Dr. Gold

This is a memoir excerpt about a doctor I suddenly had to flee under the cover of one night after seeing him for five years. I started to think he wanted me to be his girlfriend. I could no longer ignore his creepy behavior. This scene is our first meeting.

The second and last shrink I went to had an office on Sixth Avenue. Would a city doctor be on the ball? Dr. Gold was a real pill pusher. As soon as I arrived at his office, he wanted to switch me from the Stelazine to an atypical—a drug that could cause weight gain of upward of one hundred pounds—seriously. I had no symptoms, and his knee-jerk reaction was to tell me, “Everybody’s doing it.”

I felt like he wanted to experiment with me, yet what could I do? I refused his request. He took one look at me and said, “Oh, so you’re Italian. I don’t want to mess with you, right?”

At this point I needed a new prescription, so time was running out on finding a psychiatrist. Dr. Gold would do for now. He would see me every two months at 11:00 a.m. on a Tuesday, so I had to take off from work. I had researched him via an online database and had found out he had been in practice since 1979.

Dr. Gold had a furry beard and wore a cheap white shirt and beige slacks. You could tell that his clothes were low rent, and I wondered why, considering that he was paid the big bucks. The intake was nothing unusual, and I began to rise from my seat when the visit was over. Or so I thought it was over.

Now he popped “the question.”

“Are you in a relationship?” he asked in his own version of a doorknob question. Only I was the patient who dreaded that he turned this knob. It was out of the blue, and I didn’t understand what he was getting at.

“Oh, no, I’m not.”

“You’re not in a relationship?” His gold-flecked brown eyes looked at me curiously.

“No. I fly solo now.”

“Don’t you think it would be good to be in a relationship?”

“I haven’t found anyone suitable.”

“You should consider it.”

I thought it odd that he cared about this yet let it be, even though as a devout feminist I was pissed off that he felt that being in a relationship was the only measure of my success. He had glossed over everything else I told him and instead focused on this.

“Wouldn’t you like to be in a relationship?”

“I’m busy with school right now.” I didn’t want to stare at him because his eyes glinted in a crazed way, so I looked at the exit door.

“Don’t you want to be in a relationship?

I wanted to tell him that I thought I’d better go, only he had yet to write out the prescription. He repeated the question (as if it mattered) a couple of different ways and finally gave up and took out his pad to write on.

Finally, I was able to snatch it from his oily fingers.

Once outside I noticed an Ann Taylor across the street and ducked in. I tried on a green lawn dress and imagined that I was a movie star. When all else failed, I believed in the power of good clothes to transform my life. With retail therapy so easy, I could tell it would be very expensive for me to continue seeing this shrink.

Left of the Dial Amazon Page

Returning to School

I did not think that the course work was hard when I attended graduate school. I simply thought it was a lot of labor. It took a lot of effort yet I obtained a 3.89/ out of a 4.0 GPA. I always think that those of us with broken brains become “school heads” and throw ourselves into our studies as a coping mechanism for the hard time we’re having.

I followed through with my goal of going back to school even though I was unemployed.

___________________________________________

Starting library school, I soldiered on in a purple mood: brave and sad. The insurance career may have failed, yet it was the only one I knew, so I wondered if maybe it was a mistake to go back to school. I felt like a tormented lover torn between staying with her sugar daddy because he was there and walking on to dare find a new love. I looked regretfully at the door that closed like a woman mourning the side of the bed where her love used to sleep.

The Pratt location in Manhattan was where I attended school.

An omen: I had to give a presentation for my Introduction to Libraries class, talking about an interview I conducted with the director of a library. My last name began with a B, so I was the second person to perform. I interviewed a librarian at the Jefferson Market branch in Manhattan.

After the class, a guy from the first row came up to me: “You had a booming voice. You were amazing.”

“Thanks.” I fobbed off this as a great feat even though I thought it was ordinary.

“Want to go for coffee at the Used Book Café?”

“Okay,” I dared say yes.

“I’m Adrian.” He led the way.

