Philip Pides was a notably busy man. Life kept him so frequently engaged, that he would often be found running from one such engagement to another. This notion is quite appropriate, considering that Philip had, for four years, been a star member of his high school track team. He had been running competitively since the age of eight. His father, Yiannis Pides, made him do so.
But I digress.
Some mornings, most mornings, Philip Pides would run to the shower. With cold droplets of water still gathered under his arms and across his scalp, Philip would then run to work at the Walgreens pharmacy counter. After work he would run to class. And from class he’d run to his other place of work – a culinary position at a high-end pizzeria. Philip would even run laps in his head, always considering why his movements were confined to such a busy loop.
The running never seemed to end.
Except, of course, on the few mornings where he didn’t shower. Such inaction often signaled an entire day where Philip would not even leave his bed. Perhaps he was just too exhausted from all of that running. I’m not sure, as Philip didn’t have much to say to me on those days.
What I can say with certainty though, is that the busy nature of Philip Pides’ life was quite difficult to sustain.
He required a near constant influx of nicotine, suffered frequent bouts of insomnia, and rejected typical human relationships. Besides his parents, Philp only maintained consistent communication with a pair of friends he called “brothers,” despite the two typically ranging between 90 and 328 miles away (or, a physically impossible distance to run). Philp wasn’t necessarily happy with this situation, or even okay with it, but he barely had enough time to get upset about it.
Of course, Philip Pides wasn’t always this busy. Like most children of the upper middle-class designation, life was once simple for Philip, and all he had to do was let his parents run for him. They’d bustle him around from mom’s house to school to dad’s house to school to mom’s house to – so on and so forth.
It’s around this time that I first met Philip. He was a round-cheeked youth who could be found mimicking lightsaber duels rather than playing kickball.
Philip operated as my primer to the concept of divorced parents – featuring a mom who supplied him with videogames rather than personal interaction, and a dad who had high expectations and loved sports. Or loved athleticism, I suppose, is more accurate. Yiannis Pides said to Philip that he would never run fast enough with so much meat on his bones. This was in the Second Grade.
Philip was promptly enrolled in an afterschool running program, which worked well for his parents’ schedules, considering that up to this point he had been a latchkey kid. I’d see him out there when my mom drove me home – dashing across the uneven pavement that wove through the elms. His feet moved so fast that they never even touched the ground.
Here’s where the story’s pace picks up.
Philip Pides gets home from work one night feeling absolutely bushed. This is no surprise. The endurance running in which he engages – still enforced by Yiannis, despite Philip’s twenty-two years of age – is a wobbly balance of fifty-hour work weeks and maintaining a 4.0 GPA with eighteen credit hours.
This delicate life arrangement could only be handled by someone who is both a genius and a maniac. Philip Pides is, of course, both of these things. And I really mean maniac, as Philip often endures bipolar induced hypomanic episodes. The man’s brain is, unscientifically speaking, “biologically fractured.” This means that the various creases along the canyon walls of his cognitive fault-line will pulse and illuminate at a highly disproportionate frequency during the occurrence of neural firing.
Again, I digress.
So Philip is home, the time is night, and he’s feeling exhausted, yet his body refuses to pass out. This is not an entirely uncommon scenario.
Usually when he’s afforded these miniscule periods of relaxation, Philip embraces the momentary pleasure they allow by smoking a bowl and playing World of Warcraft until he can’t keep his eyes open.
Should this effort not grant the desirable measure of dopamine to slip away into unfettered nothingness, Philip will get anxious and go down another path. On this path he drinks a tremendous amount of alcohol to increase the production rate of inhibitory GABA neurotransmitters which force relaxation. And seeing how Philip is also diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder…well he’s quite prone to getting anxious, among other things.
Here’s the scene for this particular evening. The weed induces a state of paranoia, World of Warcraft fails to reproduce the associated sense of childlike magic, and the alcohol does nothing to sooth his split brain. All at once there are heightened levels of excitement and fear and depression. This is the race going on inside his mind, the race that he is always running to some extent.
For a moment, Philip’s overly stimulated brain tells him that something drastic must be done to successfully complete the race. This isn’t a search for pleasure; it’s a desperate grasping to break free. Philip is giving everything he can to the race, yet everything is not enough.
So, he decides to make an offering, and give ten percent on top of one hundred.
He enters his kitchen, sets a clean cutting board, pulls a carving knife from the faux-bamboo block with his left hand, lays down his right hand on the cutting board – palm facing up, and then lifts the knife so that it’s parallel with his head. Philip breathes slowly, in through the nose and out through the mouth. A precise methodology is at play here, and for once, Philip doesn’t feel like he’s running. This is when he slams the knife down on his wrist, slicing through flesh and instantly splitting bone. He pulls back his right arm and the newly separated hand stays pinned on the board by the blade. There is no matter of blood, as the strike was clean and surgical – a motion Philip is well practiced in from so many nights at the pizzeria.
If you are feeling any bit distressed about this, then calm yourself with the knowledge that Philip Pides is a leftie.
Philip Pides’ evening-time hand-chopping is not the first instance of self-mutilation. The very first time, that I know of at least, occurred during his senior year of high school.
Late one February afternoon, both gendered track teams were holding an indoor practice. I did not run for the school at this point in time, so my understanding of what happened is only Philip’s words and a few scattered reports. Building this up any further would be an act of dramatization that I’m not interested in, so let’s just go ahead and jump in.
Philip and his then-girlfriend Elpis had been having it out almost routinely for months on end. After six years of dating, those two had done a tremendous amount of damage to each other. Nothing too out of the ordinary though – just two people who didn’t realize yet that their relationship was past mending.
