A Trick of the………

……….the Mind

Ryan Christianson

Now living alone, I could partially understand how the heat could make someone mad.

Something always happens in August. Someone is always confessing their feelings after dusk, the fatigue makes them brave, the shadow of night makes them feel anonymous. In a sense, I think August is the dusk of months, at least in the stage of my life now which revolves around the schedule of school rather than the Gregorian’s. Even then, my sister wasn’t in school, so perhaps it was the heat that did it.

I remember that I used to have purple hair, and I had just recently discovered the sensations of getting high. In between houses, my family was living in an Airbnb, which made the whole of that summer far more surreal. My older sister had moved out before I’d started highschool, and my last vivid memory of her was seeing her in the hospital after she’d taken too many pills. While writing this, I’m ashamed to not know what pills they were, it would add great description to this piece.

The truth is, any detail past Eighth grade, besides the hospital, isn’t mine to recall. Sometimes I see photos, and the kid looks like me. Sometimes it turns out they are very old photos and it’s actually my dad, and I have a fifty-fifty chance of guessing. [1] I mean I have always written journals, and I had snapchat starting around seventh grade. One time particularly, going through an old box of my stuff, I found a journal which was clearly mine, labeled: ‘Ryan’s Diary’ and all. Nothing in there, mind one melodramatic poem, could I remember. I only got about half way through before I just threw the thing away. This experience happens a lot to me, and is very specific, but it’s very hard to try and explain how it feels. In a trivial sense, for example let’s say you dated someone who made it a part of their personality to love turtles, and after you all breakup, some rainy afternoon you see a video all about turtles and you suddenly think about your ex. Now imagine that, but you don’t know what the dread is, what’s triggering it, and what made it a trigger, where or whom, just the dread, and knowing it’s unlocked in a memory.

Writing about myself becomes rather hard, since my past is obstructed by trauma, some of which I can recall from my old writings or my sister’s, but there is plenty I know I would never write, I’m sure things she would never want to write/admit, meaning the worst of it will never be known. I don’t know if this is a good thing or not, but it does make writing about any serious recollection very hard. Either I admit I don’t know much about my past due to trauma, which essentially narrows the point of any essay into the apex of that trauma, which I don’t like getting into, or I talk about high-school recollection, which to me just feels difficult to do without sounding banal. How can I tell you about lessons I’m still processing and are really not that big of a deal.

Yeah I’ve had a really good highschool relationship that ended. It wasn’t ideal, but it was expected. It seems hard to talk of anything worth saying of love when my own experience is dime in an airport relative to humans’ amass of literature and also below average relative to the world’s own collective heartache and bliss.

For me it was weed. When I first started smoking, it was obviously really cool, I mean, the first night I laid on the grass in the same park I learned to ride a bike, sitting with my best friend. It was one of the only times the feeling of grass on my skin hadn’t been bittersweet. That sort of culminatory moment where your leg gets numb and simultaneously itchy never happened. Probably because we weren’t there for all that long, but in high minutes it felt like an eternity.  He was a certified stoner, and talking to me, and I remember his voice sounding like it was narrating a documentary like Cosmos where they have the animated historical figures. Nothing profound was even being spoken, I think he was just talking about his first time getting high..  I could even see the animated figures which were acting out his words. I heard the music I would sing to myself like I was wearing headphones, I think it was Space Song which is like ethereal electronic. The wind moved against my hair and arms so sensually I almost felt turned on. It was like an orgasmic experience at the time, and I’d drank before, weed is always seen as like a parallel so I wasn’t worried about anything. I can now remember also there was a family flying a kite god knows why late at night, and it was white and vaguely dragon shaped and it mesmerized us.

Beginning of senior year my sister moved back in. We didn’t know at the time, but she was going through withdrawals. I shared a bathroom with her, since our new house in fountain hills only had two, and I partially shared a room with her too. When I was little we shared a bathroom. Her time with us was a constant reminder of a past I’d forgotten, she would do something and then I’d remember she’d done a similar thing when I was much younger. For the most part this just made me uncomfortable, she was always messy, her stuff spread across my counter like some feeble imperial empire, which reminded me of my permanently messy bathroom thanks to her back in the house I was born in. Real surface level stuff. It wasn’t until one day I came home and all the knives were gone, and the moment I unconsciously told myself, ‘oh she must be in a mood’ because my parents would always hide the kitchen knives when my sister was in a mood. I had completely forgotten about her moods and the empty knife block set me up for what felt like a sustained multi-week panic.

I would go to my room and through the closed doors hear her yelling, screaming, crying etc. This also brought back memories.

I also have type-two narcolepsy, which basically just means I’m sleepy. It also means that I have sleep paralysis and also hallucinations early in the morning or if I wake up in the middle of the night and need to go to the bathroom or get food. I’m pretty jaded when it comes to figures approaching me at night, I basically block them out entirely.

Of course, I’m sure you can see where this is going. I was a senior boy, of course I had a switchblade in my room. I thought it was cool, and partially, I’ve always been exceptionally paranoid. Lo and behold, one night, my sister brought my knife to my neck, I froze, she decided to go back to the bathroom eventually, and the rest of the night proceeded onwards.

Some stuff later and we sent her to Milwaukee, then she decided to go off to Turkey, which is where she cut off communication with the world and now is, who knows where.

None of that is the point, rather the point is after my encounter with her, and a few more of similar caliber,  we found out she had some serious psychosis.  I mean we already knew she was bipolar, adhd, etc. which I’ve had the gift of inheriting, besides the Adhd, actually, which I think is kind of funny. This, paired with weed, which she smoked regularly, is partially why–doctors told us–she was the way she was. 