“Chris.” I slung my messenger bag over my shoulder. It was a Manhattan Portage canvas one whose red logo patch I removed when everyone in sight started carrying the same bag. I bought mine two years ago and wanted to be anonymous now.

The bookstore was on Crosby Street; you could get lost in the stacks. Oh, I was in heaven—the books, books, books were all cheap, and a lot were in new condition. Adrian ordered a latte. I chose the tomato soup. We sat at a table in the back. He was an Armani Exchange kind of guy who wore his dramatic clothes well. His own messenger bag was leather.

“I work as a reference assistant at Forrester Bean Tate Reilly,” he rattled off a law firm.

What could I say? I had two part-time jobs: I worked in the second floor administration office at Pratt, answering phones two days a week, and I temped at McKinsey, doing word processing two days to bring in money.

I asked him what a reference assistant did, and he told me.

“You need to learn online searching. That’s where the money is.”

“How could I do that?” I was curious.

“Take the online database courses in law and business. That’s where it’s at.”

“I’m considering doing that,” I told him.

Adrian’s last name started with a G, so he would give his talk in a couple of weeks.

“I’m going with the big guns: a PowerPoint presentation.”

“Marvelous.” I was in awe of him. Did I sound like a drip?

He told me I should join the student association that was meeting next week at one o’clock after our class. This intrigued me, and I decided to risk going. The other students were a multi-culti crowd from countries around the world. I welcomed the chance to rub elbows with them and hear their stories about how they came to be at Pratt.

Adrian stared at me throughout our conversation, and I felt uneasy. Did I give off an odd vibe, or was he just the kind of person who acted like he was always at a cocktail party making deals?

“I’d better get going. I have to take the train to the ferry and then the bus on the other side.” I gathered up my bowl to take back to the counter.

“See you later,” he chanted in a dark voice.

“Ciao.” I sailed out the door into rain.

 

Left of the Dial Amazon Page

Strange Girls In A Different World

I’m listening to Counting Crows as I type this blog entry.

A friend tells me not to get steamed about that time in my life. It was only recently that I started railing against how young people with so much potential are pigeonholed along with every else with schizophrenia and stigmatized. The very providers whose jobs involve helping people recover lumped and often continue to lump everyone into a category. It’s not right when a personality trait is seen as a symptom.

Susan Cain wrote the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World Where People Can’t Stop Talking. Her book came 25 years too late to make a difference in my life.

Here’s the memoir excerpt.

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We walked in silence the five blocks to the building. On arriving, Margot told me she’s in Level One, the highest rung on the ladder of groups, and walked down the hall. My counselor, Abby, placed me in Level Five, at the bottom. Today I was going to make the case that she elevate me at least to Level Two. I turned the corner and entered the morning group therapy.

Sylvia, a woman with punched-out eyes, applied her face: turquoise eye shadow and fuchsia lipstick. Abigail strummed worry beads and prayed under her breath. My anger was red as a drumbeat. I railed against being in this group because what passed for therapy was usually talk about the weather, and even so, I thought it rude to use the meeting as a beauty parlor.

The therapist, Andre, asked first off if anyone had an issue he or she wanted to discuss, and a guy asked, “Does anybody know why the train was late?”

After we’d gone around about this, a woman with a haunted face wanted to know why it was so cold. “Is there a wind chill factor?” I could see her blue veins through her thin arms.

Burl, a man with lagoon eyes and wild grass hair, stared at me the whole time. I slogged through this session until it was time to meet my counselor for the progress report.

Abby ushered me into her office at eleven-thirty, and I took a seat in front of her desk. She was a lavender kind of woman, and I hated pastels.

Here I was at another day program, and I wanted to move faster.

“Why?” I asked automatically. “Why did you put me at the bottom? I’d like to be in one of Margot’s groups. Why can’t I have a goals group and a work-search group?”

It was called Life Management, and it was available for those at the highest level, where you could work on planning for the future and what you would do when you graduated the program. As far as I could tell, everyone at the bottom had been here three, four, five years, or more. Though I’d only been here two months, I was itching to get out.

