Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Monday, July 10, 2017

Slippery Slopes and Slipping Haloes

Backing up a bit, there had been a comment near the end of June of 1987, “Lois acting up again.” I had noticed certain changes in Lois that worried me. They actually seemed to be improvements because they interrupted her depressions and she took on a more energetic persona. She was getting up in the night, when normally everyone in the house was asleep. During these sessions she would be cleaning the house and doing other projects. She was also doing a lot of decorating in the house. New additions regularly appeared and not just the usual changing of curtains and pictures.
You may be wondering why have I used an illustration showing three faces of the same person
to head this chapter. Although they labeled it Bipolar, which tends to make us think of two, "bi", there are three major faces of the disorder, Depression, Mania and Hypomania. Depression is the easiest to spot. A person is sad, suffers anxiety and panic attacks, cries a lot for no apparent reason and sees little in the way of hope. This is represented by the face on the left.
Mania, represented on the right of the three faces is sometimes shown as a person in a rage of angry acting out in some violent way. This is one possible aspect of Mania and it is the behavor that often finds the person causing trouble or getting injured. It is the Manic that ends up institutionalized. It is the face most associated in the public mind with the disorder, the face that makes the news. “They were Bipolar, you know,” and people nod their heads and the word "maniac" automatically comes to mind. 
The third face, shown somewhat blankly staring in that first photo, looking rather natural, is Hypomanic. Hypo
comes from the Greek and means under, kind of like understated. Hypomania is really a milder form of Mania. Characteristic behaviors are extremely energetic, talkative, and confident commonly exhibited with a flight of creative ideas. This is more the state Lois experience. The difficulty is that to the sufferer in a hypomanic state it feels normal and they feel happy. It is also a state difficult to recognize unless you have been around the person for a long time. Even then you might dismiss it because they seem happy and you feel happy because it isn't that constant woeful state of depression.
(I would say there is a fourth, but face as well, one the Bipolar individual can put on to hide the other faces. The Bipolar Person is quite capable of holding a mask before her, a kind of smiley face on a stick, like in a certain TV ad for an antidepressant medication. They can present themselves as very normal to those around them when in a social environment; but they have trouble holding on to the mask when out of public sight. We have to remember Bipolar is what they have, not who they are. Somewhere behind all the faces is the real person and they are hurting horribly.
Her Hypomanic behavior swelled most of the year, but along with it our bank account was shrinking. By the fall we were beginning to struggle and fall behind in our bills even though we didn’t seem to be doing anything much different that would account for our financial downturn.
One day, I spotted some strange bills in a drawere from stores we didn’t frequent, such as Bloomingdales. Here were several statements from them addressed to my wife for credit card purchases. When I asked about this she admitted to having  several credit cards from different places in her own name. When she was awake in the middle of the night she was just cleaning, she was also buying stuff from QVC and the Home Shopping Network (HSN). QVC, which recently bought out HSN) is a 24/7 shopping channel founded nearby to North Delaware in West Chester, Pennsylvania in 1986. Much of her decorating purchases purchases were from QVC, but there were also clothes and other merchandise from stores where she had obtained credit cards. We were headed for real disaster.
I discussed this with my assistant, we had become close enough we discussed everything in our lives. Linda suggested Lois see a psychiatrist. Meanwhile, I managed to talk Lois into going to a State Funded Debt Help Agency. They cut up her cards and put us on a strict budget. They also contacted our creditors and made arrangements for us to clear our debts by making a single payment each month through this agency until all our debts were clear. This was not a loan and there was no fee to us for the agency’s services. They were part of a government consumer department..
As a result, Lois plunged back into her depressive side. She struggled with not being able to spend money freely. The restrictions weren’t easy for me either. It took quite some time until we were out from under this debt load, but we managed it.
            If Lois had her complaints about the agency and the budget; she really resisted the idea of a
psychiatrist. She finally and grudgingly gave in and we went to see a Doctor in Wilmington. He met with her several times and diagnosed her as being a Manic-Depressive (The term Bipolar was not yet generally used). He explained she was heavily toward the depressive side, but not purely clinically depressed. This, though, was something more easily spotted since she suffered such deep depressions and complained about them to others and when she saw doctors. She did have Manic periods, but these tended to be ignored because she felt good when in a manic state and did not consider them abnormal.
     The spending sprees were not an uncommon symptom for a Manic-Depressive nor was her youthful sexual exhibitionism and tendencies toward sexual risk taking. Since these had fitted well with my own sexual fantasies and desires, I had seen her behavior as a benefit. I did not see her spending sprees as a benefit.
The psychiatrist prescribed some new medications to address the Manic-Depressive problem, and she took these for a brief period, but then refused them. She also terminated any more visits with the psychiatrist. She refused to accept his diagnosis that she was Manic-Depressive. Depressive, yes, manic, no; and she went back to her old medication, which really wasn’t helping her much, and as we learned years later, made her worse. Depression, she argued, was something everyone had from time to time and her mother had suffered bouts of it. She saw it as more or less a common disorder. Manic-Depression was something else, a mental disease, something people were institutionalize for. She was not crazy!
The spending sprees ended, but her other mixes of behavior continued, rising up and down like an out of control roller coaster she couldn’t get off.

