It started innocently enough. I got there at 4:21, we had joked about being old and eating dinner at 4:30 so I proposed, at the very least, beers. She was a kindergarten teacher and it was a Monday afternoon, Presidents day. A day when she’d be off work. I sat down at a table in the corner and ordered a hoppy beer called ‘Conniption’ from a waitress that seemed to young to be serving beer, she had a sweet smile that I thought could be trouble once my date arrived. All I knew of the girl was that she was into live music, enjoyed beer and had a bit of a bite to her. I had said that I’d be free in a couple of weeks and she came back with a proposal for Monday, I said “I guess that would work” and she immediately shot back “You guess?!, I’m flexible.” It’s hard to convey that kind of bite via text message but she had done it and me being the cautious calm man I am, I backed down immediately and agreed to Monday afternoon. This already felt like dangerous footing. For some reason the fact that she would retort like that spoke to an ironic craziness or at the very least a dangerously inflated ego.
When she finally walked in, I went for the hug and it was very short and stiff and there was something about it that didn’t feel quite right. She sat down and the waitress came over with a warm greeting that bounced straight off of my date’s cold eyes. She was dressed to the nines with a sweet perfume that seemed a little out of character for just a few friendly beers when all I had done was a quick shower and thrown on a shirt that didn’t have any wrinkles.
For the first twenty minutes my date rambled on about a leak in her apartment in the middle of the night and how she had ordered a new couch and sold her old one on craigslist with some confusion about when the new one would be delivered. I obliged with a smile and halted eye contact that seem quite right but I said nothing and instead sat with the comfort that listening to mundanities would mean I’d be forced to talk less.
Eventually she asked me about my book. I told her it was about a young man with schizophrenia who takes a trip across the country to the U.N. thinking he’s a prophet and that he’s going to save the world. I was careful at that point not let on about it being a memoir. In the midst of the explanation I heard laughter from the other side of the room and looked over trying to determine if it was about what I had said or something else. I saw two other people who seemed to be having a good time so I let the anxiety drop. I had told her before hand that I wrote about mental health and that was enough to get by at that point but I knew she’d eventually ask for details. Strangely, though, her next question was whether or not it sold well. I told her it did Ok but wondered why she’d be interested in that.
For the next twenty minutes she talked about babies. Seemingly everyone in her friend circle and family was having babies and she was so excited for her sister’s twins that she had made tie-dye onesies with a rainbow that spanned both so that when they were together, they’d be a rainbow. She told me she loved rainbows and glitter and unicorns and that was why she was such a good kindergarten teacher. I only laughed.
When the waitress came back with her smile I ordered another beer and returned the smile, I was met by my date with a glare but didn’t think anything of it.
Finally the conversation turned to my work. She asked sweetly what I did and I told her I write. She came back with a question that cut asking “Yeah but where do you get your income?” I said again, “I write,” This time adding “I’ve written for Salon, The Week, Scientific American, Psych Central and The New York Times.” Then came the inevitable question, “Why do you write about mental illness?” I raised my eyebrows and said “I’ll just say I have some close experience with it.” To that she said, “Is it you?” I looked at her, took a sip of my beer and nodded.
What happened next was a desperate spillage of words from my mouth about how I’ve been symptomatically stable for eight years, and that it really wasn’t that big of a deal. Then she asked what would happen if I stopped taking my meds. “I’d probably just huddle up in my apartment and be afraid to leave,” I said. “So you wouldn’t go kill someone and go crazy?” I scoffed but only because I was shocked. “God no.” I said giving a deflated laugh. I could tell the date was over. She gave some half hearted reassurance that everyone was weird somehow then excused herself to the bathroom.
She came back a few minutes in a flurry saying her friend had just had a baby and she had to go but I knew the real reason she was leaving.
I texted her the next day and she never responded.
It’s strange that there’s so much ignorance out there when it comes to mental illness. It’s a shame that the only exposure people have to it is when someone with a pre-existing capacity for true evil shoots up a school and the only reason the media can come up with for the act is that they had a history of mental illness. In truth, people with serious mental illnesses are far more likely to victims of violent crime then perpetrators but the news needs something to blame evil on and until that changes, mental illness will be the scapegoat. I know that none of my friends and family see evil in me, they treat schizophrenia as the disease it is that needs treatment instead of some nefarious defect of self that fuels evil, but that’s only because I write about it so much. Maybe that’s what the world needs. Someone to prove that schizophrenia doesn’t make you evil.
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