Read Loud in the House of Myself Online

Authors: Stacy Pershall

Tags: #Biography & Autobiography, #Personal Memoirs, #Psychology, #Personality

Loud in the House of Myself (16 page)

BOOK: Loud in the House of Myself
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I also began to guzzle water, and I rapidly gained fifteen pounds. I was a zombie, but at least I wasn’t depressed. My roommates stole glances at me as if they weren’t really looking, and talked to me as if they weren’t really trying to figure out why I was rapidly becoming a big fat tofu who perpetually took up half the couch. I didn’t care. I let them talk, and I put up no resistance, and I didn’t talk about my personal drama because there was none. There was only acquiescence, and I was fairly pleasant. Reese even slept with me again, telling me he’d noticed I didn’t seem like as much of an actress lately and that my ass was really hot now that I’d gained a few pounds. I wrapped my legs around him, because I knew he liked it, and I thought if I could just please one person for one minute maybe I could at least be good for something. Maybe there might at least be something I could do.

Eventually, of course, I would go for more pills. I would go back to Central Clinic over and over again, every time I got depressed, every two or three months. Because the clinic was part of a teaching hospital, the shrinks were there on rotation. So they said,
Here, take this,
and it was always a different they, and it was always a different this.



























Twenty-four drugs the parade of doctors dispensed in an effort to fix me. Fifteen years it has taken to find the three that work. Countless side effects: weight up, down; sleep elusive or never-ending; blood draws every three months to make sure my liver hasn’t stopped working. Yet with every rip of a page off a prescription pad, I have dared to hope for rescue. The chemicals swim in my system, their names run together like a song, and sometimes I lie in bed chanting these names in an effort to calm myself. I sing to myself in whispers, waiting, wondering how many mad scientists it took to create the liquid I still, hopefully, longingly, call my blood.


that really hurt would be for him, for Reese. It’s an armband of atomic symbols, because we talked about science so much. The little blue and orange atoms dance around my left bicep—all the way around, because my friend Tom stopped his halfway when the artist got to his underarm, and he told me I wouldn’t be able to take the pain.

I took it. Because I couldn’t have Reese inside me, I tattooed him on me. When I sat in that chair in Cincinnati and the artist drilled into my skin, I said goodbye: goodbye my love, goodbye my Reese, goodbye to the one I thought was finally going to stay.


In 1995, at the age of twenty-four, I married a man ten years my senior. I met Glenn shortly after Reese dumped me and dated him for less than a year before we tied the knot. When my internship at the Ensemble ended, I floundered for something to do with myself, and on a whim auditioned for the M.F.A. acting program at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. I was accepted, and it was there I realized how much I hated actors and that I would rather write the plays than be in them. So I wrote one, and Kirby, who had started a theater company, produced it. Glenn was cast in the role of—wait for it—the shrink. (Of course there was a shrink; as the adage goes, write what you know.) The first time I met him, he had a toy clown in the pocket of his lab coat, held spoons in his deep-set eyes, and carried a book by William S. Burroughs.

I thought, as I always think when I fall in love with someone new, that he was the most amazing person I’d ever met. However, in Glenn’s case, it actually turned out to be true. Certainly nobody has ever made me laugh harder or so relentlessly stuck by me through my craziness, telling me frequently that he could see my worth even if I couldn’t, petting my head and calling me “little one” when I cried. For the next six years he stayed with me, unconditionally, and refused to be scared off by the breakdowns and hospitalizations and hairpin turns of mood. He stayed with me when I pounded his chest with my fists in a rage, when I hated myself over it, when I stayed in bed all day in the dark because I couldn’t forgive myself for hitting him. He loved me when I was a whirling, screaming, Tasmanian devil of destruction. He put up with the fact that I still loved Reese, which was, unfortunately, one of the reasons the marriage ended. But most of all, when I really needed it, he protected me from my parents.

To be fair, he was also protecting them from me. My mother and I fought bitterly in those years, because we both needed to be understood more than we needed to understand one another. When I was in high school, about the time I decided religion was a hoax, my parents became deeply involved with the church, becoming more fervent than they’d ever been before. About the time I stopped watching
The 700 Club,
my parents began saying grace every time they ate something. In an interesting turn of events, we went from me trying to save their souls to them trying to save mine. More than that, we both needed to be right. My mother felt strongly that my crazies could be cured if I’d just turn them over to Jesus. I answered, loudly, IF THIS COULD BE PRAYED AWAY I’D BE WELL.

