When Stefon was in high school, he locked himself in the bathroom, lay down in the dry bathtub, and washed down a lot of what he found in the medicine cabinet with as much of his stepfather’s “secret” whiskey he could handle before he started chucking it back up.
It was the disgusting choice of liquor that probably kept him from swallowing enough to kill him quickly when mixed with the pills. If he’d gotten his hands on something actually tasty, like Long Island ice teas or a few bottles of hard lemonade or cider, David might have been too late. David Zolesky was the darling of the senior class, yet rained down hellfire on everyone who picked on Stefon. David was the star player on the football team, and yet somehow also in A/V club. David was cool, but collected an unseemly amount of Batman memorabilia. David was also an interfering busybody.
Stefon was dimly aware of the door crashing, of David swatting at his face and shouting. “S’ry...din’t mean to mess…” Stefon murmured through the fog.
“Stay right here, bro, it’s gonna be okay, I’m gonna call 911.”
“S’ry.” He closed his eyes. David hit him harder when he got back. David never hit Stefon except for teasing shoulder punches, so this had to be serious. Stefon opened his heavy eyelids. “Mm?”
“There’s an ambulance coming. Just stay with me.” David’s face was all red. Like sunburn. “Shit, Stefon, why? Is it, like, because you’re gay and scared of coming out? We already know.”
“Because there’s no point,” Stefon said, and smiled a little because wow, he’d finally said it.
When Stefon was nearly nineteen, he was formally diagnosed with Bipolar I. This was inspired by his suicide attempt a few years previously, stretches of depression since then, plus a series of regrettable behaviors and actions worthy of Twelve Days of Christmas treatment:
12 stranger blowjobs (though he might be able to recognize a few of them from a lineup of dicks)
11 party evictions
10 girly catfights
9 manly fistfights
8 unfinished novels
7 failed get-rich schemes
$600 lost to gambling (before Ms. Stephanie Stefon Zolesky, aka his mom, cut up his debit card to keep him from losing everything else he’d saved from summer jobs)
4 nights awake (as in, that being the record for consecutive sleepless nights, at which point he was hallucinating more often than not and eventually passed out on the bus)
3 academic suspensions
2 streaking charges
and 1 illegitimate child.
Thank god that Dean Cain at UTI accepted Stefon’s psychiatrist’s testimonial that a lot of his acting out wasn’t completely his fault and that he was being treated now. Otherwise he probably would have never gone to college.
Stefon didn’t take his medication as much for him as for his son. Even though he didn’t have custody, and even though the babymama moved away not long after, he needed to be alive for when his son was old enough to want to meet him. And he needed to be the sort of person a son might want to meet, if barely.
(It’s that thing where you own every single David Bowie album but you have a panic attack if you think about seeing him live, let alone up close.)
After graduation, Stefon was one in a sea of kids trying to figure out what the hell to do with themselves, and like many of them he got a job in a coffee shop while working on it. He had loans and child support. He needed health insurance SO MUCH. He had the rent on his teeny tiny garbage can of an apartment he didn’t have to split with a roommate because it was a well-known crime scene with stained floorboards and had almost no heating. It was worth it to have a space where he didn’t have to pretend to be okay.
With properly medicated depression, Stefon could almost always drag himself to work and go through the motions. Unfortunately, one day the manager saw Stefon taking meds during his break and drew all the wrong conclusions. Stefon had been carrying it in a waterproof keychain container and didn’t have the bottle from the pharmacy to show him. He was on thin ice as it was because sometimes his hands shook from side effects or anxiety and he’d broken a bit of crockery that morning.
Ten minutes later, Stefon was sitting on the curb sobbing. It was NYC, so nobody cared.
Except a skinny, feminine-hipped young guy in leather pants and a leopard-print button-up under a suit jacket sat down next to him. He had an odd booming voice while not actually speaking loudly. “Pardon me, but I was just leaving the bathroom at Ahab Coffee and I heard your altercation with your manager. You should sue for discrimination and wrongful dismissal.”
Stefon snorted and wiped his gross nose with his sleeve. “Yeah, like I can afford that and that’s gonna work.”
“I’m serious. These things are serious. This isn’t some frivolous slip-and-fall garbage.” He handed Stefon his pocket square, also leopard print, and a business card. “Name’s Shiloh, but call me Shy.”
“And a conceptual piss artist, but that isn’t very lucrative.” Shy clasped his hands together. “Look, Stefon - that’s your name, right? - if you’d be willing to take a chance, I won’t ask for any money up front. We’ll negotiate how you and I will split what we bleed from that manager, the franchise owner, and the franchise as a whole.”
Shy paused for a moment, then said in a voice that sounded more like a normal person: “I failed the bar exam the first time I took it. A perfectly healthy asshole helped himself to all my Adderall.”
Stefon’s share of the money Shy won them was was enough to provide Stefon with a cushion while searching for his new job by day and going out at night. Shy was about Stefon’s age, one of those people lucky enough to have his anxiety and ADHD mixed with very high intelligence, and once he no longer felt a need to be professional he happily accompanied Stefon to his favorite clubs. They also started fucking sometimes, but there wasn’t a romantic vibe. Shy had a huge crush on this one Japanese restaurant waitress and talked about her endlessly.
It was nice going with friends, whether Shy, Joel, Becca (though Stefon sometimes wished he hadn’t started certain conversations with her) or someone more colorful he’d met at the clubs themselves, like Pierre the Muslim Elvis Impersonator, Yolo Ono, or Melvin in a Dress. Stefon loved inviting complete strangers to clubs, too.
