Monday, April 29, 2013

Night shift: toothpaste

These are stories from a previous job. For the privacy of those involved, names and details have been changed.

Summer 2008

8:30a.m.

I'm standing on the sidewalk, in front of a grocery store. Next to me is Walter, a client from the psychiatric facility. He has been out of toothpaste for days, I finally talked him into a store-run. Before leaving I said, "Walter, I'll need you to speak quietly at the store, okay? If you yell, we might get into trouble."

He nodded. And he'd been having a good week. And you can't avoid store-runs forever, they go with the territory.

We loaded up, hit the store. Toothpaste: acquired, then purchased. As we were leaving, Walter stopped, placed his right hand to his mouth and began yelling. He barked, "Hey now, drop it! You fellas stop the bitching!" Hallucinating, interacting with voices. I couldn't get him to lower his volume or follow me to the car. Staring off into space, hand at mouth, he continued, "They found copper wire in Nixon's attic! Check it!"

So that's where we are now. Just standing. Me urging Walter to walk quickly, to follow me. Walter barking odd phrases into his hand, which to him is a communication device. Customers openly staring, give us a wide berth. Through the front door, I see one elderly woman speaking with staff, pointing at Walter.

I say, "Shit." Take my cell phone out, call Marcy, my supervisor.

She answers with, "How bad?"

"I don't know, Marcy. Medium bad. I'm at the store with Walter. He just deteriorated- out of the blue- started yelling into his hand. And I can't get him to move at all, he's just standing there."

"You're in the store?" Marcy asks.

"We're in front of it. And he's just too psychotic right now to hear me. You know, it's the usual stuff, he's not agitated or anything. It's the usual harmless stuff. He's just loud, and I can see people kind of freaking out."

She sighs, says, "Yeah, I can hear him. Jeez. Have you tried pulling him along at all?"

"No. You know, we tend to be hands-off, policy-wise, I didn't want to risk it."

"I'm giving you permission. Just lightly tug his elbow, see if he'll follow."

I try it. Walter gently pulls his arm back, continues yelling.

"Nah, he's not moving," I say. "And I see more than one person on their cell phone now."

"Well, M...shoot. I would send staff out to assist, but to be honest, I think this'll be resolved one way or another by then."

"I agree."

"Basically, continue to ask him to leave. If he hasn't moved on in the next few minutes, it'll be out of your hands."

"Yep. Okay. I'm sorry about this, I thought we could be in and out."

"No worries. Like I said, this is out of your hands now. All I can do at this point is reinforce privacy law: no disclosure of a client's personal information. Of any kind. Police get there, you're not to provide information about Walter...and you're not permitted to identify yourself as staff."

"Yeah."

"Just say what you can, observe, document afterward."

I nod to no one in particular, reply, "Okay." Walter begins laughing, stamping a foot. Into his hand, he says, "He fired that one up! It shot plum through the chimney!" He laughs more, till he's red in the face.

I see two police cars pull into the parking lot. I say to Marcy, "Yeah, they're here. I'll call back."

"This happens; don't worry. It's out of your hands at this point." I put the phone away.

Customers now begin to stop, spectate. They keep their distance, but slowly form a semi-circle around us. Walter yells and laughs and stamps his feet.

The police cars stop about 20 feet away. Two officers stay in their car and watch as two officers from the other car get out, approach.

Walter laughs, yells, "They found copper wire in his asshole!"

I fake smile and say, "Morning, officers."

They walk up to us. Walter is yelling into his hand, laughing. The officers watch him for a moment.

One says, "Sir? Could we have a word with you?" Walter doesn't hear them, he's too busy interacting with voices.

"Sir? Can you lower your voice? We just have a few questions."

"Nixon's horse didn't mind," Walter says, "they bribed it with whiskey." He stamps one foot, belly-laughs, continues yelling into his hand.

I speak up. I use a low-voice, try to sound half-bored, half-tired. "Walter means well, he's just having a tough morning. It's my fault...we should have stayed home; I apologize."

