Topanga Seed (Ch. 26)

Sometimes, Levi thought, he felt like he was the most sane person in the room. He particularly felt that way when he was sitting in his psychiatrists’ office and another patient was there, audibly arguing with themselves.

He tried to be amused by it, to find in this odd scenario something funny—this odd person chattering on about who knows what (none of it made any sense) and then asking themselves questions (“But how?”) as if they had suddenly taken on a different persona, or perhaps were acting in a one-woman show, The Many Personalities of Patient Two.  But there was nothing funny, he knew, about a broken mind.

Normally, the waiting room was empty; he had never seen another patient upon his previous arrivals. But today he had shown up at 12:45 for an appointment he thought was at one o’clock, only to be told by the receptionist—who sat sealed off from the waiting room by a sliding window now shut—that his appointment was actually at two o’clock. The appointment he had a few weeks ago had been at one o’clock but this one was definitely at two o’clock, she defensively told him when he wondered aloud how he could have made such a mistake. No, there was no mistake on her part; he must have entered it into his phone’s calendar incorrectly.

An hour and fifteen minutes early, he had just taken a seat in the empty waiting room for a moment when the woman who now was throwing a one-woman argument had entered. She had seemed normal enough, the type of person who, upon sight, Levi thought would make a nice theater-going partner or someone to chat with about the weather and restaurants to try in Los Angeles. As he scanned Yelp for some nearby places to grab a coffee—he had already been to the bagel shop too many times; he hated when baristas knew his order before he could give it—she had checked in with the receptionist, rapping the window gently to let the young lady know she was here for her one o’clock appointment. He half-listened as she paid her copayment and engaged in polite small talk with the receptionist—the type of which Levi had assumed she’d be good at. (“Yes, the weather has been so beautiful, hasn’t it? Not a cloud in the sky. I guess that’s why we all move out to California, isn’t it? Haha. Well, you enjoy your lunch. I’ll just sit here until the doctor is ready.”) With the receptionist once again closing the window, the woman had taken a seat.

And then the talking had begun.

At first, he had looked to her from his phone screen thinking she had asked him a question. But she had been staring off into space, beyond the door that led from the waiting room, down a hallway, past the offices of the two other psychiatrists in the practice, to the psychiatrist she and Levi both saw. But to her, there was no door. There was someone there she was speaking to.

No, she hadn’t asked Levi anything,

His eyes had fallen away, forced away, and he considered getting up and leaving. But he feared that might embarrass her. Surely, he thought, she didn’t realize what she was doing. And if he got up and left, he might make her feel shame, make her think, “I was doing it again. Tht man thinks I’m strange.” . . .He couldn’t do that to her. X might think and tell everyone in West Hollywood that Levi was an asshole but Levi would never intentionally hurt someone. Not even a stranger. And so he sat where he was and tried to act as if it was perfectly normal to be a well-dressed, kind-looking woman having a conversation with oneself—aloud–laughter and arguments included.

When the door opened and the psychiatrist appeared, she of the picture-perfect looks, always dressed as if by a stylist, always with her camera-ready makeup, the woman resumed being the polite woman she had been when Levi had first seen her.

The chattering stopped, the other people in her head returned home to wherever they had come from, and she was The Other Patient again, the one with the one o’clock appointment.

She flashed a warm, almost loving smile at the doctor, stood, smoothed her dress, and strode toward the door the doctor held open for her.

The doctor seemed more distressed that Levi was in the waiting room with the patient than with any chatter she may have heard the patient taking part in before she had opened the door. After welcoming the woman with a smile and a wave through–into that inner sanctum where Levi was sure the psychiatrists traded stories about their batshit crazy patient with the pathetic lives , “I’ve got this one shithead. He’s bipolar, works in a toy store, and what a loon he is”– she acknowledged him.

“Am I seeing you today?”

“In an hour,” Levi said, apologetically. “I showed up at the wrong time. I was about to leave–”

She smiled, but a forced one, giving him direction out to the hallway.  “I’ll see you in an hour, then.”

As he made his way clumsily out of the waiting room and down the narrow, low-ceilinged dim hall toward the elevator, his vision clouded over and he wiped his eyes.

