I was in the process of trying to track him down -- which basically meant harassing Doug Monroe and asking him to please go down to the Fulton County Jail, kind of, and look for a whiskery homeless guy with hardly any eyelashes and a snaggletooth -- when Mangey showed up behind me at Andrew's Upstairs in Buckhead last Thursday, grabbing for my glass of wine as I was about to take the stage. He'd read somewhere that I'd be there as part of the Mad Pundit panel.
"Dammit, Mangey," I said, slapping his paw away. Mangey once showed up at a reading I gave at the Marcia Wood Gallery in Castleberry Hill and bypassed all the free wine to attack Marcia's entire personal supply of Belvedere vodka. After that, he took to showing people his battle scars, almost all of which are located way below the elastic waistline of the pajama bottoms he had on. So no more alcohol for Mangey Qat. "I thought you got arrested," I said after hugging him hello.
"I just got ticketed for jaywalking," he explained. He was wearing the tie-dyed shirt I'd given him but not the straw Panama hat that Lary did. "I guess they handcuffed me so I wouldn't skitter into traffic as they wrote it out."
His other voice probably didn't help, either. It doesn't always stay in his head. Sometimes it pops out of his mouth. I myself have gotten pretty patient with it, but I can see how it might disconcert people. Like the other day, when I took Mangey for breakfast at Thumbs Up in the Old Fourth Ward, after a couple of relatively tame outbursts, the man next to Mangey at the counter had had enough. Granted, Mangey's pajama bottoms were in poor shape that day, riddled with a Rorschach pattern of stains, but still I don't see why you should hold that against him. Who doesn't have voices they're trying to quiet?
I personally hear voices all the time. They tell me what a lousy mother I am, how my child will suffer because of my past and how I should be ashamed of everything that has made me who I am today. What separates me from Mangey is that these are actual real words that come from my daughter's father. I've got them right here, I can point to them; page after page of e-mails and letters he has written me since we separated almost two years ago, and has written my readers and editors. So as Mangey's other voice comes from the inside out, mine comes from the outside in.
And it does get in, I swear. Like a tiny seed that's trying to take root and germinate doubt and dick everything up. He's right about one thing, you know, I didn't have a normal upbringing. My dad was a drinker and my mother made bombs for a living. I grew up thinking I had a better chance at catching Elephantiasis than I did at having a normal life. At 12 I could not think of anything worse than to die a long, awful death due to an infection from a rare parasitic worm, so of course that's exactly what I figured the future held for me. The idea I'd grow up to overcome my quirky-assed life to create a successful career writing about it -- that I'd be normal and healthy like I am -- didn't even occur to me. I was too busy checking my esophagus to see if it was swelling shut.
But here I am, and I would be proud of myself if it weren't for that voice. It tells me I am sick and selfish. It tells me I obviously need help. It tells me, literally, that because I was date raped in high school, I'm bound to suck at single motherhood. Now, I know rationally that I'll probably never call up my date rapist in California to come here to Atlanta to baby sit my girl, but the voice is insistent that there's basically some kind of rot that runs straight to my inner core due to all the things I've had to overcome in my life, and that is just an example, and did it mention that my dad was a drunk? The voice has to mention that almost every chance it gets.
So I empathize with Mangey and his other voice. After the Mad Pundits panel, I drove him to his corner on Cheshire Bridge Road, and he told me he needs someone to help him rebuild his lean-to, maybe even upgrade to a shed or a tree house or something. I promised I'd look into it, and at that Mangey Qat walked off into the night, leaving us both to do the best we can to fight our other voices, Mangey to keep his from getting out, and me to keep mine from getting in.
Hollis Gillespie is the author of Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales from a Bad Neighborhood (Harper Collins). Her commentaries can be heard on NPR's "All Things Considered." To hear the latest, go to Moodswing at www.atlanta.creative loafing.com.