The first officer ignores me, continues to ask Walter if he can have a word. The second officers says, "Follow me over here."

We walk to the other side of their car. The officer asks, "So, what's going on.?"

I say, "He's just having a tough morning. He can be like this, and it's loud, but I promise he means well."

"Does he have any history of violent behavior? Any problems with anger?"

I shake my head "no", say, "He's sweet...he can just struggle with the volume sometimes."

The other officer asks Walter if he can look in his grocery bag. Walter doesn't reply. The officer tries to take the bag from him, but Walter won't let go of it. I say, "It's toothpaste. We just came for toothpaste."

The officer grabs his wrist, pulls the bag out of his hand, looks into it. He hands it back to Walter. He says, "I need to search his pockets. He have anything I should know about? Knives? Needles?"

"No, sir. He'll just have a wallet."

He searches Walter. The second officer looks at me, asks, "Does he have a diagnosis?"

I stare at my shoes.

"Are you family?" he asks. "Staff?"

I stare at the back of my hand.

First officer completes his search. Looks at us. Shrugs. Second officer says, "So here's the deal...several people called in, reported that an adult male was acting disruptive, angry. He doesn't strike me as angry...but I have to agree that this is disruptive."

"Okay."

"We're gonna have to take Mr. Walter here and escort him off the premise. But you say he's a nice guy, and I'm not gonna feel right sticking a nice guy in a jail cell. If we were to process him through the emergency room, have him admitted to the hospital's psychiatric ward...would you feel like that's an all right middle ground?"

"Yes, sir."

He nods. First officer takes out handcuffs. I say, "Oh...handcuffs?" Second officer says, "Sorry, that is written-in-stone policy. No way around it. We'll get them off quick as we can, once we're settled at the ER."

The officers take the grocery bag out of Walter's hand, give it to me. They take his arms, slowly move them behind his back, cuff him. I'm relieved to see Walter go along with it, he just continues to talk to himself. I was a little worried that he might react when they took away his communication device, but he seems oblivious to it all.

Once Walter is in their car, the second officer says, "You could meet us there if you wanted, but I'm guessing he'll be unavailable for awhile."

"Understood."

They nod, leave. The other police car drives off in a different direction.

I wave at the dozen or so spectators, then flip them off. I get in my car, drive back to work.

Once there, I pull open a file cabinet drawer. It's filled with color-coded incident reports, each one intended for a different supervisor, committee or department. I stare at them for a moment.

I call Marcy, describe what happened. She says, "Okay. I'll let his case manager know where he's at. I'm sure he'll be there a few days, at least; until his meds are adjusted."

"Which will probably work miracles. Always does."

She says, "Yup. Anything else?"

"Oh, I couldn't figure out the incident reports. The color-coding deal just confuses me. Which ones do I fill out?"

"I thought every department had a little laminated chart that breaks it all down?"

"We used to have one taped to the cabinet. It fell off years ago, disappeared. I guess we forgot to get a new one."

"Okay. So...with this being off-site, and the police thing...you need three forms. The gray, all-purpose incident report. That goes to me. Then you need the blue form...that goes to the Safety Committee. Then the purple form...that's for the lawyers, goes to Mike. With the Safety Committee, you want to keep it brief. Say as little as possible, otherwise they'll just make a new policy. With the lawyers, you want to provide as much detail as possible. Otherwise they'll just make a new policy. "

I laugh, say, "Okay."

"Grey, me. Blue, Safety. Purple, Mike."

"Got it. Thanks, Marcy."

"Thanks, M. Get those in. Go sleep."

I grab forms, a clipboard...I lay on the couch, fill shit out. I cram envelopes in the inter-office mail tray.

Finally, before leaving, I place Walter's toothpaste in his bathroom cabinet.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Incipient Turvy cameo appearance

As part of their Autism Awareness Month series, the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism is featuring one of my posts today. Nice of them to do that, you can click here to see the post.

Be sure to leave a comment and check out the other articles that are up, and that will be running all month. The site is a great resource; it's terrific that they are featuring works by writers on the spectrum. Bonus points: awarded.

