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Ophelia and Me MAG
It happened one rainy October afternoon when I was driving down Route 1 in the pouring rain. She was in the car beside me, and she hadn’t been around a lot for quite some time, but then, it never was all that surprising when she showed up, even though her visits were so arbitrary.
“I’ve been wondering,” she said, breaking a long period of silence, and then she stopped.
When she’s wondering something, it’s usually nothing good. I waited for her to continue, as you usually do. I should have guessed, though, that she would stop right after saying it, just to mystify me.
“What?” I said, rather predictably.
“I’ve been wondering … ”she repeated, dreamily.
It was easy for her to be dreamy, it’s always easy to be dreamy on a rainy October day if you’re in the passenger seat. If you’re in the driver’s seat, you’ve got to watch the road, and you can’t just dream and wonder about anything, unless you’ve got really good car insurance and not much interest in seeing tomorrow.
“What have you been wondering?” I said disinterestedly, hoping to humor her until she shut up. She glanced at me, irked by that obvious undercurrent and annoyed way that I persisted in being practical by keeping my attention focused on the road. Never mind that her life depended on keeping my mind focused; she’d be dead too if the car crashed.
“I was wondering what it’d be like to be insane,” she said suddenly. I rolled my eyes.
“Insanity,” I told her, “is a very trite subject.”
“0hhh, but it’s so interesting!” she said, “Who wrote, ‘Isn’t it joyous to be insane?’”
“My ex-boyfriend wrote that in a letter to me,” I said, annoyed that she was making me remember that. “I didn’t know you read that letter.”
“No, no, I meant besides him,” she said, ignoring my accusation. “Someone famous?”
“Probably,” I shrugged, “He wasn’t one for original statements.” I smiled to myself over that little dig – he would have called me bitter had he heard me say that.
“You’re still bitter?” she asked, turning to me.
I switched the windshield wipers to a higher setting in response. They squeaked as they slid back and forth across the windshield, and I forced my eyes not to follow, not to be hypnotized.
“No … Though it wasn’t that long ago, you know.”
A car, doing about 80, swooshed past my left side. A surge of panic jumped into my throat and then settled back into my stomach in disgust. “Jerk,” I swore softly at the speed-demon.
“Oh, I don’t think he was that bad,” she said.
“Your ex-boyfriend. He wasn’t such a jerk most of the time.”
“No,” I sighed, “He wasn’t.”
“But I don’t know if he was right.”
“Right? Right? Right about what?”
“About being insane.”
I could feel myself losing it, between the bittersweet, raw memories she was heaping on me and the stress of driving against that rain with the hypnotic swish and squeak of the windshield wipers. I pulled into a McDonald’s parking lot, resting my head against the steering wheel.
“Why are we stopped?” she asked.
“So you can have your say and let me alone,” I said bluntly, not caring if I was rude, “Fine. Get it over with. You’re thinking about insanity, which is trite, which he thought was joyous, which you think is interesting, which I think I don’t want to think about. What about it?”
“It shows up in a lot of books and movies and plays.”
“Yeah. That’s why it’s trite. People have been writing about insanity for a long time from Greek tragedies. The main character in almost every Greek tragedy was a little crazy, at least by today’s standards. We’d call anyone today who kills their kids or their parents insane, and that’s what most Greek characters did. And then Shakespeare – he wrote about insane people. And even today, every other bestseller is either a biography or an autobiography of someone who has done time in an asylum. Same with movies. It’s all the same. Every writer is obsessed with it.”
“Aren’t you obsessed with it? You’re a writer.” I bared my teeth at her, rather than grinned. “I’m … not … every … writer,” I said.
“Shall we go into McDonald’s?”
“I hate that place.”
“Get a vanilla shake?”
“If you get one, I’ll end up drinking it.”
“You like them anyway. We’ll both get one.”
“No. They’re not healthy and they’re too expensive.”
“But they’re good.”
She knew I had won, and she lapsed into silence. Thinking she had finished, I thankfully started the engine again.
“What about Ophelia?” she said suddenly.
“What about Ophelia?”
“Well … in Hamlet, she went insane, right?”
I groaned, realizing she hadn’t dropped the subject. “That’s the common belief.”
“You don’t think she really did.”
I turned the engine off. This was going to take longer than I thought.
“No. Ophelia wasn’t really insane, she just wanted attention. Wandering around singing senseless songs and talking to imaginary friends doesn’t make you insane.”
“It doesn’t? What does?”
“I don’t know,” I shivered, “I mean, maybe it does, but if it did, it would mean I’m crazy.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“Let’s go into McDonald’s.”
Twenty minutes and two vanilla shakes later, she repeated the question. She wasn’t one to let go of questions easily.
“What’s it like, insanity?”
“How should I know?” I said. “Confusing. There are books about it. You should read them.”
“I don’t read books,” she said.
“Then how do you know about Hamlet?”
“You know. I know.”
I acknowledged this silently, furious at the fact that she had to bring it up, and sucked hard on my straw, trying hard to ignore the stares from other McDonald’s patrons and shaking my head so my dripping hair fell over my eyes.
“But what’s it like to be really insane?” she insisted.
“Why do you ask?” I growled.
“It’s important. I think it must be … dark. Not knowing. Dark. Cold. You think?”
“I don’t know,” I admitted, “I’m not insane. Or at least I don’t think I am. Yet.”
She smiled then, a long, slow, strange smile.
And I was startled to find that I was sitting alone in a McDonald’s booth, with one half-finished vanilla shake in front of me and one untouched, with a straw sticking out.
And I was talking aloud to myself.