Unconditional love at war with life and death
Self-Portrait 2010 by Patricia Obletz 20x16 oil on canvas
Published by www.MilwaukeeRenaissance.com and
OilsByObletz.com ï¿½ 2016 Patricia Obletz
In honor of my parents
friends and colleagues
and all kindred spirits
united by working for justice
Introduction by Barry Blackwell, M.A, M.D. (Cantab), M.Phil. (Lond), FRCPsych.
Forward: Leashing Supernatural Powers and Finding Moderation
Part I: Running Into Consciousness, Chapter One
Part II: From Up to Down, Chapter Fifteen
Part III: Inside the Death Canal, Chapter Twenty-Four
Part IV: Champagne and Ashes, Chapter Forty
Onward: Rebirth. Recovery. Gold
By Barry Blackwell, M.A, M.D. (Cantab), M.Phil. (Lond), FRCPsych.
Former Chair of Psychiatry and Professor Psychiatry and Medicine, Milwaukee Clinical Campus: University of Wisconsin School of Medicine
It is a pleasure and a privilege to introduce readers to Patricia Obletzï¿½s memoir, ï¿½Love and Madness.ï¿½ I became acquainted with the author several years ago when we collaborated briefly around Patriciaï¿½s passionate ongoing commitment to advocacy and mentoring of folks with mental illness, using her literary and artistic skills to strengthen their resilience and help diminish the stigma they are often exposed to. More recently, she showed how ultimately love can tame madness by inviting me to read and comment on her manuscript, which has been highly praised by readers for its literary merit.
During my fifty years as a practicing clinician, academic professor and research psychopharmacologist, I became familiar with many attempts to portray the experiences of patients during an acute psychotic episode. First in textbook accounts (diagnostically distilled and often dry) and then in ï¿½mental statusï¿½ examinations that record lists of symptoms in the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (now DSM-5). In reality, the manifestations of bipolar disorder are often elusive, complex and difficult to convey because the brain is the organ of discernment and its capacity to analyze and record its own disturbances is sometimes eroded, including the ability to see oneself as unwell ï¿½ so called ï¿½agnosia.ï¿½
Virginia Wolf, who suffered from her own mental demons that eventually drove her to suicide, wrote about how difficult it was to capture that experience in words, how the same language that ï¿½can express the thoughts of Hamlet and Lear has no words for the shiver and the headache.ï¿½ And of how, in communicating with doctors, ï¿½language at once runs dry.ï¿½ It is this difficulty that Patricia Obletz has so creatively and accurately overcome.
Patricia Obletzï¿½s account describes her own bipolar disorder beginning in 1981 with hypomania leading to a psychotic manic episode using her own detailed writings in the throes of illness, leading to ups and downs that color her relationships with family, friends, lovers and doctors. This story is told in masterful prose, eloquent metaphors and engaging dialog; it progresses from the earliest stages when she is unaware and unaccepting of her illness through a gradual process of enlightenment and acceptance, sometimes helped or hindered by professional ministrations, but always nurtured by loving family members, her parents (her ï¿½creatorsï¿½) and well-meaning friends, a model others may aspire to emulate.
Such first person accounts of the feelings, thoughts and behaviors by someone suffering from a severe mental illness are an invaluable aid to recognizing, understanding and responding in a helpful healing manner, whether as family, friends or professionals dealing with these severe illnesses, or as concerned citizens eager to learn more about them and ways that can decrease stigma and discrimination. Successful examples are William Styronï¿½s powerful portrayal of his own melancholia (Visible Darkness: A Memoir of Madness), Kay Jamisonï¿½s account of her struggles with bipolar disorder (An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness) and Elyn Sakï¿½s triumph over schizophrenia (The Center Cannot Hold). Patriciaï¿½s memoir, ï¿½Love and Madness,ï¿½ belongs in that category but is unique for a variety of reasons.
Patriciaï¿½s eloquent and elegant description of her innermost thoughts, feelings and behaviors during her psychosis, when she believes herself to be a spokesperson for ï¿½The Messiahï¿½ are especially revealing and instructive. This phase of illness, when its victim has lost the capacity to see herself as sick, produces behaviors often misunderstood as willful or provocative, pushing away or discouraging those seeking to help. Patriciaï¿½s parentsï¿½ unconditional love, and skillful and tactful responses provide a model for constructive response. Also helpful is that her first episode of bipolar disorder occurred at the unusually late age of 38 (the average is 25) at a time when her artistic and literary talents were mature with career and support systems well established and her own appreciation of unconditional love firmly intact.
Even in the non-psychotic phases of bipolar disorder, its behaviors can try the patience of friends and professionals, whether due to the intrusive, hyperactive and distractible symptoms of hypomania, or the desolate, apathetic, nihilistic and self-destructive impulses of depression. Of special interest are Patriciaï¿½s relationships with four very different psychiatrists, who each bring their own skills and foibles to bear in helpful and not so helpful ways that she portrays with insight and humor, gratitude and fortitude.
A near fatal car wreck in 1993, at age 50, with a severe spinal injury bring both tragedy and redemption to her story. Dealing with severe pain and stifled creative energy, Patricia slowly emerges with enhanced coping skills, new insights and a sustaining equanimity. She becomes a powerful advocate for others coping with mental illness and stigma, using her renewed literary, artistic and organizational skills to good avail.
Despite the deaths of her parents, brother and sister, coupled with her added physical burden, Patricia moves on to accomplish what many psychiatrists consider unlikely, even impossible. For over a decade now she has mastered the art of controlling her bipolar disorder without lithium. From skilled psychotherapists, she learns how to monitor her moods and knows how to titrate her activities and her other medications sparingly. She no longer needs a psychiatrist.
There are many reasons why lay or professional readers alike might wish to own this book. Among them are its artistic portrait of bipolar disorder in all its phases, hypomanic, manic, depressed and suicidal. The role of unconditional love learned in childhood and sustained among adult friends and family in understanding and constructively helping to heal a serious mental illness. The value of a purpose-driven life devoted to the well-being of others. And, most of all, Patriciaï¿½s indomitable desire to gain and maintain control of her own thoughts, feelings and behaviors with as little professional help as it takes. In a preamble to the book (ï¿½Forwardï¿½), Patricia states that her memoir ï¿½is a portrait of unconditional love at war with life and death.ï¿½
FORWARD: FINDING MODERATION
Until I wrote myself an operating manual, and actually read rather than edited it, I ran on passionate impulse and instinct. To those drives between 1981 and ï¿½90, add urgent fear and intermittent panic attacks. That manual is ï¿½Love and Madness,ï¿½ which began in another century, and lifetimes ago.
Need to warn you about how easy it is to literally lose your mind and not know it drummed me into writing about it as I emerged from my first full-blown cycle of mania and depression. I had no idea then that this illness wasnï¿½t done with me, or that writing about this terrifying medical disorder would be the only thing I could like and trust about myself for nine years. I had no idea that writing about life soon after it unfolded was crucial to keeping me from freaking out at home alone when no one answered the phone. Back then, I had no idea that this work to help others would return me to the path of pure gold.
Imagine discovering in something you wrote that your lifelong reactions to lifeï¿½s intensities were, in fact, treatable symptoms of mania and depression, also known as bipolar disorder. This priceless knowledge taught me to call for extra sessions with my psychotherapist whenever my engine ran too fast or too slow several days in a row; she also assessed my need for a psychiatrist and possible medication changes. I invite close connections to let me know when I talk too much or too little, start isolating, losing weight. I never want to lose my mind again.
Ten years after diagnosis, I learned how lucky I was to fend off psychosis ï¿½simply by taking a little pill.ï¿½ I learned the hard way that lithium was my lifeline to moderation, ï¿½the key to health and happiness,ï¿½ as my father always said, a state of being that I could not achieve before he died.
I would have reached moderation at a much younger age if my mental health had been medically monitored every time I went for a physical checkup, starting in grade school. I was forty-seven before I discovered what moderation felt like.
Thank heavens I painted this story with words. There is no way to misinterpret this pivotal self-portrait that clearly maps how I got into and out of the worst trouble of my life. But. That trouble forged my future as a writer, activist and editor. I was always an artist in fluid degrees of balance.
Love and Madness is a portrait of unconditional love at war with life and death. To be human is to fight these battles, each in our own way. Some ways are more extreme than others, especially when unforeseeable explosions of mental illnesses unleash supernatural powers. My road to peace begins in Chapter One as my change of mind shifts into first gear.
PART I: COMING INTO CONCSIOUSNESS
Self-Portrait 1972 36x24 oil on canvas
The worst was over.
Summer awaited and, not only would I paint again, Iï¿½d find a new employer. Enough of that never-ending hostility between creative and marketing departments, between me and those who wanted my job. Actually, only one of the writers I supervised for Helene Curtis wanted my job. What a relief it was to escape from her unpredictable outbursts, vicious attacks, and sloppy work.
Unfortunately, if she didnï¿½t blow during my medical leave, boss Don, creative director, wouldnï¿½t have anything to document in the ï¿½blue bookï¿½ that Personnel required on anyone who needed to shape up or ship out. Maybe she would lose it, and save me from most of her ninety day probation.
The partial hysterectomy, June 21, 1981, freed the summer. Even the grinding hot pain of peritonitis that followed was worth it ï¿½ now. It was only July Eleventh and I could avoid the alarm clock until September.
My body didnï¿½t hurt anymore, although it was still weak and I still slept most of the time. The best thing about this vacation was the fact that Clarence and Blanche, my beloved, honorable parents, made an extra trip to Chicago to ï¿½hold my hand.ï¿½ Seeing them proved to me that in fact they had beaten cancer ï¿½ lymphoma and breast.
I found my journal, paged to my last entry, and read it. The fact my father had only up to six months left to live startled me. Why hadnï¿½t I recorded that his cancer went into remission? That was in 1978. I grabbed a pen to highlight the past three years, beginning with the day Jake Hammer and I were introduced by friends.
Evidently time flew because it was almost ten and I hadnï¿½t even thought about dinner. I brought Staufferï¿½s fettuccini Alfredo and wine back to my bedroom, turned on the TV and got back into bed. One movie later, I turned out the light, despite the fact it was only ten and the new Ludlum waited. The next time I looked at the clock, it was eleven-thirty and daylight edged the curtained window.
