Suicidal thoughts, a faulty system, and societal shaming, oh my: why getting help is easier said than done.

I’m sort of proud of this post. It’s a little too close to home for me to be entirely proud but I’m settling for a little proud. I’ve re-posted it before but I’ve been caught up in my life and essentially just trying to hang on as the hot mess express barrels through it so I haven’t been writing. I want to get back to it and thought what better inspiration than a post I really enjoyed writing?

via Suicidal thoughts, a faulty system, and societal shaming, oh my: why getting help is easier said than done.

I really haven’t been doing well.

I really haven’t been doing well and I have no idea where or to whom to go or what to do to be anything other than the person I inevitably am. I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus. I know I said I would post once every day this month for my BLOGtober OUTtober efforts but, since I posted 2-4 times some days last week, I gave myself a bit of much needed space this weekend. I have a migraine at the moment, probably a residual effect of a really bad panic attack I had Friday night. It was embarrassing and I feel like such a weak and self-indulgent person.

I go to bed and have nightmares. The night before last, I had a very graphic nightmare where my ex (who, for the record, hasn’t done this) was upset that our friends were mad at him for leaving their apartment dirty with tons of veggies on the floor (I don’t know why). I was kneeling behind a wicker chair where our friend was sitting and my ex, Michael, was waving a gun around mad and saying if they really called the cops, he was going to shoot me or himself. He hadn’t decided yet but he knew one of us was had a one-way-ticket out of that house.

When the sirens whirred into the neighborhood and arrived outside, he glared at our friend for calling the cops and got this desperate look on his face. I asked him not to shoot me but I also begged him not to shoot himself. Hating myself for being frozen and hiding behind the chair when I should have been protecting our friends or stopping him from hurting himself. But I was afraid and time seemed frozen. It didn’t seem like it would actually happen.

Then he made a sudden decision and I remember screaming, knowing my scream wouldn’t reach him in time, as he pushed a glock under his chin, pulled the trigger, and an explosion of red shot throughout the room, some of it landing in my mouth, its salt making the bitter reality poisonous, as his head, ripped off from the force of the gun, rotated while sailing high up in the room and making a wide arch where it slowly tumbled through the air down to me, hitting me. And as slowly as this all happened, it was all within an instant too. It was as if, because I didn’t just deserve to experience the instantaneous consequences or the drawn out imagery, my mind and time itself split in two so I could simultaneously experience it so quickly I didn’t have time to react and so slowly I  could record every detail for every dream I would have after.

I have that nightmare in some form all the time. It has never been Michael before and, because I love and care for him, it was an agonizing, heart-wrenching, unfathomable nightmare. I woke up both grieving and knowing Michael wasn’t dead. I called him to make sure because it was so real, so many of my senses were engaged, a small part of me thought the lucidity of the memory couldn’t have been anything I imagined. Michael never did that. Somebody in my life did that, with a long knife, and it unfolded fairly similarly but he didn’t kill himself. A part of me that day, I think, is still frozen in that moment, numbed to anything that happened after, and is stuck reliving it during impulsive dreams and the random moments my heart rate accelerates to 185 beats per minute when I drop something and start to shake, my body unsure for a moment what is about to happen to me.

My body starts sprinting into that nightmare before my mind knows what it’s being dragged into. Sometimes I am trying to save myself. Sometimes the shooter. Sometimes an observer. The night I got this memory, I was just home sleeping so I could work the next morning on my spring break from college. Somebody else had been drinking and doing drunks. Another person engaged in a screaming match. Although I tried to stay away from a fight I had seen a hundred times before, I couldn’t listen to somebody get hurt so I stepped out to defuse the situation, finding myself trapped between fear, confusion, and this nightmare that won’t let go of me.

Suicidal thoughts, a faulty system, and societal shaming, oh my: why getting help is easier said than done.

If you’re reading this on your phone, I suggest turning it on its side and reading it that way because it looks better and is much more palatable.

