Sunday, July 30, 2006

the attacks

The doctors didn’t like the seizures-- they scared them-- so they gave me medication. It worked just fine, it worked great. No more seizures for me, no more panic for them, for my teachers and my brothers and my parents and my classmates.

But I didn’t get the feelings when I was taking the medication. No one really got my seizures, I think. They saw me thrashing and screaming and breaking sticks in my teeth, or whatever. I was never conscious of that. What I was conscious of were the feelings, so beautiful, like being catapulted up into the atmosphere. I felt dizzy and lightheaded and not in my body and amazing, and I could see anything I wanted to see. But mostly I didn’t want to see anything because I was too busy flying. While my body was letting its instincts run it, my mind and soul were somewhere else. Heaven, maybe.

I got to experience Heaven on earth, and the medication stopped it.

I didn’t want others to worry and freak out and force it on me, so I kept using it when they were around, except sometimes when I forgot. But when I was alone I would never take it. And because, I think, the seizures built up when I was taking the medication, sort of like they were piling up against this barrier, when I took it down by not taking the pills (three a day) I would generally get one within the hour.

Oh it was beautiful. My God, I pity all of you who’ve never had one. The experience is like nothing. Mind out of body, you can do anything you want, anything. None of it is real, I guess, but somehow it still is. Maybe it’s like breaking into an alternate universe. Maybe something very like magic. It makes you feel like a little kid, learning the world all over again.

It’s hard to describe in English, I guess, because you don’t have your body-senses. No eyes ears nose tongue skin. No vision hearing smelling tasting feeling. Instead it’s something else, something like all those at once plus more. Like being dead, maybe, since your body isn’t there. I’ve never met anyone who’s had a near-death experience. I hear you rise up and you see a light, or something, and that isn’t what I feel. I feel more like I am the world. Like my atoms have dispersed and I am a little bit of everyone and everything. Spiritual hackneyed stuff? Maybe, but it’s true. And I guess they fear it.

My mother’s name is Marilyn and I had my first epileptic attack at age four. My poor parents freaked out utterly. My father’s Allan, very practical. They took me to the hospital, of course, and they said it was a flaw in my brain and that they should have told us earlier when they did the scan for Down Syndrome and it was unforgivable that the doctors in Sigourney County didn’t. That was where I was born. They gave me medication too, but even at that age I didn’t forget how much I liked the attack. I tried to tell my parents and they wrote it off. So I only took half my pills. My parents didn’t know, they thought I needed stronger medication or something. I flushed the other pills down the toilet.

I had two brothers, then three. The third one, Benson, was born when I was six. The other two were older than me. When I was ten, Paul was twenty-one, Leon fourteen. Benson four, of course. Strange for my parents, having four boys so spaced out. I think they always wanted a girl, but it wasn’t to be. I think maybe they spaced us out so in the hope that they could have a girl that they could raise all to herself. Instead they had to raise four boys over the course of what, forty years? Unbelievable. I don’t think I could do it for the life of me. They were brave.

We had a dog, I remember, until I was nine. Lucy, she was called, a golden retriever. She was run over by a car in 1998 and I was devastated. I had taken my medication that day and I had attacks anyway, two, bad enough that I was rushed to the hospital. I guess it was an escape for me. They said it was stress-induced. But in the attacks I had seen Lucy and I had made peace with her death somehow, and I didn’t cry over her after that.

I never had much luck with animals really. I always wanted pets, and we had them often. I’d bring home frogs and worms and things and tried to care for them. They’d usually run away or die and I’d have another attack. Things like that hit me hard. Leon said I was a sissy, Paul, always gentler, that I was the most sensitive of us four. Benson was a violent boy, which made it worse. He’d always hurt things for the fun of it and laugh. He was cute, with chubby cheeks, and he liked to hurt things. I hated it and I hated him. I’d try and induce attacks sometimes, to get away from him, that brother of mine, no true brother of mine, I always thought.

Leon was a little bit harsh. He knew the role of older brother well and he played it well: diffident, cool, always leaving me out of things, teasing occasionally, but mostly sticking to his own business. It was okay with me. I’d never known a world without him, and so of course I was quite used to him.

Paul was the best of the batch. He was genuinely sweet. Always dating someone. When I was thirteen and he was twenty-four he got married to a great girl named Debbie, and within a couple years they had a baby, my first nephew, Stephen. Adorable, of course. They were the perfect family. Then they had a girl, Patty. I think my parents were jealous. They were always trying to be doting grandparents, even while they were still raising Benson and I.

