I was walking
and everything was a reflection and I could
surviving and then
I was walking
and everything was a reflection and I could
surviving and then
I wish that I could set this down
and walk away, rest it on
the table near the front door
and turn the lock behind me and
forget about it by the time I hit the button
to unlock the car door
by the time the music starts
and my foot is on the gas
I’ll have forgotten
I wish that I could
to the landfill and bury it beneath the piles of moldy sofa cushions and
dryer lint and rent receipts and watch it
settle down into the sludge before a rat
takes notice of the smell
and carries it away,
a treasure found
to be devoured.
I wish that I could burn it on the gas stove, beer in one hand,
pitcher full of water in the other, watching as the ashes dance and fly
before they fade.
I wish that I could simply turn it off
turn it off, tell it to
SHUT THE FUCK UP FOR A MINUTE
let the decades do their job of making it
at the very least
shrink into something manageable
I wish that I could quiet down the noise
that keeps me up.
Note: I originally posted this on my personal facebook page. I’m reposting it here at my mother’s request, with some insignificant personal details removed. My mom helped teach me to be kind and to be fierce, and most importantly, that the two do not always have to be shown in conjunction. We are living in a time when we are encouraged to always respond with love and attempted understanding, no matter what the circumstances are; the reality is that things have reached a point where gentleness can be a detriment. We are not dealing with simple political differences, issues on which we can choose to disagree. We are dealing with the blatant and horrific abuse of our fellow human beings: people of color, the LGBT community, children. These are hardly new offenses, but our awareness of them is growing thanks to new technology that allows us to click and share anything in an instant. What is new is this sense of empowerment by those committing the abuse. As those in power show how truly vile they can be, those below who feel the same way feel justified in coming out and spewing their ugliness on the world. All of a sudden, it’s okay to be prejudiced again. It’s okay to be cruel, because the guy at the top said so. And the guy at the top, that pathetic excuse for a man sitting up there humping his golf clubs and shellacking his hairpiece, that guy draws strength from the numbers of people who support him because he shares their despicable mindset. These folks are not the majority, but they are loud and obnoxious and while we don’t have to be obnoxious we can certainly be loud and when we see someone acting like these government atrocities are justified, we HAVE to shut them down, hard.
Here’s what I can’t stop thinking about: For the past several years, taking children from their parents has been part of my job. Whether it’s the start of a new school year or a child is just having a hard time that morning, there are times when a parent has to hand their child to me so that all of us can start the next phase of the day.
This often means transferring a child from their parent’s arms to mine, detangling the child one limb at a time while they do their best to hang on. Sometimes we walk to the window to wave goodbye; other times it’s best to move straight to circle time or to the peace corner for a story. There is plenty of reassurance that they’re safe at school, that their friends are here, there’s new play-doh on the shelf and we have carrots for the guinea pigs and I heard Mom say you have strawberries in your lunch and those are your favorite, and you know that Mom or Dad or Nanny will be back to get you at the end of the day, just like always.
I don’t mind the tears. I tell the kids it’s ok, I’m old and I still want my mommy too sometimes. We send hugs out and feel them coming back.
My point is, these are children coming into a place that’s warm and inviting. They have their toys and nap things. They have their teachers who love them. Their parents trust us to care for them until they can come back, and the children know this. They know what to expect and still the separation can feel excruciating sometimes. It’s hard on the parents too, you can see it.
I cannot imagine the terror that some children and parents are feeling at our borders. I don’t understand how anyone could feel good about doing this to families. There’s no justification for this; humanity and compassion aren’t stopped at the border like a dog behind an invisible fence. These are families trying to escape from horrific conditions at home and if you think they’re less than and deserve to be treated like farm animals simply because their home of origin is on a different patch of dirt than yours, I don’t want to know you.
I don’t want to try to reach out to you with love or to try and understand your point of view. I don’t want to “agree to disagree” so that we can keep up a facade of peace and getting along. I want to tell you with no ambiguity that you are nasty and cruel and wrong. I will not respond with love and compassion to someone who refuses to show the same to an innocent child, running with his family toward safety. If, in your mind, the children don’t deserve your grace, you sure as hell don’t deserve mine.
