the sound of water is everywhere.
it starts in my abdomen, the soft whir of incoming waves building until it crashes into my ears.
my hands go to my body and I try to pay attention, try to see the sun from under the waves,
but my body relaxes
and i sink…
i went to california recently. and saw the pacific ocean for the first time in my life. as i hiked toward it on that first day in california, i kept hearing a sound–like traffic. like the roar of the freeways that you can’t escape in southeast michigan. semi-trucks crashing across lanes, car tires slapping concrete, the relentless sound digs into your ears, even when you’re inside.
anger shifts into rage as i walk closer to the ocean. i am staying at a former army barracks converted into a national park and just this once, i need to see nature, feel nature, hear nature, without the taint of roaring freeways in the background.
but then i break through the forest i am hiking through and see for it for first time. the huge endless ocean. that’s when i realize that the roar was not coming from the freeways–but from the ocean.
thick rolls of sound crashing into rocks.
on that day…slow. a comfortable rhythm.
my feet easily shift from angry freeway rumble to the relaxed roll of the water.
i don’t stop walking until i am on a large cliff overlooking the entire ocean. i see nothing but water. no land, no people walking on the beach, no military barracks. just me and the ocean.
the sound is everywhere
and i sink…
it’s been years since i was suicidal.
but in michigan, things haven’t been going well. i was driving to work the other day, on that freeway that i have a relationship with. i see death almost everyday on this freeway, in the form of animals mostly, but every once in a while, people too. usually you know something horrible happened not because you see it, but because the freeway is backed up for hours. that usually means that whatever accident happened is deemed too grisly for the average person’s eyes and they shut down the freeway entirely until it’s cleaned.
sometimes, though, you see it. maybe the cops/ambulances aren’t on the scene yet. maybe it isn’t quite bad enough to shut everything down. traffic creeps along slowly enough that you can see the traumatized people’s faces as they stand next to obliterated cars, only aware enough to be grateful that they are not the person in the ambulance. you spend the rest of the slow ride into work thinking about things. thinking about life.
i try not to think about my time on the freeway much anymore. i try to respond to fear with sensible responses. leave two hours early so you can go slow. travel in the middle lane so you don’t have to deal with merging cars on the right or out of control trucks on the left. kitty litter in the trunk in case you get stuck. phone charged.
one day, as i was driving down the middle lane, i’m in control, i’m in control, i’m in control…
a car coming in the opposite direction flew into the median, flipped completely around from the impact of landing, rolled up the small hill of the median and crashed into the wire fencing on my side of the road. it all moved in slow motion, i could see exactly what was going to happen even as it was happening. it was as the other car crashed into the wire fencing that i was just starting to see that there was no way i could escape the collision, even by going slower.
if it wasn’t for the fence, i would’ve collided head first with the other car. but the fence was there. the fence was there.
once i realized i had escaped, i didn’t pull over, i didn’t call 911 to report the accident. i kept going my “safe’ pace down the middle lane of the freeway. breathing. in. out. in. out.
i am in control
it’s been years since i was suicidal. and yet,
as i sink, the water fills me, suffocates me,
i don’t fight.
i’m going to be 40 this year. it’s a momentous year, one that can point to my achievements, allow me to take inventory, and make the commitment to live the next 40 years as i haven’t lived the past 40 years, with intentionality.
but my boss started the year off with that talk. the “there is never any easy way to say this….this organization needs to make some changes….” talk. i knew it was coming. i had known for awhile. in a way that somebody always expects things to go wrong knows. i got the email from my boss on a friday, asking if we could meet the upcoming tuesday. i replied sure, and asked “why?” i never got a response.
so i knew. i knew what was going to happen before it happened. i almost hyperventilated as i waited for my turn to get fired (there were three other people fired on that day). i tried to text mr. toast for support–but my fingers were shaking too much. after almost dropping my phone, i gave up. took a deep breath. and walked into a room to face down a table full of board members and bosses.
