Nonfiction by Carroll Susco
Obsessive feelings are like wildfires, start so small no one notices, rage with a fury, end with a curl of smoke expanding into nothing, and one day everyone has forgotten it but you.
There are things I have done in the past that I am not proud of, that I can’t take back, that I can’t make right, for which Adam hates me. As I got sick, a voice appeared in my head, his voice. No one knew that but me. And with it came the delusion that I was to talk to my soulmate, Adam, telepathically, but he did not know he was my soulmate and that I thought we talked. No one understood the delusion but me. He didn’t understand why I threw a brick through his window, put a piece of gum on his car, a nail file on his windshield, me, an unwanted violator sending him signals I thought he would understand. I feared myself a long time. I hated me, but I had to know: was he the voice in my head?
Obsessive feelings dig in like a tick.
The first time I noticed Adam, he came into the dive bar where I worked as a waitress and sat down in one of the old booths with someone I knew. Reflected in the smoke filmed mirror I saw his profile and thought nothing of it. Still, something told me not to look away. I didn’t like the guy he was with. It wasn’t my table. Something drove me to sit down a moment, anyway. Adam opened his mouth and the same old alternative guy talk ensued. I was bored. (Later I would think I was psychic and so knew what he would say.) I had to go back to work. I looked in his big brown eyes. And he was tall. I liked tall. I stood and started to leave. Adam grabbed my arm and held it, but I pulled away. Walking home after work I looked at the pavement and knew he could be someone I could love. My unconscious gave no reason. It just was true.
The first ember… the second… and so my craziness began.
The second meeting, when I walked into the dive bar where I worked, I saw him sitting in a booth. I was excited to see him, and he had a radiant smile for me. As I walked close to Adam’s table, I heard Christ say (and this to an atheist) “Choose your happiness now or follow me.” There was no hesitation. Christ existed after all. I chose Christ and gave up my happiness. I didn’t know then. I didn’t know what I was in store for. I walked passed Adam and kept walking. The cards were dealt, and my happiness slipped to the floor, got stepped on, and oozed out the door.
I would do anything then to be loved. Give anything. Be anything to be embraced, but I wasn’t, and that I could not handle anymore. From a girl into a woman, the absence of love in my life burned me. Finally, not having Adam in my life was the final straw, the last love I could lose.
Kismet. A week or two later, when the semester started, Adam and I were in the same class together, religion. I was satiated with seeing him twice a week. He sat by me. And then, one day in the middle of the semester, he pulled his desk close to the podium. He invaded the teacher’s space, who was a man with wispy hair and wispy words who said, “I worship Yahweh. I would not worship a god who wasn’t married.” I said something to the teacher, but it’s lost in the ether now. Adam stared at me and kept staring—longer than proper etiquette allowed, long enough for my heart to break, then sprout again, long enough for desire to flush my face with blood. It was profound, and I think when we stared into each other’s eyes it was honest and real. After he stopped staring, Adam turned to the teacher and said I was right. I heard a voice say, “Are they soulmates?” in my head. It didn’t register as a voice yet. It was just a fog in which words existed and required a response. I remember thinking I didn’t know what a soulmate was. At the final exam, we sat apart. He would not look at me. He didn’t say goodbye. He just let go. No phone numbers. No rendezvous at midnight. Nada.
Obsessions are hard to control. Like a flame, they feed off your organs, your skin, your hair.
I called Adam and said I needed to ask him a question. Of all the millions of questions I was having only confusion was coming from my lips, but I needed to know: was he the voice in my head? He told me to meet him at this one particular place for lunch. I’d ask over lunch. We met on the street corner, and Adam handed me a cork with his name on it, and he asked me for a quarter. I pulled one out my wallet and gave it to him, and he put it in someone’s parking meter. I knew it wasn’t his car. I could see his car across the street. Then Adam asked me if what he’d done seemed weird to me. I said no, but that wasn’t saying much. It was only after we had lunch that I remembered that an angel had told me I would need a quarter to see Adam. Lunch didn’t go so well. He kept predicting the future, and I kept trying to remember my question. He got angry that I wouldn’t ask, prodded me, what did I want? But I only became more confused. As we got ready to go, I remembered I had the quarter in my coat pocket that the angel had told me to take for the meeting. I put the quarter on the table and looked at it. It was up for discussion but neither of us discussed it.