My psoriasis was spreading again. My skin had been fairly well cleared a few years earlier after taking some lightbox treatments and then visiting tanning booths. After I ceased those visits It had gradually returned, going even further than it had ever been and it had been at times extensive. But it had always confined the scales and rash to those parts of my body hidden beneath clothing, plus some in my scalp. Suddenly it crossed these boundaries. Not only did flare ups appear on the backs of my hands, the white patches and redness was showing up on my face.
I went back to a dermatologist. I was first referred to a female dermatologist, Fanny Berg, a
young doctor and really beginning her own practice. My family physician referred me to her. However, when I went there I was a immediately put off by her style. She burst into the examining room and her first words were, “Okay, drop them”. The “them” referenced to my pants. This seemed rather abrupt. Why we hardly knew each other. Shouldn’t we have at least had dinner before she demanded I get nude?
I disliked her brusque manner and did not return after that first visit. It was not really shyness about my body. I had been through enough by then that showing my skin didn’t upset me. It was her style. She could have greeted me a bit more gently before demanding I take off my lower garments.
I then went to another doctor, Maurice Thew, a male this time, and him I liked. (In this more recent photo, he is on the left. The woman on the right is his wife, Dr. Maugurita Thew.) He came across more professional. He prescribed not light treatments, but a bunch of salves and oils, as I described in my previous chapter, as well as taking three (not one, not two, but THREE) baths daily. After each bath with a special oil added to the water, I was to smear moisturizer all over my body, then sit for 20 minutes before dressing. Certainly this was an easy assignment for someone with a busy job to accomplish. Yeah, right!
I could easily take a bath and comply before going to work in the morning despite this forcing me to rise earlier. I could also have a more relaxing bath and slippery sitting sometime in the evening. But what about that third soak?
It proved not a problem.
As I mentioned, Linda, my assistant lived in an apartment about a 15-minute walk from the
office. She had an Apple Macintosh and since it was better at graphics than the Compaqs now on the desks of Deposit Services (my project push for PCs had come to full bloom by now), we spent a lot of time in her apartment working on our newsletter and training manuals for the Action Concept Teams. I was there so much that she gave me my own key so I could come and go as needed.
So there I went every day for that third bath routine, usually during my lunch hour.
Perhaps I should note here that my lunch hour was more an expression than an actuality. As an exempt position, my job was very flexible. I generally took more than an hour for lunch because I would go for long walks through Wilmington and these often took me longer than the officially alotted time.  At this point in my career I had no boundaries as long as I did my job, which I did very well. I generally put in more than the hours stated on my job description. I didn’t like staying overtime, something I never enjoyed, but I generally came to work very early, like close to 6 o’clock AM. I got a lot of work done that early because I was usually the only one there until about 8:30. No one to bother me, no ringing telephone, no meetings. I was on salary, so I didn’t get paid for the extra hours I put in, and I put in a lot, but I didn’t get docked in any way for taking some extra minutes at lunch or occasionally slipping out early.
I also did a lot of work at home. I had been given a special gizmo that allowed me to access the bank’s computer files from remote places. It had an ever changing password you had to enter very quickly before it changed. Once in I was connected between my home computer and those at Wilmington Trust. I did much, much work at home. (I probably should note that I also had the highest security clearance one could be given. I could get into everything, including customers’ accounts and payroll records. It is a good thing I am a honest person.)
So going to Linda’s and staying there was not a problem for me. My guess is that it did probably cause some rumors and gossip with fellow employees just my going there so much. I wonder what they would have thought if they knew I was sitting naked in her bathtub?
I would go and take my oil infused bath. Afterward I would dry off and smear myself with the moisturizer. Once all buttered up and slippery, I would sit in a chair in her bedroom for the required 20 minutes before dressing. Early on I had tried sitting in the living room, wrapped in a towel, but she felt a bit uncomfortable with that and I was thus relegated to her bedroom. We would discuss anything we were discussing through the walls.
Something we discussed was our childhoods. Linda told me about her growing up in North Dakota. It was a familiar story of both isolation and bullying. The boys, and for that matter the girls, would tell her she was homely and she had a hard time overcoming her lowered self-image. It didn’t help that she was also quite a bit smarter than the average young Dakita bear. I knew the feeling and something about growing up in a small town. I could have written a novel on the order of Main Street by Sinclair Lewis from my own experiences.

