Saturday, July 30, 2011

U2. Me, Too. We, Two.

I went to my first sober concert this week. (Me and 65,000 other Pittsburgh fans.) My first sober concert ever at 39 years old. And not just any concert, but U2. A band I’ve been waiting to see since I was 13 years old. Granted, Bono and the rest of the guys have aged and grayed a bit in the 30 plus years they’ve been playing together, but then, so have I. I have to admit (and here, my husband will just have to put up with the traces of the superficial, breathless, fluttery-eyelash, hormonal teenage self that still occupies the front-and-center of my amygdala), Bono still looks damn good in his leather pants.

My first concert? Depeche Mode. Madison Square Garden, 1987, 2nd row. Prior to the concert, my girlfriends and I got drunk off a few six-packs. I don’t remember much except a lot of flashing strobe lights, smoke machines, synthesizers, and my friend vomiting on the floor. Oh, and for some reason, one of the roadies thought it was a good idea to give a bunch of 15 year old Catholic school girls back stage passes to meet the band. I mean, this was 1987. Pre-Brittany Spears, pre-belly button, taut-tummy shirts, pre-thongs-on-teenagers, pre-super-provocative-hyper-sexualized-brazilian-wax-and-tattoo-on-my-clitoris decade. I mean, we were trying to pull off suburban-punk-wannabe: Doc Martens, short plaid skirts, black tights, red lipstick. Never mind that we would all take the Long Island Railroad home to our cul-de-sac neighborhoods post-concert.

But. Backstage we went. Shared a few very drunken beers with Depeche Mode and their opening band, Book of Love. Got autographs. Did not exchange any sexual favors. (Though at a later concert of theirs at Jones Beach, desperate for backstage passes once again, one of my once again drunken friends would desperately allow herself to be lecherously groped by their manager, a man with bleached white hair and a row of toddler-tiny teeth in their tour bus. What she really did for the passes, she’d never tell. But we all met the band again. Starry-eyed, arrogant in our bragging rights. Confident that we really didn’t belong in suburban safety. Even Depeche Mode had seen that in us!

Concert after concert. All of them involved being intoxicated. The point seemed not to remember the music, but to disappear inside of it—to be swept up in the flashing lights, in the billowing smoke, in the press of the crowd. To remember the heady intoxication. But the songs?

Once, I even attempted suicide at a concert. Lollapalooza. I was 20. Deliberately downed 17 shots of vodka in about 17 minutes. My intention was simply to disappear for good. To be swallowed up in the music, in the anonymity of the thousands of people who were there, to not be found. I came without I.D., so I did not want to be found either. But I was found, in some nearby field. Underwear on, but jean shorts gone. Who knows how I got there, or what happened to get me there. I was transported to the closest Emergency Room. I came to, completely strapped down to a gurney, wrists and ankles tied up, hooked up to an I.V. and catheter, a blood alcohol level of .39. Almost, almost, very, very close to dead. I woke up disappointed because I was still alive. I woke up having to lie to doctors and nurses and my parents. “Gosh,” I said. “I guess I drank too much.” Ooops. They all believed me. Despite the ribbons of old white scars on my arms. Despite the new red fissures that crossed them.

But all that is in the past.

This week I’ve been feeling pretty good, hooked up to a continuous I.V. of U2. They played for two and one half hours straight. New music, but a lot of their “old” music, the music that got me through my adolescence, the music I listened to when I was alone in my room, believed no one understood me, believed that I would always be an outcast, always feel empty, always feel adrift. The music I listened to when I took the bus back and forth to high school, dreading having to step into school, dreading having to walk the long manicured streets of my development towards home, my Walkman snug over my head, Bono singing to me and only to me: “With or Without You,” “Pride (In the Name of Love),” “I Will Follow,” “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” These songs kept me alive. 26 years I’ve been waiting to see this band. Maybe my Higher Power knew I needed to wait this long so that I could hear the music, so that I could remember the songs, feel them inside.
Let me not veer off into complete sentimentality here. Out of the 65,000 fans crammed into Heinz Stadium, who did I have to sit next to in the Upper West Deck? Two middle aged dads, talking very loudly, very seriously throughout the concert about one of their daughters.

Dad #1: “It started during college and she’s never gotten over it.”

Dad #2: “Like the freshmen 15, only the reverse.”

Dad #1: “She goes in for treatment, comes home, gets better, then gets worse. Anorexia is hell.”

Dad #2: “It seems like it’s everywhere.”

Dad #1: “It has the greatest mortality rate of any mental illness. Sometimes I wish she had cancer or leukemia. Then there’d be an end to all this. I keep hoping and hoping and it’s killing us all. There’s nothing her mom and I can say that helps. There’s no end to this.”

