I was in a funk. I had been in a funk for a while by the time my physics lab got out. My funk had stretched into its fourth day, and one of those days was an hour longer because of the end of daylight saving time. One small consolation was that it was Halloween, and I had the pleasantly silly experience of seeing many full-grown college students come to campus in costume. Earlier I saw a guy walking across the Quad in a very accurate costume of Jack from the Jack in the Box restaurant commercials, with a perfectly round clown head as from a child’s jack-in-the-box toy over a business suit. I also saw at least three different Batmen walking around campus.
Batman… that reminded me of last Saturday, when this funk started. I still was unhappy with myself about Saturday.
Friday night went okay. I went to Jeromeville Christian Fellowship again, which was good, but I felt more like an outsider. I talked to all my friends who were there, but I did not talk to anyone else, and everyone was talking about the Fall Conference next weekend, which I was not going to. I woke up Saturday morning still feeling down, and that feeling worsened as the day dragged on. I got some homework done, but I also moped around the apartment doing nothing quite a bit.
Saturday evening, I decided to go to campus, where second-run movies play on weekends in 199 Stone, the largest lecture hall on campus at the time. Batman Forever was playing that night. I had seen the movie once, and honestly I did not like it that well. Jim Carrey, who at the time was building his career on annoying mindless movies where he made a lot of faces and funny loud noises, played the Riddler. He played the character like the annoying people in his other movies, and I did not like it. The movie did not help me get out of my funk, and I left about two-thirds of the way through. That was the first time I ever went to a movie alone, and to this day, it remains the only time I have ever walked out of a movie that I paid for. I went home, down two dollars and fifty cents and still in my funk.
Despite having won Best Costume my senior year at Plumdale High, I never got too excited about Halloween. I outgrew trick-or-treating around fourth grade and spent the rest of my childhood staying home handing out candy. The only reason I even dressed up at school that day two years ago was because Melissa asked me to. She dressed as Mona Lisa, with a drawn replica of the painting and her face sticking through a hole in it, and asked me to be Leonardo painting her. I had a big crush on Melissa at the time, so I probably would have dressed up as dog poop if she had asked me to. The problem was that, during the one period that we were not in the same class, her costume worked by itself, but no one could tell what I was without her. No, I am not Charlton Heston playing Moses. No, I am not Father Time. And during the costume contest at lunch, we were introduced as “Mona Lisa and Michelangelo,” which says something about the quality of education at Plumdale High School.
When I got home from my physics lab, I made sure the porch light was off. Mom taught me as a kid that this tells trick-or-treaters not to come to your house, although many do not seem to know that rule. I had no candy to give out tonight. I did not know whether the local children of Jeromeville even went trick-or-treating in apartment complexes full of students. (None did that night.)
I signed on to the university computer network after dinner that night, intending to get on Internet Relay Chat and find some girl to talk to. But before I did that, I checked to see who else was signed on to the exact same server, as I occasionally did back then out of curiosity. Every once in a while, I found someone I knew. I looked through the thirty or so names and account numbers that scrolled past, and my pulse briefly quickened when I saw this:
stu042537 Megan McCauley
I typed “talk” and sent “hello :)” to account stu042537. Megan replied about a minute later.
stu042537: Hi, Greg! How have you been? I haven’t seen you in a while!
stu049886: i’m doing ok, just busy with school. it’s a lot of work but i’m doing pretty well in my classes. what are you up to?
stu042537: Just the usual. This chem class is kicking my butt! But I knew chemical engineering would be a hard major. Didn’t you say you were a tutor for the Learning Skills Center this quarter?
stu049886: yes! that’s going well. i’m working 10 hours a week with small groups of calculus and precalculus students. i enjoy it.
stu049886: how is your building this year?
stu042537: It’s definitely easier being an RA the second time around. I have more of an idea of what to expect. But, of course, my residents are full of surprises too. I like this group so far.
stu049886: that’s good
stu042537: How is it being in your own apartment?
stu049886: it’s nice and quiet. but i miss seeing my friends from last year. some of them are involved with jeromeville christian fellowship, i’ve started going to that sometimes with them
stu042537: It’s important to find things you can be involved with.
stu049886: definitely! any plans for halloween tonight?
stu042537: Not this year. What about you?
stu049886: nothing. halloween was never that big a deal to me. i thought it was funny, though, i saw three people on campus today dressed as batman
stu042537: That’s great! I should actually go in a few minutes. I need to pick up the person I’m dating from the airport. But it was good to hear from you!
