I remind myself of my live-in companion Oliver. Like me, he is a talker. Temperamental, moody, and at times he can be overbearing. He is perhaps the most loquacious orange tabby known to humankind. His favorite past-time is to follow me around the house and whine like a spoiled toddler, “Meow, meow, meow . . .”
In my feeble attempt as a human I try to mimic him, and break out into an endless litany of, “Meow, meow, meow . . .” as loudly as I can muster.
Soon we begin to compete, and his incessant whining increases in intensity. I pick him up, rub his head, massage his belly, and manhandle him for a few minutes before he squirms out of my embrace and pounces to the floor. He flees to some warm sunny corner and falls to sleep. A few hours later we’re back at it, rough housing it all over again.
I love my furry little buddy, but he can annoy the hell out of me.
Many mornings he wakes me before dawn, mewling with such intensity I wonder for a brief moment if the sky is falling and he is urgently trying to warn me of impending doom. I wipe the crust from my eyes, grab my glasses off the night stand, and glance at the clock. Usually it’s around five or so, and without fail the words out of my mouth are, “Really dude, really?”
When he is hungry, my need for sleep doesn’t mean one iota to him. Narcissistic little bastard. I gently pick his ass up and carry him downstairs. I open a can of wet food, fill a bowl with fresh water, and place his breakfast on the back deck. As always, he high-tails it to his favorite dish of ocean white fish, salmon, and tuna. For a moment I watch him. He eats voraciously. Despite the annoyance the ritual never fails to bring a smile to my face. I close and lock the door behind me and go back to bed for a couple hours.
Oliver is intense and many times I wish he’d shut the hell up, but I can’t imagine my life without him. Fortunately, his intermittent moments of intensity are short lived; otherwise, he and I would probably not be compatible.
Back in 2007, in my state of mania, my intensity was off the chart and lingered round the clock for days and weeks on end. There was a limitless supply of energy and there were no boundaries ever. I imagine that during my manic state the intensity of my emotions and actions and what I felt were akin to snorting coke every sixty seconds. In the early part of that year, on a scale of one being just a normal ‘ol person and ten being out of control intense, I was pushing about a twenty and the intensity meter was ‘bout to explode.
For a brief time, he was part of Mister Toad’s wild ride. I often wonder whatever happened to him. I wonder if he ever thinks of me. Probably not, and I sure as hell can’t blame him. I can only hope I didn’t cause him to forever forsake online dating.
We had met online a week or so before. The email exchange with this unknown man affected me in the most profound way. Summed up in one word: intense!
Despite my crazy ramblings he reciprocated – God only knows why – but he did. I’m a sucker for words and this mystery man sitting behind a computer screen in some undisclosed place in Guerneville expressed himself with such eloquence that I was smitten before I even knew what he looked like. For me the connection was instant and I thanked the higher power out there in cyberspace for blessing me tenfold for whatever good I may have done in a past life. I was convinced I’d already fallen in love.
In our email exchange I told Kyle that I wanted an old-fashioned courtship. I wanted to take it slow, get to know him, enjoy romantic dates before even entertaining the notion of becoming intimate. . . . But I was careless and beyond foolish in the grips of mania. It was a matter of time before I broke all my own rules and left in my wake a trail of havoc and destruction.
Aside from owning an antique store along the idyllic shores of the Russian River, Kyle was also a licensed mariner and USCG captain. He was down in the bay area for a few days, and so we made plans for me to meet him at the dock where he kept his small sail boat.
I was giddy all day and couldn’t wait for four o’clock to roll around. As soon as I left the office I practically ran the four blocks through San Francisco’s bustling financial district toward the embarcadero to the ferry terminal. Thank God for a full bar on the ferry that would take me across the bay to Oakland.
My stomach was churning with so many butterflies that they overflowed into the tips of my fingers all the way down to my toes. They consumed me, and my entire being vibrated with their nervous fluttering. I quickly downed two vodka tonics to calm my anxiety, but the drinks did nothing to squelch the frenzied mania that had overtaken my body and soul.
The plan was to meet him at the Marina Village Yacht Club, a 738-berth marina on the Oakland estuary across from Jack London Square. We never bothered to exchange photos, so I still had no clue what he looked like. All I knew was that he was about 5’10”, slender, and would be wearing jeans, and a “Life is Good” t-shirt and hat.
I quickly recognized him before he noticed me, so I wiggled my way into a small crowd and stood there for a while and observed him from a distance. He looked serious, pensive, seemingly lost in deep thought. His thin lips were pursed into a half frown waiting to burst into a smile. His eyes appeared small as he squinted into the setting sun across the bay. His facial features were delicate and I imagined that underneath the brown scruff lay a baby face with perfectly rounded cheeks. As promised, he sported a purple “Life is Good” t-shirt and matching ball cap. His jeans were faded and torn. He wore Birkenstocks and I imagined that underneath it all he was a tree huggin’ hippie – a man after my own heart.
Once I gathered as much composure as I possibly could in my crazed state of mind I approached him. I introduced myself, and as I had hoped, he broke into a bright smile revealing perfect teeth. As expected, I burst into a cacophony of endless chatter. Somehow I managed to shut up long enough for him to lead me to his boat. As we walked he flashed me an impish grin, “It’s nothing fancy. My motto is ‘sailing small, living large’. Bigger isn’t always better”.