He was right. That’s what it feels like at times. No end to all this. All of it. The Bipolar Disorder. The Eating Disorder. The shame and guilt. But I turned away from him, turned towards U2 singing to me, to me, to me this night, that night, and all those many, many nights keeping me alive and hopeful. And shit, I am still alive 26 six years later, 26 more years than I expected to be, given the desperation and desolation of all the previous decades.

So I turned towards U2 singing before me, live and alive, and turned towards Christopher standing beside me—yes, the man who loves me for me, the man who I love standing beside me. I wasn’t locked away in some room alone, Walkman attached to my head, singing to myself. We were raising our hands together, singing (okay, belting out) along with Bono and the boys together, along with the 64, 999 fans, part of, not cut off. And after the concert? Driving home together, to our kids and dogs and cat and Chinese water dragon, to our imperfect, complicated life together.

“Drowning Man,” U2

Take my hand
You know I'll be there
If you can
I'll cross the sky for your love.
For I have promised
For to be with you tonight
And for the time that will come.

Take my hand
You know I'll be there
If you can
I'll cross the sky for your love.
And I understand
These winds and tides
This change of times
Won't drag you away.

Hold on, and hold on tightly.
Hold on, and don't let go of my love.
The storms will pass, it won't be long now.
This love will last, this love will last forever.

And take my hand, you know I'll be there.
If you can I'll cross the sky for your love.
Give you what I hold dear.

Hold on, hold on tightly.
Hold on, and hold on tightly.
Rise up, rise up with wings like eagles.
You run, you run.
You run and not grow weary.

Hold on, and hold on tightly.
Hold on, hold on tightly
This love, lasts forever.
Now this love lasts forever.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Hollywood Reporter Catches Up With Everyone's Favorite Mad Momma

Q: So, Kerry, besides lounging Hollywood-diva style on Grecian beaches, what else did you do on your summer vacation?

A: I’ve been hostess with the mostess, sans pitchers of Blue Mojitos, which undoubtedly led to neurotic perfectionistic tendencies, a la Martha Stewart on steroids. Case in point: hosting friends this past week, trying to make amends for a messy, sloshy, drink-sneaking, manic visit to their pad last summer. So I scoured the house, tossed voluminous bags of unnecessary clutter, brightly smiled while solo-cleaning up breakfast, lunch, and dinner dishes, effusively DID NOT mind anyone else drinking lovely, yummy bottles of wine around me (really, I didn’t as I was happy to escape inside downward spiraling self with my Kindled book in bed). I claimed better health, claimed stronger self, smiled and charmed, prattled on about recovery and optimism (all the while knowing I was collapsing, folding like a windless, hole-riddled accordion).

Q: Why, that sounds commendable. Self-sacrifice, for the happiness and contentment of others. Bravo, to that resuscitated Catholic schoolgirl penance, and add three Rosaries! Is that all you’ve been up to?

A: Well, there’s been the need to skulk about town, trying to hide from most former colleagues, slathered as I am, head to toe, in the twin sunscreen of Shame and Guilt. My first summer without an Academic Fall to return to, my first at-home office, unusable because it is in the attic which, in the heat wave that has transformed my town into the Congo’s doppelganger, is a trance-inducing sweat lodge (guaranteeing visions of totemic animals—Orca? Tarantula? Triceratops? Dead husk of Yellow jacket prostrate on windowsill?--What, really, were all those years of graduate school for? So I could write, learn from esteemed writers, make connections, blah, blah, blah. Really, so I could learn how to teach, and get a good teaching job, a tenure track job, and make a living as a writer by being a good—no, an (almost) perfect teacher. Which I was for almost a decade. Then. Then. Then. The End. I don’t even remember the end. That traumatic. Christopher tells me we had a meeting with the Dean. That I was kindly terminated due to my situational instability. The progressive health difficulties. My multiple hospitalizations. I don’t even remember cleaning out my office. Or even what I did with the six bookcases of books. But that was winter. This is summer.

Q: So, suntans, socializing, skulking, and…?

A: Slenderizing. Giving in, giving up. Losing hope of getting through this monster that is eating me alive. The clawing at my neck. The voice that says, less of me, less of me, less of me. The voice that demands, Abstinence, Abnegation, Asceticism. Anything that is unnecessary gets sheared off—of diet, of body, of wants, of needs. Anything superfluous is wasteful, gluttonous, disgusting. How little can I live on? That is the price I pay for being me, for being allowed, ironically, to live it seems. (Here, the Hollywood Diva should look out into the distance, at the cliffs, maybe the blue Aegean sea, maybe a tear trickles down her cheek, maybe then a flood of tears in self-pity or self-compassion. But I am no Diva. Just check the state of my shredded, chewed nails and cuticles. Nothing to manicure. So no tears. Just the steely gaze.)

Q: And the rest of the summer that remains? How shall you fill your time? Surely the paparazzi are waiting?

