“If there is any advantage to going through a mental crisis of the worst kind, it is that – on the other side of it – we will have ended up choosing life rather than merely assuming it to be the unremarkable norm. We, the ones who have crawled back from the darkness, may be disadvantaged in a hundred ways, but at least we will have had to find, rather than assumed or inherited, some reasons why we are here. Every day we continue will be a day earned back from death and our satisfactions will be all the more more intense and our gratitude more profound for having been consciously arrived at.”
I felt overstuffed and dull and disappointed, the way I always do the day after Christmas, as if whatever it was the pine boughs and the candles and the silver and gilt-ribboned presents and the birch-log fires and the Christmas turkey and the carols at the piano promised never came to pass.”
— Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
Let’s go to the corner store and buy some fruit
I would do anything to get you out your room
Just take your medicine and eat some food
I would do anything to get you out your room
It’s so cruel what your mind can do for no reason
And if you need me, then you know where to find me
I’m feeling lost, I just need someone to guide me
Don’t wanna feel left out
Please, understand me now
But If you can’t, then it’s alright, I’ll always be around
My mother has always told the story of our lives in chapters named after the streets we’ve lived on, and now that is how I remember everything too. Holly, Garfield, Birch, Louisiana, Spruce, and more. Telling it this way sounds better. It organizes the chaos and gives the impression we were traversing whole countries and cultures instead of just fleeing debt from one side of the city to the other. Each time we move I’m promised this house will be different and each street will be our final address, but each time I am disappointed. There is always another street to move too, enough to measure out my life.
Technically, this was my first home, though I never really did live there. Holly is where my mother grew up and where I began my life when her body was still my home. All of her pain begins here and ends with her shunned and banished after giving birth to her first child, me, a mixed-race girl. Though she leaves, it isn’t really for good. I will remember us returning to it time and time again. I will remember her mother who smiles and waves hello, and her father who never speaks and insists we stay in the car parked in the driveway while my mother goes in.
This is the street that will never leave me. My grandmother’s home where the rapidly growing brood of grandchildren come while their young parents are off working, partying, drinking, drugging, and cheating. This is a place of happiness and innocence by day and disfunction and abuse by night. I am ignored entirely most of the time, or left in the care of those with malevolent motives but there are moments of memory with my grandmother where I felt truly loved and safe though I would learn later she was one half the equation that equaled the generational trauma I’d be fighting my whole life.
I do not remember the name of the street we lived on, and my mother never says its name. This chapter is just called Virginia for the state instead. I remember the way the street looked though, quiet with lots of trees and lined with neat townhomes, each standing tall and bright next to its neighbor. I remember playing in the backyard, being careful not to go too close to the thick woods at the bottom of the hill. I remember my parents being in love, and I remember watching that love slowly turn into hate.
My mother calls this time “Warren Village” for the low-income apartment complex we lived in, but I remember that it was on Gilpin Street. I remember it as the first place we lived without my father (my mother would tell me stories about him with chapters named after his many wives). Things were confusing and sad, but I remember playing in the hallways of the building with other kids whose faces still adorn our family photo album but whose names I cannot remember.
This is the first place we lived with a man who is not my father, beyond that there is little to set the place apart in my memory. I remember we had both a dog and a backyard for the first time. We had something that looked like a real home, but it felt empty inside. I have so few memories of the place I can barely remember the layout and I have no idea how long we were there though my gut tell me the stay was even shorter than most.
I begin to feel like I belong somewhere. We’ve been in this apartment for over a year now. My mom is working and though there is a lot on me at home at school, I am free. I have friends, close friends, best friends. Friends who ride the bus with me and friends whose houses I can go to after school. I have teachers I’ve known for two grades now. On the day before the last of school, we will lose our apartment and I won’t get to say goodbye to those teachers or those friends. I hear from any of them again until I am an adult and they find me on Facebook.
We live on the top floor of the complex and I am fascinated that a two-story apartment can exist. My brother is born here, and with time I make friends again. We get to live here for three years, my entire middle school career. I should have been elated, but the psychological toll of so many homes and work of beginning over and over again anew leaves my expectations low. It will be many years before I let myself feel at home again. I make some friends, but I keep them at arm’s length. I am perpetually sullen, and my grades suffer.
One day, in the middle of my 8th-grade year, I come home to find my father has come to take me to live with him. Once again, I don’t even get to say goodbye. All the years I wished for him to come and get me, but I never meant like this with so much shame and sadness. My mother assures me this can be a new start for me, but I don’t know how to tell her that is the last thing that I need. It is the one thing I have had too much of. What she doesn’t understand is that no place is ever a fresh start, most of all this one. I am the same here as I was there, and after so a year or two of stubborn sameness, I am sent away again.
I’m back with my mother, back at a new school, making the same old filler friends and waiting for the cycle to repeat. Both of us are filled with anger and try as we might, home is a word I neither of us can define anymore. The truth is all these streets have begun to look the same. The same schools, the same teachers, the same kids, and the same old problems again and again. After a while, I can’t take it. I’m the only one I trust to find or keep a home, and I leave for the last time to do so.
