Five years ago, as Andrew Levy, leader of my high school class, was rallying the troops for our 25th reunion, one former classmate asked for an appropriate quote for what was transpiring. As no one else offered any, I invoked an exchange from Henry IV Part I in which Owen Glendower, a Welshman, rolls his r's in over-the-top fashion as he declares, "I can call spirits from the vasty deep." Hotspur replies, "Why, so can I, or so can any man; but will they come when you do call for them?"
I then hailed Andrew Levy as our anti-Glendower. As I wrote at the time in an e-mail thread, when Levy calls, we do indeed come.
Five years later, this was still true. Levy, a sports marketing agent and the subject of one of my previous posts, worked lovingly and tirelessly to throw us a wonderful party at Roia, a restaurant in downtown New Haven, not far from the Yale campus.
Levy negotiated with Roia to allow us to have New Haven's fabled, thin-crusted, brick-oven style pizza delivered from Modern, one of the town's well-known pizzerias. And he got us an entire floor to ourselves with an open bar. But it wasn't so much the food or beverage that mattered. What really mattered was that he reached out to all classmates, even if he did not know them well, because he loves people and he loved his experience at Hopkins, the New Haven prep school that we all attended.
Four or five days before the party at Roia, I phoned Levy and asked him if our classmates were going to be "weirded out" by my appearance. While I have been writing openly about my psychotic past since 2005, when I wrote an op-ed for the L.A. Times, titled "Shedding Stigma of the 'Psycho' Straitjacket," it is only since I started blogging regularly on this subject for The Huffington Post in 2009 that many people became aware of my past.
Even though Levy reassured me that I should have no apprehension about attending, I was concerned that I might be judged as a violent man based upon my delusion from years ago that I was going to be framed for a series of murders around the nation. I was also concerned that some might view me as a homophobe based upon another delusion from the late 1990s that people were conspiring to brand me as being gay. I have never been proud of these delusions, nor have I been ashamed of them either. They were metaphors for my feelings of powerlessness and alienation that I had experienced since childhood. Nonetheless, perhaps due to my proclivities toward paranoia, I worried a bit about being judged.
I need not have done so, as I found, to my delight, that I was welcomed by the vast majority of my classmates, including Kit Winter, a brilliant man who is now a lawyer and a gay activist in L.A. Winter always struck me as being one of the most eloquent, sophisticated and good-humored members of our class. Once a lithe fellow who is now muscled like a body builder, Winter and I chatted about his brother, Jeff, who, with his own litheness and an effortless swing, reminiscent of that of Shawn Green, had been a star softball player on my intramural championship team in 9th grade. Winter later told me that it will make his brother very happy to be remembered as an athlete.
Another classmate, Nora Colliton, a vibrant woman who hails from the Philippines, awed all of us with her e-mail about growing up as an orphan from a Third World country, something that I and most of my classmates had never known. Colliton, a graduate of Georgetown's foreign service school, and I reminisced about Madame Morse's French class in 7th grade, and then we discussed the Villanova-Georgetown championship basketball game in 1985. She was bemused that I had rooted for Villanova, a team that had many star players from Connecticut, including Harold Pressley and Harold Jensen. I told her that the Nutmeg connection and my fondness for coach Rollie Massimino, not any hatred for Georgetown, had led to my rooting for Villanova.
Karen Helene, whom I dated briefly the summer before 12th grade, showed me tremendous compassion as she listened to me tell my story about my psychotic breaks. I was heartened when she told me that she works with autistic children, a job that requires nothing but compassion, patience and wisdom. Tom Pinchbeck, with whom I played intramural basketball for many years, also works with those in the spectrum of autism disorders, teaching them how to grow roses at his farm in Guilford, Conn., about 20 miles east of New Haven. These were two beautiful stories to hear about six months after the Newtown massacre.
As the party carried on deep into the night, I told a few friends about how Toni Giamatti, late wife of the late Yale President Bart Giamatti, had told my 12th grade bildungsroman class that I should be a writer.
While I played Hotspur in that elective, I will always identify with Hamlet, my hero. At a time when many still equate mental illness with violence, I did not speak daggers at this party. Needless to say, I did not use daggers either.
I don't doubt that a few people projected their own delusions or fantasies onto me. Some people avoided me, and I avoided others. In the end, though, I did not hear a single negative word directed my way.
Let me conclude by saying that mental illness, like Hamlet, who may or may not be the only sane person in the play, is mysterious and paradoxical. And psychosis works the way nightmares do, by metaphor and symbolism. Delusions often stand in for something else. In my case, my delusions reflected the pariah status I had felt my whole life, to say nothing of my genetic predisposition toward psychosis, depression and suicide.
Hamlet would understand all that. Fortunately, so did most of my classmates, none more so than my baseball buddy since 1977, Andrew Levy, the anti-Glendower. I will always answer his call.