approximately 150 pages into the novel that I'm working on -- I’d been wrong about the possibilities of the land — the air was good. It was the sort of air that I’d come to Polk Valley for, fresh and clean, unsullied by the smells of people and their machines — and I felt better almost immediately. In the middle of the field I saw a pine cone that looked like a corn cob, and another one that looked like an armadillo, though there were no trees till I reached the line of the woods, and when I reached the line of the woods I saw that these tightly packed pinecones were everywhere if I only kept watch for them. I walked deeper and deeper into the woods without thinking and without concern for whether or not I would be able to find my way back. It was my land, wasn’t it? How pathetic it would be, to be lost on my own plot. And just when I was about to turn around and pick my way back (I had some sort of half-assed notion of following my own tracks back to the house), lost in my thoughts and the pleasure of getting to know my property, I saw a long shape lying in the dirt behind a tree, a few yards away.
I steadied myself. The head of a deer — a buck? No horns. A young deer, then, or a doe. Dark, wide eyes open. I thought about the animals I’d seen at the Natural History Museum. Those creatures brought new meaning to the phrase “still life,” and here was an animal, dead, with guts still inside — did blood congeal — and how had this deer or doe fallen without a predator to kill it? Illness. It was probably full of poisoned maggots, feeding on poisoned blood. Yet I walked towards it, and when I saw its entire length spread out before me, tears pricked my eyes, and I sat on the dirt in front of it. I thought about touching it — it looked so peaceful, unlike my father in his coffin — my father had looked so distraught, with his face twisted in unceasing and twisted agony, even in death. But here was this animal that could very well be resting, and just as I sat down in front of it with all intentions to enjoy its calm presence, I blinked, and it was gone —
— you physically approach something with all sorts of things in your mind. You are unable to shut out all of the distractions, such as your own footsteps, or the way the wind burns your wrists where the coat sleeves are a bit too short for your arms. You are thinking about other things when you mentally apprehend something, and so when that thing disappears in front of you it’s likely that you weren’t spending much time or mental energy ascertaining its existence. Which is why, when it disappears, things get shall we say dicey. Were you paying enough attention to the thing? Had you misinterpreted something else to be whatever thing you thought you saw? But you were so certain that it was there. It doesn’t matter. It’s not there now. All that’s left is your fading security in the knowledge that you had seen a thing, which no longer exists.
The question is, what do you do with a moment such as that one. In that day and age care for mental illness came in the forms of psychoanalysis, electroshock, or medication with more side effects than treatment functions. There was no taught method of coping. What they don’t tell you is that a large percentage of the mentally ill are also living a mentally ill lifestyle. Others are more fortunate. For them, being mentally ill is like a cold. They don’t even call it mental illness. They say, I was melancholy, I was under the weather. I was panicking in the supermarket by the grapefruits and my hands went numb, but now I’m sitting in front of the television with a glass of wine, and I’m doing all right.
I miss my adolescence, when they simply called me a victim of neurosis.
The authorities say, Try this, try that, try this, and they don’t tell you that maybe you’re just a lunatic for life, so that every time it comes up it surprises you in the way that a paper cut surprises you.
Maybe the key is to not be surprised.
They don’t give you much in the way of options, which is why so many madmen choose to go full stop. As though that were my only problem.