Can I add one thing to the really good discussions happening around suicide and depression right now? I love that I’m seeing more acknowledgment of the fact that “please reach out and talk to someone” is well-meaning but not always helpful advice. (When it takes half an hour to convince yourself that you are in fact capable of putting on your pants without triggering a domino-effect catastrophic event and listening to a voicemail feels like the mental equivalent of climbing an active volcano, calling someone up like “Yo, kinda wanna die again, talk me out of it” is a bit of a stretch.)
I like the acknowledgment that depression can hit anyone (although it’s a bit amusing to hear the “It doesn’t matter how little you have and how rough things are right now, that’s not what joy is about/Wow, it’s crazy that people can be that depressed even with all that wealth and success!” juxtaposition.)
I like the acknowledgment that folks can seem super happy and chill and together right up until the last moments, and still succumb to suicidal depression.
That’s all super helpful, but please can we also acknowledge the validity of those darkest feelings? “You don’t have to feel that way; it will get better” is often only half true. Sometimes you DO have to feel that way, and having others try to talk you out of it can feel demeaning and overpowering.
There are times when folks get sick of keeping on the company smile, of letting down those they love by not keeping up the facade that’s so clearly expected every day. As someone who has lived there and frankly, still visits frequently, I’m asking you to please also acknowledge your friends’ reality in those darkest times. Sometimes the most helpful thing, the ONLY helpful thing, is to have someone say “This fucking sucks so hard, I hear you, hey scoot over and let me share the dark with you for a minute.”
*I wrote this on the fly, waiting for the oil to heat for the pancakes this morning, so it’s kinda incomplete… I want to add that it’s really really important to remember that sometimes that darkness is simply part of a person, as is the intense aversion to seeking connection for the sake of connection. So when people try to talk that darkness out of you or force you into conversations you don’t want to have, it can have the opposite of the intended effect. Rather than making us feel better, it reminds us of one more thing that we’re doing wrong. It confirms our idea that we don’t belong in this place. It’s not that we want to fit in where everyone else is, but that we want to feel like where we are is valid too.
There is no evidence that life continues past the point when the heart stops and the brain shuts down. The best we can hope for is that in the millisecond between here and not — if there is such a time — the mind mercifully conjures an ideal reality, whether it be constructed of memory or fantasy or some combination thereof, and as the light clicks off this becomes forever, by default.
They are not peering down at us from some cloudsoft perch, making us unwilling participants in the reality show of our lives, tracking us as we burn the eggs and check the bank balance and linger too long in the shower trying to wash away the pain of their nonexistence. There are no harps, no pitchforks, no rinsing out and recycling of the soul, as if that were even a thing… there is nothing, anywhere.
There is a space left, though, and the space is vast.
A few weeks ago when I visited my grandfather, he tried to sit up in bed. He struggled, and when it was clear that he needed more than just a hand to grip as he pulled himself up, I took him in my arms and lifted him. I struggle sometimes with the weight of the preschoolers in my care, but my grandfather seemed weightless then. His bones felt bird hollow and fragile, and his chest was paper thin rising with his breath against my heart. I remembered him lifting my daughter up to the window, admiring her red hair in the sun, red like his, and it was effortless then. In my arms he was as light as an infant and this is not the way it was supposed to be, lifting my grandfather. He carried me.
Under the blanket he was only a wrinkle with someone else’s old man face perched on the pillow, not the right color, not the right shape, not the right thing which was alive and he was not, he was someone else there and this could not be my grandfather in the box in the ground with the gravedigger leaning on his shovel waiting for us to leave while the red-haired baby’s red-haired baby finished her bottle and waved her chubby feet at the sun.
He was weightless, disappeared, but the space he left is so huge that it’s taken all the air away and the mask is on all day, eating chicken and salad, changing clothes, going to work, multitasking sending emails scheduling appointments making plans and on the way home when the sun hits the water on the window the space opens up and there is nothing else to breathe and I cannot.