I know I already posted the interview today but I saw this article and had to link to it because I have been seeing a lot of people echo this in regards to their personal experiences and I think we don’t discuss it enough as a society. It seems as if we always have enough energy and time to make simplistic statements about how suicide is 4.pnga “permanent solution to a temporary problem” and those struggling with suicidal ideation simply need to “get help” as if there is some infallible checklist and, if they just complete it, they won’t commit suicide.

I think about suicide, a lot, and I think the reason people are eager to write it off with a simple fix-all suggestion but don’t have the same attention and interest in taking an honest look at the state of mental health in our society, is the same thing I have realized in a dragged-out, exhaustive few years of trying to help myself and get help for suicidal ideation: suicide is such a complicated thing and trying to understand it requires going down the rabbit hole. There you find yourself caught in an overwhelming, chaotic Wonderland that unsews the fabric of your mind and resews it asymmetrically.

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While I do enjoy the concept of Wonderland, I can appreciate why people prefer the simple reasoning of “if a person feels suicidal, then he just has to do this and he won’t be suicidal anymore” to a world that turns all of that reasoning upside down and inside out to the point you can’t form any definitive opinions on it–because there are no set logical rules that govern suicidal ideation. You have to be really comfortable with ambiguity and willing to accept the dissatisfaction of not being able to write out a solution and file it away as a job well done–or you just have to experience suicidal thoughts and what it is like to try to do anything about them.

This article is important and I think you should read it so I won’t go further than my personal experience because I could ramble and turn this over in my mind a hundred times today, which I probably will. But what I will say is that my experience corroborates the questions and argument Sarah Schuster is making. All aspects of my life–in terms of getting an advanced education, being an athlete all through college, exercising, taking medication regularly–fit the description of things people say you can do to ward off mental illness. I did them and enjoyed it–and they didn’t work. They don’t magically ward off depression like some silver bullet because suicide is so much bigger than what my extracurriculars were in high school and college, what is on my resume now, or what I do on the weekends. We sell these easier narrative that mental illness is the fault of the individual–they aren’t self-disciplined enough, they are snowflakes, dramatic, all of things that give society a pass from seeing this really pervasive and severe thing that drastically affects people’s lives. But time and time again we see depression doesn’t discriminate and you can try to avoid it, and some people succeed, but you choose it no more than you’d choose to be born into a violent home. It’s just there and it’s all you’ve ever seen and it gets a bracingly strong grip on you before you get the chance to choose.

I have an extensive history of trauma. I started showing mental health symptoms in college when it just felt like my legs were cut out from under me. Suddenly the way I had metaphorically walked in my life had to be entirely different. The way I experienced the world and my vantage point was entirely different. And the problem was, like most people who experience mental illness, I didn’t have any background in that and had no idea how to fix myself. I kept trying to will myself to be able to do everything like I always had, to be this well-rounded and just very capable and whole person, all while being certain I had never actually been that person. So I would promise people things and take on responsibilities I believed I could manage–because I had been able to do it my entire life and because I so passionately wanted to. And I still haven’t found an answer to that.

I have a really, really strong passion for life and certain things. When I get glimpses of my actual self between episodes of mental illness, I burn with and emit heat, passion, and enthusiasm for the things that are important to me. But it doesn’t matter how much you love the water and how much experience you have boating or how much you want to embrace the blessing of wind and sail–if there is a substantial hole in your schooner, you’re not going to get very far. Depression is my hole. It is the hole in which I hide and this spiritual, mental, and emotional puncture from which all of the effort, energy, will, belief, and passion I want to channel towards things sometimes leaks and other times pours. And I have tried a lot of ways to fix that hole. And sometimes, if I am lucky, I can repair it just long enough to believe the sinking is behind me and to get a taste of what it feels like to sail on a gorgeous, windy day. But my mental illness is acid; give it time and it will erode or eat or find some way to destroy any repair.

