Memoir: The First Breakdown

I’d seen my brother Ian’s bestfriend, Joe, have a nervous breakdown three or four years before, so I knew what it looked like. I mean, Ian’s and Joe’s were different—Joe decompensated over a few hours one Saturday afternoon, and ended up taking off all his clothes and throwing a friend’s furniture through the livingroom window, and Ian’s took a few weeks—but they both came down to the same thing: It seemed like they were on acid.

I was living over a rug store on Main Street in Port Washington, on Long Island, with my boyfriend, Geoff. I was eighteen. Ian, who was two years older, was living in a boardinghouse rumored to have been a whore house at some point. The guy who ran it had shoulder-length hair and a snake named Barbara. This was 1974. I didn’t know it at that exact moment, but it turns out he was a nurse, which would come in handy very soon.

Geoff, Ian, and I were all in school at Queens, and Ian was having a particularly good time taking philosophy classes; there was a girl in one of them whom he had a crush on, and he seemed happy. Then, one by one, the calls started coming in. The long and the short of it is that people—teachers, mainly—were worried about Ian. His philosophy teacher, in particular, called to say that the girl Ian liked didn’t exist. Just after I got that call, Ian called. “Hey, Trish,” he said. “This girl in my class, she’s wearing green pants.” That was the tip-off, the acid line: green pants.

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Memoir: One Beginning (March, 1966)

My father was dying, though I didn’t know it. It was my birthday: 10. My mother sent me to Chinatown with Thelma, our housekeeper, and a couple of friends; she gave us each $10. I wanted to buy something for my father, to make him feel better. I remember the winding, crowded streets, the men in the clothing store (died hair, comb-overs, white shirts and ties) selling me pajamas. Pajamas were something to be sick in, though; I searched some more. Then I found it: a plaster buddha, painted gold.

My father died two days later. Walking through the kitchen the next morning, aching and angry—the catered forks and knives beside the steaming coffee urn, the sound of grownup laughter, the cigarette smoke—I turned and saw it on the large, green-lacquer dining table: the gold buddha, shimmering in the bright winter sunlight.

It lasted a moment, the break, and then I went back to it: the beginning.