I stared at that last message, heartbroken and crestfallen, typing my closing line in the conversation much more apathetically than I had typed earlier.
stu049886: you too, drive safely
I stared at those four words again before I closed the window… “the person I’m dating.” Nothing can drain the last bit of hope from a crush more quickly than that. I knew I probably had no shot with Megan anyway, but at least I could hope that maybe she liked me too. Not anymore. I could not compete with some cool guy who traveled on airplanes and knew how to talk to girls.
I turned on the television later that night. It was Tuesday, so Home Improvement was on. I liked that show, but Tim Allen’s stereotypical guy antics were not enough to lift me out of my funk. I returned to the computer and signed on to the IRC chat channel I had wanted to go to earlier when I messaged Megan instead. No one there was talking to me, and no one I knew I was on. I halfheartedly replied to an email, but I needed to talk to someone in real time, not by email. I could not get the image out of my head of Megan and some guy driving back from the airport in Capital City, across the Drawbridge and to his apartment, where he would probably invite her in and go to bed with her. I wanted to be doing that, not whoever this jerk was.
I was tired of this. I was tired of being alone, not knowing how to talk to girls. I hated being different and not having grown up with all the experiences that the people around me had, like having friends and taking trips on airplanes and doing fun things on Halloween. I wished I could quit life and start over again. Or maybe go back to high school for another few years; I was finally starting to have some of those experiences or having friends senior year, but then everything else ended too soon, and I lost touch with everyone except Renee Robertson, Melissa Holmes, and Rachel Copeland, none of whom lived in the same place as me or as each other now.
Around 10:30 that night, desperate and with nowhere else to turn, I picked up the phone. I had seen public service announcements for a suicide prevention hotline with a local phone number. I was not sure if I was actually feeling suicidal, but at least these people could talk to me. I dialed the number quickly.
“Suicide Prevention,” said the voice on the other end. “This is Anna. To whom am I speaking?”
“Greg,” I said.
“And how are you feeling tonight?” Anna asked.
“I need someone to talk to.”
“What’s going on? Why do you say that?”
I told Anna the abbreviated version of my thoughts on feeling different, being alone, and not knowing how to talk to girls. I explained that there was one girl I really liked who I did not have much of a chance with, and how I had found out tonight that she had a boyfriend (at the time, I did not understand that there was a distinction between the words “person I’m dating” and “boyfriend”).
“That is a lot weighing on your mind,” Anna said. “Are you taking any medication for depression or anxiety, or other mental health medications?”
“Are you in any sort of therapy or treatment?”
“How often do you use alcohol or drugs?”
“Are you thinking about ending your life or harming yourself?”
“I don’t know. I know I shouldn’t give up like that, but I don’t want to go on like this either.”
“That is understandable. Is your life in danger right now?”
“I’m sitting at home in my apartment. So probably not.”
“Have these thoughts you’ve been having interfered with your day-to-day functioning? Like your ability to work or attend class?”
“Not really. I’m a student at UJ, and my grades are still good.”
Anna asked me more questions about how I felt about things, as well as my day-to-day life and my history with mental health and medication. After talking for another ten minutes, she said, “We are meant to be a one-time service, so I can give you names and phone numbers of some mental health professionals in your area, so you can call someone to set up an appointment and meet more regularly? May I do that?”
I got a pencil and paper and wrote down the names Anna gave me. “So tomorrow, give one of those people a call, and set up an appointment. Can you do that?”
“Are you going to be okay tonight?”
“I think so. Thank you.”
“Thank you for calling. I hope everything works out for you.”
“Bye,” I said, hanging up the phone. I did not feel great about this. I was not looking forward to seeing a therapist, and I did not even know if that was what I wanted. But I had calmed down to the point that I might be able to sleep now.
I arrived about five minutes before my appointment. It had been a little more than a week since the night I called the Suicide Prevention number. It was a cool, cloudy, depressing Thursday afternoon. The address was in a small office building at the corner of Maple Lane and West Coventry Boulevard, less than half a mile from my apartment, behind a nondescript door with the names of two therapists on it. The waiting room was small, about the size of my tiny dorm room from last year. A few chairs were arranged around a table with outdated magazines on it, and two doors on the other side of the room led farther into the building. I picked up a Time magazine from July with former U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell on the cover. I started reading through the magazine in order until a man with graying brown hair, a mustache, glasses, and a button-up shirt emerged from one of the doors.