He didn’t want to one day be that patient, seemingly functioning and sane one moment, talking to ghosts the next. He just wanted normalcy. An ability to get through his day—and, when the day was done, his week, month, maybe even year—without having an awful shift in his emotions. Without the earthquakes that rattled up and destroyed his world and, with it, him. Look at all that he had gained, just since taking those pills he had been so afraid to take. And ever since he started those classes at the Braunstein Center. The happiness of dating Damien, someone who could have easily and yet did not play games with him. The joy of being close to him and Track, the child Levi had never had, though he did not allow himself to think that one day he and Damien might marry and Track would be his, as well. No, that was too much to wish for. But, just as Kyle’s much-loved The Grove was a beautiful simulation of an ideal city, so, too, was his and Damien’s relationship a simulation of a real family. If only he could hold himself together, maybe it would one day be so. And now, now he had that opportunity with the Academy Museum, that interview for a new job. Another new beginning. There was so much before him, so much potential happiness.

He had to hold onto all of those possibilities. He could not become that patient who has been broken apart, the person stared at on the street. But, as he rode the creaking elevator down to the ground floor, his eyes glazed over again. He was going to lose everything. He knew it. It was all just a matter of time before the tectonic plates in his mind rumbled, slid up against one another, and caused an explosion of pressure which would shake all he had until it was nothing but waste and good possibilities turned to bad memories which would haunt him forever after.

“You,” X had prophetically told him at the end of their relationship, “will die alone.”
***

 

He admitted little of this to his doctor; that day’s appointment was mostly focused on how the medication had been leaving him feeling balanced, but foggy. Cloudy-headed. His emotions had been, he claimed, more or less in check. An angry outburst at a driver on Beverly Boulevard a few days ago—but what Los Angeleno hadn’t had a shouting match with another driver at some time or another, particularly when that other driver had not only cut in from a parking lane without any signaling of their intent to do so, but then slammed on their breaks to scare Levi for the horn blare he sounded angrily at them once they had? He had been most happy, he admitted, when talking to Damien, who, still in Colorado with Track, phoned him every night, the two talking through the evening, drifting off to sleep with each other’s voices echoing in their ears. The relationship was causing him stress, he said, only when he talked to his friend Kyle about it.

He explained that Kyle had snipped at him on Christmas Day, telling Levi that Kyle suspected Damien was likely playing with him. “You know he’s a prize. Probably goes to all those speedo-and-sun parties all the Hollywood queens go to. And you know if he goes to those, he’s prize man-meat with all those wanna-be actors and pretty-boy nobodies there. Just don’t get too close because those guys, the ones like Damien, they never stay for long. He can get whatever he wants from anyone and once he’s bored with you, he’ll move on.” Levi had swallowed his need to retort to this matter-of-fact, from out-of-nowhere, never-requested insight of Kyle’s into Levi’s relationship with Damien, and his need to tell Kyle, “It is not my fault that you’re blind. Stop being an asshole.” Instead, he meekly had said, “Oh, I know. He’s surrounded by great guys, I’m sure.” If any friend of Levi’s had ever downplayed their own potential appeal, Levi would have comforted them, encouraged them with a, “You’re being silly, Look at you! How could he want anyone else?” Instead, Kyle—not being Levi—said, “Are you even sure he’s at his mother’s—not at some huge gay orgy in Aspen?”

And so it was understandable, wasn’t it, he asked the doctor, why Levi had driven home that night and, furious he had not told Kyle to go to Hell, he instead scratched the skin off his lower arm with fingernails that dug in and scratched and turned skin into little pale curls?  He had been so, so angry that he had not told Kyle to shut the fuck up, angry that Levi let Kyle’s words hurt so much, angry that the other gay men alive likely would try to steal Damien from him, and angry that yes, yes, Damien probably was lying to him and probably was somewhere with a bunch of gay men who all wanted him and was just playing a game with Levi. “You should see this pathetic freak I’m fucking back in Hollywood,” that other Damien was laughingly telling a gang of shirtless men, all with drinks in hand. “He has it in his head we have a future. Such a sap. Like I’d marry him.”

“Let me see your arm,” the doctor had told him.

She inhaled with audible displeasure  at the sight of the maroon scabs that crusted his arm from below his elbow to slightly above his wrist.

“It was like a release,” Levi explained. “I was angry and I had to do something.”

“Why didn’t you do something else? Throw a book or rip up a magazine or—”

“Because,” Levi explained, “I wasn’t mad at a book or a magazine. I was mad at me.”

“And now?”

He rolled his shirtsleeve back down.

“I’m still mad at me.” He thought of all the friendships he had lost through the years. Friendships. Relationships. Boyfriends. All gone. All vanished by a flash of his inner firestorms.  “I always will be.”

“And, on top of that,” he could hear X saying, “You’ll die alone.”

As the doctor wrote something in her ledger, he heard X’s voice echoing again.  Something X  had said to Levi on his way out the door that final time:

“Maybe your next big move should be suicide to save us all the waiting.”

 

***

Topanga Seed will resume on January 3rd.

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