Abby said, “I placed you there because when you first came here, you barely talked and were extremely quiet.”

“How am I supposed to get support if people just talk about why the train was late or how the weather is outside?” I challenged her, and she winced. “Is that what group therapy is supposed to be about?”

Abby caressed the round glass paperweight on her desk. Before she could respond, I continued, “This place is a playpen. It’s a holding pen for people who can’t function on the outside. How is Meadow going to help me? I want out.” I feared the longer I stayed here, I would give up on myself, just like the others had.

“I tell you what. I’ll talk with the other staff, and in three weeks, if we’ve noticed an improvement, I’ll consider moving you up.”

Yes, it was going to happen. I was going to make it happen.

Abby said, “Nice haircut. Keep it up.”

I’d gotten a new style: longer in front, framing my face; shorter in back, with bangs spiked up. I liked it; I did. Kind of a modern bob. It made me look young, even though I didn’t need to look any younger.

She told me, “Next up I want you to work on your makeup and clothes.”

“Fair enough,” I said, though I wasn’t quite ready to take the leap.

“Okay, you can go to lunch,” Abby dismissed me.

In the kitchen, Margot waved me over to her table. I bought a cheeseburger and can of ginger ale and sat down across from her.

Her green eyes penetrated me, as if she was trying to figure out something. Then she laughed when it hit her. “I used to listen to your radio show. You were a disc jockey, right? That’s your voice on the tapes you play in your room.”

“Yes.” I was embarrassed to be caught listening to myself.

“Cool.” She drank some of her Coke. “Cool.”

There were about one hundred strange girls on Staten Island, and I had found one of them. Wherever I went in my recovery, I’d meet someone entranced with the music.

Margot’s eyes questioned me again.

“Why are you here? You look fine.”

I wore black jeans and a black tee shirt—a midnight canvas on which I wrote myself.

“Oh, I was diagnosed with schizophrenia.”

“You’re too high-functioning. You shouldn’t be in those groups.”

This cheered me. Margot understood. I wondered what her diagnosis was.

“Manic depression,” she said. “I have mood swings.”

She told me that she’s not here on most days because she’s studying for a degree in psychology at Hunter College. My eyes grew wider when she said this. That did it: I would pin down my counselor. The university was going to offer a journalism course in the spring, and I wanted to take it.

“I’m going to ask Abby if I can take a newspaper reporting class in the spring.” “You go, girl,” she rallied.

“We have to get out of here,” I said.

“That’s the truth.” The lunch hour was coming to an end, and she rose to leave for the next group.
I trailed after her down the hall, and then turned. Wherever she led, I would follow.

The Lizard Lounge

The memoir excerpt below takes place just before my first pdoc lowered the dose of Stelazine to 2 mg.

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Another moody winter arrived. Margot introduced me to her new boyfriend, Lizard, a strange Pisces. He was a perfectly cast grunge character who played bass in Cargo, a rock band that performed at SRO, a club on Bay Street.

I spent the weekends with her at his place because I had nothing better to do and nowhere else to go. We ordered in Mexican food—quesadillas and nachos—because we were too lazy to go to the store and get the provisions. He had enough beer in the fridge to outlast the next century.

In Lizard’s pad, everything new was old before it’s time: the slipcovers, the shabby worn arms of the overstuffed easy chairs, the going-down-behind-the-mystery surface of real life into the still waters of a placebo high.

They sat on the couch in front of the wall, and I sat on the chair under the window. Four milk crates topped with a mirror formed the coffee table. The living room had a disposable feeling.

Lizard liked to get high on weed, listening to Pink Floyd albums and spouting amber philosophies.

“Is that your favorite color?” he asked, pointing his Corona toward my purple shirt.

“Not exactly. I’m a red person.”

“It’s just a shirt,” I said, though I took care when I bought it. A shirt was never just a shirt to me: it reflected who I was—the face I presented to others. I felt that if I dressed in sharp fashion, people would think I was interesting and admire me.

