Home > Girl on the Line(6)

Girl on the Line(6)
Author: Faith Gardner

I’m bipolar.

I gave the pharmacist my money and called Jonah for a ride home. I showed him the pills, hot pink, my favorite color, like they were made for me. Jonah didn’t seem sure what to say.

“You don’t seem . . . mentally ill to me,” he said. “You’re just going through a lot.”

The trees outside the window swayed with the breeze. The sky was bright and blue because in Goleta, the sky is always bright and blue. The median income is high, the schools are award-winning, the beach and mountains are paradise. I don’t know why Jonah would want to suddenly make me so sad, the pinprick to my balloon.

“You were just in a car accident where you almost died,” he said.

“Yeah, well, Dr. So-and-So seemed uninterested in that fact.”

“Journey, I’ve known you since we were in grade school,” Jonah said. “I know you’re . . . mercurial.”

“You and your SAT words—”

“Listen. Don’t do that. Let me finish. Mercurial, sure. But you’ve always been sane. And lately, yeah, it’s been bad. Worse than I’ve ever seen you.” In a one-second glance my way before putting his eyes back to the road, Jonah looked at me with such love I shuddered. “You just went through something traumatic. If I’d been through what you’d been through, I’d be all over the place, too.”

I didn’t say anything. He knew me better than anyone, and sometimes that was irritating.

“And really, they just send you off with pills for that?” he asked softly. “You’re seventeen.”

Sometimes the way he spoke to me made me think of my dad. Huge turnoff.

“Wow, he’s not only cute, he can count, too,” I said.

He was quiet and chewing the inside of his cheek, a thing he did when he was in his saddest, most unreachable place.

“Is this what you want?” he asked.

“I want an answer,” I insisted. “I want to not cry and scare everybody.”

“You don’t scare me.”

“Not right now.”

“Just . . . don’t lose yourself,” he said. “Like my mom.”

“Your mom’s clinically depressed, not bipolar,” I reminded him.

His mother’s severe depression had long been controlled by heavy meds. Yeah, it meant she was able to do basic mom stuff like hit up the grocery store and go to work and drive her kids to school. But her spirit was weak. She slept a lot and watched a lot of reality TV.

Jonah didn’t say anything else. Our car rides became like that when I got stubborn and gloomy—a mean sort of quiet, him turning the music down, each of us left to our own thoughts, except of course for me telling him “Brake, brake” every once in a while as I braced myself for a stop—I’d been like that since the accident—and him whispering, “It’s okay, babe.”

When I got home, I thought a lot about what Jonah said and what that survey in Dr. Shaw’s hands must have looked like, tens all the way down. I thought, there is no way to either tell the truth or lie on a set of questions like that. Because what is a ten? What is a five?

When I told Marisol about the diagnosis she rolled her eyes at me at first, thinking it was another phase, like that one month last year when I went to church and got really into it, or when I bought a Ouija board and thought I could see ghosts. But while my dad had some reservations, my mom was super supportive of the diagnosis. I had had some of the worst bad days of my life over the past six months—not saying it was because of their divorce necessarily, but it sure didn’t help—and since the car accident this past summer, there had been moments when I had scared everyone with my bouts of joy that crashed into from-nowhere weepiness. Dad, of course, gently asked if I might try some more “natural” remedies before jumping to meds, but accepted it when I told him hell no thank you. I wanted the strong stuff. My mom ordered about every book on adolescents and mental illness you could think of and became an expert overnight. Whereas she used to be frustrated with my “drama” and my “acting out,” now she seemed to have infinite patience for my mood swings. She even wanted to set up a meeting with my teachers so I could get special treatment—longer test times, forgiveness for late homework. But I didn’t want people outside my most tight-knit circle knowing. I wanted to pass for normal. I didn’t even like that my sisters knew, although they seemed to only understand it in the most simplistic terms: I was sad, I felt crazy, I had a condition, pills would fix said condition.

I took the pills. Two of them. Twice a day. For days, then weeks. I experienced drowsiness and a delayed menstrual period and gained five pounds like the pharmacist had warned. Sometimes I spaced out in class, but I don’t know, it had happened before. I didn’t cry so much, but I also didn’t smile as much, either. Some days I was sure the pills were working. Some days I wondered if I’d been handed a neon-pink placebo.

I’d started having terrible thoughts after the school year started, and I’d been too afraid to talk about them with anyone. Marisol would probably have cried if I confessed them to her. My parents would worry and call more doctors, who would prescribe more drugs.

At first it arose as a silly, overdramatic solution to problems—something benign, like the time I forgot to turn in a paper and got a reprimand from Mr. Teasley, a harried, grumpy American History teacher a year away from retirement who mentioned this fact in class frequently. He dismissed the entire class early one day just to have a “heart-to-heart” with me. Nothing resembling a heart was actually involved in this discussion.

“I’ve seen your kind before,” he said, sitting on the edge of his desk, arms crossed. There was a weird blurry reflection of myself in his glasses. “Smart but lazy.”

Nothing riles me up more than being told I’m like everybody else. “I wasn’t lazy, I started the paper last week. I honestly forgot it was due today.”

I had been forgetting things, writing things down wrong, procrastinating since I’d started medication. Maybe he was right, maybe I was lazy. I not only lived in a perpetual brain fog, I’d found it hard to care since school started. When the weather started turning—the air grew teeth, the leaves on certain trees yellowed—I turned with it. In the course of a lifetime, what did these papers and stupid quizzes matter anyway?

“Well, I honestly think you’ll be lucky if you pull off a C this semester,” he said.

He was being so patronizing I couldn’t help it. Haughtily, I said the words my mom used to say to me as a child. “I can do anything I want.”

“That’s simply not true,” he told me.

He proceeded to lecture me about my “attitude problem” and then veered into a long monologue about how happy he’d be to retire next year and move to Florida where rent is cheaper and the weather is balmy and beautiful, and never have to deal with students and their bad attitudes again. The bell rang and he kept talking. I looked out the window and watched the leaves skittering off the maples in the courtyard, students walking through patches of sunshine and laughing and putting their arms around each other and being normal humans. I had started my prescription two weeks prior. And my feelings, they were duller, but not at all in the way I wanted. This is what life feels like lately, I thought. Like I’m watching it through a window. Like I’m not a part of it.

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