“there is never any easy way to say this….”
can you be chicana and not have a job? a chicana getting a job is testament to the world that you are no longer a child, no matter how young you are. if you could bring home a paycheck, if you could help provide, you were grown. i’ve had a job since i was 11 years old.
what am i if i don’t have a job? what am i if i was fucking FIRED from my job? who am i allowed to be?
who am i?
i suffered for years from severe gallbladder issues. horrible attacks that completely immobilized me, drained me so much that i couldn’t get out of bed for days. after years of suffering, my body suddenly revolted and things got even worse. for three months i threw up everything i ate, had severe attacks constantly, and was mostly unable to get out of bed, even to work.
i finally convinced a doctor to take the damn thing out. i never felt more right about a decision–and yet, as the day drew closer and closer, i felt more and more backed into a corner. i’d be in bed, trying to doze, doing my best to quite my body, only to be awakened by dreams of people choking me, using my blankets to smother me. one day, the dreams were so bad, i finally forced myself out of bed and wandered around the house aimlessly, looking for something, anything, to distract me.
i found mr. toast working out in the garden.
he said hey as i walked to him and kept working.
i stood in front of him and made him stop.
suddenly, everything came hurling out. i just need to tell you in case i die from this surgery that i love you that i really love you and that i’ve loved you all these years even though i never really thought i did but i do and i need you to know that, to really KNOW that in case i die. i love you. i mean, i really really love you. i’ve never loved anybody else. just you.
he stood there for a minute and then smiled. i know you love me.
but i stopped him. no, i mean i REALLY love you. i’m not just saying it.
he paused. amused. so you mean you’ve just been saying it all these years?
yes, that’s what i mean. but i didn’t realize that i wasn’t actually just saying it, that i actually MEANT it. i really do love you. and i need you to know this. in case i die.
he laughed. and pulled me into his chest. his warm sweaty chest, that has held our crying babies for hours at a time, that i can perfectly snuggle my body into when he hugs me, my head resting in the curve of his neck, my body wrapped completely by his arms.
i know you’ve always loved me, bfp.
i needed you to know. in case i die.
he is kissing my face, my hair, my lips. you’re not going to die. and i love you too. i’ve always loved you.
the sky is blue. the warm air twists around us, holding us together.
i love you.
there is nothing like potential death to make a person brave.
the water floods my chest, i can’t breath.
i don’t fight it.
i don’t want to die. i’ve never wanted to die. even when i was suicidal.
but what is the alternative? it is near impossible to live life without love, without having been loved. i read this book by dr. gabor mate where he gave a case description of a man who doctors found had a serious illness. life threatening, but the guy definitely had a good chance. the guy, however, didn’t have a strong support team, didn’t feel like he was worth fighting for. so even after church members talked to him and his doctors talked to him and everybody talked to him and told him he had a really good chance of survival–the guy just shook his head. refused to fight, and eventually died. mate was using this story to talk about support systems and how having them can really help improve your chances of getting through a serious illness.
i took it as a testimonio. one that i could’ve written. what is the use of fighting, when there’s nothing to fight for?
i was that guy, and i didn’t even know it. a tale of two city’s unloved sydney carton. the lonely drunkard who was smart enough (hurt enough?) to know that it just didn’t make sense that the pure innocent lucie could love him. it didn’t make sense that anybody could love him. so he switches himself with a man about to be killed by a mob. sydney will be killed in his stead. the man sydney saves is the man who could be loved. the man who was dearly loved. who was not taking up space.
sydney does not send himself off to die from a sense of martyrdom (i will die so others can live!), but because there’s no reason to live. how could you be arrogant enough to take up space when you could never possibly be loved?
as a small child, i’d play make-believe and i was a beautiful and kind hearted girl who could see the good in sydney. so i loved him. and i’d plead with him to live, to please please live. eventually he’d be energized by my love, and i’d help him escape and we’d live happily ever after.