Elpis, a long-distance track runner, was jogging laps around the school atrium when she passed by Philip and the rest of the male sprinters. I don’t know what she said to Philip – he’s never told me – but whatever collection of words she presented were ultimately successful in pushing him over an edge. In fact, I theorize that this was the precise moment in which Philip’s brain split open irreparably.
Without a hint of hesitation, he charged down Elpis, seizing her small shoulders and propelling her backwards until she slammed into a wall.
It took three sprinters to pull a screaming Philip off little Elpis. Left behind her was a moderately-sized indent in the wall’s plaster that, to my knowledge, has yet to be filled. The school can’t afford to patch every hole or dent that guys bash in using their girlfriends as battering rams.
When Philip returned home from school, he was inconsolable – not that anyone was home to console him. In a fright of overwhelming and impenetrable emotions, he pilfers a serrated blade from the kitchen, and gets to work on his left foot, heaving and cleaving away. Due to the little knife experience Philip had, the process of severing foot from ankle is arduous, and leaves quite a mess on the taupe living-room carpet.
Just a couple days after Phillip Pides attacked Elpis and did away with a foot, he was diagnosed with type-II bipolar disorder. That’s the version where you constantly teeter on the threshold of depression. Psychiatrists say that returning to a normal state of functioning becomes less likely with every episode.
Philip was prescribed a gambler’s cocktail of mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and antidepressants. Then he was told to hope for the best.
If you don’t mind, I’m going to rewind things back to the unexceptional occurrence of a hand removal we discussed earlier.
The morning after Philip’s hand removal, he went into work at Walgreens like it was any other day. Coworkers and customers alike saw his usual resigned attitude, as well as the fresh stump where a hand used to be located. Their eyes would flash momentarily, but never did they ask about it. In fact, they didn’t say anything out of the ordinary at all. Their faint interest could not be confused for care.
Interactions with his coworkers went like this:
“Deal with the guy in the drive-through please, this asshole won’t stop complaining about some pills that made his leg itch weird.”
“What pills did he take?”
“I don’t know.”
“What does he mean by a weird leg itch?”
“I don’t know, just handle him for me.”
Interactions with Philip’s customers went like this:
“Are you fucking kidding me? My doctor told me I need this. He wrote me the prescription, and I think a doctor would understand the situation far better than you would.”
“I’m sorry ma’am, but your insurance won’t cover the entire price. You can pay with cash for the copay or–”
“Do you actually think I can afford this?”
“I’m really sorry but there’s nothing I can do about the–”
“Don’t you dare disrespect me.”
People didn’t care that Philip’s hand was missing, just as no one ever cared that his foot was missing. As long as he could work, and run errands for management, they looked the other way. Similarly, the management at this particular Walgreens continued to employ Philip as a pharmacy tech, despite knowing that he had dropped out of pharmacy school the previous year.
Actually, he’d been kicked out.
The price of Philip’s pharmacy education was three years of his time, approximately one-hundred-thousand dollars, and the last vestiges of his mental fortitude.
All that Philip got out of his pharmacy education was alcoholism, another woman who hated his guts, and of course, this job at Walgreens.
You might be wondering why Philip was kicked out of pharmacy school. Well, there are plenty of reasons. Poor relations with other students, vaping on the necks of professors, passing out drunk in a campus bathroom stall. If any of Philip’s actions existed in isolation, they would not have been cause enough to eject him. But the school precisely tracked all that he did. They were tallying every slipup he made with anticipatory glee.
You see, the guy posed a massive risk towards himself, and therefore he posed a risk towards the school’s reputation at large. They didn’t want to be known as the institution that drove people to insanity. They didn’t want to answer why their dorm-room windows were outfitted with metal bars. That’s the real reason Philip was kicked out.
The school started watching Philip after an instance of his brain fracture making consciousness impossibly confusing. A depressive episode had overlapped with a hypomanic episode. And he was drunk.
I remember Philip’s other “brother” calling me up around 1:30AM. He said check Philip’s Twitter, it sounds bad.
I did check, and it did sound bad.
After that I called Philip, and he sounded delirious, barely able to deliver a coherent sentence when I asked what he was doing, and if he was okay. The only information I was able to extract was that he was in his dorm room. Then he hung up on me.
I called him maybe twenty times after that, to no answer.
At 2:00AM I called his school’s office of public safety and told them that I thought my friend wasn’t well, that he might hurt himself. The guy on the other side of the line yawned before sleepily asking what his room number was. Reduced to near-hysteria, I yelled that I didn’t know, just that I could give his name.
By the time public safety burst into his dorm room, they found a half-conscious Philip splayed on the carpet. Instead of working through an appendage or extremity, he was halfway through a self-lobotomy. Trying to fix himself. To repair the fracture.
Everyone notices a missing hand or foot, but it’s hard to see the scars at the base of his scalp.
After he was stabilized, Philip had about two minutes to use his phone before the doctors would confiscate it and confine him to the psychiatric wing.
He texted me in that time and said that he was okay for now. Then he asked me to explain the situation to his other “brother.”
His final text simply said, “Joy to you.”
The story of Philip Pides doesn’t have an ending. He’s still running. The race can’t be finished until every part of him has been incised, flayed, and destroyed, but he’s still running. And that’s what I find saddest about it all.
Evan Sundermeyer is a Writing and Computer Science major on the precipice of adulthood. He has thus far withheld his writing and views from the world, but is now offering a window into his edgy psyche with Agora.