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  • After weeks of my nightly sojourns after work, up the Massachussetts mountain in my old ’63 Chevy, each trip up inspired by the hope that it would be my last – this was the only glimmer of hope I felt each day, that maybe, just maybe, this would be my last. Each time, limping home in the wee hours of the morning, defeated, crushed that I had not liberated my weary, aching soul that night. This was my living nightmare. I could see no way out. I had no one I could talk to about this.

    Ken had just up and joined the Air Force on us. Ken – until he’d left, we hadn’t realized how much he had been the glue holding that fragile little family together. He was the last, remaining link of the “chain of command” between me and Mary, and our parents. Growing up in a large family of 7 kids, when you’re at the bottom of the heap, you have a lot of buffers between yourself and those adults who claim to be your parents. I arrived home from school that day to discover Ken was gone. Up to that point, we didn’t even know he was going. He had apparently signed up with a recruiter, then later changed his mind, and thought he could just let them know that, “No thanks, I don’t think I’ll take that job”, only to find out, in the military, it don’t work like that. Once you signed that paper, they owned your ass. He was told to promptly get his ass down to the induction center in New Haven, pronto, or he would be AWOL and they’d be sending dogs after his ass and throwing him in the Brig. Poor Ken. Hell of a way to start a military enlistment.

    Mary and I had gone out to eat in the little diner on the Green in Windsor that evening, and just looked at each other, and asked, “What the hell do we do now? And, who are these strange people who claim to be our parents?” The last link of the chain of command was gone, just like that, and we were now on our own. Of course, in short order, I would go off into my mental distance and strand poor Mary. But, she was pretty resourceful and managed to fend for herself. She lost not one, but two brothers that summer. I had completely checked out.
  • One night was particularly bad. My anxiety levels at the restaurant were worse than usual. The self-hatred had really taken over my entire being. The busloads of customers had just kept coming that night, and while I usually welcomed them, welcomed the frantic rush and ability to demonstrate the one thing I felt I could still manage to do – serve the customers – that night had been disastrous. The workhorse in me had broken down. I just couldn’t keep up, and I felt like I’d completely let the manager down, and the last bastion of my defenses was now shattered. Of course, I was the only one who felt like this – the manager was thanking me for my tireless efforts that night, but I knew, deep inside, that something had snapped inside, this would no longer work. I could no longer do this. When I left the restaurant at closing that night, I knew this would be the last time. I was dead certain that this would be the night that I would finally do it. All the way up I-91, and all the way to the mountain on the back roads, I felt a new resolve I had not felt before. Gone was the hope I had felt each time I had made this trek. It was now replaced with a grim resolve. This time, there’s no bullshit, no last minute turning off, this time I’m taking that hill, and I am going straight at the curve, and sailing out into the air in my Chevy, and when I hit the ground, it will be done.

    I climbed the mountain, like I’d done so many times before, and it all kind of glowed this time – there was something special going on here, I could feel it, I knew I was really going to do it, this time. Up to the top…turn around. Gun that bitch, let ‘er fly, this time I didn’t even grip that wheel with my sweaty palms, this time I just put my head back, closed my eyes, and gave myself over to the ride. I was going to go sailing, soon. It almost felt beautiful. I had no idea where I was in relation to the curve, and I did not care. I would just keep going until I didn’t feel the road under me any longer, and then I would fly.

    I don’t know what caused my eyes to jerk open when they did, but the opened, and I saw it. A car, sitting there, on the shoulder, right by the curve, right where I was to launch my flight – someone was in there. Damnit – damnit – damnit!!! This is fucked! I slammed on the brakes, swerved past the curve, pulled up about 50 feet down the hill. Shit, whoever that was, I’ve just scared the hell out of them, and now I’m going to go back up there? I just shook my head, and kept driving down the hill. For the first time, in all of these weeks of this lonely, nightly drive, with only one hopeful end in my mind – for the first time, I broke down. I cried for the next 20 minutes or so as I made my way back home, back to the hell I was trying to leave behind.

    I wrote a note to Mom. Explained what had been happening. Said I was leaving. Going back to Pittsburgh. Maybe I’ll find something there, maybe I’ll find a reason to live. I told her it wasn’t her fault, it wasn’t anyone’s, there was something wrong with me, and it had started after we moved up here, and I was going back to find whatever it was that I had lost. Going back to where I had something. Where I was somebody. Back to find myself.

    Then, I took off. Heading west on I-84, southwest towards Pennsylvania. As I drove, I just felt numb. I had no idea what I was going to do when I got there. I couldn’t go to brother Brian’s, he would have been alerted by Mom and Dad that I was coming, and would send me right back. I never should have left that note! I kept driving, and as I proceeded, I knew that I wasn’t going anywhere. Wherever I went, I was still going to be stuck with me. I’d already learned that you can’t go home again. My last trip to Pittsburgh, for my old high school’s graduation, had proven that. By the time I reached Port Jervis, PA, my defeat was complete. I wasn’t going to be able to do this. What was the point?
  • I turned around, and headed back up the interstate, back to hell. Only, everything was different, now. Things had already begun to change. Two hours later, Mom was there to meet me at the door. The warmth and compassion that I felt from her, that night, would forever change how I felt about her. She knew exactly what to say to me. She’d had no idea what I was going through. Everyone thought I was the rock. Why didn’t I say anything? I didn’t know how to. I couldn’t. I didn’t want to let anyone down. I didn’t think anyone could help me, anyway. Mom listened, and said that we could find some help. She assured me there was no shame in it. She talked to me about her own suicide attempt, just 10 years earlier. She knew what I had been going through. She had been there. She set things up, and the next day, I began to see the shrink.

    She was Swedish, a middle-aged lady with a marvelous accent, a warm smile, and a very engaging manner. I still wasn’t feeling very hopeful that any of this would, or could, work, but I went to see her 2 – 3 times a week over the next couple of months. She prescribed some pills that I didn’t feel really did anything. I was used to pills that got you high. These weren’t like that. We would just talk. At first, she did most of the talking.

    I had no idea what to say. When she asked me about myself, I felt like I was talking about someone else. When I talked about what my life was like in Pittsburgh, I felt like whoever that was, was no longer me. I certainly had no idea who this guy was that I had become in recent months. I was just completely disconnected from anything I recognized as me. Cut off. That’s about all I really remember about those sessions. But, I liked her. She was genuine. She really seemed to care, and I thought she was probably really good at what she did. I just didn’t think there was much she could do for me.

    She eventually began probing my relationships in my family, and the more she probed, the more protective I became. She brought this up, and I didn’t understand what she was driving at. She eventually got through to me that, I had spent a good deal of my life playing a role in my large family. I was the one who eased the tensions in the large family. I had been the clown, the practical joker. I was the mascot. As long as I had an audience, I had my role. But, as my older brothers and sisters left the household, my role diminished. Then I’d found the escape of drugs and alcohol for a couple years, and that had adequately filled the void. But, now, when I turned back to my family, there was nothing there for me to hold onto. Most of them were gone, and those that remained didn’t need me to play my old familiar role anymore. I no longer bought into the façade of escape that the drugs and alcohol had provided for a couple of years. Now, I had a chance to reinvent who I was.

    This was the gist of how our sessions evolved. There were no sudden insights to this effect. It was a slow, gradual process coming around to these conclusions. What I also didn’t realize was, the medication was easing my inner anxieties, and allowing me to relax and be open to what we were discussing. I slowly began to feel a sense of hope, and it was a beautiful feeling, after the months of torment and living hell. I was still very much alone, very solitary and unto myself, but I felt like I was slowly emerging from a deep sleep.
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