It was another morning, a Thursday I think, & my boss immediately intercepted me at my desk, like she often did, saying she had to ask me about something. It was usually like, “Is renting a U-Haul truck & picking up all this stuff I just bought by one o’clock possible?” or “Do we have space for this student?” The typical Head-of-School-to-Director-of-Operations exchange. What she came to tell me, taking me to an adjacent building instead of her office as usual, broke me to tears in a snap that has become all too typical in recent years.
Shaking, crying & trying to stay grounded (my attempt to not “switch” into an alter), I stumbled to my car, taking the rest of the day off. I had just been told that I made a co-worker so nervous that she was about to call the police, an occurrence I have no memory of, emotionally or physically. She didn’t know what else to do. Here’s this young man, one she’s always had a good relationship with, now her supervisor, shouting irrational, cruel, & completely inaccurate things to her, but also to no one, that personal-panic-turned-widespread verbal assault of the control freak alter I’ve begun calling Vinny. Of course she didn’t know what to do; she, my boss, & much of the rest of the world did not have the right context, all the information (& even if they had, what could they do, what would they know to do, what is there to be done?). I didn’t even know what was happening either.
Up till then, I had a full year of learning about my disorder, growing into my new job, building some kickass relationships, & exploring my hobbies & art practices, on top of some (more) broken relationships, stepping away from the poetry community, & uncovering more memories lost. A second marriage came. A promotion came. Loads of compliments about my progress, about my integrity, about how good I was at whatever it was I was doing. But outside of a few friends, my parents, & my wife, no one knew just what I was truly struggling with—this disorder, the complete incompatibility of it with my career in education, & the anxiety I carried around because of not being open about it.
Then one spell turns on, like a light. It illuminates everything I had tried to hide, that my coworkers / community members / loved ones had not been privy to, that my memory had zapped clean. It illuminates spells that had been written off, misunderstood. It illuminates my need to be open about my disorder, to build a better community around myself, to find ventures & adventures that support this disorder.
Fast forward a week, my week of medical leave to “decompress,” to meet with my therapist, to talk with my wife & my parents & my closest friends. We know what I am capable of in terms of spells & outbursts & harm the small-but-raucous percent of time I dissociate. But the new question to answer became, “What am I capable of in terms of hope, consistency, moving on?” The first answer burst bright & clear: I must be more open about my disorder, both with myself and others.
The first step to this opening-up was writing an email to my boss, providing her with many of the revelations & reactions in the first post & this one here. I was the first to call it—there was nowhere, in this situation, to go but away. My boss spent a week talking to the board, the priest, the other administrators, trying to figure out a way this could work. My mom sent me very “mom texts” about how I’ll just apologize & everything will go back to “normal.” My wife imagined overly-idealistic & otherworldly-generous accommodations my boss might make. But I knew when the call came from my therapist, after her talk with my boss, two experts trying to piece together an impossible puzzle, that my time at that school was up, as was probably my career in education.
But first before walking away from that school, all schools, I had to debrief with my boss, sign the paperwork, clean out my desk. In her office, I mostly listened, opened myself like a child’s butterfly net, hoping to snag whatever fluttering piece of hope I could. She listed her hopes for me—the hope in my ability “to do anything,” the hope in my wonderful support system, the hope in the books I cradled out of my office. Leaving that school for the last time filled me with a sadness, but what stays ringing in my ears is a sweet older teacher, uninformed about my situation, simply said, “It’s good to see you.”
I did what anyone would do in that situation. I grabbed a burger & a milkshake & planted myself on the couch for the afternoon, not giving over to wallowing or depths of depression, but merely existing, as my therapist suggested, in the moment, in the sadness. Then, I did something I’d never done before—I went with my friend to do stand-up comedy. I did three-minute sets at two different comedy open mics, babbling about the fish-per-dollar ratio on my shirt, the hilarity of names, but ultimately my bit was about my DID, a public admittance of the tangle inside me, something I’ve never been able to do in a meeting room, on a poetry stage, in print, or elsewhere publicly.
