To all in the Land of the Runza Eaters, greetings and salutations! We who are about to be socially dead and on professional life support salute you!
Summer 1993: I move to North Alabama, my step-father has cancer and I drive him to chemo every day for six months and deal with my mother’s resulting nervous breakdown.
Spring of 1995: I get Alabama residency and start college full-time at the University of North Alabama, living in an apartment one block from campus, majoring in History and minoring in Spanish. I work various “boy jobs” to make the cigarette money and tuition and rent.
Spring 1999: I graduate cum laude from UNA and am awarded a teaching fellowship at the Unviersity of Alabama Graduate History Department. I am a PhD candidate there, learning historiography, reading everything, teaching 80 students a week every semester in Western Civ 101. I learn to read critically and to use primary sources, give a paper to the Annual Conference on Race at the University of Memphis which is entirely made up of primary archive sources and the EX-slave narratives by the WPA. I write and publish a paper on the religious beliefs and social activism of Rabbi Morris Newfield and use his own sermons at the American Jewish Archives at Hebrew University in Cinn., Ohio. I publish three book reviews over the next few years.
2002: I begin to get tired and burnt out. I start to argue with an advisor over my role as a white African-American historian. She is all about gender per se, I am not. I decide to take a break. I go to library school and get my MLIS in the spring of 2003. I go to the ALA Midwinter Convention that year and forget that I have registered there as a job applicant. I get a call to come for an interview that summer and accept it as a mere money-making venture and resume padder in Montgomery at Alabama State.
2003: All starts out well at ASU. I renovate the interlibrary loan department, develop the turnkey Electronic Reserve system from being told “We bought it a few years ago, now you start it up, write the procedures and the policies, and they had better follow the federal copyright law.” I master federal copyright law, database administration, draft all my procedures and policies and provide “best practice” examples for each of them. It is well received.
2004: Go to Tuscaloosa and have a long sitdown with advisor. She apologizes for having sat on my last work for so long. I see she is now on a psychotropic and the results are pleasant: no more mood swings. I agree to put in her changes and get my MA later that year. I get really tired and short tempered. Work sucks. I am treated like a clerk and not a member of the faculty. The city sucks. I cannot stay awake at my desk at work. I cannot read or write at home. I only want to sleep. I begin to get paranoid after being robbed at pistol point a block from my house, across the street from the resident agent of the FBI. I am scared to walk the steets at night, even a block to walk the dog. This neighborhood is supposed to be “high class!” What gives? A girl is driving in a Jeep a block away and stop for a light. She is carjacked at pistol point. I am really getting scared now. I want to move! I want to know why this crime wave is going on and why crap like that never happened in NY or Omaha or anywhere else I have lived. Paranoia rises to new heights, and I start to lose a lot of weight. Rumors at work spread by management have it that I am a drug addict and/or a drunk. In fact, I have one bottle of beer in my fridge and it is going stale. I have no drug stronger than OTC generic sinus medication in my system.
Late 2004: I lose it. Begin to just not bathe, change clothes, mind races, body sleeps. I get yelled at by a clerk in front of 2 dozen students — my students when I hang up on her and say I am teaching and will get back to her after my class. I get censured for being rude. My reply: “You obviously do not know what rude is!” I take exception on being asked to dust book stacks when there are a dozen student workers doing nothing around. I say that I have a lesson plan to prepare before four hours in Special Collections rearranging the silly method of cataloging the microfilm which is impossible for users to find unless they go into the long record, which they are not able to do as they are users and not staff. I get censured again, can’t stay awake. Start to have vivid daydreams and they are scary.
January 2005: I am fullly fledged insane now. I am seeing stalkers that aren’t there. I am having grandiose thoughts alongside delusions of persecution. I am very very sick, barely 135 lbs. when I ought to be 175. I go to Tuscaloosa and get lost. I try to get into my friend Joe’s house where I had crashed two weeks in 2003 after graduation. I, for some odd reason, do not have a key. I break out the window, fearing the stalkers have followed me. Joe awakens, thinks I am a burglar and throws me down the steps, breaking my arm. I am recognized. Soon I am in a hotel room with my family there, wearing a sling made out of a sweatshirt. I am soon on my way to the hospital at home.
2005-6: They obviously think I am crazy. I get my arm set and the doctor keeps me in the hospital until neurology gets there. I get poked, prodded, a spinal tap, MRIs, CAT scans, etc. for a day. I take them well. The MRI makes a funny “thump-thump-thump” sound and I can feel vibrations in my chest when it runs. The neurologist does exhaustive tests. Finally a diagonosis: I have an advanced case of HIV manifested with brain lesions. I am not crazy. I am going to get better — if I do not die first. I do not. Die, that is. I slowly get my mind back, and gain weight and my strength. I am not happy though, feeling as if I have let down my students. I apply for Social Security disability and exhaust all my money saved. My sister puts me up at a rental property she and her husband own. I am stuck in the country now.
2007: My stepfather has died. My mother is no longer crazy nor am I. I start to write again and lose the naps four or five times a day. I have no HIV viral load that can be detected and my immunity system starts to rise. My memory is back. I work for my sister and mom as they finish the new house, “THE COMPOUND” for us all to live. Then I have an adverse reaction to my meds and have a stroke which paralyzes my right hand for six months. I rehab myself, the SS stuff drags on, I have a hearing where I am humiliated by a judge who asks why I not become a WalMart greeter. I cry in front of the court and cannot reply. I have never felt so insulted in my life.
2008: I am much better, stonger, and my blood now runs with ice in it. I am a bona fide cynic now. I am still at odds with the SS system, wanting the back pay which I deserve from the two years I spent in bed and weighting 135 lbs. I apply to jobs and get one phone inteview out of them all. I wonder if I am being blackballed from my old management? I contemplate going back to Tuscaloosa and finishing my PhD or a new on in library and information sciences if they will have me. I am owing over $50K in student loans, I cannot get a job and am stuck in the country. So what do I do? I hike. I play with the dogs. I watch Democracy Now with Amy Goodman and fight ignorance and bigotry with my pen. It is OK, not what I had planned, of course, but tolerable, as I am not found dead a John Doe under a bridge somewhere.
Yesterday: I hear from Holly. It was so good. She does not know it, but I have kept her address under a paper weight on my desk for three or four years. I haven’t had the courage to write until today. I fear failure more than anything, and I am embarassed at what I have become: a forgotten footnote in the book of life. But, given enough time and no crimes grave enough, that is what we all become, ultimately, isn’t it? I get up and start work on an article on “echo chambers” and how talking points that are construed from a false pejorative worst case reading of matters of fact become a meme. I feel good. The dog is asleep and Amy Goodman is about to come on the TV.