Intro: Elizabeth Fairchild

Elizabeth Fairchild was not a silly woman. So naturally, she applied makeup before driving herself off a cliff.

Her mascara wand popped out of its tube comically. She was a dead woman, yet heaven help her if she looked horrid when the coroner unzipped her body bag later that night.

One swipe left. Another swipe right. One last on the left (her f*cking eyelashes had a gap in them ever since she’d plucked them out with a tweezers years ago). Her hand did not shake. She was, after all, comfortable with her fate.

Digging through her purse with her free hand, she rummaged around until her fingers brushed a pack of menthols. She flicked the top open, snatched a straight. As the cigarette caught the flame from the lighter, Elizabeth slowly puffed smoke at her reflection over the porcelain bathroom sink.

What a droll time it was, indeed. Her impending doom didn’t dishearten her. She’d never felt so indifferent. Critically, she squinted at the Elizabeth staring back at her, cigarette hanging carelessly between her lips. Her mouth tightened as she took another deep draw.

Deep-set, black eyes. Blunt cut gray hair, too wispy in the front for a lady, her dad always insisted. He also insisted on calling her Lizzie all her life. Didn’t catch on. Ladies should always have their hair in a sleek updo, he willed. Didn’t catch on either.

Elizabeth gave herself one last hard look. Let the cigarette stub teeter out her mouth. She snubbed it out with the toe of her oily black Mary Jane and grabbed a tube of lipstick from the kitchen counter. The television flickered in the front room. An arm flung over the side of the flea-bitten couch, palm up.

Right foot, left foot, over the sh*tty, linoleum floor and through the door Elizabeth carried herself. She unlocked the car door, flipped the top off the lipstick, and warmed up the poisonous red rogue on her middle finger. Smudged the cream on her right cheek, left cheek, then nonchalantly on her lips like an unholy trinity.

She pressed her Mary Jane to the ‘52 Bel Air’s brake pedal and started the engine. Blew a kiss at her reflection in the rearview mirror. The plot was set.

It was show time. And honey, Elizabeth Fairchild thoroughly enjoyed a show.

Dating for (Mentally Ill) Dummies

It wasn’t my best date, but it wasn’t my worst either. He showed up, unlike my first date ever in college. That was a plus.

He was sweet, I knew that much, but I found myself straining to find common ground amidst lengthy, awkward pauses. Tense crossed legs, vigorous nodding (don’t dissociate, damn it), I gripped a cold fizzy beer in my right hand like the lifeline I knew it was. Feigning interest, I propped my chin in my hand and noticed that his eyes flicked towards my now-exposed wrist. Self-consciously, I jerked my arm off the high-top table and back into my lap.

We needed a distraction. He had mentioned salsa dancing in passing earlier, so I drained my IPA in ten seconds and vaulted myself off my chair, date in tow. The poor guy probably thought he was gonna lay the pipe that night.

After a ten minute Uber ride, we flashed our IDs and a quick smile to the bouncer and entered a sticky-floored bar in downtown Cambridge. Shaking my head when asked for another drink, my date and I hit the dance floor. Under the flickering lights and gyrating, sweaty bodies, a bridal party from my college’s hometown screamed at my arrival and asked if I was dancing with my husband.

Grinning like an idiot, I smacked her shoulder and yelled, “HE’S MY BOO” over the pounding bass. Whipping my hair around like a banshee, I fumbled with my date’s shirt buttons and unceremoniously unbuttoned his shirt in the middle of the dance floor. An hour later, I soberly drove him to his house and dumped him off on the curb. I hope he didn’t see me exchanging numbers with that Julian kid earlier. Gawd, being manic was so great.

The dates I’ve had are few and far in between, but it’s safe to say that between myself and my friends, we have a few stories to tell.

If “getting out there” and “meeting up with hawt singles” on apps is what gets us millennials off our phones, off our asses, and into the arms of that girl/guy who had a puppy in photo number three, then so be it. I used to balk at the thought of exchanging messages through an app only to meet a rando in a bar, but now I have learned to embrace it for what it does and the purpose it truly serves (meeting people!).

Dating is hard. I often find myself wondering how the hell two people can mutually agree to see one another after a first date. Through many (MANY. I’m a HAWT piece of a**!) trials and errors, these meet ups have taught me to live in the moment and chill out a little bit. Not every Tom, Dick, or Harry will be your potential husband. What they will be is a potentially good time, so offer to split the beer, get to know the human next to you, and enjoy being in the moment.

Easier said than done though, right?

It used to be a lot harder. As I’ve described in previous posts, I’ve had a somewhat abnormal dating past life due to several factors, the largest being my mental health.

