Madame Ruth started with the obvious question: "What seems to be the problem?" Of course, you know the song, and you know the guy's complaint: "I told her that I was a flop with chicks; I've been this way since nineteen fifty-six."

I was three years old in 1956, and had no particular interest in girls, apart from my baby sister, whom I didn't understand at all, and who most likely didn't understand me. But I know from long-standing problems; it occurred to me some time this afternoon that I couldn't remember any time between then and now when I wasn't depressed. That's six decades of this, and it's apparently never going to stop until I hang it up for good.

Why this should be so, I do not know. I am not aware of any incident that might have triggered this sort of thing. The earliest memory I have dates to about 1955, at the top of the stairs at my grandfather's house — and then, suddenly, at the bottom of those stairs. There was wailing (mine) and gnashing of teeth (I really didn't have much to gnash, and I seem to recall I lost one that day). The mental picture is extremely vivid, and perhaps I should be grateful that the house is no longer in family hands, so there's no chance I'll ever see those stairs again. Still, this was just an accident; I can't think of any reason why I might find it traumatizing.

This was an era when boys (and occasionally girls) got bruised on a regular basis, and nobody thought anything about it: a wipe-down, a splash with something stinging, either Bactine or mercurochrome, and "Go ye and fall no more." Only one incident from that time period seems like it could have been the start of something bad, and that was that kickball game in the fall at someone's house way out in the county. I slid into second base, a sheet of corrugated aluminum, and the metal gave way and I kept going.

Proper septic tanks existed in those days, but I suspect they weren't mandatory in rural south Texas. What did exist at this location was a metal canister, about five feet deep, halfway full of sewage. I was rescued quickly enough and hosed down; my clothes were burned, because what else would you do with them?

The sickness started quickly enough. And the whammy was double: scarlet fever, from exposure to all that waste, and pneumonia, presumably expedited by a whole lot of cold water at high pressure. I missed four months of school and ran temperatures at the far end of the FM dial. I was, of course, miserable for the whole time I was in semi-quarantine. But today, I wonder: did all those high fevers and such cause actual brain damage? I had already been diagnosed as "sorta gifted," and I didn't seem to lose any IQ points from the dunking, but my Happy Kid days seem to have ended right around then.

There is, of course, nothing that Madame Ruth can mix up in her sink which will help me now. I've been on various maintenance drugs since the 1980s, some nastier than others: the worst was an anti-psychotic they gave me while I was institutionalized, for which the therapeutic dose was just barely this side of the lethal dose. Current drugs pack less of a punch, but it takes more of them. There are times, even today, when I wonder if maybe it would have been kinder if they'd kept my clothes and set fire to me.

The Vent

  25 August 2019

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