So in spite of the fact that I was about to complete my second master’s degree and third degree in the eight years since I had graduated high school, one day when I was on my way to my graduate assistantship, I needed to abruptly find somewhere to pull over on a 3side street like you do when somebody is about to vomit in your car. I put my head against the steering wheel and felt as if somebody kicked me in the gut and was squeezing my heart so hard I thought I’d burst, ear drums and all. All along, the part of me that doesn’t fit the stereotype of depression was sitting on my shoulder telling me to calm down (because of course it would be so easy from her worldview). I tried to make reason outweigh the physical sensations telling me I was standing in a pit as all of the pillars I had tried to build in my life crashed deafeningly down into a heap of ruin.

I tried to call my ex and he was at work so he didn’t answer. So I called my mom who was with my cousin, five hours away in my hometown. They were having lunch and she answered the phone with a laugh in her voice and said, “hey baby!” which is what she calls me when she’s feeling good because I’m the second and youngest child. Because I feel so much pressure to carry out this facade that I don’t need anything and have it together in a family where it has been common for my brother and cousins to drop out of high school, I wasn’t and still do not tell my family how much I struggle because I don’t want to burden them or wallow in the privilege I have accrued since I went to college, making my problems seem laughable and weak in comparison to their own.

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This is the work of artist Camille Rose Garcia, the illustrator for a new edition of Alice in Wonderland published by HarperCollins.

Needless to say, she was not expecting that call. I put my head against the cracked steering wheel of my car and I sobbed and hyperventilated, not being able to determine what my next step should be so I could get back to work and be functional like everybody else. It felt as if there was some bacteria rapidly eating away at my brain. If you asked me to tell you where the epicenter of that bacteria is, I could without hesitation point to the part of my head where I swear I can physically feel it at times. Somehow–and I can’t remember how–I managed to call the campus psychiatrist I had been seeing for months and make an emergency appointment. Surprised to see me in that raw of a state, he told me I needed to skip my evening class, in spite of the fact that I had a group presentation, and go to the emergency room immediately. I agreed to go but said I didn’t want to abandon my group so first I was able to give them my materials for the presentation’s activity and what they needed to be able to do the presentation without me, all with a suffocating heap of regret, guilt, and shame.

Then I went to the hospital where I sat from 5pm to 4am and was seen by a doctor who, clearly, had to stop more immediate problems like actual bleeding, and emptily asked if I had a plan and all of your basic suicide checklist questions. Then a social worker who was equally professional and distant came in and talked to me about how I was doing, if I had calmed down, what was upsetting me and my plans for going home, getting a good night’s rest, accepting where I was and beginning to rebuild from there. By this time, ashamed and feeling as if I should, I gave them the lighter versions of where I was emotionally. I had tried to convey how seriously and painfully this situation was hitting me but when their concern did not seem to match the intensity of my belief that I was better off dead and just needed to actualize the inevitable, I resigned and toned it down to say what I knew needed to be said so they could feel as if they had done everything needed to avoid liability. Two women from this volunteer crisis organization came in and talked to me. They were much more genuine and made me sign a plan that they would call me at the same time every day and if I didn’t answer, they or the social worker would call the police and send them to my apartment for a wellness check. It felt as if I had broken curfew and was grounded and couldn’t be trusted; which, given the potential danger they thought I could pose on myself, was fair. But it also made me feel as worthless and an inappropriate burden as I thought. They gave me materials to think about a daily outpatient 8-5 therapy program to properly address my illness and said we could talk about it the following day.

Nobody ever called me. Ever. Thankfully I lived with my ex who was finishing up his training to be a clinical and mental health counselor. He called the hospital and the numbers we had been provided and they were all dead ends. I just slept for a few days until I could trust my hands to not give in to these strong desires and then, like a coward, I slunk back into my work and my life. I’ve been in the neighborhood of that severe a moment point a few times since. I’ve called and chatted and communicated with the emergency services numbers. A few times they talked to me long enough that I was so distracted by the conversation I relaxed and could sleep off the heightened anxiety. There have been other times I waited so long I gave up and did something like emotionally drag myself out of the house for a walk to avoid what I thought was inevitable if I was alone. Other times I walked away from reaching out feeling just as misunderstood and dismissed as I felt that day at the hospital. (It varies and although it should certainly receive more support in order to do its job, it is a wonderful resource and I encourage you to use it if you need to do so; I might not be here without it. I don’t know).

