The Head Trip
For the past several years, I have seriously wondered if I had developed some type of mental illness… or worse. I briefly explained this in “Potholes — The Aftermath,” an earlier Zap Tale. To be perfectly honest, I’m still not certain what I have become, despite having my epiphany and being freed from whom I believed I was.
It’s a hell of a head trip trying to figure out if my brain is firing on all cylinders, or as referred to in clinical terms “chemically unbalanced.” For the most part, this leaves me constantly guessing exactly how and what I’m supposed to feel. I couldn’t begin to count the times I have awakened from a peaceful night’s sleep to ponder what I have become, only to return to bed, still unsure.
To add to my conundrum, while trying to interpret my true feelings, I sit in front of my aging typewriter and desperately try to disentangle a knot of thoughts. I start out fine, then the letters begin to fly past my face as though I was in the prison version of The Matrix, except the code is far more jumbled. Then, a familiar song will blare from my headphones and take several words from the printed page with it.
However, taking into account where I presently reside (or who I reside with) , aside from second guessing my mental state, future well being, or worrying about my attention span. If my thoughts were different than most of yours, would that indicate mine are actually flawed?
Before I designated myself as a closeted bi-polar, I had to attempt to compare my inner most thoughts to others — but then wonder if they are normal? Then I had to ask myself several more questions? What exactly is normal, or what if the same people I’ve been using for comparison are suppressing (or devoid of) the same emotions that had recently overtaken me — then what?
To compound my problem, since I live in a cage, I have no choice but to use others in cages for examples. (really bad idea). As a matter of fact, its a horrible idea since I already knew most of those around me “are not wrapped too tight.” By the time I am finished with my comparison, I am usually more baffled than when I began my mental inventory.
However, after reviewing a distant memory from when I was once free, I stumbled over a cage dweller I thought, I could relate to. Even though it was deeply buried in my past, it was one of those innocuous moments in my life that I can’t come close to erasing.
Believe it or not, it occurred one sunny day as I strolled aimlessly through a small zoo. After parking the car, and paying admission, I followed the crowd just to view one nondescript animal after another. Then I noticed a caged puma. I had seen most of the big cat’s countless times before on the local nature channel, and each episode portrayed a magnificent animal and stealthy hunter.
Without fail, the camera would always manage to capture its striated shoulder muscles while highlighting its athletic ability as it caught its prey. This one however, was nothing like the pumas I had seen from the comforts of my living room. To begin with, it had what I could only describe as a beer belly, was missing a canine, and simply did not have that spark of life in its eyes.
Aside from the missing spark, the part that really struck me as odd, was the way it continuously paced its small enclosure. I clearly recall it taking several steps forward, then spinning with a slight limp, only to take several steps in the opposite direction. Remember, this was pre-prison, so I simply assumed it was nuts! However, I did wonder why it didn’t simply lie in its shaded pen and enjoy the fresh air? Obviously, it was fed, out of the direct sunlight, and could rest as much as it pleased.
However, after staring for a few moments, I noticed what appeared to be a fur ball in the corner of the small enclosure. To be honest, I first thought it was nothing, until the puma carefully picked the fur ball up, and moved it to the other side. I quickly realized it was a mother and her cub.
Yet, I was still puzzled as to why she would not stop pacing except to check on her offspring, then after seeing to the cub, she would restart her endless journey of circles. Like so many other things in life that take forever to figure out (or you never figure out) I added this to the lenghty list. Decades later after recalling this scenario as only a convict could, I have come to the conclusion that unlike my own prison, the most dangerous thing either that cat or I could encounter is our own thoughts.
Animal or human, we often see only the things we choose to see. Then, if your brain is slightly twisted, it will often fool you into believing things that only exsist in your mind. Therefore, I had to carefully rethink whether that mother puma was indeed crazy. Then I was forced to add myself to the mix and wonder if I am nuts as well. Notice, I still use the word “wonder” since I am still not a hundred percent certain.
After residing in a cage myself, I must admit to pacing my own enclosure for hours at a time. I can only take three and a half steps before turning, yet I have done it enough to wear out the cartilage in my left leg.
After a series of x-rays, the technician thought it was odd that one leg is devoid of cartilage; while the other side is perfectly fine. I’m no doctor, but I know the problem is a result of pivoting to my left as I’ve paced those three and a half steps — god only knows how many times. My current vice is chain smoking while I grind my teeth. It all equals going crazy on the installment plan.
The one positive similarity I have with that caged puma is, I have what can only be described as my own set of adopted cubs. After acquiring them, I can only assume my untapped parental instincts that were never utilized while I was free, have kicked into overdrive. Of course, after transforming into the person I have become.
Unlike the mother puma who had nothing to fear for her caged offspring, prison is truly a dangerous place for adolescents. In my world, there are many predators who can easily run a cold piece of steel through my cubs rib cages “or worse”, and then laugh as the youngsters bleed out. To complicate matters, these adolescent convicts don’t realize this, because they are certain “they know everything.”