Thx, more soon...

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

nihil novi

(for the doctor)

not long after this recording, she lost use of her arms; prodigy, then fading, then early death.

faith is white noise for loss.

metronome...time goes by...

it raises more questions than it answers...

and the answer is always the same: a poacher

coded language, cold-storage

a crypto-tradition

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Nightshift (part 10)

(for the privacy of those involved, names and details have been changed.)

March, 2007

I wake up at 10p.m., get dressed. I sit around for a bit, listen to music, then head to work. I start my shift at 11. The evening staff fills me in on her night, tells me about the clients, about a few med changes. I don't say much, I just listen and nod. She gets her things together and leaves.

I make coffee, hang out in the common area. I turn on a television, watch news with the sound off. Saul walks through the room, on his way to the kitchen. He says, "I need a snack." He makes a sandwich...asks, "Can I have some of that coffee?" I say, "Probably not, Saul. You'll have trouble sleeping if you drink coffee this late." He doesn't say anything. He just sits across from me, in a recliner, eats the sandwich.

I watch news. Saul eats and quietly hallucinates. He looks off to the side...points his finger at something, goes back to eating. He laughs a little and asks, "How do they keep getting out like that?" I just smile a shrug. Saul looks off to the side...stares...gets up to throw his paper plate away.

He returns, sits in the recliner again. He says, "They get wound up sometimes. Do you see them, when they get like that?"

I say, "No, sir."

He laughs, continues; "Boy, they get wound up. They start squabbling and fighting. But they're so small, it doesn't do any harm, you know? They're like kids. I mean, they're old...they're ancient...but they're like kids, in the way they think."

I drink coffee, watch the news. Saul hallucinates, then says, "I wish they'd go away. They don't mean any harm, but I wish they'd just leave. They get rowdy, you know?"

I ask, "How was your snack?"

"Oh, it was good," he replies. "I just needed something. I tried to sleep but got hungry."

I rub my face and say, "Ugh, I'm sleepy, Saul. Having trouble waking up."

He says, "Well, you get more of that coffee. Anyway. I'm going to bed, see if I can sleep."

"Okay, Saul. Goodnight."

As he walks away, Saul says, "If you see one, just give it a good talking to. They don't mean any harm, but they're like kids. They need discipline."

I don't say anything. I just watch the silent television. It shows images of firemen, of storefronts, of weather maps.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

last known photo

September, 2007

I look around, try to remember where I am. I'm sitting on a bench...facing a parking lot. Dark clouds overhead, it's beginning to rain. A guy passes by, wearing a green smock, pushing a shopping cart...employee. I look back: I'm in front of a grocery store. The cart guy pauses, says, "Sir, is everything okay?" I don't say anything, I just nod. He moves on.

I stand, check my pockets. I don't find a grocery list...not sure what I'm here for. The rain intensifies; I walk into the store. In front of each aisle there's a sign listing which items can be found there...I stare at each sign, try to recall what I might need...but I'm too tired, my mind won't offer impressions. I just rub my face...think...make no progress.

I roam around. I walk slowly, drifting up and down each aisle. Sometimes I pause, stare at packaging...I pick up soup cans, squeeze them, put them back; I pick up a cereal box, place it back on the shelf upside-down. I pinch a bag of powdered sugar, then poke it. I pick up a carton of eggs, carry it with me for a bit, place it on top of an apple bin, walk away. I'm lost, fatigued.

I go to the bakery, buy a donut, coffee. I sit at a little table. Gently, I press small bites into the pastry, not chewing, just leaving teeth marks. I hold the paper cup with both hands; I squeeze it and watch coffee rise up to the edge...when it trickles over, I set the cup down. I look back, into the bakery...see a clock that reads 8:23. It doesn't indicate morning or night. I try to think about that...try to recall when I was at work last, when I slept last. I can't remember. That means it is either a weekend or I've taken time off from work again.

