by Rosko Tzolov
The first chapter of a memoir I am writing.
"May I borrow your car? I need it. It's very important!” I tried to sound as convincing as possible.
"Leave me alone," Eva replied, scrunching her nose and leaning back over the textbook on the desk in front of her.
“Please. I'll give it back to you. I only need it for a little while." I mustered all my powers of conviction, hoping against hope that she would give in.
“No.” Her tone showed that she wouldn’t be swayed, and it frustrated me.
"Why are you being like that? If you knew how badly I need it, you would let me use it.”
Impulsively, I tried to grab the keys from in front of her, but she was faster and took them in her hand. I was leaning low over her, our faces close to each other. I stared at her green, catlike eyes, glaring back at me with a mixture of contempt and hatred. There was a time when her eyes had been filled with these little warm, brown dots where I found admiration and perhaps love when she gazed at me. But that time had passed, and now I had to accept the fact that she couldn’t stand me. Contempt is difficult to overcome. It’s worse even than hate, which may be rational. It is easier for a person to influence what another thinks than to change what she feels. Of course, Eva had her reasons for what she felt...
It was Tuesday, May 5. The last week had been cold and rainy. Dark. But that day the sun appeared in the blue sky without a cloud to hide behind. From early on I thought that the day would be a warm, pleasant day in Binghamton, New York, a day which seemed to be full of promises for amazing things to happen. And on this wonderful day, I finally lost my mind.
In actuality, I did not need Eva's car. I needed a psychiatrist. All day I had been battling paranoid delusions that my friend wanted to hurt me or hurt Eva. I wanted her car so I could travel to New York—four hours from Binghamton—to look into this friend's eyes and either convince myself that he wasn’t after me or stop him from hurting us. In fact, retrospectively, my mental illness, a form of bipolar disorder, started about a year and a half before that day. Ever since I met Eva. Maybe she was the cause of my illness or the illness was the reason I fell so deeply in love with her... I don’t know. What I do know is that I was crazy about her, and more or less, just crazy in general. The manic episode, which escalated on Cinco de Mayo, the anniversary of the battle of the Mexicans defeating the French at Puebla, actually began about two weeks earlier.
On April 20, I got together with a friend - Eric, who was Eva's former boyfriend. So willingly or not, Eric took revenge on me for hitting on his girlfriend when they were together, convincing me to smoke pot instead of working on chemistry problems as we had planned to do. A few seconds after inhaling the acrid smoke, I felt the familiar dizziness and the quickening of my thoughts; the strokes of the heart in my eardrums, and the desire for closeness to someone, whoever else was near. Soon, the paranoia started to take over. I have noticed that when I do not succumb to my uplifting mood and the desire to talk, that old friend paranoia appears. I was afraid I'd get in a fight with Eric, so I left. It was the last time I saw him.
In the next few days, I felt in an elevated mood; I was full of energy during the day, and I could not sleep at night. My thoughts drifted, making it impossible to focus. It was the end of the semester, and I had so many tasks to do. I worked at a chemistry laboratory with a professor at the university, I had exams I had not studied for, and I had to present a scientific proposal for a chemistry research study. The latter seemed to be the easiest task, so I decided to begin with it.
I was sitting in front of my laptop in the library, and my thoughts were chasing each other around my head. I had so much to do in the next two weeks and I could not concentrate on reading even one page, let alone remembering what I had read. From time to time I got up and walked through the library where I was “studying." I felt as if I was stepping on the clouds, I felt so light.
It was so strange, what had come over me. Simultaneously I was feeling down, depressed, but I was also feeling an incredible warmth and happiness on the inside. Even the world around me looked prettier than usually: the colors were brighter and warmer; the objects looked as if they had gentler forms. I was worried though that I couldn’t focus and that I was falling behind with all of the things I had to accomplish. In a moment of desperation, I bought “concentration pills” from a gas station after another unproductive day in the library. The main ingredient was caffeine, but there were many other stimulants contained within the capsule. I tried to study, but the pill didn’t help me concentrate; it even worsened my condition. At last, I quit trying for the day. I took a sleeping pill that I had and went to bed with the hope of waking up early the next day.
