Mcman's Bipolar Story
part 4 of 5

Crash and Burn
 

  "I slipped back into my hometown afraid to show myself in
  public."

  If you have ever read news accounts of airlines that crashed, you will
  inevitably find they were doomed to crash. Sleet build-up on the
  wings, a five-cent bolt that worked its way loose, a runway that was
  too short for the conditions at hand - you get the picture. The pilot
  taxies into position, gets the all-clear from the control tower, and
  races down the strip, fully expecting to become airborne, taking
  comfort in the roar of four Pratt and Whitney engines outside his
  cockpit, blithely ignorant of the fatal defect that will put him and his
  passengers in the bottom of a swamp. 

  So it was with my first college experience. I had no study habits to
  speak of, and I was subject to depressions that I thought everyone
  experienced as a matter of course. On top of that I suffered bouts of
  mild mania that I mistook for normal moods. I entered my first year full
  of bright hope and promise only to crash and burn my second year,
  with no hope of putting the pieces back together.

  It was the late sixties, and everyone seemed to be enjoying it except
  me. I should have been fitting right in, but some hidden malfunction
  inside my brain seemed to reach out and warn away all those who
  should have been my companions. Inevitably my thoughts turned to
  suicide or of speculating what it would be like if I cryogenically froze
  myself and woke up say around the turn of the century.

  Would the world be ready to accept me by then?

  In the meantime, of course, I was seeing the world with different eyes.
  I would go to the art galleries in Washington DC where I was living at
  the time, and at the National Gallery I would inevitably find myself in
  front of Vermeer's "Woman Weighing Gold." Perhaps it was the
  painting's overall sense of stillness and balance that intrigued me,
  qualities I could only experience vicariously.

  I tried my hand at various jobs, driving taxis, picking up garbage in a
  suburban department store, and playing trombone in a soul band.
  Fortunately the army wouldn't have me. My pathetically skinny frame
  that made me the object of so much ridicule in my youth turned out to
  be my life-saver when so many my age were needlessly dying in a
  stupid war.

  Ultimately, I left Washington DC saying no farewells, and slipped back
  into my hometown with my tail between my legs to temporarily stay
  with my parents, maintaining a low profile, afraid to show myself in
  public lest I draw attention to my spectacular failures.

  My next stop was Cambridge, just outside Boston, where I wound up
  sharing an apartment just off Harvard Square with a folksinger who
  made me look like a barrel of laughs. "I wish I wasn't a Pisces (I can't
  remember the sign here)," he would lament as if his particular sun
  sign were a very real handicap. Maybe it was. The poor guy should
  have been famous, but recognition - it turned out - was not in his
  stars.

  "Socrates, where have you gone?" he cried out in one of his songs.
  For some reason it struck me as profound. Off he would go with his
  trusty dog Gypsy to sing on Harvard Square, and when he returned he
  invariably had another musician with him or some new admirer who
  had become spellbound by his music. He was that good. I'm sure his
  depressions or his drug habits got to him in the end. Otherwise the
  world would have heard of him by now. His failing was our loss.

  My other apartment mate paid the rent courtesy of a certain illegal
  plant. One day, I went to the local Goodwill shop and bought a "new"
  coat, and kindly donated the one I was wearing. The next day, this
  apartment mate returned, opening his coat to reveal yet another one
  beneath. "A great day at Goodwill!" he announced, beaming with
  delight. He had stolen my old coat. 

  One day, after living in Cambridge for about a year, I woke up. I
  literally woke up. It was the fall of '74 and I was driving a cab at nights.
  I was 24 going on 25. I was lying in bed in a semi-haze when I got an
  idea. Why don't I buy a motorcycle? A very ill-timed proposition with
  winter coming on, of course, but then I thought some more. The hell
  with living here where it's cold, I decided. Why don't I move to
  California instead? followed almost instantly by this revelation: Why
  don't I buy a motorcycle and ride it - to California?

  That fortuitous joining of two thoughts during a fleeting idle instant in
  bed is known to me to this very day as The Day I Woke Up. From that
  moment on I was a man possessed, a man on a mission. Others
  seemed to sense it in me and responded accordingly, and soon I
  began to feel like I was almost fitting in. By the time I was ready to
  ride out of town on a bitter cold December morning, I felt sad at
  leaving several good friends behind. On the other hand, I was glad at
  being sad. Something good was beginning to happen to me.

  There is a stretch of the Route 101 Coastal Highway in Marin County
  north of San Francisco that has probably washed into the Pacific by
  now. Yes, I had found California. 