“What face are you behind the face you show?” Lizard challenged.

“Excuse me?”

“You have a startling effect.” He stared at me.

He looked like a disheveled freak that you’d find riding a late-night bus. I ignored him and flipped absentmindedly through the pages of Mirabella, a women’s magazine.

“Let her be,” Margot said.

He finished the joint and placed another album on the turntable. She went to change into her kimono.

When the music was over, she said, “Later for you guys; I’m going to bed.”

At two in the morning, he crawled around looking, having forgotten where he stashed the Thai stick, and in the half-light of the kitchen, he was just another stoned Jesus working his jones like salvation.

“I kept it here, I know I did,” he muttered.

When he found the private reserve, it was rather skimpy. He was a daily pot smoker, and wouldn’t have enough left for tomorrow.

“That bum CR sold me out again.”

I continued to read the magazine as if he wasn’t there.

“Let’s knock on his door and make him pony up.”

Those stained clothes, the scruffy jeans; I didn’t know what Margot saw in him.

She walked in as if she wasn’t aware she came out of the bedroom.

“What are you saying? What are you saying?”

She continued: “It’s two in the morning and we’re not going to walk the street at this hour.”

Lizard: “Shit, what am I going to do?”

Margot: “You should have thought of that earlier.”

He waved his hands in the air. “Go find me a beer.”

My God, how did she stay in the relationship? The next thing I knew, she popped open a Heineken and poured it on his shirt. “Cool off.”

“Sick chick.”

“You know you like it that way.” She laughed. “Come to bed, darling.”

That was my cue to take solace in the spare bedroom. I was a night owl again. Too cold, I lay awake looking out the window to the backyard. It was three, four, and then five in the morning. You haven’t lived until you’ve made it to 3:00 a.m. eternal—when the sky is the silver-gray of a knife blade, and you feel that you’re the only one awake on earth.
___________________________________________

Left of the Dial Amazon Page. It’s also available via special order at bookstores.

Clove Lake Park

Clove Lake Park was the meeting place for young people most of the time in the dark after midnight. Here’s a scene from the memoir in daylight:

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One day Margot and I walked along the road through Clove Lake Park. We found a bench where we could sit and drink Harp’s with a view of the satin water.

“Look,” she lifted up her right pant leg to expose the most beautiful rose tattoo I’d ever seen—and I was not a fan of tattoos.

“Cool tat.” I smiled.

“It’s by Devil, a guy I know. I treated myself for my birthday.”

Margot had balls. She was my kind of woman.

“I’ll be twenty-six this year,” I told her. “What have I done with my life? Is this as good as it gets?
Crowley depresses me. I have a closet full of power-blue straitjackets.”

“We’ve got to unwrap you, girl—free you from your lamentation.”

“Now I just work to pay the bills. I have no energy on most days. I’m beached out on the couch and can barely do my writing.”

“I’m going to see to it that you blossom again. You just need to come out of yourself more. Remember the good old days when we’d go dancing?”

“What happened?” I wondered.

“Real life got in the way.”

Days like these took us back. The beer calmed me. The sunlight reflected on the lake.

She threw back her head, and her elbows hung over the back of the bench. She wore a tee shirt and cargo pants, to which she’d pinned a Funky but Chic button on the pocket. She looked like a vagabond punk.

Utterly in love with her persona, I was her trusty sidekick in my shrunken cardigan and black denim jeans. It was warm outside now yet I was always colder.

“You’ve got it,” I said. “How do you do it?”

She stuck her breasts up prouder. She wore a tee shirt that said, “Georgia’s Best Peaches.”
“I work it,” she laughed, “because I can.”

She swigged her bottle of beer, finished it, and leaned down and placed it in the six-pack. She turned her face toward me. She gave me a beatific look.

“You just need to get the confidence,” Margot sensed.

I fell in love with her all over again. She was right. I had to take risks.

“You can do it; I know you can.” She boosted me up.

I’d show her I was not inhibited. Climbing up on the bench, I stood tall.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

I shouted like a blues singer, “I’m going to win. I’m going to win.”