I woke up with the sun on the morning of May 5. I felt funky, unsettled. Weird thoughts crossed my consciousness. Gradually, one strange notion nestled in my head. I became convinced that a friend of mine who lived quite far away had gone loony – I mean really crazy. And I believed fully that he knew what I was thinking of – all my thoughts. Paul had gotten crazy. He wanted to get back at me for stealing his willpower in order to use it to study. He was mad that I had not—
Wait, wait. I have not yet introduced Paul. He started as a friend of mine and then become my employer. I used to maintain a small website for him while I was in college. A few days ago, before this whole mess began, I had called him to tell him that I had received my American citizenship a few days before. He was glad for me and joked “Good for you – now you can even steal a car if you feel like and they won’t be able to send you back to Slovenia, even if they want to.”
That sentence got stuck in my head. I don’t know why, but I attributed some sort of special meaning to the simple utterance. Even in the moment of talking to Paul, I had felt very weird. As if I had a strange hollowness in my chest, my whole body felt cold.
Then, on the morning of the 5th, I thought that back to when I had talked to Paul. I believed that he understood that I needed help, that my life was a mess. I remembered him having given me that part of his soul which kept him stable, focused… he wanted me to use it to study. He had warned me. He had hinted that if I didn’t study well, it would be better for me to steal a car and go to jail or he would come for me. He was coming.
I shook my head trying to chase away the obsessive thoughts. I left home and went to the bus station, determined to clear up this situation.
When I got to the university campus, I went to the laboratory where I worked, hoping to retrieve the laptop I had left there. My thoughts were raging inside my head. The worst possible scenarios played one after the other, each a new way that Paul would get to me. I was getting more and more convinced that I had to find a car, take Eva with me, and flee. I knew that Paul would try to hurt her, simply because he knew about how I felt about her.
The worst part was that Paul could read my mind. Wasn’t part of his soul now part of me? How could I counter that? The most important part was to find Eva. I knew where she lived. I started for the bus station, deep in thought for how I could get out of this situation. The worst part was that my thoughts were extremely chaotic. I couldn’t concentrate on a plan long enough to follow through with it. I was very impulsive. Along the path of the chemical lab, I met a stranger. I greeted her and asked, “Excuse me but can you drive me to the town?”
She probably felt that something really important must have happened because she immediately asked: “Why, what’s going on?”
“I think that someone wants to hurt...my girlfriend.”
The woman seemed to be thinking over my request while my own thoughts were racing What am I thinking, asking a total stranger to drive me to town?! My thoughts broke through my panic as I quickly told her “Actually, never mind.” Then I ran down the path towards the road which passed by the chemistry lab, where there is always a steady traffic of cars throughout the day. I spotted a Honda Civic and jumped in its path. The car stopped in front of me. I went to the driver’s side, opened the door, and asked politely “Excuse me, may I borrow your car?”
A middle-aged man looked at me, stunned by me flinging my body in front of his car. “No, you can’t,” he said. He seemed about to say more, but I was already in motion.
“Thank you anyway,” I said as I closed the door. I stooped in the same manner in front of two or three more cars after that. I was afraid to really steal them. I just kept opening their doors. Suddenly I heard someone shouting at me.
“Stop! Police!” A man in uniform was running after me.
Where the heck did he come from so fast? I wondered, then started running from him along the road. I crossed to the other side and descended towards the green field where the football field was. Suddenly police cruisers appeared, and people started pouring out of them, chasing after me. I thought I could outsmart them by circumventing them. I started running parallel to the road towards Vestal Parkway – sort of a highway. The idea was good, but the conditions…not so much. It was hard running over the grass, even with the tornado of energy I had in me. And I did have energy. A lot of it. Anyway, it had rained recently, and the soil was soft, and my feet sunk into it a bit, making my running slow and clumsy.
I reached Vestal Parkway at the entrance of the university. The cops were catching up with me. Suddenly I felt tired. I crossed the highway, walking at the crosswalk. Then I laid face down at the separating line and put my hands on my back.
Two cops, a man and a woman, approached running. They shackled me before the man asked breathlessly “Why are you lying here? Get up before someone hits you.”
I did as I was told. They led me to a police car, put me into it, and then drove to the police department on campus.