I stay at the table for a bit. Eat the pastry, sip coffee. I watch customers. It amazes me that they all seem to know why they are here...they head directly for specific aisles...they consult grocery lists...they talk on cell phones, clearly have lives outside of the store.  They have agendas, reasons. I try to imagine what it would be like to know what I need...I place my self in a different life, follow around this imagined automaton as it checks off destinations, goals. I concentrate, try to imagine what it would feel like to have a grocery list.

I laugh a little bit. A baker stares...then looks away, resumes baking. I discard a napkin and empty cup. I go to the meat counter...stare at pink lumps. Further down, I see dead, glass-eyed fish displayed in a glass case. I pretend their eyes are shirt buttons.

I breathe in...look around...I give up trying to remember what I'm here for.

I walk out of the store, into the parking lot, into the rain. I drift past cars, up one row, down another...eventually I find my vehicle. I leave.

Friday, May 25, 2012

chasing incense

I.

When I was a kid, my parents had very strict rules about what sort of movies I could watch. They were baptists...very sheltered, very suspicious of popular culture. So for the most part, I was not allowed to watch a lot of movies. Once or twice a year maybe, they'd take me to see something.

It was torture. I'd watch cartoons on television...see commercials for new movies...and I'd beg to see them. Commercials tend to be flashy, vibrant and like most kids I was susceptible to the hype; I'd go ape-shit watching TV ads. I'd spend whole days thinking about a movie I wanted to see...replaying the commercial in my mind, trying to guess what the story was about, trying to image what emotions I would feel as I watched it. I would develop such a huge sense of anticipation that I'd get really anxious about it. I'd yell, "I have to see that! Have to!" I'd lose sleep over it. But my parents rarely budged, they thought most films were immoral.

My parents had several methods for determining whether or not a film was appropriate for me to see. They always adhered to the ratings system, for example...I could see any rated G film. I could  never see a film that was PG-13 or R. If a film was rated PG...it was iffy. It required investigation. My mom would investigate by talking to other parents at church. She'd ask, "Is there any violence? Sex? Filthy language?" An answer of yes to any of those would get the film blacklisted. I'd never see it. In cases where a film was possibly okay to see: my dad would investigate by watching the film before hand. He'd go to the movie alone, watch it himself (mom never went to movies, they weren't her thing)...if it was "clean", inoffensive, he'd report back to mom, tell her it made the cut. Then and only then would he take me to see it.

II.

I remember, one day, I was watching cartoons. I was lying on the floor, on my back, staring vacantly at the television; watching some rerun I'd seen a million times before. And then a commercial came on for a new movie called Ghostbusters. I flipped out. It looked unbelievably awesome. I ran around in circles, screaming my lungs out. I begged to see it. I yelled, "Take me! Aaahh!" Mom said that when the movie came out, she'd ask around...but when she did, she was told that it contained curse words, sex jokes, violence. In other words, it hit the filth trifecta. They wouldn't let me see it. I reached deep into my kid toolbox over that one...I tried whining, begging, the silent treatment...I tried anger, sadness, feigned indifference. Nothing worked. I tried reasoning with them. I'd say, "Mom, it has a giant, walking marshmallow! Obviously I have to see that!"  But no. They wouldn't allow it. Every day, seemingly for months, that commercial came on...and it was torture. I'd see that giant marshmallow guy walking around and I'd feel miserable.

III.

The only time I remember my parents being flexible was when Back to the Future came out. Same deal: I saw a commercial for it...flipped; ran around in circles, screaming. Mom asked around...it was ok, but had "filthy language". So she said no. Into the kid tool box I dug: whining, begging, silence, anger, etc. Finally, dad caved a little...he said he would go watch it himself and report back. He went...and you could tell he really liked the movie. He seemed pretty excited about it. He wanted me to see it, but the language was definitely an issue. He and my mom spent weeks hashing that one out...they talked and debated and considered. They prayed about it. Finally, they called a family meeting. Dad explained that he would take me...but he gave me this big lecture about the dangers of filthy language. Bad words could vitiate a mind...turn one's thoughts away from god. I just nodded a lot and thought about time travel and cars with fire-shooting tires; I got anxious with anticipation. A few days later, he took me to see it. I thought it was great. I remember the main character said "shit" more than once; every time it happened, I cringed and glanced at my dad, making sure he wasn't about to change his mind, drag me out of the theater. We stayed through it. I was happy.

