I’m looking at the teacher’s carefully manicured hands as she clutches the Expo marker to write on the board. I’m aware of her shiny, high-heeled shoes, of her sculpted hairdo. She’s wearing a green suit—she told the seventh grade students that green is her favorite color. Green and brown. Only she says maroon instead of brown. The teacher doesn’t smile; she doesn’t frown either. Sometimes she uses the smiley stamp on a satisfying assignment. Her student Michael tries to get something out of her. First, he cracks a joke. The teacher only says, ha. Then he pulls out a dirty joke. The teacher raises her eyebrows. She says, “Michael.” Her voice is flat, matter-of-fact. Michael cowers.
I’ve been watching the teacher for months now. She arrives an hour before clock-in time, plans detailed lessons, writes precise comments on essays, allows soft chatter during group activities. When the principal stops by, he nods, impressed by her professional demeanor, the cleanliness of her classroom.
From time to time, I lose track of the teacher—I hear her voice in the background, talking about parts of speech, while I focus on one student or another.
“Ma’am?” a student asks. “What does auto-pilot mean?”
The teacher’s lips curve; the words stream out.
I want to relate to that woman in the green suit—but I feel so distant from her. All I can do is watch. Watch her manicured hands, which are also my manicured hands. Her shiny shoes—my shiny shoes. I wonder, Is she really me? Am I really here?
There’s a knock on the door. A student I don’t know comes in with an envelope. “Are you the teacher?” she asks me.
“Yes,” I say. “I’m Ms. Fievre.”
She says she has a message for me. Then she says, “Nice suit.”
I smile. “I love green. Green and maroon.”
Something simple happens. Maybe an invitation to a party. A phone call from a long, lost friend. An innocent letter or a picture from one of my students.
I feel alive. Ideas are fast—like shooting stars I follow until brighter ones appear. I volunteer to plan the soirée for my social group, make all the phone calls, frantically text message and email, pay for the VIP table out of my own pocket. My social calendar is suddenly full—fashion show on Thursday, happy hour on Friday, baptism on Saturday—so I decide a shopping spree is in order.
On the Expressway, I hallucinate and see things—shadow people, colorful patterns, and spots. I can see outlines around moving objects.
At Sawgrass Mall, my sister points at the pair of shoes I’m holding. “They’re two hundred bucks, you know.”
I giggle—not sure what’s funny. My sister asks if I’m high.
“I’m naturally high,” I say.
I do a jig in the middle of the store. I don’t care that people stare.
I’m happy the whole week, cheer up my friends, mail an expensive gift to my Little Brother, leave little notes on my coworker’s desk. Danny says, “There’s a positive aura, almost palpable around you. You’re so fun. We should hang out more often.”
I’ve never been so productive, while others are losing their time, sleeping. I’ll sleep when I’m dead. My marrow is infused with feelings of ease, power, well-being, omnipotence, euphoria. I can do anything.
I haven’t slept well for days.
I’m unfocused, too exhausted to write. I stare at the ceiling, eyes wide. Sleeping pills work—for an hour or two. Then, I’m awake again, and sometimes I lose track of how many pills I’ve taken. It is a moonless night and the darkness is almost complete outside. I peer into the blackness, wishing I had the senses of a night creature.
Confusion replaces clarity. I’m sitting in front of the laptop, trying to remember my hotmail password. That same password I’ve used for the past ten years. It seems as though my mind has burned out.
I’m so tired.
At work, I almost start crying when Julie asks me if I’ve gained weight. People are just mean and frightening. I feel ashamed.
“Ashamed of what?” my sister asks.
I say I have no idea. She hugs me, buys me lunch at J.P. Mulligan’s, walks my dog, waters my desert roses. “It will get better,” she says. “It always does.”
I remember reading about some guy who stayed awake for 266 hours, just a little more than eleven days. I wonder how long I could live without sleep.
At night, I’m sweating. I can feel the rush of adrenaline, the surge of electricity shooting from my head to my feet. My mouth is dry; my lips are tingling. Maybe I’m dying. Or going crazy. I used to think it was all in my head, I wasn’t sure when my imagination ended and the cuckoo began. I remember the man from East Dallas who led the police on a high-speed chase through two counties, ignoring the sirens and lights, later saying he was trying to get his dying cat to a vet. “What a guy,” they said. “A hero.” Before they found thirty-seven dead cats inside an old freezer, right beside the man’s strawberry sherbet and chicken drumsticks.
I know I’m not cuckoo.
It does get better.
I’ve been weighed down for days by the cuckoo who lives inside me, who always seems separate from me, from the me that walks and sees and remembers and forgets. The cuckoo’s pain crushes my belief system, my faith—but it doesn’t last.
It never lasts.
The teacher comes back, manicured hands, high-heeled shoes, and all.
I find the image staring back in the mirror completely captivating. I stand up and inch closer and closer to the stranger staring back at me. I can look past the reflection, but somehow can’t see anything beyond myself. Is that really me? I want so desperately to make the woman in the mirror feel safe. But every time I reach, my hand only meets the glass she is stuck behind.
The teacher calls Danny, tells him she was drunk that night when she flirted with him—she just doesn’t mention that she was naturally drunk. The teacher talks to Julie. Yes, I’ve gained weight. I didn’t mean to call you a bitch.
The teacher talks calmly. She’s matter-of-fact.
And I’m there again, watching.