I try and tell myself,
“You’re not alone.”
Yet when I lay in bed at night,
My sadness envelops me
Instead of my blanket;
And by the weight in my chest,
It feels as if the mattress is upon me,
Rather than on its latter.
And all I know through this confusion
Is that when I sit up and take a look around,
The only person I see there is me,
The only person who cares is me,
Am I alone.
Did you know, every time you hint at coming to see me, or suggest we should run away into the woods, I pack a bag, just in case?
Even for the impossible scenarios, the days I know I can’t meet you halfway, or don’t have the mental energy to get myself to that tiny mountain town where pieces of my heart still lay scattered across the sidewalks, I pack a bag.
It’s always the same things; a long sleeve shirt, leggings, a deck of cards, a chess board, a journal, a Polaroid camera and instant coffee. I’ve survived on far less, and most people would call me underprepared, but I could pen an entire novel about your smile when you see me for the first time. I would be able to recall, with impeccable detail, every moment we spend together, for the rest of my days. Every song you hum would find its way into my fingertips tapping away the stress of my work days.
Even though I know for a fact you’re not here, I turn every corner with hope, hoping maybe today’s the day I see you standing at my front door, fumbling with a lighter, the wind making you curse the prairie winters, just waiting, for me. You’re hours away, and have never said you’d be here, but still I hold my breath for a split second, every now and then.
I guess I’m just always ready for you. Always hoping it won’t be another long month without you. Ironically, I never feel ready. I’ve changed. My body has changed. It scares me to think that you might not like me, if you meet me again. What if I’m too argumentative, too sensitive, gained too much weight or am entirely too needy, still? What if I’m too much? What, after all this time, we fuck this up? What if I’ve pushed too far and we can’t go back?
I am terrified.
But I have a bag packed anyway.
Sometimes I sit and think about all the time I have spent hating myself. Using up all my energy to go over every flaw that I have and think of all the ways I could rid of them. Using up all my energy to think of all the ways I would be loved if I was a better and more beautiful person. Using up all of my energy to think of all the ways I wanted to erase myself.
When I sit eyes closed with my inner self and ask her about my life, she always laughs and lets me know that the prettier version of me is not the happiest version of me, that I have a whole life waiting for me; hearts that will open, mountains that will move, all because I chose to LIVE, not choosing to stay and wonder if my reflection is acceptable.
Some of us will not truly live till we old. We never truly know how much time we have left. Looking back, I wish I loved more. I wish I stared at the stars more and told people I cared. I wish I was more open and honest. I wish I hadn’t hurt myself because I didn’t see the reflection I wanted to see.
Live boldly and free today. Your life is happening, regardless of the face you see staring back at you in the mirror.
A Conversation With my Therapist
"Why isn't it okay to be lonely? she asked me.
"Well it is, I just don't like the feeling very much."
"Why isn't it okay to be lonely, Chloe?" she asks again. And it really feels like my brain doesn't know. It's just a feeling after all. How come this is so hard?
"I don't know. When I sit there I just think of all the people that are thriving right now while this is is so hard for me, and I wonder why I'm so broken. It feels compulsive, like I can't sit with it." The words kind of flow out of my mouth. I haven't really throught this far into this feeling before.
"Thriving? You think people are thriving right now? she asks in disbelief.
"Yeah, they're doing all these things, working from home, spending every day at home with the person they love, doing everything together. Stuff like that."
"Chloe, that doesn't sound like thriving to me. That sounds like desparation, surviving. Cramming as much in as you can in order not to feel. Would people be working from home if it wasn't a pandemic? People are scrambling right now, desparate to cling onto any sense of control that they can. Why won't you let yourself be lonely?"
If you're lonely too, don't worry. Being lonely doesn't have to be a bad thing.
Inner Wise Old Woman
Sometimes instead of getting in touch with my inner child I speak with my inner wise old woman.
I imagine myself draped in skin and wrinkles.
Laugh lines as deep as canyons.
And I ask her “Is this okay? Am I going to be okay?”
And she always smiles at me. She closes her eyes and rubs her hands over her papery arms. I wonder what stories she has, what journeys I have yet to start, what people I have yet to meet, the secrets she keeps.
