17​.​) The Blue Occupation [iii]

from by Jesse Livingston

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I turned on Jeremy. He was still gripping the dashboard with both hands.

“Listen,” I said. “You want to know about mental illness? You want to know about desolation and despair? Yeah, I’ve had that in my life. Plenty of it. But who hasn’t? Huh?” I was shaking him now. “Who hasn’t seen their life as an endless, grinding wasteland? That’s the human condition! But you man up and you move on! You want to know about mental illness? There is no mental illness. It’s not an illness if everyone’s got it! Right?”

“Not everyone’s got it that bad,” Jeremy whispered, his shoulders up around his ears where I was holding them. “You need to acknowledge that. You need to let someone help you. You’re so unhappy that you’ve convinced yourself that everyone is as unhappy as you are, just so you won’t feel so alone. But it’s not true. There is happiness and love in the world. That’s why you named the character in ‘The Black Star’ after me, the character who tries to end the world but ends up saving it. That’s what you want me to do for you—to end this world you’re trapped in and start a new one.”

I let him go and slumped back in the seat.

“Yeah, right,” I said. “You do that for me. Just go ahead and do that for me. Thanks so much. You answered the call I didn’t send in the book I didn’t write, and now you’re my savior. I’m mentally ill, and I need help. I’m mentally ill? No. I’m not mentally ill. You want to know why? Because I can’t afford to be mentally ill. Not on my wages. You want to know about mental illness in America? There’s no mental illness in America. There are only bums, prisoners, and clean, happy citizens! ’Cause those are the options in America. You say, America, I’ve got a mental illness, and America says, Hey, good luck, guy! Hope it isn’t too serious! And you say, Well, actually, America, it is serious. It makes it real hard for me to live on my own and take care of myself. That’s kind of what mental illness is all about. And America says, Good point! Here’s our recommendation: why don’t you just go ahead and try to take care of yourself anyway and see how that works out for you. If you’re lucky, you can keep it together enough to work forty hours a week and make enough money to afford health insurance so that you can afford medication so that you can keep working forty hours a week so that you can keep affording health insurance so that you can keep affording medication! Because, you know, you have to consider our interests here as well. The world doesn’t revolve around you. We have to make some money off this—off your suffering, we mean. We have to make some money off your suffering. We have to make some money off your despair, your self-hatred, your suicide attempts, you understand. We can’t just provide free health care to all our citizens. That would be insane! That’s what would really be insane. We don’t have the money to do that because we need it for other things, like fighting wars and running the world. You see? We need your money so that we can run the world. I’m sure you can understand that. But if you can’t keep it together to work forty hours a week and buy health insurance, you do have other options. You have two other options, to be exact. OPTION A: You can rot in the streets. OPTION B: You can rot in jail. We really don’t see how we can make it any more fair than that, do you? Those are two really solid options right there!”

Jeremy tried to cut in, but I rolled right over him.

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from A Thousand Lifetimes in an Hour, released December 21, 2012

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Jesse Livingston Denver, Colorado

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