“How are you?”
“Fine, and you? Let’s change the subject here.”
He used to call and leave me messages that all began the same: “Hello, this is your grandfather, Perry.”
When I left him there the last time, it ended the same as always.
“I love you, Grandpa.”
“Okay, thank you.”
He didn’t remember, most of the time, that he was my grandfather, Perry.
It takes two bulldozer buckets full of dirt to cover the thing that holds the thing that left the space behind. One man with a shovel to smooth it over. Six men to carry the box. 92 years to create a life that leaves the world devoid.
Hello, this is my grandfather, Perry. I miss him like you would not fucking believe.
Hey now, can you keep me
under the radar, in that spot where the rain falls
Can you be the cloud that rushes me
Hey can you keep me
tucked in your pocket, deep in the dark where your
Can you dance with me to the same tune
under the glow
of the dome light, box step back bend you lead
Breathe, can you stop my breath
for a second
Can you keep your shit together when I
falter, can you
keep your shit
while the fear leaks out your eyes
and pulls me back
Hey now, can you keep me
for a while
Can I have some of that blanket, can I tuck my head
into the pillow of your shoulder, can I press my
against the bony knob
of your wrist and can you read my mind and tell me
what I mean
Can you keep me under the radar, in the corner of this planet
you inhabit, that you built
can you keep me under the radar, sifting through your fingers
like the sun.
In 2017, depression ate my brain.
I wish the years were neatly separate, distinct like they are on paper
segmented like an earthworm you can tear apart and watch the old parts writhe and bleed
while a new one generates —
starting over, over, over
hard reset, the days would have an expiration date
live through this, and then you get to start again
with vocal cords that work and a mind that doesn’t will itself
into oblivion, just for the hell of it.
Social media’s a hopeful place, full of photographs of bubbly glasses, gold leaf and fireworks:
“Here’s to a better year, next time!” A dumpster fire, they call it, as if the ticking of the clock will put it out and we will Come Together To Make Things Better! and Make 2018 Awesome! and start fresh, resolution-bound and hungover in the morning
Happy New Year
but it’s not, when depression eats your brain.
I spent my days in the company of children, and the ones who cared for them also cared for me. I tied the shoes and bandaged the scrapes and explained a hundred times that cottage cheese is cheese, but not the kind you slice. I sat criss-cross applesauce on the big rug and read stories written by other people’s brains, the brains that worked. Shoes on, coats on, water bottles, line up: The routines that shaped their days helped stitch together mine.
I stayed put together and the year went on and it ate away a little more each day, and when people say Reach Out I don’t think they understand that all the things you’ll say, we already understand.
I know I’m not alone. My stuff happened alongside your stuff and her stuff and their stuff and it devoured us from the outside while we were battling the inside. The world was burning down, our heroes were dying left and right and everything seemed darker than it should. In the dark, it’s hard to see the things you should create. We are not alone, but that doesn’t make the aloneness any less.
I lost my voice, and my muscles atrophied; there was no reaching out because I know: The solid marriage, loving family, stable friendships, roof overhead wheels underneath woodstove fired up warm quilt wrapped around babies thriving sunsets starry nights and all of those things are real but the list is punctuated with the knowledge, too, that it’s all there in spite of me and there is nothing relevant
living in my bones.
Depression eats your brain and you can’t sleep or you can’t
wake up or you can’t
eat or you can’t
shower or smile or think
or hold a conversation past the canned fake plastic words you spit out on Facebook so that nobody
suspects there’s something wrong (because there’s not; it’s just your bootstraps wearing out)
You can’t do much of anything but follow the same old script but you can sure as shit argue
with the idea that there is something valuable
I lost my voice and people didn’t think I could, they wanted me to make them laugh, to mock the president, to say something sweetly vulgar because saying FUCK is trendy now and hey, what’s behind this song and hey, tell me stories that the music men told you and I just
The words were stagnant water in my mouth. Nothing new could live there, nothing would come out; I lost the words and then I lost the chance to say
Depression ate my brain