at some point, as i got older, i couldn’t manage to convince sydney that i loved him, even in my imagination. he’d look up at me sadly, shake his head, and turn away. eventually, i just stopped playing make believe. even my imagination couldn’t overcome reality.
water is flooding into my mouth, filling my chest. i can only see watery darkness.
i am safe.
i don’t want to die. i never wanted to die, even when i was suicidal.
and that’s why when i read that case study in that book that i can’t even remember the title of, i did not look away from the mirror. i studied what i saw for hours. shocked, not at the willingness to die, but at the comfort. the utter ease of drowning. the way i moved in it, as if with an old friend. no need to talk, no need to explain. understanding each other.
all these years, i thought the ease of my relationship with death came from a buddhist sense of resignation: death is inevitable. or maybe it was acceptance of my depression. depressed people are ok with dying. depressed people don’t want to die, but they can’t help themselves. they just have to one day, when it becomes too much.
as it turns out, i did not really have a relationship with death at all. lack of value was who i had formed the real relationship with. it made sense that nobody would want me in this world, that i wouldn’t want myself in this world. i stopped noticing how much sense it made, and it just became the norm. hegemony played out in my own body. complete and utter submission to “valueless.”
valueless wrapped itself around me, comforted me when things got hard. it makes sense that i messed that all up, i’m a fucked up worthless piece of shit, right? it makes sense that i don’t get recognition for work done, other people who work harder/are better than me deserve it more. who am i? and why should it matter that i get nothing? why *should* i get something?
i looked long and hard at all those thoughts. and i started to realize something. so much of my writing up until that point had actually verbalized all those thoughts and tried to reconcile, conquer, own, destroy, evaporate, make friends with, and control those thoughts– practically everything i had ever written in the past 10 years, if i was honest with myself.
and the more and more i thought about it, even when i moved outside of my blogging and into my school essays or my short stories or the letters i used to handwrite as a child–it was all the same thing. the invisible relationship that i thought i had never really noticed was actually a life long battle that i have been trying to detangle myself from since i was a small child.
somewhere in me, there was somebody who was actually fighting. somebody who kept pushing. somebody who was inside the prison, not sitting next to me, but sitting IN me. somebody who wouldn’t let go. somebody who, even in the worst of times, kept whispering–
but…but…where did you get the idea that worthless people don’t deserve life?
but…why does screwing that one thing up mean you’re worthless?
but…who decided you were worthless anyway?
but…why do you have to believe it?
somewhere in me (buddhists tell me it is my true self, the inner buddha that is in all of us), there was somebody who always knew better. and fought back through writing. i didn’t really understand that there was a fight going on. i couldn’t see it. maybe it was that i didn’t want to. because then i would have to take sides.
i never wanted to die, even when i was suicidal.
what i never knew was that i was actually suicidal because i never wanted to die.
and i thought that was the only choice i had.
reading the story of the man who thought his only choice was to die, because he was alone, worthless, valueless, i saw clearly that he was wrong. i saw this, because for the first time, somebody who had no vested interest in my own battle pointed it out. i believed dr. mate, because he never claimed to love what i knew to be unloveable. that’s the cruel irony of it all. those of us fighting this life long battle with “valueless”? we would never in a million years think anybody else didn’t have the right to live. we would never talk to anybody else the way we talk to ourselves. we would adamently stand up for the person being assaulted by the words and judgement that we inflict on ourselves. i have gotten into physical fights with men who treat women the way that i treated myself. i would destroy any human being who talked to my children the way i talked to myself.
so it makes sense that the time i finally paused, stopped, sat down and studied the mirror up in my face was the time when a person was pointing out my own actions in somebody else. when the person who was pointing out my own actions never claimed to love what i knew to be unloveable.
i still think about the man from dr. mate’s book. i am very defensive of him. i don’t want anybody to think that he was “stupid” for just “letting” himself die. that this about needing to “get a more positive attitude.” or “if you just believe in yourself.” or “if you would get out of the house more.” or any of the crap people who don’t know what is going on try to “help” with. i don’t know if what he (i) have is depression. i could make a strong case that it’s actually a bad case of oppression. but whatever it is, whatever this battle is about, “being more positive” or “believing in yourself” is not going to win it.
