I was having a crappy time as a brand-new adult, and college life in Reno was not treating me very well. I was in the middle of a deep depressive spiral, as usual saved only by music. Then Beth arrived in my life, and things changed dramatically. Unfortunately, Beth was in the wrong place at the wrong time, because my bipolar was causing collateral damage before I even knew what it was.
Beth was one of those strange people who seem to be a hundred years old in the body of a young person. Some people call that an “old soul”, and maybe she just kept her experiences from a previous life. Apparently she inherited a little bit of crazy from her mom, but I didn’t see it at the time. She had ruffled brown hair bleached almost blond from surfing in Santa Cruz for the past few years, and a laid-back personality formed by the sun and waves. She had lived with a guy previously, but they broke up when she came back to live with her mom. She was mysterious, carefree, and easy to like. I was instantly attracted to her.
A girl from my high school also went to school in Reno, and she lived in my dorm building. We weren’t close friends, but she invited me out with her and her roommate Beth. We went out as a group of 6 people, but very quickly it became a 4+2 scene. Beth and I talked to each other most of the evening and basically ignored the others. We laughed, we flirted, we played keno at Denny’s. I have no idea what we talked about, but even with my bad luck and lack of experience with females, I could tell we liked each other. We ended up crammed together in the back seat of someone’s little deathtrap car, and at one point we just started holding hands. I looked at her fingers laced in mine, then looked at her face; we both shrugged and laughed a little and decided to go with it. When the night ended and we got back to our building, she gave me a quick kiss and a promise to see me again soon.
Finding a new girlfriend is a great way to beat depression.
She was the first girl I ever had sex with; I knew she was experienced, and she knew I was not. In the minutes after losing my virginity, she found a shirt in her closet and casually cleaned herself with it. While doing so, she told me a strange story about a Central American tribal custom. When a couple first has sex, the woman keeps the rag that was used to clean the man’s sperm. If he mistreats her or breaks his promises to her, she can have vengeance by burning the rag; the custom says that the man’s testicles will shrivel and become useless for the rest of his life. “I’m keeping this shirt,” she said somewhat seriously, and that was my first inkling that she might be a little bit crazy.
I didn’t know that I would be the crazy one who blew up everything.
We had fun for a few weeks. We spent lots of time together, as much as conflicting schedules would allow. We didn’t have any specific plans, we were just young people enjoying a new relationship. But in the meantime I wasn’t sleeping, my grades were tanking, I was extremely stressed, and I didn’t realize I was heading toward a manic episode.
I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but I now know I was in that dysphoric mania I have become familiar with over the years. I was freaking out about something, and Beth knew there was something wrong with me. I remember we were arguing, although I can’t recall why; I know there was this sudden, desperate urge to run away. She was crying, asking me to stay and talk things out, but I was telling her some stupid reason why I needed to go. Finally I just turned and went down the stairs and out the door to the parking lot. As I got in the car, I could see Beth sitting on the fourth floor stairs, watching me through the window, and I hesitated for a moment.
I still wish I could have that moment back, a moment where I wondered if she was right and I was fucking crazy, a moment where I briefly thought about going back to her and letting her help me, a moment when I could have stopped repressing feelings for once and be genuine with someone. But I wasn’t mature enough yet. I wasn’t ready.
I started the car and drove away.
My instinct was to head for the mountains, as usual, the place I felt most at home. Escaping the desert and reaching the forest, I headed for the highest point on the old highway. I was still upset and out of control when I parked at the top of Donner Pass and wandered through the granite boulders and silvery evergreens. I kept walking without a destination, climbing up ledges and struggling to maintain my footing on the rocky landscape. Running out of breath and energy by this time, I found a large flat boulder and just sat there in the moonlight. I was home, in the trees and rocks and stars, and I could just lay back and let the calm return to my hyperactive brain. I stayed for a couple of hours before I started to get cold. I don’t know how I found my way in the dark, and I blew out my flip-flops on the way, but somehow I made it back to the car without falling off a cliff or being ravaged by a hungry bear.
By this time the manic energy had passed, and as I drove back into town I felt like crap about what I had done. I knew I had been stupid and immature, and I had really fucked things up as usual. I wanted to apologize and try to put things back together. Now I understand that I was scared to let someone new get that close to me, that I was afraid of being hurt, and that I sabotaged everything because I felt like I had to push her away so she could earn my trust by coming back. In hindsight, I know how fucked-up that logic was, but at the time I simply wanted to fix what I had undone.
The next day when I knocked on her door, Beth’s roommate told me she had gone for a few days without really explaining why, so I left a note for her. On the fourth day, Beth answered the door, and she pointed me toward the stairs. She stared at me with the saddest look. How do you think that made me feel, she asked. She said she needed time away from me to figure out her feelings, and she would let me know. I saw her again three days later when I showed up in front of her classroom. We talked only a couple of minutes and hugged, but I knew there was no going back to what we had.
I never saw Beth again.
There was a note under my door a few days later. It turned out she was making bigger decisions than just the fate of our relationship. She was failing a couple of classes, and instead of staying she decided to move back to Santa Cruz. She said it wasn’t my fault, but I made her decision much easier. She might have loved me, and she might have stayed for me, but she didn’t feel like she could trust me. At the time, she was probably right.