Two teenagers walking down the road looked in our direction.

“Hello, how are you? If you like peaches, you should meet Georgia here.”

“My dear sick twisted child, I believe you are crazy,” Margot said. She burst out laughing.

“I won’t give up without a fight. I know I’m right.”

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The memoir Left of the Dial is available on Amazon or through special order at bookstores.

My First Stab At Employment

Yes: I’ve decided to return with another memoir excerpt to cue your interest in the narrative. I was able to find a short scene I could transcribe here. Will see if there are other scenes I could excerpt. For now I’m taking it week-by-week with the excerpts. I expect to do book signings more towards February and March and into the spring. Check the speaking engagements forum for details.

Here: the detour gets even more surreal. A scene from my first job in 1990. At a time when no one else with schizophrenia dared consider trying to find work.  Was I out of my league? I jumped out of the frying pan of a dismal mental health system into the fire of a typical job expected of a female: secretary.

____________________________________

Over the summer, Mr. Rock sent me on two interviews: the first one at American Express, where the woman reported to him that I had a “tense demeanor,” and the second at Crowley & Watkins, where I received a job offer. On my own, I interviewed at Simon & Schuster for an editorial assistant spot but it didn’t pan out.

Only three interviews and I got a job. I decided to take the sure thing instead of waiting to see if I’d get a publishing gig. I signed on at the insurance brokerage.

My boss, Brittany Moss, was the director of the telemarketing division, and I was to be her administrative assistant. She was forty years old and looked much younger. She wore tortoiseshell eyeglasses, had a wavy bob, and smoothed on sangria lipstick. Brittany was an anomaly at Crowley: a corporate superstar without balls.

My job consisted of typing up correspondence, formatting new client proposals, sending out direct mail letters, generating sales reports, and processing expense accounts. It was demanding work, and I often clocked in overtime.

As I settled into my routine, I observed the other women in the office. Dahlia, the receptionist, wore miniskirts. I wouldn’t ever do that. My justifiable excuse for buying sharp suits was to fit in with the corporate culture.

Before, I hid behind the Siouxsie mask; now I wore a different one, equally false. I presented this beautiful figure—what Italians call la bella figura: the stylized theatrics of putting on your socially acceptable face. If I wanted to succeed, I’d have to “act as if” I’d already arrived, even if I was just starting out.

It all came down to the clothes and the presentation. Yet I felt that demeanor is not just how a person looks; it is how he or she composes himself or herself in response to the trials of life. I hid my dirty laundry, determined that no one find out.

When Brittany saw me come back from lunch with yet another Casual Corner shopping bag, she laughed. “You have more clothes than I do, and I make triple the money.”

She was impressed and gave me new responsibilities. I was to call up the companies we had obtained from lists and ask for the correct names and titles of their risk managers so we could generate leads.

“Hello, I’d like to send a letter to the person who buys your insurance. Could you give me the correct spelling of his name and his title?” I dialed down the list. I spoke in an upbeat voice, and I got hundreds of names. It took me an hour or two every day.

It was hellish work. It was pushing myself further than I wanted to go right then, but it was my job, so I rose to the challenge. Ultimately, I was successful.

“You have a talent for this,” Brittany took me aside. “I’d like to develop a career plan for you. How about we talk about this over dinner? I’ll take you to Dish of Salt.”

It was nouvelle Chinese, located right across the street. It’d be good to get a free meal because I worked overtime and otherwise wouldn’t eat until late. She slipped into her DKNY jacket, and I zipped up my new coat as we headed out into the October night.

We shared shrimp and beef dishes as piano music wafted through the restaurant. Rude-faced waiters silently brought and cleared the plates. We dared to order thick, rich hazelnut fudge cake for a tempting dessert. We talked in the warmth of the restaurant as the rain poured down outside.

“I’d like you to do telemarketing,” she asserted. “I’ll give you your own leads, and you’ll get a bonus based on how many sales appointments you set up.”

