Saturday, June 14, 2014

Mike's Story Part 50 - Shaking

February 25, 2007
   For whatever reason, Mike overcame his misgivings about meeting a stranger so we got together with L, a lean Vermonter, who treated us to lunch at a Midtown hotel with a panoramic view.
   He'd heard a lecture by one of Mike's former colleagues who is now peddling investment services to poor dairy farmers.  Then he pulled out his phone (unless it was another electronic gadget in 2007) and showed us pictures of his beautifully appointed house, set up to have a fighting chance of surviving collapse.  We were invited to come whenever we wished.
   Later, Ray came by bearing cash from donations and dropping a tidbit about the same former colleague teaming up with an eccentric guy who writes 50-page emails.
   The upshot:  Rather than leaving him feeling more connected (the Vermonter was a devoted follower; Ray, a true friend in the most vital ways,) these conversations reminded Mike of the trail of betrayals which had led him to this place of rage and helplessness. 
   Eventually, he would get around to reading the notes that arrived with the donations and be left weak and tearful. 
   "A waitress sent tip money..."  He shook his head at the wonder of it.
   February 26 2007
   These have been the hardest three days so far, in spite of blips of triumph, like his acceptance by Medicaid.
   Partly, it's the news that Zbigniew Brzezinski testified that the White House might instigate an attack in the U.S. and blame it on Iran.  Partly, it’s the wrenching move away from his psychiatrist.
   “I’m so scared, so scared,” he said as he shook on the bed, causing it to shake as though in sympathy.  “I’m scared if I call Ashland PD and tell them about [two employees] missing in the files, that [those two employees] will come after me.”
   “I don’t know enough about their proximity to the powers that be to be able to answer that,” I said.  “On their own, they don’t have the resources.”
   “They weren’t the ones working with X," Mike said.
   “I know.”
   The last shaking bout followed a flare-up at dinner between us.  Mike said something hopeful, then added, “Knock wood” and knocked my forehead.
   I do that all the time but with a difference: I knock my own forehead, not someone else's.  Making fun of yourself doesn't give other people license to make fun of you.
   “There are times when your head is more wooden than mine,” Mike said.  By way of example, he quoted my line when he first arrived: “I don’t know how to work the dishwasher.”
   “I never bothered to learn,” I exclaimed in exasperation.  “I didn’t want or intend to use the dishwasher so I never put my glasses on to read the signs.”
   Mike's IQ, he had let drop shortly after we became friends, was 169, one point away from genius on that particular test. 
   "Sometimes when I can't figure something out, I say to myself, 'If only I had that one more point!'"
   The message was clear:  One point is inconsequential; IQ, like everything else, fluctuates within a range so at times, he was a genius.
   I don't know what my IQ is, thank God.  And although there's no question that someone who does well on the test is intelligent, it doesn't follow that someone who does badly is stupid.  I used to tutor a 5-year-old Russian girl in English.  When she felt like paying attention, she got everything right; otherwise, she got zero.  There are legions of people like that who do badly on a test because they don't give a damn.  When they put their mind to a task that interests them, they're top notch. 
   Not only that, but one IQ test was developed specifically in the context of World War I, to differentiate between officer material and cannon fodder.  The sort of intelligence desired in the army may not coincide with what's necessary to do well in civilian life and even that may vary from one society to another.  If you were lost in the Kalahari desert, would you rather have Shakespeare as your companion or any average Bushman?
   My friend the clinical psychologist also says that when the IQ test was in the planning stages, they tested some trial questions on a sampling of the general public.  To their surprise, women performed better than men.  Since without question this indicated a flaw in the test, it was back to the drawing board until they achieved the desired results. 
   I didn't say any of this to Mike and as it wasn't yet 2012, women hadn't yet out-performed men so I didn't say that either.
   Instead, I launched into a righteous exposition about how irrelevant IQ is going to be post-Peak, when all anyone will care about is building sustainable houses and growing food, while virtually no one knows how to make shoes anymore.  Not that I know how to do any of these things either, of course, but nor did he.
   Then I decided it was time to share some insights:
   “When you’re helpless, you’re 'Mom.’  You feel inferior to the rest of the world that’s busy getting and spending, earning a living, doing whatever people do, however misguided it may be, or likely to send civilization over a cliff.
   'When you get out of your depression, you turn into 'Dad' who feels superior to whoever is around.
   'Your dad first took care of your mom, then of [his second wife,]" I said.
