When we were cleaning up my apartment, so that a) the pest control people could get into places to lay down roach traps and stuff and (more important) b) I could have dinner parties without embarrassment–L was taking stuff out of a cupboard. She took out a round box, one of those cardboard and ‘modge-podge’ affairs with little seeds on ’em in patterns of flowers and stuff. You can get ’em at Winners sometimes, or dollar stores. Anyhow, she lifted the lid, and saw a plastic bag in there, a zip-lock thing, with this stuff inside it. She said,
“Erin, what’s this?”
i looked over. Damn.
I have been most fortunate. Though I am a messy person, I manage to attract into my life organized, together persons. most of my lovers are much tidier than am I, as are most of my friends. Shannon used to help me clean up my place all the time. She came in once with my last lover, the one I wrote about in “what we do for love”–and they had a great time throwing away whole masses of paper and old food and any number of sticks and stuff that i pick up in my daily adventures. treasures. I was a bit disturbed by the loss of the walking sticks. A few months after that, my refrigerator caught on fire, and everything went up in smoke. Everything.
As disasters go, that wasn’t a bad one, really. No one was hurt, no other apartments were damaged, and I had insurance. The insurance adjuster is NOT your friend, by the way. Still and all, it was a bit traumatic. Shannon was there, too. Her mom came over first. I called her from my burned out suite, soot everywhere, (including my phone receiver), and asked if she had any smokes (I was always trying to quit then, but i figured since my ‘fridge had taken it up, well, hell…). Leta said, “I’ve got lots, what’s happening?” When i told her, she just hustled right over, still in her pyjamas. it was around noon, but she’s in her late 60s, she can stay in her PJ’s all day if she wants to…
Then I called Shannon. She wasn’t working that day, so she, too whistled right over. We stood on the balcony, and gazed alternately at my mournful devastated refrigerator, now on the sidewalk; and at the smoke-filled, soot encrusted apartment. Good thing I didn’t vacuum. Leta wandered around, picking up random things and holding them to her nose–a blanket, a book, a pice of fruit from the basket on my counter. “I think this is okay” she said, “I don’t smell any smoke on it.”
But of course that was because we, too, were coated in soot. We all smelled of electrical fire. everything.
Shannon offered me a spot on her floor to sleep whenever I wanted. I took her up on it once. Between the time my place was destroyed and then rebuilt, she moved. That was a good day. She’d hired a guy to come with a truck. I can’t remember his name, I think it was Mr. Chan. Cheap, he was. And fast and efficient. We had that apartment into his truck, and then reassembled into Shanny’s new place in about an hour. Of course, Shannon was organized, too. We’d been scooping boxes and she’d been packing and taping and sorting and chucking for a month.
She had a daughter. Has a daughter. J. was starting to experiment with drugs and alcohol then. She was about 14 or 15, I guess. going off the rails. Shan herself was never really on the rails. We quit drinking together, in the fall of 2001. I quit a couple weeks before she did, then she did too.
We were drinking buddies, co-workers, friends. We loved each other. We always did. drunk or sober. We went about a year in there without talking to each other. She’d gone all depressed when she stopped drinking, like scary depressed. I loved her, like, ‘in love’ kind of love. But we couldn’t be lovers, especially after we quit drinking.
I tried my best to hold her up, to be a friend–for a while she was manic, so that wasn’t difficult. she was exciting to be around, and we went for long walks and drank lots of coffee and planned to live together in a big house, with lots of room for people to come over, and maybe have coffee houses in the basement–and have a couple beds too for people who were homeless, just till they got on their feet. Women people.
She knew i was in love with her, painful–and she said, “i’m going to have men over, you know, lots of men, so you’d better get used to it”. I wanted to be near her. I would have agreed to almost anything.
How could I have not known what was going on? I was a mental health worker fer cryin’ out loud. I regularly went chasin’ all over town for people who had gone off their meds, or who were in terrible depressions, or who were in various psychotic states–Here she was, ramping up to full-blown mania, and I did NOT get it.
