Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Talk about being mentally ill . . . .

I ran into my dad at Trader Joe’s yesterday, which is odd because he passed on last year. “Passed on” is a term I used to disdain, but now that most of my family has done it (passed on, that is), I'm a big fan of euphemism and hear the word "died" as far too crass and corporeal. Inaccurate too, because what I’ve discovered through the surprisingly lively process of grief is that my parents and sister have not died at all. They have passed on—but only to an iffier venue, the mismanaged locus I know as my brain. I watch them in my dreams every night, and often run into them during the day. Indeed, the Trader Joe’s sighting of Dad wasn’t new (I've seen his white head bobbing through Mollie Stone’s too) but, since grief is no more static than life, it had a new aspect: he was a baby. A dark-haired baby Ukrainian sprite, looking out from his seat in his mom's shopping cart.

The sprite was one of those babies who looks adult early on, with his well-defined nose already pronounced and ears that stuck out like wings from his head. But it wasn't his features that made him my dad so much as it was his worried expression. His little brow was already knit, and his mouth was pursed in a perpetual O. His black button eyes were wide open, as if on alert, and, frankly, he looked astonished to be there. And what else could this baby dad be? He never believed in a Christian afterlife, never mind in the shock of reincarnation.

I stared at the sprite so hard and so long I thought his mom might have me arrested. And what excuse could I make for myself? That I wanted to be introduced to this creature who was surely, no question about it, my dad? They'd have had me hauled off in under two minutes--either to jail or a loony bin. And since the only goals I ever set for myself were to do my best to stay out of both, I forced myself to get out of the store. I did not even wait to check out my groceries. I left them behind along with my dad, and drove home feeling, at alternate moments, ecstatically happy and grievously wretched.

At least, I thought as my mood swung both ways like a pendulum on crack, this will be a good thing to tell Dr. Mars. Dr. Mars, my excellent shrink, has been keeping me sane--okay, vaguely functional--for over two years now. I like him because he's older than god and also because he has an M.D. This means not only that he can prescribe, but that once, long ago, he cut up cadavers.

That, plus his being ten minutes away and covered by my overpriced health plan, makes him the best shrink a mental could have. For this and many other such blessings (the very existence of Trader Joe's, for example), I am almost always humbly grateful.

22 comments:

  1. I'm pretty sure I shouldn't be so glad you're back...failing... but I really am. Wondered what had happened to you.

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  2. I feel like I've just re-united with my long lost friend. Welcome back, Jean!

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  3. Welcome back! I remember when I first read your column in the SF Chronical a few years ago. I thought who is this writer who understands mental so well.

    Erika

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  4. I'm so glad your back, Jean. Now I can say that I follow someones blog. I've resisted so far, but I'll eagerly succumb to your writing. I went back and read your last column for the Chron. Some day the stars will line up and I will have an episode of snorting my coffee while reading your column. I'll report it promptly.

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  5. Chris Curtis IrelandJanuary 25, 2010 at 1:20 PM

    Dal,

    Donald just sent me the link to your blog; I've bookmarked you. Really glad that you're back and the same week as the new season of Damages. Lucky me!

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  6. Oh! I am SO HAPPY you are back. I've missed you. Used to LOVE looking for you in the paper.

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  7. My condolences on your losses.

    Check out Rosanne Cash's album "Black Cadillac," written after the two year period in which her dad (Johnny Cash), mom, and stepmom all died. It's gorgeous Grieving Music.

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  8. Dear Tanita,
    Go ahead and be glad--and thanks for still being there.
    All best,
    Ms. G

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  9. Dear Chris,
    Thanks for the bookmark. And for Glenn Close!
    Best wishes,
    "Ms. G"

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  10. Dear Carl,
    Thanks for writing and let the snortage begin!
    Best wishes,
    Ms. G

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  11. Dear Ms. Gonick,

    It's a sorry indictment of the publishing game that so many, much less worthy authors, are busy sucking up trees faster than the pine bark beetles can supply them, whilst you, Dear Ms. Gonick.. Champion of Mentals Worldwide, languish on the literary vine.. with only Cowboy Mack and Doctor Mars to savor your bon mots as you take the afternoon shade on your veranda!

    Thanks for having us back..

    Your old Nebraska pal, Jim B

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  12. God bless you, Jim B, and your fabulous party mix!
    Best wishes,
    Ms. G

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  13. Delighted to see you actively writing again, and thank you for sharing your inspired, eccentric and brilliant words with us once more!

    AreaCode707

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  14. Deep sigh of relief (a-h-h-h)...the woman who put "snortage" into my vocabulary (and in my life, when I could read the column regularly)is back!

    I have such appreciation of your sparkling ability to describe scenes that my own"mental-ness" can relate to.

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  15. Wonderful treat to hear your words again. Saturday Chronicle reading was never the same after you left.

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  16. Ms. Gonick,
    from one "mental" to another...Welcome Back!

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  17. Hi Ms. Gonick!

    Glad you're back. I too would await for your new column each week eagerly!! I will follow your blog now!

    peace,
    K

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  18. Hi! Glad you're back! I know what you mean about seeing a parent who has died. Years ago, standing in a bus shelter across from Koret Center at USF, I saw my mother walk out of a house across the street and start walking up the sidewalk. It took all the willpower I had to keep from running after her. Instead, I stood there and cried. Sounds like you kpet yourself together during your "sighting" much better than I did! Kit

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  19. Thanks for the heads up on your blog. Too bad about the book. I was looking forward to reading it. I am glad you are still...thriving?...getting by anyway. I guess that is what we all do. Now I can look forward to reading your blog.

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  20. I just learned you're back!

    Also, I only discovered the Failing At Living columns after you stopped the last time...

    Then I read all those lovely posts in great, greedy gulps.

    I will do so again with this latest backlog - but now I also have one of those feeds to my home page, meaning that soon I will be reading your stories in a more sedate tempo.

    Thank you for all the old columns - and thanks for returning! - and regards from Windmill & Tulip Central

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