Obsessed people need love like air. A fire needs oxygen, that flammable substance.
I talked to Adam in voice world. He wouldn’t come out of his house to see me. I was furious. So I picked up the brick. The weight seemed appropriate. I have never thrown a brick before. It took some strength to hurl it through his window. I ran only to find out from friends who were hanging onto the sane parts of me that Adam had moved, left the state, and the brick had flown through somebody else’s window. Somebody else had to sweep up the glass, call the landlord, fear me. My love had turned strange.
Was he the voice in my head?
Adam told me, in voice world, to wait at this one street corner. I said I would give him ten minutes, not confident of any of my conclusions. Ten minutes later, the voice of a spirit and an angel told me to look in my rearview mirror, then to turn my head and look out my side window. I did so, and as I did, Adam passed by in his truck. Adam, in voice world, told me to drive into the night without stopping until I eventually ran out of gas. He told me everyone wanted me dead. I knew he had been hanging out in the bar that I lost my job from, making fun of me. When I saw him there, he ignored me as I stood silently by his side an uncomfortable amount of time. Something in me breaks when it comes to Adam. It is too much this feeling. Something snaps like a twig, and I am crazy. I have never been so hurt by a voice than the voice of Adam laughing while the coven of witches tried to drive me to suicide. I have never been so comforted as when I was in the hospital for being God’s daughter when the voice of Adam talked to me all day and evening, cheered me up and kept me going. It is at this point that I have to admit I couldn’t identify the voices, and I knew real people couldn’t talk to me all day and all night. It just added to my confusion though. Did Adam really talk to me? I haven’t a clue. And then there was the question, who was talking to me? I followed Christ instead of my happiness, and that truth, that crazy truth, makes more sense tome than the sane truth that says voices from nowhere got me to believe nothing of relevance and destroyed me for no reason, then left me for dead. Ten years later, coming out of my psychosis, my mind had to entertain the thought that I had been a stalker, among other things, understand and right myself on God’s green earth. The psychosis had to be worked through and examined. The unconscious is pregnant with information it will communicate somehow. Lies I’d told myself to help me cope made it difficult. That was some of the hardest work, getting myself to be honest with myself. Adam didn’t love me back. Adam did in a way. No, not even in a way. The voice of Adam was not Adam. That last one I still wrestle with. At times, I come unglued and talk to voices in my head. Every night in fact, or they ambush me when I am trying to function and I say something strange or my eyes look blown open, crazy. Years went by and my illness ebbed and flowed. I would email or call Adam occasionally, still trying to figure out if he was one of the voices in my head. Meanwhile, I was trying to maintain my relationship with my boyfriend Mike. It was hard. Mike and I were connected, but not like soulmates, like tributaries that meandered down toward the ocean together and apart.
Obsessions makes sense.
Finally, I asked my question. I called Adam. I said, “Are you the voice in my head?” unable to believe the voices, either. “I didn’t give you The quarter. I gave you A quarter.” I said, “Please tell me the truth please.” He answered by yelling, “I understand you people feel sorry for yourselves, but why should the rest of us have to put up with you?” He yelled a bit more. I don’t know what. And he ended with, “Never speak to me again,” I was hurt. I was scared. I said, “Okay.” I was dirty gum on the bottom of a shoe. The Princess and the Pea, which my grandmother had read to me as a girl, is about a princess who slept on one hundred mattresses and felt a pea that was under the bottom mattress because she was such a gentle lady. I was supposed to be like her, but I felt pea, robbed of my inner princess, just green and wrinkled, not flush and spritely with a pretty garb. No, I was hulled. No one is attracted to green peas, or waits for them, or dreams of them or even hangs out with them. They are simply dinner. Who can say they loved a pea? For years, I knew Adam was dating others, and I held on, lying to myself. For years I was Adam’s princess and wasn’t. There was a back and forth with my belief. I had been waiting until he showed me how he really felt, but it turned out how he really felt was that he loathed me. He saw me as a stalker, and I would also see myself as one. There was no secret love or plan to get together between us, and I didn’t know what to do. We feed girls on dreams that won’t become reality even when they are with the man they fall in love with. I call these “reality divorces”.