IV.

My parents were pretty broke, so we were late getting a VCR. We got one years after everyone else did. Very little changed when we finally bought one: the same restrictions applied. Mostly my mom would go to the local video store and rent old-school disney movies or TV detritus from the 70's and early 80's. Her choices ranged from okay to excruciating.

The one perfect rental set a high water mark that we never again matched...it also happened to be the first VHS tape we ever rented: Star Wars. We'd all seen it a million times at the theater, but we couldn't believe we were watching it in our own home; an actual movie movie...without commercials! Holy shit! It really blew us away, we were feeling pretty modern that night. Then, a few weeks later, mom rented The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again...with Don Knotts and Tim Conway...and the VCR suddenly felt mundane, normal. It would never again feel the way it felt the first time we watched Star Wars.

Still, I was just happy to have more movies around, even if my mom kept things as vanilla as possible. She picked out The Absent Minded Professor...I was okay with that one. The Shaggy D.A.: torture.  There was one about Don Knotts turning into a cartoon fish...I think the fish wore glasses; that one just confused me.

Mom also rented a lot of Sid and Marty Kroftt material...that stuff messed with my brain. It all had a weird emotional texture that didn't sit right with me. I'd watch Sigmund and the Sea Monsters...and turn it off after five minutes, it put weird feelings in my head (look at the image...garish!). I took one look at the cover of an H.R. Puffinstuff  video and refused to watch it. Which irritated mom...she'd spent a few dollars on the rental. She was never happy when I rejected something. (Only later, in college...when friends smoked pot and watched H.R. Puffinstuff...did I realize that kids may not have been the target audience for that show).

She rented this collection of episodes from a show called The Great Space Coaster...for some reason, I loved that one. I made her rent that one over and over. I can't recall now what it was about...I remember it was set in space...there was a weird, obese, lumpy guy that spun in circles and did magic...I remember one character was a speed reader...that's all he did, it was his only schtick, he read books really fast; there was a puppet version of a gnu that sat behind a desk and did news reports; that's all I remember.

V.

Trips to the theater were rare...VHS rentals were hit and miss...but my primary source for movies was the local library... every Saturday, the local library showed kid films for one dollar. I went to these once or twice a month for a few years. You'd go into this side room, where the blinds were closed...a medium-sized TV was set up, with a VCR. Fifteen, twenty kids would sit on the floor, next to a parent. The library mostly showed Godzilla movies. I liked those, I thought they were pretty funny. Like everyone else, I'd patiently tolerate the talking parts...I just wanted to see Godzilla kick buildings over, and I really liked it when he fought other monsters. They'd punch and fly around and spit lasers. That was fun to see. Less often, the library would show dog movies...like Benji and Lassie and shit; I hated those. I'd feel pretty bummed out anytime we went and a librarian announced that we'd be watching 'Lassie Save the Fair!' or whatever. I'd grumble and lay on my back and wait it out.

VI.

In the summer of 1989, Batman came out. It was rated PG-13...I was 12. I ran around like my hair was on fire, begging to see that one. The commercials looked amazing. Every human on the planet was wearing batman shirts, batman hats...constant reminders that it was obviously going to be the coolest movie ever made. But I was 12. It didn't matter that I was a few months away from 13...I was 12. There was zero wiggle room: my parents refused to let me see it. The movie came out...people went crazy, it made a bajillion dollars. I asked everyone, "Was it good?!" Everyone said, "It was AWESOME!"  So I screamed and ran around like the world was ending, but to no avail. It's rating placed it in the forbidden zone. I did not see Batman until many years later, when I was in my early 20's. I was in a grocery store...I saw a used copy of it for sale for just a few dollars. I hadn't thought about it in years; I was curious. I took it home, watched it; absent the charged atmosphere and insane levels of hype, it seemed pretty ridiculous...Batman was just a dude in a costume...The Joker was hammy and over-the-top...the music was outdated; I think, at one point, The Joker dances around to a song by Prince. Still, my 12-year old self would have loved it...that younger version of me would have gone crazy for the explosions and the sounds and the feel of it all.