Benson was a handful, but my attacks really bothered them, I think. None of my brothers had diseases. Sure, they got hurt and they got sick, but my parents could deal with kid problems. With epilepsy, not so much. I wonder how bad they would have been if I’d had something worse-- multiple sclerosis, maybe, or muscular dystrophy, or autism, or leukemia, or another tragic child illness. They got lucky: four children and nothing worse than epilepsy, easily medicated.

I tried to tell people how I liked the attacks sometimes. Mostly they’d just look at me like I was a completely masochistic freak that deserved to be locked up. Paul, predictably, was the only one that listened at all. When I was done trying to describe it-- I was fifteen or so, he was twenty-six and a father-- he looked at me seriously with those great blue-green eyes he somehow inherited and said, “Monroe, it sounds amazing. I’m almost sorry I don’t have it.”

“You ought to be,” I said, fifteen, clear-eyed, murky-skinned. “But no one gets it. It’s not even in textbooks or anything.”

“Maybe you’re a unique case,” he said. “Maybe you’re the only one, ever. Imagine that.”

When I imagined it it made me really very lonely.

I pictured my girlfriend, soulmate, lover, wife as an epileptic too. Beautiful, of course, hourglass, and smart and we could time our medication and ascend together and it would be the most intimate thing ever known, the two of us up there in everything, in each other, in everything. I guess I was a romantic. I knew it wouldn’t come true. I didn’t know who I’d fall for; I only hoped it would be someone who would understand at least. I hoped even more it would be someone who sort of knew what I meant. Because I would feel so terrible if she hadn’t felt it. With family I could deal with it; with friends-- well, I never really had friends. But with the love of my life I would want her to experience it so badly.

What if Paul was right and I really was the only one?

How awful that would be!

Benson was the selfish brother. Everyone told me I was more generous. “He may be afflicted,” I’d hear my parents say of me, “and a little antisocial, but Monroe’s got a heart of gold really. He’d give anyone the shirt off his back.”

It was true. I wanted others to share my wealth. I wasn’t wealthy really, but I felt it. I’d offer my sandwiches and quarters to hobos. I’d drop my candy money in donation boxes sometimes. I was naive, especially as a child-- but even when I got older and more experienced and knew the world better, I still couldn’t resist giving things up for others, whether it made a difference or not. It made me feel like I was making a difference, and that meant a lot.

I was empathetic, too, because of the epilepsy. And, my high school colleagues claimed, straight-edge. I didn’t want to do drugs, because what if they messed it up? And from what I heard they were nothing like as good as the attacks. If it didn’t make you one with everything, if it didn’t make you feel like you had died and gone to heaven, I wouldn’t try it. I was tempted by heroin a little, but the addictiveness and danger kept me away. Why bother when I already had an internal drug that surfaced often, sometimes (if rarely) when I most needed it? With no side effects except maybe inciting a little fear in others, maybe coming back to reality a little bruised and broken? More than worth it for the ride.

I figured out fairly quickly that the attacks were usually stress-induced. Problem was, I couldn’t induce stress in myself. My body wasn’t stupid; it wasn’t that easily tricked. Generally I had to take my medication, for one thing, and sometimes even when I held off on it the attacks didn’t come, because I wasn’t really scared or upset. When Lucy died that did it. When any of the animals did. Benson incited attacks sometimes, the way he acted. That kid was a monster. My parents figured it out though, and stopped it. Which was good in a way, but also bad, because I wanted the epilepsy so badly.

When I was seventeen Paul and his wife and two children were in a car crash. All of them, as it turns out, were fine-- the worst injury was Debbie’s broken collarbone-- but I had one of the worst (best) attacks of my life. I woke up in the hospital sore all over and they told me I’d been writhing for thirty-nine hours. “How are Paul and everyone?” was the first thing I asked. “Well,” they said once they figured out what I meant. “They’re doing quite well.” Paul, on crutches, came in to see me. “Nice to be in the same hospital as you, buddy,” he said. “Man, you know you’ll never be able to drive with that epilepsy. Why don’t you take your medication?”

“I did,” I said. “When I’m really stressed I get attacks anyway. And they last longer.”

Paul knew my secret. “Well, okay, kid. I’m sorry the accident brought that on.”

“It’s really fine,” I said.

Paul winked at me. “Come visit me and Deb sometime. We can jam the kids in one room. It’ll be really fun.”

“Maybe I’ll take you up on it sometime,” I said.

