I’m only 39 years old but I feel as though now is a good time to write my memoir. It’s not that I think my history is overly interesting, but I do think I am misunderstood, and thus here I am. I’ve kept a sporadic blog going over the years, and what I’ve noticed is that I tend to write with economy, meaning, and it tends to comes across as accessible. In short, when people say they like my writing, I believe them.
My mother recently became diagnosed with breast cancer, and I’ve noticed I don’t really possess good bed side manner. In other words, I’m not really addressing it that much. Maybe it’s my wonderful sense of denial which has seen me through some tough times, but I’m not sure. All I want to say right here, is that this memoir is probably for her because I know she will read it. It’s also for me.
I’m not going to jump around to maximize dramatic effect. It’s going to be a linear approach, because I’m confident my life has had enough intrigue involved that you will get where I’m coming from. You will see things coming, most likely. But rest assured, I did not. You may be wondering how an isolated person could have intriguing things to say. That’s the square I hope to circle.
I have had a lot of time to think about how it all occurred. The good news is that I know the inflection points, and will therefore jump to the chase. Maybe this is because I feel guilty about how I’ve behaved. Perhaps intrigue is all I’ve ever wanted, and now I’m trying to right that wrong.
Back in the early eighties, when I was 3 or 4 years old in nursery school, I was working on a Big Bird puzzle which had big, colorful pieces. I was working on it with two twin boys. They say that twins have a special language and I must have picked up on this. It seemed as though no matter how hard I worked, the glory of completing the puzzle would be theirs. To combat this feeling, I sat on a piece without them noticing. This was easy because there were many pieces still scattered across the floor. The strategy was that I would “discover” the last, missing piece. I simply wanted to be a hero for that moment. And as my memory serves, it all went according to plan!!
Not very long after this, while in the comfort and safety of my home, I was standing at the television flipping through channels. It didn’t take long, in fact the speed of my flipping probably didn’t even slow down, but I witnessed a black and white movie clip, of a grown man with his hands on his head, screaming “Stella”. It gave me goosebumps! But because kids are resilient, I quickly forgot about the image, and sensation. I was probably 4 or 5 at the time.
I told you already you would see things coming. So if you want to stop reading, you can. As usual, this piece of writing is probably more for me than for you. The only narrative hook left is that things were always a surprise to me. I wasn’t prepared for what life would throw at me.
Nonetheless I was an essentially normal kid. A big brother who embraced that role. I remember lying to the neighbor’s babysitter so my sister could partake in getting some bubble gum. (She wasn’t old enough). I remember taking a five dollar bill out of my mother’s wallet, and placing it under my sister’s pillow, so she would be thrilled about the tooth fairy. She hadn’t lost a tooth, but it was still a thrill.
Not long after, my kid brother came along. Now I was 7 so I remember his birth. I remember smelling the top of his head as a newborn, things parents do. Again I embraced the role as big brother. He would name me “Mom. mom. mom. mom” at first. Which evolved from me helping him when our mother couldn’t respond quickly enough.
We went on vacations. I got good grades. My father maintained a good job, and my mother went back to work after my brother was old enough. We didn’t want for anything and I had a good childhood. There were hiccups when I discovered alcohol at age 16, and I would eventually cross the invisible line they speak of, and therefore could/can never drink again. It’s a chronic condition that never lessens, only picks up where it left off should a person pick up again. I do stay vigilant about it, I’ve learned it’s cunning and powerful, but in the end it doesn’t lend itself to much analysis. It’s something I inherited, and I forgive myself.
My father at a dinner party in 1997 shared that “The Godfather” was his favorite movie. Thinking early on that it was a long movie for those of Italian descent, I hadn’t yet watched it. I got around to it shortly thereafter as a sophomore in college in 1998. I like it too, because it’s a movie about business and family. But I was specifically struck by the actor who played the crime family’s patriarch. I thought he encapsulated non verbal expression. For example, the sigh and shrug of the shoulders he does when too many people are visiting him.
