I’ve got a nice catalog of rare books shaping up for publication some time after Labor Day. Just have to survive the cash flow crunch for another month. All my dough is tied up in the “nice catalog” and, as usual, I’m waiting on $25,000 in receivables to keep me alive. Such is the tedious math of the micro businessman.
So, as a survival aid, I’m taking my chainsaw up to the farm in Cape Breton tomorrow. I’ll live on whiskey, rice, and beans, and keep my other expenses close to zero while clearing my field (the work of the past decade)
and working on my Ledyard walk book (the work of the past three years, though it feels like a decade).
Maybe, by the time I get home, some of that $25K in receivables will have leaked in. Otherwise, I’ll have to depend on a few sales at the summer Papermania show to keep the wolf from the door.
|Save half a buck! Print this card out and present it at the door|
Or maybe I’ll just let the wolf in. He might find a book or two to eat. God knows, I’ve eaten a few in my day.
Anyway, seeing as I'm headed to Canada and don't have time to write a proper blog, here's a short story for you, if you don't mind reading more. It's called
The Monster Inside Me
When I was in the 4th grade I began having repeating nightmares. The scene changed from dream to dream, but the setup was always the same – a hulking Frankenstein monster would track me down in a clumsy, remorseless manner, presumably aiming to crack my skull like a walnut. I’d be playing on the street or in my room, and suddenly the monster would appear, lurching after me. I’d run.
I’d run through streets and alleys far ahead of the plodding monster, through forests and fields, propelled by terror but exhilarated too. It was almost like flying. Then, inevitably, I’d go to ground in the hollow of a tree or find myself trapped in a closet in a room of a strange house, and the monster would be upon me. Sometimes, in the most thrillingly horrific part of the dream, I’d hear him shuffling up the stairs, breathing, moaning. Sometimes I’d escape and run again, sending the dream into another cycle. Sooner or later, though, the end would come and it was always the same. The monster would get me and fear would jolt me awake.
My feelings for the monster were not confined to simple terror. Certainly he frightened me, but at the same time, I understood him. From my first vision of that huge, spiked head in the Classics Comics adaptation of Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein” (the monster shambling, somehow, through the North Pole, alienated forever from humankind), I grasped the pain of being dragged back to life; the revulsion of realizing you were half man, half animal; the dread of possessing and being possessed by strength beyond your control. From the very first, I dug the true source of the monster’s pathos. He was terrified of himself. This complexity of feeling only made it worse for me. I could understand him all I wanted; he was still going to kill me.
In the 6th grade I took to acting out my dream by running laps around my house, and then graduated to laps around the block. In some cunning way, the values of the dream activity carried over into real life. My running was never about how fast I could go. Speed was pointless. Endurance was the key. If I could run and never stop, the monster would never catch me. By the 8th grade I’d joined the cross country team. Made the Frosh-Soph squad in 9th grade, got a varsity letter as a sophomore. I started running the Boston marathon in college, back when three hours would place you in the top hundred, and we all changed in the boy’s gym at Hopkinton High. Ran with both the Kelleys, and legends like Ted Corbitt; started every race shoulder to shoulder with guys who wore single digit numbers on their shirts. Wrote to the famed running philosopher Doc Sheehan when I had a medical problem and got an answer back. Later, in the Navy, bought my shoes from a genius who made them in his basement in Southern California – ultra light things with support and cushioning systems – years ahead of their time. And still the monster followed me.
I finished up my Navy career in Springfield, Massachusetts, where I helped care for my mother, who was dying of cancer. After her death, she clawed up the stairs to my apartment, just like the Frankenstein monster, and broke through my door, and croaked, “What time is it?” Her soul was not at rest. I’d bang off 10 mile training loops, running so hard I’d weep from exhaustion at the finish. Ran a 2:43 in the Philadelphia marathon, then moved to Gloucester, where I had my nervous breakdown.
Just last year Annie and I were sitting around the kitchen table with Lauren, talking about breakdowns. Lauren had recently come back from San Francisco and was taking care of her father and Trudy. I can’t remember if she was talking about her father having a breakdown, or herself, or Trudy, but we got into the topic enthusiastically enough.
When Lauren was in San Francisco she’d had a stroke-like event resulting from an AVM, which was an abnormal collection of blood vessels in her brain. They’d sawed the top of her skull off – twice – to get in there and try to remedy the condition, and they’d finally gotten it under control. The scar was just above her hairline so her face was still pretty, but owing to some screwup in state insurance she’d been left with hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills. Trudy went out to San Francisco to help with Lauren’s recovery and spent hours a day hounding MediCal administrators by email, telephone, letter and in person until they relented and settled Lauren’s bill. What nobody knew was that, at that time, Trudy was strung out on prescription painkillers.