My dad claimed to have found solace in Christ, to have learned by studying the Bible that what he thought was mental illness was really sin. Although he had taken antidepressants off and on for years, he felt biblical teachings had worked better. I began to look at my father and try to find his real self in there, to catch glimpses of it in his eyes—sometimes I’d get a quick look at his fire, and then he’d be placid again. I said to myself,
This cannot be,
but some would say I’m lacking in faith.

The first time I took Glenn to meet my parents, we drove the 850 miles to Prairie Grove in our rickety Toyota, and all the way I alternated between excitement and terror. I was surprised by the homesickness I felt in Cincinnati, and couldn’t wait to smell the Ozark Mountain air and show Glenn where I came from. However, I dreaded being preached at, and I was worried about how to hide my new tattoo. I was very proud of it and anxious to get more, but I knew I had to hide it from my parents or they’d go nuts.

You see where this story is going: I didn’t hide it, they went nuts. The first night of our visit ended with a melodramatic blowout in which I lay crying and drooling on the floor, wailing that they just didn’t understand me, and my mother, also in tears, told Glenn to take me back to Cincinnati because she couldn’t handle me.

Glenn was caught in the middle, not just that night but for years, trying to figure out which crazy Pershall was most sane. Right off the bat, he was the diplomat. Our relationship mutated from husband and wife to surrogate parent and sobbing suicidal blob. Sex quickly became nonexistent, but we carried on for six years as if everything was okay. On the surface, my life during that time was relatively normal, consisting of grad school, waitressing jobs, and a lot of moving around—much like many other people’s twenties. But most people don’t threaten to kill themselves more days than not, and most people don’t require their friends to be on constant suicide watch. Most people do not have the psych emergency room on speed-dial.

I finished my master’s degree not in theater but in a “new media” program at the UC College of Art. Fascinated by this newfangled Internet thing, I developed live online performances, and upon my graduation I accepted a teaching job in New York City. In 1999, on my twenty-eighth birthday, Glenn and I sat in a traffic jam on the Brooklyn Bridge, in an overheating U-Haul with two yowling cats in a carrier between us. Glenn truly hates big cities, preferring to live where he can take his telescopes out at night and look at the stars in peace. As he bitched at length about light pollution, I knew it was the beginning of the end.

If I had ever lost my mind before, it was just a warm-up for this, the main event.

My job was in the art department of a CUNY school, teaching animation and maintaining the computer lab. One day, looking for a Macintosh manual in another professor’s office, I found a
Yahoo! Internet Life
magazine featuring Ana Voog. A Minneapolis performance artist and pioneering “camgirl,” Ana broadcast her life twenty-four hours a day on webcams scattered throughout her apartment. The magazine was pink, her hair was pink, her website was pink, I adored her.

I contacted her that night and told her I was starting a webcam site too—because, ramping up to a manic episode, I instantaneously was. I flew into a wild frenzy of productivity that horrified Glenn, who was understandably pissed that I’d decided not just to drag him against his will to New York, but to broadcast our lives to the world.

Within days, I was so manic it hurt. My teeth tasted like metal. I couldn’t stop grinding them. My jaw always ached. I couldn’t sleep. The furniture turned to liquid and music broke apart. I stared at the clock all night.

Without consulting Glenn, I maxed out my credit cards on two new Macintosh computers and four video cameras. Now that I had a Real Job, I had been besieged by credit card offers, and I accepted. It was horrifyingly, scandalously easy to spend $15,000. It was thrilling, in the way that flinging yourself off a bridge is thrilling. You laugh hysterically as you go down.

It was also, unfortunately, way too easy to get Internet Famous. I was among the first camgirls to broadcast images from our homes, twenty-four hours a day. Fascinated by the trivialities of daily life, ours and others’, we spied on each other constantly. Nothing was off-limits: bathing, sex, masturbation, bong hits, cleaning the kitchen; we were the queens of the overshare, we showed it all. Riding the cultural wave, I made myself a chartreuse website with way too much Flash animation and a soundtrack (when it loaded) by Esquivel. I named it atomcam, after my atom tattoo.

