Charlotte Bloom. Charlie. Yesterday was my twenty-fifth birthday. If an individual is going to be the beneficiary of an inherited insanity (mental illness, mood disorders), symptoms will start to manifest by the twenty-sixth year.
I spent a few days cold-calling therapists. I liked the sound of this one’s voice. Like a sex hotline operator. “Come in,” she’d said, “and we’ll talk about your needs.” Therapist foreplay.
I had a trip planned to Chicago. The night before the flight he called to say that maybe I shouldn’t come down. He had to work, and I probably wouldn’t have much fun. What’s wrong, I asked. Nothing he said, just tired. You can tell me, I assured. This was a pattern we’d perfected. After a lot of sighing, and silence, he whispered,” I don’t want you to see me like this, I’m loosing my hair.”
My dad was vain about his hair. He maintained his coif of wavy locks with special treatments, tiny brown bottles that would crowd the soap dish in the bathtub. I figured he was over reacting. I would love him with or without his hair, and at 59, he’d kept it longer than many men. We would figure this out as the team we’d always been. I Googled Rogain and made a list of dermatologists in his neighborhood.
When he picked me up at arrivals he had on a Cubs hat. He apologized for the way he’d acted on the phone. “Of course I want to see you, you’re all I have.” But his hands shook with nervous energy and he smoothed the ball cap on tighter. We stood outside at arrivals, and he hugged me so long that over his shoulder I saw a meter maid change her mind about yelling at us to move the car.
In the plush seclusion of the Jaguar he’d bought to celebrate his successful business, I asked him to take off the hat. This was the moment I was dreading. Over the phone he’d said it was coming out in clumps. I really didn’t want to see him without his hair and he only made it worse by whimpering, “I just want you to remember me as I always was,” with such portentousness, that I rolled my eyes. With one hand locked on mine, he took off the hat.
I stared at his hair. It was absolutely the same as it had always been, full and silvery brown. There was no loss that I could see. And yet when my father probed his reflection in the rear view mirror, he started to cry. He handed me the baseball cap shaking with anger, he pointed inside. “Look at it all, it’s all there,” he said, “my hair.” But there was nothing to see.
Instances of illness in my family include diabetes (my father’s brother), colon cancer (my father’s father), breast and intestinal cancer and heart disease (my grandmother on my mother’s side), rampant fertility (my mother), infertility (her mother), my first stepfather had quadruple bypass and died of a heart attack (I include him because I think I inherited his sense of humor) – I survived the American rhinoplasty disease and came out looking the better for it. I am an only child.
In some circumstances, manic-depression has been linked to a genetic mutation, though only 63% of those carrying the gene show signs of the disorder, which suggests that other factors -- perhaps environmental -- also play a role in bringing on the disease. For illnesses with a genetic component, a parent has a fifty percent chance of passing it on, increasing their child's tendency to develop the illness by about twentyfold, that means that any child of a parent with a genetic mental illness would have about a one in three chance of getting it. And if both parents have the mutation...
What scares me most is that it could happen without me noticing. Like a cancer that spreads before it’s caught. One day I might feel blue, and ten years later wake up living in my car, afraid of the doorbell, divorced and wearing pink leather and rhinestones, feeding hundred dollar bills into a Vegas slot machine with a fifty-five year old married racecar driver named Nicky.
Just wait I think, I could be a time bomb, preprogrammed to self-destruct.