It is April 12, 2012, and I am sitting in my therapist’s office. I don’t normally go to therapy; this is part of my mandated aftercare after being released from the hospital. The office is filled with children’s games; the walls are covered with kindergarten illustrations, crayon scribbles. There is a book on the bookshelf titled Hands Are Not for Hitting. I text a picture to my mother, and she responds back, “No, they are for slapping.”
Today in therapy we are making lists, an exercise popular in second grade classrooms. The first list was Behaviors That Aggravate My Bipolar Disorder. I thought we were going to get philosophical, dig deep, but the first item my therapist put on the list was Not taking my medication, which set the tone for the exercise.
Now we are working on Things I Can Do to Alleviate My Bipolar Disorder. First on the list—I have figured out how to play this game—is Taking my medication. At my therapist’s urging, we also add Talking to friends and Playing with the dogs. She tries to add Writing, but I tell her that can go either way, so it remains off the list.
“What about projects?” she asks. “You know, things you do to keep your mind off your symptoms?”
Projects have been, historically, very helpful to me in this regard. Sometimes writing—building stories, building worlds—can distract me, but sometimes it goes the other way, and just becomes a labyrinth of crazy. But there are other projects. Lately, a big one.
“Kilmerfest,” I say.
My therapist looks at me a moment, her thin mouth twisting in indecision. She’s not much older than I am which is infuriating because she treats me like she’s my kindergarten teacher. I’m sure she’s a very nice person, but I’m not her goddamn pet. I can see the thought working through her head like it’s written in subtitles floating below her face: she’s trying to decide if what I’m saying right now is sane.
“What?” she says finally.
“Val Kilmer. I’ve been watching all his movies. That’s my project right now.” I wait, but she does not add Spend time with Val Kilmer to my list. Clearly, she does not think I am a good role model for myself. “It’s helping me,” I add. “I get—well, I sometimes get really fixated on one thing, and then I don’t really feel better until I do that thing—”
“Those are obsessive thoughts,” she says, almost to herself.
“—and right now, that’s how I feel about Val Kilmer movies. So I’m really interested in the details and the characters and the writing, and it’s like a reward to watch the next one. And the whole time, the whole process, finding the movie and watching it and thinking about it, it’s all time I spend not feeling crazy.”
The therapist is quiet for long enough that I start thinking about the papers I signed when I started coming here, the ones that informed me that the staff retains the rights to restrain and sedate me should they fear I pose a danger to myself or others. Finally, she sighs, and writes Val Kilmer on the good side of my worksheet, which pleases me more than it probably should.
So, Val and I, we don’t have much in common. Val Edward Kilmer was born in Los Angeles, California, on the last day of 1959. He was the second of three boys born to an affluent family. I was born over a quarter of a century later, on December 17, 1985, in Nashua, New Hampshire. I was the first of two girls and a boy, and I was born into a social class I once heard described as po’—so poor, you can’t afford an R. I studied pre-med and psychology at a state school until I realized I needed to add Working in healthcare to the bad list, and am now working on my MFA in writing at the Savannah College of Art and Design. Val skipped college, becoming, instead, the youngest student to attend Juilliard’s drama program. Since we were both born in December, Val and I have the same birthstone—turquoise—but our birthdays are far enough apart that we have different star signs: I’m a Sagittarius, and Val’s a Capricorn. Val is six feet tall; I am, to quote my friend Holly, “pocket-sized.” We’re both blondes, though my mess of kinky curls approaches afro and Val’s golden mane is as sleek as a palomino’s. Val lives in New Mexico; I live in Savannah, Georgia. I have two pet dogs; Val has a pet buffalo. So, no. We don’t have very much in common. As far as I know, the man doesn’t even know I exist. But we are, nonetheless, inextricably linked. Val Kilmer saved my life.