bipolar. Can you imagine the effort it would take to coordinate all those shoes in your closet?”
“Okay,” I said.
“Some of us are mostly depressed. I tried once. It almost happened.”
“All I’m saying is that if you’re Tracey Ullman, you can brag. I don’t see any celebrities with schizophrenia touting the benefits of being cracked up,” I insisted.
“You got me,” she said.
“So, do your coworkers know?”
“No way,” she told me. “I don’t have twenty pairs of the right kind of shoes.”
“Sylvia Plath was rumored to have bipolar.”
“That proves my point,” she argued. “I read all her poetry books when I was in college.”
This surprised me.
“Well, she’s a poet and a well-regarded one. The only people you hear about on the six o’clock news with schizophrenia are killers on the loose,” I told her.
“Be careful. Promise me you won’t tell anyone. I would hate to see your chances at getting a job go up in smoke.”
I said I understood that I would have to live in hiding. She said it was like we lived in the world and outside of it at the same time. When I was younger, I felt like an outsider looking in at the other teen girls’ charmed lives, and this feeling was only intensified now.
We finished eating our salads.
“Let’s shop some more.” Zoe got up with her tray to dispose of it, and I followed with my tray. “Baby needs a new pair of shoes.”
We went to Parade of Shoes and looked around. I told her that we’d have to cut it short because I had to go back to the house and cook dinner.