After watching I quickly jumped on the Internet to look him up. I learned his name, and also that he was still living! This came as a surprise since they make him out to look older in the movie. I saw pictures of him in his younger days and the memory of the movie clip I witnessed in the early 80’s came roaring back. Immediately I was wondering how I could have gone so long without having learned his name!
At first I simply read quotes by him. There’s one that says “If I’m in a room with 200 people and 1 of them doesn’t like me, I have to get out”. And another about the pursuit of women, saying that you can’t let them get too close or too far away, kind of like catching snakes. With the latter quote I understood he was trying to take risk for the sake of building credibility and that it probably hurt him more than it helped him. I gave him the benefit of the doubt.
I didn’t rush out to see his other movies. But it was around this time where I thought we had similar eyes. I couldn’t help but thinking I had begun emulating his eyes. Nobody noticed, it was simply something in my head. It didn’t help that the language in his quotes spoke to me, as though they could have been written by me. The one about snakes is difficult to defend, but I think it was just Brando being a “romantic cynic”. And that’s how I saw myself. (Up until this point I did have a non-sexual crush on the actor John Cusack, and would catch myself squinting my eyes at times to make myself look more like him. I guess I liked dark haired, Irish men. This had been happening in high school and I know of one photograph where I’m guilty of this.)
College was difficult. I had had a terrible first semester, and was playing catch up with my grades for the rest of my tenure there. I found that if I focused solely on grades I could make it work. My personal life suffered. Still I had a few close friends and a few flings with women. I majored in Communication Studies which may have played a part in my susceptibility to a man who emulated it so well. One takeaway from Comm 101 was that, “One cannot, not communicate.” This was not the right quote for me.
My first job was exciting at first. I was stationed in NYC and was earning money. Two months in, a beautiful woman was hired not all that far from where I sat. I began to become frightened that my thoughts about her would be “found out”. Three months in, 9-11 occurred. I guess I was under a lot of stress. Ultimately I was clumsy with the woman in question and I think it probably cost me a promotion. And not being promoted in this context was as good as being fired.
I still view life as somewhat forgiving, and things would have certainly worked out for me in my career had the Brando thoughts not been continuing to coalesce. I would eventually see his most famous movies. I like one from the mid nineties with Johnny Depp, I think it’s called Don Juan DeMarco and it’s uplifting which is a departure from many of his others, which I suspect may have caused him real strife.
In 2002/3 I went through a garden variety “Quarter Life Crisis”. I began taking ballroom dance lessons in town. I also joined the volunteer fire department although I resigned that more quickly than the dancing. Learning to dance was my “Everest”. I knew it would be tough and after a year and a half I came to the conclusion that although I liked the idea of it, I didn’t have the makeup to be a dancer. Have you ever seen a paranoid dancer? C’mon.
In 2004 I learned Brando was in rough shape and living on government cheese. My immediate thought was to mail him 20 bucks. Something I felt he might do. I didn’t execute on this and he passed away. I was already on my 3rd “real” job but decided to audition for a local play in town at night. I got the part. And in my head it was a tribute to him. At this point I was beginning to look over my shoulder that my Brando fascination could be being detected. After all we did do 12 shows, and he was an INFLUENCE. That’s okay, isn’t it? Perhaps I didn’t identify in time how macabre I was being.
I don’t want to make this a pity-party, but in 2005 on my 4th job, the wheels fell off the bus. I had been taking Ritalin for a lack of concentration and it unmasked some things. At least that’s what it felt like. My eye balls began to “compliment” my word choice and I began insulting my colleagues! At least that was my reality. Normally I wouldn’t be capable of this, but this was abnormal stuff. I began seeing my 2nd shrink, and the pressure of having the unshakable Brando thoughts motivated me to tell her about it. I was put on Bipolar/Schizophrenia meds and continued to work. But my diagnosis was never articulated to me. I was still in the dark, thinking I had something called Ritalin induced Tourette’s, which is a real thing, although rare.