I think about it sometimes, all of those elusive dreams I chased around when I was a kid, all of that visual incense...I'd get so curious...

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Oubliette

I.

In a strange way, junior high and high school were easier for me, socially speaking, than other areas of my life at that time. Groups and cliques were predicated on the concept of exclusion...and I was fine with that. By the time those years rolled around, I was ready to be alone...I wanted to avoid people as much as possible. So I had this unspoken compromise going on at school: groups kept me out; I kept to myself. It was a pretty good system. I just walked around, lost in my head...steeped in dreams of different minds and marionettes.

Church was a different story. Church was a nightmare. I had to go all the time, three times a week...and church doesn't work compromises. Church is one big social gun, pointed at your head, screaming it's list of demands.

Unlike school, the pressure there is to include...and the pressure never lets up, it's an urgent, hungry thing. You have to mesh, join, merge.

The primary issue was my age: I was a teenager...and all of the churches I went to had youth groups. You couldn't escape them, there was no alternative to the youth group...they were the only option available to you. Sunday morning/night and Wednesday night: there was one class for the teens; and during any church service, all of the youth sat in a section of pews reserved just for them. It was constant, all-encompassing togetherness.

II.

Even in this environment...where meshing was mandatory...I couldn't swing it. I was too clumsy-headed to make friends and navigate even basic conversations. I was encased in the mind-blindness: totally surrounded by people, fully incapable of forming connections.

This made the pressure to socialize very painful. Before Sunday school, the other teens would stand around, talk. I'd stand on the periphery...listening, staring at my feet. People would politely talk to me; I would throw out scripted lines...memorized bits of social dialog. I would make eye contact, count to three, look away. The conversation would die off...I'd go back to staring at my feet. Internally, I felt stupid and lonely and anxious.

III.

I'd hide a lot. Sometimes I would walk away from the groups, hide out in a bathroom stall for awhile. Sometimes I would find empty Sunday school classrooms...I'd slip into those, keep the lights off; I'd lay sideways on a  row of chairs, try to slow my breathing, quiet my thoughts. Sometimes in these classrooms, I'd stand on a chair...lift a ceiling tile...climb up, into the mess of beams and pipes above the room. You could pull this off if you climbed onto a wall-top, which could support you. I'd scramble up there...lower the tile...lay along the top of the wall.

That was a favorite place: up, out of my oubliette...hidden in the ceiling, in the darkness. Other people just sounded like echoes, then...much further away. I'd close my eyes and pretend they were old ghosts.

IV.

Youth groups were led by youth directors. A youth director tends to view their role as that of a shepherd for the youth of the church. And they tend to view people like me as stray sheep in need of their guidance. The M/youth director dynamic was a constant source of misery. For both of us. They wanted to help me join the group...I wanted to be alone...it was no good, that dynamic. I confused a long line of youth directors.

At church, like I said, I'd either stand around on the periphery...or I'd go hide. Youth directors couldn't stand seeing this...they wanted to connect everyone. Every youth director I ever met was a high-end social networker...they were naturals at it. Something about the job attracts a certain kind of extroverted personality...the kind that doesn't just want be around people...they need to introduce people, to orchestrate people. And they viewed solitary minds as a challenge...as a problem to be fixed. Every week I'd get approached...they would chat me up, go into their used-car salesman routine, where they basically try to establish an artificial rapport. They'd ask about my week...about  my interests. They'd pretend to be fascinated by my interests. I would just rub my face...wait out the conversation. It was miserable, every time. Then, without fail, they would tell me about other teens in the group who had similar interests..."Hey, you should talk with James over there; you guys would get along." I'd say ok, then go climb into the ceiling and hide for a few hours.

V.

