Time Stops for Me.

By Carroll Ann Susco.

“In the parking lot of Ikea, I cry. I’ve come to buy new sheets, and I don’t know why, suddenly, I need them. The old ones are worn, I’ve recently noticed, but more, I feel a special significance to this act. I wonder if a new lover is finally coming, and he wants me pure and chaste.”

Rolling on Red by Bruce Peebles.

Time stops for me. Schedules mean nothing. I am called. Rubber bands and red trucks are guides. They say, “You’re on the right path.” I follow them, but, you see, I don’t know where they’re leading me, and somewhere, despite my not listening, a clock is ticking.

Sometimes, it seems, the whole world is driving red trucks. Rubber bands litter the streets. Gummies they’re called here. One sits in the bushes by my therapist’s office. I see them on sidewalks, in gutters, dirty and broken. Like markers, I tag them. A red truck passes, then another, a van (which is close enough). They go in different directions. They say, “This way,” “No, that”; they say, “God’s watching, speaking.” But what does he say? I have a thought: salami. I don’t know what this means. I think, “You’re going to Costa Rica.”

In the parking lot of Ikea, I cry. I’ve come to buy new sheets, and I don’t know why, suddenly, I need them. The old ones are worn, I’ve recently noticed, but more, I feel a special significance to this act. I wonder if a new lover is finally coming, and he wants me pure and chaste. I think this is crazy. A red truck goes by. I’m struck by my compulsion. I’m terrified. I remember the way craziness destroys my connection to my regular life. I want to be able to go into Ikea and then go home okay. Frustration gives way to terror, then to sadness. I sit for a while, not looking up, afraid I’ll go crazy like I did, exactly one year before.

One year ago, exactly, I drove 60 miles north without knowing where I was going until my car died, and then I wandered all night in a March drizzle through woods and neighborhoods. The police had the dogs out, but no one could find me until I stopped my walking myself. Why I stopped: I saw a blue pole and a red truck, and I thought “This is it.” I’d waited then, for a savior. I remember thinking, “I can’t wait here–there’s no shelter.” So, I went into the nearby barn and wrapped myself in a blue horse blanket, looking like the Virgin Mary (I thought), until the police took me to jail.

One year later, exactly, I look out my back door and notice a blue pole in the yard (one I’ve never noticed before) and, in front of my house, my roommate’s red truck. I am warm and dry and safe, but I am terrified at the connection I’ve just made. I fear I’m insane. I fear I’m sane and that I’m psychic or God is talking to me. I need to cling to symbols. I wish I didn’t.

I’m glad I do.

I go to work, I write, I go to work some more. I’m glad this year I don’t drive 60 miles north without knowing where I’m going. The bus comes. I feel compelled to walk up the street, looking for symbols, clues as to my destiny, to follow some mystical path, but I get on the bus and I tell myself “Good girl.” This is the war I wage, constantly.

My head has a thick weight pressing down on it. It burns, below my scalp, at the base of my skull. I describe it to my therapist. I tell him this feeling makes me want to puke yellow bile (I know bile is green). It’s hard fighting the pressure every minute, makes me tired all the time. I’m sick of the voice that keeps repeating, “April fools.” A year ago, I would have obsessed–what does that mean? But now, I think, “I’m no fool. Shut up.” A year ago, I would have thought “Red truck, rubber band, good. Gold car. We’re going to gold,” and then I would have watched gold cars like I was on some real-life Mission Impossible episode where people are unwitting actors, me following cars like a dog with some secret destiny. Now I say, “That’s just a car. That person just happened to be here.” And I try to believe it. I sleep because it’s easier to cope when I’m rested. The voices say more innocuous things like, “Wear green,” and I think, “Why not?”

My therapist tells me to describe the feeling of yellow bile. I am so touched, my eyes water. Sometimes this is the only way I can speak, through image. All my life, I’ve looked for someone who could listen, who could help me articulate the coded messages that if I keep secret, hidden, destroy my sanity, but which, at the same time, reveal my soul. Just to sit in his office and say I am drawn to red trucks. I am reassured by a full moon. Just to do this keeps me connected to reality, gives me hope someday I will understand what my connection to symbols is saying, because what it is saying is utterly essential for me to comprehend consciously. And I’ve always known that.

