I’ll be 56 in a couple of months. I developed anorexia nervosa in 1980, which was three years before singer Karen Carpenter died. There are so few of us still alive that are my age! We died off! Or got absorbed into the System and misdiagnosed with “other” mental disorders, as I was. I never even came close to having the various mental disorders I was diagnosed with. Many of us still left are stuck in nursing homes, misdiagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
I look around me now and I so much care about these young starving kids, and I see that many of them are where I was 30 years ago, and they will do anything to get well. I feel protective of them as if they were my kids or even grandkids and to me, these kids are family, cuz I was robbed of my own bio family. As a figurative parent, I don’t want my kids to make the same mistakes I’ve made, but sometimes, you just gotta let go, I guess.
My dad died in 1997. He withered away from cancer. He told me, before he died, that he really never understood what I was going through for all the years after I’d entered the mental health system. However, after the three final years of his life, his cancer had wrecked his body, and he came to a point of insight into my life.
He told me the following: that he understood what it felt like to have absolutely no control over what happened to you.
Cancer sucks. My dad was an engineer. His company hired him to be a master control person of radars. So he perfected these devices and worked with complex math formulas to make all kinds of fancy machines work perfectly. When the cancer got to my dad, he could no longer be a master controller. The machines didn’t work. No matter how perfectly he did things, no matter how hard he worked, no matter how good he was, the rules no longer applied and that cancer spread.
So my dad told me to stay strong. And he told me he believed in me, and that someday I would make something great of myself. He told me that he knew I didn’t have much faith in myself at that moment, but that he, himself did have that faith.
Today, November 26, 2013, is my dog Puzzle’s seventh birthday. Traditionally, every year on Puzzle’s birthday, we go for a five-mile walk. This is my gift to her.
Afternoon came, but I was exhausted. I told myself I wasn’t going to guilt-trip myself over skipping her birthday walk. Puzzle didn’t know it was her birthday. I lay down in my bed. Puzzle hopped in and snuggled up close. I told her, “I love you, Puzzle,” and we fell asleep together.
My dad and Puzzle never met of course, but my dad always knew I always had a special bond with my dogs. In 1987, not long after I had moved into my first apartment in Watertown, I ended up on a mental ward and meanwhile, my parents were minding my dog, Hoofy, while I was there. Hoofy was ten years old in 1987. He took sick and my parents brought him to the vet. This was the wonderful dog that had gone hitch-hiking with me back in 1979.
So I was there on the mental ward and I got a call from my dad. It was July. He told me Hoofy was very, very sick.
I ended up getting a pass from the mental ward to see Hoofy one last time. The next day, my parents brought him to the vet. My dad called me at the mental ward and told me, “Please, call the vet yourself.” He gave me the number and I wrote it down. And he added, “Be brave.” Hoofy had cancer.
I phoned the vet shortly afterward from the unit hallway pay phone. I stood alone with the phone in my hand while the vet put me on hold for a minute. “Wait a sec,” he said, “They have Hoofy now. They’re working on him.” There were sounds in the background I couldn’t make out.
Moments later, the vet told me that Hoofy’s EKG was flat, and that he had passed away.
I guess that’s something I wanted to share with you all now. I stood at that phone and knew I was on that mental ward and right then, something had happened that was entirely not within my control, or within anyone’s control, anywhere.
The mental ward had pool tables. Back then, mental wards were different. We had pool tables and even pool cues and balls, fun games which nowadays would be considered far too dangerous to be kept in such places and would be replaced with rubber kindergarten toys. I said to myself, “I loved my dog, and no one is even listening to me.” And with that, I grabbed the Number Ten pool ball, and pocketed it. After all, Hoofy was ten years old when he died, so I figured swiping this ball was a good enough symbol of defiance.
It stayed in my pocket. It went out of that hospital. It stayed with me all these years. Just now, I went into the box where I keep a few bits memorabilia. Here’s a photo of that pool ball that I swiped back in 1987, in my 55-year-old hand today:
I haven’t given up.
Happy Birthday, Puzzle.