Northwest to Alaska
Chapter Twelve

by Peter S. Oleson

At times that winter, it seemed to me that I was without salvation, that
whatever I did, it wouldn't matter. I tried to participate in all those
"family" type things, but it wouldn't work, I felt like an outsider. But I
was a damned good actor. I met the minimal amount of concern, I managed to
seem in control. We put our name in with the Salvation Army for
assistance, and one day just before Christmas a man I didn't know called
and asked where we lived. I told him our address and an hour later he
showed up with a big box full of food. There was a turkey in there, some
canned pumpkin, some cranberry sauce, all the fixing's, I didn't know what
to say. He handed me an envelope and hugged me and drove away. Later, I
opened the envelope and there was a $100 bill in it. We went grocery

We all made it through that winter alive, without going hungry, although
the menu left something to be desired, with moose for almost every meal. In
May, I finally found a job at one of the local service stations in
Soldotna. It only paid $6 an hour plus a small percentage of sales you
were responsible for. It wasn't much of a job, back on the bottom of the
ladder pumping gas. As the last one hired, I was at the bottom of the
pecking order. I Pumped a lot of gas, I bagged a lot of ice. There is
this subculture revolving around service stations in America that may well
be gone by now. Even here, it is evident only in places that offer the
"Full Service" logo. And all that means now is that some high school
dropout is going to fiddle with your change.

At the Soldotna Y station, for those years, it meant that, if possible,
you were met by me and treated with respect. I took a lot of crap from the
other guys, but damn it, I still firmly believe that if you treat people
asyou would like to be treated, they will return as customers. However,
being employed at a service station means that everyone assumes that you
are an idiot. There ain't no shame in tradition, though.

Working at the service station did very little to help my self esteem. It
did supply a predictable paycheck. If I remember correctly, it was about
$280 a week. A lot better than nothing, but hey, what would you do if you
had to live on that with a wife and three kids? I made out a budget that
took everything into consideration and whatever was left over, l spent on
food, and once in a while, alcohol. I moved back upstairs with Diane. I
have to comment on that statement. I moved back upstairs to resume a
connubial relationship with the only woman that I have ever loved.

I met a lot of people while I was working at that service station. There
were the other mechanics: Mike and Pat, a twisted pair if ever I met any.
There were people there that were obviously taking a lot of drugs. Sooner
or later just about every derelict in town works at the local service
station for a while. One of the people that I worked with there was a
cashier named Debby. She and her little daughter were on their way to a
family Christmas reunion and were killed in a small plane crash in Kenai
one Saturday that I was working. The police came to ask about her, and I
asked them about the baby. They said "What baby?" There was nothing left
of the baby, it was all burnt up. They didn't even know it was there. So
much sadness.

We had a lot of fun there, though. At home there were no big problems. If
you're a mother or father, you know how good that statement feels. I spent
three years in that place and at a sister station in Kenai. I went back to
work with Glen after that, and I'm still working there, now. So is Mike
from the "Y". He's been the "new guy" there for about five years now.

Things have been pretty good for us out here in Funny River, although the
kids lobby me a lot to move into town. I would do it, too, if there was
some way that I could do it without a damned mortgage. It took us 25 years
to go from that tool box, the bag of clothes and my rifle and Dead tapes to
this little hideaway in the woods. Right now, I can keep up with the
insurance, the car repairs, the doctor bills, the groceries and the school
activities. The only thing I owe money on now is this new computer. I
just can't see myself looking at a 20-30 year mortgage. Naturally, the
kids don't see that as a big problem, but they're immortal, right?

This rest of this chapter isn't about Alaska, though, it's about me. I
have to go back into my past to explain a few things to make the rest of
the chapter easier to understand. For now, I'm going to address this as 3
separate areas. Remember while reading them that they all interacted on
each other. They are all separate aspects of one problem; what we used to
call "Mental Illness".

1-Empathy: I have had this particular problem all of my life. It wasn't
until I was in my 40's that I realized what exactly was going on. It's
kind of hard to explain. Be aware that I was one of those children,
diagnosed in Jr. High, after spending my childhood in a religious school,
with a very high IQ, eventually, a National Merit Scholar. (No brag,
actually, I spent a lot of my life trying to become stupider, mostly by
purposely killing brain cells. It always seemed to me that the other kids
had way more fun and happiness in their lives than I did.)

Whenever I was around some person and interested in them, I seemed to take
on the characteristics of the person that interested me. At times, I would
become fascinated by people who were famous or infamous. I spent my
earlier years in a kind of fantasy world, but don't we all? Or more aptly,
didn't we all? It seems to me nowadays that children don't have enough
fantasy in their lives. True, downright reality was never my cup of tea
from the beginning of my awareness, and it never has been, all of my life.