She became increasingly erratic. depressed for months, she’d hole up alone, stop paying her bills, let her kid run wild–lucky she lived in a co-op, and there were lots of good people around who just stepped up, even though they didn’t know what was going on, either. Then she’d swing up, a little sunnier, started eating better, exercising a bit more, answering her phone–and then past that to grandiosity, aggressiveness, that brittle energy with a tinge of fear–
We stopped talking about a year after we sobered up. I wasn’t in love any more, but still trying to stay close, trying to ride the waves. I knew by this time that she was just barely evading a diagnosis. i tried to confront her, I tried to tell her to stop being rude to me, I tried to tell her what i thought she was doing…and she blew me off, hung up on me, stopped coming around.
A few months passed. I get a call at 7 or so at night. “Erin, I’m bi-polar!” she yelled into the phone.
“yes, yes you are” i replied.
“no I’m not!” she protested, “I’m in the hospital, only you can get me out, come get me out!”
“i’m coming, Shan,” I said, “but I don’t think i’ll be able to get you out.”
I went to her. My anger vanished. I was the first one she called, i musta done something right.
She tried everything. Including ECT, all kinds of drugs, workshops, talk, everything that was available to her. She was up, she was down, she was funny and creative and sober and tired and brilliant and poor and silly and loving and angry and …
the downs came more often.
The highs were less ‘high’, and shorter.
She couldn’t afford the aminos and vitamins that cured Margo Kidder (among many others), and she kept going to her psychiatrist and worked for the Canadian Mental Health Association. She taught “mental illness first aid” to social workers and business people and schools and so forth. Telling her story over and over again. As if it had a beginning, a middle and an end.
But it didn’t end.
She was a bit manicky by the time i moved back into my apartment, six months after the ‘fridge immolated itself (in protest i’m sure, cause i was using it as a lab to try to evolve a life form i could exploit as a maid. Broccoli and cheese sauce, unfortunately, does not transform into such a life form, I guess).
She came for the house-chillin’ party. smoked dope on the balcony with me and a bunch of other friends. gave me a beautiful and too expensive piece of pottery, and a card saying how much she admired and loved me, and welcome home.
Few months after that, i was finished my Masters thesis. I was trying to format a table of contents and I just could not. I went over there for tea and to cry. She gave me some tips and a couple cookies and sent me back home. Half an hour later she came over with a bowl of soup and a salad.
“C’mere” she said, “you eat, i’ll do this”. And she made the table of contents for me, and talked to me as she worked and I ate. “This was what it was like for me,” she said, “I don’t know what i’d have done if I didn’t have A and C and all my other friends”.
She went into the hospital again at the end of July. Her mom took her daughter ’till Shan was out again. She was paranoid, tired, depressed. despairing.
I went to see her a couple of times. Not much, though. She was so sad. It was hard to be around her. and school was starting and i had a lot to do. I’m always so busy. I told myself she understood, she didn’t want visitors anyhow. it was hard to be around her. She even said so.
But she needed me, even if she wouldn’t say so, and I wasn’t there.
When she got out of the hospital near the end of September, it wasn’t because she was well. it was because her time was up and they needed the bed. She was well enough, anyway. She called me the weekend before she got out asking to borrow my car. I was using it, and she said, “oh, that’s okay, no worries, EJ.”
“You’re getting out this week sometime?”
‘yea. Sometime” she said.
She got out. Her daughter was at a friends place for the weekend. Shan told her mom she was going herself to a friends’ for overnight that night. She didn’t. She stayed up late shredding papers and writing a letter. Then she rolled up a towel and put it at the door of her apartment. Then she took a whole bunch of pills and lay down.
Sometime in the night she rolled over and threw up. But it wasn’t enough.
She lived a block and a half away from me. That night I had trouble sleeping. I was awake and fussing in my kitchen. Uneasy.
No one knew she was home. She died.
“uh. That’s Shannon” I said to L, “I have to take her to the river someday soon”. and i started to cry. She helped me clean up so many times. I am not self-trashing anymore about letting her down. But I still know that I did.
She loved life. loved it. She just wanted the pain to end.