On Halloween Day I departed from the IHOP in Olney, MD in a daze. To lessen the likelihood of mowing-down trick-or-treaters with our fleet of half-blind utility trucks, our assigned work orders were lighter that day. I had spent the morning disguised as a lawn technician, and employed as one this past Autumn, but never shed the ‘cloaked’ feeling of having a secret ‘white-collar’ under my uniform (a mirror to what I feel in interviews, where I cloak my ‘blue-collar’). A miss-shuffle by our automated scheduling system caused me to leave with too little grass-seed, forcing an early return. I indulged in breakfast for lunch, anticipating a late afternoon appointment across the highway. The mid-afternoon belonged to me: the sun was shining and I had been awake since 4:00am (and hadn’t slept much before that). Despite my post-pancake drowse — or because of its euphoria — I recall in vivid detail walking around the shopping-center, distilling into action my nebulous intentions to visit the music shop.
I bobbed into a place with a name like “Rocket Music”, or similar, whose sign had the red, neon outline of a guitar on it; I kept in-mind the aging strings on my sparsely-played Alvarez as an alibi. A young clerk layered in shades of blue intercepted me as I entered. Her costume emanated organically from the luminous sky-blue of her eyes and blended so subtly into the style of her clothes, she hardly seemed amiss to my faltering gaze. A generous foundation of vivid azures faceted with crystalline sparkles frosted the canvas of her face. The familiar shade of teal that predominated, especially in the clothes she obviously fashioned herself, piqued my attention: either I missed the tint of cold ocean or I knew her character. The hat that covered her corn-silk hair had two hanging pieces — like long ears — draping the fronts of her shoulders. Behold: “a wild store-clerk appeared” in the visage of a Pokémon I hadn’t identified, yet.
Her manner was contrapuntally warm. Forgetting the strings, I confided that I was a trumpet player looking for quality mutes. I’ve intended to browse copper cup-mutes. She shepherded me to their selection of student-grade plugs; I listened to her sales-pitch to avoid seeming mute-snooty. We perused other accessories together and a ‘common wonder’ blossomed: I enjoyed being myself, there. Neither a romantic nor a cautionary tale evolved (<apropos term) but the interesting anecdote continued to ‘level-up’ and I was conscious of my agency in the story, my ability to sustain a volley — even if it was merely a pleasant transaction (she tried to sell me things, as clerks do).
I suggested a test-drive and asked to see a trumpet, one unlike mine. I had to try a black, plastic one. The clerk rummaged for a 7C mouthpiece behind the counter. Hazily, I plunked it in its opening and raised the horn to my lips. The older clerk quickly intervened and sent us back to a practice room. There was a piano and I vaguely recall frosted- clerk saying something about her intention to learn more about other instruments– she plays the oboe. Given another chance, the tertiary educator in me would take-over: where do you study? what are your plans? (could she be graduate-student-aged, someone with whom I could relate?)
–but my brain was a syrup-soaked mass: I dissected the trumpet in front of her. There was a moment where she wondered aloud if I wanted some privacy. I will never know if she was being respectful of my test-blow or wanted to get back to the showroom. At many points in my recent past I would have said “yes, thank you,” and let the weight of an encounter calve from my shoulders. I’ve recently begun to understand the contradictory impulse to both connect and self-enclose. I resisted hiding, saying “no, you can stay– tell me what you think,” and muttered aloud about how weird it felt to play an instrument made of such a yielding material –plastic– yet how feathery the notes were. I played “You Don’t Know What Love Is” without any introduction or explanation; I didn’t mean to be impressive and I doubt I sent any messages (except for “the trumpet player likes jazz”). I sensed that song would work well with the trashbag-horn’s timbre: raven-feathered. I have a black plastic cup-mute that I bought as a stop-gap-measure and kept because it so sweetly softened my notes. I call it ‘son-of-trashbag’ and kiss it affectionately, sometimes. A shop with student-grade horns and cheap plugs still stocks adventures– I love it.
As we walked out of the practice room I made the connection: “you’re Glaceon, right?”