While breakfasting in bed, I reread yesterdayï¿½s journal entry. I was really lucky in so many ways ï¿½ financially secure, my own home, a perfect lusty affair, good friends, decent job, and parents who not only practiced the Golden Rule, they unconditionally loved, supported and encouraged my older sister Maggie, younger brother Michael and me, and sent us to first class private lessons and schools. They were passionate about the visual and performing arts, and people in need, aiding community and culture.
As a child, I thought everyone went to art galleries, museums and the symphony. In those years, I had no idea what a gift it had been to grow up with a father who played classical music. My parents added a room to our house to house the Steinway grand piano that my fatherï¿½s mother bought for him when he was in school and playing on the radio. Sometimes members of the Budapest Quartet or the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra would play their instruments with him in that room designed just for this purpose.
Piano lessons had been painful for me, but I finished the year my parents insisted on, which then allowed me to concentrate on my passion for horses, and drawing, painting and writing stories about whatever it was that I longed for at the moment.
After breakfast, maybe Iï¿½d stay awake long enough to haul out my painting supplies. I could feel the stirrings of my muse, at last eager to paint again for the first time in three years. Yes. I would paint again. Both parents were in remission. And Mother, my dear Mih-ther, my fun little Mih-the, three inches shorter than I, had played nine holes of golf today for the first time since her first chemotherapy treatment triggered congestive heart failure.
A weight Iï¿½d forgotten lifted.
My heart beat faster.
I returned to my journal.
My writing shrank to save space, each page with its own train of thought. Fast trains, speeding me into self-sating passion, a hot rush, intoxicating as no external intoxication could be; not wine, not pot, not ï¿½
I no longer slept most of the night and day. I didn't need to any longer. I was pain-free and free to write whatever, however, I wanted.
Last night I didn't sleep at all. And I wasn't tired. I could run around the block.
Just before dawn, the notion of sleep disturbed me. I turned off the light and curled up on my side. Thoughts pushed sleep away, again, and again. Sleep empowered recuperation, but the last time I'd slept was ï¿½ I couldn't remember.
I tried Valium. Thirty milligrams did nothing.
Sleep didnï¿½t matter when work didnï¿½t set the alarm. But it would, all too soon. The annual schedule of thirty-two new hair products and promotions was so black with type that just looking at it twisted my gut. From rough to final copy and art, the projects overlapped, and every week had at least one deadline and two crises.
Feeling an unkind kinship with the bottles on the fill line in the factory below my office, I slid out of bed and checked the calendar on the kitchen counter. Sunday was days away. I wrote myself a note to get the Chicago Tribune and placed it beside my calendar on the counter beneath the phone. The employment section was almost at hand.
When friends mentioned work, I begged them not to ï¿½ my impending return felt like doom. They understood, my dear fine friends, and we spoke of other matters.
My parents called from Florida, my brother Michael, Cindy and their two children checked in from Milwaukee. My sister Maggie also checked in now and again. Love for them overflowed into phrases, paragraphs, pages, revealing every life I'd lived from infancy on, every track, path, blind alley.
Twelve addresses in three cities: two houses, ten apartments. The houses were in Buffalo, New York, home of my first eighteen years.
The inside and outside of the house we moved into when I was five was a vivid memory. Why couldnï¿½t I remember the inside of the house we'd lived in until then?
My mother would know. Yes. Mih-the would know.
But it was three in the morning and, she may be playing half a game of golf these days, but she used to play eighteen. She needed sleep.
Sweat stung my eyes. My heartbeat filled my ears. My tongue became coated and dry, too big for my mouth. Everything inside me felt racy, my head was so light. A new strain of dizziness. I swung my legs out from under the table and my head dropped between my knees.
Five hours separated me from my mother's awakening. Five hours stood between me and my first five years, that match of numbers symbolic, significant, so right. I could wait.
Fear of falling asleep had begun in that house.
The war between Maggie and me had begun in that house. I remembered nothing about the room we shared after Michaelï¿½s birth.
My impression of terror in that house grew.
I remembered the night I thought bombs were exploding around us. Iï¿½d had a stranglehold around my motherï¿½s legs, dear Mih-the. We were on the front stairs. Sheï¿½d been hugging me, saying, ï¿½Itï¿½s okay, itï¿½s okay. Everybodyï¿½s celebrating. We won the war in Europe.ï¿½ Weï¿½d huddled on those stairs for what had seemed like hours. I had no sense of my father being there, none of Maggie. Why?
Mother needed sleep. She needed sleep.
The closet Maggie and I tore apart surfaced, the spankings our father meted. The bombs, the closet ï¿½ why nothing else?
My mother, my Mih-the, would want me to call. I had amnesia. I needed help. I had to find my first five years.
The bombs, the closet ï¿½ my first school, trees rising from lush grass, green lace above one-story, low-slung wooden buildings, fat drippings from leaves in thick falling rain, the splat of their landing slower, softer, less rhythmic than the rain striking my rubber coat; the squish, the squelch of my boots, the tin-throated rush of water through gutters. Why couldn't I remember snow, or sun, or Maggie? Sheï¿½d been a class or two ahead of me there. Why were there no people in my memory of that school? Why were there no classrooms? I needed ï¿½ I needed to forget what I'd forgotten and explore what I knew.
Six apartments in eleven years in New York City. Four addresses in six years in Chicago. Only my Victorian condo was spiritually and financially mine, husband for my future. My womb, my fortress, my Sherwood Forest, walls colored in my palette. I so dearly loved my home, matching harmony within me. Iï¿½d lost this spiritual sense of physical belonging twenty years ago, when I left for college. But I was again at home, my own forest, my glade, my cave.
I entered the white-framed evergreen living room. The twelve-foot ceilings were elegant, worth the high heating bills, easy to say in summer. I glanced out the bay windows that overlooked the cul de sac park, the heavy twill sweep of rich dark green curtains framing views of the Victorian townhouses across the street.
I loved the fireplace behind dark glass doors edged in black metal and brass that stood between two windows. I glanced back at my living room as I headed for more coffee, passing between the ceiling-high bookcases that flanked the entrance to the French blue dining room, that color continuing into the galley kitchen, which was twice the size of the ones in my Manhattan rentals, and the one I had shared with Gary Murphy after moving to Chicago to live with him in 1975.
I forgave myself for failing to learn why he kept postponing our wedding. I was thrilled that he was my bridge to Chicago, the perfect antidote to Manhattan. I needed to make sure that he wasnï¿½t a hopeless drunk, like my last lover. In about six months, I was convinced that he wasnï¿½t an alcoholic, I said I was ready to marry him. He said he wasnï¿½t ready then, but that someday he would be. Someday hadnï¿½t come eighteen months later and I moved into a place of my own. That broken heart didnï¿½t make me suicidal as my first experience with heartbreak had, but I drank myself to sleep for a year after that.
It no longer mattered who was at fault.
My body floated above the chair, buoyed by my release from failure. I was so dearly, clearly happy, so whole, so completely complete.
Journal July 24, 1981
First, learn the difference between lust and love
Thoughts came too fast.
I was losing my ideas, I ï¿½ Briefcase.
Bench. Front door.
I retrieved two yellow pads and hurried back to bed. Writing by hand wasnï¿½t fast enough.
The electric typewriter.
Front room closet.
I was torn by the sight of my abandoned oil colors, brushes and turpentine, but need for the machine claimed me. And there it was! I raced with it back to my bedroom and set it in the middle of my bed, between the two yellow pads, which I topped with pens.
Type recorded continuity, the right pad and the left stored ancillary thoughts, facts from the past, hopes for the future.
July 1981: All I need is a little more energy and the artist in me will again rule. Making something out of nothing with help from no one else is the safest place for my passion ï¿½ except for Jake and ï¿½
I turned off the typewriter. Something was buzzing.
I hurried to my front door, pressed the intercom talk button and said, "Who's there?"
What? I released the gate, the front door, the door to the stairwell. I opened my second floor door for him, yelled down the stairs that Iï¿½d just been thinking about him, that he should get a drink and that Iï¿½d be out in minutes. I raced to the bathroom, fearing what Iï¿½d find in the mirror. With justification, I discovered. As I washed, the excitement that Jake always aroused in me heated my blood. He was my height, sixty-nine inches, and I loved wearing my highest heels with him. He was stocky, his shoulders broad above the curve of his paunch. His eyebrows were thick and graying over dark eyes that usually danced with fun and passion. His hair twisted into wiry black and gray curls; his nose was blunt and added character to his rosy, round baby cheeks, which usually glowed from strokes of the sun in Las Vegas, Florida, Wisconsin or Chicago, depending on the season. He had an adorable sweet way about him and I loved that he was positive, quick to grasp ideas, and to seize humor. Most of all I loved his introductory claim that he liked his wife and would never leave her. A third broken heart would probably kill me.
Makeup from the medicine chest tumbled out and smashed in the sink.
I scooped up some of the beige liquid and rubbed out the shadows beneath my eyes. I brushed color on my cheeks and stroked my mouth with lipstick.
I couldn't force a brush through my hair. In the bedroom, I grabbed my red velour jumpsuit from the closet. At last I found a hat under which to hide tangled locks.
"I'm coming in if you don't hurry up," Jake said, his topsiders slapping my walnut stained floor, heralding his imminent appearance.
We collided in the narrow short hall between the bedrooms. The drinks in his hands splashed his shirt, the floor, me. Our eyes met and we laughed while he set his beer and my wine on the dining table and said, "Let's try that again."
I staggered against him, draped my arms around his neck, returned his kiss. I felt slaphappy silly, like a kid who was up too late.
Jake hugged me and let his hands wander. "Your ribs are naked bone!"
"Da neck bone's connected to da rib bone and da rib bone's connected . . . "
"You canï¿½t afford to lose another ounce. Let's go," he said. He grabbed my hand and led me out.
Our usual stroll down the block quickened; we raced across Wells Street to Sir Loin, the restaurant with walls the evergreen of my living room, a perfect place to be in with the man who fed all my desires.
"Want your usual red wine, shrimp cocktail and steak?" I nodded, surprised that the happy lilt in his voice was missing.
He waved to the waiter and ordered for us. He turned again to me and frowned. His almost pretty lips were thinned by disapproval.
"Your face'll freeze that way," I said, hoping for a bantering tone.
He must have heard me, yet he didn't respond. His thick neck and shoulders never moved beneath his blue and white checked button-down shirt.
"Hey, Jake-y I'm sorry. Free time makes me ï¿½ I have to call my mother! I have to call her right now, before I forget again!"