but because of him, i am not hopeless. something will win this battle, because now i know what is going on. for the first time, i believe this truth more than i believe the logic of “valueless.”
something will win this war.
and i will be there to see it done.
my dreams are shifting. i no longer want to be fearless or even brave. because now i know that they aren’t really the point. i want what others know, without question. without even noticing it. hegemony taking over their bodies. they are loved. of *course* they are loved. it is natural and makes SENSE that somebody loves them. hegemonic love. it’s ok to try new things and go new places and not be perfect and face down life with or without fear–because you are loved.
it’s ok to be happy, it’s ok to put your fists down, it’s ok to lay next to your life long loving partner who has been with you through all the war years, and not worry that he’s just faking it or there because of some mistake.
it’s ok to just relax. rest your hand on his alive beating heart, breath deep.
maybe it’s even ok to start itching back around that idea that formed so many years ago, that faulty logic. maybe it’s possible to love somebody like me. maybe loving somebody like me isn’t such an impossible concept. maybe…maybe.
“maybe” holds all the possibilities i have never imagined before.
in california, i read some of my writing out loud for the first time. i spent the whole time in california feeling awkward and alone and too afraid to say much of anything to anybody. i was still struggling with my health issues and i felt ill most of the time. so old and out of place among a group of young brilliant activists. it’s hard to be an introvert surrounded by extroverts–it’s near impossible to deal with social anxiety around people who all want to do “get to know you” activities into the middle of the night.
but on one night–the night where they did “open mic,” i decided to read something i had written. something about dancing.
that night after my kids got home, we started watching the opera Carmen. It’s a catchy opera that is a lot more accessible than other operas are, but even so, they both went upstairs after a while. I was ok with that, because as soon as they went upstairs, i got up—and at first just paced around for a while—but eventually, that evil little monkey thief took over. and i started to dance. i swirled and twirled and practiced holding my arms just so while looking in the mirror. i thought i was being quiet—but in that way that kids always do, within about 6 minutes they were back downstairs asking incessantly, what are you doing, what was that noise, why are you doing that, what is going on, i thought i heard something, what are you doing?
i stopped at first, and started to tell them to mind their own business—but then my body took over. that body that is the universe. that universe that i am learning to trust. and next thing you know, i was dancing.
when i was done, people stood and cheered for me. women surrounded me and hugged me. there were tears and love and laughter. it wasn’t that i was exceptionally moving, a writer above all others. it was that kind people knew i didn’t like being the center of attention and were genuinely rooting for me. it was that in that place, for once in my life, i decided i didn’t need to have both fists up worrying about what could happen. i didn’t need to worry about if i was taking up space i didn’t deserve to be in.
i deserve to be here.
my fists go down.
and i am alive.
i am standing at the top of a small cliff at the end of the world. the silvery grey ocean flutters in front of me, the sun dips into the water. the waves roll into me, roll into my abdomen, my ears, my cells. i spread my arms and allow myself to fall from the hill into the water, into the sun.
the universe i am learning to trust.
this body that is the universe.
my face breaks through the water,
i say hello
to the seagull that floats
next to me.
i am back from california and i am in his arms. i breathe in the smell of his chest, savor the heat radiating from his alive body. i am on top of him and waves are crashing. i have never seen him before this moment, never noticed so much about him. the way his face softens with (could it be?) love when he watches me, the way his calloused worker hands that have changed diapers and cleaned up my vomit hold me, won’t let me go. the rhythm rocks in my ears, flows through my body. i have never seen him before. in all these years, i never knew that he loved me. i never knew.
he is in me and through me and he knows how comfortable it feels to me to drown. but he pulls me up anyway. rubs the muscles in my chest, opens my lungs. so i can breath.
there are warm blue kisses and our breath in the sun and mr. toast whispering.
you’re not going to die. and i love you too.