“You know, it happens so fast. Life. In the moment it feels so long. We feel so bad for eating a whole bag of chips, for sleeping with the wrong person, for saying no when you wanted to say yes, for holding onto grudges that don’t serve us and let us fully be ourselves. You have so much more. Oh, the stories you’ll make in life have nothing to do with what you’re currently sad about. There is so much more to living and there’s not enough time to do it all. Can you feel this? How short life is?”
I usually cry. My wise inner old woman always helps me feel freer and take in the bigger picture.
At some point if we’re lucky, we’re all going to old and we’re all going to realize how finite this is and how sooner we wish we could have lived in our bodies and let go of the shame, the blame, the guilt, the brokenness, the hurt.
I try to keep this perspective. Of course it slips through my fingers often and I’m right back to “Should I do this? Is this okay?” But she’s always there if I quiet down enough, whispering “It’s okay, you’re always good, you’re always loved. There’s so much more than this moment.”
I trust her. I love her. I try to surrender.
Shattered, But Not Broken
My friends and I live on a supermarket shelf, inside jare, tins, and boxes, our labels announcing we are 50% depressed, 30% suicidal and 20% psychotic; 100% mentally ill, check the lid for the “best before” date. And although we live under lock and key, my friends and I are the bravest people you’ll ever meet. We may be shattered, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still gleam in the sunlight; tarnished silver still shines in the right light, and so do we. The pain may be constant, but we are not always screaming, crying, pulling, hitting, throwing, scratching, scarring, or bleeding. We are not wrong because we “malfunction,” or because we missed the right junction. In our lives, why should we be cast aside for the mess in our minds that could be tidied up with the sweep of a brush, or failing that, some strong soap and elbow grease?
My friends and I, we may be partners in illness, but we are also partners in crime; we laugh and we dance and it’s about damn time we were recognized as people, not just as symptoms or fears, but as kids who lost a couple years to illness and hurt.
I Could See the World
From the Perspective of the “It”
I liken the universe to a spider.
It takes six hundred eggs to make one spider and the flesh of its mother to let it live.
I trust that the wrinkles embracing my eyes—those firm encasings that flood my vision or otherwise tame it—are testament enough that I ought to be taken at word, for I saw the universe before it ever was.
It was, in truth, very much like a spider; so much so that it’s difficult to fathom how it was not confused for one to begin with. When it was created, it worked with nimble fingers and maternal affection, weaving with utmost craftsmanship the fabric of space and time, sewing into place each galaxy, and embroidering the finished piece with celestial bodies of colors and textures so unalike that it was quite a shame their beauty was lost in the vastness of the garment. I imagine it is this way with spiders: their webs are spun, precisely and deliberately, to the tune of divine blueprints, every string, soft like threads of gold, lifted masterfully into place in such a remarkable display of purpose that it is hard to imagine that the spider lacks any sense of it. The spider has no reason to believe in the concept of ‘the future’ because ‘the present’ is the only reality it has ever experienced. So, when the spider rests on the seventh day of Creation and reclines into a sinister stillness at the center of its masterpiece, tranquil and vigilant, it is as likely to be waiting for its next catch as it is for a gentle breeze to come and sweep it away, web and all, into the vastness of the world.
I HAD WITNESSED THE CREATION OF THE UNIVERSE, but, in spite of this, I could not see the world immediately, not out of any fault of my own, I suppose, and certainly not out of a lack of things to see— but perhaps that was the issue: that I searched for things to see and that, inevitably, everything I saw was what I expected to see. I lived in a blind’s man world, but the ignorance was comforting. Seeing with the eyes had been child’s play because for as long as I’ve had eyes to see with, that was the only kind of seeing I had known: the sight of things. In that way, I was not much different than the spider. I lived with a fervent dedication to ‘the present’ that discounted ‘the future’ as expendable, even extraneous. No breeze was a cause of concern whilst I lay lofty and exalted at the heart of my web. But when I looked down at the sky, I saw misery. It wouldn’t be long, however, before I realized that the sky was simply a reflection of things.
