The Path to Mental Health

Fiction
Brandy Langenwalter


The Reason

I felt if I couldn’t really live then I was ready to die. Three hours after I had arrived, I walked out of the grocery store empty-handed and didn’t even look for my car. I had finally overdosed on processed food and fluorescent lighting, on traffic and routine, on loss and heartbreak, on all the times I wanted someone who couldn’t love me to love me. I no longer felt.

I hitchhiked to the desert with a single mom named Jill in a Toyota Corolla; I took the cash out and left my purse and wallet by a cactus that looked like a cross. I snuck into Mexico on foot, I didn’t tell anyone, I wasn’t planning on going back.

I spent close to two-and-a-half weeks on the beaches of Rosarita drinking red wine straight from the bottle, counting waves and waiting for an answer, a solution, or death. I am not sure if I was getting close to any of them when a strange lady asked me my name. I told her I was drunk. I told her I was done. I didn’t have a name anymore because I no longer needed it, because it no longer mattered, but if she wanted to call me something she could call me “Done.” She called the police instead.

Seeing as I had no reason to run away, I was assumed missing after a week. Imagine my astonishment that someone noticed.

The abandoned car. The personal belongings in the desert. The story hadn’t reached national attention, but a good deal of local media coverage. The coverage turned to condemnation once it was discovered I was just a 25-year-old who had run away from life.

My beach vacation was, at that point, interrupted by a three-week vacation at the John James Psychiatric Pavilion in California. This is where it was determined that I was severely “mentally unstable” or “fucking crazy.” There are lots of people who (sometimes) just want to disappear, to get in the car and drive, to up and leave it all behind. The difference between wanting and doing is (apparently) the difference between stable and unstable.

I decided that being fucking crazy was going to be my life’s resuscitation. I decided to stay fucking crazy.

The Before

I lived like Mr. Rogers1 without a fantasy land to escape to. I had no magic trolley, only routine. My husband and I had been married for four years; we got married when I was 21 and he was 24. We woke up at the same time every morning. I got in the shower first; he followed. We watched the same morning news, we drank the same kind of coffee, and we left at the same time. I stopped at the same at the same gas station, got the same items, and drove the same way to work. I arrived to work at the same time, did the same thing until I left for lunch, at the same time, I ate practically the same thing for lunch, returned to my job, at the same time, and I did the same thing until I left to go home, at the same time. I then got into my car, drove the same way home, where I walked into the same house, to the same man, who was watching the same show on television, we had the same conversations, we made love the same way, and then feel asleep, on the same side of the bed at practically the same time, each and every night.

Dr. Kaplan’s Office—Visit 177

Dr. Kaplan informed me at the end of our visit today that he doesn’t want me to lie on the couch anymore when I come to see him. He has issues with his sexuality and even more issues with mine. Today, I decided that I wanted to talk about how I think my problem is that my mother never filmed herself having sex with random Asian men. In fact, my mother only had sex with my father and hasn’t gotten laid since their divorce. By this point, Dr. Kaplan was quite use to me giving him random reasons for my problems, however, today I decided to tell him I would feel more comfortable if I could masturbate while we talked more about my mother’s nonexistent sex life and the traumatic toll it has had on me and my mental state. Then I took off my pants.

I started to cry, pants-less, and told him I felt it was a major breakthrough. If we could just send my mom to Beijing with a video camera, several boxes of condoms, and not let her back into the US until she had a complete library of Gong Li2 Hardcore Slut Sex Tapes. Once I discover the tapes, while looking for her Bible, I will be cured. Seeing as Dr. K. and I have spent a good deal of time together, it has become increasingly easy for me to make him uncomfortable. I have, with great ease, mastered how to make him spend his entire commute home to his boring house wishing he would have listened to his father and gone into podiatry. Sometimes I can actually see him wishing that he was looking at ingrown toenails and fungus instead of listening to me. He still isn’t able to decipher what is my actual insanity and what is my make-believe insanity. I agree with his father, he should have gone into feet, as they are a good deal less complicated than the human brain.

He has started calling me his project; I will be his Sistine Chapel of Patients. He says that he, like Michelangelo, took on a huge project that will take a great amount of patience to complete. I don’t have the heart to explain to him that Michelangelo had the basic skills when he started; he knew how to paint. Dr. Kaplan can’t ever figure out how to climb the scaffolding. It will kill him, he vows, but he will make me better.

He says I take advantage of my ability to discover people’s weaknesses; he also, while blushing, suggests that I start wearing underwear. All in all, I think it was a good session.

The Coffee Cup Husband

On a good day, I loved him. Those were the days I didn’t get out of the shower and leave the hot water running while I dressed. Then listened and smiled from the bedroom as he cursed and complained because he had to take a cold shower. On the good days, I wrapped my arms around his neck and kissed him long and hard before I left for work. I begged him not to go to work and make love to me all day. On good days I would pour him a cup of coffee in a plastic cup. We didn’t have ceramic coffee cups anymore, because of bad days. You can kill someone with ceramic coffee cups; all it takes is anger and aim3.

Today was not a good day.