What I will say is a card or a handout or a phone number, as much as we want to feel comforted by the delusion that is all we need to fix suicidal people, is only part of the answer for most of us and it is so much more daunting than you could know if you haven’t been there (and I mean there as in more than the what-if questions we ask about our lives and worth and suicide at some point in our lives). It’s hard and the hardest part about it, is I feel as if I live in a world that thinks I am weird and broken and of less value 2because I am this way and as if I am stuck on my pain and not willing or able to move past it like others. In my opinion, that is why people kill themselves. It is because they are trapped on the top floor of a burning building but people walk by on their lunch hour without feeling the oppressive heat from it because, in their world which is supposed to be the grounded world, there is no fire. And when you are trapped in a burning building that is rapidly chasing you to the top and there are no fire crews or emergency services coming to get out, and everybody thinks a pail of water will do for your imaginary spark, you sit there and try to decide between the agony of burning alive or taking your chances and escaping it, even if that means you probably won’t survive.

I clearly had more on my mind than I thought today and it just kind of poured out of me as I tried to write what I anticipated would be a two paragraph plug for this article and its finer points. If you feel this way and to you the world is burning, know that I believe you and I acknowledge how scary and blisteringly, scorchingly painful this moment is for you. And I hope you find a way to delay your fire long enough to put it out. If you need to spit out your own suicidal thoughts manifesto like I just did, I’ll read it if you need to say it to somebody.

We Tell Suicidal People to ‘Get Help.’ But What Happens When They Do?

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A Mighty feature by Sarah Schuster.

Again, if you need help: if you just type suicide in google, the first hit should be your country’s suicide hotline (which is of course incredibly sensible). If you’re in the United States, you can start here. 

Zero and three thousand pounds of gravity.

This is the third in a multi-post piece. I recommend you read it first here. 

It was disorienting for me and I had more of a reaction than I understood, was less able to be impartial than I wanted to, and I just became somebody I don’t recognize. I don’t say that to excuse myself. This was no invasion of the body snatchers. It was definitely me and I am culpable for my behavior and conscious it speaks to my character, but I’m grasping at straws when I try to figure out what she (aka I) was doing. Being around her reminds me of that.

She was also somebody I let hug me, one of the few people because letting people put their hands around you and be that close to the most vulnerable parts of your body is counter-intuitive for me. I balk when anybody hugs me because it takes a moment for the rational piece of me to catch up with the instinctive part that is frozen between some subtle form of fight-or-flight where I back up and wall the person off with my hands.

I let her hug me because our friendship was hard-earned. Neither of us clicked initially and it was one of those relationships I had to develop over time by listening and sharing (something which feels like streaking to me) and identifying shared experiences. And one of those shared experiences is anxiety, hers and mine. She is probably one of the only people who I have ever felt really got how I felt and what it was like for me. I never told her or indicated that in any way, but she was. And when they split up, it tapped into years of family trauma and broken marriages, people moving out in the middle of the night, ripping pictures off of walls on Christmas Eve and going nose-to-nose in spittingly blind, tumultuous rage. Their separation was nothing like that and I knew that, but I got extremely emotional one night when they had a moment and it just threw off my equilibrium. It was too much to process and overwhelmed me. It activated too many sensors, opened too many dusty boxes, and rubbed too many forgotten scars–for no reason other than it had the end of a relationship in common. I have no idea why all of my previous experiences bled into that one, or what I did to let them.

