Car­bon

A folder full of awards proves to the psy­chi­a­trist I wasn't al­ways this way

Geist - - Geist - Erin Soros

Age forty-six and I’ve moved in with my par­ents. I’m not proud of this turn of events, but I make an ef­fort, shower and dress, sit in front of the com­puter for a few hours each day. At break­fast my fa­ther tells me his dreams. Last night I had one, he says, about some ran­dom coun­try, like In­dia. He scarfs down his por­ridge. He nods at me to fin­ish mine. It’s hard to con­cen­trate when I’m on th­ese meds, and harder still to shrug off the feel­ing I’ve failed. Just tell peo­ple you are tak­ing some time off, is what my fa­ther says in his boom­ing, gruff voice. You are recharg­ing the old bat­ter­ies! Imag­ine you have cancer, my mother sug­gests, her voice en­thu­si­as­tic, no one will judge you! The com­par­i­son to cancer makes me un­easy, how she uses one ill­ness to le­git­imize another, with­out ever re­fer­ring to what I ac­tu­ally have. It makes me sus­pect my fam­ily would be hap­pier if I did have another kind of dis­ease, one that would be eas­ier to de­scribe to the neigh­bours. When I was in the hos­pi­tal, my par­ents brought me healthy foods—wal­nuts and grapes— and kept ask­ing if I was eat­ing all right, as if my body were in trou­ble and not my mind. They stuffed a folder with pho­to­copies of my cer­tifi­cates and awards and pre­sented it to the psy­chi­a­trist to prove that I wasn’t al­ways this way. They gave food to the other pa­tients and called them each by name. My fa­ther went to shake ev­ery­one’s hand. One guy had ob­ses­sive-com­pul­sive dis­or­der and wouldn’t let my fa­ther touch him. In­stead he showed my fa­ther how you can shake some­one’s hand just by hold­ing your palm up in the air and pump­ing your arm, fin­gers out­stretched and touch­ing noth­ing. My mother brought me a bas­ket of clean clothes. She told me she had hand­washed ev­ery­thing in the sink. I was care­ful, she said. I asked her why she didn’t use the wash­ing ma­chine. I’m scared of your cloth­ing, she said. All the de­tails, the sparkly things— they could fall off. But I don’t think it’s my cloth­ing that fright­ens her. My symp­toms came on sud­denly, that’s the thing, and then left just as sud­denly, and now my par­ents have their daugh­ter back but they’ve learned that my days can col­lapse. So they move around me ea­gerly, ask me my plans for the day, their voices chip­per. My mother leaves stick­ers on my dresser—rain­bows and but­ter­flies. My fa­ther backs up my com­puter. If I had ex­pe­ri­enced de­pres­sion, that might have been eas­ier for them to un­der­stand, although they still wouldn’t call it what it is. Mike Wal­lace, my fa­ther says, I saw it on TV. We don’t men­tion what I screamed in the hos­pi­tal. We don’t dis­cuss what I dreamed when I was awake. I don’t have the slight­est idea how to talk about psy­chosis, although now I’ve gone and men­tioned the word. My mother is re­or­ga­niz­ing the spice cab­i­net. Some of th­ese things, she says, we haven’t used in years. Look at this, I can’t even tell what it is. Can you smell it? Can you iden­tify it at all? Look now, she says, I’m just go­ing to throw it out. They worry that what hap­pened to me could all be their fault. That they raised me wrong or passed along some gene that only finds ex­pres­sion in me. When does psy­chosis be­gin? That’s the prob­lem. I could de­scribe the full moon emerg­ing from a rip­pling ocean; or a man sit­ting next to a sign that asks for spare change; or the sound­track to The Sweet Hereafter, Sarah Pol­ley’s plain­tive voice singing “courage, my word”; or the feel of a bone snap­ping when I slipped on ice. In­stead I drive with my mother to buy a plate shaped like a fish. The plate is only avail­able in one of the big box stores in Co­quit­lam, a neigh­bour­ing sub­urb of Van­cou­ver, the kind of sub­urb that calls it­self a city and even has signs that say “City Cen­tre,” but you find there’s no cen­tre at all, just long lines of high­way and high-rises that hug the high­way and ugly new build­ings emerg­ing in the kind of empti­ness that in­vites signs that say things like “If you lived here, you’d be home by now.” Who would want to live here is what I ask my mother. We are lost, in any case, hav­ing missed some turnoff to the big box store that ad­ver­tised a fish plate for twelve dol­lars. I was go­ing to hang it on my wall and not use it ever or it would chip. We are stopped in traf­fic, the cars inch­ing for­ward into the in­ter­sec­tion and then just stop­ping so I have to wait while the light goes red then green then red again and noth­ing moves. We are go­ing nowhere. Peo­ple in flu­o­res­cent vests by the high­way are wav­ing signs telling us to stop and what else could we do? They are stand­ing next to a gi­ant hole. Think of all the car­bon monox­ide they are breath­ing, I say. I can feel my own brain cells be­gin to die. There are two sea­sons in Canada, I say: win­ter and con­struc­tion. My mother laughs like the joke is my orig­i­nal in­ven­tion. She says when my brother did con­struc­tion work on the high­way, peo­ple yelled at him and threw cof­fee at him from their cars. Peo­ple can be like that, she says. She says this was the di­rec­tion she used to drive to visit my aunt Nunny in the old-age home. My rel­a­tives have odd names, nick­names—aunt Nunny, Aunt Middy, Cousin Nip­pers, Un­cle Tick­tie. My great-un­cle Den­sil didn’t have a nick­name. My mother starts to tell me some­thing he said be­fore he

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