While I was in the car I started crying, desperately telling the cops what I thought I knew. “I think that my friend Paul Sanders might have killed his wife and kids. Please call them to make sure that everything is all right.” I gave them Paul’s phone number. If anything had happened, it would be my fault – after all, it was I who had taken away the part of Paul’s soul which maintained his psychological balance and control.
The cops led me into the police building. They shackled me to what appeared to be a heating pipe protruding from the wall. That gave me a chance to think for a second, even though it was still hard to focus. My main worry was, of course, Paul, who was probably already driving towards Binghamton. I wasn’t afraid, though. I felt invincible. Nothing could happen to me.
I looked around, taking notice of everything surrounding me: a room, empty of anything bright or personal; a pipe coming out from the wall that I was shackled to; a wobbly chair that creaked every time I shifted my weight.
Two cops came into the room, leaned with their backs against the opposite sides of the door frame, and started talking together quietly, looking at me from time to time. I caught the words “car” and “trunk. They understood that Paul had done those terrible things to his family because of me and had decided to execute me, planning to shove me in the trunk of a police car and dump me somewhere. I wasn’t afraid.
My voice came out strong and unwavering. “I am not afraid. Even if you try killing me, I am not afraid.” They looked at me with shock before leaving the room. My confidence scared them. Good.
After a while I was taken for fingerprinting, after which they put me on a police cruiser and drove off. The cops dropped me in front of a building. A hospital. I passed through the hospital corridors with the cops and someone else, listening to the ominous buzz of the fluorescent lights above. We entered a room with a desk and two seats. I sat on one of the chairs in front of the desk. I don’t know why, but they took my shoes off. I felt like a character in a Dostoevsky story – but at least my socks were whole and clean.
I started pacing restlessly around the room before I made it out into the hallway, where a cop was standing. He insistently reminded me to get back in the room. I repeated this cycle over and over, the cop becoming more impatient each time I made it out the door. But I needed to move. I had so much energy that I couldn’t stay still. At that moment my cell phone rang. It was Anne – Paul’s wife. I breathed an immense sigh of relief. Paul had not killed her after all.
“Robert, how are you?” she asked gently.
“I am all right,” I answered briefly.
“Where are you?”
I paused before answering. I realized that Paul was next to her and that’s why she was asking me. He wanted to know where I was so he could come to get me. Maybe he had lost the ability to read my thoughts for a while.
“I am in a room. Are you okay?”
“Yes,” she said, and then she was quiet on the other end of the line.
“I apologize. May I call you later, ma’am?” I asked. A man was entering the room.
Anne paused for a moment before she replied hesitantly. “All right.” I quickly hung up the phone.
The man had graying hair and looked to about 45-50 years old. He dropped some files on the desk and sat behind it, facing me, grim face set in stone. Outside the door stood a security guard– he looked big, intimidating. I don’t know why I would have to take on him; I just thought that I could if I needed to.
The man behind the desk introduced himself—I forgot his name immediately—and he asked me what had happened. I didn’t want to tell him the truth, because if he knew it, he would take me for a crazy person, and they would leave me in the hospital, allowing Paul to come and hurt Eva and me. So, I thought a bit and blurted that a friend of mine thought that an affair was happening between me and his wife. I explained that I’d thought he wanted to hurt me so I panicked; that’s why I’d stopped cars, so I could go to his office and explain everything.
The man behind the desk looked at me quietly for a long time. Then he apparently decided that I was not crazy enough to be kept in. He told me that they would send me to the university psychologist, so I could talk to him. I was escorted down the hall with the gray-haired man on my right and a security guard on my left. It was as if they were on my team. I thought that I was making friends. It was good for a person to have friends. Only surrounded by my friends could I confront Paul. He was probably bringing friends with him, too.
My “friends” made sure that I got into the police cruiser that was waiting, and the cops drove me back to the university. I was without shackles. The cops escorted me to the school psychologist’s office in the library building under the North Reading Room.
Besides me, there were two other students who were waiting in the office. I was given some paperwork to fill out and told that I would see the psychologist at three o’clock. I looked at the wall clock with surprise. It was five to three. Somehow half of the day had passed imperceptibly—crazy fast.
I tried focusing on the paperwork. There were questions about whether I slept normally if I thought about suicide, and so forth. I lost interest quickly, and when the tip of my pencil broke, I didn’t ask for a new one.