I tried to gain my footing, the way you try to keep your balance walking across those fun house bridges with the many spinning black cylinders at your feet. And that footing was to be the worst version of myself and for that I will never be able to do anything but know it happened and, to myself, own my own behaviors. Anyways, her anxiety means something to me and, knowing how salient feelings of anxiety have been to me for the past two years, I was uncomfortable with the idea of making her uncomfortable, assuming I might. I had thought about apologizing. I started I don’t know how many letters. But I always thought maybe what was intended to be a sincere gesture was just me looking for a reason to absolve myself of my own actions. So I threw the papers away each time. Maybe it is so long over and, like my feelings then, I am on an entirely different wavelength and inappropriately restless with something which everybody else is past. And I can appreciate that. I am anything if emotionally and inter-personally normal. It would be selfish to apologize if it meant bringing up old wounds, right? I never decided and being at the wedding, I was not assuming I would be a focal point of tension but the idea that I could create tension for her, and through her, my friend getting married, I really did not want to go. That anxiety and tension in me built parallel to a hell of a lot of other anxieties in my life until I RSVP’d. I tried to focus on the positive and be excited. I am very happy for my friend. She deserved a wonderful day and I wanted her to know that was important to me. We never actually outright talked about her bridal party and part of me wonders if over the game of telephone, things got misconstrued and it was never a point of anxiety for her. When we went kayaking on our own and first “treat yo’self” day, she told me if we were as close when she got engaged as we were then, she would probably ask me to be in her bridal party. Honestly, I didn’t think too far into it, probably because I was kayaking. She got engaged two months later but in the midst of that, this really important relationship in our social group ripped wide open and changed everything. To be honest, I forgot she ever said that until it popped in my mind recently.

I was anxious about making people uncomfortable, I was uncomfortable (I’m already awkward in ALL social situations), and I was ashamed and insecure that, if all of these worries about me overreacting were true, that I was going to be at this event where people saw me as partially a monster, and maybe I am. I don’t want to be. I try not to be but I’m human and I’ve done some shitty things I wish I could take back.

The morning of the wedding, I got up and showered several hours before I needed to. I was excited and looking forward to the event. I planned to be supportive and I did not plan to walk up to my former friend because I didn’t want to bother her but if I came up to me, I planned to tell her she looked beautiful and I was glad she seemed happy. And all of that remained but sometimes even unrelated anxieties take over and I just lock down emotionally. I went from being happy to hearing my significant other ran into them in the hallway of our hotel and, suddenly all of it being real and that I was going to be in this room with all of this tension I felt hit me. I have gone out of my way to hide what has been going on but in August 2016, I was having such strong PTSD and depressive symptoms I stopped being able to function one day on the way to work. I pulled over on a street I didn’t know, put my head against the steering wheel, and froze mentally. I was no longer in command of my extremities and suddenly managing to sit back up and move my arms to 5 and 9 on the steering wheel felt like rocket science. Long story short, I ended up going to see my psychiatrist instead of work and he was concerned enough he had my then boyfriend take me to the emergency room. I had no means of hurting myself and hadn’t been planning on it but it came over me as suddenly and hard as a realization that I’m in a tall building and everything below me has long caught fire so the only thing I can do to keep from burning alive is jump. And I wanted to jump so badly it hurt, like when you long desperately for something you once had but it slipped through your fingers. I haven’t been in that bad of a position since but I have been really playing with the duller and razor sharp edges of suicidal ideation and intent since and triggers or stressors, like that morning, just made that itch stronger.

This post is a work in progress  but I wanted to make it public since I am linking the entries. When I finish it, there will be more to this post and another link to the next.

Zero and two thousand pounds of gravity.

This is the second part of a previous post. I recommend you read it first here.

The physical sensations are pretty much the same too. I was at the wedding of a friend a few days ago and I went into it with that same uneasiness. I have really been struggling with my self-esteem and keeping my PTSD box closed when I am in public spaces. It has been the two hardest years of my life (interestingly enough in spite of the fact it bears none of the constant, heavy trauma and violence I experienced as a child and teenager) and I had been waffling about going for a while. On the surface, it was a defining moment for somebody who means a lot to me. On the other, a former friend and the ex of my current significant other was going to be in the bridal party, bringing significant tension given our estranged relationship since they ended their relationship several years ago because, his friend at the time, I was pretty one-sided and obnoxious. That alone made me reluctant because while I genuinely don’t care about being in the bridal party, I mean given how scarred I am from past experiences, being at a family function, in front of a lot of people, with a lot of noise and sound… I can’t explain it but my hands are shaking thinking about it. Growing up, those types of events were where people had a few too many drinks and once the euphoric effects of alcohol wore off, shit hit the fan. And I was usually the fan. So needless to say, I would have found a way to make it work had she asked me but I neither expected to be asked nor had a problem with not being asked while my former friend was asked. She lives really far away from everybody now and it gave her room to reconnect. Besides, the wedding was about my friend and her now husband’s happiness.

