by Molly Thynes
“You can’t actually call me a psycho. Only we can call each other psychos.”
My best friend laughs, just like she does every time I refer to myself and my fellow loonies with this term. My boyfriend, he laughs whenever I tell him, “You can’t gross me out. I’ve eaten out of trashcans.” At work, when I tell the senior citizens how I used to go to AA meetings and bakeries at closing, they say I’m resourceful. I remind them of their younger days during the Great Depression, when such use of wits kept people alive.
But pizza dusted with coffee grounds, soaked in watered-down Coke…the remembered sensation almost makes me gag on a chunk of my frozen frappe-whatsit.
“You see? This is why you should be telling your stories to other people,” my best friend tells me. “No one knows how to make something horrible, something people want to listen to.”
“And I keep telling you, telling these things to hordes of people is something I wouldn’t be good at.”
I gulp down my drink to try and ease the tension in my stomach, distract myself from the sudden buzzing in my ears. Making something serious easier to listen to, that’s not even the reason why I tell these jokes and epics. When people are laughing, they don’t ask me about the times when I slept in my car from December through March or when I spent six weeks in the psych last year or the days when I’m convinced people I can’t see are watching me.
“You don’t have to tell these stories in speeches.” My friend licks the whipped cream from her straw. “You could write them down and try to get them published. My writing prof always says fictional biographies are a big market right now.”
Fiction is right. Whenever I do go into the more nitty-gritty details, I work in the same way a con artist does: start with a top layer of truth and then add all the lies underneath. I embellish with stories about lying to the psychiatrist or leading my fellow patients on a Girl, Interrupted-esque raid on the cafeteria or the records room. It helps the stories of isolation rooms and self-harm checks go down a lot smoother.
“It’s just something I don’t want to do,” I say, downing the rest of my glorified milkshake, the cold coating my mouth. “And as my friend, you should respect that.”
Of course, she’s not the first person to suggest becoming an “advocate,” like I keep hearing in therapy and support groups. But I never bought into the whole concept. When people hear a funny story too many times, they’re eventually able to see through the shine and find the dirt underneath. People scramble to change the channel whenever pictures of abused animals or starving children are set to music. What reason is there to think people won’t eventually do the same to the mentally ill?
“All right. I’ll let it go. We don’t have to talk about it anymore.” My friend reclines back against the chair. “Say, you never did give me an answer. Are you gonna be able to come to the concert Thursday? I still have a ticket.”
“Sure, we just need to be back by midnight. I have an early appointment with my crazy-doctor.”
At any rate, it’s easier to be a psycho as a clown than a psycho as a source of pity.