Tuesday, November 9, 2010
The Hallway of the Mind
In the corridors of my brain a Medieval Knight dwells, sword at the ready, armor blessedly silent as he makes his rounds.
Startle me and you might meet him, although what you'll see is a mid-sized, pale-faced brunette looking entirely wigged out, in my head the warrior peers through his visor, weapon held high. In the fight or flight instinct we all have, some long ago ancestor evidently is responsible for a genetic predisposition inside of me that runs towards conking any threat on the head. Luckily the ensuing generations have honed the art of not letting that blood-thirsty guardian loose on anyone.
If you've ever been inside a Walgreens Drug Store, you know the vibe of the place, if you haven't: Even a brand new Walgreens seems vaguely dingy. The lighting inside was designed by people who secretly hate all of humanity, and want us all to look like we perished sometime earlier in the day and are now the Walking Dead. They aren't bad places, they're useful, packed shelves that almost always manage to look rickety enough to cause concern are filled with the foot creams and antihistamines most of us need from time-to-time.
Most of us have prowled through these stores, or ones like them, as we drop off a prescription for an illness, and in those times we end up waiting for it to be filled. That's how we end up perusing the shelves, occasionally making some daft purchase like a Snowman that sings in a high, piercing electronic voice while swaying back and forth on battery operated hips, and playing the ukulele. Generally we were waiting for a prescription for antibiotics to be filled, and as we waited, our fevered brains whispered, "You should totally buy that."
Me, I tend to huff the potpourri, sachets, and scented candles while there. They're awful. Seriously, beyond description levels-of-bad but it does make me feel as if I have discerning taste each and ever time as I grimace at the chemical-laden scent while replacing the product on the shelf. It is an ironic form of fun for me. It probably hails from the ancestor who first said to another of my ancestors, "Does this milk smell sour to you?"
I was taking a whiff of an alleged cranberry candle, contained in a glass jar and wondering if the cranberries had been grown in a radioactive bog when a piercing, rattling sound blasted out seemingly seven inches from my right ear.
"Zounds, interloper!" Yelled the Knight-in-my-head, "Declare your purpose, fiend!"
Luckily for the person making the sound the Knight never got to say anything in the real world, as he was then occupied by pounding the swearing sailor he hangs out with in there into silence. I jumped six inches, the candle flew briefly away from my hands and blessedly back into them unharmed as I turned, wild-eyed and accusing.
"Guh!" the sailor managed to blurt before the Knight threw himself bodily atop the seafarer.
"Sorry," A rather plain-looking woman a polite five feet from me said, "I have Tourette's. It's a syndrome, a disorder."
"Oh! Okay," I replaced the cranberry-chemical-bomb. I consciously stood still, making sure not to retreat, or turn away. A little bit of an effort as the panic system within my head powered down, "I'm familiar with it. Sorry."
"It's okay. It's a syndrome, a disorder," the woman said again, "I can't control it."
"I've heard of it," I said again.
I continued to stand in the household goods aisle, understanding that this woman encountered too many people that scurried away in her life.
"I take medication," she said, "it helps a little bit."
And then she made the sound again at the end of the sentence. Loud, startling but this time I was prepared and my feet remained on the ground, my expression hopefully unchanged.
I never found out her name. I stood with her for five minutes, helping her to find something by explaining how to read the labels on the shelves to find out where something should be. I honestly don't recall what it was but as I worked in a drugstore when I was a teenager, one of the pieces of information in a file in my brain is about labeling systems. There came a point in the conversation when I realized this woman was eager to be having it. That for her, this thing we all take for granted, this exchange among strangers, was something of a treat.
She explained to me what Tourette's was, and I listened, although I was already familiar with the disorder. Not that I knew anyone with it, but I had encountered people with it before. I knew it was an inherited disorder.
All of my ancestors, they gave me things, passed them down. Most of them are good. I'm an acceptable size and shape, intelligent enough to feel up to most of life's challenges. There was a crazy person or two in the mix, a recluse here or there. At least one murderer, evidently. Soldiers, sailors, teachers and more. A predisposition towards being articulate lurks within me too, and it comes in handy. I don't spend a lot of time thinking about how fate and genetics were primarily good to me.
Maybe our minds are like houses, full of hallways with doors leading into rooms. For the most part we mill around in the foyer, thinking in our regular thought patterns. Encountering the odd Knight within.
But every now and then we'll meet someone who opens a door within that hallway and introduces us to a room we didn't know existed in our minds. A new thought, a fresh concept. A room that was always there, but we never looked in before. Our challenges often make us throw the doors open on all needed rooms, as we search for tools within, and most of us find them.
Forget whether or not I am comfortable talking to strangers, as it is likely clear by now that I am, what about the fact that I can with ease? A thing I take for granted, everyday as my right, and my own.
Every now and then I meet someone that makes me peer into a room and realize I don't know much about limitations, not in any real sense. The rooms that contain my unquestioned good fortune are the ones I need to look in more.
Eventually the pharmacist called my name over the loudspeaker, mangling the pronunciation, a thing I'm used to. A small, tiny thing about a name I otherwise like.
"Well, that's me," I nodded and smiled. I wish I could describe the look on that woman's face well, but I can't. She was so happy having an easy conversation. For her it was a rare treat, so she looked both happy and a little sad.
I so seldom think of true isolation. I'm a self-entertaining unit, I don't mind being alone, I rather like it often enough.
"I'm sorry I frightened you," she said.
"That's okay, no big deal," and I wished her a good day as I went on my way.
I collected the prescription and left, thinking of that room in my head I so seldom enter, the one called loneliness.
Today I thought of that woman from an encounter two years ago. We had been talking here about being an introvert, while having to pretend to be an extrovert. A trait many of us share, it seems. Something occurred to me, and I ran a search entitled:
Tourett'es Syndrome Forum that returned 114,000 hits. Over one hundred thousand places, and option where acceptance, understanding, peers and friends await. Clubs, gatherings, in real-life too. Options, and rooms with possibilities.
The rooms in our heads are wide and varied. Some are lovely, some rather grim. Some we haven't opened for years and we find them again, while wandering down our mental hallways.
That was a delightful, hopeful room you all sent me to. Thank you.