Obsessions can’t defeat all the firefighters, only some. The landscape damage is great, barren ashen hills.
Finally, I knew I didn’t want Adam anymore for the way he had treated me. Absurd realization so understated, but that is how it started. Something began to let go of me, and I didn’t need Adam the way I had. I wasn’t loved much by my mother and my father was too crazy to care, but even I didn’t know the depth and breadth of that wound and the trauma of not being loved as a child. As an adult, I take responsibility for what I’ve done and accept that most of my friends hate and fear me now.
Obsessive feelings taught me what love wasn’t. Who is brave enough to love fiercely? Who knows how?
So, one day, I was all set to obsess about Adam, and I didn’t want to. It dawned on me that he was a stranger. In fact, I thought he was kind of a jerk. I couldn’t even be angry anymore. What he had or hadn’t done didn’t matter, and I didn’t need anything from him. The intensity of emotion dripped its last few drops, and I was empty of the passion. I walked away. At some point, I had to stop whipping myself and that was it. He never got any more suspicious emails from me, no crazy signals like tweezers or nail files on his car from a past I can’t wipe out and a future I don’t want to imagine. What I have really pursued all these years was not Adam, but answers, understanding, and something to wrap myself in like a blanket on a cold night. I stalked high places to find this love, an explanation of what I hear that others don’t. I don’t know how I ended up at the edge of a new sky full of thistles and white cotton, milk weed and pine needles, but I did, sitting on the side of a hedge at the crest of the sea. Yes, I sit sideways looking at the water and I sit there alone because I couldn’t share my confusing world with others. My love was a simple thing lost in the sea, and so I stared until it surfaced, and it taught me how to be a human again. Sometimes we keep terrible truths from ourselves. Mine was that I had never been loved as a child. Sometimes the lies we tell ourselves hurt us the most. I had told myself it was okay. It was not.
Love conquers all. Well, it wants to.
There was a summer day in the past in the nation’s capital, a 100-degree day. The sidewalk was crowded. I veered only to almost step on a man lying crumpled in a small square of sidewalk where they were supposed to plant a tree. Someone threw him a dollar, but he didn’t have the strength to catch it. I couldn’t keep walking. It could have been me lying there without the help of friends, family, and the medical community, the pills I chose to take. He couldn’t eat, but he could drink some water. The rat bites on his face were hard to bear. And what was his crime? People walked by him, and for what reason? He was probably mentally ill. And he probably wasn’t loved. So I gave him what little I had, knowing if the ambulance didn’t come, he wouldn’t make it. The ambulance hadn’t come when I had to go back to work. He needed some pine needles and milk weed and thistle, healing balm growing wild across the planet. That’s what I told myself. All over the world the fuzz and the needles stick to journeyers. I hope he found them or that he went back to where he came from, home maybe. It takes a true heart to find the way home despite the briars and brambles that eat at the ankles of the weary traveler who hopes only to get there before nightfall. The moon rises. The stars come out and the freedom of the landscape is not welcoming. There are no exits on this highway. No rest stops. Still exclaim,“Coming!” and go. When the voices call, which they do, run faster, sleep, take a pill, salvage your heart. Don’t let them turn that crazy, too. And so I decided I talk to spirits, not people, and that helps manage the disconnect, but I am still asking my question, honestly, and dealing with the disconnect because I don’t believe my decision.
Somewhere a forest fire is emerging. The first ember crackles and ignites. The second….
Published 24th January, 2023.
Carroll Susco has an MFA from the University of Pittsburgh and numerous publications, including a chapbook 'Bean Spiller' recently published with Variant Literature Press.