"I can't remember my first five years."
"I can't remember my first ten."
"Everyone forgets that stuff sooner or later.ï¿½
ï¿½How can you be so calm about losing your first ten years?ï¿½
ï¿½What I want to know is how could you forget our date tonight."
He looked earnest when he said that. I wanted to hug him right there and then, but as I rose from my chair, I caught the eye of a stranger. I dropped back into my seat, leaned toward Jake and said, ï¿½Iï¿½m painting again, my first self-portrait in years! Think about how you feel when you love what youï¿½re doing!"
ï¿½Watch that kind of talk or we'll miss dinner ï¿½ youï¿½re painting again?ï¿½
I felt guilty, though I wasn't sure why. Then I remembered his question. "Yes! But with words! Life's perfect! Absolutely perfect!"
He muttered something, then I heard, "What are you writing?"
"Aren't you making history?"
ï¿½Every minute with you is historical, hysterical, heart-warming ï¿½ "
"Writing history is more important than making it?"
My foot slid out of its shoe and found his leg, rubbing it slowly, up and down and around.
ï¿½You pun more than you know but, oh Jake, there's so much to think about, so much to say."
"A man I could fight, but a typewriter?" He threw up his hands, the boy in him grinning again.
I grinned back and blew him a kiss. "Do you see a typewriter here?"
He shook his head and stared at me. Fun fled as he said, "You've changed, and I don't just mean your weight. You're all hyped up or something. Last time I saw you, you could barely hold your eyes open."
"Last time I was still under the influence of ï¿½ Jake! Had it not been for peritonitis, I'd be back at work by now."
"It's only the last week of July . . . " He peered at me over his drink, then set it down carefully, continuing to stare. His mouth was tight, his eyes critical.
I grew uneasy. "Youï¿½re the one who's changed," I charged. He was critical. It was over. Life would lose a vital link.
His grin returned. He wasnï¿½t against me. We were all right. The burst of my joy into laughter seemed to surprise him.
He pushed his drink in small circles, darkening the white linen cloth. He didn't raise his eyes to mine.
Again came that sense of loss when the kid in him disappeared. I put my hand over his, the one beside his martini. "You are right. I am different. I've never, ever been this happy! It's almost too marvelous to put into words! But ask me, ask me Jake, and I'll find all of the most beautiful, exquisite words in the world to tell you exactly how I feel!" My naked foot continued to caress his calf. "I'm obsessed with writing, possessed by it! I've got everything I could ever desire: a perfect lover and all the words I could ever, ever need."
"You're possessed, all right. By what, is the question."
I yanked my foot away. "I won't take that, even from you."
"But I'm just ï¿½ "
"Not just," I hissed at a decibel audible to neighboring diners. I was swept up in the speed of my amazingly hot blood. Seconds later I was laughing at his exaggerated bemusement.
"Shush. Calm down. Hush." He looked around the room and stroked my arm. His hand drew me into his warmth. "I'm not judging you."
"You're dear, wonderful, special ï¿½ If only . . . "
"If I could sleep, I wouldn't be so jumpy."
"You're not sleeping?"
"Not much. Creative passion has the most incredible intensity, the greatest power!"
"Our passion's the best!" He looked pleased with himself, then wagged a finger at me. "But not sleeping isn't so good."
I grinned and shifted in the chair. "I don't have to sleep! I'm on vacation! Right Cakes, Baby Cakes . . . Jake?" I seemed to be drunk, and on only one glass of wine. Silly drunk and having a wonderful time.
Suddenly I heard myself sobbing. "Oh Jake. I can't go back to work and dance the dance with fraternity boys in suits. I've got to get out of there! I keep forgetting to get the Sunday Trib . . . " My tears were uncontrollable and unexpected, like the despair that suddenly welled inside me.
"But you donï¿½t have to go back to work for at least four weeks."
"Really? Oh thank you, Jake. Everything's Jake, Jake. A-O-K!"
"Eat fast, but eat," he said when dinner arrived.
Leaving the restaurant, he gripped my hand, I gripped leftovers. We reached my door, breathless, laughing, excited.
In the bedroom I turned on the air conditioner and threw my comforter to the floor. He undressed and lit the candles, their light wild in the rush of cool air, white wax hot and spurting on the bureau.
Faster, faster the flames bowed, stretched, their shadows huge tongues on the walls.
Merging sensations peaked, a momentary collapsing, the building beginning again.
Coming together, holding on but letting go, letting go. Letting go.
We lay side by side holding hands, adrift in thrilling bliss.
He covered our cooling bodies. We touched lips, we drew apart, still silent.
Thoughts pressed for expression but my body was too limp to move.
But these thoughts rang with truth. I had to record them.
I couldn't move. Jake murmured and snugged me to him, and then I was watching him sleep from the lassitude of satiation, until the arm that braced my chin trembled and collapsed and I tumbled onto his chest.
In the curve of his neck, I was inundated by the rise of sensual not sexual passion. I was so blessed to feel so much, to be so safe, to be with Jake, man, not boy, a steady supply of my favorite dessert, a safe for my passion, my exercise.
Heartbreak was worse than eczema, allergies and asthma; it was worse than major surgery made critical by complications.
The words reverberated, urging me to pick up paper and pen. Jake stirred beneath me. His arm tightened around me. He'd be leaving soon, I could wait.
The firing surge of my thoughts slowed, my muscles relaxed, tamed by the act of love, by the warmth of Jake, the steady beat of his heart, the slow ebb and flow of his breathing. My eyes closed. They flew open. It was the lighting and the deep shadows playing on everything that I had to remember. Because of course, I would paint before my medical leave ended, and this chiaroscuro, this tableau of skin on skin in the cast of flaming candles conjured the dense richness of Rembrandt.
What ï¿½ I did hear something a while ago. But Jake was sound asleep.
The impression of ï¿½PAINT NOWï¿½ made my ears burn. Classical music suddenly drenched me in sound, as if someone had turned up the radioï¿½s volume, sending my body into startling spasm. Jake didnï¿½t twitch even an eyelash. ï¿½Paint now.ï¿½ I wanted to paint, I would paint. The music hushed me.
Sometime later, my knee jerked and woke me up. I glanced at the clock and dropped down to nibble the line of Jakeï¿½s cheek, his lips, dart my tongue into his mouth. "Thought that would rouse you," I cried when he opened one eye and squinted at me.
When he left, I showered. Exhilaration belted out my underwater songs. I slid into a loverï¿½s old shirt, filled the ceramic white pitcher with water and ice and pulled the bed together. I placed the yellow pads and pens on the comforter ï¿½ typing was beyond me at that moment.
Jake's view of my sleeplessness sent me back to Valium. Fifty milligrams this time. I made notes on a yellow pad in the dark.
It was four-thirty-seven AM when I made coffee. Back in bed, I switched on the lamp and then the typewriter. I propped pillows behind me, turned around, flexed my fingers.
FIRST ORDERS OF IMPORTANCE emerged top center on the fresh sheet of white paper. Impressive.
IGNORANCE IS A DIRTY DIAPER. I was stunned by the brilliance of this analogy.
I left my bed, hugging myself as I danced my way into the dining room, on to the bay windows in the living room. I hurried back to my bedroom, grabbed the typewriter, pads and pens, and set them on the dining room table, changing my seat in amazement. I bent over the machine, fingers flying, words racing across and down the page.
It's hard to be objective about subjective causes: you may not see how your right might wrong someone else.
I could have been twenty-five again, advising Seventeen readers, amazed once more by how helping them helped me. Responding to their pain with an objectivity I couldnï¿½t offer to myself helped to heal the wound that my true love Jimmy had opened. Heï¿½d been daydreaming out loud, heï¿½d said. ï¿½It wouldnï¿½t be right, I never could honor a marriage vow. He still called now and then, the romance of our love for each other preserved by his integrity and compassionate concern for people who were denied their basic rights. My first and only ï¿½Crusader.ï¿½
Positive attitudes are crucial, a fine art to master. Just don't assume everyone else has one. Assumptions led me to heartbreak twice.
Humor is a bridge to positive thinking.
It wasnï¿½t humor that helped a classmate at Parsons School of Design forget about her abusive, drunk father, it was painting life on paper and canvas, sheï¿½d said. We were kindred spirits who had connected in the depths of sensitivity. Iï¿½d forgotten about her and her horrific childhood.
My good friend Jess Olsen never knew unconditional love as a child, either. She also knew abuse. How lucky I was to have parents like mine.
Too bad the men in my life werenï¿½t as honorable as my sweet father. But ignorance and innocence accounted for my hard times with men, that and my incredibly thick rose-colored glasses. Ah yes, and the passionate, thrusting thrill of union.
No man is an island, entire unto himself ï¿½ schoolï¿½s most important lesson.
Most of my life, family and friends said, ï¿½Slow down. Stop thinking so much. Too sensitive, too literal, too gullible ï¿½ ï¿½ The last was a fault built by my assumption that everybody lived by The Golden Rule. I was fooled by those who resembled my parents in any way. My first heartbreak taught me to ask the right questions, I actually had believed. But then came my second mistake.
Jake is safe.
How rare if not impossible it must be for anyone to live without ever knowing fear. ï¿½Dear Abigailsï¿½ had ways of reducing fear. That's what had felt so good about my work at Seventeen.
Examine the tissue of face values. Ask questions. Ignorance can be bliss, but what you don't know can hurt you.
Don't slap strangers with stereotype labels. Prejudgment promotes misjudgment and lost opportunity.
Communication paves relationships. Relationships are keys to love. Love buffers misfortune. Love is the ultimate comfort.
The last sentence brought me to my feet.
My journal was a book. It was a book! A book! ï¿½Breaking Through to Happiness.ï¿½ A bestseller, an international bestseller!
Journal Entry August l981
A COSMIC FORCE
VITAL TO THE LIFE OF LOVE
Elation danced me around my dining and living rooms until thoughts of my dear friend Jess stopped me. Jessie would love this news! Iï¿½d written a bestseller!
Night blackened the windows in the still before dawn. I couldnï¿½t call her at this hour.
I set my clock radio alarm for seven AM and turned up the volume. My whole body felt like one big grin as I returned to my book.
Germaine Greer flashed into my mind. "Wo/mankind" appeared on a yellow pad. How bright that white sheet in the typewriter was, its ink so black and commanding:
"Different views of the world's ruling set men against each other, segregating humanity, disfiguring truth for personal gain, hoarding knowledge and strength to gain power, breeding greed and other diseases."