Certainly I did not see her as homely at all. I thought she was attractive. In fact, I was developing a deeper feeling toward her than just a business partnership. Part of this was fueled by
how much our minds worked alike. One day in the late Spring 1988 we walked along the river talking. I snapped a picture of her on a bridge. We talked about Madonna’s nudes, of all things. She had expressed some curiosity and I had brought the infamous magazines for her to see. I don’t know exactly why I had them; they were hardly new. They had hit the magazine stands back in 1985 and stirred up a lot of controversy and comments.  I think I bought them out of curiosity of what all the fuss was and simply kept them. I am a packrat. I have a hard time throwing anything away.
The first had been in “Penthouse” and were photos of a young Madonna before fame. What caused most of the commotion wasn’t her nudity so much as her unshaven armpits. “Playboy” had quickly brought out their own photo spread, but of a more groomed woman. Back in the 1950’s “Playboy” caused a stir by publishing a nude Marilyn Monroe. “Penthouse” won the Battle of '85.
I though on that balmy day that something might happen between us. The air was ripe with romance and maybe the erotic magazines would trigger something. Do not think I wasn’t hoping. I’m no saint. I don’t claim to be immune from earthly temptations.
Sorry to disappoint, but nothing ever happened. She went back to her apartment building and I took a long walk through Wilmington’s Brandywine Park. I then went home and told Lois what I had felt and what I had wanted to happen. They say confession is good for the soul. It’s also a little risky and Lois was angry at first, but I wanted no secrets between us. From this world’s perspective I had stayed true to my wife. I could still say I never cheated on her and still never have, but I wonder if Linda had asked me back to her apartment that afternoon whether I would have continued in my fidelity.
I am grateful nothing happened. Can you imagine the trouble I'd been in, not only committing adultery, but with a priest as well. What layer of Dante's Inferno would that have put me in?

That spring the new operation center was completed. Deposit Services and Data Preparation moved into the building called the Plaza by late June, as did the other operations departments such as the Computer Center and mailing. I had a roomy office on the upper floor with a view across the front entry drives to the New Castle Airport.
On July 10 my parents came down and joined the kids and me at the open house and tour of the new Wilmington Trust Plaza at New Castle Corporate Commons. Lois didn’t come due to her problems. The Plaza erected a large tent out front and served food from beneath it, hot dogs, hamburgers, BBQ chicken and salads. They had a giant cake.
Out front was an island between the driveways with a flagpole in its center. Every morning the flag was raised and every evening it was lowered. Set in concreate near the base of the pole were footprints and a signature. This was in honor of Etta Harper.
Etta was an Assistant Vice-President and Section Manager for Data Preparations. She was a
petite and gentle lady and her and I had become friends over the years. In the photo she is the lady toward the front.  Etta would eventually become Wilmington Trust’s longest serving employee. She was already such a legend in Data preparation that they dedicated the new Operation Center to her and put her footprints into a cement block at the base of the flagpole (I wonder if it is still there?) At that time, she was 60 years old and had been employed there for 43 years.  I was 47 and it amazed me that I was only 4 years old when she came to WTC. I was just entering kindergarten and she was entering Data Preparation. That was shocking to think about, too. She had never worked anywhere else except in that department of Wilmington Trust. It was quite a different place in 1945 and she worked her way up from the bottom to run the place.
Etta passed away on October 22, 2007 around the age of 81. She worked at Wilmington Trust for 62 years, which meant she was still there the year she died. I didn’t particularly like the way they treated her in her last years. (I didn’t much care for the way I was treated either, but my treatment will come later in our story. I am just jumping ahead some here to tell about Etta.) They finally moved her from being the Section Manager. She got placed back in a corner somewhere and given busy work. There was no way that they would have terminated her outright. She was too much an institution. Stories had been written about her in the News Journal, for Pete’s sake. She had to be kept around and sometimes shown off for public relations reasons, then they would dust her off and display her. She finally did them the convenience of dying.

I loved Etta.

There was a hard year a-comin'.

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