I don’t know what the yellow bile is. What is bile? Something the body produces. What is yellow? Happiness, the power and energy of the sun. What’s the feeling? Expelling something that’s too much to digest. I’m afraid of the power of my mind, its intensity, its ability to overwhelm me, its ability to see symbols everywhere and create meaning. A barrage, a media onslaught, everywhere our basic archetypal images are exploited. I connect to the image of the truck for its power, strength, as a vehicle. It is an image of my own psychic strength, drive, ability to cross rugged terrain. It’s red because I am passionate and angry, a survivor to the core. I need the peace of blue, like blue water. Colors and symbols are everywhere, old ones, new ones, that I take to heart and explain my feelings and drives with. They are present in our culture in a way no humans before have had to cope with. Symbols lie now; they sell cigarettes–they’re produced on a mass scale. It’s a wonder we’re not a country of schizophrenics. But not everyone, like me, exteriorizes the internal. That’s crazy.

I haven’t mentioned I am consumed by the idea of God, but I am, and was, in my craziness. It underlies all of my thinking, my symbol making: my search for the divine and its place in my life. I need to find a vehicle for it, my red truck, my blue stick, as I called it, to center myself around, that allows me to be who I am—good and bad, strong and weak, apathetic and spiritual. I see God in a waitress’ warm eyes, in a pack of matches I just happen to find when I need them, in the fact that I haven’t died yet on this journey.

The question isn’t simply biological, but to exist is also a spiritual journey. Our language, our conceptions of God, fail us. Their intrapersonal messages are a death-trap for the schizophrenic thinker who already projects outward her own psychic processes. There is a conspiracy of silence that’s eaten away at my grip on sanity. How do I admit, convince you, that I knew my friend was dying before I was told? Would you medicate me to keep this form of knowing from me, to manage it? Or could we begin to speak about, to sort out, our understanding of the nonrational modes of thinking that are also a part of life?

Lest you think this an intellectual quest, let me tell you, I stop dead in my tracks at the sight of a crescent moon, that bright white arc peering through the black. I meditate on the veins of leaves and hear in them the echo of my own veins in my hand that pump the blood so I can move the pen. I don’t understand how I remember to breathe in my sleep, but I do. For so many, this connection to the world is lost, this unconscious yet present one. We get distracted by billboards and red trucks. We’re lost in a maze of stimuli, colors, sounds, full of meaning, all, and we are unable to hear their connection to our own inner voice. Our inner ear is overwhelmed by noise, needs to learn to sort the various sounds. God, sometimes I need complete quiet to hear myself at all.

My palms sweat. I can’t eat. I’m afraid to look around me. Insanity is a possibility. Symbols could drag me off at any time. I try to stay vigilant. Driving home, I get lost and pull over, scared to go forward, to go back. I’m lost, but I know where I am–here, on the side of the road. I need directions, not how to get home, but how to remember the way. How do you touch me here? You stop, come up to my window. If I think I can trust you, I’ll roll it down. You don’t ask, “Are you lost?” like you’re a cop. That just scares me. I’ll make up a lie. No, you say, “How can I help?” and eventually, if I can, I’ll tell you.

The Blood Pudding – April 28, 2021

Carroll Ann Susco has an MFA from the University of Pittsburgh and numerous publications, including The Sun Magazine and Cutbank. She lives and writes in Alexandria, VA. She is working currently on a book about mental illness.

Artwork: Bruce Peebles is a multi-media artist based in Brisbane, Australia. His work is energetic and dynamic, reflecting the colors of his native New Zealand and the vibrancy and experiences of the Australian Landscape that he travels and loves. Rhythm and motion are the driving forces of Bruce’s art, utilizing a simplistic exchange between realistic representation and the abstract form. You can find more about him here.