In spite of where my priorities lie relative to this wedding, I was reluctant to attend not because I was bitter or feeling petty, both of which I have previously been in this social group and very much regret. I was really hurt because, as I understood it, my friend felt like she couldn’t tell me because, word through the grapevine, she was worried I would be mean or angry. I’ve never been mean or angry to her, not that I could possibly think of. In fact, the only person I have had an intense reaction to was the other friend when her relationship ended and I resented some of the things that brought my friend so much hurt. I am intense. I am passionate and I am a hot head. And I know it. But I am a hot head only when I really, really care about an issue. In this case, I only really, really cared about the friend getting married. It hurt me that she felt that way; it hurt me that she was in the position to feel that way or to even have to think about it; it hurt me that we weren’t good enough friends for her to say it to me and I had to hear it by word-of-mouth from a less than unbiased source. It just hurt that I felt so disconnected and left in the dark. When I heard it had been hinted at some time, I don’t know, last year, I thought maybe it meant our friendship was over and I deserved it (I can be pretty dramatic). I wasn’t even sure I’d be invited to the wedding and was prepared to be supportive of that, let alone be in the bridal party. Nothing had been said but from the level of distance I perceived, it felt like that was the case.

So like ogres and onions, I have layers and so do my feelings, many layers, which is why I should really only communicate significant feelings and thoughts in writing because, between my anxiety, insecurity, humility, and awkwardness, I almost always overrepresent them and create more problems than my genuine thoughts would have. I was anxious about the white elephant in the room, eh since brides dress in white let’s change it this time to pink, glass elephant in the room. A disgustingly pepto bismol pink that I have only ever seen outside of the medicine when my mom painted it on my walls when I was nine. I am still a little angry with my former friend but also sad because she was/is somebody I genuinely cared/care about and somebody I miss, all dysfunction and awkwardness aside. Being around her and the whole group with how different things are definitely is hard for me because it makes me confront sad feelings I bury under anger the majority of the time. (For better or for worse, I’m like a blow fish; me throwing out tons of sharp spikes can be misinterpreted as a threat but I’m really trying to protect myself because I’ve been hurt in my life, a lot, and by people who were supposed to be caregivers so I keep almost everybody at a distance even if I don’t want to). It makes me sad, angry, and confused about how I treated her. At the time everything was moving so incredibly fast and I had things going on nobody else knew about and it just swirled. Before I knew it, I had committed so strongly to this narrative of her I had in my head, to my anger, and my self-righteousness that it seemed there was no going back.

This post is broken up into multiple to keep them shorter. You can read the next part here.

Zero and a thousand pounds of gravity.

Have you ever been on one of those zero gravity rides at the fair? They’re usually open circles you step into and everybody faces the center while the forces of it spinning hold them to the walls. When I was really young, I remember riding that with my aunt, who loves heavy metal and they would play heavy metal songs, including what remains to this day to be one of my favorite songs (in spite of the fact that heavy metal isn’t my preferred genre): Enter Sandman by Metallica.

