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Under the Stars

Under the Stars

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Published by Matthew Temple
A memoir
A memoir

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Published by: Matthew Temple on Mar 18, 2014
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Under the Stars
 by Matthew Templeclownfysh.com
I get on the train. I’m in Wilmington, Delaware. My dad is in the parking lot in his Prius.I have a duffel bag with me, a Korean one I bought in Los  Angeles at a surplus store. Inside my bag is everything I own. I am headed for New York.Through the door at the top of the stairs, I come into the train car. All the seats are empty. I sit near the entrance, in what would be the window seat, but there’s no window since this is the first seat in the car. A couple other people get on behind me.In New York is Maxwell Interactive, my new job. I’ve been staying with my dad in Delaware. My sister lives in New York. Previously, I’ve made this same trip from Wilmington to New York to interview with Maxwell Interactive. I wore two different-colored shoes to the interview—one red, one blue. I got the job.My duffel bag is on the floor, between my legs. I read the text of some warning labels on the wall of the train.Flowing through my veins is Depakote, my new bipolar medicine. I haven’t been formally diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but my dad’s doctor examined me and interviewed me and that’s his best guess of what’s wrong with me. So he gave me a three month’s supply of Depakote, enough to get me started in New York and hopefully I can find a doctor of my own in that time. I think about the medicine, try to intuit whether I can feel a dif ference in my mood. It’s supposed to even me out, make me less prone to highs and lows, which my dad and his new wife think they’ve been observing. My dad’s new wife gave me a  book on bipolar disorder, called An Unquiet Mind, by Kay Redfield Jamison. I’ve read some of it, and the pages read like my diary. The similarities between her story and mine are compelling: I am no diagnostician, but the evidence seems to point to me having bipolar disorder.How I ended up in Delaware with my dad is that I was living in a crack motel in Hollywood and I ran out of money.Before that I had been in film school.Before that I was working as a software developer.I better go back to the beginning.I was an A-B student, all the way through the ninth grade. I 1
 was the star student in my first high school. I had the highest grade in my AP Biology class, the hardest class in the school. I got a perfect score on our geometry midterm. My scores on standardized tests were always in the 98th or 99th percentile.Then we moved from Philadelphia to Dayton, Ohio, and the quality of the schooling dropped drastically. Instead of reading and  writing assignments, our English teacher handed out crossword puzzles. The first day of school, when I was given a crossword puzzle in English class, I decided to stop trying. I went from being an A-B student to an  A-F student: if I decided to try, I got an A. For everything else I got an F. After high school I went to Ohio University and was similarly disappointed. They weren’t teaching anything at school—not anything I  was interested in learning. I dropped out after two quarters.I went to live with my dad. My parents had gotten divorced and the children went to live with a parent along gender lines. My mom  bought a new house and took my two sisters. My dad kept our family house and lived with me. As soon as I came home from school he wanted me out. We  would have movie nights where he would show me old classics and eat hot dogs but there was always the nag of, Matt, you need to find another place to live. Except that’s not how he stated it. He yelled at me, like he had growing up. He expected me to rent an apartment  when I didn’t even have a job. He said, “Matt, how do you expect to be able to support yourself?I didn’t know.Even the neighbors got in on the game. The woman across the street caught wind that I had left college and she derided me, building up her own career as a schoolteacher as though it was the best thing in the world. Her path in life was great; mine was nothing. I would never “make anything of myself” if I didn’t go to college.The fact is I did want to go to college. Just not OU. I couldn’t stand being around the party scene. I didn’t drink. People were vapid. I felt alone and I wanted to be around my family. The old family,  before my parents got divorced.I got a job. I found work at a small software development firm that made products for the rail transportation industry. We made software that tracked trains. I had been programming since I was a small child so the work was easy. I was better than my boss, a fact confirmed by the company’s owner giving me, not my boss, responsibility for the critical portions of our system.I bought a car. It was the cheapest new car I could find, a Chevrolet Metro. Driving home from the dealership was one of the sweetest moments of my life. I didn’t have to borrow my dad’s van 2
anymore. I was one step closer to being free of him.Before I could find an apartment, one winter, my dad went on a rage. He cornered me in my room and banged on my door. He yelled at me. He was angry that I hadn’t found a place to live and he wanted me out right away.I took him seriously. When he calmed down and went away from my door, I got in my car and drove down one of the avenues of Dayton, Ohio. It was two in the morning. I found a real estate agency mini strip mall and parked my car by the dumpster in the back. I hadn’t brought blankets. I slept in the cold, clutching my own body to keep warm, but at least I didn’t sleep at home.I slept there all night, till it was light. Then I drove back to my dad’s and snuck into my room and under the covers. When he woke up, he asked me where I had been last night. I told him I slept in my car and he was mystified as to why I had done that. He had no recollection of telling me to leave. I don’t know what his diagnosis is, but my dad is mentally ill. After the divorce, my dad leaned on me emotionally. Even though he was the parent and I was the kid, I was his emotional support for the two of them splitting up. He would talk with me, cry  with me, and I listened and hugged him and said comforting words to make him ok.I switched jobs a few times. Each time I negotiated a higher salary. My motivation was to make more money than my dad. To prove to him and our neighbor that their college degrees didn’t mean anything. I was going to make more money than them without one.I moved out. Had girlfriends. Broke up with girlfriends. Moved to better and better apartments. My drive to work was the saddest time of the day: when I knew I was heading in to deal with people who thought that developing software was the most important and glamorous thing in the world, people with over-inflated senses of self  worth. People who read technical magazines every day, who geeked out on trivial features of the programming languages we used. I was more alone working than anywhere else, the people made no sense to me.I got into drugs. It was a way to leave myself, to hang out with people who cared about something other than making money and  buying a house on a golf course. I started with pot, then tried ecstasy. Then one night me and my girlfriend took ecstasy together and she  went into a coma and died. She came to my house to do laundry, hang out, and take ecstasy, and left on a stretcher, that took her to a hospital,  where she slipped into a coma that she never came out of. I met her parents for the first time at the hospital. There was no brain activity. They decided to pull the plug.3

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