I am writing with my eyes closed, grabbing onto words the way a capsized kayaker might reach for an overhanging branch. My feelings swirl around me, chaotic and inchoate, threatening to sweep me away into some murky emotional hell zone… and so I reach for words. Language is blissfully, gloriously sequential: first one thing happens, then another. Verbs follow nowns. What is it the Buddhists say: Chop wood, carry water. Sometimes a person needs that. Writing in a journal, you can put your little toe into the stream of the unconscious without getting pulled under. Well, most of the time. No gaurantees.
My boyfriend Jose has paranoid schizophrenia, or at least I think so. His psychiatrist calls it “disorder of paranoid thought.” Only he says it in Spanish because we are living in Zacatecas, Mexico: trastorno de pensamiento paranoico. Whatever. Basically it means that he´s terrified to go outside and thinks that “spies” are about to kidnap, torture, and kill him. He´s thought that thing about the spies for the last five years but so far they´re no-shows. I guess there´s always tomorrow.
Dixie, my octogenarian psychologist friend, says I can´t fix him. Don´t you hate that about so-called mental health professionals, how they always tell you to stop fixing other people and start focusing on yourself? So smug. As if it were so easy. Anyway, Dixie moved out of Zacatecas to a small university town in northern California where she sits-in on college classes for free and almost everybody speaks English. Good for her. I´m assuming nobody hits her up at Starbucks for advice about dealing with psychotic spouses anymore. Like I say, good for her.
Meanwhile, mom has breast cancer. (Yep, it´s been a banner year for serious illness here at casa de Jesse.) I´d like to fix her too but if anything she´s even more resistant to my health-care suggestions than Jose. She´s nixed all my best ideas — Chinese herbal teas, acupuncture, even western-style naturopathy gets a thumbs down. I know that she´s right, that she has to make her own treatment decisions. Makes sense, yes? That´s the first thing you learn in Being a Patient 101. Still, she´s my mom and I can´t imagine a world without her in it. How does everybody else go on functioning as if this were anything like normal, including her, when I can´t?
I want to trust that people are being real with me but I´m just not in a very trusting place. I feel shaky, unstable. Sometimes a smile is an open doorway inviting you in; sometimes it´s a locked doorway shutting you out. More to the point, sometimes a smile is a ploy designed to protect a loved one from a hard truth. And given a choice, I´ll take honest pain over forced cheer. Just so everybody knows.