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I was in the third grade when I had my first nervous breakdown.

No one ever quite knows if I’m joking when I say this – they’re always standing there all nervous-like, wondering if they should laugh or look sympathetic. It makes sense – half the people I know don’t know if I’m joking when I say anything from, “I’m having a miscarriage,” to “I just lost my best friend.” They’re accustomed to the punch-line, the quip, the joke, and when none comes, they stand there, shuffling their feet, looking around for someone to rescue them from what is now a decidedly awkward situation.

I never know whether to laugh or cry when I’ve put myself in this situation.

But it’s the truth – in third grade, I had my first nervous breakdown. I threatened suicide. My parents took me to a shrink, who’s name eludes me, but I want to call him, “Mark,” because I think that was his name. I’d sit there, week after week, staring at the curls on his head, which were tightly wound, as though he’d had a reverse shock treatment or a particularly bad perm. He’d have been the last white man with an Afro, had his hair not been dripping with hair product. His face reminded me of a reddened potato, the tell-tale alcoholic signs apparent to me even then – his nose looked somewhat like a potato, streaked with broken blood vessels and pores so large you could probably read a cryptic Morse code message in them.

I can’t remember what we discussed, but I do recall staring at his gigantic pores, wondering if I could, in fact, take a swim in them.

Eventually, I said enough of the right things to convince him that I was okay and I was discharged from treatment.

I was eight years old.

I’ve had a few nervous breakdowns throughout the years, every now and again when the going gets too tough, the lie gets too big, and the pain is no longer able to be beaten back into submission. I’ve never found a good “cure” for these breakdowns – if I were an alcoholic, I’m sure I’d go on a binge, and hell, I’m half-tempted to TRY it just to make these feelings; this darkness stop.

I’d been spiraling quite awhile, of this there is no doubt. The thanks-but-no-thanks AVID letter was what clued me into it – and I did nothing, hoping the situation would go away, I’d be presented with (or find) another solution, or that this would blow over. That I’d wake up one day and not dread whatever the day would bring. That the pervasive sadness would somehow dissipate and I’d be left to see the world as it truly is, not distorted through the haze of sadness.

It didn’t work out.

Which is why I began my descent into nervous breakdown territory sometime late last week. I spent the weekend balled up on the couch, a weeping mess, unable to find the joy; the hope that had, mere moments before, been swirling about.

Monday, I told myself. Monday I’d call the doctor and get some help – it’s clear my antidepressants aren’t working properly, and the insomnia, maybe he’d be able to offer me something to beckon me to the Land of Nod beyond the cocktail of Benedryl and Melatonin taken in doses so ridiculous that I should’ve been dead.

Finally, Monday rolled around and when it did, I called the doctor. The phone rang and rang, without directing me to their directory “Press One If You Have An STD,” “Press Two If You Hate Medicaid.”

Curious.

Also, it would serve to fit that the one time I genuinely needed to see my doctor, his phone wasn’t working. Fabulous. I’d finally hit my “semi-suicidal” state, and help was nowhere to be found. Unless, of course, I went to the ER, but what were they going to do? Illinois version of the Baker-Act? Tell me it was “all in my head” and make me feel worse? I didn’t know, but I knew that whatever happened there, I wouldn’t be ready for. And The Guy Formerly On My Couch had my car – I didn’t need an ambulance.

The seconds ticked steadily by, each slower than the one before, my panic reaching a fever pitch, the buzzing in my ears growing louder and louder as I ran to the bathroom, clutching my sides, vomiting up whatever was in my stomach.

How did it get to be so bad? How did someone who created a place where “none of us are alone” end up so damn alone? I didn’t know. I couldn’t understand. How did it get to be so bad?

I tried the doctor’s office again – this time I got a voicemail that informed me that the power, water, and phone lines were out. Fucking perfect.

