by Arnold Snyder
My first wife, June, was schizophrenic, or so I’ve since surmised. I don’t know that she’d ever been officially diagnosed as schizophrenic, but I knew that she’d been diagnosed as something and I’m guessing it was schizophrenia. Three nights after we met, she called me at my dorm in the middle of the night—woke me up—because she was seeing green men outside her window. I talked to her for a couple hours, until the green men had disappeared. Then I went back to bed but couldn’t sleep. This was in 1966, at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. We were both eighteen, though I was an incoming freshman and she was a returning sophomore.
I was immediately attracted to her. She had a unique style of dress—colorful, gypsy-like—with heavy bangs almost covering her eyes, eyes that were always done up in mascara and turquoise eye-shadow; she had long, straight, pitch black hair, wore lots of inexpensive but amusing jewelry, and was definitely not into blending with the conservative college crowd at WMU. Her style was similar to the early Cher—the slouchy beatnik Cher, not the bedazzling Cher. I sat down across from her one morning in the student union cafeteria, and I guess she’d seen me eyeing her for a couple of days, because she told me right off she was crazy and I shouldn’t get involved with her.
From that point on, we were inseparable.
She had little “x” scars on her wrists that she told me she’d made herself to mark her arteries, just in case she ever needed to commit suicide quickly. She also went into a long discussion of the proper way to slash your wrists to ensure that the suicide attempt would work—something she’d studied. She also had a number of scars on her forearms from cigarette burns that she said had been made by her former boyfriend. She told me she’d spent much of the previous summer in a “nut house” after attempting to commit suicide with prescription pills.
But the most disturbing thing June told me—on numerous occasions—was that she was God. She was always very gentle when she was in this state, so I didn’t fear she’d do anything rash. It wasn’t like when she was hallucinating, which often scared me, especially when the hallucinations she saw were scaring her. But when she went into her God rap, I argued with her, insisting that she was insulting me by claiming to be my creator, making me nothing more than some idea she had. My arguments just made her laugh. If I asked her what was so funny, she’d say something about how it didn’t make sense for her to be fighting with her dreams.
A lot of guys would have gotten away from her long before they’d learned all this. June wasn’t the girl you wanted to bring home to Mom. But when she wasn’t telling me horror stories about her self-destructive tendencies, or claiming to be God, she was the funniest, most entertaining, most perceptive person I’d ever met. She often had me laughing out loud at her observations on other students, fraternities, sororities, professors on the make, politics, current films, books. We chain-smoked and drank coffee night and day, slept little, missed classes. I had no desire to be anywhere but with her. I was terrified for her and that surely played into my decision not to abandon her. I didn’t know how she could survive in the world.
Most frightening to her was the prospect of finding herself back in the nut house. Every person in a position of even the slightest authority unnerved her—not just a teacher or cop, but a grocery store clerk. She was constantly terrified that someone would figure out that she was mentally ill and have her put away again. Her descriptions of the facility where she’d spent that summer, where she’d felt the doctors and nurses were sadists, were so horrifying to me that I decided to take on the role of white knight and keep her protected.
Plus there was the sex. She was the first woman I’d ever fallen in love with, and the first woman I’d ever had sex with. I was a goner. She loved sex as much as I did, so I did what I had to do.
I convinced her to marry me.
We were both nineteen. Within six months, she was pregnant and the two of us were on a Greyhound bus from Detroit to San Francisco. The race riots had just torn up our downtown Detroit neighborhood and it was scary as hell, like being in a war zone—the constant smell of smoke, the sporadic gunfire, the never-ending sirens—while San Francisco was in the midst of the Summer of Love.
I worked a series of shitty jobs. Dish washer. Shipping clerk. Baggage handler. June absolutely hated that I had to go to work. She would beg me almost daily to stay home. And she’d sweeten the pot by reminding me that I still had a bunch of pink wedges, so I could take the day off, drop acid, and she’d do all the cooking. I could just hang around the house and take showers and listen to the stereo and let her take me back to bed all day.
I liked acid from the first time I tried it. I was fascinated by the complexity I saw in everything. I always took it alone. June didn’t want it. One of the reasons she liked it when I took it was that we connected so incredibly well when I was tripping.
On one of my trips, we were in our basement studio apartment and my mind started racing. I was just coming on, and what was running through my head was June’s argument that she was God. We were both standing, dancing more or less, just swaying, looking at each other, a Frank Zappa LP on the turntable. I was about to say something about her claim to being God, when it occurred to me that I was God. And I’d created her (and everything else in the Universe). And as soon as I had this thought—and it struck me as the absolute truth, something I should always have known since it seemed so obvious—my face must have been expressing it somehow (shock? horror? terror? amusement?) and June suddenly went from just looking at me to looking at me like she’d heard my thoughts, and she started laughing at me and pointing at me and saying, I knew you’d see it! I knew you’d see it!
We talked about it for hours in that way people have conversations when they’re tripping, where you say as much with your hands and your eyes as with words. And we made a pact that—although I knew for a fact that I was God, and she knew for a fact that she was God—we wouldn’t argue about it, because regardless of which of us was right, it’s futile to fight with your dreams.
After that trip, I never contradicted her again when she told me she was God. And though I never did find out if she’d been officially diagnosed as schizophrenic, or some other category of crazy, I felt I was meant to be with her, and she was meant to be with me.
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June is loosely based on a real person, a writer. You can read more about June in my essay Hack Writing 101: The Lost Meat Spear Manuscript and Risk of Ruin, a novel about a professional gambler who ignores the odds and falls in love with a young woman who believes she’s God.
You can also find June in Transplant, a short novel you can read here on Write-aholic (first chapter starts at that link) or buy at Amazon. You can read more about Transplant and the other short novels in my Smut4Nerds series here.