I remember that it was enclosed back then and looked like a space ship. Every year, I was always terrified but it was my second favorite ride. I would stand in the line, feeling the forces of the overwhelmingly loud base beating against my throat and pushing against my chest. It felt like somebody took a subwoofer, slipped it into my head through my ear, turned it all the way up and hit play. Although I would stand there waiting for extended periods, the loud, in-your-face noise continued to feel sudden and abrupt. I would try to mask my fear so my cousins and brother didn’t tease me, so that I didn’t handle it worse than my next youngest cousin while debating whether or not I could physically force myself to step on the ride. When the operator would open the gate for us to enter, I’d feel the base pressure lodge in my throat and my heart would jump to meet it. It felt like an inevitable sentence I accepted as I stepped through the door, all the while knowing I had ridden it many times before and should be fine. That’s what makes it fun and that’s what also makes it scary. Adrenaline can be a drug or it can be a lifeline but the scary thing is in the moment, we can’t always separate our fear and perceptions from actual dangers.

That’s what PSTD feels like for me, minus the fun part. I feel eight or nine years old again, shifting my weight from foot to foot and trying not to shutter or wince from the loud noise that overpowers me and obscures my other senses, senses I have relied upon my whole life to keep me safe. I carry that ride in me everywhere and the main difference is that, unlike knowing the fair comes in October each year, it makes itself known on its own schedule, usually when I am already uneasy, haven’t eaten or slept much, or it’s simply a day that ends in d-a-y. It’s what has me on the fence about attending events or spending time with people, just like I stood in the line playing chicken with myself, waiting to see if my thrill-seeking side would run over my fearful side to get into the space ship or if the fearful kid in me will give in to instinct.

Because this post was longer than anticipated, you can find the next part here.

 

 

This awesome image of the zero gravity ride is from psychedelicfivecats on Flickr. You can find the account here.

A Bull in a China Shop. A short vignette.

Mother never liked Daddy and I never understood why she didn’t. Every night after he worked outside all day, Daddy’d stretch out on the lazy boy, dirty and tired, smelling like a mix between oil and stale beer. He’d try to hug her first but she’d squirm out of it, saying to shower, that it made her sick. She went to college. He didn’t. But he was the one paying the bills and she was the one washing our socks. I felt sorry for him.

She hated his calloused hands. I loved them. They felt like sandpaper. I’d crawl into his lap at night and trace my fingers along his, twigs on tree stumps. It was quiet and calm, like the naps Mother made me take after school when she wouldn’t let me outside to “roll in the mud like some pig.” But Daddy wasn’t like that. He didn’t pay me much mind and just let me sit there. Every once in a while he’d ruffle the curls on my head, like he sometimes did with our mutt Burt’s ears. I liked Burt. Mom said he smelled but he wagged his tail a lot and sometimes when he was close enough it would sweep picture frames off the coffee table, sending them clattering to the floor. Mom complained that Burt was a “bull in a China shop,” just like me. Daddy and I would laugh on rainy days when Burt would dart in between Mother’s legs and leave Burt-sized paw prints all over the floor. She’d chase after him like an angry babysitter or the cat from Tom and Jerry.

Sometimes Burt and I used to go hunting for an invisible squirrel. He was invisible because that made him harder to catch so I got to be outside longer-and because I was too afraid to have to kill something. You can’t kill a squirrel you can’t see. Once Daddy brought home a deer–Daddy brought home lots of deer actually and I would usually hide somewhere and try to pretend it was just another stuffed animal and the last look of fear on its face was just a trick. Daddy’d be proud of his catch and would want us to have dinner of deer steak and noodles and sit together as a family. Last time though Mommy said it was out of season and left the room. I always thought Daddy was much braver than both of us.

I stopped hunting after that though and Daddy did too because he went away for work for a few weeks. That was the same week Mom broke her wrist, fell down the steps Dad said, and I had to be extra good and help her carry things into the house. I also couldn’t be knocking all my toys to the floor and forget about them. I did a good job, at first, until once when Mom called me away from an epic game of checkers I was playing against myself. I groaned and asked why she couldn’t have picked up her feet going down the stairs like she tells me to, then she wouldn’t have broken her wrist. Mom said she did it carrying groceries–I asked if there was Rocky Road ice cream in the bag and did we have any more. She itched a spot in the corner of her eye and went into the other room, breathing strangely like a wounded monster after it’s been caught. She had never really tolerated my questioning but Daddy always had on account of I played in the woods and not in jumpers and pig-tails like a “sissy.”