Shades of Jimmy, the first man I could imagine in my future, the attorney who had enlisted me in the ongoing crusade for Civil Rights when we met in August in 1967. Heï¿½d seduced me with songs he wrote, playing his guitar, letting me strum along on his ï¿½baby Martin.ï¿½ Twelve years ago.
Civil Rights ï¿½ yes. Civility requires respect, the core of The Golden Rule: treat life with respect.
My father and I werenï¿½t religious, an education I escaped in a deal with him that my mother didn't fight. I saw nothing divine about a god who could take your soul while you slept.
God was no more real to me than Peter Pan, Robin Hood or Santa. The Golden Rule was all the world needed, as well as the visual and performing arts.
Love and art were my religion, that which enlightened, united and inspired spirituality, the heart of ultimate freedom. Life no doubt was a scientific design. We humans no doubt would discover its source by accident.
Life, the offspring of death.
Fingers stroked keys faster and faster.
Music sounded on schedule, first scaring then speeding me through brushing my teeth, adding color to my cheeks. I grabbed something to wear, smashed a hat on my head, gathered the sheets of typed pages, and both yellow pads, and ran to my car.
I front-ended the car to the curb and raced down the sidewalk to Jessieï¿½s coach house behind a Victorian brownstone. I heard my voice shouting, "Jess! Jessie! It's me. Let me in! Let me in!"
She opened the door, holding her skirt, surprise bright in her clear blue eyes. "How come you're up and about?"
"I've written a book!" I crowed, probably to every one of her neighbors.
"You fiend, get in here!" She pulled me in, shut the door. "I'll get coffee," she said, tossing her skirt on a chair, disappearing behind the partition that divided the dining area and kitchen. "When did you write this book?" she asked, reappearing, handing me a mug of steaming dark brew.
She slipped into her skirt, zipped it, eyes still fastened on me as I blurted, "Last night, this morning!" I was still reeling, still drunk on discovering that my journal was a bestseller. "I've written a book that will change the world's thinking! Look, look," I demanded, thrusting pages at her.
She rifled the pile and shook her head at inked scrawls so crowded, the yellow of the paper appeared like an afterthought. I paced, topsiders squeaking at every turn, echoing my impatience, the contents of my purse rustling and chinking as I fumbled for a match for another cigarette.
"Sit down you maniac! I can't concentrate ï¿½ here, take this," she ordered, throwing me a Bic. "Keep it ï¿½ lighters are easier to find than matches, I've got more."
I saluted her, then fidgeted with lighter and cigarette, bouncing my crossed leg up and down, unable to relax. I lit the cigarette.
She looked so earnest, so fresh, her blue eyes so alive, her complexion like Renoirï¿½s cream and rose women. Renoirï¿½s women, Woody Allenï¿½s quick wit, Diane Keatonï¿½s looks, and the Ivory Soap baby, Jess was a mix of them all. And Kate Hepburn, Jessie's gestures on occasion that dramatic, that grand.
She said, "Looks like you've enough for one of those small, slim books ï¿½ know the kind I mean?"
"Yes!" I launched myself from the cushion and hugged her.
"Take it easy," she laughed, riding my joy.
"Oh yes," I repeated, returning to the love seat. "Not too small, not too big ï¿½ just right for the world to read!"
"What's the title, Goldilocks?"
"Breaking Through to Happiness!"
"Right on!" She looked away.
"Jessie, what is the matter?"
"I'm surprised you left your house in that getup ï¿½ and you once a fashion director!"
I looked down at my red t-shirt and orange pajama bottoms. "Think this trend has a chance?"
ï¿½Maybe with a scarecrow. But you've less meat on those bones than any self-respecting scarecrow. What's up?"
"Nothing . . . I just never gained back the weight I lost after the surgery."
"It's obvious you don't live to eat, but you better eat if you want to write."
"I better run ï¿½ you'll be late for work." I snatched my book and stood.
"I've no clock to punch. Stay."
I dropped to the loveseat still clutching the manuscript, oddly relieved. "So, how was Door County?"
"That was weeks ago!" Her astonishment seemed greater than my own. "You better get back to that office ï¿½ your mind is going."
"I also forgot dinner with Jake the other night!ï¿½ I couldnï¿½t help my mirth from spilling into my tale as I grinned at her and said, ï¿½He got over it, so please, tell me again about Door County!"
"Stan was more wonderful than even I could have imagined."
"I knew it! I told you! Love is in the air, all around us, inside us! Oh Jess, I love you. You saved me from that cutthroat woman who was after my job at that department store, home of our introduction ï¿½ I'd never have gotten this far without you."
"You're really wound up ï¿½ ï¿½
"Isn't life wonderfully gloriously marvelous?!"
She nodded. We hugged.
In the car heading home, I selected words for a letter to the publisher to announce that The Book was in progress.
Home, I heated water for coffee and worked on the letter.
The water boiled into air before I remembered to pour it. No matter. Too much to do. No time.
I checked the announcement for typos and readied it for mailing.
I kissed the envelope before dropping it in the mailbox, surprised by the red of my sleeve.
I remembered Jessie's take on my outfit.
I raced home for my wallet and back to the car, heading to favorite boutiques, building a wardrobe fit for the stage my world would become.
The corduroy, the silks, the velvets, the lean soft lines, the black, the fudge, the red in which I'd meet the world flowed through my mind as I drove home. Thousands of dollars on credit. The book would pay the bill! The book would purchase the material world, make my fame and fortune.
I raced home, eager to get back to my book. The phone rang as I opened my front door. I ran to the bedroom, dropped my loot and answered it.
"Patricia? It's me, Jessie." She sounded like a humming bird. "I'm worried about you. You were, well, acting kind of crazy this morning ï¿½ "
Through laughter, I said, "Who wouldn't be raving to find themselves author to a fortune! Be happy for me! Life's a joyride and love is the vehicle! Come on, Jessie! Don't let go of rapture!"
"You're way past cloud nine," she exclaimed. "But . . . I'll ring you tomorrow. And eat! No one loves a bag of bones."
We hung up.
I returned to The Book.
Message August 1981
ï¿½NO MAN IS AN ISLAND . . .ï¿½
Sun. Moon. Coffee. Water. Incessant smoke trailing from the cigarettes I lit.
Paper flew from the roller bar, fell into my hands. Strange words leapt off the page, striking chords of fear.
Birds called soprano to the clack of keys typing, a forgetting sound urging discourse.
Another word stranger caught my breath. I choked, I swallowed water, I pressed on.
Sun poured through east windows into the room, its brightness gathering brilliance as it climbed. I rose to switch off the chandelier, suddenly aware that day had followed another night ï¿½ I couldn't recall the last time Iï¿½d slept. Only when the phone broke the silence was I conscious of myself, how alive my flesh, how eager my spirit.
ï¿½FE/MALEKIND, POSITIVITY, NEGATIVITY, INTERNAL/EXTERNALï¿½ swarmed on the page before me, on pages beside the typewriter. How did those words land on pages I'd typed? I never broke words like FE/MALE, WO/MAN. But of course: they incorporated both genders, making one whole being in metaphysical terms of the heart.
Jake had a piece of my heart ï¿½ he never talked like this. Nor did Jess.
But, if not Jess, and if not Jake, and not me ï¿½
I turned back to the machine, determined to author every word.
Again word strangers danced laughing on the page.
Confusion raged; boiling blood flooded my senses, drowning me in fear.
The red sea fell away and again words glared at me in sharp black and white.
I jumped up, knocking over my chair as I hurried to the bay of my living room windows.
None of this made sense, and yet every one of these thoughts made all the sense in the world. I paced my rooms stem to stern and returned to the front windows. The handsome Victorian townhouses across the street made me think of Sherlock Holmes. All I needed was a magnifying glass, a pipe, and Sherlockï¿½s flap-cap and plaid coat to track down the origins of those words. Laughter burst out of me, delighting me, easing the moment.
Pages piled up.
To the kitchen for more water. Back at the typewriter, strange words everywhere seemed to leap at me, and the sentences they strung fell into unfamiliar rhythms. Fear struck, raw and freezing.
Fear ebbed under nicotine and again I was typing. Until need for another cigarette broke the flow of words, leaving me breathless with excitement at the prospect of discovering inspirationï¿½s next installment.
I couldn't stop typing. Could not.
Sweat covered me like skin. My fingers slid off keys, striking wrong characters as words clicked into being, into sentences, into pages.
But I had to stop typing to read.
I couldn't stop. I couldn't stop.
My body felt hollow, fragile; it was shaking, breaking apart, collapsing inward, breath snuffed, sweat stinging my eyes, blinding me. And I was drowning in fear, beaten by blows from my heart, its speed wild, reckless, choking, crushing my senses with thunder.
Still my fingers forged words crossing the page.
STOP! Please, oh stop . . . please . . .
Terror seared like dry ice, its burn so cold, shriveling, cracking ï¿½ breaking into lethal pieces. But ï¿½
No! It couldn't be.
It just couldn't.
Yet there was no other explanation: my hands now had a mind of their own.
Oh stop, please stop stop STOP ï¿½
Light more brilliant than the sun exploded, illuminating splendor behind my eyes, every cell of my being lifted by awesome power.
Oh this light, blinding white, it shimmered, it gleamed, all consuming, invading, pervading. I sailed in its glory, soared in it. I closed my eyes; I couldn't keep them closed. And then the light whitened, it gained force and in it I saw all colors, every sign of life. Its power entered me like a lover, and like a mother feeding me bliss. And then came recognition: the power, that Power. This power.
I rose upon that crest of knowledge, afraid to breathe or utter a sound. The typewriter burred along, ready to continue its electric delivery of The Word already covering so many pages. I turned off the typewriter.
I turned the machine back on, its hum electrifying, drums again ready to transmit The Truth. I couldn't watch my fingers tap keys, or the letters that snapped into life on the page.
Yes, yes! The Power was . . . I stood up and dared to let my eyes fall upon the white sheet anchored in the roller bar of my typewriter.
"MESSIAH" in bold black print centered the page.
I sobbed in the agony of elation. The ï¿½Messiahï¿½ was the Power, the source of those words. The ï¿½Messiahï¿½ was sending messages through the typewriter to me.
