The other day a trail biker ran me down. Not out of malice, but due to ragged chance. I heard the brakes screaming and a voice shouting behind me, so Instinct had me step to the right onto the grassy siding. Alas, he had the same idea. The handlebars caught me in the small of my back. I gnashed my teeth because of the force rather than out of rancor and stumbled a couple of steps forward until I found my balance again. He was lying under his bike on his side, so I gave him a hand and pulled him up. His new brake pads had failed. We both marveled at our lack of injury, so we shook hands and went on our ways. Some hours later, I found I’d cracked a temporary. Instinct told me nothing about how to handle this, so I spent the weekend eating soft foods and snaking my tongue around the pillar of tooth left naked by the absent crown.
Death showed me one of its faces here, where the dust holds a track until the next strong wind. The sun did not warm me on that day. The cold chewed on my hands and dusk shoved the light aside to make way for the darkness. A clump of toyon bushes stood at the high point of the hike. I stopped at the sound of their branches cracking as a mountain lion hefted itself out of the shrubs and landed on the dirt road in front of me. We two stared at each other for an endless second before the cougar bounded away, his paws pounding the ground as he fled. I did not follow. Now when I go there, I look to the source of every rustle of the leaves, every shake of the branches, every whisper of the grass. This is uncertain country.
Note: Two months later, this same cougar slew one biker and mauled another. The incident made the national news.
When my footsteps came too fast I felt a burning in my lungs like I had swallowed a mouthful of chlorinated pool water. I stopped and let my body find the breath and heartbeat that restored its calm, then start more slowly, my eyes on the diminutive, grass-crowned peak that was my object. The sun warmed my torso and shoulders: a hat kept it off my head. Later I felt the reddened skin burnt by the penetrating afternoon light. It, too, burned, but only when I stroked it.
As I blundered down the Edison Trail — entering tags on an Instagram photo — I looked up. Seven mule deer gathered near the dead end of the trail. I crept toward them, cursing that I had left my DSLR at home. A step then a check of my cell phone camera. Another step and another check. A final step — and I was too close. The does ran off, surrounding a yearling while the antlerless bucks screened them. Then all were gone as fleetingly as a good memory.
I’ve noticed a certain style of error that gives away that I might well be thinking faster and more erratically than my fingers can keep up with. This might have nothing to do with my bipolar disorder despite the rapid thinking that causes me to err. But there is a resemblance that is hard to ignore. What happens is that when I get to typing things on a chat channel or in a blog, I change thoughts in mid-sentence. Then I abruptly drag them back.
I need to what for that kind of thing.
Mistakes like this cause me to enter a highly vigilant state of mind. Am I going manic? Is this due to my meds? Or maybe am I just tired?
That’s the price I pay for having this disease — the blobby uncertainty that flows over every moment; the concern that this kind of thing might be a prelude to the stupidity of mania. Life need not be a progression of symptoms.
I am sorting through some things when my bare calf is bitten — or rather mouthed — by a red, white and blue ball. The ball has no mouth of its own — rather there is a head wrapped up inside of it and it is the head that is trying to bite me through the thick, leather walls of the ball. Lynn tells me to give it to her and she will take care of it, so I do. I put up some latex gloves and pick up some stuff that is littered on the floor such as torn up shreds of paper and dog droppings.
Whiting Ranch can be divided into two sections, the West and the East. The East is closest to my home and — except for trail bikers who whiz like locusts down the Cactus Trail and the Serrano Cow Trail — is mostly deserted. The real traffic bulges the trails of the west side, particularly the Borrego Trail which wends its way through a marsh and live oak groves and the Mustard Road. The West Mustard Road is deserted: on a given hike to the Vista Point overlooking Red Rock Canyon you might lucky to see three other travelers. The East Mustard Road rises from the end of the Borrego Trail and slithers through the chaparral until it collides with three other wilderness avenues at a spot called Four Corners.
Throngs of bikers and walkers choke the East Mustard Road on Wednesday afternoons. The bikes come singly or in pairs or triplets or, sometimes, squadrons. I listen for the whirr of spokes behind me and try to guess which way to jump when they get closer. Walkers give themselves away by the stomp of their feet. The other day I was grimly climbing the dirt track when I heard a woman’s voice behind me. The ascent squeezed the breath out of me, so I didn’t look back. In a few seconds, a blonde woman and her hyperventilating ginger daughter came briskly walking to my right. The woman — who I surmised to be the mother — was delivering a lecture on personal fitness.
The hammering in my temples from my heart surges prevented me by listening in. They pressed past me with no attempt on my part to equal or better their speed. A few minutes later a third, stouter member of the party pounded past in her black spandex. I kept plodding along, feeling a twinge of guilt about my slowness.