This is the first place I live without either of my parents and where I begin to understand what a home could be, though I understand this one could never be mine. I’m staying with an aunt and her two daughters near the same age as me. They become like sisters and show me what it means to be a normal teenager. This must be the “fresh start” my mom was always talking about. She never said, or maybe never knew, that a fresh start has to mean letting go of the last place and establishing a new thought pattern and allowing a new dynamic. A feat too large for us to accomplish together.
Potomac and Quinten
Two streets, the distance between which I walk every day to see my girlfriend. On Potomac, I share an apartment with my father. This is not my home, but just the place where I keep my things. Paradoxically, on Quinten street, the townhome at the end of the row in what used to be an old military base, where none of my things are, becomes the place where I feel safe and warm. I spend more and more time there and years later when the city tears the row down to make room for a medical complex I will mourn its absence.
I did not live here, but I spent so much time in the area and with the people that did, I felt as though it were my home. This place is not on the street, but instead is the street itself. I may have a warm place to sleep at night but I do not have a home and for that, I feel an affinity for the homeless kids I meet wandering the streets. I leave the apartment I share with five other roommates every morning and come down here instead to be with them. To smoke and drink with them and to hear their stories that sound so much like mine.
My girlfriend and I have been living together for a couple of years now, but this is our first real place together, just the two of us. The first place I can call my own. We have a balcony and a pool across the street. We have an elevator and we add a garage spot to the lease. We buy new furniture. We decorate. We learn how to cook for each other. We get our first pet and we start having our first fights. We get our first real jobs and begin to feel like our own little family. It’s safe. It’s stable. It’s a place I can finally start to grow up.
I’ve lived on this quiet street that dead ends to nowhere now longer than I have lived anywhere else in my life. The street is lined with other quiet homes that look just like mine and together are filled with the perfect mix of families of all different cultures and sizes. Everyone here has a dog. Everyone here waves hello when they see you. No one plays their music too loud, and if you ever need to borrow some tools, they will always help you out. These past few years property values have skyrocketed and houses around the neighborhoods are starting to flip, but on this little street tucked away from the main roads, everybody has stayed. Every house here is a home to someone and as I watch as the kids around us grow up and my wife and I think maybe we can settle down and start growing old.
This post was written in response to the WordPress Discover Prompt, Day 4: Street
“Don’t always think you’re wrong when you’re right
They’ll always try to change your mind
Darling, just do whatever feels right
Your life is there to be designed”
I’m struggling to make it out on my own.
I left my mother’s house, the place of her anger and of my resentment, over a year ago, and she left the state just after. I’m not sure it’s better, but it’s different and that gives me hope. I wrestle with the blame for my situation. Was I the bad daughter who had to leave for the good of the family? Or maybe it wasn’t my fault I turned out like this? Maybe it wasn’t up to me how I turned out.
Maybe it doesn’t matter either way. I’m alone, but it doesn’t hurt anymore. I’m alone but I always have been and at least this time I am free. I’m coming alive again and the future is an open road, a bright horizon, an unknown country. There is a place where I belong. There is someone I am supposed to be. I’m setting out to find her and when I do we can finally start making it all right. We can make something like a life, maybe?
“It’s both a blessing and a curse
To feel everything so deeply like you do girl, I know
There’s been more times that it hurts
But who said love was never easy, girl?”
I feel something new growing in me. I think it’s a kind of happiness. Maybe it’s pride? Maybe it’s potential.
I got my GED, a job, and, soon, my I’ll have my own place. I’m in love and working hard to be worthy of receiving it in return. That old pain is fading, I think. That deep sadness is lifting too, I feel. I’m starting to see the more clearly the trajectory my life has been on. I can see the cause and the effect and every time I travel back through my memories, back and back through time, to change something, to save myself from something, I see that there is nothing that could be and still come to this happiness I have found.
So much bad had to happen in order to find the good, it seems. Or maybe the universe doesn’t measure one against the other and it’s only the human mind that sees anything as simply as right and wrong. Perhaps everything happened just as it had to. No one could have changed a second of it. I was always going to be who I turned out to be, and nothing at all was earned or deserved. There is nothing to regret or be grateful for or be envious of. I am this person and I have this life and neither is so bad, really.
I can put one foot in front of the other knowing that.
“Oh, it’s easier said than done
But don’t you worry about those little things and bigger
What a fine revelation
When you realise there’s no voices in your head, girl”
I’m remembering more and more that I had once forgotten.
Being the oldest daughter is hard in any family is hard but in mine it meant being a parent before I even hit puberty. I learned early how to care very much, and under the weight of responsibility my heart grew rather than crushed. My siblings were my life, and I bore the work admirably. Mixing bottles, changing diapers, getting my sister from school, cooking dinner.
The stress and the loneliness, I understand now, perhaps got to be a little too much. I tell my mom I am beginning to hear faint voices. I hear my name being called faintly when there is no one around. Her reaction makes me believe I have done something wrong and when the doctors start asking questions, I tell them the voices have gone away. They haven’t but they have changed. Now I hear my own voice, and I hear more than just my name.
