Winter had penetrated my skin and trickled into my bones and sunken my insides and once again I found myself sitting across from a studious older man who couldn’t comprehend why I was so distraught over my past promiscuity and lent me a book on sex and who became the last male counselor I chose to see. He prescribed me an anti-depressant.
That spring I was sitting in my Literature class finishing up my first year of college, and I made the conscious decision to go crazy. Because I knew I already was crazy, so I should just act on all my impulses and see what happened and maybe I’d finally get some answers, and mental illness seemed to be the only thing that garnered anyone’s interest and made their sneering accusations stop.
Over the next few days I avoided sleep, stayed with a friend, bleached my hair blonde, twice. And tormented the Student with irrational and disturbing behavior which would become files tucked away in his drawer of really good stories to tell future friends and love interests, and would become details I’d repress and hush him on the phone years later, not allowing him to remind me.
And then we fought and I crumbled and on Monday I drove myself to my counselor and insisted I was going to kill myself and I conjured up some nonexistent plan and wouldn’t leave until he relented and had me admitted into the hospital.
My mom picked me up and we drove silently as I stared out the window and she puzzled over the pieces of my life. And I looked into the passing cars and buildings and sky and raindrops for a reason for why I couldn’t be happy with being normal.
I stayed in the hospital for just under a week, obtained a bipolar diagnosis and Lithium prescription, his mom and grandma visiting me in tears. I wrote a letter to a fellow in-patient, a middle-aged woman, frail under her hospital gown, with coffee-colored skin and undeniable beauty, shaken and tearful. Her husband had admitted her after she earnestly tried to choke out her own life. She had daughters. A career. I wrote to encourage her.
I missed classes and consequently withdrew from a few, but finished up that year and was on track to start at the art school in the fall.
My dad had a high school reunion out west, where we both were from. Where my biological mom and my siblings still lived. He wanted to take me, knowing we both shared in that chronic itch to drive long distances and get away from it all. So we went. He missed the reunion, but we drove anyway. Through flat lands and mountain ranges and thunderstorms and dust storms and red rock and pastel Western towns and national parks we passed, until we arrived.
We stayed a few days, and on one of those days he arranged for my birth mom to pick me up and visit with me for a few hours. I remember walking through the casino, heart briskly beating, until I saw her. The first time in seven years. She was significantly shorter than I was, and heavier compared to my lanky, bony teenage self. Her dark hair was slicked back, wet curls sprawling over her shoulders and black and pink floral blouse. She wore makeup and I wondered if she had put it on just for me. We embraced, she made comments, I laughed awkwardly. We walked to her van where I clutched my brother, two years younger than me, and where I met my youngest brother, she called him Birdie, who had been an infant the last time I saw him. My brothers and I shared a connection her and I never would. I met my mom’s boyfriend and they talked about getting married in the winter. We drove to pick up my sister, an angsty fifteen-year-old who had better things to do that day than dote on an absentee sister.
We went swimming and to McDonald’s and we made small talk and my mom complained that I said “I don’t know” too much and “What do you know?” and I didn’t know. I told her about the Student and she asked what he was going to school for and when I said mechanical engineering, she said, “Ah, a mechanic like your dad!” And I didn’t say anything. We exchanged phone numbers and I promised to keep in touch, but she overwhelmed me and we never stayed in touch for long.
Just months into my first semester at the art college, I was frustrated with a 3-D art class and I can’t remember any of the other multitude of emotions I was feeling at that moment that ultimately led to me dropping out of college and nailing the coffin shut on everything I had given away my baby for. I was descending quickly, and I would shatter by the end of the year.
My parents paid for my tuition out of pocket. We weren’t wealthy, but they were smart about how they used and saved their money. And when I needed it, they were there. If it wasn’t a need, I was on my own.
After the adoption, the attorneys sent a check. A reimbursement for medical bills. Three thousand dollars. More than that, actually, because my parents took a portion considering they paid for most of it. And they gave me three thousand dollars, which I refrained from telling people since it seemed related to the accusations by the father’s parents that I sold my baby.
It might have been months or a year, but I spent the money and dissociated from that person inside of me, shriveled by guilt and self-loathing.
I left college with the prepared reasons of: no one who gets an art degree, much less a painting degree, uses it. My parents were paying and I didn’t want to waste their money.
The Student and his family were disgruntled by my irresponsible decision, just one of many, and his mom expressed concern that if we were to be married I wouldn’t be able to support him or myself were anything to happen.
The Student lamented he’d have to share his hard-earned success with someone who didn’t deserve it.
And so, I got a job and I tried to do my art on the side but could never completely commit and I wondered what I was doing with myself and if the Dean had heard, and if I was just a disappointment to everyone and I wondered what kind of a person I was and if I was worthy of love and affection and if I could ever be someone else and what would I have to show for it all when J was twenty-one and he came to my door to see what kind of a person that woman turned out to be.