The thought of calling up strangers and trying to convince them to meet with my boss left me cold. I twisted the napkin in my lap and twisted it again. “I’d like that.” I pretended to be interested because I wanted to keep my job.

My mouth felt like wool. I tried to speak. “When do you…want me…to start?”

“I’ll hand over the phone lists tomorrow.”

Brittany finished her last bit of cake and smoothed her lips with a napkin. She took a compact out of her purse and reapplied her lipstick. It was Lancôme.

I wished I had the confidence to do this kind of touch-up in public. I was too self-conscious to look at myself in a mirror when other people were looking. I felt twisted inside, like the napkin I compulsively twisted. I worried she’d find out I was nervous, so I forced myself to stop.

 

Left of the Dial Amazon Page

The Eternal Noontime

This is the last memoir excerpt I’ll post here for now. Left of the Dial is set to go on sale on amazon.com and bn.com on January 1st–New Year’s Day–in two days.
________________________________________________

One day Jon and I ventured to Times Square to eat in Red Lobster yet again. It had become our constant meeting place. He liked it because everyone walked through its doors: black, white, Asian, Latino. The two of us were at home in this world and lingered there over our dinners.

We walked along the street as the night settled in. He followed me into Sephora and waited patiently while I had the makeup artist choose a new foundation for my face. It was NARS in a shade called Fiji in a refillable compact. I stayed there pushing up the tubes of lipstick and decided to buy Pigalle, a chocolate pink.

“Okay, glamour girl, let’s go,” he prodded me to get in the long line.

“How wonderful it must be to have a job where you get to wear pretty makeup and give other people makeovers.”

The women at the check-out counter wore hot-pink wigs, and the sole guy rang me up. “No wig?” I asked him, and he laughed.

We headed over to the restaurant and were seated quickly. It had a seaside lobster special that I ordered. Jon ordered the fisherman’s platter. Our waiter started calling him buddy, as in “I’ll get you that right away, buddy” when he asked for a diet soda.

I only drank the tap water when I dined out, and I refilled the glass numerous times. I took out my new pill box: a white oval one with a silver lipstick design on it and two inner compartments. I had collected numerous pill boxes recently. One was a blue ceramic one with the Starry Night scene on it. I also had two large boxes for traveling—the same one in different colors: with silver stars for the morning and with a black mock croc for night.

Truly creative, I felt choosing and using the pill box according to my mood or who I was dining with elevated taking the medication to an art form.

“I got you something.” Jon reached into his pocket and handed me a small box. I opened it and inside was a gold charm with the words: The Best. “You’re the best.” He smiled.

I wanted to wear this beautiful necklace around my neck when people came to view me at my funeral.

“Friends till the end?” he asked.

“Friends till the end,” I said as he crooked my pinky in his.

We tucked into our food when it arrived.

Jon asked me how the manuscript was coming along, and I told him.

“Left of the Dial will make people smile.” He laughed.

“I want it to inspire others. It’s not another hell-and-heartache story, so I don’t know if it will attract a publisher. There’s a name for that trend: misery memoirs.”

“I expect an autographed copy.” He returned to eating his food.

“How’s Sam?” I asked Jon about his fiancé.

“She moved in with me. I might have to move out.” He laughed again. “I have no closet anymore.”

I could understand because I was over at his apartment for a party, and it was cramped. My own apartment had one coat closet in the dining foyer and a small closet in the bedroom. That was the liability of New York City living.

“Do you women really need sixteen pairs of the same black pants?”

He got me, though I wanted to tell him that something always set them apart: the design on the back pocket or the boot-cut or flared leg.

“Would you like dessert, buddy?” The waiter was suddenly back at our table. “How about you?” He turned to face me.

“We’ll get the check,” Jon suggested.

We paid and exited the building into the twilight world. It was as crowded as if it were noon. I took the train with him one stop to Thirty-Fourth Street, where he continued, and I transferred to the F.

I reached into my tote and pulled out a book to read on the trip home. The secret to success on the subway was always having something to read. Oddly, I wasn’t the only one turning pages on the platform and heading into the train.