I woke up from dreaming that he was fucking a waitress from IHOP. That he was trying not to call me her name as we were making love. I decided that this was the reason he wanted me from behind last night, as that particular position allowed him to pretend I was her. I dreamed that he wrote her bad poetry—poetry worse that what he wrote to me4. He called her during the day to tell her how much he hated me and how he was going to leave. This has been going on for some time. How could I have been so blind? The pills? Yes—he and Dr. Kaplan were in on this together. He told Dr. Kaplan to prescribe them to me; no, he paid Dr. Kaplan to prescribe them to me. He had to. He used my money. She said she had to be with him or she would die. He would do anything for her; he had decided to poison me slowly with a complex combination of psychosomatic drugs so she could live.

I broke out in hives again last week so I knew that something was going on. I had given all the pills and a $1.35 in change to a homeless guy on 23rd Street—then I took his hat. It was making him unhappy and it made him look like a fisherman. It was at that moment I decided I must look like a fisherman as well. He was angry because I took his hat. He wanted to be unhappy. Dr. Kaplan wrote, in one of his many dribble books,5 “Sometimes being unhappy makes people happy.” I wore his hat for two straight days and then broke out in hives. The transient had cursed me for trying to make him happy by taking away what was making him unhappily happy. That or he cursed me because I made a more attractive fisherman. Fuck him either way.

He was moving around in the bed now. I knew he was getting closer to me because I could smell the sweet staleness of boysenberry syrup and her sex on his skin. I decide now is a good time to start screaming. New quirk—sticky fingers make me scream.

“God Damn it, God Damn it, God Damn it,” he says as he starts to cry. He knows that I know and the guilt will kill before I will.

He is weak. He is saying he can’t do it anymore. Do it or do her or do me? He loses the ability to articulate. Throwing things at him normally helps this problem.

Alarm clock.6

Lamp.7

Ellen Gilchrist’s The Courts of Love8 hitting him in the face is what makes him admit that he hates me. And that he loves me, but he can’t do “in sickness and in health” anymore. He wants me committed. Committed to making this work? No, he wanted me committed to another institution. So he can live with the IHOP waitress and have pancakes and blowjobs every day. They will call me the crazy bitch and drink coffee from ceramic cups and she will never throw things at him. She won’t make him cry. He will get fat if he doesn’t have me around to throw things at him. I hear the future fat man leave. I don’t blame him, but I don’t go back to sleep.

Dr. Kaplan’s Office—Visit 213

I am sitting on top of his desk when he comes into the office. Since I can’t get all sexy and comfortable on the couch I have taken to finding random spots in the room to have my inner psyche opened up and picked apart by a man who blushes anytime I use non-clinical sex terms.

“Dr. Kaplan you have to help me. He left. He was cheating on me with Krista9 and I caught him. I confronted him and he left. This is entirely your fault so fucking fix it,” as if I was talking to a seamstress who had hemmed my suit incorrectly. The rant is just beginning.

“You consistently fuck with my life, fuck with my husband’s life, because you are unhappy in your sexless, loveless marriage. You have the remainder of this hour to fix this, or so help me I will report you to the proper authorities for misconduct. I can have them in here beating you senseless with the worthless degrees on your wall quicker than your wife can order lesbian porn off the internet.”

“Is this,” he asks, as he sits down on the couch, “why you are in your wedding dress today?”

“No, this is the only thing at my Mother’s house that I can still wear.”

“When did you go to your Mother’s house? Did she know you were there?”

“Yesterday,” I say, as I smooth the creases out of the layers of chiffon. “It might have been the day before. She wasn’t there, but I left her a note telling her I was taking my dress. I had to go in through the window, but I left out of the door. I turned all the lights back off, made sure I locked the door back, and I promise I only freed one of the fish from her fish tank. I sat it beside the note. It flopped around and smeared the ink on the letter and then died.”

He is debating which issue to address first and I use this time to write some appointments down in his appointment book.

Tuesday 9AM — Appointment with Dr. Loveless, Psychiatrist, to finally confront my sexual issues

Wednesday 2PM — Salon Sloe—Liz for haircut, color, and complete waxing10

Thursday 6PM — Make love to wife and wife’s girlfriend

Thursday 6:20PM — Take shower and pray

Today, Dr. Kaplan doesn’t know where to start, so he just stares longingly at my feet, holding his pen like a paintbrush, realizing with every passing second he may never complete his masterpiece.

[1] Mr. Rogers from the television show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.
[2] What I have decided my mom’s porn name should be and have started calling her by.
[3] I was informed of this fact by the local police after they were called by our old neighbors because of a “domestic disturbance.”
[4] This was damn near impossible, but, inspired by love, he was able to achieve.
[5] Dr. Kaplan is an undistinguished author on several books dealing with human emotions. I steal copies of these books from his bookshelf as they are the preferred litter box liner of my cat, Chewy.
[6] It misses and breaks.
[7] It misses and breaks.
[8] Hardcover but only 300 pages. I wished the lamp would have hit him.
[9] The IHOP slut.
[10] This is one of my actual appointments for the week—I am secretly hoping he shows up for it as well.

pencil

Brandy Langenwalter is an unknown writer who spends too much time thinking about writing instead of writing. Likes rejection and high gravity beer. E-mail: brandy_langenwalter[at]yahoo.com

Three Poems

Poetry
C.C. Thomas


Putting Up Peaches

It was a tender surprise:
golden globes suspended in sweetness,
an eternal sunshiny world
captured in a sugar museum,
pushed to the back of a cabinet.

