Aftermath New Girl 13: The Puma

I told this story already.

If you have read Teardrop Road then you know of the time that I broke with reality and had my manic storm. But to put a thing in context is to understand it. To set a thing next to the things around it is to see it for the first time. I gotta start with Grease and go from there.

Grease was a quiet, awkward, and creepy man who worked with Angel and me at Pizza Hut. He transferred from a different store, where he had been a manager, to come to us, where the best he could do was assistant manager. He was portly, but not fat. He was cutting, but not unkind. It was told me to that he had a smell, and he had an air about him of being too good for his position. He was waiting, waiting for the day when Angel would fall and he could assume what he considered his destiny. He was waiting to be the store manager.

I heard through the vine that Angel had been fired. Gross negligence. Mental break down. Hospitalization. Suicide attempt. Any of these reasons would have fit the mold of the woman I had been dating. Maybe she just lipped off to the wrong person. Anyway, I found out she lost her position and I wanted out of my current job, so I called the store and I got Grease.

“Grease, it’s Jesse Teller. Do you remember me?”

“You’re hard to forget,” he said.

This might be bad, might be good. I was the most productive worker in the history of that store. I was also Angel’s second-in-command. I could read nothing from his tone, so I continued.

See I had begun to miss Pizza Hut. It had been with me for ten years. Either my stepfather had worked there, or me, for ten years, and without it in my life I was drifting. My current job was too good for me.

Gonna take a breath here and tell you where I was working at the time. It’s a doozy.

This was a filing company. Don’t get unhinged, I know I am dyslexic. I am not talking about that kind of filing. What we did was take great big piles of medical documents and condense them to a roll of microfilm. If you are thinking early James Bond movies then you are really taking a leap.

I sat at a desk of sorts. It had a black top and above it hung a camera. I would take a page from a pile on my right and set it flat and straight on the black top of the desk. At my feet was a pedal. One tap and the camera took a picture. I move the page to the left and I do it again. Simple. Menial. Awesome? Well yes, a matter a fact it was awesome.

First, pay. It was on a sliding scale. Your numbers determined your paycheck. So, if you were under quota on your exposures then you got one dollar above minimum wage. But every hour you were five hundred over, you got an extra fifty cents.

I was a worker, so by my third week there I was two dollars above the starting pay.

Second, break room. Well they valued their employees. A lot of people say this, but this place believed it. They had coffee, snacks, lemonade, soda in the break room all free. At any time in the work day you could go and take anything you wanted. Every few months they had a carnival day where they would throw a free carnival with free ice cream for every one and their families, with free food and rides they brought straight into the parking lot.

Third, breaks. You could take a break at any time. Five minutes into your shift if you had to. They did not want you upset and working at the same time. They had mandatory breaks every hour and a half. Every hour and a half you were asked to go to the break room and rest. All of these breaks were paid.

Fourth, lunch. They provided lunches and dinners. For a dollar cut in your work day you could get a full, hot meal given to you on your second break. Meat, starch, vegetable and dessert. They did this for first, second, and third shift.

This was the greatest place to work in the world. I quit after half a year. To be honest, I don’t know why I quit. I was making good money. I was respected and climbing from one of the scrubs to one of the most productive members of the team. I can’t tell you why I quit that job, but I can tell you that I went back to the oil and the shouting and the mess of Pizza Hut vigorously and with verve.

Back to my talk with Grease. This is important, maybe you will see why, maybe you will not.

“You are hard to forget,” he said.

“I heard Angel is gone.”

“She got fired. Couldn’t handle it. This place crushes the weak, Jesse.”

“Want me back?” I said. “I can start tomorrow.”

“Of course I want you back, Jesse, but you have to agree to something.”

“What’s that?”

“I’m in charge. Things have changed and we are a different kind of store. If you can’t get on board with that, then I can’t use you.”

“Hey man, your show, your call. I’m not trying to take anything over, and I assume you cleaned up the mess she made. I’m your man if you want me. I’ll walk away if you don’t.”

“I still have your file,” Grease said.

“I haven’t worked there in a year at least.”

“Well when she fired you, I took your file from the trash and set it aside. I knew this place would be mine one day and I wanted to leave a door open to you,” he said.

“Then I will come in tomorrow.”

“See you then. Be ready to work.”

“I always am.” And I was. I loved work. Still do. I loved it and let it define me. My parents had raised me working class. We let work take over our lives. It was what we did. So, if I didn’t have a job, I was lost. I will repeat that for you if you need me to, and it looks like you do, so here it is. If I didn’t have a job, I was lost. I had a job from sixteen. Work was just part of it. It was a base for me. A place to set my feet. I hated it like I was supposed to but I loved it as well. Work made me feel as if I was earning the right to express my thoughts. As if I was earning the right to be respected. As if I were earning the right to be loved.