After a particularly ugly break up in high school, I was confronted with parts of my illness I was in no capacity and had no idea how to control. I became angry, frustrated, and increasingly negative while in the throes of my anguish- but most of all, I became scared. Scared of myself, scared that I was unable to control my mood, and scared I was unworthy of loving someone or being loved in return. Undiagnosed and not treating with a psychiatrist or therapist at the time, I had convinced myself at the age of eighteen that I couldn’t be trusted to date or see anyone until I “fixed” myself. Unfortunately, this delusion continued on through college.

As you may be well aware of (but I was not at the time), mental illnesses aren’t something you can “heal” or “get over”. It’s a bit harder than just taking your Prozac, drinking water, and reading up on the latest edition of “Dating For Mentally Ill Dummies”. Mental illnesses are for life. For some, myself included, it’s sometimes just a matter of learning how to properly cope and find ways to be successful despite maladaptive learned behaviors and thinking patterns.

In hindsight, I spent years (yes, years!) too afraid and discouraged to put myself out there and go on dates, worried I’d become obsessive, manipulative, and insecure like I had been in high school. What I failed to accept until recently is that I’m no longer the girl I used to be.

Now that I’m cognizant of the fact I’m better equipped to handle what life throws at me, I decided to make some changes and take some risks this past year. I know I’m far from the functioning capacity of one who has not struggled with a mental health disorder, but I understand it should not inhibit my pursuit of happiness and self-discovery. With this in mind, I accepted that dating would be an uphill climb, but one I was willing to undertake. Life is simply too short to close oneself off to pathways just because they may be painful and difficult.

***

I’m not unaware of the shock that has passed across some of my dates’ faces as they see the deep purple scars on my arms, a visible talisman of inner turmoil from my past. For some, my mental health been a deal breaker. For others, it’s served as a topic of conversation that has led to unexpected common ground.

It’s a road divided. My mental illnesses serve as a fork in the road where I know only one of two routes may be chosen after my illnesses been revealed. Either we will see one another again, or we will part ways contingent on this reality.

This fork in the road used to worry me, but I’ve learned to let go. I have nothing to apologize for, I have nothing to hide. My mental illnesses are something I will have for the remainder of my life and whoever I end up with will be well aware of this. As long as I’m working on getting better, I see no reason why they should be thought of as having a negative impact on my dating life.

So although it’s taken me years to build up the courage to go on dates, I couldn’t be happier I finally took the chance. I can’t expect (and don’t expect) every date to end perfectly or even well. I’m becoming better at dealing with rejection, though it sometimes hurts more deeply than I know it should. I’m a work in progress. I’m better off learning how to deal with the ups and downs of dating now rather than avoiding it altogether because I’m worried something will go awry- because things always do.

The more dates I go on, the more I’m convinced I’m doing the right thing- even through heartbreak. I’ve never characterized myself as someone who is resourceful, but now I’m forcing myself to deal with my mental illnesses head on instead of avoiding them. Becoming comfortable in a fluctuating state of disquietude doesn’t allow growth and I’m learning to embrace this, however scary it seems. And so far, it’s been a painful, yet wonderful road filled with lessons I’m beyond grateful to continue learning.

 

 

Violent Light | Chapter 1: Charlie

Click here to read the prologue to this story.

Charlie woke sweating, as though she had been running. She put a hand up to her clammy forehead, suddenly concerned she had the flu. Blinking away the fuzziness from her eyes, she sat up rigidly.

What had she been dreaming about? Everything seemed so real…from the old man to a strange flash of light. Charlie shook her head in disbelief. And why on earth did she remember a milk jug? That was weird.

Shrugging, she slid her legs over the side of her bed and stretched wearily. She almost expected something unusual to pop out of the recesses of her messy closet. As it were, there were a number of unusual objects inhabiting Charlie’s room. Though Charlie appeared normal in every sense of the word, her room indicated otherwise.

Books filled nearly every vacant space. Stacked ten or fifteen volumes high, most were falling apart at the seams. The musty odor of aged paper filled the air. Nana likened her room to a bombed out World War II bunker. This isn’t to say Charlie was not organized, of course. She knew where to find any book in her collection if she needed it.

Science books stood on her desk, grouped by subject. A plethora of American classics (sorted A-Z by author) lay haphazardly next to her rock polishing kit. Names like Dickens, Hemingway, and Sagan stood out among the piles. A few potted plants drooped lazily against the window sill.  

Only one piece of furniture did not sag tiredly from the weight of dusty, ancient books. A small nightstand bore one novel, the title worn off the cover. It caught Charlie’s eye as she hopped off her bed .