This was a lifestyle Stefon still enjoyed when he was at emotional baseline, during those stretches where his emotions had to do with stuff that happened rather than being assigned to him when he woke up. So he knew it was real. He sometimes drank a little alcohol, but meds made him a lightweight, possibly dangerously. He didn’t try anything people tried to sell him or share except a cigarette once in awhile. He spent enough time under the influence of chemicals he didn’t get to choose. The upside was that being “sober”, by one definition of the word, made excursions relatively cheap for him. He brought a bottle of water with him, not trusting the “water” anywhere else.
While manic, everything that had been fun was more fun, everything Stefon was nervous about nerve-free, for days and weeks on end. When he really wanted to go wild and was already riding the wave of a manic episode (more rational and law-abiding than they’d been, and shorter at 2-3 weeks or so), he skipped a dose and got ready to outdo every tweaker in the place. He didn’t have a choice in when this shit was gonna happen. He might as well enjoy it.
Dr. Li, the therapist the psychiatrist made him see before he could get prescription refills, didn’t approve when he let slip that he sometimes skipped a dose because he didn’t want to come back to Earth yet. She said it was an easy trap to fall into and was like how drunk people don’t think they’re drunk. She said that this could lead to deciding he didn’t need his meds at all, which could mess up everything: relative financial security, social life, the general will to live, and would lead to that thing where you say or do something an apology won’t fix that seemed like a great idea at the time. Stefon nodded and smiled because she meant well. It’s not like he did it a lot. He had it under control, right?
Eventually, word got around that Stefon was great at introducing newbies to his favorite spots and didn’t really do drugs, that he was just “naturally that way”, which meant he was less of a potential liability than a lot of people in the subculture. Some of the clubs started offering him money to attract more people. Stefon came up with excuses for the times when the depression was simply too deep to cover up and he just stayed at home, luring clubgoers via social media if he could muster the energy, rarely showering, and forcing himself to eat at intervals.
One day, a good day, Stefon got an offer to promote some clubs on a comedic news show, where he’d pretend to not understand the host’s supposed desire for him to name boring, wholesome tourist attractions. Yay TV!
Stefon resolved not to go out the night before he was going to his first meeting at 30 Rock, so that he’d be refreshed and on time. He got some chores done. He texted David, now a screenwriter, about how David handled interacting with TV and movie people. He was good, he was excited, he was fine.
Then around midnight, that itchy thrumming undercurrent lashed up inside him like sentient acid reflux and he started pacing. Maybe he should go out, where things were bright and loud and he could take the edge off his energy. Maybe he could find a stranger for a men’s room quickie. (This led to a few minutes of seeing if he could toss his stash of condoms into a cup from five paces away, playing-card style.) Maybe he could find an all-night diner and eat a mountain of carbs, because suddenly that seemed like the best idea ever. Maybe…
He called Shy, who he knew was celebrating a successful acquittal. Just to get his opinion. There was loud music in the background but Shy listened to Stefon’s rambles and instead of helping him decide he said, “I’m coming over. Sit tight.”
So Stefon ate a bunch of saltines and drank a lot of water. His mouth was very dry. Shy showed up covered in glitter and apologized for tracking it in.
“Ah, don’t worry about it, my sparkly friend; the things this floor has seen,” Stefon said dismissively, then launched himself at him.
But Shy grabbed his wrists and leaned away from the attempted kiss. “I came over because you sound like you’re high as a human kite.”
Stefon meant to gasp his hurt feelings but it came out more snarly than he wanted. “You know I’m not! That’s just how I am!”
“I know that’s how you are when you’re like this, which is not the same as how you are. It might be consenting but it’s not gonna be sane, buddy. Let’s just sit down and listen to music or something. You’ll be glad tomorrow afternoon."
“That’s bullshit, and you’re probably drunk.” Stefon yanked his hands away, not wanting to hurt Shy - he’d never hurt anyone who wasn’t actively trying to do him or his loved ones harm - but wanting to hurt something, wanting to pound at the walls until his fists…
Instead he got wrapped in a hug. “I’ve had one drink. One. And I don’t know what you’re going through, exactly, but I know panic attacks like a stupid fucking horse is loose in my brain. You’re having what looks like one, except it’s wrapped in bright colors and laughing. Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, I’m excited, I’m happy -” I’m terrified.
“Didn’t ask that. I asked if you’re okay. Be honest with me, now. Lawyers are good at spotting lies ‘cause we lie so damn much for a living.” Shy rubbed Stefon’s back and it felt so nice.
Something in Stefon went from bright sparks to bleeeehhhh, like Jewish fireworks, and he sank into a chair and took some deep breaths. “I can’t be like this tomorrow. You’re right. I’m not okay. It’s too much.”
Shy brushed some of Stefon’s hair out of his face. “Yeah, it is. I’ll stay with you if you want, but only if you do your best to chill out. Fake it till you make it.”
Stefon covered his face with his hands. Hiding his expression, his emotions, the most dangerous thing about him. “Will you help me make midnight pancakes? That’s almost as good as sex.”
They didn’t go to bed for another two hours, but Stefon might not have gone to bed at all if Shy hadn’t promised to lie next to him in borrowed pajamas and talk a few decibels louder than the buzzing in Stefon’s head.
“Your problem is that you don’t think people are going to like you for you,” Shy said, just as Stefon was finally falling asleep.
Stefon was too drowsy to say he didn’t know who that was.