   “He didn’t take care of Mom; I took care of Mom,” Mike corrected.
   “Yes but you told me yourself that he’d patronize her and tell her pseudo-patiently how things worked.  I bet he chose helpless women so he could feel superior to them.” 
   "Helpless" seems an odd description for Mike's mother, a cryptanalyst at the forerunner of the NSA during World War II.  And at one point, Mike had remarked that his father probably felt inferior to his mother because in some ways, she was better educated.  Nevertheless, that mentor/acolyte relationship seems to have been a critical part of the dynamic between them. 
   “Anyway, what you never learned from your parents was how to deal with people who are equals.  You either feel inferior to them or superior, with your IQ of 169,” I said dismissively.  "The IQ test is a necessary evil, OK for predicting how kids will react to school but much abused as its inventor warned it would be.
   'Your Dad didn’t raise a kid he treated as an equal or intended to turn into an equal.  He didn’t explain things; he just got mad when you didn’t already know.”
   “Except when he died, but then he was my child.”
   “It was all in the can by then anyway.
   ‘What you never learned was give and take, the osmosis of a relationship between equals.”
   “That’s brilliant but for the last ten minutes I’ve been craving dental floss.”
   “Be my guest.”
   Then he stumbled to the bed and shook and cried and I thought, “Did I go too far?”
   “I can’t go through another day like this,” Mike said.  When he got through shaking on the bed, he dropped to his knees and shook on the floor.  “Watch me carefully tomorrow.”
   I nodded.
   “I don’t mean I’ll kill myself.  I just mean if I have to shake like this, stay with me.
   'If anything happens, please tell [his LAPD colleague] he was my best friend.”
   “You can tell him yourself.  I’m not going to make it any easier for you to kill yourself.”
   “I can’t call him when I’m like this; what would I say?”
   “It’s not a performance; you’d just call him to be with him on the phone.”
   Our conversation brought a reprieve; he felt well enough to call the LAPD cop.
   The cop and his wife had almost died in an accident caused by a homeless man who tried to commit suicide by jumping in front of their motorcycle.  Swerving to avoid him, they ended up with broken arms and ribs.  When they recovered enough to function, they hired a detective to find out what had become of the homeless man but never could.
   The conversation soothed Mike but soon his anxiety returned.
   I mentioned going back to Al Anon to help with the isolation but Mike says he and his psychiatrist are adamantly against it; it triggered unwanted emotions.  Anyway, he’s beyond Al Anon, he said; they reproach him for having fallen off the wagon even though he’s able to drink in moderation which defies their archetype.
   He’s itching to go to LA, see Kenny and the LAPD friend as well as the old AA crowd even though he got mad at them in the end.
   “But I wouldn’t have you,” he said.  What that mostly means is, he wouldn’t have anywhere to stay long term.  If someone offered to host him for a visit, he’d be gone in a heartbeat. 
   “We have to ask Ray what would happen to the trust if I died,” he said as he got ready for bed.
   “Since you’d be intestate it would probably go to [your aunt],” I said.  “The assumption is you’d want it to go to the nearest blood relative.
   “Great,” he said, his trademark sarcastic response.  “That’s exciting.”
   It always feels nasty when he goes into "tying up loose ends" mode. 
   February 27, 2007
   Day four in the worst bout so far (except for the Effexor episode.)  Legs buckling, leading to helpless crying.
   “I wouldn’t wish this on [a former colleague!]” he said, “or on X or Y or anyone else I’ve been mentally torturing.”
   “Does it make you question your faith in God?”
   “No.  I know there’s some force but I don’t understand why it’s allowing me to suffer like this.  I wouldn’t allow me to suffer like this.
   'But I’ve seen too many times when I should’ve died but I didn’t."
   "You’ve been acting as though you’re in jail.  You speak in those terms: ‘I’ve got to get out of here.  I’m climbing the walls.  I’m trapped.’
   “I am in jail.  I can’t leave Brooklyn.  You’re here; Ray’s here; [his psychiatrist]’s here.” 
   “Venezuela was jail; Brooklyn is jail.  Your jail is here.”  I tapped my head.
   He lay back on the pillow, thoughtful.
   “I’m going to sleep now,” he said.
   He sent a bleak email to his psychiatrist who’s decided that tomorrow he should switch from Lithium to Zoloft.
   “It’s an antidepressant,” Mike explained.  “Lithium is a mood stabilizer.”
   “I know.  But if Lithium slows down sexual response, Zoloft kills it.”  (That issue had not been on my mind.)
   He went out for his after-dinner cigarette.
   “I left AA in order to write the War Games chapter of Rubicon,” he observed.  “The two hardest chapters of the book.  Without alcohol, I wouldn’t have had the courage to write those two chapters.  But if I’d stayed in AA, I wouldn’t have had the break-in in Ashland.  Was it worth it?”
   “That’s for you to say.  You also might be dead.”
   “I have to remember that.”

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