Memoir, Personal Essays

A New Project

I’ve been working on a memoir for the past few years, and am now committed to finishing it by the end of this year. The project means a lot to me, and I wanted to share a little bit of it with you all. Here’s the very first chapter of “The Voice” –

When I wrote down my to-do list that day in May of ’91, it did not include getting arrested and thrown into a locked psyche ward. My plan had been to retrieve the computer my ex-girlfriend, Elaine, had talked me into buying in exchange for work she never delivered. I’d been patient. I’d been understanding.  I’d been forgiving. But it became clear that she had played me. That day, I decided to stop to being her doormat.

I called Elaine to tell her I was coming over and somehow our conversation ended with me shouting, I’m gonna kill your ass… An hour later there was a knock on my door. It was my brother, who had come all the way from Texas without warning, making some vague excuse for being there. I told him I was busy – I needed to go get my computer.  He offered to drive so off we went in his rental car. In the wrong direction.

“Where are you going? I told you she lives the other way,” I said to him. He ignored me and just kept driving.

“Are you hard of hearing, Bobby? Turn around and go that way.” He kept going in the wrong direction. Now I was annoyed.

“Look, if you’re not going to take me there, let me out here and I’ll walk back to my place and take my own car.” He made no move to turn the car around.

“I said, PULL OVER!” I shouted, but he stayed silent. I couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t listen to me.

The traffic in front of us slowed down for a red light. I saw my chance and jumped out of the car. It was only 5 blocks back to my place, but I was glad to be able to walk off my rage. What the hell was his story, anyway?!

I don’t get angry much, as a rule, and I knew I needed to calm down. I sat in my kitchen and thought, it’s probably not a good idea to go over to Elaine’s all riled up – not after the screamer we’d had earlier, so I decided to head for the racetrack instead.

There, I spent the afternoon schmoozing with a few cronies and losing a few bucks, which was just what I needed to put my head back together. After the races I headed home for a nap.

Loud knocking woke me up and I opened the front door to two uniformed police officers.

“Was I Stephen Zuckerman?” they asked. I said I was. They asked if they could come in for a moment, so I opened the door, wondering if one of my neighbors had been robbed or something. They were friendly, almost too casual – asking me how I was doing. I made some joke the way I always do, and one of them said, “Well, Dr. Zuckerman, there are some folks who are worried about you.”

“What are they worried about?”

“Well, they’re concerned about your health and wanted to make sure that you were okay.”

“Really? What people are you talking about?” I asked.

“We were asked to take you over to Hennepin County Medical Center so they can check you out.”

“Really?  You guys make house calls? Don’t you have some more important work to do?  I’m really fine …”

“Naw, you see, we promised. So, why don’t you just come with us now and we’ll get you checked out. It won’t take long. You don’t have any place you have to be for an hour or so, do you …?”

Something in me stopped protesting. I haven’t had much exposure to policemen, but it was clear that they were going to take me whether I was willing or not. Since I preferred not to find out what handcuffs felt like, I went with them.

I had no idea, at that time, that behind my back, a conspiracy was fermenting. My brother, Elaine, my business partner, Jay – hell, even my mother back in Queens had all been in on the plot they called an intervention. Not the kind you do with alcoholics and drug addicts, but the kind you do when someone cracks up.

I got my quick and dirty introduction into the black hole of extreme rendition. That word wouldn’t become a household term for another 10 years after 9/11 and Guantanamo Bay, but I would become intimately acquainted with its meaning in the following months.

It’s not that I was tortured, at least not physically, but I would be imprisoned behind a locked door, without show laces to hang myself with, without sharp things to slit my wrists with and without a voice to raise in protest. All those trivial freedoms we take for granted everyday – what socks to wear, what route to bike to work, when and what to eat, who to call that day and who to dodge – were stripped away.

I didn’t realize how glorious it is to simply be able to walk out of my own house and go where I want. Like air – we don’t notice how very nice it is until we don’t have any.

In lock-up, there were cameras that recorded my every move, giant men without necks in blue scrubs who guarded the exists from my escape and who followed me into the men’s room – I assume because they were afraid I’d try to drown myself in the urinal. The only reading materials were pamphlets with titles like, Am I borderline? Or I’m OK But You’re a Jerk and Readers Digest, and a TV was turned up to its loudest setting on one sports channel or another.

Williams S. Burroughs once said, “a paranoid is someone who know a little of what’s going on.” I would soon understand exactly what he meant.

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