You can call it art all you want, but the bottom line is you’re doing it for attention. Camgirls were a melodramatic lot, with much comedy and tragedy in our chat rooms. The gig was perfect for those who needed constant affirmation, as we all had a cadre of lonely older men and fellow angst-ridden girls at the ready to tell us how wonderful we were. If we were having breakdowns at 3 a.m., all we had to do was walk over to the computer and log into our chat rooms. If we wanted reassurance of our beauty, all we had to do was get naked and dance around the living room. It was instant gratification on a global scale.

In 1999, there was no Facebook, no MySpace, no easy way of finding someone unless they created a personal website. When blogs came about, it was a revolution. Ana and I jumped headlong into LiveJournal. Unfortunately, I didn’t think about the possibility that I was signing a pact with the devil, forever making public things I could never live down. I gleefully threw my crazies at the Internet, and the Internet ate it right up.

Glenn, however, did not. We fought constantly. I broadcast the fights in soundless stills that refreshed every thirty seconds, or every ten if you paid my $19.95 monthly membership fee. But when I was invited to speak on a panel about webcams at the South by Southwest Conference in Austin, Texas, Glenn said he was proud of me and helped me pack up all the cameras to take along. When I opened my bags at the hotel, I discovered he’d covered them with stickers. Ladybugs, because that’s what he called me. I cried, but only until I went to a party and took some Ecstasy.

The manic episode I’d sustained for the last several months began its descent into the worst depression of my life the night I tried E. The combination of Ecstasy and antidepressants bathes the brain in a witches’ brew of neurotransmitters, and how a mentally ill person will react to the concoction is anybody’s guess. But that night in Austin, it was great fun, and I ended up in a whirlpool bathtub wearing a bright orange wig, sharing a Tootsie Pop with another chick.

Of course there was a boy. The one handing out the Tootsie Pops and filming the bathtub shenanigans, as a matter of fact. Jeremy was from D.C. and had a skinny ass, a skinny tie, and thick-framed black glasses, and of course he kissed me, and of course I fell in love. Right then, right there, as was my way. The fact that I was also in love with the pillows, the walls, and the smoothness of the TV made it no less magical. Borderline girl on E with hot guy paying attention, go. Time’s a-wastin’. I gave him my heart as we tumbled into bed.

I returned to Brooklyn three days later, hungover, disheveled, possessed of only the haziest of memories of having said something on some panel, and having done everything but actual sex with Jeremy. If you’re on drugs and there’s no penetration, you’re not cheating, right? Ha ha. Glenn took one look at me and knew. I cried and said I wanted a divorce.

While Glenn searched for a new apartment, I used what was left of the credit card to charge plane tickets to D.C. every other weekend. Then I got another credit card with a $5,000 limit and I maxed it out on same. When I wasn’t with Jeremy, I fell apart and hated myself for what I’d done to the best person I’d ever known. The webcam broadcast hours and hours of me huddled on the futon, staring at the wall. I cried, and camgirl-parody sites collected the images and made an animated .gif of me crying.

Around that time my boss discovered my LiveJournal, wherein I regularly called her a joyless bitch. The day she rightfully fired me, I scraped half-assedly at my wrists with a Swiss Army knife until it was time to catch my flight to D.C. I was dead already; I had killed myself and my husband, I had ripped our hearts out and devoured them. The only thing left to do was fuck and eat Ecstasy until I got up the courage to commit suicide for real.

But Jeremy, oh, Jeremy! What a divine diversion. Jeremy was into raves. He bought me a pair of raver pants, even though we were thirty. One weekend he took me to a rave and I, in a Red Bull–fueled mixed state, got pissed off at the bouncer, kicked a hole in the wall, and got us both thrown out of the venue forever. It was one of his favorite places, where he and his friends went every weekend.

“You still love me, right?” I begged him, tugging at my multicolored hair extensions as he drove silently back to his apartment. “You love me? Right? You’re not going to break up with me?”

“I’m not going to break up with you,” he said, lying.

When he dropped me off at the airport I made him promise one more time, even though I had ripped up all his photo albums over breakfast because they contained pictures of his ex-girlfriend. Unsurprisingly, I arrived home to an email dumping me. I sat there among Glenn’s packed boxes and made a noise somewhere between laughing and screaming at the top of my lungs.

Here is where my real memories mix with what I’ve been told.

BOOK: Loud in the House of Myself
9.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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