Essays

The Sanity of Cows


I try to walk my dog every day. She is a nine-pound Jack Russell. I’ve mentioned her frequently in these pages because she is my best friend, my companion, the one who looks out for me, who runs up and licks my face when I sob, which is frequently. She also makes me laugh because she growls when she wants something from me, when she can no longer abide my unrelenting sadness and must go outside or have me toss her teddy bear across the room or do something that I don’t understand so that I am forced to say “What. What. What.” Sometimes she gets tired of being so good all the time. And who can blame her? She didn’t sign up for life with a mentally ill keeper.

Sometimes I put her purple harness on and grab her skinny leather leash and take her to the bottom of the driveway, my ipod geared up to Blondie to gain the most bravado bang for my buck for the walk along the street. Pluto refuses the walk. It isn’t what she favors. What she wants is her favorite walk on Brown Road, a dirt road located a ten minute drive away, through pastoral fields with cows and sloping green leas and old stone walls and painted barn doors–faded shades of blue and red. It is, without a doubt, my favorite New England country walk, rivaled only by Hatches Harbor in Provincetown, which is rather its sibling in terms of having every location-appropriate attribute you could dream up in one 45-minute excursion on a fairly flat, undemanding and quiet road.

Brown Road boasts cows all season–even baby cows!–white ones, tawny ones, black and whites–alongside big huge bulls, all with eyes that follow me from the beginning of the road until I am safely out of sight. But theirs is a friendly greeting, as if they are just glad I have dropped by, though perhaps, like me, they’d have preferred a phone call to warn them. Even Pluto, the fur along her back standing up, growling at these massive structures, seems not to phase them or irk them, just slightly amuse them because she is early morning company, something to look at while they stand still, always scenically still against some bright and varied background.

During these walks on Brown Road I talk to myself and I cry. Still, I sometimes feel moments of sanity. This is significant because sanity is something less and less in my purview. I am frightened by what is happening to me–by the prospect that I am going to go mad in this small house way out in the country where it is getting easier to squish all my errands into my rare good days and spend the rest of my days shuffling about in my slippers weeping and knowing worse things are in store. I search for small elixirs, for things that are going to make the rest of my life bearable. Brown Road. Working on a piece of furniture. A good nap. A cup of PG Tips in the late afternoon with three cubes of sugar and some half and half. A purple sunset. Billie Holiday singing Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do. A well-rolled cigarette. A hot bath with eucalyptus. A phone call from one of my many beloved friends who has moved far away. These things come but too rarely. And in between I am disintegrating like an old crusty slice of cake that has become too dry to stay in tact on the plate. Soon the mice might eat me–brain first. I’m not sure I care. I just want relief.

Nobody wants to hear about my mental illness. Oh, there she goes again, talking about the fucking mental illness. But is it not the least bit interesting–that a person who was going along in her always-intense but basically livable life suddenly shifted from that familiar existence into a war zone–where nothing was reliable or safe? Something is eating at my brain from the inside out. Every day I am less sane. The worst part is there is still a lucid part of me observing. Taking notes; creating a meta text, a commentary. That is why I remain depressed. If I weren’t able to see what was happening to me, I could just go happily crazy. It’s like I’m going crazy without the anesthesia. And this is why I need to write it down. I need to start recording the process of insanity as it takes my brain from one point to the next. No one understands what makes a person go insane. There’s Schizophrenia. There’s Bipolar Illness. And then there’s just bonkers. Nuts. People with newspapers wrapped around their feet and stuffed in their sweaters. What’s wrong with them? How did it happen? Once someone gets that sick we just write them off. But it’s likely they weren’t always that sick. They might have once been just like you. And then something happened and they became destabilized. And they had no support. And then they had even less support. And then maybe they needed a new roof and they didn’t have money to pay for it so they lost their house.  And the stress made them start talking to themselves all the time… This is the anatomy of insanity. It is a long, slow process and no one cares about it as long as it doesn’t happen to them. I never thought it could happen to me. I was always so “grounded.” And now here it is, happening. Fuck. And one by one, people are walking away. Truthfully, who can blame them? It’s like watching a car wreck.

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