I thought she was perfectly charming, about twenty feet long with a small cabin. He had named her Cetacean. As we cruised along the estuary to Quinn’s Restaurant and Pub, I chattered nonstop.
During dinner my words flowed without abandon. I shared my entire life story from the time I came out of my mother’s womb until the present moment. I lamented on and on about how much I hated my job and that my boss was a bitch. Then I kept going. I was full steam. As he politely nodded and chewed, I continued to spew forth my plans and dreams right up until my death bed, all of which included him. I described in detail the kind of wedding I wanted and the perfect honeymoon in Tuscany.
Poor Kyle. I don’t recall that he muttered more than a few words. My mouth wouldn’t stop running . . . blah, blah, blah. I shared things that no one should ever ever share on a first date. Stupid stupid stupid . . . but fun as hell. Surprisingly enough he followed me home, we made love, and afterwards I began to name out loud the children we were going to adopt.
Why poor Kyle didn’t go running far off into the hills right then and there, eyes caught in a headlight, never to return after I suggested the name Eliza for the little girl we’d raise, I have no fucking clue. Surprisingly, he graciously stuck around ‘til morning.
Once he backed his truck out of my driveway at the crack of dawn, I never saw him face to face again, but the craziness ensued. Direct eye contact is not necessary for cuckoo!
An hour later I started blowing up his cell phone. He was heading back to Guerneville and I was hoping to catch him en route so we could plan our next date. Frustrated that he wouldn’t answer his phone or return my call, I looked up the number to his store.
A pleasant female voice picked up, “Thanks for calling Sleepy Poet Antiques; how may I help you?”
He wasn’t available so I left a message. Two hours later I called and left another message. More than a dozen messages I left that day.
After a week or so of silence, I was frustrated and angry as hell. I became emboldened; it was time to play hardball. I wrote a ten-page letter, accusing him of leading me on, and berating him for his insensitivity and callousness simultaneously declaring my love, longing for his embrace, and my undying loyalty and decided I was going to hand deliver it.
His store was a two-hour drive from San Francisco, but I was determined. I left work, caught the ferry, ran to my car, started her up, squealed my tires and sped out of the parking lot. I drove like a mad man from hell hoping I’d make it there before he closed shop at seven. Damn it hell, the lights were out and door was locked when I finally got there, so I taped my lengthy missive to the front door. Then I called his cell and left a scathing message.
I didn’t sleep that night. I headed to the Rainbow Cattle Company and played pool with some toothless local strung out on crack. He indulged me as I ranted and raved on and on about the heartbreak bestowed upon me by the love of my life. When the bar closed at two in the morning I wandered to my car where I sat until sunrise, listening to cheesy love songs.
Later that morning my phone rang. It was Kyle. Silenced before I could utter a sound, he bellowed, “You’re a fucking freak. Don’t ever contact me again, and if you show up at my place of business ever again I will call the police!” The line went dead and that was that.
I returned to the bay area, and immediately began soliciting the help of friends, trying in earnest to persuade them to write letters of recommendation singing my praises in an attempt to redeem myself, earn his trust, and win his unyielded love. They all refused.
With mania, the attention span is shortened immensely so I quickly bounced to the next unsuspecting victim. Kyle was only one of many reckless flings and one-night stands during that unforgettable time in my life, each with a similar outcome.
During my recovery, I was out hiking with a friend in Wildcat Canyon one foggy, gloomy morning, “You know, Lair, look it as a gift . . . try to find the good in being able to experience something that so few get to see. The statistics I believe indicate that only 2.6% of Americans are Bipolar. Shit dude, 97% of America has no fuckin’ clue about the ride you’re on. That’s cool as hell, man! Dig it, learn from it, grow from it, use it for good.”
“But Sue,” I retorted, “I freaked out so many people and did so much stupid shit. I don’t ever want to return to that awful place again. This is gonna sound crazy though, but the mania doesn’t scare me as much as the depressions. At least in the beginning, mania is fun as fuck; it’s the consequences that await me when the darkness follows.”
“I’m trying to grasp what the highs must be like – I’m sure amazingly psychedelic, eh?”
“Yep, pretty much, a high like no other!”
“Lair, nobody can predict the future and say ever or never, but you’ve taken this bull by the horn and have been active in your recovery. Dude, you’ve got so many people rooting for you, a great psychiatrist, therapist, the meds are starting to work. You’re gonna be okay. You’re a strong resilient dude.”
I proceeded to share the story of Kyle and our one-night stand from a few months before and she couldn’t help but chuckle. I didn’t mind.
Looking back now all these years later, I can shake my head and laugh too. I realize that so many experiences in my life that seemed insurmountable at the time now seem so insignificant. Perspectives change as we grow older, and every encounter, no matter how brief, changes and molds us.
What I learned from Kyle is this: a first date is not the night before the wedding.
Photo Credit: “Sailboat”, cc0 https://www.pexels.com/photo/adventure-beach-boat-dawn-396614/