Brilliant white light undulated inside me, seeping through every cell, warming, heating, filling every sense, sharpening sight until everything I looked at sparkled, textures rich and colors dazzling.
My heart pounded, my eyes stung from straining, and blood sang in its heady race to the outer-reaches of my flesh. My toes tingled, my fingertips tingled, the whole of me tingled in the full force of love and divine absolution.
Melting and merging sensations turned me as one with the world, no boundaries, no blocks, a sense of freedom so comforting, so safe, that I knew without question that love had saved me, and that love would save the world. Oh ï¿½Messiah!ï¿½
The ï¿½Messiah!ï¿½ had chosen me, ME! to type His book! For it was His book, not mine. However could I have assumed that it was mine?
Small glowing faces of English ivy bedded in brick peered through windows, nodding their confirmation. I knew now the state of grace. I knew now the infinite pure wonder of life's one true secret.
I raced to the bathroom, turned on the light and reflected in His glory framed by the medicine cabinet mirror. Darkness hollowed my high, narrow cheekbones, marks of beatitude. The brown of my hooded eyes was deeper, and brighter in the light of redemption, and the tangled mist of my short bronzed and copper hair glistened like gold, a halo. I wasn't too thin, I was lean-boned and long, wand in the winds of salvation.
The dazzle of my smile dazed me. My knees melted. I grabbed the sink just in time.
ï¿½Breaking Through To Happinessï¿½ would free every being in the world.
The Messiah, from Whom my Creators came, and came to create me. Oh yes. Yes!
Revelations came shining through, astounding me with their depth. "REVEAL/ATIONS!" the Messiah corrected, streaming consciousness surging down the sheets rolling through the typewriter.
I turned the lights on and off, depending on the sunï¿½s schedule.
Anger struck when the phone rang. I limited conversations, often claiming company to terminate the call.
I was fevered by impatience to get into type the work that also would liberate me from corporate enslavement, releasing my bondage to negatives. There was so little time to finish. So little time.
In the bathroom again, I was furious. How could I forget pad and pen? Inside my tiled cell, messages jammed in my mind without release. Anxiety hurried me back to the typewriter.
More water. More trips to the bathroom, but I never again forgot my pad and pen. REVEAL/ATIONS gushed onto page after page of capital ideas.
I would burst within this explosion of excitement.
* * *
The window framed a burnishing sky reflecting like fire on the brass chandelier, its glare softened by the surprising presence of another day.
I lit a cigarette and turned off the light. Before sitting again at the dining room table, I read the page in the typewriter. I vibrated with shock when I realized it was typed in upper and lowercase.
I read more, still standing, hands shaking and ruffling the paper. The passage described the spanking my sister and I received after wrecking our closet instead of taking our naps before a family dinner. She'd offered to go first, surprising yet relieving me. I'd measured the pain by her response, hoping postponement would lead to pardon. Years later she said she hadn't wanted to suffer my punishment as well as her own. Why hadn't we agreed to disagree?
I dropped into the chair, puffing on a cigarette, shaking. Maggie had nothing to do with Breaking Through to Happiness.
Doubt agitated, spreading swift darting alarm. My heart heavied its beating, I couldn't sit up. Cigarette ash powdered the keyboard. Blowing it off felt good. As I straightened in the chair, questions resounded: Who had written about Maggie? The Messiah? Me?
I felt nothing, I heard nothing. The light thinned, dulled.
I grew cold in the absence of transferring these crucial messages to paper.
I stared at type no longer in caps, willing answers to banish fear.
No murmuring dictation directed me. No words surged onto paper.
But then my fingers touched the keyboard. And my sister's name appeared.
Why was Maggie still the subject?
There must be a mistake. But whose mistake was it?
Fear hurled doubt aside.
Where was the Messiah?
My body iced, bumped with cold, a plunging cold like icicles driven into vital organs.
Pain convulsed me. Physical pain, high and keening.
Then the pain was mental, deep and destructive.
What happened to Him?
How could He leave without leaving a note, a thought, to say He'd be back?
ï¿½Messiah?ï¿½ The plaintive note in my voice drifted in the air, weaving new cobwebs to sweep.
There was no messiah.
Disbelief was unbelievable. We'd been writing the book that would save the world. The Book. Yes!
I scanned a few sheets from a pile, words like POSITIVITY, REVEAL/ATIONS, FE/MALE first bewildering, then reassuring me, then horrifying me.
My throat dried and swelled, as if to lock out air.
These were not my words.
THEY BELONG TO THE ï¿½MESSIAH.ï¿½
Then where was He?
Confusion was hideous, it was wild and heaving.
Pain split my head into spearing waves, blood pounding, a roaring thudding rush threatening the essence of my existence.
The typewriter was real ï¿½ I could see it, touch it, feel it. I drew it close and hugged it, resting my forehead against its metal.
Back and forth the pain screamed, rebounding off the walls of my mind.
The table gleamed, penetrating the chaos that engulfed me. I looked into my deep green living room, building reassurance. Back in the dining room, across from me on the white linen cabinet, the Sheraton coffee service glistened; off-white curtains shifted at the windows, puffs of air sifting my hair, cooling my flesh, drying it, feeding oxygen into my lungs.
I was home. I was fine.
A sheet of paper curled, slid from its pile and stopped on the rosewood inlay that bordered my mahogany art deco table.
The taste in my mouth was metallic; rage burst into accusations and denials.
Childhoods were for journals.
I examined the single-spaced lines without margins that topped a pile of paper on my right. POSITIVITY, INTERNAL/EXTERNAL stepped across the page, words most assuredly not mine.
Typewriter keys glinted dully in the shadow of my face. They smirked, floating in a play of light and shade.
The typewriter! But it was twenty years old, it had no computer ï¿½ then what? What?
Pain jabbed the void where my womb used to be.
In cold silence, fear erased hope. I felt rather than heard my cry.
The Book called me back to work.
But then words without meaning appeared, filling slow-rolling paper, a mesmerizing march that compelled attention, but denied comprehension.
I tried to stop.
I couldn't stop. Letters spelled words on page after page. I couldnï¿½t stop to read them.
I had to stop. I had to know who wrote those words.
Need for speed blinded eyewitness.
Faster faster faster.
Pain snatched my hands from the keyboard. I tried to hold my head together, tried to halt the pain with hands hard-pressed against my ears.
Falling into terror was terrible, my heart plunging deeper and faster than any roller coaster. Inexorable sucking darkness, a suffocating compression ï¿½
Messages August 30th 3:56 AM ï¿½ 4:02 AM
ALL IS DESERTION, GONE, DONE.
FIGMENTS, FIGMENTS, FIGMENTS.
TRUTH MUST LIGHT THE BACKS OF TRAITORS
HELL IS BOTH SIDES OF THE COIN.
I found out in bits and pieces of groggy but growing awareness that I was curled up on the kitchen floor, my back against a kitchen wall. I was fetal and fearful, the slate blue linoleum cooling flesh heated by humidity and alarm. The strain of slowly and carefully inching my way into a sitting position made me nauseated and so dizzy, my head dropped between my knees. I drew my knees into my breast, tightened my arms around my legs, hanging onto myself, afraid to let go, afraid of what lay waiting for me in the dining room.
Something pulled me up the wall to the phone above me.
The door frame bit into my back as I dialed numbers, hearing clicks and then a ringing that went on and on.
Who had I called?
"Congratulations. You've reached (414) 555-9669," a man said in a playful tone.
That voice. It came from the past, out of my beginnings. It came from the safety of love. My brother . . . "Michael, oh Michael," I sobbed, relief draining me. "Please come down here, please, I ï¿½ how long does it take to drive from Milwaukee to Chicago?"
"Ninety minutes, but ï¿½ "
"Help me, Michael, please . . . "
"The Messiah came, but then I lost Him . . . Where is He? Was He ever here?"
"I can't understand what youï¿½re telling me."
Oh-god I'm too weak to explain. "Please come down here . . . I, He, the words..."
"Something is wrong ï¿½ horribly wrong . . . "
"Drink some water and sit down. Take your time," he said, the cadence of his voice calming.
"But the closest chair is in the dining room. I can't go back in there. I can't!"
"Of course you can. Where are you? Patricia? Which room are you in?"
"Kitchen. The kitchen . . . "
"Take a chair from the dining room. Put it next to the sink. You can do it. Do it. Now!"
I stretched my arm over the threshold, leaning into the fearful space, anchored by my hold on the kitchen doorframe. Somehow I seized the closest chair and dropped it in front of the sink. Propped by the counter, I held a glass under the faucet till it filled. I set it on the counter and eased myself into the chair, phone still clutched to my ear. "I did it," I whispered.
"Good. Take a sip. Go slowly! Now take a deep breath . . . hold it . . . now let it go. Slowly. Slowly! Again," he said.
The water slid down my throat, a silkening balm. "The words, the Messiah . . . I don't . . . I canï¿½t . . . "
"What was happening before you called me?" His relaxed insistence gentled the tumult inside me, slowing the race of my pulse, my heart, relaxing the constriction of my throat.
I breathed slowly. I sipped water.
"Do you remember what you were doing?"
I clung to the sound of his voice.
"Can you hear me?"
"I've been writing . . . I . . . Oh!ï¿½ Joy swept through me like a swift wind off Lake Michigan. ï¿½Michael! I'm writing a bestseller! I'm going on Johnny Carson! But ï¿½ ï¿½ The winds of emotion knocked me off the edge and pummeled all the air out of me, tumbling me down. Down.
ï¿½You still there?ï¿½
ï¿½Oh, Michael! The words. They're not mine! I . . . "
"Sip the water.ï¿½ His voice was quiet.
I drank. "I got so scared, Iï¿½ve never been that scared, never . . . but then He claimed them. I was so . . . It was so . . . But He's gone now. I don't know where . . . "
"Is 'he' the messiah?"
"Yes! Yes, but the book isn't finished! He wouldn't leave now ï¿½ Would He?" I stood and refilled the glass. "Michael, if He's not here now, was He ever here? But I have the words! I have them in black and white! And I didn't write them!" My wild cries left raw tracks in my throat. I drank more water. I dunked my head under a chilling flow from the faucet.
"Patricia! Hey! Are you there?"
The sound of him came through cooling streams and I turned the water off, vitalized by coldness sliding down my face, my back, considering answers to questions. "Positivity, negativity, internal/external ï¿½ I've never heard of those words," I cried, shaking with fear as I resumed my place on the chair.