I neared its edge with reluctance, let my fingers caress its ferocious oceans, tumbled over its mountains and settled triumphantly in its valleys in hopes of getting a better view; that was the first time I truly saw. I saw an encroaching emptiness devour whole a sense of common purpose. I saw spiders, thousands of them, infatuated with ‘the present,’ and I thought of how many eggs were laid and how many mothers sacrificed for them to be able to live lives so idle. Everywhere I turned I was surrounded by more of the same—intoxicating levels of it—and I couldn’t help but wonder if I had joined their ranks. People began to resemble each other: they walked with a robotic, reverberant pace [one step, two, three steps, four…]; they breathed in unison [in, out, in and out]; even their gestures were done in a bizarre, hypnotic synchrony: the pursing of lips at disgust, the formality of money-laden, sin-stained handshakes, and the cynicism of artificial smiles and raised brows to cover up the latent distaste for it all. There was misery and pain as there ought to have been, but just as there is no room in a lifeboat for a boulder, there was no room in that world for illness and misfortune. Old men—boulders of the past—raised glasses of wine to heartiness and youth. Bliss was the country’s currency, and old age begot poverty. So, they fought impermanence with greater impermanence. In truth, the whole ordeal was pitiful and unorthodox, quite dull actually, but then I looked up at myself, and I saw one of them.
From the Perspective of a Human
“‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’” (1 Corinthians 11:24)
There is life in the breath of things as much as there is life in the breadth of things, but when these things are not seen, is life drawn from them?
When I saw a cardinal drenched to bone in rainwater, mate at her company, wings weighed down by the wearying weights of life, could I be certain that the scene continued in my absence—that an understudy didn’t replace the lead actress at the turn of my head elsewhere—or were the curtains drawn at the closing of my eyes?
This was far too much to ponder, and besides, my feet ached terribly.
I considered resting on a tree stump nearby, but I couldn’t: it reeked of death. And worse yet, death by other life. The tree had been betrayed, and 30 pieces of silver put the smoking gun in our hands.
I imagine that the tree bled—not of that fiery red soup that does both give and rid of life—but of life itself. The tree bled life. And when its killers collected it into jars, they had, in sum, three pounds of syrup.
In one jar, they stored the sap of unhealthy trees and in the rest, that of healthy trees. By all measures with the exception of volume, the syrup of both trees were nearly indistinguishable; unhealthy trees simply bled less of it. So, I thought of how much syrup flowed within me, and if it flowed at all within spiders. I wondered if a spider would ever weave its web on a tree stump, or if it would flee in cowardice at the pungent odor of death, as I had. But most of all, I pondered what ‘the future’ of that tree could have been—all the spiders its branches could have nurtured and the reserves of syrup that could have run like the honey of Canaan through its veins—had it stopped living for ‘the present.’
My feet still ached.
There was a bench nearby made of wood, shined and polished, from what I imagine was the same tree as the stump I had refused to sit on. There was no way to be certain of the difference between it and the stump, but I knew that more people were willing to sit on one over the other. By then, my feet had become swollen and bruised, a symphony of deathly reds and blues accented with fine paint strokes of exhausted veins. The weight of my body became a burden no longer worth bearing. My mind was now the cause of bitter enmity between my members, and so, in spite of my moral convictions, my feet stopped at the bench and the rest of my body, in reluctant subservience, stooped into a sitting position. It was a pyrrhic victory for the flesh.
A new tree had been planted thirteen feet away, not far from the gravestone of its sapless, mummified ancestor, next to a sign that read “Scenic Overlook”; more game to hunt, I figured. Its leaves convulsed violently in the wind, frenzied and flailing, as if to break free from the branch—as if the currents of air had been harbingers of doom. It was lethargic and grossly misshapen, eroded by gusts of wind into a grotesque asymmetry that left the sapling limp and lifeless before its blood had flowed. Its bark was firm, but its roots brittle. I feared ‘the future’ of that tree and of those to follow it. In my head, I counted the jars of syrup that would be collected that season, each filled to the brim and sealed firmly, as if collectively holding their breath lest the sap should escape them and they be left scattered in the vastness of the room. The sap overflowed: it must have been open season on healthy trees. In my mind, that tree had already died—and someone somewhere was resting on a bench made of its wood, oblivious to the corpse beneath him and to the bloodshed that had brought it there.
I looked up at myself, and I saw that person.