The tears pooled down my face and onto my shirt as I reached out to the one place I could think of: the suicide prevention hotline. I didn’t want to die – I wanted to end my suffering. I wanted to live; and live without that sadness looming, threatening to suffocate me if I wasn’t hypervigilant, watching my back at every turn. It was so exhausting. The temptation to give up, and give in to the calling darkness was tremendous.

Hands shaking, I dialed the number and listened to the prerecorded message about “staying on the line for help,” and listened to the nice soothing hold music, wondering how I was going to spill out the mess of my life to a stranger, sobbing at the mess my life had become.

I heard a click, then silence. Within a couple of seconds, the loud BEEP BEEP BEEP signaled one thing:

My call had been dropped.

The suicide prevention hotline had dropped my damn call.

I’d have laughed if I hadn’t been sobbing.

I should’ve seen it coming.

Falling down the stairs at 4.2 weeks pregnant with my last child meant exactly one thing: every time I tried to get treatment for it, the doctors ran out of the room, shaking a bottle of Tylenol in my general direction, because OMFG the PREGNANT LADY we can’t TREAT the PREGNANT LADY – THINK OF THE LAWSUITS IF SOMETHING GOES WRONG WITH THE BAY-BEE!

(the ironic thing is that there was STILL something wrong with the fetus that had been written in her genetic soup well before I hurt my foot).

By the time I was able to get treatment for my foot, it was well past the “we can do shit about it,” and “WTF were your MD’s thinking?” which means precisely one (okay, two) things: I can, upon occasion, pull Das Boot from the closet and tromp around in it when it’s particularly narfy, and I can generally tell you when the atmospheric pressure is changing.

(in my best yokel accent) I gots a trick foot, y’all!

So that’s why I say I should’ve seen it coming.

I didn’t.

Which is why I hadn’t bothered taking any precautions. One minute, I was cuddling up my sweet daughter who’d been tearfully showing me her blister – which had popped – and the next minute, the room was practically pitch black. We’d not bothered to turn on any lights, because, well, it was 11AM and summer in Chicago, which meant it was balls hot with a side of armpit-level humidity.

“Mama,” she asked, her arms woven upward and snake-like, entangled with my own, “why’s it nighttime?”

“Storms a-coming, Baby Girl,” I told her as I kissed her curls. She nestled into me like a baby for a moment, her sleep-filled eyes betraying her as she tried desperately to stay awake.

The wind began to howl, as I moved into the kitchen to light some candles, should the power go out. I could hear my eldest screaming his frustration at me into his pillow – I had put my foot down to him going out in the storm; it was too dangerous. He seemed to think, which he often does these days, that I was full of the bullshit.

I paused a moment at the back doors, staring outside at the wind whipping past, the sky full of bits of trees that had been caught up in the strong winds. I looked down and happily realized that I’d managed to put my sparkly red Uggs – at least I’d wind up in Kansas (or was it NOT Kansas? I can never be sure) should the winds opt to take my home. The streets filled with water as I heard a distinct thunk as one of the trees went down nearby.

Shit, I thought, that Ass Tree with it’s Ass Boner is going to come down on top of the house. God, I hope I look glamorous at my funeral. Shit – I forgot to write down my weird funeral demands and have them notarized – I hope my Pranksters will tell anyone who brings baby’s breath to my funeral to fuck off – I’m so not into filler flowers.

As abruptly as it began, the storm blew right on by us, on to torture our neighbors in the east – perhaps THEY’D wind up in Kansas; it became clear that we were going to be staying right here.

The sun, shining blithely through the trees as though our world hadn’t just been rocked, and made the puddles on the side of the road shimmer and sparkle; shining like diamonds, I noted happily, as I walked outside. My neighbors emerged from their houses one by one, each of us standing at the sidewalk, looking back at our homes, inspecting them for damage. Carefully, slowly, I heard the sound of a lone chainsaw come to life, as we began to rebuild our lives, branch by ever-loving branch.

Like we always do.

Because we must.

We must.

