The following scene is from my novel, a conversation between Neely and her therapist as Neely explains the time after college she finally CRACKED. My story is fiction, but this re-telling is VERY true to life for me. It was a terrifying time of life. I remember enjoying only food and fiction at the time, the two things I thought I could trust. I was even scared of my poor roommates.
It started simple enough: I’d modeled my new shorts in the hall of our post-college apartment. “What do you think?” I asked Trapper.
“I like them,” she said—but a little off-handedly—as she moved past me and into her own bedroom.
In my room, I examined myself in the full-length mirror, wondering over her tone. “Do you honestly like them?” I called to her.
“Yes,” she answered from her room.
She’s lying, I thought. She doesn’t like them. I frowned into the mirror. If Trapper was lying about something small like this, what else could she have lied about? Maybe she didn’t like any of my clothes. Maybe she didn’t even like me! I felt suddenly dizzy.
“You ready to go get supper?” she said, appearing in my doorway.
“Oh! Oh, yeah. Okay.”
“You okay?” she asked.
“Yeah.” Why did she live with me, hang out with me, go to dinner with me if she didn’t like me? Maybe it was all an act—the whole friendship—and eventually, the truth would come out. It would hurt worse because I’d believed we were such good friends. It was a calculated plot to ruin me.
Trapper chattered in the driver’s seat on the way to dinner, but I wasn’t listening. I was thinking in fast-forward mode, possibilities inciting nausea. Like a pinprick of light, I wrestled my way to a new “realization”: Trapper McKay was a demon. Our “friendship” was a ploy that allowed her to deceive me and lead my soul into hell. I felt sure I was going to vomit.
She turned the volume up, steering with her right hand while her left raked the air. “My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard,” Trapper sang, looking over at me and grinning while the breeze from the window whipped strands of red hair across her face. Meanwhile, I staggered in the knowledge that one of my closest friends was methodically planning my annihilation.
During dinner, my reeling thoughts crossed another line as I realized that if Trapper was faking, then anyone could be. I glanced around the restaurant, realizing a horrendous new truth. Everyone was a demon. I was living in a real-life Truman Show, only with more destructive actors, and they with far uglier ambitions.
“Neels,” Trapper said. “You’re acting really weird. Whatcha thinkin’ about?”
I couldn’t let her know what I’d uncovered, that I was catching on. “Not much. I’m fine,” I peeped.
“You? Fine? We should throw a party.” When I smiled weakly, she said, “Neels, it’s a joke.”
“Yeah,” I said, forcing out laughter. “Yeah, I know.” But I spent the next month faking my way through life, shocked at my discovery and desperate to keep it under wraps.
“Did it feel silly and serious at the same time?” Ruth asked me.
“Yes!” I said, nodding violently. “I was ultra-aware that I was being ridiculous, but it just didn’t matter. My head had gotten stuck in its regular loop, and when that happens, it’s pretty hopeless until it wears me out. During the workday, I talked with prospective students, joked with my co-workers—but really, I was wondering if they could tell I knew the ‘truth.’” I made quotation marks with my fingers. “Sometimes I’d forget—find myself feeling all right—but then I’d remember: these people were demons and trying to trick me into hell. I retreated from people—even my friends.”
“This was after college, you said?” asked Ruth.
“Yeah, three or four years ago.” I was glad Ruth didn’t see me shudder: I didn’t want her to think I was a drama queen. “My best friend Charlotte—the same girl who was with that first day on the playground?—at the time she was finishing up undergrad in Chicago and applying for med school back here in Minnesota. She’d call and while she gabbed, I’d think, ‘She’s acting friendly now so that the betrayal will be even more painful.’ Paranoia made me a real loner.”