Naturally, as a young person with a quick and inquisitive mind, I was more
often than not fascinated by the fringe element. Criminals and weirdo's
were much more interesting than brainwashed Christians, living by rote and
never venturing near the edge. I got in more than my share of trouble that
way, lying, stealing; things that happened in my youth that I would give
anything to forget. Things without honor.

As you can imagine, this strangeness didn't do wonders for my social life.
In my teenage years, I never really was able to have a man-woman type
relationship. I was always out in left field. The main friends that I had
were all drug culture friends. I was smoking dope regularly by the time I
was 16 and taking any and all the psychedelics by 17. My senior year of
high school was indeed strange, we were the first wave of dopers there. I
remember being served a subpoena in gym class one day and as I left class
and entered the locker room, the gym teacher put a starting pistol to the
side of my head, shot it, and bragged to the jocks, people that I knew,
that "This is what we do to hippies around here."

Empathy; feeling the feelings of others. I could empathize even with that
gym teacher. It was a very strange and confusing way to grow up.

When, after my senior year, my group of friends and my brother and myself
all got busted for drugs, I could even empathize with the cops and the DA.

In my mind, my future was clear. I had to avoid human contact at all
costs. No one who was kind to me was without risk. I loved everyone
dearly, but my friendship could have such a large price. I backed away
from society, risking a cliche, slowly but surely.

2-Dreams: When I was much younger, before drugs and alcohol, when I was
innocent, I had a strange dream one night. In the dream, I was totally
paralyzed and at the same time, afraid for my life. I tried to scream out
to my mother, but nothing would come out. In the dream, which really
wasn't a dream because I seemed to be wide awake and paralyzed in my bed, I
was in a slowly revolving tunnel of mist, smoke or ether and I floated. A
voice said:" As at birth, you must face the end alone." (Or words to that
effect, it's been a long time.) At the time, I thought that I had died and
come back to life, seeing the "tunnel" and all, and hearing the strange
voice. It screwed me up a little, as strange things can do to the young,
impressionable mind. I never forgot it.

Over the years since, I have had that or a similar dream over and over. I
had it all through school, but the voice never had the same message. Each
time, it had a different message, but I remember only the first. After we
moved to Alaska, I didn't get it again until 1986.

After 1986, the dream came back with a vengeance. I would be lying in bed
with Diane, and I would suddenly be totally paralyzed, while wide awake.
I couldn't move, I would try to cry out to her, but she never heard me.
While I was paralyzed, I would be gripped by an intense fear, though I know
not what of. Having been in mortal fear before, that is the only thing I
can equate it with. I feared that death was imminent and near.

As the years went on, we began to have a little problem with my snoring,
and Diane would end up on the couch at night. I would wake up alone, and
know immediately what happened. I hated that, and I hated myself for not
knowing how to deal with that problem. The solution that I came up with
was to leave the bedroom to Diane, and move into one of the small
downstairs bedrooms and make the girls double up and give them the big
bedroom. So I moved into this little downstairs bedroom that used to be
part of our porch,
and I have been here for those years since.

A strange thing happened after I moved down here. Those dreams began to
happen more and more often. I could feel them coming sometimes. I would
be gripped by an intense fear, followed by a complete paralysis. The dread
I had for those dreams was indescribable. There was nothing I could do to
stop it, though. As the dreams came more and more often, I began to tire
of fighting them.

Here, in my little room, where I could be alone, away from the world, I
found my world invaded, not by the real world, but by this crazy dream that
filled me with dread.

A major change came in the dreams when, one night, in the midst of a low
in the cycle of my depression, I gave up fighting against the feeling of
fear. I said to the dream " Do with me what you will."

After I did that, when the dream came, it brought an entity with it. At
first I just called him the "dark guy", because I could never see his face
and he would remain in shadow. After a while, though, he would talk to me.
At the beginning, he would stand at the foot of my bed. Later, he became
manifest right beside my head. Remember, while this was happening, I was
consumed by dread and seemed to be wide awake. If I tried to scream,
nothing came out.

I would be lying in bed, and he would just kind of appear beside me, and I
knew then that I was dreaming but awake. I remember nothing of what he
said, but for a couple months, all we did was talk, about what, I can't
remember. The dreams would come, by that time, once or twice a week.

It seemed like the talking phase lasted forever, but it may have been only
a couple of times, things were hard to judge in that place. Then things
got really strange. It would start the same as always, and he would come
to me and I would look at him and he would point to the foot of my bed.
There would appear there a person who was sexually alluring to me. Never
anyone I had ever seen before, and surprisingly, never anyone who was
beautiful. Just some female with an aura of wantonness. I would try like
hell to wake up, but never could, although I knew that I was wide awake.