You put on your game face living with this illness. The other riders wouldn’t have the idea that you have a master’s degree or that you were a public service librarian. You were just another person trying to find your own city Zen.

I wondered about the other riders: what was that woman like under her Calvin Klein suit? Did the guy with a briefcase visit a dominatrix?

The advent of Carroll Street was always good news. I exited the downtown train with my Sephora tote bag and walked down the street like I had somewhere to go.

 

Left of the Dial Amazon Page

Slinky Dresses

The start of the return of the hell. It’s not worth the risk in my estimation. A person might try one drug holiday yet if it fails it’s not advisable to go on another.

Elyn Saks went on at least 3 drug holidays and got sicker and sicker after each relapse. Her book description on Amazon states she still has major ongoing episodes. Is that any way to live your life if you can avoid this scenario by staying faithful to your daily meds?

Here’s the scene in my memoir that sets it all up. It’s most likely going to be the last memoir excerpt I post here for now. I will return with details about Left of the Dial: the premise that is the root of this lifestyle and the power that each of us has to take back our lives after illness strikes.

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On a Friday night, seated in the buckled chair across from Dr. Santiago, I felt spangled with hope because I did some research and found out that there was a 2 mg. Stelazine tablet. I could take this, lowering the dose, and eventually come off the meds completely.

He asked me the usual questions: How’s your sleep? Are you eating okay? What about your thoughts? “I mostly sleep six or seven hours. I make mac and cheese with broccoli or hot dogs or pasta. I’m on an even keel.”

“Good.” He lit up a cigarette. “What are your goals?”

“Oh, I’d like to lower my dose to two milligrams and then try a drug holiday.” I had come straight from the city in a wool skirt and eggplant jacket, working the persona of a successful woman down to my black briefcase and matching pumps.

“Okay, I’ll write out a new prescription and monitor you until the end of the year. If you’re stable on the lower dose, I’ll consider stopping the meds.” All he could see was a different me, polished and poised, and so that was what he had to go on in the fifteen-minute session—only this: a pretty face.

The closet door of my mind was shut. He couldn’t know what was hanging out in there because I failed to enlighten him. The thoughts were like slinky dresses, easy to slip into, and I had no idea the cocktail party I’d been invited to was a setup. So what could I reveal? Nothing seemed unusual.

“Thank you.” The glittery feeling subsided, and I felt calmer.

One of his miracle patients, I wanted to write about what happened to me to inspire other people. No one should have to live on the margins. A better life is possible. I’ve seen this with my own eyes: first Margot recovered and then me.

“Do you have any plans for fun things, social outings?” Dr. Santiago asked.

“I want to travel to London or maybe Italy.” I didn’t know why; I had decided I wanted to see the world. “Maybe I can save up some money each month and go in the fall.”

“You should go.” He ground out his cigarette in the cloisonné ashtray on his desk. “Whatever you used to do before you got sick, if you’re capable of it, you should do now.”

This heartened me. Work was the daily grind, and it was time to live a little. Maybe Margot or Zoe could travel with me. We’d take London by storm, riding the underground. Or we’d explore Rome, drinking a morning cappuccino.

“I’m pleased that things are working out. Here’s your prescription, and I’ll see you in three months.”

“Thank you.” I rose. He opened the door for me.

A segue to true freedom, this minor victory deserved a celebration. I walked to Joe & Pat’s for the shrimp parmigiana.

Moving Out

I spent 29 months in a residential housing system from 1988 to February 1991. I recommend this option only as a last resort. I favor getting a job that enables a person to rent or own a free-market apartment outside of “the system.”

The memoir excerpts will continue here through mid-December. It’s my goal to have Left of the Dial go on sale in early January 2015.

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On a cold winter day, I drove around the island looking at apartments. A woman showed me a dark and dirty place in Westerleigh. A garden apartment in Dongan Hills was too far from the train. A basement room in Arrochar was the size of my childhood closet.

