"From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines, going where I list, my own master total and absolute, Listening to others, considering well what they say, Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating, Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me."
Walt Whitman (1819-92)
"When I look back now over my life and call to mind what I might have had simply for taking and did not take, my heart is like to break."
Akhenaton (d. c.1354 BC)
And now, the current weather, from some random person we pulled off the street:
Tuesday, December 16, 2003
The Captain and the Harliquin
role Function: noun
Etymology: French rÃ´le, literally, roll, from Old French rolle
1 a (1) : a character assigned or assumed (2) : a socially expected behavior pattern usually determined by an individual's status in a particular society b : a part played by an actor or singer
2 : the masks I wore and the names I gave them
(Note: Yes, I know that the "Harliquin" above is normally spelled "Harlequin.")
It was early fall, 1977, and the Captain was fully in charge.
At some point during the last couple of years, I had started a process that, for people with bipolar, is called "cycling." That means that you go from manic/up to depressed/down and then back again in a relatively cyclic fashion. Some people have this happen over a period of months or years. Some of us can do it in a conversation.
Of course, I had no idea of any of this at the time. As far as I was concerned, I was arriving at Furman University, a school where I knew almost no one, and I intended to eat it like I had eaten everything else lately.
About a year later, I would start naming the two "halves" of my personality, the two ends of my mood swings. The manic/up side would become the Captain. The depressed/down side would be the Harliquin. But names aside, they were both already there.
It was the Fall of 1977, and the Captain was fully in charge.
I pulled up to the campus in my new Dodge Aspen loaded with stuff and guitars. After a little while getting oriented, I met my new roommate.
He was a complete stranger until that meeting. His name was Mark Beasley. Some computer had matched us up according to mutual interests. We had both marked "Christian" and "guitar" as interest areas.
Well, my Christian was charismatic holy roller speaking in tongues and dancing in the aisles. His Christian was traditional Sunday morning conservative Baptist, with none of that funny stuff. My guitar was blues and honky tonk with a good dose of wildness, his was straight by the note with no feeling, please. He was also a neat freak, and I was one of those people who really isn't terribly neat. Well, OK, "neat" and "me" are mutually exclusive, and probably always will be.
We never became best friends. It was like an invisible line was drawn down the middle of the room.
We even had two stereos.
Freshman year at Furman was a tough time for the students, at least back then. Pretty near half of the class would flunk out that year, and half of the rest would flunk out in Sophomore year. The stress was incredible, and some people broke under it.
There was a guy on my hall, and gosh I have not thought about him for years, who broke in just a few weeks. He started acting odder and odder and finally got totally out of control and suicidal. They had to come get him, drag him from the room, and haul him off. We never saw him again.
Now, I can understand him. Then, I just thought it was kinda scary to see someone like that.
As fall progressed and the leaves changed color, the Captain started to lose hold, and the melancholy of the Harliquin began to cover me like a shroud. As the leaves died on the trees, so did I in some way. When this happened, I would get urges to just get in my car and ride, to just pick a road and see where it went, or try to get to somewhere I had never been.
From my dorm room I could see a mountain face in the distance they called Table Rock. I wanted to see it up close. So, without any map or anything else except a general idea of direction, I took off.
I quickly left the main roads and found myself driving through the beautiful farm country of the foothills of South Carolina. There were horse farms, huge silos, and long stretches of forest in the rolling hills. Each tiome I could spot Table Rock in the distance, growing ever closer, I would take whatever road looked like it was headed that direction. Eventually I got into some larger hills, and even some mountain type roads.
I came down the side of one of those hills and found what, to me, is one of the most beautiful and tranquil spots on Earth.
In the mountains, small creeks can cut deep ravines, and this was one of those. The sign said "Saluda River" but it was tiny compared to the rivers in the Piedmont where I had grown up. But there was a steel riveted bridge crossing it, and a side road along the riverbank. You could see what I think was some sort of auto garage and a few old ramshackle houses. It looked like a scene out of any old hillbilly movie, and the Harliquin loved the atmosphere of it.
I sat there for a long time, just soaking up the place, imagining what it would be like to live in such a place.
The Captain could usually care less about where he is, but the Harliquin is always drawn to water, and he sat there and eased his soul staring down at the river slipping between the rocks below.
Well, I eventually saw Table Rock (which now was anticlimactic) and returned to campus, somehow rejuvenated and reborn.
I would visit that spot many times that year.
I never told anyone else about it or showed it to them, and I probably could not find it now without a lot of searching. But I will always know that out there, somewhere, is a steel bridge I used to sit on and dangle my legs over, looking at the water swirling below, and feel whole and complete.
There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.
Willa Cather (1873 - 1947), The Song of the Lark, 1915