Somebody asked me today what it was like growing up with someone who was bi-polar.
To my own astonishment, I stood there with my mouth flapping silently like a half drunk seal, completely unable to put anything into words.
What was it like?
It was like living on the edge of a canyon, where the bottom is full of wolves, and sneaking out at night to listen to them howling just so many feet below you, their hollow instinctual keening rising up like a tidal wave above the rock walls, so deep and sharp that you can feel it in your belly.
And there's nothing you can do about the sound, or the location of your house, or the fact that wolves need to howl and you can't sleep through the sound, so you just sit, night after night on the rim of that canyon and listen.
And sometimes you howl too just because maybe they'll stop if they think they're not alone.
It's like living in a world where pain and beauty and loss exist all at the same time, and all of the time. It's the sound of Mozart in the morning, and not being able to paint to anything but Berlioz or Bob Dylan.
It's song lyrics painted on the wall, and waking up to pasta for breakfast and candy bars hidden between the pages of your school books.
It's not having friends over for months at a time, and learning how to drive when you're 14.
It's motorcycles, and charcoal drawings and smoking on the back patio at 4 a.m.
It's knowing what the morning smells like when you didn't sleep last night, and explaining to people why your dad is always sleeping on the couch at 4 p.m.
And the weird part is, you hate all of it, and you can't live without any of it.
And when you finally grow up and move away you find yourself doing odd things.
Like making messes in the kitchen so you can pretend they're someone else's when you clean them up, or playing Berlioz even though you always hated that music, or leaving the T.V. on in the other room while you sleep, because you realize you've never slept in a silent house.
You miss the way 80 miles an hour feels on the back of a Harley when you should be at school, and what a good burrito tastes like when your dad brings you one home unexpectedly in the middle of the night.
You realize that growing up with someone like that is like carrying a bouquet of broken glass and roses, like loving someone who's imprisoned in another country, like a song you can't stop humming.
It's beautiful and it's painful, and it's a color that there isn't a name for.
It's what a child who's been deaf since he was born calls his mother.
It's your own word for love.