I was able to get by working until 2009. That’s when I was let go of my 5th and final job. Right around this time I became educated about my disorder thanks to Wikipedia. Apparently thinking you are a famous person is a tell tale sign of schizophrenia. The whole time I was looking to Brando because I thought we had similar mental issues. It turns out this “research” was a major symptom of MY mental disorder. It gets confusing because he did have his own mental issues. And his daughter had schizophrenia, so we do have things in common. But a wise thing the shrink reminded me of is that he was a PERSON. Similarly, a counselor taught me that I lost the ability to view certain things as COINCIDENCE. The thing with the eyes can now be explained away by something called “The Flat Effect”. It’s when a person with schizophrenia loses the ability to show emotion in their face. Brando once said “I have eyes like a dead pig.” Did I mention things were coalescing?
Nowadays I’m stable, and am still on meds. I’m on my 3rd shrink and won’t leave him until he makes the decision to retire. I’ve learned to ignore thoughts that don’t serve me just like John Nash did in his life. My life is stress free but I lost my friends due to the speed bumps I went through. Stigma is a real challenge. I’ve shared my secret and people can’t handle it. In retrospect it has many shades of grandeur, and that causes people distaste. Plus the acting appreciation makes it tough to come across as genuine maybe. But I feel like this all snowballed innocently. Famous people get thrown in our face, everyone looks to them to some extent. I had an insidious development of my disorder, and I believe I did the best I could with what I had. I’ve never read the Brando autobiography, and can’t be expected to “get in front of” his life, or his catalogue of fictional movies. Things that I’ve felt, I have accidently signed up for. But this is what happens when you share something deep, and the other person never follows up.
In the famous movie written by Quentin Tarantino called “True Romance”, the male lead played by Christian Slater has an unhealthy fascination with Elvis Presley. He’s able to make it work because he is so passionate about him. His girlfriend finds it infectious and they end up naming their son “Elvis”. I’ve never referenced this to anyone before, but people tend to like this movie, so it’s something that gives me hope.
In some senses I waited to tell people, perhaps for attention, perhaps to entertain. Maybe it made me feel good at first. But once this delusion gained critical mass, I wasn’t really left with many good options. The whole topic is a social “crevice” I’m fond of saying. But I haven’t given up and have a desire for feedback outside the vacuum of a psychiatrist’s office. I want someone to tell me that “It’s not your fault.”
One reason why I may have gravitated toward someone who is 2 generations older than me is that I wasn’t given the chance to live during the same time period as either grandfather of mine. “Defending” an imperfect man, sticking up for someone, seeing beauty in the world, these things give me warmth, and help get me through the day. Like the schizophrenic who happens to hear “positive voices”, it is not all bad.
Not to mention this all may be a fear of my own mortality that tethered me to a man who would “reach heaven” sooner than I. Or in an agnostic sense, maybe I just would like his memory on earth preserved a little better. There probably could be a biopic made by now. (I don’t think I should be in it, it’s not like that!). But he did write an autobiography which I know has been called “honest” by critics. And there is a lot of material. But in a more grounded sense, I think I’m saying that I wouldn’t mind someone sticking up for me (in a healthy way).
So that’s my delusion in a nutshell. I could have veered off on other experiences but nothing has had more of a sticky, indelible effect on me. Schizophrenia effects perception and expression. And these two aspects of the mind wash back on each other. That’s because you throw in a whole society of other thinking, feeling beings, and some bizarre things really can occur. A “social phenomenon” I believe.
My disorder hasn’t prevented me from being articulate, especially with psychology. I can describe things that may one day be helpful to another with my disorder. Stigma may be lessened just a tad. Or a researcher may be sparked somehow by my talk “therapy” to devise a new way of looking at the problem. At a minimum it’s proof that I still want to connect, and I would like my experience to matter. I found meaning where there wasn’t any, now I have an appetite to live a more meaningful life for myself.