When you shake hands with a nurse, follow the eyes – they’ll be checking out your veins for plumpness.
I left the Navy in 1977, after four years as a hospital corpsman. I became part of a larger world. The world got bigger, I didn’t. I found it useful to hide out in a lot of part time activities to keep the bastards from finding out that I was on the loose. I thought they might rub me out. I worried a lot about being rubbed out.
Though I had no idea who the bastards were, I did know that they were renting space in my head for meetings on a regular basis. (As a schizophrenic once told me, in a clear moment, “You know those voices in your head all the time? To whom are they talking to?)
I started school at a community college in Pacific Grove, California – general studies –, which consisted of a lot of dope smoking with other students that I had instinctively meet the first hour after arriving on campus. I also went to some night classes. I grew my hair out, moved to a hippie part of town and kept a low profile. Living off the grid soon became a distant ambition – a thing to work back towards.
I found myself stuck in a long-term skittish mood. Since I was getting $400 bucks a month from the government to attend classes, I thought of the time as a therapeutic easing, as a gentle preparation for my eventual reentry into society. It was like living in my own halfway house, without the benefits of structure or therapy.
With time, I got better -- a yak butter on an open sore mixed with time kind of better. Or maybe I just got the butter and the time.
By the end of 1978, I was working as a teaching assistant in an English-as-a-second-language program for special needs students at a local high school. I didn’t speak Spanish, but did reasonably well given the circumstances. I started dating a hippie chick with large breasts and three peasant dresses. She wore the dresses in consecutive order, never with bras or panties. I learned to think of underarm hair as good, and that the smell of patchouli and skunkweed was pleasant. Months passed, I began to see faces in clouds. I sunk in deep and prospered. I was not unhappy.
I would sit on the railroad tracks by my cabin and get stoned. I’d watch the fog creep in, until confused by the banks of it. I’d stumble my way to the Fat Cat cafe, two blocks away, and get something to eat. It always seemed to take forever to get there, but I always had just that amount of time to spare.
By 1980, I was better. I broke up with my girlfriend and left her alone -- with a limited wardrobe, an aging cat and a bad feeling. The hippie thing had finally worn me down; I was tired of talking reason to plaster garden gnomes. I headed off to the big city -- San Jose.
For work, I found that my Navy experience was helpful. I started at a big downtown hospital as a nursing assistant, part time. The way it worked: they would call me when they needed someone, and I would answer the phone if I ran out of money.
I returned to dating – big city dating. I’d spend nights at the St. James Infirmary in Mountain View drinking like a fish, and then, when lucky, have casual, drunken sex with women I hardly knew, in hot tubs of apartments I didn’t live in. It was new to me that such things were possible. I cut my hair and prospered, with women who now wanted me for what I could give them and not who I was. Relationships became more practical, if also more mechanical.
Women, at least women and me, have always been a problem in my life. I tend to go for two types – the emotionally unavailable, and the unattainable by me: The sultry basket case with drug problems, or the blond goddesses that falls into my emotional lap while stumbling across a room to talk with someone else – those types. It’s distracting and consuming, and, as the famous Ralph Wiggins once said, but probably not about me, “It smells like burning,” and it did. I burned both bad and often.
My life arced whatever and whomever it touched in a strangely twisted electrical hum of unmet need, as well as a scarifying disregard for anything that was good for me. But, life was good. I felt I was cooking with gas in an electrical wonderland. Obliviousness became my true advantage. I practiced slash and burn social engineering and left smokey crisps on human radar ranges though out the city. I blamed the drugs and the poor influence of friends for my indiscretions, when I bothered to blame anyone at all.
Then I met a girl. When I say girl, I mean it – she was a senior in high school working in the lab at the hospital me as a technician.
Gina was very mature for 17, but I was 26. I stopped talking to her until the summer she graduated. She was decent, cute, Catholic and crazy about me in a magnificently co-dependent way. Her life revolved around me, and I was flattered.
I made a decision to settle down with her, a sort of ‘time to put down childish things’ decision. I went to school and became a nurse; we stumbled into plans for the future together.