"You probably read them years ago and stored them for future use. Like now."
I could hear his infectious grin in his tone and I pictured him running his hand through his dark curls, rubbing his curly graying beard.
"Patricia? Those words came from your mind. They're your words. Your messiah is you."
"What?ï¿½ I was shocked. ï¿½That isnï¿½t funny and I'm too scared for humor."
"Have you been eating and sleeping lately?"
"You sound as if you've been fasting," he replied easily. "Or had one too many joints ï¿½ "
"Sleep went the way of the Messiah, only long before He arrived. As for food, I drink water by the gallons. And the only drugs Iï¿½m on are prescriptions, Michael ï¿½ "
"Give yourself two points," he interjected. "And stay with water, but add protein, vegetables and fruit, and, ah yes, sleep is a big part of my plan for you."
"When did you become the FDA?"
"And get outside. You need fresh air ï¿½ and company. Call a friend. Ready?"
"I'm at the absolute best of my ability." Happiness settled inside me, then fled. "What makes you say my Messiah is me? How could He be?"
"Those who fast have visions. So do those who count the stars by night and the trees by day ï¿½ too many days in a row. It's sleep that counts. And food." His teasing tone eased my agitation. "Sure you're okay?"
"Yes . . . Michael? Are you home?"
"You called me here."
"What day is it?"
"Saturday . . . "
"I'm so lucky you were home. And that you answered the phone, not the kids, not Jacob or Eta. Oh thank you. Thank you for being there, for helping me. I love you so much. Isn't love a marvelous marvel of bounteousness, beautiful, wonderful singing glory?! Isn't it? Isn't it?"
"Yes, yes, and you're welcome. Now, don't forget: food, company and sleep. And call. Anytime ï¿½ we'll be around."
"I love you," I cried and hung up the phone.
Before I could think about anything, Susan called. I burst into tears.
She said she was coming right over before I could explain.
I crumpled into the chair and grabbed my drink with both hands. And I wept for the end of a ride with a god that had become a holy hell.
It was pure luck that I'd dialed Michael's number in Milwaukee.
Sheer luck that he'd answered.
What if one of those sweet little kids had answered, or what if ï¿½ I concentrated on my luck. Susan's call was more luck, or . . . Why did she call? She'd seemed to understand I needed every second for the book. So why did she call? Why and how did I call Michael?
The Messiah? Coincidence?
Michael was wrong.
Jess called. Of course she would.
"How's the book coming?"
"I don't know! I thought I was the Messiah's vessel, but my brother said my Messiah was me and ï¿½ "
She inhaled sharply. "Patricia . . . "
"He's wrong! I know it! I feel it!" I cried, sickened by the onslaught of sudden confusion. "I, I . . . I don't know what to think anymore, what to do . . . "
"You're not making much sense ï¿½ "
"Sense? There is no sense! Words. That's what I have. Just words. And they're not even mine!" I was being shoved into far corners of thoughts I no longer understood. And inside me something grew. Something cold, metallic and crushing. "Is this panic?" My question surprised me.
"Sounds like it ï¿½ hold on, I'm leaving right now."
"No! Susan's on her way. Oh Jessie," I muttered, looking at my hands. "My insides are coming outside. I'm coming apart. Why am I so scared?"
"You're okay. You got confused, that's all. I'm here, we're talking, you're okay... Your breathing sounds pretty good ï¿½ think you need the bag?"
We were laughing by the time Susan arrived.
Susan came through the door and stopped short, surveying my home. "How long has it taken to . . . ahhh . . . accumulate all this?"
Her exaggerated bewilderment amused me, until I followed her gaze: paper covered the living room like patches of snow in thick-wooded forests. Sweaters draped furniture like clinging vines. Cigarette stubs dove into ashen seas overflowing the ashtrays, marking my passage as boldly as my other discards.
"Who has time to keep track? But look at all those butts, thatï¿½s disgusting," I said, turning to check the dining room.
She gasped and I said: "We're looking at every ashtray in my house."
"With cancer in both your parents, those sticks are an open invitation." Her smile didn't lighten the concern in her eyes.
"I'll be an ex-smoker when I hit the office!"
"Thatï¿½s great! And if you start craving one, come see me," she urged.
"Thanks," I said, excited by the idea of breaking that dirty, rotten, filthy habit, to quote my dear Daddy-O. I grew uneasy when she drew back to look me up and down.
"How long have you been running on empty?"
"I thought that Jackson Brown song was one of your favorites!"
"Susan, I have to write something down!" I went to the typewriter, turning it on before dropping to the chair.
ï¿½FIND A MUTUAL LOVE AND SHARE ITï¿½ appeared on the pristine sheet of paper. All in uppercase.
On the words came, feverish blessings.
"Patricia! You don't have to finish the book this minute!"
The Messiah was back! It was love we were writing about; that's why Maggieï¿½s name was there! Now I knew how to start over with her. We both loved dogs and horses.
"Patricia, are you gathering wool or inspiration?"
Grinning, I exclaimed, "Everything was horrifically awful, but everything's really fantabuloso now!"
"Really?" Her eyes looked huge; she kept looking from me to my rooms.
I hadn't been aware of disarray until she arrived, or of the fact I was still wearing only a manï¿½s old shirt. "This mess is testimony to time sacrificed in the name of art. The house will return to order the night before the alarm once again starts my days." I grinned. I burst into tears. I had to finish The Book before I went back to work and it no longer looked like there would be enough time.
My sense of claustrophobia faded in the light of a new thought. "Michael was wrong! He didn't know what he was talking about! He's back, and everything's right with my world! Better than it could possibly be!"
"Why don't you get dressed while you tell me what Michael was wrong about and ï¿½ "
"We'll get something to eat! Yes! Michael said to eat."
Ten minutes later, we left for the corner coffee shop. Every few yards, dizziness knocked my feet out from under me, turned my legs into Jell-O, made me sit and hold my head, the only action that stopped the blinding dots of light from owning my sight. Seated in a booth at last, I ordered chicken salad, toast, cottage cheese and apple pie.
Susanï¿½s large eyes grew larger. "You'll never eat all that ï¿½ not even in your better days!"
"Better days? Why, Susan! These are the best days of my life ever, ever, ever! I'm writing a bestseller and I, well, if . . . no, not now."
"It sounds exciting."
Our food arrived. I started on the chicken salad, nibbled on toast, managed a fork full of cottage cheese. I couldn't touch the pie.
"You havenï¿½t stopped eating yet, have you?" She looked concerned. "Take your time and have more ï¿½ I can count your ribs from here."
"You try working my hours and see how fat you get," I snapped, and forced another bite down with cola. I pushed away my plate.
"Let's change the scenery."
Outside, we stopped to look across the street at a building, its guts broken, rotted, tossed haphazardly about the cracked and buckled ground floor. The stairwell hung from one support, its banisters like broken match sticks, its treads tumbling in crazy angles, hanging midair like some drunk in a noose. The legend, The Crystal Pistol, paint-peeled and faded, arched across the open doorway, sign of another time.
We stared at the wreck in companionable silence.
I found myself observing, "Such a perfect example of an externalization of the power of negativity, don't you agree?" Relating the book to a tangible facade took me further into elation. I walked on, soaring into the white-skied humid hot day, about to burst with happiness.
"Patricia," Susan cried from behind me, making me jump. "What were you just talking about?"
"Oh, I . . . Oh sorry, I ï¿½ what's the latest at work?"
"No change. But I'm glad you'll be back Tuesday."
" . . . been deadly there without you."
She took my arm, steering me around the foursome I'd wanted to talk to ï¿½ the children gave me such bright sweet smiles. "What's your book about?"
ï¿½ï¿½Breaking Through to Happinessï¿½ ï¿½ that's the title and that's what it's about."
"Great title! What's the premise?"
"That's hard to put into words . . . "
"Isn't that what you writers do best?" She squeezed my elbow and chuckling, shook her head.
"Oh, Susan, I wish I could tell you more." I stopped to look at her. "I've a new boss and He, well, He wants things confidential for now."
"Well ï¿½ yes!"
"Lucky you," she admired. "Is he eligible?"
"Fidelity and Jake are incompatible . . . And don't worry. I won't tell a soul you're moonlighting."
"That's a good word for it, yes, moonlighting mindlighting headlighting footlighting . . . "
"Your new boss seems to have bowled you over."
I gave her another hug. "He is the very essence of love. When He sighs, the clouds fall back so He can walk in the shine of the sun and the moon. Even the night folds up its darkness in His radiance. And Susan?" I grabbed her arm. "He will take the shadows from the earth and light the world with love. There will be no more wars, no more poverty, no more hatred." I whirled her around to face me. "I want you to meet Him as soon as possible. He is an alchemist of the mind making thoughts pure gold!"
"You make the man sound like a god! You have to introduce me."
"I wish I could." I mopped my sudden tears with my sleeve.
"Don't cry. It's all right, really ï¿½ people are staring." She patted my back. We walked on, occasional teardrops spattering my shirt.
"I love you, yes I do, I love you," I sang, hugging her shoulders.
"And I you," she said, directing me into the outdoor parking lot behind the gray stucco rear of her building.
In her gray-on-gray apartment, I fell on the sofa, dropped my shoes, put up my feet, and let my body fall back into her soft pillows. ï¿½I'd no idea I was this tired. What are you doing in the kitchen?"
"Whipping up snacks. A little food spaced through the day will be good for you."
"We just ate!"
"You didn't swallow enough to keep a goldfish afloat. Here, nibble on these now and again." She set bowls of cubed cheese, chopped celery and carrots on the coffee table within reach.
Sighing, she sat on the twin sofa and said, "Mickey tried to see me again."
"Mickey? Weren't you getting married once he got divorced?"
"Patricia! I told you last week his wife is pregnant again. The divorce is off. Again. Why am I surprised?"
"Susan, I'm sorry. Are you heartbroken?"
"No, I'm livid, and pleased about that. But Iï¿½m miserable about falling for the same line again. I thought he really meant it this time."
"Susan? Forgive him, forget him, then forgive yourself. Give yourself to love. If you can't have it one way, you can have it another. Love! That's the answer. And you don't need romance to have it!" I danced around the coffee table, put my arms around her, whispered the word love in her ear. I danced back to the sofa, and collapsed, sprawling along its length.
"Are you quoting the new boss, or proselytizing a new faith?"
