Gone to the Dogs

My living room window was cracked just a little at first and I found the freezing air oddly soothing. In the winter of 2006 that’s where I stood, nineteen stories up with nowhere to go but down. It would have been so easy, too. I told myself it wouldn’t hurt, that it would be like flying. Screw razors and pills, those tricks can fail but nobody’s surviving nineteen stories. And if you’re going to go out, go out big.

Ultra-rapid-cycling Bipolar Disorder Type 1 with “psychotic tendencies”. Psychotic? What the fuck did that mean exactly? I wasn’t seeing things or hearing voices (as far as I know) so who did they think they were calling me psychotic. I mean, other than the fact that I was clearly unglued. You say tomato….

When I was manic I would have these huge epiphanies, plotting the most irrational yet glorious sounding life changes. I would start businesses I could never support, take exotic trips I couldn’t afford, and seek out exciting forbidden relationships that could only end in exceedingly romantic heartbreak. I left a trail of irresponsible sex and insurmountable credit card bills in my wake. I. Was. Unstoppable.

I was an emotional bull in a china shop with no sense of consequence. I was larger than life, bulletproof, the smartest person in the room. I was also erratic, destructive, irritable and irrational. I was impervious to reason when reason wanted me the most.

But that night on the nineteenth floor in that unassuming high rise I just couldn’t think of any other way to make it stop. Electric shocks shot through my body like relentless thunderbolts. There were dark and random thoughts scattered around my brain separated by tiny intermissions of blinding white flashes. Everything was swirling so quickly that I just couldn’t keep up. I was like one of those spinning tops that we used play with when we were young. We’d pull the string and watch it go, around and around so fast that it would actually give off the illusion of stillness. I was paralyzed with frenzy. But it was that paralysis that likely saved me that night, and even in that “psychotic” haze there was at least one brief moment of clarity that being bipolar didn’t have to be a death sentence.

It’s difficult to say what really stopped me from jumping at that moment. They weren’t entirely rational thoughts, but, hey, whatever keeps you on the right side of the window.

            I don’t want anyone to see my apartment this messy after I’m gone.

            What if I land on and kill some innocent person walking down the street?

            My parents will have to pay off my debt.

            People will say what I did was selfish.

            Suicide is so cliché.

            Who will take care of my dogs?

For a long time that evening I sat and considered my dogs, Audrey and Gracie. They were sticking close to me for some reason. I guess dogs just know when the shit is hitting the fan and they’re willing to be right there in it with you. I once bought a brightly colored art piece at a craft show in Raleigh somewhere around the late 90’s. Its body was made of stuffed hand-stitched fuchsia and chartreuse patterned fabric and it had some metalwork for the head and tail. Written on one of its little shiny ears was “The average dog is a nicer person than the average person” which I just now Googled and realize can be attributed to Andy Rooney. Insightful guy but what was up with those eyebrows?

That’s how I felt about Audrey and Gracie. I mean don’t get me wrong, they weren’t shining models of disciplined animal behavior (which of course wasn’t their fault). Also, they were both undeniably insane. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why we all understood each other so well.

Gracie was a puppy mill rescue and had lived in a cage exclusively for the first two years of her life. When I first saw her she was half-hairless, terrified, flea-ridden, and dying from heartworms. And of course I had to have her. I adopted her in 1998. I nursed her back to health physically but she never really recovered from that abuse. She hated everyone and everything but me. She even hated trash bags. We would be walking down the street and she’d see one of those bulging black bags out on the curb and decide to go into full on attack mode. She also had this thing she did that I called “drive-by bitings” where some poor slob would pass us on the sidewalk going the opposite direction and she would nonchalantly take a bite out of their leg without even breaking stride or looking back. I would yank her leash and scold her while the baffled victim stood there rubbing his injury (yes she had a special dark place in her soul reserved for men. Yet another way we related). She would just look up at me like as if she were saying “Who me?” I swear if she had had the ability to roll her eyes and shrug her shoulders she would have been all over it.

Audrey was a stray found on the side of the highway in some town in South Carolina, starved and pregnant, with every reason to be filled with hate. But she was, under all circumstances, the sweetest soul of any species to ever inhabit this earth. She was the perfect counterbalance to Gracie. She was the good sister, the one your mother always said she wished you could be more like, but you didn’t hold it against her because you knew she was right. She was the only other breathing thing other than myself Gracie could tolerate. I think she was secretly taking care of all of us, but definitely not my collection of leather accessories. Some dogs like to chew on leather. Audrey ate it. As in chew it, swallow it, poop it. It was one of her less charming neuroses.

I loved them both, but in that moment I just didn’t know what to do with them. I thought for one horrible brief second that I would just take them with me but quickly realized how insanely cruel that would have been. I think the absurdity of that thought is partly what snapped me back into some semblance of reality that night. Of course I wasn’t going to throw those helpless animals out the window. And by extension, if they didn’t deserve that fate, why should I? I believe that spark of reasoning was the beginning of the turnaround.

So I lived. For a long time I felt as if staying on this earth was an inconvenience and I was only doing it so as not to disrupt anyone else’s lives. I was angry. God forbid I should upset anyone. Seriously, don’t mind me, I’ll just be over here losing my shit in the most outrageous ways possible. But that’s ok. I can keep that decision in my back pocket for now.

That said, for the most part, I have lived a highly functional life since that cold night huddled in the living room with my dog family. I don’t know whether it is pure stubbornness or ego, or residual manic delusion, but I do know I am one of the lucky ones (as much as I may tend to forget at times). There were some years where I wasn’t so lucky, or responsible, or aware of the consequences of my actions and I continue to feel those effects, but I can only look forward now. Facing the abyss has removed some barriers.  I mean, once you’ve looked down the barrel of an open nineteenth story window, other stuff just isn’t so scary.

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