After this had been going on some time, like weeks in my real time, I gave
in and went to the apparition. It was just like real life. I actually
felt the images, and we responded to each other as we would, in my
imagination, in real life. But it never stayed that way. The apparitions
would morph from normal appealing women into forbidden things. Sometimes I
would be hugging a normal person, or performing some sexual act on them,
and they would change into a very young girl, or a man, whatever was
forbidden, I was carried into the dream. I have to say that the physical
feeling that I had was every bit as real as the feelings that I had in real
life. There seemed to be no depth to which the "conjurer", as I finally
called him, couldn't take me. I would awake, eventually, sitting
or lying in my bed as the apparitions dissolved into masses of writhing
light, then clouds of pinpricks of light and then into nothingness. I
would be left aware, awake, and wondering if I was damned, or merely

3-Depression: Like most people that find themselves faced with things
that they don't want to accept, I didn't want to admit that there might be
something wrong with me. From my earliest memories on, I seemed to have a
lock on guilt. My reality consisted of my past, my present I seemed to
live by rote: work 5 days, get drunk 2 nights, rest, work 5 days. Whatever
I could do to get through the weirdness.

The drunkenness seemed to satisfy the urge to kill myself. I never really
wanted to die, I would just think about it a lot. As another famous
depressive, Mark Twain, said: "4 out of every 5 deaths is a suicide." I
imagine that I picked alcohol instead of a gun. We who are clinically
depressed would sometimes, at the worst of times, rather be dead, but no
one wants to die. It's against the wish of the DNA. Isn't it funny how
our body chemicals make us want to live and reproduce, and our "religions"
deny us any hope of salvation for checking out by our own hand? Are they
in collusion?

True depression, as opposed to the occasional, and quite normal feeling
associated with the death of a loved one, is very personal, very intense
and very unavoidable. That's why the administering of drugs to treat it is
a trial and error kind of thing. After I admitted to myself, in July, that
I had a problem and went to my family doctor and bared my soul to him, he
was oh-so-happy to prescribe Prozac for me. He told me that I would feel
entirely different in 5 weeks, and I did. But the Prozac locked me out of
some of the rooms in my mind that were the most comfort to me. It took
twice that long, about 10 weeks, for me to feel "normal" with myself. I
was still locked out of those rooms, but I didn't mind it so much, I had
built other rooms in which to dwell. But the rooms that I was locked out
of were the rooms that I started writing this story from. I had a major
problem using my imagination.

I freaked out and sent Robert an almost useless chapter 9. Thankfully, he
had the good grace to write back and suggest that I try again. I have
struggled pretty hard with these last chapters, wondering just how much I
should say. You know, I started writing this just to entertain, but it
turned out that I was laying a major trap for myself. I would have to face
what I had become. I would have to do something about it. I was
accountable to more than myself, I was accountable to my readers.

You know what? I won't run from this responsibility again. I will share
with you these things that have happened since I began taking these strange
mind altering chemicals that are designed to make me "normal".

The main thing is that I am happier than I can ever remember being. I
have some side effects from the drug that change most of the things that I
used to hold normal. Going into this, I truly wanted to be helped, so I
will gladly suffer the side effects to be able to have the peace of mind
that I have now, in this fourth month of chemical therapy. About the
Prozac, it is very hard to sleep on it, for me. Some nights I only only
get 3-4 hours of sleep. My body wants to be constantly in motion, I call
it the "twitches". The strangest side effect is that I cannot seem to have
an orgasm, not for lack of trying. I can live with this, though. It
doesn't seem that important because I am no longer depressed, and compared
to that, it seems so little to give. Remember that when you next consider
Pavlov. There are more things in this world than cause and effect.

My doctor and I are working on a different drug regimen now, he seems to
be more concerned about the orgasm thing than I am. We're trying Zoloft
now. I don't care. I feel like a real person for the first time in years
and years. I can only say to you who are strange and are suffering, that
maybe it would be a good thing if you found a young, friendly doctor, even
a general practitioner, that wants to help you. My major regret about this
whole thing is that I denied for so many years that I had a problem. I
feel a lot of guilt about what I may have put my children through, without
intent, through these last 10 years, but I'm glad that I may have this
chance now to turn the thing around. Talk to the people that you love.

So there you have it, the end of this first draft of an ongoing story,
written on the wing. Judge not lest ye be judged.

I hope to come back to this and straighten it all out after I first
straighten out myself. The first 8 chapters here were brought to you
courtesy of that place in my mind where nothing went wrong. Chapters 9-12
were brought to you by Prozac, and I had a lot harder time with them than I
did the first 8. I don't regret any of it though, but I apologize to rh
for being confused and confusing at times. I'm not sure what I will do
next, but for better or worse, something will undoubtedly happen. Hey, if
you don't have anything better to do, drop me a line.

THE END (for now)

Peter S. Oleson

From [poleson@ptialaska.net]