"Let in every form of love and let Mickey go. Love him for how he made you feel, not for what he did to you. Love him for his love, let go of his betrayal. Do that, and you'll be free."
"With little effort, I think we could get you on one of those religious shows . . . Jerry Falwell, maybe." She grinned. "White robes would suit you, hide those bones of yours, too."
"You're very much mistaken if you think this is a joke. But have your laugh. Go on. I'm happy." I lit a cigarette, then ground it out in an ashtray, consumed by cold anger.
"Patricia, it's your presentation, not your philosophy, that's funny," she said, somewhat pacifying me. "In fact, what you're saying makes sense. If I understand it correctly, it's the ability to feel all kinds of love that lessens the loss of one of its forms." Her green eyes were dark when she looked at me.
"Youï¿½re a born disciple!" I cried. "Love your family, your friends, the beauty of the world, a good man when you can find him, and you won't falter through life, tripping over broken hearts and inflated egos."
"Okay, anoint me, or whatever you do!"
Triumph charged me with bliss. "Hallelujah! You're saved!"
"When did you adopt this theory?" Her attention inspired me.
"When I began writing The Book. It all came to me then! You'll never guess what else came to me then!" The fever of salvation came through my voice, my ears, the center of my being.
In hushed silence I softly spoke: "The Messiah. Now do you understand the difficulty of a meeting?"
"Tell me more."
Her exaltation didn't meet my expectation. Why wasnï¿½t she overwhelmed?
As she listened to me, her head began to nod to the rhythm patterning my speech, an easy gliding rhythm rocking mellow in the harmony of Love. Never had my voice held such power, such persuasion, such golden gold tones. But talking was a puff of smoke: words disappeared in air. I had to preserve the Messiah's work.
"Ummm? Go on, I'm listening," she whispered.
"I must have paper and pen!" The emergency of my situation seemed to galvanize her. She disappeared down the hall and returned with a pad and pen.
Handing them to me, she carefully said, "Listen Patricia. These thoughts are yours. You've no need to write them down ï¿½ you won't lose them. Itï¿½s okay. Relax. What's going on with your family? Howï¿½s Jess?"
I grabbed the paper and pen and cried, "You don't understand! I don't have time to chat. These thoughts you think are mine belong to the Messiah." I caught my breath and continued. "I must capture every word. Nothing will be right unless I do. Every word must be set down on paper to preserve for all time. Every word must be recorded in the precise order dictated. That's the order of importance, the order of all time."
Protest shaped her mouth. I intervened: "This communication has nothing to do with you and me, only with me and the Messiah ï¿½ I'm the chosen one, don't you see? I have to record when He transmits!" My voice was shrill, demanding. And a plea.
"Oh thank you for understanding, thank you, thank you, thank you."
Lamplight yellowed the hue of day fading as the luster of my work dimmed with fatigue.
"Dinner," Susan called sometime later, standing by the table.
I stood. My knees buckled. "I tripped," I said lightly and clung to pieces of furniture till I reached the table. I shoveled food into my mouth, convinced that it was all I needed to strengthen my weakness. Ignoring remains still filling the plate, I apologized for eating and running, and thanked her profusely.
At the door, she said, "Now do you think you can sleep?"
"I'm too tired not to," I answered wearily, then hugged her.
I took a cab the two blocks home. Propped against the closet doors, I loosed the tie that held up my jeans. They slid to the floor still zipped. I left the shirt on and fell into bed.
The phone rang three times: Michael, Jessie, Susan. Each asked the same question: "Now do you think you can sleep?"
Love was spilling out and over on the tides of exhaustion.
I welcomed sleep, but it was fugitive, its lure mere illusion. I bolted upright on a surge of energy, turned on the light, wrote through the night.
Messages August 3:09 A.M.
TIME FILLS WITH LOVE
TIME CANNOT BEAR DISTRACTION
SANDS RUN, RUNNING OUT.
ï¿½Jessie! You're timing's magic ï¿½ Florida," I said, pointing at the phoneï¿½s receiver in my hand. "My parents can't believe Iï¿½m crying from joy ï¿½ they canï¿½t understand that I'm writing a best-seller, that I've never been happier ï¿½ how are you?" I told my parents that Jessie just arrived and we hung up.
"Shall I put these in water while you shower?" She waved yellow tulips sheathed in white paper, her head swiveling, bright eyes inspecting my living and dining rooms on her way into the kitchen.
ï¿½You truly are so wonderfully dear!ï¿½ In the bathroom I luxuriated in silky puffs of lather, unable to remember my last cleansing.
"Are you drowning in there?" Jess called.
In no time, we were seated in the coffee shop Susan and I had graced the day before. "I wrote to a publisher," I announced after ordering bacon and eggs, looking into her startled eyes.
"You're nowhere near completion judging by what you showed me the other day."
Elation plunged. Sickening, dark. But then all the goodness of love filled me and words burst out of me: "Why Jess! They'll want the book so much, they'll wait for it!"
"If not, there's more than one publisher out there ï¿½ you don't have to worry."
"But I need an advance to cover finishing the book."
"You've got a job."
"I have to quit work to work on the book. I already called Don ï¿½ yesterday, I think."
"Your boss? What'd you say? What did he say?
"He wasn't home."
She sat back. She leaned forward, chin jutting. "You cannot give up one paycheck until you get another."
"But of course I can, and Don'll call back today." I set my fork down and smiled, confident that fortune was spinning in the right direction.
"You're in no shape to work tomorrow. Tell him you've had a relapse of sorts." She leaned toward me, hunched over her plate, stabbing the air with her fork. "Promise me you won't quit. Promise?"
"Okay, I won't quit. Not today, anyway." I grinned. "How long can I prolong this relapse?"
"A couple of weeks, at least." She eyed me critically. "You make a rail look fat, you've the strength of a gnat . . . Don't worry, you'll have enough time to finish the book." Her forehead creased.
"Nothing!" She looked distracted, but the smile her mouth created was radiant. "Stan's still the man he became in Door County, considerate, affectionate, and more important, he wants my opinion."
"Why does it take so long to get comfortable with someone?"
"Defenses build ï¿½ "
"Stan committed four days to you: no escape. He surrendered, freeing the love within him."
"Driving up there, we talked about how nervous we were about spending so much time together away from our homes."
"You know the First Orders of Importance ï¿½ soon everyone will know how crucial communication is to positive feedback, and how vital positive feedback is to communication."
"Your book ï¿½ "
"Yes! And how heavily are the fields of work mined these days?"
"Same old ï¿½ "
"You don't look like they chewed you up."
"Aren't you eating anymore?"
"No ï¿½ I'm getting you horn-rims if you keep eyeing me like that. Too much time with Stan, I fear. He's gone to her head but won't treat it!" I giggled at my silliness, and because I felt so marvelous, high on the peak of conviction.
"You're out of control!" Her laughter sounded above my own.
"But not out of order!" I loved our gaiety, but that startled look of hers flashed again.
"Any more anxiety attacks? Any nightmares?"
"Why? Are they catching?" Omitting the fact I didn't sleep anymore made me feel ten years old.
"You're a nut, know that?"
"Takes one to know one . . . Aren't you done yet? I'm getting claustrophobia."
"Ready," she said, throwing cigarettes and lighter in her bag, searching for her wallet.
I stood, cried out, dropped back to the bench, holding my head.
"What is it?" She reached my side and cupped the back of my neck with her hand. "What is it?"
"Dizzy ï¿½ weak ï¿½ headache," I gasped. I closed my eyes, easing their burning sting.
"Sit while I pay the check," she commanded, returning moments later. "Better? Want to stay a while, or leave?"
"Leave," I muttered. I had to get back to the Messiah, to the typewriter, to The Book.
She threw my purse in her satchel, helped me up and through the door, propelling me from the coffee shop.
My knees felt like rubber cement. She didnï¿½t flinch when my gangly weight descended upon her as I draped my arm over her shoulders, and slowly we negotiated sidewalk traffic en route to my apartment.
Home, I stretched out on the living room sofa, my body quivering, my vision a swirl of indistinct images.
The pain in my head was so shrill. It drilled the walls of my skull as if to bore through bone and escape.
Jess laid a cool cloth on my forehead. She massaged my temples.
The shivery feeling ceased, pain eased.
I felt solid again. "Thank you. So much. I guess not enough food and sleep have finally exacted payment."
"It's a wonder you're not in a state of total collapse," she replied, that look crossing her face again. "How about some tea? Or soup?"
"In this heat? Water."
"We're some pair," she said on the way back from the kitchen. "I eat too much, you too little, and panic owns a big piece of our minds. Have you noticed any changes in the way you think? Or feel?"
I laughed long and loud. "I've been at the typewriter more this summer than in my entire career!"
"How many hours a day are you working?"
"Do you clock your time at the keys?"
"Guess not. But given the pounds of paper around here, you're at it day and night."
"I am! I am! And you can thank yourself for that, too."
"You've been touting the joys of writing since we met."
"And so I have," she admitted, smiling. "How much are you sleeping these days?"
"I don't keep a log, do you?" I snapped at her, surprisingly so suddenly angry with her. The vise around my head tightened.
I nodded and constructed my path to the bathroom. In the mirror I saw disapproval. I'd taken too much time from The Book. I wanted to write, I wanted to be with Jess.
As I re-entered the living room, I heard myself ask: "How often do you internalize external points of view?"
She gave me a curious look. "As often as needed, I hope."
"Do you externalize internal points of view?" So much depended on her answer.
"You should know that I do," she said, then countered, "Why?"
"You understand what Iï¿½m saying!" Pressure lightened.
I relaxed. Pain eased so easily now. I was so incredibly lucky, so lucky.
My boss returned my call. I parroted Jessie's relapse story. He sounded surprised, then concerned, but he didn't ask questions. He'd rather ignore female problems than explore them.
Jess made soup. "Drink," she ordered, handing me a steaming mug. "Words do not a body keep."
"Shows how much you know," I muttered. "But," I sang out, excited, "ya gotta have love! Lots and lots of love! Just imagine! As soon as I complete The Book, positive attitudes will claim the world!"
"Why would the world read it?"
"Donï¿½t doubt me anymore, Jess. Oh no! Not anymore!" The sharp edge of disappointment came through my words ï¿½ she knew about the ï¿½Messiah.ï¿½ Ah yes. "It needs only a few people to read it, and then, voila! Word will spread, bringing The Book to the world! Much the superior of the domino effect.ï¿½
"How would you market it?"
