A Companion Called Fred 

  "I'm normal! I kept insisting over and over, much to Fred's quiet
  amusement."

  A THANKSGIVING TRIBUTE

  It's like a cardiac arrest, only it happens in the brain - something
  responsible for holding the gray mass together abruptly shifts, there is
  a sickening feeling of something terrible about to happen, and next
  thing your head is experiencing the awful sensation of being emptied
  out. From somewhere inside the power goes down and the body
  seems to collapse into itself like a marionette being folded into a box.
  You look for a way out, and what's left of your broken brain does its
  best to oblige with images of high bridges and frozen ponds and
  nooses dangling from balconies.

  In January this year when my family brought me to the emergency
  room at our local hospital I could never imagine eleven months later
  that I'd be writing about anything I had to be thankful for, much less
  paying tribute to this beast inside that sent me there in the first place,
  the one that goes by two names, both of them woefully inadequate:
  manic depression and bipolar.

  May as well call the thing Fred, as far as I'm concerned.

  For most of my life, Fred has been my constant traveling companion,
  even as I denied his existence and tried so hard to pretend I was a
  master of my own fate. I'm normal! I kept insisting over and over, much
  to Fred's quiet amusement.

  Twenty-one years ago I was well on the way to proving it. After all
  those wasted years at the mercy of the very condition I denied having,
  I landed on my feet in New Zealand. I had successfully completed my
  second year of law school there, and I was married with a beautiful
  three-month-old daughter. There had been some other Americans in
  our birthing classes and we invited them over, together with another
  Kiwi-Yank couple we knew, to celebrate Thanksgiving. I recall lifting
  my glass to make a toast, but then words failed me.

  We were seated on cushions on the floor with the turkey and all the
  fixings on a low table. But the stars of the show were the new citizens
  of planet earth. I looked at the proud parents and their newborns and
  all the baby paraphernalia they had brought, and simply choked out,
  "thanks".

  Life was beautiful. 

  Little did I realize in ten years I would find myself in another country,
  broke and alone and unemployable and in search of a convenient
  bridge to jump off. I couldn't blame it all on Fred. Besides, Fred has a
  way of convincing you he doesn't exist.

  Boy, you showed them, Fred let me know less a year later. You're
  back on your feet again and working on your own terms, not theirs. I
  had one book out and another on the way. And there was my
  daughter, now eleven, together with my parents, in my apartment to
  celebrate Christmas. Like a considerate roommate, Fred made
  himself scarce.

  When he showed up again I was back in the States. Think of
  someone on a high hill lobbing boulders at you, that was Fred. One
  large stone would hit me on the chest and send me into a crushing
  depression. Then the next one would come thudding down on me as I
  lay sprawled on the ground, compounding my despair with a
  depression on top of a depression. 

  But I made Fred work hard, damn hard. Several years and an untold
  number of boulders it took, but finally I went down and didn't get up.
  After all these years, I finally acknowledged Fred's dominion, not to
  mention his existence.

  So now, at long last, I'm going to give Fred his due. After all, he made
  me what I am. Whatever our differences, he is responsible for me
  being me, so to hate Fred would be to hate me. Besides, having Fred
  around does have its advantages.

  It is Fred who painted my brain with amazing visions and insights, and
  filled my senses with the type of sensations few mortals experience. It
  is Fred who made it possible to for me to find the sublime in even the
  most mundane, and it is Fred who cloaked me in a humanity and
  godliness that I would not exchange for a winning lottery ticket.

  So, yes, Fred, on this Thanksgiving, for the very first time, I will sing
  your praises and give you thanks. In a few months I will see my grown
  daughter, here from New Zealand, and I give thanks for that, too. I will
  give thanks to my family who were there for me, and to a God who
  somehow has proved to me he does not and does exist. 

  And yes, Fred, I know one day again, you'll be waiting for me in some
  dark alley. But for now I invite you to pull up a chair while I lift my
  glass in a toast. 
 

 CHOOSE another STORY in this Section

 

 

 

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