When Lauren got healthy again she moved back east to take care of her father who had Parkinson’s disease. Just about this time Trudy’s habit and her credit card bills caught up with her. She bottomed out and came back east to get into an NA program. She had nowhere to live, so Lauren took her in. What with the father and Trudy and her own fragile condition, it was a hell of a burden. That’s why it’s hard to remember who was the candidate for the breakdown.
We’d been drinking for no more than an hour, and I was in the flush of that careless good humor that accompanies the first few pops. I told Lauren, “Nervous breakdowns aren’t necessarily bad, you know.”
“Right…” She had wonderfully expressive eyebrows.
“I mean it. Everybody has breakdowns. Mine was one of the most important events in my life. Even Anne Marie’s had one.”
Lauren looked to Annie, who told her, “It was chronic fatigue, actually.”
“That’s your diagnosis,” I said. “And maybe you’re right. But look where you were back then. Two wild boy-children and an old man who wasn’t earning anything. And the vision of being stuck there for the rest of your life.”
Annie gave me one of her looks.
I told Lauren, “You should have seen her. She couldn’t get off the couch for months. And she had this crazy thing about smells.”
“The smells were the worst,” Annie said.
Lauren and I got to smile at one another. Annie’s thing about smells was a family joke. She always took the joke with good humor, but the cause was real enough. Ever since those months on the couch, whatever their true cause, she’d been afflicted with a terrible sensitivity to odors.
Lauren said, “What about your breakdown, Gregor?”
“Oh, it was a beauty. I’d just moved to Gloucester. It was February. I lived alone in a cold damp basement and I didn’t know anybody. My mother had died and I’d broken up with my girlfriend. My sister came around once in a while, but she had problems of her own.”
“Schizophrenia,” Annie said.
I was warming up to my topic. I could smell that dank basement and the world of hurt the lived down there. “The chimney came right through the front room. I poked a hole in it and installed a kerosene heater. I used that for my stove too. I thought I was going to work on my novel. I pictured myself sitting up there on the shoulder of the country and whispering into her ear how much I loved her, but how foolish she was, and then I’d become beloved myself - a sage and famous novelist. But really, all I did was run, because I was training for the marathon too. I’d run for miles along the ocean – it was so beautiful in the winter it would break your heart – and all I could think was what a shame it was there was no one to share that beauty with. Not much writing got done.”
“Then one morning I woke up and the whole universe was flying away from me at the speed of light. There was nothing to hold onto. I was alone in the middle and everything was rushing away from me. That lasted all day. Maybe it was an acid re-flash or something. I don’t know what set it off except maybe that I’d drunk a lot of gin the night before.”
“Anyway, when night came the rush stopped. I crawled into my bed and hunkered there in the fetal position. I knew something had gone wrong with me, and that night I realized what it was. There was a monster inside me who was trying to kill me. He was going to take me over and cause me to hang myself or drown myself or slit my wrists. I spent all the rest of that winter and spring in absolute terror of sharp objects and high places. Every minute was a mental wrestling match against this monster. Everything got really, really hard. I remember there was this pretty girl who was a teller at the bank, and when I had to go get money out, I’d be terrified to speak to her. I was so lonely and so fucked up and she was so beautiful I was afraid I’d start crying on her.”
“Isn’t that when you met Anne Marie?”
“No. That came later. First I had to go through the whole spring that way. Then one day I was out in the marsh digging steamers, and the whole thing just lifted. I’ll never forget it. I was looking at my boots in the muddy grass and it was over. No reason, no warning. Just gone. I looked around and it was a gorgeous sunny day and I felt like the first man alive on earth – that all this creation was there for me to see what I could do with it. That was when I met Mac the Hippy, upstairs, and then Annie and Anita and Mary Tess and everyone else. That was when my real life began.”
“What happened to the monster?”
“Oh,” I told her. “The monster won. The monster was me. That’s why I say breakdowns can be good.”
It was the first time I’d thought about it since that day in the marsh, and I was quite surprised at the way it came out. I didn’t know I thought it until I said it, but once I heard it I knew it was absolutely right.
Lauren asked Trudy to move out a few months after that. Trudy took it with good grace. The important thing was that Lauren had been there for her in her time of need. I never heard anything more from either of them about nervous breakdowns.