I’m barely hanging on some days and life grows easier for everyone but me. The old pain and deep sadness have never gone away. They been reborn into grown up versions called anxiety and depression and grown to powerful and unwieldy inside of me. The voices become intrusive thoughts and negative and critical commentary in my head. The voices are only me and they are always with me, repeating back to me everything I’d ever been told.
“Life’s a bitch and then you die
La, la, la, la, la, la”
With hard work, things were getting better. Then, one day, I suddenly realized that eventually I would die. My mortality had never occurred, let alone mattered, to me before, but I’m happier now. I have things to lose now and that realization begins to keep me up every night, shaking and short of breath.
I count all the years I statistically have left and wonder which ailment or accident, statistically, will be the cause. I’m looking at the cause and effect of my life again and wondering which parts were my responsibility and which ones weren’t. I’m collecting regrets and resentments and grasping for gratitude.
I roll over and wake my wife from peace, the one who has loved me since I left my mother so many years ago, and without asking she knows what I need. I lay on her chest and match my breath to hers. My heart beat follows suit. I speak to her there in the dark as if I am already dead. I need her to know I love (loved) her. I need her to know I have (had) a good life with her. That I am (was) happy and if I could do it all again, I would.
I don’t tell her my hope. I hope I do get to do it all again, even all the bad stuff, even the parts I still have nightmares about, even the stuff that left me with this hole in my heart. I hope, against everything I know and (tell myself I) believe, that I will get to do it all again. I smile and drift off to sleep with the image of and my life lived again and again stretching back from infinity and forward just as far. I imagine an infinite number of Lisa’s lying in the dark with this same fear and this hope and this heartbeat.
“When the world really gets you down
Don’t be scared, don’t be scared, no
All the little things you’re worried ’bout
Ain’t really there, really there, no”
The death anxiety lasts a couple of years and fades as fast as it came on. I have other fears now, some old and some new, some small, some huge.
I’ve built a predictable life of steady routine. I’ve had the same job for over 10 years. I come in for the same hours and on the same days, week after week. I work in the same location, with the same coworkers, the same kids, year after year after year. Any deviation from this steady, beat, beat, beat, of my life triggers a visceral and primitive response. Any change in schedule or expectation signals danger. Everything unknown is to be avoided.
I used to be able to take public transportation. I left my apartment and travelled by impulse without fear. I changed jobs like people change clothes. I walked around at night. I never felt fear. I never felt anything.
Now I can’t make a phone call, send an email, I can’t drive or go places on my own, or imagine my life any different than what it has become and I still can’t sleep. I worry about my mother’s health. I worry about my siblings, my nieces and nephews. I worry about my dad. If he is sad. I worry about my grandmother, if she is alone. I worry about my wife and reach out in the dark again to feel her breathing, to feel her heart, and reassure myself she is alive. I worry and I wish. I wish everything about me was different.
I tell myself my worries are stupid and when that doesn’t work I tell myself my worries are wasting my life. That doesn’t work either.
“Been talking to yourself at night
I’ve been thinking you should take that flight
Let it go if it don’t feel right, yeah, said
So won’t you come and put your phone down?
You know you gotta leave that thing alone
You know it’s real bad for you
Take a walk outside”
Nothing’s changed, and everything has changed. I’m still that same sad girl and that same scared adult, but I’m becoming something else entirely too. My life may be simple, but the peace and warmth is more than I imagined I would ever have. Now that I’ve had had time to bask in it to relax and to know safety and stability I finally feel like I can begin to ask a little more, expect a little more, work and earn a little more.
I’ve returned to writing, starting with the journal pages written anytime of day I need, just like when I was a teenager. I’ve returned to reading too, broad and ferocious. I’m seeing new perspectives and learning more about the mind. I’m exploring childhood development and the impact of poverty, stress, trauma, and disfunction on the childhood mind. I’m learning about free will and determinism. I’m learning about boundaries, coping skills, and acceptance.
Life’s been a real bitch and I have no doubt that will ever change but I have a feeling I will go on changing all the time only from now on I want a say in how it happens. From now on I want to think about why things are the way they are and why I am the way I am. I want to decide when to change and decide what to be. I want to do things because I want something more than I’m afraid of it. From now on, I am taking back the control I never had.
From now on I won’t worry about regrets or resentments. I won’t count the days that are left or the days I never really got to live. I’m going to get on with the art of dying rather spending my nights afraid of it and spending my days paralyzed by it. It’ll take time but I have a feeling that’s the whole point.
“‘Cause life’s a bitch and then you die
And then you die
And then you die.
And then you die”
This post was written in response to the WordPress Discover Prompt, Day 3: Song
Today stands in stark contrast to yesterday. Today was not a perfect day. It wasn’t really even a good day though it had its moments and picked up toward the end. It was a lonely day full of small stinging pricks and old pains resurfacing. A low rage smoldered and self-pity hang about my mind like dreary rain clouds.
Tonight I’ll fall asleep with a smile on my face and a feeling of content in my limbs but my heart will be hard and heavy. It remembers longer than the body or the mind you know.
These entries are inspired by Thord D. Hedengren