The heavy jar calls to mind
endless June days,
laboring in the kitchen.
Slicing and boiling
measuring for an ultimate
delayed gratification,
knowing not how or when
or where my gifts might be used.

To sit almost forgotten
in the darkness and wait
for a bleak, frozen January morn
when such sweetness is needed.

I open the seal and remember the day,
when grasping the full, plump orbs,
I grabbed the blade to remove
the fuzz, the juice from my crime
hanging heavy and thick, so that
I smelled like peaches
the whole summer.

 

A Family Legacy

I remember
you sitting on a creaky wooden swing
cigarette haze crept out of your mouth
and around my thoughts.
I would be eating the tiny green apples
from your favorite tree,
swinging at them recklessly
with a broom handle until they fell
on the slick summer grass.

I forget
who made the first move
towards the silence that lay between us
like a checkerboard.
both afraid to cross the invisible line
easily seen halfway between us
crowning a queen, though,
would end our game
and this is the only way you taught me to play.

I remember
wondering how you could know
what world existed beyond your concrete steps;
didn’t you ever notice the sidewalk leads away
straight out of your yard, down the road.
Here was never meant to be my final destination;
did you follow the gray path
and stay because you wanted or because you were trapped
by the responsibility in those small faces that waited
behind the lace curtains every afternoon
for your footsteps on the walk.

I forget
how I should feel now you’re gone
rebelling against a ghost makes me seem crazy
unstable, supports everything you’ve ever said about me;
I can’t seem to find the right color of green
for your eyes, in my mind
the intensity of your disapproval will never fade
and it is the power of your face that stays with me
the way some people remember a smell or a song.

I can’t remember
why you never liked your first name
or how you took your coffee
and these small things have become to me
of momentous importance;
I should have something to tell your grandkids
about you, something besides
the sepia photographs
lurking in the family bible.

I can’t forget
the legacy you left behind
all the things you never said;
the silent disapproval that trails me today
follows me from town to town
more efficient than the FBI,
whispers in my ear on every first date,
questions every good decision I almost made;
your voice calls to me over the years and I can’t forget
because you won’t let me.

 

Country Mile

Can you walk a country mile in my shoes?
Growing up in the mountains,
debutante parties of coal miners’ daughters
wearing coats of many colors.

Like the fog that rolls down our hollers,
our heritage is evaporating with the sun.
It’s easy to forget because we want to…
if the farm is failing
or the check didn’t come;
because our town is dying
like the corsage from last year’s prom.

A country mile in my hometown
takes you right past the old mill,
dried up like the pulp they once
spread in the hot summer sun;
Ben Franklin’s closed two years ago
even though
we still quilt, still sew.

And in the Korner Kitchen,
if you wipe off the dust on the windows,
you can still see each barstool.
Red leather trimmed in white,
silver stands squealing
while we twirled,
and the smell of
a T-Bone topped by onion rings
would curl around
the fans wavering on the ceiling.

A country mile will take you from the
courthouse square to the new
shopping center,
a big ‘Mart next to the bypass;
parking lot full,
the sun glinting off leased autos,
waiting for their owners
to drive country miles,
away from home.

pencil

“I have had some success with my poetry, being published in The Chaffin Journal, The Litchfield Review, Bellowing Ark and Bibliophilos and appearing as a featured poet at The Kentucky Folk Art Center in Morehead, Kentucky as well as being selected as a finalist in the 7th International Poetry Contest sponsored by Mattia. I have had several nonfiction articles published as well and was recently awarded first prize in The Heartland Review‘s short-short fiction contest and received Honorable Mention for Lucidity‘s Winter Volume.” E-mail: j3cthomas[at]insightbb.com

Two Poems

Poetry
Kristine Ong Muslim


U is for Ursula

The rain sounds busy outside; this is not the time to die.
Her skin embarrasses her even if it is covered by sheets.
The doctor never looks at her in the eyes. Her husband
does, but never long enough for her to reciprocate.
The bed is so soft, so white. Why does every thing look
beautiful? Outside the window and beyond the haze, the rain
must know that she is watching. She can hear it scream.

 

Milking Time

All roads that subsist only
on mapping the easiest of trails
disappear by day; the law
of entropy is irrevocable.

That is why the taste, the colors
of the crusted remnants
of an early-morning dream
rarely lasts until noon.

pencil

Kristine Ong Muslim’s poems and stories have appeared or are forthcoming in more than 100 magazines, journals, and anthologies worldwide. These include, most recently, Bellevue Literary Review, GlassFire Magazine, Mannequin Envy, Noneuclidean Café, Poetry Midwest, Syntax, and Turnrow. Her publication history. E-mail: kristineongmuslim[at]yahoo.com