Good Vibrations



400 Flatbush Avenue Ext, Brooklyn, NY

Neighborhood: Brooklyn, Flatbush

I do okay for a while. I’m good, I go to therapy, I dutifully make the bi-monthly trek to my psychiatrist for drugs. I ride the Q train from Brooklyn to Central Park West, a trip that takes over an hour, and he always meets me at the door. He has unnaturally dark hair that smacks of the Hair Club for Men, Canadian diplomas hanging all over his walls, and that preternaturally calm voice that must come from some kind of requisite speech class for shrinks. I like him just fine, but I also like to sleep, and therein lies the problem. He always wants me there by noon, which might as well be five a.m. in normal-people world. My therapist, Lynn, whose office is a five-minute drive from my apartment, lectures me weekly about the importance of keeping appointments, and reminds me that Dr. Hamer is under no obligation to keep seeing my oft-suicidal ass. She makes it sound as if he’s doing me a favor by putting up with me, doling out scripts for the drugs that make me fat and sleepy, the drugs I don’t want to take. Yeah, yeah, I say, preventive care, I know. Sleep eat exercise Depakote, lather rinse repeat. The only problem is that it’s not that easy.

Take today, for instance. I haven’t left the apartment in a good 72 hours. This latest bout of antisocial behavior was prompted by my most recent foray into the outside world, a trip to the deli in which I ended up crumpled on the floor. In an effort to get there and get the fuck back home with a minimum of human contact, I raced to the corner in my platform flip-flops and fell into a pregnant woman on a cell phone who stopped right in the doorway. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I twisted my ankle and stumbled to my right, managing to knock down a three-year-old who stood lolling right beside her with no parental supervision whatsoever.

She turned on me, whirled to yell at me, her face flashing fury as she gave the blow-by-blow to the person on the other end of the line “GodDAMN,” she shouted. “Fucking bitch just tripped me. Fucking cunt wasn’t looking where she was motherfucking going.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I didn’t mean to.” A crowd of Dominican teenagers turned away from the counter to stare. I was still sitting on the floor.

“And she knocked down a baby, too,” continued the woman.

“I’m sorry, I said, “I’m honestly trying to apologize to you.” I managed to at least stand up, to attempt to salvage something of my dignity, to brush off my ass, but the day was ruined. Fuck that, the week was ruined. I had decided to leave the house but because I was sub-human and hated by God and everybody, I had been punished, and everybody around me could see that I was just a dog, and I didn’t deserve to purchase things in stores like actual people

The episode ended with me paying for my cat litter in tears, contemplating slashing my throat with razor blades and running out into the streets rending my garments in awful penance for existing, finally setting myself on fire and hurling myself off the Williamsburg Bridge.

In case anyone was wondering, this would be a fine example of the bipolar brain off drugs, as opposed to, oh, say, on Depakote, when I could have called the woman an insipid breeding cow and moved on. I would like to pause for a moment to ask that if you are sitting in the room with a bipolar person at this moment, you pause to peg them in the head with their lithium and tell them you did it out of love, as a gentle reminder. Now back to our story.

So I go to see Lynn, the setting Brooklyn sun blinding me after three days in my apartment. Her office is connected to her apartment, and I am met by her two yapping, flatulent schnauzers, who always sit in on our sessions whether I want them to or not. Today they annoy me more than usual. I try to ignore them, lying there on their little doggie couch gnawing on mangled rawhide chews, as I tell her I’ve run out of drugs and that I’m too scared to call Dr. Hamer because I missed my last appointment. She is, to say the least, not amused.

“Look, Stacy,” she says, “at some point you have to take responsibility for getting your medication when you need it.”

“I know,” I whimper. “I know, but he’s mad at me and I can’t deal with going all the way to the Upper West Side to be lectured about keeping my appointments. I just can’t. It’s not worth it.”

“Worth it? What did you think was going to happen if you quit taking your drugs?” she asks. “You’re a smart woman. You’ve been on and off medication for almost ten years now. You know what happens when you stop.”

There is, of course, no arguing with that. I huddle between her farting dogs, hugging my knees to my chest, trying to fathom actually getting on the subway and riding into Manhattan and switching trains and bumping into people and such. There is no way I can accomplish that. Three days ago, maybe. A week ago, sure. But not today. Today I am too far gone, in heavy withdrawal from the SSRIs. The woozy Celexa-head has taken over, and I am a helpless infant, dizzy and nauseous and sad.

Lynn sighs. “Okay, look. You can go to the emergency room at Kings County Hospital and get your prescriptions written there. It’s not the most pleasant place. You’ll see a lot of indigent people, especially at night. You’ll wait a long time. But it’s a fifteen-minute drive, and you can go there right now and get your meds.”