Last night, after a “particularly grueling day at the office” (read: being unable to determine a) the source of that smell and 2) why I felt like crying – I’d suppose the two were related), The Guy on my Couch and I took the kids out to the backyard, where they immediately began squalling about who got to swing on the swing. Apparently I need an additional swing since *all* of them are now able to swing by themselves; well, that or a kid-sized muzzle – I can’t be sure.

I sat down on my lawn chair after carefully inspecting it for earwigs (it’s Earwig Time in Chicago. I’d say we should throw a block party or at least dance to some funky fresh beats, but I have a phobia of earwigs, so I’d probably be hiding somewhere earwig-proofed), and prepared myself for some Tiny Motherfucking Tower.

Some time between “Mom, why can’t we fill up the pooooooool?” and “Mooooom, can we make cuppity-cakes so I can eat them?” the kids stopped, looked around, and began to shout, “MOM, MOM, MOM” as they piled off the swing set toward what appeared to be a moving bundle of feathers.

Hop, hop, hop, went The Baby Birdie. He hopped is ass right on over to me, and I felt my heart sink. Shit. A baby bird. I’m gonna have to call a wildlife rescue and shit, none of them are open.

I popped inside as The Guy on the Couch and the kids guarded the baby birdie (who I’d named Wilber) to call around to see what kinds of wildlife rehab facilities were around and/or open. Yes, apparently wildlife get addicted to drugs and have to go to rehab, too. Who the fuck knew?

Anyway, 5:30 in Chicago means “fuck off I’m outta here so I can sit in gridlock traffic,” so everywhere I called was not open, their numbers out of service, or, in the case of one particularly memorable instance, answered by a very angry Hispanic woman, who yelled at me in Spanish – the only words I understood were “puta” and “malo.”

I locked my cats, who were intently circling the back door, more awake and alert than I’d ever seen those fat bastards, in the bathroom and grabbed the nearest shoebox. Back to the yard I went, ready to rehab the FUCK outta that birdie. We put him in a box and took the box into the locked upstairs bathroom, waiting for the wildlife rehab to open. I knew I couldn’t live with myself if Wilbur was reduced to a carcass the next morning by the family of raccoons that live somewhere in the area, all of whom I’ve named “Walter.”

Kinda like George Foreman, but Walter.

Of course, having an unfamiliar delicious scent in the house, my cats were all, “where the fuck is that bird?” and “I smell bird, you malo puta.” In this way, I learned that Chloe, my brain-damaged cat (who you may recall from my tips for photoblogging post) is actually the smartest of them all. Goes to show you never can tell.

I happened to walk past the backyard patio on my way to watch some Numb3rs where I noted the two doves that live in my tilted pine tree, hovering above the patio area, clearly looking for something.

Their baby. The Mom and Dad were looking for their Wilbur.

My heart grew about 10,384 sizes.

I decided we’d take our chances and let Wilbur out to his family. I didn’t particularly relish being the home wrecker to a nest of birds who have the capacity to poo on my head every time I walk outside, and I knew if I went to a wildlife rehab, I’d walk out with three dogs and an abandoned grey parrot because that’s the way I roll*.

It took a couple of minutes of Wilbur sitting underneath my deck table before he realized that the shoe box was, in fact, gone, and that he was now, in fact, back outside. Mommy and Daddy bird sat on the fence nearby watching, as Wilbur made his way back to the tree; his tree, waddling and doing this weird thing with his neck that’s probably the sign of bird flu or something else sinister-sounding.

The last I saw him, he was sitting on the low branches of the pine tree, his mother about 2 feet above him, as she watched Wilbur climb back up toward home.

It took him some time, and a couple of falls back to the ground, but he made it home.

At last.

And as for me, I’m just glad I didn’t have to perform An Intervention with Wilbur – falling out of the tree was a wake-up call for him.

(I can’t wait to watch him grow)

(and if I go out back and he’s dead, I’ll never forgive myself)

*stupidly.

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