I forgot to include this in my bit, so I’m adding it here now: My mom is supporting, loving, & tries her best to understand her strange hick-dissociative-poet son. Pee-Wee told me about a time I had forgotten something in the house, so I left mom, dad, & Pee-Wee in the car while I ran back inside. Hopping back out, I was singing or dancing or something like nobody was watching, except my mom was watching; perplexed, she confided in Pee-Wee, “Sometimes I can’t tell if he’s being weird or if he’s having one of his spells.” I don’t know why I love this anecdote so much, or how it fits here, but there you go.
Anyhow, sitting in the car between the two gigs, Colton, a newer friend / brother of an old friend, starts shedding some of his demons, bad jokes he made on radio shows in his early twenties, some nudge towards “the asshole I was in high school.” He says something about how he’s glad he didn’t meet me then because I wouldn’t have liked him, how he didn’t even like himself until last year, the year he started doing stand-up coincidentally. What luck to shed those layers, to know the self now detached from the layers of the past.
This morning somehow I fell down the rabbit hole of “catching up” with my ex-wife on the internet. Instagram had suggested I follow her new husband, a friend of mine in high school & college, & while I didn’t make the click, I did check out a few photos of their first child, their new house, a cute photo of them in the woods. I don’t think I have Colton’s ability of severance, to separate the scrapes & scraps of the past from the weird line I’m walking now. This “news” of my ex-wife’s joy in moving on didn’t crumble me, didn’t send me spiraling, as one might expect, as might’ve happened previously. Instead it flicked a tick of hope, that the people I hurt can move on to bring adorable babies into the world, can fall in love, can make wicked discoveries about themselves & the world, despite the negative reverberations of my episodes.
Standing on that stage, saying the words “I have Dissociative Identity Disorder” & then molding that fact into a particular shape (whatever shape okay-humor is, maybe a cone?), I was reminded yet again of the importance of art, of creating something, not out of nothing, but from rearranging, to borrow from Jack Spicer, the furniture in my brain. I’m reminded of Tara (Toni Collette) in The United States of Tara, as she struggles with the “what now” aftermath of her disorder, saying her new mural gig is just what she needs, a chance to show that she can be functional, can create. It’s why, despite having no place in the poetry community / publishing world, I continue to read, write, & breathe poems; it’s never been about the career or the product, but rather the project, the project of the selves.
The other morning, my boss sent out an email to the staff & later the students’ parents about my leaving, surely a shock to them all (besides maybe the ones who saw me acting strange). It wasn’t appropriate for me to say goodbyes there, then, when my boss & I sat down to collaborate (another hopeful small victory, a person of authority not just shutting me down / kicking me aside but actually listening & collaborating) on how to frame it for everyone. The real goodbyes will trickle in, will come later at parties & random run-ins at HEB or the community pool.
For now, I live with this dream of saying goodbye that I had, one of the most restful slumbers in recent evenings. In that dream, I went to each staff member & we executed what felt like the perfect ending for each professional relationship—the jokesters did goofy handshakes, the huggers embraced me, the criers left tears on my shoulders. I pushed Finnegan on the swing one last time. I reminded Jake to stay on the track with the bike. I helped clean up Ella’s scraped knee. Then, just like it had happened in real life, I walked off with a handful of books & looked back. The playground was empty.
It’s no secret, just look at my resume, just ask my therapist, just ask my wife, I live a cyclical mess. Friendships have a three-year deadline. Jobs are one-&-done. So, while this job is the same, one year & then I collapsed, this dream ending, the meeting with my boss, the ability to stop & chit-chat with students & parents & former co-workers is a projected future that I didn’t even have with other situations—jobs, relationships, my own journey. My tactic was always to flee, to back away, to hide. I had no imagination for reconciliation, understanding, compromise & clean breaks. But if these last couple weeks have taught me anything, it’s that my imagination gives me a little hope, again.
I've been processing the sadness of leaving of the school by writing these small poems inspired by former students. You can read them here as they develop.