Left of the Dial Memoir Excerpt: The "CoffeePot"

  • Every so often, I've posted excerpts from Left of the Dial, my memoir.  Here now I want to include a scene that my writing instructor hailed as a "literary feat" because I showed what was going on, and I didn't tell it, like a good writer is supposed to do.  I'd love to hear your comments, especially from those of you who weren't diagnosed with schizophrenia and are on the outside looking in.

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    One early summer day Zoe and I trekked to the CoffeePot in the City to spend the afternoon talking over lattes. Folk music wafted over the sound system. It was a neighborhood place on a distant street near the water. Everyone at the other tables looked cosmopolitan, at home in their world. From where I sat, I could see a beautiful Middle Eastern woman at the table in front of us to the left. I drank a caramel latte in a mug as big as a bowl. Flattering light bathed everyone.

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    Zoe's eyes shone as she revealed her greatest wish: "I'd like to move to a small town, buy a house with a front porch and two rockers."


    "I really don't know what her story is." The woman shook her head.

     

    Did she think I was staring at her? I focused on Zoe instead. "I want to develop a writing portfolio," I told her, which was hardly a secret.

     

    "Remember me when you're famous," she joked.

     

    I noticed the woman turn her head in my direction.

     

    "How could I forget you?" I smiled.


    Zoe set the world on fire with her energy and zeal. A volunteer for Sprout, an organization that sent people with developmental disabilities on travel around the world, she had chaperoned a trip to Spain. Zoe had gotten a promotion where she worked, and supervised the interns who were students at her alma mater, Fordham.


    "She's always been this way," the woman sighed, returning her gaze to her companion, a woman whose proud neck was the only thing I could see.


    The woman must think I'm hateful. Have I always been this way? Zoe began talking about her house: the Ethan Allen furniture, the Jack Russell terriers, and the dinner parties she'd host. Only I stopped listening because the noise in my head drowned out her words. Listen, you've got to focus, look at Zoe so she at least feels you're paying attention. Keep your eyes off the other woman.


    "She moved into a new apartment recently. How wonderful," she exclaimed.


    How did the woman know this about me? Was it obvious I was uncomfortable? Out in public, I worried that the people seated at tables in my peripheral vision thought I was staring at them. I swallowed my latte, afraid it would spill.


    "Earth to Chris," Zoe waved her mug back and forth in front of me.


    "Oh, I'm sorry," I said.


    "So tell me about your dreams, beautiful girl."


    "I have good news. Dr. Santiago lowered the Stelazine. By the end of the year I should be off it." I talked in staccato.


    "Are you sure that's a good idea?"


    "It makes me drowsy all the time. My boss caught me sleeping on the job."


    "Didn't you tell me you have a two hour commute each way?"


  • The woman smiled. She knew something was up. I focused on Zoe's poppy-center eyes as best I could.

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    "That's true. I spend twenty hours a week traveling to and from work. Maybe once I got the experience I could find a job downtown."


    "Didn't she interview at a firm on Wall Street?" the woman asked.


    I connected the dots; she knew I was doomed to a gray flannel life. Would all the jobs I applied for be conservative spots? Wasn't there more I could do? What could I do if all my time was spent riding subways and buses, going to and from?


    "When I go off the meds, would you monitor me?" I asked Zoe.


    "I would do anything for you. That's not a good idea, though. Are you sure you want to do that?"


    "She can't make up her mind. First it was the guy from Madrid, and now this."


    "What guy from Madrid?" Had Zoe hooked up with a stranger when she was on holiday? I looked at Zoe in a strange way, because she shook her head.


    "Chris, what are you talking about?"


    Oh my God, did the woman hear me? I was finishing her sentences. How would I exit gracefully if she was still sitting there when Zoe and I left and we had to pass her table?
    "Nothing. Never mind. Could we leave?"


    "What's up? You can be honest with me. You haven't been yourself all day."


    "Oh, we'll talk on the ferry. Could we just go?"


    "Of course." She rose and I followed her out the door, looking at the back of her head as we left, concentrating on her wild curly hair instead of the people in the cafe.


    All I wanted was a free mind. Didn't she see that if I went off the meds, it would prove there wasn't anything wrong with me? I would be just like everyone else. I wasn't sick, so why should I continue to take the pills?


    After taking the train to South Ferry, Zoe and I boarded the big yellow boat and sat down outside. She wanted to know what was up. I told her everything was fine. She wasn't convinced, but let it be. She sang the lyrics to a song in the Roxy Carmichael movie: "Lost in your voice/I call your name/I will never be the same."


    Parting ways at the St. George terminal, Zoe hugged me and said she was going to pray for me. She was an atheist. All night I couldn't sleep. The coffee had me buzzed.

Published On: October 16, 2008