"As the greatest love story ever told, and as the definitive self-help book."
"If you want help, I'm in."
"Thank you, Jess, Jessie, Jessieeee ï¿½ no man should ever have to be an island. If Fe/malekind kept that in mind, there would be far less hardship in this world!" I rose from the sofa to hug her. Before sitting down again, and before she could respond, I said, "I can't go back to work until my work with the Messiah is done. No way!" I mopped my tears with a napkin.
"I'm certain your messiah will fix that problem," she said.
Fear dissipated in my response. "Want to see what I bought for Johnny Carson and the rest of my stops on the talk show tour?"
I layered my unmade bed with new clothes and turned to her.
"What'd you do, rob a bank?"
"Try them on," I urged. "The black and the red are definitely YOU!"
"Why not?" she asked, unzipping her jeans.
"Don't you have that la-di-dah dinner with Stan coming up?"
"I do." She slipped into the black and pirouetted in front of the mirror.
"Those shrinks won't have their minds on the mind once they see you! Take it, it's perfect!"
"Oh I couldn't ï¿½ the tags are still on it!"
"Take it. And try the red."
"However youï¿½re dressing yourself these days, at least your eye for style is still intact," she admired, preening in the bright corduroy.
"Better take the red, too. It's perfect on you!"
"I can't wear both to the dinner, but I'd love to borrow the black . . . if you're sure you don't mind."
"Borrow? It's yours! The red, too. Take 'em and enjoy!"
"No way! I'll borrow the black."
"You can't refuse a gift, that's refusing love," I cried, spiraling in the pain of her rejection.
"Listen, you goof: I can't accept a gift of this magnitude. And that's love, too."
I hugged her. She changed and I bagged her selection in plastic from the cleanerï¿½s.
"We're off to Sir Loin, my treat, and no back-talk," I said, shaking a finger at her on the way out.
We regaled each other with stories, laughing most of our way through courses, sipping Chardonnay. When the check came, she tried to share it. I held her off and slipped my credit card to the waiter without glancing at the bill. "Not to worry," I said. "This one's on The Book!"
She walked me back to my place, said good night and headed back up Wells Street to her coach house a few blocks north and two west.
Back at the typewriter, my mind was a ready receptor for the Messiah's dictation. Suddenly knotting muscles forced me to stop. It was almost four in the morning. Suddenly thirsty, I dragged my sore self into the kitchen and leaned against the counter while the pitcher filled from the sink faucet. My body turned into what felt like a column of warm water.
I felt like a newborn, soft-boned and frail. Breakfast ï¿½ even if I had the strength, what could there be to eat?
In the icebox, an egg carton nested among cartons of cigarettes and green bottles of wine; condiments stood on shelves in the flung-open door. The freezer held a frosted loaf of whole wheat bread, a few curved slices left. And there was an ice-ruffed package of bacon, and a stand of more cigarette cartons.
The thought of sautï¿½ed tobacco made laughter howl through me.
Running-water splashed, spilling from the pitcher, whirling me back to the sink.
In bed I wrote on a pad propped against my knees and occasionally sipped water.
My knees started shaking. My hand shook, the pen dropped. I turned out the light, sinking sideways into the pillows.
The Messiah dictated and His thoughts burned into me the light of knowledge.
I turned on my lamp, found paper and pen, turned off the light, turned on my side. I took notes in the dark.
The pad the pen traced lightened, a pale square growing smaller and lighter as I neared the end of a page. And then the pad was more white than grey; suddenly it was a pale shade of its yellow.
The phone rang.
"Who dares to call at this hour?"
"Your mother," came the reply. "Did I wake you?"
"Oh no! Why're you calling so early?"
"Your father and I want you to come for a visit ï¿½ I'll be in Chicago by two this afternoon to help you pack, and then we'll fly back to Florida tonight."
"Oh, Mih-theroooo! Thank you, thank you! Yes, come! Please. I'll be ready!"
"Just rest until I get there. See you soon."
I staggered from the bed, turned off the air conditioner, fell into the chair. I rested, then made my way to the bathroom, picking up laundry for the hamper, fighting darkening vision and dizziness.
I thanked the Messiah for sending my mother to me. Back in the bedroom, I called Jess and told her this wonderful news. "I'm on my way over," she cried with what sounded like relief, or perhaps I was projecting.
When I told Susan, she said, "Call your mother back and tell her your friends will get you on the plane. Your parents wonï¿½t worry once they know you can fly alone. And I'll help you pack, and drive you to the airport."
Such wonderful friends, I thought happily, dialing for a plane reservation. I called my dear mother and told her the new plan.
Jessie arrived. "Have you eaten yet?" Without waiting for my reply, she headed for the kitchen.
I forgot she was in the house and screamed when she came into the bedroom, a plate of toast, bacon and eggs in one hand, a mug of coffee in the other. "Where do you keep your luggage?" she asked. I aimed the fork toward the other bedroom.
I heard her grunt and swear; I heard a loud thump.
"I had to stand on a chair to get this thing, you giant," she declared, heaving the case on the bed.
"Better you than Mother ï¿½ who, by the way, isnï¿½t coming."
"But ï¿½ "
"Susan reminded me that Mih-thererï¿½s heart attack-thanks-to-chemo wasn't that long ago."
"I need to make some calls."
I wrote on a yellow pad while she phoned in another room.
"Okay, buddy, what do you want to take to Florida?" Sheï¿½d scared me yet again, which made us laugh.
Susan arrived; packing went faster. "What will you wear on the plane," she asked, zipping the suitcase.
Supported by the closet door, I ranged up and down the pole.
"Make up your mind," Jess said with impatience.
"It has to be perfect," I explained, leafing through hangers. "Ah hah!" I pulled out the fire-red velour jumpsuit styled like a tracksuit. I climbed into it, zipped it up and looked for shoes, finding a pair of high, high heeled metallic sandals in the first box I looked. The first belt I touched was perfect, a wide suede wraparound, its front a patchwork of electric bright colors.
"Sure that's what you want to wear?"
"I'm bringing The Word to Florida! And I am meeting my Creators at the airport! This is the only outfit for these events! Now, if I could find something to put The Book in . . . " Of course, I thought gleefully, as I sighted a glossy white shopping bag. Of course it was the perfect size.
"A Gucci bag for the book, no less," Susan teased.
"No less," I agreed, congratulating He who was the messenger of love.
"What about cigarettes?" Jess asked.
"You take them."
She shook her head.
"Take them! The Surgeon General can consider me warned. Take them ï¿½ we smoke the same brand. Save yourself money on the road to lung pollution."
"No way," she said, backing away from me. "You might start again."
"Given my new mission, kicking the habit will be a cinch, so either you take them or I'll set a match to the batch in the fireplace right now."
She took them.
Headed to O'Hare in Susan's car, the swishing thwack of the windshield wipers underscored our laughter. I looked into the gloom of the rain-dark day and then at the bright red jumpsuit echoing my holiday fever.
The radio played soft rock. I confounded Susan and Jess with new-found powers by naming the very next song.
"How'd you do that?" They sounded amazed. "Try it again," they challenged.
"Hey, donï¿½t you understand? I can do anything now." I smiled and launched into the first few bars of Fleetwood Mac's ï¿½Rumors.ï¿½ When it came on the radio, their astonishment made me burst into laughter.
We swept into the curve of O'Hare and found a parking spot. At the ticket counter, I wrote a check for the flight.
With a supercilious attitude, the agent pointed out that Iï¿½d left out a zero.
"Please forgive me. It's just that zeroes are negatives and negatives are no longer a part of my life." I winked at him happily when I handed him another check.
"Congratulations," he said with surprising generosity. "That's some achievement, ridding your life of negatives."
"Patricia? We've got to go," Susan said firmly, and led me away.
"You've just witnessed a technique from Breaking Through To Happiness ï¿½ It works! Wait till the world gets The Word!" Susan and Jess looked at each quickly.
On the way to the gate, my knees crumpled. "I'll get a wheelchair," Susan said.
"Just lend me your shoulders and we'll march to the plane in step!"
The second after take-off, I released the tray table and placed pad and pen on top. I set the Gucci shopping bag on the empty seat beside me, thanking my new leader for ensuring my privacy. I wrote without stopping until an external voice interrupted me.
"Hi, I'm Carey. Is there anything I can get for you?" He was tall and blond, and he reminded me of someone.
The drink cart was at the front of the plane ï¿½ I was incredibly thirsty. His appearance wasnï¿½t magic, given my new employer. "I'd love ice water!"
"No problem," he said and turned away to fill my request. His attention was an airline first for me. The Messiah gave me the Power, He did! I was awed by that thought.
Carey returned with ice water, seeming fascinated by my pen speeding on page after legal-sized page. "Are you writing a letter?"
"A book! It's about love and hope and positivity," I rattled on, excited by his interest.
He shared his father's motto: "Good, better, best, never let it rest until the good is better and the better is best." He truly understood! "Give me your name so I can look for you on Johnny Carson," he said. Of course he understood. Everyone would. Soon!
"Don't start looking for at least a year ï¿½ it could take that long to publish . . . " What a nice perceptive person, I thought.
Carey often stopped by to replenish my supply of water, sometimes exchanging stories.
Flying thirty-three thousand feet high, I was closer to the Messiah than ever. And I could note without a twinge that Carey reminded me of Gary Murphy, the man who had changed my mind about marriage.
Gary had called just before my surgery. Heï¿½d sounded happy for the first time since we'd parted. When I asked what was new in his life, he asked if I thought we would have been happily married had we not lived together first. I have no idea, I responded and asked why he'd wanted to know. He mentioned a woman from New Hampshire. New Hampshire. And I was in New York when we met. Of course! His father was in World War II the first four years of Garyï¿½s life, a love founded on arrivals and departures. After the war, Gary lost the constant center of his father's attention, and nine months later a brother arrived. No wonder he'd changed once I moved to Chicago ï¿½ his love had lost the hunger of partings, the glamour of reunions, the pattern his father had established.
At last that three-year burning hole disappeared. At last, at last. At last I completely understood what had happened between me and Gary Murphy.
The nose of the plane tilted toward earth. Soon I'd be with my Creators. Soon I'd be strong enough to finish The Book that would end global torment.
INTERNALS CONNECT EXTERNALS
THE POWER OF FEELING POSITIVE
AND BREAKING THROUGH TO HAPPINESS.