Phil’s Nervous Breakdown–College Memoirs: Life at Roanoke–May 1994, Part 1

My youngest brother finally moved out!  Yay!!!!  Now I had the whole upstairs to myself again.  I could play music or the TV (or talk to myself) as loud as I wanted, and not worry about what he heard and whether or not I kept him awake.  I didn’t have to worry about him making snide remarks during the day.  And the other bedroom was now free again, making it a guest room.

Phil and I dreaded the three-month separation of summer, though in a way I looked forward to it: I wanted to show him my famously long letters.

I may have also looked forward to spending some time on my own in my last summer as a single woman (this was before we married), working on my Senior Writing Project (continuing my desert island novel Jerisland, which I started in high school) and reading up for my Senior Thesis (which I originally planned to do on Gothic novels).

Phil dreaded the summer for a different reason: He told me once that if it weren’t morally wrong, he’d take care of his physical needs with a bunch of different women while I was gone.

He once said, while it was still painful for me, that if I didn’t want sex, he could do without it; but now he said his desires were so strong he could easily have sex with other women if it were morally okay?  How did he think that would make me feel???

It made me feel awful.  I couldn’t imagine sleeping with anyone else but him for my entire life.  How could he not feel the same?


Going through the May 3 issue of the Mirror, while writing my memoirs, I noticed that Phil’s mom got several awards and honors.  These were awards based on smarts, not just on leadership or personality.

So just because her sons and, if I remember right, husband treated her like a childish idiot, doesn’t mean she was one.  I remember Phil’s dad making some crack at her expense, and Phil laughing.

On 10/4/99, I saw an episode of Seventh Heaven (Yak Sada) in which a smart woman endured many years of her husband and sons treating her like a child.  They thought a wife was supposed to stay home and be her husband’s servant.  (She stayed in the marriage only for the kids; she was now about to file for divorce.)

Phil’s mom Maura wasn’t expected to stay at home, but I can see echoes of that attitude in Phil’s insisting I say “obey” and in the way he, his father, and Dave would treat Maura.  Phil and Dave saw Maura as dumb, yet here she was getting honored for being in Who’s Who and finishing her Honors Thesis!


On probably May 9, our Botany class went to Kohler-Andrae State Park, a local park with dunes, water, sand, grasses, and other flora and fauna.  It was a good time, at least for me.

Dave was in charge of getting Pearl around the place; he may have carried her at times.  We brought jackets, because it was a bit chilly there at times.  On Monday, May 9 in my day planner, I wrote, “dress for the woods–boots or oldish shoes.”

In the van on the way there, Phil’s mom chatted with me and somehow we got to the subject of Phil’s vampire friend S–.  When I told her that Phil didn’t want me to meet S– for fear he’d steal me away, she said, “I’d better talk to that boy about trust!”  Like I’d even want to get involved with a sadomasochist who had beliefs so different from mine!


On May 10 was an annular solar eclipse.  I didn’t know about this until after I stepped outside and felt I was looking through a car’s tinted window.  It was surreal.  This was a Tuesday; we had classes and the campus was bustling and busy.


Phil had lost his Differential Equations (Diff-EQ) textbook, and hadn’t been able to get another one, so he was soon lost in the class.  (Cindy wondered why he didn’t just borrow another one.)  The class got so stressful for him that he wanted to audit it.

Per page 30 of the 1992-1994 Course Catalog, auditing a class meant you got a letter grade of Z on your record.  You got no credit for it.  I think the point was so you wouldn’t get an F, and you still might stay in the class for a while.

I don’t remember if he actually did audit the class, but that would have been done before the end of the ninth week of the semester; I know he was still in the class in May, which was far beyond that time.

In early May, on one of our last days of World Civ class, possibly the 11th, Phil and I sat in Bossard with the others.  In just a few minutes it would be time for World Civ, and then after that, the Botany class would go to the woods for a lab review.  This sounded like a lot of fun, and I was looking forward to it.

I got ready to leave for class with Phil, while he worked on his homework for Diff EQ.  He began to giggle.

I said, “We’d better get going to class.”

He kept giggling.  Pearl and the others said “Okaaaay,” and left.

I grew stern, stood up, and said, “We have to get going to class.”

He kept giggling.  He began to draw on the piece of notebook paper, then balled it up.

Something was wrong.  I sat back down.

Phil kept giggling, and shed a few tears as well.

He was having a nervous breakdown right before my eyes!

I took him to my room, and let him lie down on my bed until he felt better.  I called Pearl and told her to tell Mrs. Rev why I wouldn’t be in class.  The next day, I explained to Dr. Williams that we weren’t in class because of an emergency.

As Phil lay on my bed during his breakdown, I started work on a translation of “Undine.”  Though it was hard to take care of someone having a breakdown, at the same time I preferred that to being without him.

(You remember that story “Undine” by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué, the one Heidi read with me freshman year.  On April 22 I found the book in the library again, an old compilation of German stories, and copied “Undine” on the library copier.   It cost me six bucks because it was about sixty pages.

(A co-worker, a pretty and sweet senior, asked me about it; I explained that I couldn’t find an English translation so I was going to translate the German text.  She and Seymour also noted how much copying I did to get the story.

(I finished the translation over the summer, though many archaic words still mystified me.  In late January of 2002, I searched the Internet and found an English translation with which to compare mine.  I did fairly well, considering the difficulty of the piece.)

Phil soon regained his senses and seemed to feel better.

Mrs. Rev told Maura, “Phil’s lucky to have Nyssa.”

Mrs. Rev must have taken us for another lab review, or else the lab test was in the woods, because I do remember going back there with her and the rest of the class.  I drew sketches of the flowers she pointed out.  Dave carried Pearl on his back, since she couldn’t drive her scooter on the trails and her crutches would be slow-going.


The following may have happened on Sunday, May 15.  I know it happened on a weekend, and there was a World Civ test the next day to study for.  The only World Civ test which was on a Monday was the final on May 16, so it was, of course, extremely important.

Dave and his Pearl told Phil about a vending job for a soccer game, which he could do that day and that day only, at one of the S– high schools.  But we had a lot of homework to do, including studying for the test, so he decided against it.  I did NOT influence his decision.

He and I talked about it in his room AFTER he decided.  The door was closed, I believe.  As we talked, I supported him in his decision, saying that he had to study and how could he study if he worked all day?  If he took the job, I would have supported that decision as well, telling him about all the money he’d make.

Phil later reported to me that Pearl heard us at the door, and told Dave I had influenced Phil not to take the job!  She had it so totally wrong and was talking about me behind my back for something I did not do.  I don’t remember if Phil ever told them the truth, or if they went on talking about what a wenchy thing I’d supposedly done.

Cast of Characters (Work in Progress)

Table of Contents

Freshman Year

September 1991:

October 1991:

November 1991:

December 1991: Ride the Greyhound
January 1992: Dealing with a Breakup with Probable NVLD
February 1992:

March 1992: Shawn: Just Friends or Dating?

April 1992: Pledging, Prayer Group–and Peter’s Smear Campaign

May 1992:

Sophomore Year 

Summer 1992:

September 1992:

October 1992–Shawn’s Exasperating Ambivalence:

November 1992:

December 1992:

January 1993:

February 1993:

March 1993:

April 1993:

May 1993:

Summer 1993: Music, Storm and Prophetic Dreams

September 1993:

October 1993:

November 1993:

December 1993:

January 1994:

February 1994:

March 1994:

April 1994:

Senior Year 

June 1994–Bits of Abuse Here and There:

July & August 1994:

January 1995:

February 1995:

March 1995:

April 1995:

May 1995: