How did I get in advanced Spanish? What fraudulence allowed me to whip out those colloquial phrases during the placement exam? What voice inhabited me? I called to mind in that moment remarks I’d heard on some street corner in some foreign place at some unspecified time. And now I’m in the advanced class. I look around. The next level is superior. Hilarious! Try to have a conversation with me. I won’t be able to do it.
They all know what they’re doing. They’re conversing amongst themselves before the teacher comes in — in Spanish. A cold drop of sweat runs down my side. I can feel it under my shirt, as if my shirt is so separate from my body. It goes under my bra somehow, and continues down like stream or at least a rivulet, a single, distinct drop. Oh, Jesus, class has started. I didn’t notice the teacher walk in and three people introduce themselves, in Spanish — and one of them was me. There’s that voice again. Where does it come from? It’s not mine. It’s a voice I’ve heard, sometime, somewhere …
Flash — I’m back in my high-school Spanish class. I sit next to a girl who’s my age but looks like a full-grown woman. I look as if I’m ten. I’m sure she has some enhanced knowledge of the world. And again, it’s I who doesn’t know what’s going on. But then again I have that special insight, into something, it doesn’t really matter what — some take on the world and the way things are. Flash to every job situation I’ve ever been in and it’s clear I’ve felt the same way. Everybody else knows what’s going on. I don’t. Everybody is poised and confident. I’m jacked up from the inside out. And it also seems as if people can read my mind.
I’ve been paranoid all my life. I can remember sitting in the circle in kindergarten and feeling that people were looking at me. I had a little bit of a cold and that weakened me. Why do people have to look at me? I didn’t go to school the next day. I told my mom I was sick. I didn’t tell her people were looking at me. She was dubious but she let me stay home. The paranoid person doesn’t tell their mother someone is looking at them — distrust.
I always think I’m noticing too much and so I feel guilty. Guilt is another hallmark of paranoia. I walk into a room and think I immediately know what’s going on. I think I know too much about people within one or two seconds of meeting them. A thought swoops down on me, sometimes even about how things are going to play out in the future. So in spite of my guilt and fear I treasure my gift — gift!
… to think on such multiple levels all the time, always checking around the corner to find out what’s really going on …
It’s a full-time job! Once or twice I almost cracked completely. But that was before I discovered the writers — before I finally reached the age to find them and to understand. Those edgy, solitary, somehow always urban characters; overwhelmed by sensation, they rush back to their hovels or garrets after brief forays into the city, shaking, sweating, terrified, over a mission such as obtaining a loaf of bread. Yes, A Raw Youth by Dostoyevsky, Notes from the Underground by the same, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge by Rilke, Hunger by Knut Hamson, Confessions of an English Opium Eater by Thomas De Quincy, Death on the Installment Plan by Louis-Ferdinand Céline, and of course anything by our man Burroughs pictured above.
Those worlds full of wild sensation, imbalance, sometimes drug use, and sometimes not! It took all of my 20’s for me to settle down. I didn’t get a bachelor’s degree till I was 28. Miraculously that was the same year I stopped smoking all that kush. I paid in many ways for those lost years but at the time I took it all in, it! I worked to develop a perspective and if not a balance at least a way I could survive.
I have things in check now. I mean, last week my friend had to long-distance talk me out of presenting my case to my boss as planned. Case? Oh, yes, my case that I shouldn’t be fired. I had a veritable dossier ready with all my recent work — my accomplishments.
My friend: Did he say anything about your being fired?
Me: No. He looked at me.
Not for the faint of heart. No para los débiles de corazón.
When I finally get my day in court … . Court? Yes, I’ll sit behind the witness stand, ready to be cross-examined by a startlingly brilliant attorney. We’ll spar verbally, philosophically, dialectically, until little by little my views become known to the world — understood!
“It’s important to recognize that paranoia is not located ‘entirely inside the head’ but is a response to the world around. A person’s thoughts, bizarre though they may be, can often be a reaction to very real stresses in life, and sometimes a sensitive comment on the world. On occasion paranoid delusions can even be true! It’s important to consider this possibility before dismissing them. The feeling of ‘double reality’ to seemingly innocent situations and events has its roots in real experience, and is quite common.”
I found this quote on a handy website about paranoia. Kafka was not kidding when he wrote The Trial. Well, sometimes when it all gets to be too much I think about a song by Van Morrison I used to love where he says he’ll “never, ever grow so old again,” and he “promise[s] not to read between the lines …” Between the lines — ha! That’s where you live, baby.