Robbin’ for the Hood
The bill at Dollar Tree was $37. $85 at Food Lion, even with the coupons and store sales. I could picture her grimace and premptively formed a list of reasons to justify the expenses- to her and myself. I bring in the bags of non-perishables and drop them with a thud onto the hardwood. Ian is coming soon. We won't get demolished like the islands always do, but we'll get wind and rain, and the trees tend to fall with a gentle breeze in this part of the state. I set the bags down and hand her the receipt. My daughter greets me with tears in her eyes. I tell grandma I can claim her on food stamps, hoping it'll soften the hundred-dollar blow.
An mental image stirs, one where I'm tip-toeing in tights outside of a pharmaceutical company. A large cloth bag of insulin vials and epi-pens is thrown over my shoulder and bouncing along my back. I'm a more limber, slightly medieval version of Santa Claus. A spotlight captures me as I close onto the outer perimeter.
"SNACK TIME, MUMMA!"
My fantasy is broken by a bowl of store-brand cheese snacks (Cheddar Flavored Whales- with 100% REAL cheese!) being shoved into my face. My grandmother is still going through her long list of co-pays, which she punctuates with a rant about a $300 ambulance ride to the hospital half a mile away. I struggle to remember where I was that day, why I hadn't been called sooner. I'm small but sturdy and learned to lift with my legs years ago. Surely I could have carried feet or arms, or backed the van into the yard.
I'm back in tights, back in the spotlight, trying to haul ass before the summer heat spoils my spoils. The light lingers, moves, then fades. I scurry off, scampering down the highway, to the neighborhoods just past the house-- the ones where the pre-schoolers cuss too much and the old folks sit on the porch dutifully watching decline and decay-- and drop orange bottles and glass vials into chimneys and mailboxes, knocking on doors then jumping into bushes to see joy and relief wash over tired faces.
I ditch my bag and walk up the hill back home, placing small boxes in the fridge under the veil of midnight and avoiding questions as to where I've been.
Welcome To The World, Baby Girl
When all of this is over, and the tubes have been taken from your nose and the needles from your arm, we will take you into the world so that you may explore its wonder. You will go where we go, a passenger on every trip, no matter how small it may be. We must make up for lost time. We will visit every park and every zoo, and capture images of your wonder. Our little family will be sure to explore all we can of what lies around us, waiting to be discovered. I see the curiosity that gleams within your big brown eyes; I know it because it glows in mine.
Once we take you from that sixth floor ward, you’ll know what it’s like to feel the touch of Mommy’s skin, to feel my fingertips run smoothly across your dark mess of hair, unhindered by the latex that tends to tug at the strands you and I worked so hard to grow. You will know my kiss upon your cheek, and will have a chance to study the whole of my face- the slope of my nose, the fullness of my lips, the roundness of my chin- instead of settling for the glimpses caught during those moments in which I am feeling bold enough to pull down my mask and sneak a whiff of your scent.
Your Nanas and Papas will come to know your face through more than video feeds and smartphone screens. Their smiles will fill your memories, and replace any recollection you may have of the masked strangers that tended to your every need. Kind as they have been, their gentle hand is no match for the love that exudes from a mother’s touch. You will rarely leave your father’s arms as he makes up for all the nights he could not hold you. I will be by his side, watching the two of you learn each other, as my belief in miracles begins to solidify.
I wish to hold you in my arms and listen to your every tiny breath. But the times insist I wait- the test results have not come back and though I miss you dearly, I cannot risk your health in order to pacify my sadness. You’ve already fought so hard.
Some day soon, I will show you the warmth of the sun and the stillness of the moon; your father will find the shape in every cloud, and I will help you trace every constellation in the sky. But for now, I can only write NICU love letters from afar as you sleep blissfully, innocent and unaware of the chaos of your birth or the state of a world that you have yet to know. I sit in a quiet and lonely room, watching you develop a love-hate relationship with your pacifier through the camera that hangs above your crib.
Society’s comforts are fractured and collapsing, but we are sure to rebuild and begin again. Life will become almost as new to us as it is to you, and we will learn to navigate it together. What came before matters little; you are all that fills my vision of the future.
My immediate urge upon seeing this prompt is to spell out the traumatic events of my life and how I've overcome them. But I'm trying to say more by saying less, though these opening statements are a poor attempt at that. I'm also trying to be less arrogant and self-congratulatory with varying degrees of success. I can tell already this response is going to be a bit of a tangent, but if you stay with me, I'll make it worth your while. I'll try to, anyway.
A deck of tarot cards is broken up into 2 parts: the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana. The Major Arcana consists of 22 cards. It begins with The Fool and ends with The World, and tells the general story of a spiritual journey. The Minor Arcana covers more specific situations and the challenges we must face to overcome them. If the Major Arcana features the chapters of the Book of Life, the Minor Arcana are the paragraphs within that carry the plot along. I'm going to focus on one Major Arcana card in particular: The Tower.
The Tower is the 16th card out of the 22, close to the end of the spiritual journey. It typically depicts a stone tower being struck by lightning and a figure falling seemingly to their death from its peak. It represents unforeseen events that result in sudden, cataclysmic change. There is destruction, crisis, devastation...and liberation. The few cards before The Tower involve a change of perspective and acknowledgment of your role in your present situation, and the cards after represent inner wisdom and moving forward with faith. It's a scary looking card and tends to make people panic when they see it, much like the Death (13th) or The Devil (15th) cards do. The notion that everything you've built is falling apart is unsettling. The only change people like is the one they get to choose. A burst bubble leaves you vulnerable, naked. In my opinion, the structures that crumble with ease are the ones built on loose, shifting foundation.
