The past couple of days I've been thinking about Allen, my first love and the father of my son, Jesse. He and I went to the same high school and I fell in love with him when I was fourteen. He played in a band and they were practicing down the street from where I lived at Steve Smith's house. My best friend, Cathy, was spending the night with me in a tent up on the hill in the woods in our backyard. We were sitting in that tent in our pjs when we heard the music start. It was a Kinks song, "Tired of Waiting" and hearing it sent electricity through us and we were excited at the possibilities. A live band! We put our coats on over our jammies and sneaked past my parents' house and walked down the street, drawn by the music and some unknown force, and sat uncomfortably on the curb, watching and listening to the Bohemian Band, as I would find out they were called. They were in the living room in front of a big picture window. After sitting there a few minutes feeling very mature and silly at the same time, the drummer came out and invited us in. We giggled and said we couldn't and - I fell in love. Just like that... with the drummer whose name was Allen. He was seventeen.
Allen was a soft, sensitive soul who touched my heart in the most innocent and romantic way. We dated in high school and it took him two years to kiss me. We were both so painfully shy it's no wonder that it took us so long for that first kiss. Allen was smart and sweet and wrote me love poems and letters. I felt alive when I was with him and when he graduated from high school and went to Emory University, right next to my high school, we would sneak into his dorm room and listen to Simon and Garfunkle ("For Emily Whenever I May Find Her") and Jefferson Starship ("Today") and kiss until we couldn't kiss anymore. We dated until I was 17.
Allen was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia during a period we weren't dating. I had broken up with him because I thought he was too shy and sweet for me; I wanted someone more "worldly". He was going to Emory University and studying psychology when he had what they call "an episode". I didn't know what schizophrenia was at that time and when we got back together, I just felt like I'd "come home". And he was so happy. So we got married - a paranoid schizophrenic and a young, naive girl in love. We had a little ceremony in Lullwater Park near his family's house where we spent so much time - and where he had carved our initials in a tree years ago. They are still there, those initials with the heart around them, though they are illegible after forty-one years. We moved into a ramshackle house filled with so many roaches you had to make sure you turned the light on at night so they would scatter before walking into a room - or you might feel a crunch under your feet. We painted all the walls and trim and planted daffodil and hyacinth bulbs in the yard. And we loved snuggling up at night watching The Waltons - both agreeing that John Boy could be quite annoying.
We decided we wanted a baby and succeeded within two weeks to get me pregnant - and were both elated. But during the pregnancy I witnessed the total transformation of Allen from a sweet, loving man to a bizarre and irrational person. He had stopped taking his medication for schizophrenia without telling me. Schizophrenia can't be cured, but drugs can suppress the symptoms. But it also supresses all the good - or essence - of the person. At least that's what it did to Allen - and he felt like lifeless shell. His eyes were so vacant and sad. He had stopped taking the medication so he could feel alive again. So he could feel again.
But he went beyond feeling good. He started hearing voices and he couldn't talk on the phone because the spirits would go through the phone line and into his head through his ear. And, he couldn't drive because the big rigs wanted to run him off the road because they knew he had special power. He built little pyramids all over the house because he'd heard about pyramid power. The refrigerator was broken and he tried to fix it by blowing the outside of it with a hair dryer. Nothing made sense and I didn't know what was going on. He worked at the cerebral palsy center and one day started throwing jelly beans at the kids there. He was taken to a hospital and I wasn't allowed to see him until they let him out in about two months to be with me during Jesse's birth. He took pictures and did a great job and seemed normal. I was relieved. But they wouldn't let him stay home with me for long.
When he finally did come home a month or so later, he had gained weight and wasn't there anymore. His body was there and he could talk and move, but the Allen I knew was lost somewhere deep inside. The drugs had subdued him and his demons. He couldn't work. I made $12,000 a year at that time and Allen stayed home and took care of Jesse until I had to put him in daycare. I was worried about him taking care of a baby even though he loved him so much. I didn't make enough money for the three of us and didn't know how to take care of a schizophrenic man and a baby. Jesse was the love of Allen's life and the only thing that really lit him up from the inside.
By the time Jesse was nine months old I knew I didn't have the strength, finances or knowledge to have two dependents. Allen moved back home with his parents in Maryland and we got divorced. His life was filled with strife, pain, confusion and all the problems that come with having paranoid schizophrenia. I felt guilty and sad for separating him from Jesse, but didn't know what else to do. Allen and I kept in touch for years and Jesse visited him. But Allen was so "out there" that Jesse didn't want to visit again after he was twelve years old. Allen and I kept in touch for years longer, exchanging cards and even talking on the phone. He struggled with God and religion and why he was afflicted with such an awful disease. But, about ten years ago we stopped communicating. It was probably me. He would call and talk such crazy talk that it was hard knowing what to say to him. A schizophrenic's reality is very different from mine. But I think he needed it.
About three years ago I received an email from Steve Smith, a member of Allen's old band. Steve said he'd found my name somewhere and thought he'd drop me a line to see how I was. I'd not talked to him since I was in my early twenties. It was at his house that I met Allen that first night - down the street from my parents'. Then, he went on to write that he was so saddened to hear about Allen's death. My heart sank and blood rushed to my face because I didn't know he had died. I wrote him back and found out that Allen had passed away three months earlier, alone. It tore my heart out and I was ridden with guilt for not having kept in touch. I thought he'd always be there.
I spent a day looking at our old pictures and letters and cried a lot. Not because I am unhappy; I am very happy with the second true love of my life. But I cried for lost innocence and sweet people who are overcome with diseases they can't control, turning them into people who are difficult to be around. And I cried with regret and guilt that I wasn't there for him more because I know he looked to me for so much in his crazy, schizophrenic way. Friendship was enough. But I was too busy with my own life. He was the kindest soul I've ever known and while I think he is in a better place now, free from his disease, I wish his life here on earth could have been more beautiful. As Allen put it, he had demons constantly fighting inside of him.
This post is a wave and smile to Allen - a hello and to let him know that thoughts of him weave through my life like a thread throughout a tapestry.