Put a pin in that last one. We will come back to that. Sounds kinda ominous, doesn’t it? “Earning the right to be loved.” Well, it was dead on.

I was about three months in. That doesn’t sound right, but we are going to go with that. A month was what it took for a girl to get addicted to me and that had definitely happened so we will go with three. Sounds generous but we will let it lie. Three months in, I got caught up in a bipolar storm and I lost my grip on reality. But it really wasn’t reality. The best way to say it was, I was transported from the world into utter euphoria. Complete and pure bliss.

Watch this, you’re gonna love this.

We were doing a bit of deep cleaning. So that meant the dish guy, the assistant manager, the cashier girl, the prep guy and the cook, and also the cut guy, were pulling things out and cleaning them all. I was doing everyone’s job.

My blood got going. I was moving fast and well, and I was holding back the storm during a big rush. Now this was not a rush for me, but for those workers who had not been trained and worked in the fires of St. Robert Pizza Hut and our intense production, this was a huge rush.

I was handling it. Putting out pizzas faster than three waitresses could take them to the table. Clearing and cleaning tables as soon as a customer left, leaving the waitresses with clean tables and seats. I was cleaning dishes as fast as they could bring them to me, filling carry out orders, and the whole time the entire staff is watching me with amazement and awe.

Because it was awesome. No sane person could have done it. I was everywhere at once. I was working with an output of five people and I was doing it well. I was doing it better than those five people ever could. Well at one point the entire staff has finished much of the deep cleaning and they are just watching me move. I got excited, my blood was up and I was flying.

Then the euphoria.

Depression is dangerous. It leads to suicide and isolation. It leads to warped self-image and a degradation of the person it grips. I will never talk down about depression. Those who face it, those who handle it, and those who beat it are heroes and will always have my respect.

What I will say is that depression does not scare me. It is not depression that toys with the edges of my mind when I am trying to sleep. It is not depression that has me every morning, tipping my pill case back, to swallow the six pills it takes to keep me sane. Depression doesn’t do that. Mania does.

It is euphoria that haunts me. Here is a quick lesson on Bipolar.

Imagine you are facing a wilderness. On the other side of this jungle is insanity. One guide holding a machete is depression, one is mania. As soon as you slip into either mood, they begin to chop a path for you. Well, you follow depression for a long time, then you defeat it. You walk back and off the path and you go on about your life.

Next you start on mania. Mania starts chopping a path through your brain, through this jungle. It is making a path to insanity and it is moving just as fast as depression. But when you stop that mania, you walk out of the wilderness and start your life again.

Next time you get depressed you do not start on the edge of the jungle of darkness that holds back insanity, you start where that path left off. You start as deep as you traveled last time and you start chopping again, headed deeper into the jungle that holds back insanity.

This path is a cut in your brain, a pathway made by your last attack that your depression and your mania does not have to chop again.

Do you see now? The longer you go untreated, the deeper the pathways in your brain are cut. Soon your depressions are worse and worse. Soon you are starting at the end of the path again.

My mania got so bad that I reached euphoria. I was high. My chemical levels in my brain reached a boiling point and I was consumed with the beauty of the world. I had never seen so lovely of girls as the waitresses I was looking at. The sheer unadulterated power of the assistant manager had me in awe. The speed of the kitchen, the sounds of the oven, all of it created a sense of heaven for me. No one had ever been this happy before. No one had ever felt this sort of bliss.

No one had ever been this funny.

I broke out into a run. I entered the dining room and grabbed chair. I climbed up on the salad bar sneeze guard, which was actually made of pretty sturdy wood, and paced back and forth on my knees growling at the patrons trying to get salad. I swiped at them with my claws and growled at them.

See, I was a puma. See. Don’t you see how hilarious that is? This is high comedy here. This is the very best you can ask for from a comedian. Pretending to be a puma. And let’s restate that. I was not gripped by the alter Teth. I was not possessed by the alter who manifested as an animal. No, I was not him at all. I was pretending to be a puma.

You see how funny that is? Well, you’re right. It is not funny. It is not funny at all. It is insanity. It is a breaking nearly to the edge of insanity to the very far edge of the jungle. I was able to pull myself back in time, but barely. The doctor told me that if I have another euphoric break, I could lose my mind completely. If I let mania win out on me again, I will lose my mind and be unable to stabilize myself again.

Well, they fired me. Can’t have a puma working for them. Customers complained as I grabbed my things and, laughing like a lunatic, made for the door. See, I didn’t see the true horror of it until about a month later. I walked out of that store with a smile on my face.

When I was talking to Bekah later, I saw what had happened. I knew it couldn’t happen again. This is when I take my next big step.


This chapter is from Reality of the Unreal Mind, Vol. 2: Normal Street.

Vol. 1: Teardrop Road is available now on Amazon.

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