An original copy of The Metamorphosis. She had been sifting through Nana’s old high school textbooks and found it buried underneath a large stuffed bird. Delighted by her find, she began reading the novella a few weeks ago.

Walking gingerly around a few piles of books, Charlie trudged over to the window beside her desk. She opened the blinds and let the watery dawn light cascade into her room. After her eyes adjusted to the sun, she pressed her nose to the glass and peered down the street.

Pruned bushes divided well-manicured lawns into neat sections. She grinned as she noticed a couple of stubborn weeds growing by the mailbox on the front lawn. Her suburban neighbors sniffed at the fact Nana and Charlie did not spend their weekends weeding and clipping the hedges like they did.

Charlie scanned the sidewalk. No one stirred, save for Mr. Peterson and his dog, Pickles. Pickles strained against his leash as Mr. Peterson absentmindedly spilled coffee down his robe. The Beechwood Gazette was jammed under his arm and he appeared blissfully unaware of the hot liquid draining out of his mug. The front door of his house was still flung wide open, letting in the humid summer air.

Charlie shook her head and laughed. Out of all the snobby people on Yorkshire Drive, Mr. Peterson and Pickles were the friendliest.

Mr. Peterson arrived in Beechwood a few years ago with nothing but Pickles, a Volvo, and a hefty down payment on the house two yards across from Charlie and Nana. He was a curious man.

Middle-aged, quirky, and offering no insight into his previous life, he and Charlie instantly bonded over American Transcendentalism one morning before school. His glasses askew, he launched into a tirade on Emerson while letting the tea kettle boil over in the kitchen. Pickles ran around barking desperately as if he were fully aware of his owner’s shortcomings. It was always a madhouse at Mr. Peterson’s house and Charlie loved it.

He never prodded into Charlie’s past life and neither did she into his. It was an unspoken agreement amongst the pair. Though not much was known about Mr. Peterson, the neighbors often gossiped as they trimmed their hedges and picked weeds. Even Nana participated and Charlie knew she hated consorting with the neighbors.

“I heard he was a professor before he moved here to Beechwood,” Nana said one night at dinner.

“Professor of what?” Charlie asked while twirling spaghetti around her fork. She tried masking her curiosity out of respect, but couldn’t resist information that was so readily available.

Nana squinted and looked up at the ceiling.

“Matilda thinks it was history before he was fired. If you ask me, that explains a lot. The man is clearly a genius, but he would lose his head if it wasn’t attached.”

“Matilda lies so often I doubt she even knows what’s real anymore. You know that,” Charlie stopped twirling her fork around in circles to give Nana a look. “It could be completely untrue.”

Nana shrugged and reached for a piece of garlic bread.

“Beats me, hun. Next time you go over, can you please bring him the book on the counter? Heaven knows why he wants to know about fishing practices on the east coast, but I figured I’m not using it anytime soon.”

Mr. Peterson was always wrapped up in some project or another. Before school, Charlie walked past his two-story house on the way to the bus stop. She’d hear classical music blasting one day or see him frantically paging through books on his porch the next.

Neighbors condemned his odd behavior within hours of his arrival. But Charlie knew “odd” was only relative to the hegemony of Yorkshire Drive. Unless your primary concern was bragging about the quality of your rhododendron bushes, you were sniffed at. Charlie welcomed Mr. Peterson and Pickles’ arrival. She didn’t feel so alone.

Charlie pressed the palms of her hands to her sweaty temples and closed her eyes. She could only imagine what her neighbors would say if they knew she’d been having bizarre dreams for the last month. They’d probably encourage Nana to ship her off to boarding school. They had a deep distrust of the public school system for reasons unknown to Charlie.

Side stepping a pile of National Audubon Society guidebooks on mammals and birds, Charlie walked to her closet and changed for the day. School was out for the summer, but she opted for a Jansport backpack and threw in a few wildflower guides. Charlie adjusted her t-shirt and glanced in the mirror on the back of her bedroom door. She stared blankly at her reflection.

Freckles splashed across her arms and bridge of her nose, skin slightly tanned from the time she spent outdoors collecting rocks or swimming at the beach. She tucked a lock of hair behind her ear and cocked her head to the side. The mirror cut off the top half of Charlie’s face. She was taller than most the boys in her eighth grade class but didn’t mind the teasing her height encouraged. Being tall made her feel important.

With a sigh, Charlie turned away from her reflection. She grabbed a sketchbook from her desk, managed to find a pencil under her bed, and tiptoed down the stairs. Nana wouldn’t be up for another hour. Grabbing an apple from the kitchen counter, she slipped out the front door, hopped on her bike, and pedaled down Yorkshire toward the rising sun.