The contrast of life—the arrangement of tree, stump, and bench within sight—was haunting. Had this been what the old men meant when they said they would “sculpt” the land? I had lost the desire to see, but my eyes, of their own accord, remained open. It was the horrible sanity of it that drove me to insanity: how was it that something so mangled could pass as a “Scenic Overlook”? Death was to the old men a breathtaking landscape, the final masterpiece. There was some audacity in facing it while still alive and strength in mocking it before it's had the last laugh. I looked away from the scene of the massacre and shifted my gaze upwards, hoping that at the turn of my head elsewhere, it would all disappear and the curtains would be drawn.
Overhead, a wheatfield whispered a morning song, and I breathed a sigh of relief that I no longer had to see, just listen. I heard the undertones of a gospel hymn, the soprano sung by fleeting breezes and streams of early birds gliding weightlessly through the fields—the wheat plants played like strings on an instrument, plucked precisely and deliberately to the tune of the song; the alto hummed by the gentle sway of billowing grains; and the tenor belted by the rustle of critters and the tempered pitter-patter of small rodents. The wheat plants drifted weightlessly in the afternoon wind, pulsating, as if the wind breathed life into them. Their stems were too thin to bear any sap, but in spite of this—or perhaps because of it—their movements were elastic and spirited. The stems were brittle, but the roots robust, a firm armor against unyielding gales; there was depth to their roots as much as there was death in their roots. Death was their undying fate, but not their ‘future.’
I tried desperately to picture it: I saw spiders weaving their webs and destroying them, mothers feasting rabidly on their children, six hundred eggs left to rot on wheat stems, pools of sap surrounding the victims, and the unsettling carnage of polished wooden benches. But when I turned to the wheat fields, I heard the comforting song of ’past', ‘present’, and ‘future,’ and it was a symphony. Death was to the wheat fields a boulder in a lifeboat kept afloat. They had learned to dance in the direction of the wind—to capture it, weave it into an intricate fabric of melodies, adorn it with subtle wisps of passing fowl, and never to resist it.
From where I rested, my eyes traced the ebb and flow of the sea of wheat as the wind caressed it. It was a humbling throne, a far cry from the heart of a web or the stump of a tree, but from it, I could see the world.
My feet ached only for the journey ahead.
This is not Beautiful
My freshman year of high school, my mother received a call from my guidance counselor because I had tried to kill myself and had to be admitted to the hospital immediately. I have never seen such a sadness in my mother’s eyes or heard such a petrified tone in her voice until that moment. That night, one of my younger sisters sat with me in my hospital bed and said, “I don’t ever want to see you in a casket. I don’t ever want to see you in a hospital bed ever again.” I’ve never seen my sister cry from pure sadness until then. My sister left the room so my youngest sister could come sit with me, and all she could manage to get out was the word “why?” Hospitals and suicides are not beaitiful.
I talked to an old best friend last week. We lost touch due to her moving two states away. She told me she had to get her stomach pumped because she tried to overdose and poison herself with four bottles of alcohol. I remember she used to spend the night and we would always talk about how we would always be there for eachother. I failed her. Overdoses and alcoholism are not beautiful.
My junior year of high school, I had a friend who was dealing with anorexia and bulimia. I’ll never forget the night I spent at her house when I heard her throwing up. She was crying and kept telling herself to stick her fingers down farther. When she came back into her bedroom, I held her for a long time and told her I loved her. We both cried and a few weeks later she went away for treatment. I haven’t seen her since. When she first went away, her mom would talk to me about it. I saw the same type of sadness in her mother’s eyes that I saw in my own mother’s eyes. Eating disorders are not beautiful.
My cousin shot himself in the head on the second of November, three years ago.. I missed three days of school. When I went to his funeral, his mother and my aunt hugged me and thanked me for attending. I shouldn’t have been there. None of us should have. The seats in the funeral home fled and there had to be over two hundred people in a line out the door because there were so many people who wanted to attend. Funerals and caskets are not beautiful.
During my first hospital visit, I had a roommate that was absolutely gorgeous. I was so envious. She told me she was mad at herself for not cutting deeper. I told her that I am glad that she didn’t. As soon as the words ran off my tongue, she lunged into my arms. After a very long and emotional hug, she told me her mom didn’t love her anymore. Utter sadness is not beautiful.
Please take your romanticism and glamorization of self-harm, eating disorders, suicide, alcoholism and sadness and bury them deep beneath the ground. This is not beautiful.