“Wait,” I thought. “You have a heart condition. A narrowing of the coronary artery. You are going as fast as you can without giving yourself a heart attack. You are doing fine.
“How well would they do if they were in your place? To them, walking this trail is a race to see how fast they can get to the top. For you, getting to the top at all is a triumph. What if there was no race for them, no number on a timer that they can strive to beat? Would they keep going?
I arrived at Four Corners maybe ten minutes after the last of the three. They stood around the bulletin board talking and drinking from their green and pink neoprene bottles. I sat down on the bench, drank some water, ate some glucose tablets and then I was good to go. I left them behind me, still sweating and recovering their strength.
On the way down, I waded through what must have been a youth group on bikes. Then I saw a man riding up the hill directly behind his 8 or 9 year old daughter. He kept telling her to keep her wheel straight and keep going going going.
Poor thing. He’s already pressing her to win the race.
The doctor who was going to perform the colostomy spent several minutes of my preliminary appointment putting information from my new patient form into the computer. He asked me a question here and there about previous conditions: why, for example, my anemia was of concern? (My hemoglobin count had dropped from 13.7 to 12 in the course of six months.) How long had I experienced gastric reflux? (On and on for twenty years. For this I won the bonus prize of an endoscopy to be performed at the same time.) Then he reviewed my medications and saw that I was on psychotropics.
“We’re going to have to bring in an anesthesiologist,” he announced.
The reason for this is that my psychotropics tend to raise the level of sedation. The valium they use for most patients won’t put me out. I would find myself enjoying every moment of the procedures as they poked my orifices and sought answers in my intestines and my esophagus.
The extra attendant would cost me $260 which my insurance might or might not pay. I sighed and made a note of this, then followed him to have a clerk send my prescription for the laxative to the pharmacist and explain to me what I could and couldn’t have before the probe.
A black man keeps preventing me from taking sugar or salt from a bowl by pulling on a string he has around my right arm. When I ask why, he says he is protecting it from other people. When he gets up from the table, I follow him. “Tell me about McCarthyism,” I ask. He gets me a convoluted answer in which he insists that McCarthy was a Canadian who fought in the war and then became a great American senator. For his wrong answer, I tie him up and carry him off to a place where there are other black people. To get there, I have to walk against a crowd which is going to see the Fourth of July fireworks. There is only one white woman walking the same way. Everyone else ignores us as I take my prisoner to other black people who will sit in judgement.
While I make an announcement about the support group, the members begin to meet with some new people. I finish my work just in time to see the newcomers get up before the end of the meeting and go to an outer area to eat pancakes with blueberry syrup. I feel hurt. The leader of the newcomers listens to me as I explain that they need to stay for the whole meeting. He says they don’t want to follow my rule, so I suggest that they could start their own group. The leader — who looks like a young Stephen Jobs in a blue suit — likes the idea and proposes they hold their meeting on the same night. I try to convince him that this won’t work, but he just keeps shaking his head.
We all know that mania is the antithesis of humility, but I don’t think you can be humble in a place of depression, either. Humility is neither blind optimism or blinding pessimism. It is realism as truly defined: seeing yourself as a human being, not a god or a demon.
Some may ask why I post so erratically. I would rather have clarity and brevity than muddleheadedness and verbosity.
A pair of maids are helping me clear out my brother’s bedroom in the old house. One of them keeps knocking pictures from the wall. I tell her that it is all right and help her cut away the broken frames and stack them neatly. She produces an old movie poster from a Chinese film framed in cardboard. “I remember seeing that,” I said. Then after a moment’s thought “You can throw it away.” I go outside onto the back porch. They’ve done a terrible job of sweeping it — there’s lots of dirt. I walk on it in muddy shoes which infuriates my mother and father. Mom screams at me and blames the entire mess on me, so I tell her that I will sweep it. While I clean up the maids’ mess, I hear my parents arguing in the house. I finish sweeping and take the broom to the garage. I hear Dad say that he has a solution for the family’s finances just as the door opens and a large car rolls into the garage. An Asian man gets out. He tells me that he knows me and explains that he is renting the space. I hear the family coming out, so I tell him I can’t talk. They come out in a ragged line with my father at the front. My brother tells my brother that he has been to a casino in Las Vegas. “Which one?” my mother asks. He names one that I have never heard of. “That’s not a good one,” she says. “They have small cash payouts.” I take my place at the end of the line. Many members of my family are eating dinner, including many little brothers I never had. I cringe at the thought of my father hitting me because I didn’t get the patio swept to his satisfaction. He is putting a sausage on his plate and complaining about the job I did. I want to tell him to show me the right way, but I am scared.