“Gregory?” he said.
“That’s me,” I replied. “You can call me Greg.”
“Hi, Greg. I’m Ron Kilbourne.” Ron extended his hand for me to shake it.
“Nice to meet you,” I said, shaking his hand. I followed him into his office and sat down.
“So tell me again what brings you here.”
“I feel down a lot,” I said. “I feel alone, I don’t see my friends as often as I used to, I don’t have a girlfriend, and I don’t know how to talk to girls.”
“Okay,” Ron said, apparently waiting for me to say something.”
“I haven’t seen a therapist in a couple years. I was in and out of therapy all my life, going back to second grade. We saw a therapist as a family for a while, because I was getting teased a lot at school and having trouble behaving, and my dad was dealing with a lot being a newly recovering alcoholic.”
“And how old are you now?”
“Okay.” Ron scribbled some notes on a clipboard, then looked at me.
“I’m waiting for you to tell me more.”
“I told you. I don’t know what to do.”
“I can’t help you if you aren’t going to tell me anything.”
Who was this jerk? Why am I paying him all this money just to sit there? I did not know what to say to him. I told him more about not having friends in school growing up, about how being in the dorm was good for me but I lived alone now, about never having had a girlfriend, and about what happened with Megan.
Ron kept writing on his clipboard. “What else?” he said when he was done.
“I don’t know what you want me to say,” I said angrily through clenched teeth.
“Then I guess we’ll just sit here until you’re ready to talk,” Ron replied calmly.
“Fine.” I sat in the chair and stared at Ron for almost ten minutes, saying nothing. He just sat looking at me, occasionally writing on his clipboard. “Why does anyone pay you all this money not to do anything?” I finally said.
“Why did you?” Ron asked. “Why are you here?”
“I’m here because I’m depressed and alone and I don’t know how to make friends or have a girlfriend.”
“I need to know what to do.”
“What are you doing now?” Ron asked.
I told him about my friends from the dorm last year, and tutoring, and singing at Mass, and Jeromeville Christian Fellowship. After he finished writing in his clipboard, Ron sat there looking at me, waiting for me to say more. “And I don’t know what else to do.” We stared at each other for another five minutes, saying nothing. I clenched my fists, fighting every urge to punch this man in the face.
About forty minutes into the appointment, before the end of the hour-long session, I pulled out my checkbook and paid him for the session. “This was a waste,” I said, walking toward the door.
“Greg,” Ron said in a flat tone. “I can’t help you if you’re going to walk out.”
“And you can’t help me if I’m here either. So what’s the point?”
“I don’t know. You tell me.”
I left the check on his desk and walked out of the office, slamming the door and throwing the stack of old magazines against the wall on my way out. I was still hot-headed and angry when I got back to the apartment. I lay on the bed for about an hour, at which time I did homework for a while, and then ate dinner. Was I really beyond help? Was I so messed up that even going to a therapist could not help me?
I never saw Ron Kilbourne again. I got a letter in the mail from him a few days later encouraging me to continue to seek therapy; I tore it into small pieces and threw it away. I never did call any of the other names that I had gotten from Anna at Suicide Prevention; after my experience with Ron Kilbourne, I was convinced that there was no point to seeking therapy.
After Ron Kilbourne, I did not attempt to seek therapy again until 2002; by that time, I had long since graduated and moved from Jeromeville to Pleasant Creek. I now know as an adult that I have had therapists who were good fits for me and others who were not; Ron Kilbourne was not, and I should have at least tried a different therapist at the time. Although I have grown, and life has changed, many of the issues for which I sought therapy in the past are still struggles for me. I have also learned that seeking therapy is far more complicated than just going through motions and having all of my problems fixed. Therapy only works when the patient wants help, and to this day I feel like in some ways I do not want help. I want the rest of the world to change around me, or to find a place where the world makes more sense than it does here. This remains an ongoing issue for me. On the day I walked out of Ron Kilbourne’s office, I knew that the only way I had left to deal with that funk was the way I have usually dealt with being in a funk all my adult life; just ride it out, put one foot in front of the other, and go through the motions, hoping that better days will come.
(Author’s note: I know that “talk” on a Unix-based system from 1995 did not format conversations the way my conversation with Megan was formatted in this story. I changed it to make it easier to read.)