A: I despise photographs. I can only see some stranger who might be some distant relation to me, but not me. As for the rest of the summer? Next week, another unexpected round of ECT. Electro-convulsive therapy. Electrogirl returns. A brief appearance. Hard drive needs a reboot. I like to think of it as a kind of intensive spa getaway—add anesthesia and electrodes, subtract massage and sauna. A mind-full pampering, nonetheless.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Paradise: Check the Lost and Found

When the storm is over and night falls and the moon is out in all its glory and all you're left with is the rhythm of the sea, of the waves, you know what God intended for the human race, you know what paradise is.

Back from my Hellenic adventures, sunnier, older (39 gasp!), not sure if I am any wiser, but the first sober vacation in twenty years. I was skeptical, of course. Wouldn’t I miss the cloudy, icy cold glasses of ouzo? Or the resiny cups of wine from the barrel?

All those dissipated Spring Breaks to Caribbean islands with the sole intentions of becoming an unnatural shade of bronze, hooking up with some equally unnaturally bronzed boy from some exotic college (i.e., outside the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut triangle), and consuming as many cheap (if not free) unnaturally turquoise cocktails rimmed with sugar and umbrellas and other plastic freebie souvenirs. Thankfully, I soon graduated, met my husband-to-be, who introduced me to Greece (ouzo portside, cold Retsina poured from tin pitchers), Italy (Campari and soda with the perfect slice of orange in the late afternoon, followed by picnics in vineyards with a bottle or two of Chianti), France (and afternoons spent wine tasting, then evenings spent, well, wine tasting), and Romania (really?) with its small cramped convenience store I hit every day to buy two bottles of Italian wine—we never knew when they would run out of stock--(a weirdly good and cheap Italian Montepulciano, crammed between terrible Romanian plonk).

This trip, sober? I did not miss any of it. Instead, what I found was an unexpected gift of peace. At least, Dionysus and his cups of seductive, fermented grapes stayed far from my beach blanket. His Sirens sang their songs, wooing my fellow travelers, but not to me. Not one urge, not one desire to drink.

This is not to say that I was free of other oppressive troubles. Every day I was plagued by urges to restrict my food. How absurd! I mean, I was measuring out spoonfuls of real Greek yogurt, the kind your spoon stands straight up in, feeling guilty about eating an unintended, tree-ripened peach, going back and forth and back and forth about whether an extra olive would, calorie-wise, be worth it. And encountering my previous purge sites, a shameful archaeology. Oh, there’s the tamarisk tree I puked behind like some overheated, sick dog. And there’s the scarlet bougainvillea bush I threw up in, my head thrust through the branches like some desperately thirsty hummingbird.

Then there were the vines of scars on my arms thrown into glaring white relief by the immediately acquired tan given by the splendid, dopamine-revving Greek sun. I not only felt crazy, but looked crazy—I mean, arm-cutting might be a quasi-coolish-dramatic-mark of the angst-ridden, Plath-filled tribe of the outsider twenty-ish dangerous and deep and depressed, but on a 39 year old Momma of two kids running helter-skelter along the beach, a wife of one of the esteemed poet-prose writers serving as faculty for the writing seminar being held on this Greek island?

Wasn’t I just as bad as one of those wino hags at the local dive bar wearing the too-tight, bedazzled tank top, spelling out, “Bitch At Heart” in rhinestones across silicone enhanced boobs, sucking down the off-label Jack and Cokes, trying to pick up much younger men, believing herself still to be the seventeen year old hot hootchie she (never) was?

And yet. I’d be swimming in that glorious blue water of the Aegean, and out of nowhere, the Bipolar Furies would suddenly catch up with me, hands grabbing at my feet, trying to pull me under, voices whispering in my ears, “You will never get away from us. You will never be free. You belong to us. To this emptiness. Just let us pull you down. Give in. It will be easier just to let go.” A moment of believing this. A moment too long. Let go. Yes. The relief. The release.

But. Those snorkel maniacs on the beach waiting for me. A.K.A. My kids and husband.

So. A fast and furious paddle back to shore where I’d flop on the towel, listen to the endless, reliable lapping of the waves that whispered their own comfort--You are here, safely moored, safely shored--surrender to sun, let the light blind me, let the light edge out all that darkness.

Books saved me. A novel a day. Manic reading perhaps. Thank god for Kindle and instant download. The more benevolent Furies tugging me into lives other than my own. The logic of paragraphs, the grammar of a sentence to counteract (counterattack) the racing thoughts, the dissociative, destructive urges. One action leads reliably to another, the cause and effect of a well-developed plot, unlike my own volatile, often blind stumblings.

What else brought me back to shore, to my senses in those often senseless moments? Ironically, the thought of my return to, of all places, home. Back to my friends, back to my new friends at my Partial Hospitalization Program and its daily routine, back to my AA meetings, back to my life which isn’t paradise, but isn’t, miraculously, momentarily, momentously hell anymore.