…I blacked out. I blacked out. Blacking out obviously does a thing with time. …That was a very awkward and poorly written sentence. But still, blacking out obviously does a thing with time. It’s like stepping into a time machine, and for the exact amount of time you’re blacked out, you’re, well, blacked out. You remember nothing. The interesting and obvious corollary to this being that the people around you are not blacked out, and so time proceeds normally for them.
So. Now; so now. I awoke at 3AM. “In a real dark night of the soul, it is always 3AM.” …Is it always odd-numbered hours when these things happen? I awoke in a strange room, in a dark room, the digital clock next to me providing the only minor illumination. I was lying flat on my back. In a strange room. “UNHHH!” I said, and shot up straight from the bed, my arms outstretched like Dracula.
…I say “like Dracula,” because this was how I told the story to my friends later on. “Y’know how in movies, when Dracula arises from his coffin, he just rises straight up, like from the waist? He bends ninety degrees at the waist and just pops out with his arms outstretched? THAT WAS HOW I WOKE UP.” …That was how shocked and terrified I was. I hadn’t blacked out in years. The upper part of my body got the message faster than the lower part did; that’s why I sprang straight up.
“Unhhh!” I said again.
Where was I?
I wandered out of the room. Gradually it became clear that I was back in Taylor’s apartment. Eventually I stumbled into Taylor’s bedroom. She was there, under her sheets, looking flushed and apple-cheeked and radiant. She woke as I entered. “…What the hell happened?” I said. There followed a brief interregnum where she explained to me what had happened — passing out, etc. “I didn’t say anything weird, did I?” I asked, thinking that I had maybe mumbled something weird about my hair while blacked out.
The thing is, like I just mentioned, for me almost no time had passed. Whereas for Taylor… a lot of time had passed. Five hours worth of time. But a minute and a half before, in my estimation, we had been walking back from the beach, on our way to have sex. And thus it was — with this firmly in mind — thus it was that I attempted to convince Taylor to have sex with me, all over again.
“Uhmmm,” she said.
“. . . .” she said.
“UhmmmmNOOOOOOOO,” she said. Her “no” was so drawn out that it sounded like the low hum of machinery in the background. Like some ancient oscillating Soviet-era generator.
“So that’s a ‘no,’ then.”
“That’d be a ‘no.’”
I left the room in shame somewhere around this point. During the intervening time, Taylor had made it clear that I should “spend the night” in her absent roommate’s room. Which really spelled the death of a lot of things for me. The (accurate) implication being that I was so f-cked up that I couldn’t be trusted to drive that night — but that implication also being that I would be kicked out in the morning. I stumbled back to the roommate’s bedroom. But on my way I saw the gleam of something out of the corner of my eye. …The flash of the bathroom mirror. When Odysseus heard the sirens’ song, there was someone else there; someone to tie him to the mast of his own ship, to prevent him from being carried away. …But there was no one there to stop me from walking into the bathroom. And that’s where the trouble began.
If we think about it, we all know the premonitions of insanity. Have you ever started cleaning your house, just a light spring-cleaning — or maybe you have company coming over that night? You start cleaning, and then, five hours later, you’re down on your hands and knees, buffering the pewter with a piece of Brillo, or grabbing dust bunnies behind the stereo system with your two bare hands. “Okay now,” your brain says. “Slow down there; that’s enough.” …Or maybe you’re in the shower, swilling around with the soap and the water and your private parts, and suddenly the thought comes to you — am I clean enough? How clean is too clean? How clean is clean enough? “You’ve been scrubbing for too long now,” your brain says: but suddenly, you can’t stop; the desire to keep going — for fifteen minutes, a half hour, an hour — is upon you. You know that you should stop but you’re not quite sure whether to trust the messages coming from your brain.
That’s all that insanity is, and that’s what happened to me, that night in the bathroom, as I tore chunks of hair directly out of my head, pulling them straight from my forehead… while my not-to-be-lover lay asleep in the other room.
…And various writers have attempted to describe insanity — the condition of being insane. Sylvia Plath compared insanity to being trapped under a gigantic bell-jar; you are cut off from the rest of the world; left gasping for air. F. Scott Fitzgerald said that it was like being alone at three in the morning — but feeling like that always, all the time. Elizabeth Wurtzel, a writer from our generation, used a metaphor that she borrowed from Hemingway. Being insane, she said, was like Hemingway’s description of going bankrupt. In Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises, a man is asked how he lost all his money. “…Two ways,” the man replies, “Gradually, and then suddenly.” That’s how it happened for me. I lost everything all at once, but it had taken years to get there.
And so I stayed in the bathroom for the next three hours — while Taylor slept on — and I ripped out chunks of my hair with my bitten fingernails. It’s all about shame. The shame of me failing with the girl. Or the shame of something else. By pulling out my hair, I was trying to hurt myself — and more than that, I think, I was trying to hurt something that was in my past. Whatever that might be. Had I been laughed at in high school; as a kid, had I once accidentally crushed a baby bird; had I once dropped my ice cream cone on the pavement and everybody laughed? Whatever. Whatever you’re looking for, you won’t have far to go in order to find it. There’s always some shame there. And as a kid, with your ice cream cone there, melting there on the pavement, and people laughing, what you feel for the first time is alone. Loneliness in shame. For that’s what shame is. You realize that you’re alone and that no one else is going to help you.
When I was done, my hair was ruined. It was gone; way gone. No more hiding behind bangs. There were tiny bald patches everywhere. Over; way over. Way, way gone.
And then eventually I left the bathroom. I had to stop pulling; I was tired. I let myself out of the apartment, leaving no note, not even a scribbled “Sorry!” on the whiteboard in the hallway.
…And then I started to go crazy. I went back to my job as the world’s worst political researcher on the nation’s most expensive Senate campaign. But I’d started to go subtly crazy and when I say “subtly,” I mean, of course, “not subtly.”
First, there was the matter that everyone could see my wrecked hair, see my insanity. And I couldn’t just shave my head, because my insanity told me not to shave my head. I’ve always looked bad with a shaved head, and my insanity told me (inaccurately) that I’d just look worse if I shaved it all off.
Next, I started talking to myself in coffee shops, in restaurants, and that’s how I figured out what that is. What being crazy really means. I would talk to myself, really babble to myself. …And that’s been part of my working definition of “crazy,” ever since: it’s when your problems are so all-consuming that you literally can’t think of anything else. It’s when your problems don’t make sense to the outside world. And that’s all that it is. “Jesus Christ,” I’d say to myself. “I can’t keep going on like this.” And that’s when I’d realize that I was standing in line. At Starbucks. …I was so focused on myself that I couldn’t think of anything else, as I kept on tearing my hair out, day by day, night by night.
And — and this is the second part — my problems weren’t relatable to anyone else. If my girlfriend had dumped me or if I had lost my job — well, these problems are relatable; we’ve all had these problems at one point or another in our lives. Even if you’re alone; even if you’re sitting in, say, a depressing coffee shop without any of your friends around, you still can think, “Hey, at least one of these random jerks sitting here has been dumped this week, I bet.” And then you feel less alone. Pulling your hair out, though… At no point could I think, Hey, I bet someone else here has the exact same problem as me! And so the loneliness deepened, and broadened, and gained texture.
And if you can’t talk to your friends about something, then you have no other outlet. And so you accidentally start talking to yourself. And then you’re a crazy person like a crazy person in a movie.
— Read Part Four here —