CycleBy M.J. Fievre
May 28, 2010
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.
This is beautiful, with all these devastating lines like “I peer into blackness, wishing I had the senses of a night creature” and the line at the end that killed me, “every time I reach, my hand only meets the glass she is stuck behind.” Thanks for sharing this personal and touching piece.
I’m glad you liked it, Nathaniel 🙂
One of my very good friends is bipolar. And I’ve always wondered what it felt like. I’m no stranger to depression, but mania is something I’ve never experienced. This was lovely and brave.
Thank you, Marni.
What a capture of stances, feelings, terrors, and igniting joy, MJ!
Oh you do have the gifts for engaging readers’ compulsive attention.
As I recall my own cycles of up and down, they were fed by fear and the fear of fear. That is, when I was down, I usually felt guilty of some major infraction with someone and I loathed my all-imperfect self. When I was up, I *had* to hurry and do all the joyful things that I could bcuz I *knew* that those times would not last. Fear drove me, both to happy expressive and full living as well as to a shut-down, ever-grey, sequestered life.
I didn’t take anti-depressives bcuz I’d closely noted their effects on two of my friends. One lost her best job ever bcuz she’d become cavalier to the extent of chucking aside most of her assigned tasks. Her daughter became dependent upon anti-depressants at age 18.
I don’t now *expect* grey cycles and uber-active cycles. I’m mostly enthusiastic for what I do and what others do, and when I feel a slump, I get quiet and actively call to mind the qualities I most want to have as well as the actions I most want to do—-knowing that I can and will do them.
With the lovely encouragement that Mary gave recently, I’ll quote myself: “The Universe doesn’t zap you like a jealous hen. We just become more of ourselves.”
Your elegant, riveting and creative writing’s soooo needed by so many people. I always look forward to your posts.
“As I recall my own cycles of up and down, they were fed by fear and the fear of fear. That is, when I was down, I usually felt guilty of some major infraction with someone and I loathed my all-imperfect self. When I was up, I *had* to hurry and do all the joyful things that I could bcuz I *knew* that those times would not last. Fear drove me, both to happy expressive and full living as well as to a shut-down, ever-grey, sequestered life.”
Wow, this is so true, Judy!
Thanks for sharing your own experience, and for your support! (And I love your quote about the jealous hen)
MJ, it’s wonderful to know that you understood where I was coming from.
I’ve been giving a lot of thought to your writing. It’s exceptional. I look forward to reading a book of your short stories, and wonder if you have written or are writing a novel, or a memoir.
I’m working on a memoir right now. Editing, rewriting. Hopefully, a publisher will like it. Thanks for your encouraging words. They mean a lot.
Splendid that you’re right now working on a memoir. Oh, more than one publisher will like it!
Let me confess to you that at times I feel jealous of writers for their talent, and I throw myself into imitating their writingb…..and I learn, despite my pain in the learning, that I write the way I think and feel and in the cadences of my own heart, in my own preferred-for-myself aesthetic. I don’t write like those I’m jealous of. And then the jealousy disappears, p’raps because I’ve found myself and don’t need to be someone else.
YOU are a different category. I ache to have for you the widest reading audience. It’s like the feeling I’ve gotten so often about my son, his wife, their boys and my friends—–I’m thrilled by their gifts and want everyone to benefit from them. I’m thrilled that they’ve been endowed with their singular gifts, an entire universe of ways that’re combined and unique to them. So, really, I’m celebrating them.
Sounds as if I’m saying you’re in my circle of family and friends, MJ.
Welcome! When we meet, we’ll embrace, and we’ll do as the French do—-a light kiss on each cheek.
Keep us aware of your memoir’s developing and of its ride to the bookstores!
That is such a nice thing to say!!! Thank you 🙂 I’m honored to be in your circle. I’m sincerely thankful for the warm welcome I received here, in the TNB community.
You are a Golden Heart, MJ—-deep and rich and mine-worthy. We’re grateful and pleased that you’ve joined us here at awesome TNB.
This is a devastating and beautiful encapsulation of bipolar disorder.
The dissociation is something with which I am familiar.
Your portrayal of it is spot-on.
Beautiful writing, MJ, as usual.
Thanks for your comment, Irene.
I was reading Frog Jerky and Alcoholic Dogs last night–and I LOVED it!
Thank you for this, MJ. Unfortunately,mental illness is still too often stigmatized, even with our understanding and perceptions of it growing and changing. Mainly because people seem to be less willing to keep silent about it, which is a wonderful thing, I think.
I know a little, but not much, about bipolar. This gives more insight and colour to what little I know. Thank you for that, as well.
I’m very glad you’re with us here, at TNB. I’m enjoying your posts.
Also: that guy with the cats?
I LOVE the TNB community. Everyone is AWESOME!
Thanks for your comment!
You are going to be a star!
I’m old, so you can’t even question me.
🙂 Thank you, Irene!
You have a way of writing that casts a spell.
Brave, beautiful work.
Yes, that’s it, Zara. MJ’s writing casts a spell. Amazing. Wonderful.
And I love your new hairstyle!
Zara and Judy,
Thanks for taking the time to read it!