I try to keep them on some type of leash, in an attempt to limit their mischievous tendencies; throwing snowballs with ice centers at degenerates during the winter months, to throwing rocks at a few choice individuals during the summer. For an all year event, they often trip people in the prison hallways. Yes, they actually do these things in a maximum security prison.
As much as I try to keep them out of trouble, and after many close calls, (beefs that I could squash without them getting hurt) it finally happened. After taking my eye off the kids for a brief moment to use the phone, they got into with what I can only call a red-neck grizzly bear. Prison yards are always noisy, but when it becomes eerily quiet, it’s all too obvious that something is about to happen. If everyone is shuffling nonchalantly off to one side or the other, it already happened.
This theory also applies to my adopted children, as I can always hear at least one, if not both of them at all times. Many of you reading this also posses the same skill set. For example, you can be on the phone while making dinner and somehow notice it’s way too quiet before thinking, “the kids are up to something.”
Back to my phone call. I sensed trouble brewing with my adoptees just as I was connected. I said a quick good-bye, hung up, and quickly and unobtrusively made my way to the kids. I immediately spotted one of them standing in front of the redneck, menacingly clutching a 25 pound dumbbell. My other adopted offspring was slightly off to the rednecks blindside, and what the redneck failed to realize was that a true friend of ours was four feet behind him.
To get my aging adrenaline really flowing, I noticed several convicts heading towards the kids. Now I had to quickly determine who was on our side, who was not and if there was any hand offs? Friend or foe, it was obvious several of them had their hands hidden in their front sweat jacket pockets. This told me they might have anything from a rock to meticulously sharpened piece of steel.
I stood next to one of my kids, yet remained out of the rednecks striking distance. I casually inquired “What started this?” I knew his pedigree so a calm demeanor was in order, casually as he outweighed my 240 pound frame by at least 100. To make it that much more intense, he stood six foot something insane, and in all likelihood was never going to be free either. In short, he was a real piece of work.
Thankfully, he had no idea my nerves were shot and my gunslinger ways of days past were long over. I can only guess he assumed my hands in my pockets were not for keeping warm and — quickly had a change of heart. I honestly was very happy it worked out this way because the only thing I was holding was my own fingers !
After everything was hashed out, and after my adrenaline went back to wherever it goes, I quickly realized I still clearly possessed that battle ready instinct. However, I had to figure out if I was like that parent animal who would go into battle rather than fleeing only to protect its young. Or… was the old me making its presence known.
I made a mental note to examine this question further at a later time. For the time being, I still had to privately chastise my children while commending them. They stuck together as I instructed them to do time and time again. Then, they held their ground in an obvious losing situation which showed courage. I also informed them that there are countless cemeteries overflowing with the brave.
In any prison, this is a hard balance as unlike in the free world, I can not tell my adopted children not to fight. Instead, I have to teach them how to win battles, and how to pick their fights carefully, while ensuring they do not appear weak in front of the countless predators who surround them.
The irony of it all is that I assumed the story ended here. I thought by relating to that mother puma, my mental dilemma would be solved. No more would the new emotions of my present self shake me to my core. Nor would what was in store for me rattle my soul. It was at that moment, I knew I wasn’t going crazy, getting overly emotional, or in need of medication. The truth is, if the need arises, I still posses enough courage to ensure the most important thing: the safety of my adopted children. It turned out to be win-win.
However, as many tales do, this one began to write itself. While perusing an article that should have been innocuous, along comes a tale by a one time attorney, who conveyed his story of living with; Lou Gehrigs disease. In his essay, he described his disease; it “eats away at your nerves as your muscles deteriorate and weaken — each day becomes far darker than the one before. Then, instead of being able to make plans or embrace his future — it terrified him. As his muscles further frayed and weakened, he knew death for himself would arrive early. However, writing helped him overcome the madness.”
This man and myself are as physically different as two human beings could possibly be, yet I relate to his message far more than I have related to anyone before. Even though his essay was like trying to explain the color red to one that had never seen it himself, I clearly understood his frustration as we are both securely trapped.
Aside from death coming early, I could have easily mistaken this man for an old convict. In my world, like his, all of the exact symptoms occur, yet death for those in my position is usually a drawn-out, multi-decade process. Now together, yet worlds apart, we are both attempting to assemble the right pile of words to explain something that simply can not be explained; this while seeking knowledge neither of us possesses which can set us free.
As I read further, with my hand held firmly over my mouth, and after shedding more tears than I have in almost a decade, I can only call this my second awakening. After pondering the right words to express what I have become, and after trying to find a correct example which might portray this, my head trip was still assuming I have become one thing, but I tearfully was forced to realize — I was still something else.