I wanted to do something. I wanted to move. The thought of Paul rushed into my brain again. While I was here wasting time, he was getting closer to the university, closer to me, closer to Eva. He was probably here already. I got up and went for the door. One of the students followed me with his sad eyes. I thought of telling him that everything would be alright, despite whatever reason he was at the psychologist’s office, but then I didn’t – I would have seemed weird if I had.
“Where are you going?” asked the receptionist. “You have a meeting with Dr. Blair in five minutes.”
“I need to have a smoke, and then I will come back,” I lied. I didn’t smoke, and I didn’t have even the smallest intention to go back. I rushed out of the office and climbed up the stairs towards the North Reading Room. As I expected, I found Eva there...
She collected her bag, her textbooks, and her keys after I tried unsuccessfully to take the last a couple of times. Then she left the library, seeming to be in a hurry to get away from me. I followed her. In the small hallway, I stepped in front of her and yelled out “Eva, wait!”
She took her phone out and started calling someone. Paul. Of course! Somehow, he had gotten to her. I pleaded with her. “Eva don’t choose money over...well, you know.” She continued to try to push her way past me. I grabbed her by the hand and said, “Eva, there is still time to run. Come with me.”
“Let go of me,” she said, looking me straight in the eye before she repeated, "Let go of me."
I let her go. She left quickly. I had seen something in her eyes. She was afraid...but she was afraid of me. I stayed for a moment in the same spot and thought about what was happening. Paul had gotten to her and had fallen in love with her. He made her fall in love with him. That’s why they were working together.
Or maybe he had threatened her. That’s what happened. I imagined him waiting out in front of the library. He probably had a gun. I didn’t care. I was invincible. I would find a way to win her over, to defeat him. I ran down the hall to the stairs at the end, walking hastily towards the exit. I was almost there when a stranger stepped in front of me.
“Leave her alone,” he demanded.
I looked at him completely dazzled. Who was this guy? Why was he intervening in the story, this stranger? He looked to be in good shape – muscular, a little taller than me, dressed in suit pants and a white collared shirt. His shirt smelled of sweat.
“What’s that?” I asked and tried to pass. Paul was waiting for me…
“I said leave her alone” the man repeated. He moved to stand between me and the exit. Behind him to the left of the crowd that was lining up in front of the library cafe stood Eva. She pretended she didn’t see me.
Suddenly the thought that I had that I was crazy—which had only been an annoying whisper throughout the day—exploded with full force. I was crazy after all. Really, truly nuts. There was no Paul, no one wanted to kill me. Eva had gotten scared and called a friend to protect her from me.
The thought that I was crazy scared me a lot. What was wrong with me? The only malady with these symptoms that I knew of was schizophrenia…
I decided to go immediately to the psychologist’s office, but before I was able to get there, the man in front of me shoved me out of the library. Because I understood his role of defender and savior, I let him push and poke me while we were going out of the library. He might have enjoyed it a little too much, though. We started walking down the sidewalk by the fountain. This was the focal point – the liveliest place on campus. Students sit on the stones by the fountain, on the benches, or pass by on their way from the dorms to the lecture halls.
That environment calmed me down. I don’t know why. I thought: Screw the schizophrenia! I would figure it out somehow, too. For what felt like a long while, I walked with Eva’s friend next to me. I wondered when he would leave me alone so I could go back to the psychologist. At one point I saw something in his right hand.
“Is that a knife?” I asked calmly. The man was a bit surprised. He lowered his eyes towards his hand.
“It’s a flashlight,” he said, looking at me like I was… well, like I was crazy. A strange choice of weapon, I thought. It was really a small flashlight.
“I wouldn’t have cared if it was a knife…Look. I don’t want to fight you, but if you want to, this is not the place. Let’s go to the Nature Preserve behind the campus,” I offered. He just looked at me strangely. He apparently didn’t want to fight. He just kept pushing and poking me the moment I tried to change my direction to go back toward the library. And I really needed to see a psychologist...even more likely a psychiatrist.
At last, I turned to him and put my hands on the guy’s neck. I just wanted to scare him away. It was as if he was waiting for something like that. He hit me with a fist and then on the forehead with the flashlight. I stood for a second in a daze. When I came out of the daze, I found the guy still standing in front of me.