“Yeah! Some people knew I was a Pokémon but you’re the first to guess which.” I’m far from an aficionado; I only ever played the earliest vintage of games (Red & Blue: my cartridges could legally purchase alcohol if they became sentient). Glaceon is an evolution of Eevee from a subsequent generation. I sit on a pop-cultural boundary: young enough to have evolved Eevee with elemental stones (water, thunder, fire) in the late 1990s but too old to know from whence came Glaceon: icy ‘eeveolution’. She was a splendid apparition, the ice-type Pokémon fused with a music-store clerk in a homemade Halloween costume.
“I thought of Vaporeon for a minute but you have long, teal ears — not blue fins. So, I suppose Glaceon plays the oboe.” I asked what her name was and she answered.
The plastic horn was $175 (for $125 I could have been a sucker). I remembered the strings and weathered a lecture from the older clerk about adjusting the action on my guitar (and how I should be more careful). I haven’t returned to the music shop, yet, and I’m not sure why. I just ‘bought’ the abandoned plastic trombone from the blues foundation’s back-room and I could get fitted for a better mouth-piece; I considered getting a spare, plastic 7C to buzz on while in the car (I already have a metal spare). There are always strings. Moreover, I may be leaving Maryland soon; alibis are not required. I knew exactly who I was in that scene. I felt contextualized. Once I form even the vaguest expectation about a place, the preconception threatens to detract from the present. It’s an effect I’m slowly overcoming.
As dusk percolated into Halloween I re-parked my red Pontiac Sunfire next to the building where I had regular appointments at the time. I probably ate some pop-tarts or almonds from my glove compartment. In all other instances, I went directly from my car to the waiting-room on the second floor, which was also painted cool, green-blue shades. Still flush with a new experience, I drifted over to a small concrete pad nestled in the grass beneath a line of trees at the back of the parking-lot. I relaxed on my back and watched the sky change colors. I don’t doubt I had cloud-frosted, Autumnal profundities to share when I started this draft that evening. I tried to tell the entire story of the day, then, and the piece grew too long. Yet the crunch of refrozen snow beneath my boots is not the only reason I returned to Glaceon and the plastic trumpet.
That day was a glimpse of the dynamic version of me. A former roommate once said “you’re the most extroverted introvert I’ve ever known,” and I credit him for getting close to the truth. My closest advisors and I agree that my basic personality abounds with extroversion but I’ve experienced a long period of swelling reticence. I never believed I had an anxious nature and, essentially, I was correct; circumstances and some unaddressed health-concerns converged to create the storm that almost slayed me last year. My non-diagnosis this past decade (and the miss-diagnosis that followed in 2018) sank me into a state so unlike myself that I experienced melancholy’s equivalent of a Dunning-Kruger effect! Then, we figured things out. The prodigious malaise germinated from small glitches, not from a core brokenness. Like polishing-away bumps and dimples on a telescope’s mirror, the series of recalibrations that began last June continue to bring more of myself and this precious world we share into focus. I stopped writing about mental health in order not to ruminate on self-perceptions that might soon change, anyway, and I was wise to do so. I freed myself to sift before I analyzed.
The snows are under control. ‘Bupropion’ has been super-effective; pronounced aloud, the medicine sounds like what Eevee evolves into when she sleeps overnight behind a bathroom mirror. It’s a norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitor, in a class with smoking cessation aides; some of us just need a catalyst to help power-up and fully discharge our batteries for the day. My serotonin was never a problem; I always felt the warmth around me. I struggled to keep my spark-plugs clean; each week, I find it easier to stay lit and keep my pistons firing. My only side-effects are complications of dehydration, treated by drinking and passing extra water (“Vaporeon, I choose you too!”). I don’t live in fear of a sudden crash because I am better equipped; I better understand what was amiss and its temporal qualities. I recover faster from a low-power state than a year ago — and I manage my outputs better when I absolutely need to recharge. Too much of my struggle has come under my control, and my competencies have grown too much, for me to believe I could ever be completely hopeless. I’m just a thunder-stone away from becoming…
My thematic “curse”, then, is wondering what life could have been like if I reached this point sooner, younger. Again, I sit on generational boundaries: thirty-two years of age. I containgreat potential that I couldn’t quite activate but that seems to be changing. Because I don’t take mythical “happy pills”, I still ferment in the emotions associated with lost opportunities. I expect to address these struggles in writing but I’m fast approaching the point where I cannot sculpt them into abject pathology. The difficult questions of our era are shared in common: they are ours. Though I may always feel them with an above-average acuity, my capacity to absorb and redirect that tension has only grown in the past year.