In college I majored in psychology, which was strange. I learned a lot and got a kick out of diagnosing people, particularly Benson, who at the time was hitting puberty and causing a lot of trouble. The kid lit trash cans on fire, he beat up younger children, he smoked and drank and, he told me once, snorted cocaine. I knew my parents had raised us as well as they could, and us three older ones had turned out fine. Leon had dabbled in drugs a little, but not irresponsibly, and by now he was in his twenties and had settled into drinking now and then. He was seeing a vibrant, beautiful black girl by the name of Mona and she would break his heart every couple of months, then come back to him. Whenever it happened he’d go off drinking and make a fool of himself. Paul told me he talked to him about it, and Leon saw sense, but he just couldn’t help it. He was crazy about Mona. I think he was hoping to get her pregnant so she would commit to him. Funny, because up until then Leon had always been the commitment phobe. He’d never even finished an extracurricular program, let alone found a steady job.

When I was twenty-four I met a girl who offered me sex. What could I do? I was a virgin and a little bit ostracized for it. I accepted, but we had hardly begun when I got a major attack. To my credit, I’d warned her before, but I woke up in the hospital, the frightened girl, face running with caked makeup, beside me. “Monroe? Are you okay?”

“Sorry,” I croaked. “Maybe some other time.”

Soon after that Benson was caught possessing crystal methamphetamine and tossed into jail. We couldn’t afford the bail, which was just as well. I worried about him-- not because he was in prison, but because of the others who were there. I was afraid they’d corrupt my brother more. He was a screwed-up kid, but he was my little brother, and he’d worshiped me when we were very little, and we had played games together, and I guess I loved him.

My brothers were really the only people I ever loved. My parents too, but that wasn’t the same.

I never did find a girl. Am still a virgin, actually. No one really knows or cares, especially me. What do I need a girl for when I’ve got my attacks? They’re far better than sex, I know it. Even if they only come at the worst of times. So what. I’ll take what I can get.

Neither of Paul’s kids are epileptic. I almost wish one was. I’ve been searching out others on the Internet, contacting them, asking about their experiences. Some are sort of similar to mine, but none are just the same, at least not yet. Paul was at least partially right; I’m unique. Sometimes it gets me depressed and I feel awfully lonely, and then, if I haven’t taken the pills, sometimes an attack whisks me away and I dangle above the world, not part of it and yet part of it all, and I don’t care anymore. I don’t care anymore at all.

a line

It makes you feel like a little kid, learning the world all over again.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The first story ever put on this blog... now in script form!

JOEY, a tall, brown-haired young man, sits at the bench carving a candle holder.
MIRI, his fiancee, short and dark, runs up behind him and covers his eyes with her hands.
Guess who?
(more seriously)
Good thing you didn't knock that knife out of my grip. Someone could have gotten hurt.
Only you or me. No one else is here.
Oh, what a scandal!
They laugh, then turn more serious.
We could get in a lot of trouble if they find us alone, you know. We're not married yet.
Allow me to point out that you're the one who came to see me.
Why are you here, anyway, Miri? You always need a reason.
She sits lightly by him.
Joey, I missed my last period.
So? It will come.
I think I might be, um, pregnant.
Miri, you can't be pregnant. It's not possible. Women don't spontaneously grow babies.
But... I had this dream.
(taking her hands)
Tell me about it.
An angel. Joey, an angel came to me. And he said I would bear the son of the Lord.
The Lord? The Lord God, you mean?
Miri nods.
It was the angel Gabriel. He said I'd give birth to the son of God.
(after a period of silence)
Dreams are only dreams, Miri.
But... Joey.
What is it?
...At least part of the message was the truth, though.
Look, skipping one cycle is nothing to worry about. You're not pregnant.
Not that!
He said my cousin Elizabeth is pregnant, too.
Your cousin Elizabeth is barren, Miri.
Yes, that's what I thought too.
What's the truth about it, then?
So I went to visit Elizabeth.
She's pregnant, Joey. Six months in; there's no doubt about it. She says if it's a boy, she and Zach will name him John.
That's not even possible. ...Does she look pregnant?
Yes, of course.
Then how come you haven't noticed until now?
I don't know. I haven't really... I expect her to look the way she does in my mind, you know? I wouldn't notice a difference unless it was sudden and drastic.
So you think you're pregnant.
I'm... I'm almost positive.
Joey extracts his hands, turns away.
What did I say?
Who is the father?
What? There isn't a father.
Joey stands, slaps her across the face and strides away, leaving the candlestick behind.