Well, that’s dumb, I thought. I tried to scare him away and now we’ll fight.
I stretched my hands toward him for a second time and hugged him over the neck, thinking of wrestling him down. To my surprise, he tripped me. I felt myself lose my footing and started to fall. With the reflexes that had been ingrained in me from the many wrestling matches with my brother, I pretended to fall over before suddenly dragging the man after me with all my weight. That time he was the surprised one. While we were falling towards the ground I turned and fell near his head. I hugged him over his neck again. I won! I thought. And this whole thing was all his fault. He had hit me first.
I held him still and shouted with the scariest voice I had, wanting to scare him for the hit with the flashlight. “Now you will die. This is the last moment of your life. I will kill you bastard,” I growled menacingly.
An elderly man appeared from somewhere – he was probably a professor at the university – and tried to break us apart. A guy I knew named Alex also appeared from somewhere and started helping the old man. I let them separate me from Eva’s friend. With my peripheral vision, I saw all the people who had gathered around. I smiled – we did make a show. I wiped my sweaty brow. When I looked at my hand, I saw that it was not sweat but blood. The bastard had really hurt me.
Incensed, I shouted gravely in Slovenian, “I will kill you, motherfucker!” and I tore away from Alex, who was holding me back. My opponent dashed ahead. I ran after him as fast as I could – at least initially. Then I decided that it wasn’t worth it to beat him up. I should just let things be. Moreover, when we reached the fountain, I realized he had a pretty sizable advantage. I would never be able to catch him. Well, everyone can see who’s the coward, I thought. We went around the fountain twice – each of us from the opposite sides. I was posing and shouting victoriously.
“I am the winner! You cowardly bastard. I won!” I raised my hands like the winner at a boxing match. Then, I sat on a stone around the fountain to wait for the police.
It didn’t take them long that time, either. Soon a police SUV appeared on the sidewalk. Two cops got out and started running straight towards me. This scene felt way too familiar. They shackled me again and then they got me into the SUV. From the inside I watched how they approached the man I had fought with. The fight was his fault – he hit me first. To my surprise the cops didn’t shackle him; they just talked to him, Alex, and some of the people around.
After some time, Eva appeared. The cops talked to her, too. I looked at her— small, pale, with a severe frown on her face—and I wondered what had made me fall in love with her. In that moment I didn’t feel anything good for her, mostly regret that I had gotten in trouble on her account. At least one thing warmed me up – the thought that I had beaten that man – even though he was taller than me and so muscular. I laughed happily to myself.
The cops drove me to the hospital – for the second time that day. That time the first stop was at a room with many beds. They shackled me to a bed, and a doctor came over. I was wondering who exactly that dude was until he started washing the wound on my forehead. He was preparing to put in stitches.
“Will there be a scar?” I asked nervously.
“Not even a tiny one. It’s coming out splendidly,” the doctor answered, continuing his stitching. Honestly, a very noticeable scar remained. I have asked other surgeons since then, and each and everyone told me that dude’s work was terribly done.
After the surgeon finished, the cops took me to an elevator; they got me to a unit, gave some paperwork to the nurse, and took the shackles off. I looked around. Sterile walls. Fluorescent lights above. I’d been to a hospital before. This was a ward like any other, just more spartan.
The cops left. A nurse came to me, gave me a towel and told me to wash myself up, pointing me toward the bathroom. I went in and the first moment I looked at the mirror I got a jolt. The reflection in the mirror was grotesque. My whole face was covered with coagulated, crusted blood; my neck and T-shirt were coated, too. My tears – I didn’t remember crying – had made silver paths down my cheeks.
I washed up, careful not to touch the dressing on my forehead. The water freshened me up.
I went out of the bathroom to explore the unit then. A man in his twenties stood in front of me, gazing at me disapprovingly. I gathered my courage, returning his gaze, but it didn’t seem to matter to him. I stepped to the side. The man kept gazing disapprovingly at the place I had stood before. Looking at him looking at an empty spot on the floor, I had an epiphany. They had put me into the psych ward! Where they put the loons. I gave it a thought then I sighed. After today I belonged here.
They would help me here…