  I leaned my bike into the curves of the road, first one way, then the
  other, testing my Jedi reflexes to the limit, delighting in the roller
  coaster, speeding up on the straightaways and gearing down on the
  hairpins perched high above the Pacific, my ears ringing with the roar
  of the waves crashing against the rocks below.

  I was just leaning in for another sharp turn when I came upon some
  rocks that had worked their way loose from the hills above. There was
  no time to think. I swerved to avoid the obstacle, then gently hit the
  breaks to avoid spinning out and methodically geared down and
  leaned on the bike harder than I would like to, trusting I would stop
  before I found myself with nothing between me and the ocean but
  several hundred feet of air.

  I brought the bike around 180 degrees, but it was going backward
  toward the ocean on its own momentum. I felt the sickening sensation
  of the back wheel leaving the shoulder and losing traction in the soft
  earth behind. For a brief fleeting instant I had the sensation of being
  suspended in midair, rather like Wile E Coyote in those Roadrunner
  cartoons. Then the bike found purchase, jerked foward, and stalled on
  the shoulder.

  I turned off the ignition, wheeled my bike to a safe place, and took
  stock. Something had shifted in me in those two or three seconds.
  Whatever had been holding me back before was holding me back no
  longer. 

  Not long after, I met the woman who would be my wife. We moved first
  to Vancouver, then to New Zealand where she is from, where we both
  enrolled in law school (law is an undergraduate degree there), and in
  our second year of law our daughter Emily was born. As if making up
  for lost time, I was elected President of the Law Students'
  Association, founded a community law center, completed my honours
  dissertation, took on my share of the parenting, and tutored in the Law
  Faculty.

  It never would have occurred to me that I was operating in manic
  overdrive. Why would it? My life was finally going right.

  The only left-wing lecturer in the faculty turned out to be my mentor.
  He asked me to do a talk on Marxism for one of his classes based on
  a paper I had done the year before. To the surprise of everyone, I
  showed up in a coat and tie. With effortless grace, I joked that if a
  certain arch-conservative politician were to ask where I had been on
  this particular day, I could always reply I was having lunch with Prince
  Charles.

  In fact, that is exactly where I was headed to right after my little
  presentation. The Prince was in town and I had been included on the
  guest list. The year before, as Law Student President, the country's
  next Prime Minister had been on MY guest list. Ah, life. 

  My law school days, incidentally, still come back to haunt me. The
  other day, while checking out how my articles for this site came up on
  the various search engines, I discovered my long-forgotten honors
  dissertation listed in the collection of the library of the very university I
  had originally dropped out of. Such are the workings of some
  mischievous unseen hand.

  Meanwhile, my marriage was flaming out on me. During my last year
  of law school, thoughts of suicide - which I thought I had left behind
  forever - were returning and some of my behavior was bordering on
  bizarre. The inevitable break-up came during my second year in the
  work force, in a strange new town where I was editor of a
  financial/accounting journal. I knew nothing of journalism and even
  less of finance - let alone of managing a complex publishing operation
  - but that did not stop me from applying for the job. 

  My second or third issue I put King Kong on the cover. My boss
  began to suspect I was not quite the same bill of goods he had
  thought he had taken on, but my readers apparently loved it. I followed
  up with a chimpanzee behind a desk and called it "Evolution of the
  Acccountant."

  Amazingly, no one fired me. 

  In the meantime, my marriage breakup brought on the kind of
  depression that dampened my slightly eccentric behavior. Oddly, had
  it not been for the disaster of a failed marriage, I might have flipped out
  completely, before I had a chance to demonstrate my worth as a
  writer and journalist. To set the record straight, my editorship was no
  fluke. I had already written two unpublished novels and numerous
  short stories, not to mention a book-length dissertation and several
  other lengthy honors assignments, plus orchestrate a very successful
  PR campaign for the law center I had founded. Also, the exam system
  in New Zealand stresses concisely-written answers under tight
  deadlines. I was good - notwithstanding all I had to learn - and I finally
  had a chance to prove it.

  My ultimate crash and burn would have to wait. It was doomed to
  happen, of course, just like all those accounts of airline crashes you
  read about, the ones about sleet on the wings no one was aware of at
  the time or that five cent bolt that worked its way loose. The pilot guns
  his engines, fully expecting to become airborne, and instead the next
  day divers are fishing for that black box lying beneath the bottom of a
  harbor somewhere ...
 

Mcmans Bipolar Story part 5 of 5
 To Madness and Back
 

 CHOOSE another STORY from this SECTION

 

 

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