I nod. I’ll do anything at this point, even though taking any action, no matter how small, seems overwhelming.

Lynn gives me directions and tells me to get in my car immediately and go straight there; on second thought, she’s going to walk me down the stairs and watch me drive off. When we get to the bottom, she touches my arm.

“You know that as soon as you take your drugs it’s going to be better,” she says. “Just go get them and call me tomorrow to let me know how you’re doing.”

I nod. When I do, my head buzzes.

I follow the map Lynn has drawn for me and drive to the hospital with one hand over my ear to steady my head. I weave in and out of numerous alleys and detours, my normally bad driving and atrocious sense of direction made even worse by the pinballs bouncing around in my skull. When I finally find Kings County Hospital, I see that it is a drab, functional, sixties-style building — gray, like they all are. There’s a broken chain-link fence around the parking lot with razor wire dangling off of it. I trudge inside, trying to stoke the urban guerilla inside me. Yay, I tell myself, I’m using public health care.

It doesn’t work.

There is actually a sign on the side of the building for the psychiatric emergency room. Beyond that are three sets of doors and a metal detector. I take a deep breath and go in.

I am met by a bored-looking guard. He asks for my purse and I give him my overloaded messenger bag. He takes out everything; all the crumpled ATM receipts and candy wrappers and the three heavy books, which he flips through before setting them aside. Then he finds my nail clippers.

“Can’t have these,” he says. Not “let me hold these for you until you come out,” or “safety regulations require me to hang onto your nail clippers while you’re in the hospital.” Just “can’t have these.”

I am so close to losing it that I want to lunge at him and strangle him for being a rude callous bastard, but I remind myself that that might not be in my best interest. Still, in my unmedicated state, those three words are all it takes to rocket me from depression to Incredible Hulk-level anger. Here is a man who sees people in pain every day, people whose brains are exploding, and he doesn’t give a fuck about extending anything like basic human courtesy. Just shuffle the crazies on through and take away their possessions while you’re at it. Smug fucking bastard.

“Fine,” I say, imagining my T-shirt bursting open so I can smack the shit out of him with my daunting green pecs.

He waves me through the metal detector. I do not beep. He never looks up at me. Even later, when I am hungry and ask to walk back through the metal detector to the vending machine ten feet away, he gives me only a cursory glance as he tells me nope, can’t leave the loony bin until the doctor says.

The waiting room is surprisingly empty. The only other people there are a young black couple, probably still teenagers. The boy sits with his legs wide apart, elbows on his knees, hands clasped together, staring at the floor. Beside him, wrapped in a baby’s blanket, the girl eats 25-cent nacho cheese tortilla chips. She wears house slippers. Her eyes are almost closed.

I watch them, pretending to read the first book I pull out of my bag, which happens to be The Good Vibrations Guide to the G-Spot. There is something wrong with this girl’s eyes. Her long eyelashes curl tight against her lids, and she peers out from beneath them with her chin slightly lifted. I realize that she has to have her head at this angle to see. She cannot open her eyes all the way.

We pass the hours together without speaking. Every now and then the boy reaches over and strokes the girl’s shoulder beneath the blanket. He cuddles her like a treasured puppy, whispering to her and occasionally making her smile. She finishes her chips and he wipes the thin layer of orange dust from her mouth. The fluorescent lights flicker.

When the doctor comes out to get them, he doesn’t see how beautiful they are. I stare at the dirty tile floor while he stares at the girl. He puts his hand on her chin and demands of her boyfriend, “What’s wrong with her eyes?”

I want to kill him. I want to scream and cry and stomp my feet and shout, “WHY AREN’T YOU TALKING TO HER? Just because she can’t see doesn’t mean she can’t hear and talk and think and feel. It doesn’t give you the right to put your hands on her face without asking.” But I remain as mute as she and scuff my shoe hard, leaving black marks on the floor.

“They’re always like that,” says her boyfriend. “It’s a birth defect.”

“Ptosis,” says the doctor gruffly. The boy does not respond.

“So she’s having hallucinations?”

“Yes sir,” says the boy calmly, just as he might if asked if she had a cold. I imagine that he is used to his angel’s visions, that she hovers over their bed and sings to him at night, seeing things through her hazy fringe of lashes. She tells him stories of what floats by. He learns from her of mermaids in the trees.

“Is she taking her meds?”

“Yes sir,” says the boy, producing a bottle of pills from his pocket. “But I don’t think she’s taking enough anymore.”

The doctor nods.

And they sweep her away, her blanket wings flowing, and she leaves an orange pixie dust trail behind her.

I do not see her again but I know that she leaves with prescriptions, as do I, three hours later. I walk out exhausted and starving but thankful, cramming a Snickers in my mouth as I rub my recovered nail clippers like prayer beads.

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