Me, Myself, and I
I Tamed the Beast
Once a cultural change occurs, we so easily forget past behaviors.
At 16 in the 11th grade, I signed up as a teacher’s aide and was allowed into their “teachers only” breakroom, I had just started smoking cigarettes and in 1982, the teacher’s lounge smelled like a cheap nightclub. Smoke billowed and hung thick in the poorly ventilated former storage room. Many drank out of nondescript thermoses and despite a handful of students being there, they had no problem telling dirty jokes, using foul language, and disparaging each other by gender, ethnicity, and sometimes even race.
This was when we, as a country, collectively laughed at Mel Brook’s movie Blazing Saddles, with humor so blatantly racist and misogynistic it probably wouldn’t fly today.
By mid-semester I had effectively been “adopted” by the teachers as “one of them”, and when they smoked, I smoked too. When they laughed and cried and screamed and vented, I joined in, giving my brilliant 16-year-old opinions on why they should give their husbands another chance or to be nice to a particular student whose dog just died.
Back then, high school was designed to bring you into adulthood. Teachers and the administrators knew this. We had the freedom to leave campus everyday and go to the food court for lunch. There were work-study programs. There were no school shootings. Of course, there was immaturity and foolishness, but teachers and students were allowed to be human. We accepted each other’s imperfections. We forgave many indiscretions that would not be tolerated today.
From middle school on, I was enormously active. This was before the internet, digital video, social media, and cable TV. And there was only so many episodes of Merv Griffin, Dinah Shore, or MASH a teenager could tolerate.
Most of my friends and classmates were active and fit. Compared to today’s sedentary, social media, smartphone, IPAD, laptop, videogame environment, many of us coming of age in the 80’s would now be diagnosed with ADHD or mania.
By the time I graduated high school, I assumed college would be even busier.
The literal moment I experienced my first euphoric-and-stratospheric-excitement-beyond-even-my-wildest-dreams, mania, I had visited my advisor who showed me the typical courses I needed my first semester.
The next day, I grabbed my schedule from the registrar’s office and thought it had to be a mistake. My classes were clustered on three days of the week: Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday from 8 am to 1 pm. The campus was closed on Wednesdays.
And as it dawned on me I had every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday COMPLETELY off with only half days the rest of the week, I exploded with a burst of serotonin so extreme, if I had found a way to put it in a pill I would’ve cured the world’s depression.
I was not only 1500 miles from any authority whatsoever, even accounting for homework and studying, at barely 18, I had the free time of a Miami beach retiree.
I was so over stimulated with the city, the snow, the music, the freedom and the infinite possibilities, I would run up the stairs to my classroom so frantic with euphoria and hyperactivity, one professor took me aside and said, “You know, I had a cousin like you and she had to clasp her hands together and squeeze her fingers very, very tightly to calm herself down….why don’t you try that.” I was simply bursting out of my skin with barely containable excitable energy. If it was possible for life to be too great, I was experiencing it…at least in my own head.
Throughout college and into graduate school, I always wanted a serious girlfriend but couldn’t focus or calm down enough to make it happen. It didn’t help I was pathologically unsatisfied with my looks or style. While most people my age wore wrinkled, baggy clothes, couldn’t give a shit about their hair, and used slang and vulgarities with abandon, I was hopelessly stuck in the 70’s.
I wore patent leather shoes (with the pennies), slacks, button down dress shirts, and I sprayed so much Aqua Net on my hair it was essentially a deadly weapon. I never left my apartment without a belt. I produced articulate, intelligible speech and rarely cursed. While many girls enjoyed my company and personality, I was about as sexually attractive to them as a grandfather. But as the song goes, I Had To Be Me. And I was comfortable in my skin (and my loafers).
I had one final unbridled, barely controllable manic event before I learned to tame the beast into reasonable submission. It occurred my last year of graduate school, when a gorgeous, intelligent, fun-loving girl from Portugal entered the classroom. It was the first time in my 23-years I fell in love BEFORE first sight. Her back was to me when I first heard her accent, and as she slowly turned toward her desk, the blood rushed to my head so swiftly I thought I might pass out.
I was so frantically smitten, within five minutes of introducing myself my mouth actually uttered these words, “I know we just met. And please don’t let this scare you. But I am 100% sure that I am going to make you my wife.” In the late 80’s and early 90’s a man could get away with that kind of possessive, I’m-the-man-and-you’re-the-woman, machismo. Back then, it was charming and sincere and cute on some level. Today, I’d be labeled misogynistic and “unwoke”, lose my job, my friends, my family, be crucified on social media, and spend the rest of my life sleeping under an overpass.
We got married.
It lasted almost 8 years. She moved back to Portugal in 2001. We had no children.
I do not regret it for a second.
But, I was never that manic again.
About the author
Jonathan Morris Schwartz is a speech language pathologist living in Ocala, Florida. He studied television production at Emerson College in Boston and did his graduate work at The City College of New York.