Even though the youth group all sat together during church services, I wouldn't sit with them. I was too anxious around them, preferred to be alone...I'd go sit by myself. This drove youth directors crazy. They took it personally. Not only did they genuinely want to help teens in their group form meaningful social connections...they also wanted to be seen accomplishing this goal. The youth group, all sitting together in a church service...it's an image of solidarity, of cohesion; it's an image of a flock led by a good shepherd. And me...stray, weirdo sheep, way off to the side...it was a visual repudiation of the shepherd. Nothing came up more often than this issue...youth directors would say, "Hey, you should hang out with us during the service this week." I'd say, "I'll think about it," sit by myself. They'd ask if everything was ok...I'd say yes. They would then try any number of tactics. Flattery: "You should sit with us, everyone likes you." Authority: "It's a rule...the youth sit together." Guilt-trip: "It makes me feel bad to see you over there, it's like I've done something wrong." I never said too much. I'd mumble, "No thank you" and stare at my shoes.

VI.

One year, in tenth grade...I had this youth director, Brett, who was on a mission to bond with everyone. Brett was typical of his species in a lot of ways...young, extroverted, a networker who came off like an over-eager puppy dog. Everyone liked him, he was a popular youth director. But he was a little too intense. It was important to him that the youth members not only know one another socially...but that they also bond emotionally. Brett taught our Sunday school class...and he used the time to ask people about their inner lives...about their thoughts, feelings. He basically treated it like a group therapy session...and the other teens loved it. They loved the attention...they loved that someone was actually interested in listening to them. So everyone just poured their guts out...they talked and talked. People cried during these things...they hugged, bonded. I was fucking miserable. Brett wanted to know us...and this, at that time, was anathema to me. I was struggling with depression, with mind-blindness...I didn't seem to have anything in common with these people, and I had zero interest in talking about it.

Every week he would ask me about myself...and I would prevaricate, talk around his questions. I would lie, deflect. Which was blood in the water, it only made things worse. He zeroed in on me...talked with me before the class, after...he'd pelt me with questions during. He wanted me to open up. One day he pulled me aside; in yet another attempt to artificially build a rapport, he said, "I just want you to know...I know what it's like. I know what you're going through." I had doubts about the likelihood of that. I asked him, "So...what am I going through?" He replied, "I just wanted you to know that I get it. I've been there." And I said, "Ok, Brett." I walked away, found an empty classroom, climbed into the ceiling.

One day before Sunday school, I stood outside the classroom...and I couldn't walk in. I couldn't get myself to do it. I was too put off by the whole thing...all of the pressure to bond, to open up. I couldn't stand the thought of more invasive questions. I turned around, walked off...and I just wandered around for awhile. Classes all over church started...I walked past rooms, listened to the drifting voices. I went outside, circled the church. I walked into the banquet hall, where the Church had potlucks every week. I thought it would be empty, a place to hide...but when I pulled the door open, 30 or so elderly people looked over...I had interrupted the seniors class. The teacher, a man nearing 80, went  back to teaching. I walked in, took at seat in the back. When the class ended, the teacher looked at me, nodded, and said, "Good morning, young man." Then he walked away. No questions, no pressure. I went back the next week, then the next.

My parents weren't thrilled...they said it was weird for a teen to join the elderly class. And Brett repeatedly asked me to return. I ignored them.

A few weeks later, after a class ended, the elderly teacher walked up and said, "The youth director paid me a visit, inquired about you. He'd like to see you back in his class." I didn't respond, felt sick...thought I was about to get booted. He added, "I offered my opinion to Brett. I let him know that you're welcome here...we enjoy seeing you each week. Told him I'd have a word with you, but that we should respect your wishes." I nodded, emotional, said "Thank you." I attended the elderly class for the next 3 years, until college began and I was too old for the youth group.

VII.

During college, I stopped going to church altogether. Social failures, depression, confusion...I got angry at god; we agreed to disagree, parted ways.

I haven't done the ceiling thing since I was a teenager. But I miss it. I liked the dark. I liked it when people melted away and became old ghosts.