At the peak of my depression (one of them, anyway...my mental health timeline is akin to a mountain range), I stumbled across an article about kintsugi. Kintsugi is a traditional Japanese method for repairing broken pottery. Instead of disposing of the broken pieces, gold is mixed with lacquer and the pieces are arranged once more- but now with some flair. The result is even more unique than it was before. Perfect, no but beautiful still. Maybe even more so than before. It's no secret that the pottery cracked, and it shouldn't have to be. It fell apart, and there was undoubtedly a moment of grief, a moment of mourning for purity, for perfection. But one cannot mourn forever, nor should one feel obligated to rid themselves of what once was. The secret to a happy future is not to eliminate the past. We couldn't even if we tried. There is power in acceptance.
In my Tower moments, I fell apart. Lightning struck, and my structures crumbled. But as I examined the pieces, I realized that my materials I'd used to build my illusions were never meant to last, or at the very least needed much more support than I realized. The poetic thing about everything falling apart is that you get to rebuild in any way you choose. We cannot strengthen weaknesses if we are ignorant to them. Grief may consume us for a time, but eventually we (hopefully) realize that the inaction of pain disturbs us more than the discomfort of growth and we move forward to meet The World, golden veins on display. At this point, I am more lacquer crack than stone. Truthfully, I like the way the precious metal catches the light.
I give myself a C- on the saying more by saying less part. Maybe a D.
Gemini, an exercise in delicacy
The earliest thing I can remember is being pulled out of my classes in elementary school. I was one of those kids- you know, the ones that would mysteriously leave class, for the rest of the period with no pushback from the teacher. From first to fifth grade, I was summoned from the room by a staff member. From sixth grade on, I knew when to go. I'd grab my stuff, get a brief rundown from the teacher on the rest of the day's lesson, and head to the counselor's office. I don't know if this is normal in other schools, but it's not something I bring up to other people very often. Childhood trauma makes for awkward party talk and advertises you to all the wrong people.
Every time I was called out of class, a tense atmosphere would fall over the room. It was odd for a student to seemingly without reason, and the other students knew this. I knew this. There were a couple of kids in my grade who would do the same, and we seemed to have a silent understanding. I remember seeing Jeremy, a boy I thought was a absolute ass-hat, walking out of the counselor's door as I was waiting to be called in for my appointment. Incidentally, Jeremy had also met with the same nightmarish juvenile detention intervention counselor that I'd had the misfortune of meeting with, but that's a story for another time. From that point on, I showed a lot more empathy for him.
I saw "school-based mental health counselors" until I was thirteen. It was decided that I had situational depression, and they said I no longer needed the help. I disagreed, and still do, but I'll tell that story some other time- along with the other one. They're closely related anyhow. Mental health and self-destruction are old friends.
My adolescence was tough. My mother, who has had a decades long battle with her own mental health, struggled to be fully present with me. Even in the moments that she made an effort, my own thoughts were so deeply entrenched in my own pain, that I often failed to be present for her as well. I sought out many vices- I'll remain vague on that- and my mother could do little to control me. My school performance was best described in my report cards as "Has potential, but no effort." and I had a few more close calls with juvenile detention. Despite all this, I managed to do pretty well in my English classes. I'd always loved to read and write, and it became my biggest outlet.
As I moved into adulthood, I spent a few years doing psychedelics and reading into various spiritual practices. I would highly suggest both activities, but I don't think it's for everyone. I fully believe there is a reason those worlds are so deeply connected, but both require you to dive into discomfort to achieve a greater outcome. I made many breakthroughs and learned a lot, though I'm sure my levels of spiritual self-assuredness made me insufferable to those who could tell I had a long way to go. I continue to carry many of those lessons into the present day, and feel like I'm in a healthier place because of that time in my life. I still had major lows and was no stranger to bad decisions, but they steadily decreased over the years. I volunteered with NAMI for a brief period, going to schools and telling my story to elementary and middle school teachers who were seeking to become better versed on mental health in children.
Now that my behavior is more under control, I've recognized that some of the behaviors that have trended through my life are abnormal. I started watching YouTube videos from mental health specialists and came to some conclusions that led me to seek out a counselor of my own. I am wary of self-diagnosis, but I suspect that I have ADHD or OCD, both of which rarely manifest in the way that they're stereotyped. This leads to them being overlooked, especially in young people. ADHD is infamous for going undiagnosed in women. The therapist I'm seeing seems to agree with me, but we've only met once so she's taking her time to come to a diagnosis, which is fine by me. I've gone the better part of two decades knowing something was wrong and trying to stop it from ruining my life. A few more weeks won't kill me.
I don't necessarily see these as a hindrance, not entirely. Most of the time, I feel like there are two sides of myself in a constant battle, arguing back and forth about the most appropriate way to handle a situation. One, that has been there as long as I can remember, goes off the cuff and suggests all kinds of problematic things but is a strong source of drive and creativity. The other, which is more recent and developed out of necessity, does its best to keep me balanced and focused, though it can keep me weighted down and burned out. I know a lot of people think astrology is dumb, but I'm a Gemini (the twins), so I find the whole two-sides development amusing. It's a delicate balance, but I'm doing my best.