The funny thing is right around this time is when I started to really get into weed, like in the span of a few weeks of her leaving.  I bought my pen, I was getting high, semi often, mostly just weekends. I could feel myself at times, turning into my sister, and get this, I would do something high, and suddenly see a memory that I’d completely forgotten about, from my sister’s perception. Knowing her state of mind when she did something that would scare me. The thing is I knew from the start, truly, before I even bought my pen, I had an understanding that what I wanted was impart what locked my childhood behind memorabilia and scents which repulsed me.

Thankfully there was never anyone around for me to scare, but not so thankfully this didn’t pull me from stopping. A lot of time goes by, a half a year, I’m dating this girl, we love each other, we both smoke not too frequently, not too infrequently. We’d been on and off for about three years.

At parties, I would realize I was anxious when I was high, and yet I was also anxious to get high when I was sober. This specific phenomena began to enhance, when I was sober I wanted nothing more than to get high, and when I was high I was miserable and wanting nothing more than to be sober. This cycle to me, funny enough, was also only apparent when I was high, or when I was sober reading my high writings.

I finally stopped weed the summer before college, when I was living by myself, in the same house. I had withdrawals, and I dealt with everything I had witnessed my sister go through. It was a madness I could understand, and while I didn’t hold a knife to anyone, I was being reclusive enough and not very eloquent with my emotions which led to my girlfriend at the time dumping me, so I don’t know, there’s that.

I read some good books while going through withdrawals, most notably Infinite Jest, and they were good, but the problem is now I’m addicted to finding addictions. I think I’m so afraid of what I’ve experienced/seen, everything I repetitively do which gives me pleasure, I’m sure is an addiction, and I get into a cycle of fear and trying to stop and not wanting to stop and this making me think it is an addiction even more, and I end up just fighting against myself on everything.

As someone who has gone through withdrawals, phones seem a lot like addiction, sex seems a lot like addiction, and even in the cases of those who aren’t ‘addicted’ just like seeing how people react about being on their phone, or talk about wanting sex, sounds like an addiction.

Some people say things or do things, and it looks like addiction. Its like now life is more complicated, and every thought in my head I doubt, I don’t know when to trust myself anymore, and sometimes the schism feels complicated, and I’m always afraid that ultimately my doubt, or my mind is going to mirror that of my sisters, and I think that creates more doubt, and the metaphorical wedge cranks further.

The entire world looks like it’s built off of addiction, and some are harmful, others are socially acceptable, and there is significant overlap between those two categories.

 I am happy now.

Only through a deliberate type of ignorance, there is media I ignore, places or times of day I avoid, but there’s always something. Maybe it’s helpful at times, but other times, I see it at parties, I see it when I hear a girl laugh in public, I see it when someone smiles at someone else, I see it when I hear someone crying, I see it when I write this, I see it when I see someone talk being an artist, I see it when I see the exhibits she took me to as a kid, I see it when I hear a voice harmonizing with an out of tune acoustic, I see it when I stay up late, I see it when I look too closely at my elementary school, I see it when people walk with their phone like a wheelchair, I see it when lavender settles into that exact hue, I see it when blue and yellow become mute like the shirts she gave me, I see it when I see others drink, I see it when the swings make a noise, I see it in the crowds of kids afraid to speak, I see it in the urban vistas of yellows and stigmatized fluorescent reds, I see it in the receding train tracks, I see it in the bathroom stains, I see it when I see nothing, I see it when I go to my grandparents house, I see it when I smell the smoke on all of my friends, I see it when someone, anyone, gets a little too loud, I see it when I try to write about myself, I see it when I hear someone discuss sanity, I see it when in the early hours of the morning, I see it sometimes in my bed and I can’t move, I see it like a ghost, I see it in the simple strumming patterns, I see it in her artwork, which is still hung up, I see it in the way strangers talk to me unsure and unwilling to give up their secrets and humility as am I, I see it in fenced up pools, I see it in spray on sunscreen, I see it in places I would never suspect until after the fact, I see it behind my eyes and in my head like a feeling that speaks and breathes heavier than my emotions and negates everything in my body which tries to feel.

I saw it when I got high.
Nostalgic and terrifying.

            Everywhere I see it, I think it’s me, or maybe it isn’t me, is it addiction, is it my sister, do I stop it? I mean pleasure is just a voice in our head that wants, and discipline is the voice that kills pleasure. I’m not that endulgent, but I think pleasure at all scares me. I’m afraid of slipping, I mean even with the dumbest things. I remember one day walking to class, this is Arizona summer right, and I’m parked at the Packard garage, which means my shortest walk is ten minutes, and I’m riding the right side of the walkway to stay in shade. Something in me said, this is nice, and it genuinely scared me. I seriously, as a redhead in hundred and five degree heat, deliberately walked in the sun and avoided the shade because I didn’t want to be addicted to it, I thought I was addicted to it. I don’t even know if that’s in the realm of addiction, I don’t know which ‘wants’ go in the category of addiction, but some things feel further removed than others.

            One thing that people around me would always talk about was waking up and making a habit of reading whatever you wrote high. Sometimes they would post it on their story, laughing at whatever they said which they thought was poignant at the time of writing.  I only knew how miserable I was high, when I was high, and everything I wrote was pretty unnerving to read, especially sober the morning after. This happened only a month into smoking, and from then onwards, every morning I would wake up and habitually delete everything I had written the night prior making sure to avoid looking at a single word. I hadn’t an idea of what I had written, but I knew it wasn’t anything I’d want to read, and for some reason that still seems like the right thing to do.

[1] It doesn’t help that my parents know how similar me and my dad look, and always play a game of showing me a photo of him as a kid and asking, ‘oh don’t you remember this?’ and sometimes, before they let it slip it’s my father and not me, I think I can. Our heads are weird like that.

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