The last studio I saw was near the amusement park on Sand Lane. This apartment rocked. Light flooded the room from two big windows. A sink, stove, refrigerator, and cabinets lined one wall, which extended farther than the main area to create a dining nook. I took in the good-sized closet and the utility closet that I could have my father attach a rod to so I could hang more clothes. The bathroom was spotless. Mostly, the sunlight coming through clinched the deal.

“I’d like it,” I said, not aware that maybe the landlord had to decide if he wanted me as a tenant. “Great. It’s four hundred per month like I told you on the phone. I prefer to be paid in cash.”

“Could I come next Saturday with the deposit?”

“Sure. The lease will start February first, and the rent is due on the first of the month.”

“Great. I’ll be by in the morning.”

“See you then.” He closed the door.

When I returned to Holland Avenue, I raced into the office to see Viola. She had been waiting all day. “I can tell you found something. You have a glow.”

“Oh, it’s wonderful. The light streams through the windows. It has two big closets.”

“You deserve this success. You took what you were given and wouldn’t let it defeat you. I can only imagine that you’ll use that determination in whatever comes your way in the future.”

“Oh, I’m so excited; I can’t wait.”

“I’m confident that you have what it takes to fly solo.” Viola looked at her watch. “I’ll let you go now. I have to write up your discharge papers.”

When I got back to the residence, I sat at the dining table and wrote down a list of everything I’d need to do, buy, and secure: Change my address at work and at the post office. Get a sofa bed, dresser, and kitchen table. Hook up the utilities.

Wow, I’ve finally done this: I’ve recovered. It took just over three years, and I have found my way back.

 

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Christma Eve Blues

I lived in a street-drug-infested apartment complex when I was in my early twenties. I vowed to get out and stay out. My time in the community mental health system was the worst time of my life. This is why I recommend you research your treatment options with great care.

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The holidays were here again, and Christmas Eve we celebrated at Aunt Liz’s this time around, again with lobster, shrimp, mussels and seafood salad, and angel hair pasta. The antipast’: caponata, artichokes, roasted peppers, provolone and mozzarella, olives, and baked clams. In our family there was the perpetual jockeying for the clams and the protest of who took the most clams—also the sneaky depositing of the empty shells in another person’s plate so it didn’t look like you went over the limit.

I was a woman, so I stood in the kitchen while my mother and my aunts cooked, even though I wasn’t cooking. The cousins and my father watched whatever show was on TV. Aunt Millie was banished to the couch because no one expected her to help out. My grandmother wandered into the living room too.

My cousin Fulvia recounted a Christmas Eve long ago when she was a child at our grandmother’s house. “The lobster was running after me,” she told us at every holiday. My grandmother used to clunk the lobsters herself at the time, and one of them escaped and was moving toward Fulvia. “I was only seven. The lobster was running after me.” She kept going on and on.

But we didn’t clunk the lobsters anymore; now my aunts went to Jordan’s Lobster Dock in Sheepshead Bay and had one of the employees there do the deed.

I loved lobster and was grateful we could afford this tradition. I always opted for a tail. My aunts had whole lobsters, the works, and used nutcrackers to crack the claws open. Marc got a tail too.

At dinner, we talked about Fulvia’s engagement to an outsider: he wasn’t Italian, he was French, and no one said anything about this because we had met him at my aunt’s birthday party, and he was a great guy. My grandmother loved him because she thought he was Sicilian. “Sici, Sici” she joked in a lucid moment.

I didn’t want the night to end because then I’d have to return to the low-rent apartment where there was no heat, and the cockroaches crawled in the dresser drawers. A mouse lived under the sink in the kitchen. You knew when he was feeling adventurous because you would see a dark shadow moving down the hall toward the bathroom.

At nine o’clock, my father drove me home. I quickly entered the lobby of the building, checked that the drug dealer wasn’t nearby conducting business, and got in the elevator. As I opened the door to my apartment, I heard a guy shouting “Give me the money!” in the apartment next to ours.

This is only temporary, I reminded myself. Suzy was in the living room smoking and watching TV. I made a beeline for my room and went straight to sleep.

 

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