I come from a family that doesn’t acknowledge the existence of mental illness. My teenage years were tumultuous. They were filled with depression and the angst of searching for myself and my spirituality. I quit college in my junior year, at 19 years of age, and eventually found my way to Daytona Beach, Florida.
In Florida I found a job at a Chinese restaurant for 30 cents an hour. Tips averaged a quarter to 50 cents. I remember the owners of the restaurant instructing the dishwasher that one sink was for soapy water and one sink was for rinsing. The next day he was to use the rinse water as the soapy water. Dinner rolls that weren’t eaten were taken off of dirty dishes and recycled to other customers.
I rented a room in a boarding house just next door to the restaurant. The room had plastic curtains that were so flimsy they blew around with the breeze. One window faced the window of a room occupied by an old man in the house next door. The old man would sit in front of his window watching me through my plastic curtains.
Two old men lived in the boarding house with me. When I went to the bathroom, one of them would sneak to the door and watch me through the keyhole.
When you flipped the light on in my room, millions of cockroaches (called palmetto bugs in Florida) would scatter. They crawled on me in bed at night. They crawled up my leg when I was sitting on the toilet. I had to pick them out of my food when they dropped into it from the ceiling.
One day there was a woman outside with a box of kittens. I adored them, and she gave me a cute gray kitten with the promise that if I changed my mind, I should return him back to her.
But I was too involved with trying to keep my own life afloat to take care of anything else. I went out every night and partied, picking up bikers in bars and spending the night with them. I forgot all about the kitten.
One day I came home and discovered the kitten had turned feral. The tiny thing hissed at me hatefully. I hadn’t bothered to feed it for days. It had probably been living off of hunting palmetto bugs. I returned it to the lady. My life was so far gone, it never occurred to me to feel badly about it.
Later on that year I found myself living with a man who took out his frustrations by using my face as a punching bag. I woke up one night in an ambulance having seizures from an overdose of pills and alcohol. This would be my second attempt at suicide. The nurse in the ER told me I was disgusting and should be ashamed of myself for trying to commit suicide.
Years later, after straightening out my life and completing college, what I did to that kitten was one of the dreams that haunted me regularly.
Think of a time you let something slide, only for it to eat away at you later. Tell us how you’d fix it today.
Set It To Rights