One day though, at the end of summer, I went to the elementary school instead of my old church one. We had recess there instead of naptime because that’s first-graders are much too old for naps. There were girls everywhere in pink jumpers and purple ones and blue ones. The first day I went over to the soccer field to play touch football. I shoved one boy down and he got a rock in his knee. I spit on the ground next to him–just like Daddy taught me- and told him to get up, hooking my thumbs in my belt loops and puffing my chest out. The teacher saw and called my mom on me. Mother brought me home jumpers and a brand new brush. There was a gleam in her eyes and she smiled a broad, pretty smile. I liked her until she threw out my muddy hunting boots and my jeans with the pockets ripped out. That night I told Daddy on her. Later when it was dark and I was in my bed I heard him call her a “snotty bitch” and made her go outside in the trash and dig them out. I didn’t know what a bitch was but I hoped he was going to give her a timeout. He loved me.

The next morning Mom sat on her bony knees and raked the turquoise brush through my ratty hair–I knew it was turquoise because that was the crayon in the teacher’s box that I had accidentally broken the day before. She tried to kiss my cheek. I leaned away and wiped it off just in case, glaring at her in the mirror. She pulled a curl behind my ear, looking at it and sighed like she had just lost at Red Rover.

“Be good at school today, please.”

“I’m always good.”

“I know. But just maybe try to play a new game today, just to see.”

I didn’t answer her and I didn’t do it. But I wore the jumper and didn’t try to tear the buttons off.

The next day on my way over to the kickball game this girl named Lane stopped me. She told me she needed somebody else for Four Square. She wore a green jumper with cream-colored shoes. A black barrette held back a chocolate curl. I decided I liked her. I played with her that day and the one after that. She was nice to everyone and never spat.

We were best friends by the time we got through the times tables in class and one Friday after school Lane road the bus home with me. We stepped off the asphalt and into the dusty, gravel road that ran like a snake through the neighborhood. I got the urge to spit, and then, embarrassed by Lane’s reaction, wiped it out with my shoe. She just shook her head and giggled, walking with skinny arms that matched her skinny legs. Mine were scraped and had mosquito bites, my arms bobbed at my sides.

We walked side by side and I tried to be graceful like her. Once we rounded the corner my dad’s red truck was there, one of the headlights out from where he swerved to hit a deer. I tried to shrug it off like it was no big thing, like he would, but I couldn’t wait to tell him how I had climbed to the big Oak tree on the playground to the highest branch I could–I would have gotten higher if Miss Crabtree hadn’t raised her pointy nose and snapped her fingers at me. At least he would appreciate it.

I bounded up the steps onto the wooden porch, stomping in a way that would have shamed thunder as I tried to dance across, tripping halfway. Swinging open the screen door, I welcomed at least three moths into our home. Daddy came towering through the living room, looking like he had just eaten cabbage. Continue reading A Bull in a China Shop. A short vignette.

A Waking Dream.

I can see his heartbeat through the hole in his face.

Please don’t be real, please please. Please don’t be standing there. I close my eyes so tight I think they are about to explode in their sockets. I cannot wrench my fingers from my hairline to cover them. Just please don’t be there. Please go away. My heart bleeds with a terrible anxiety that burns its way to every corner of my body.

External silence butts against internal screams. I listen to it and it sinks into me. I breathe and open my eyes, forcing their gaze to the corner of the room.

He is still standing there, looking at nothing, holding nothing. His cargoes are dirty, torn at the knees. His shirt untucked and a button hanging from its string. Yet, his chest does not move. It does not heave, it does not rise. His fingers do not twitch. There is a red dot on his shirt, then another, then another, as if red rain is falling from the ceiling. His adam’s apple is paralyzed, his pouty lips pressed impassionately together, his pupils stones with blue water running over them. The only turmoil, the only interruptance of his compusure is his cheek.  A wound. A bullet hole. The bullet is nowhere to be seen, lodged in some part of his head. But the wound. It’s just red, strings of blood running down his cheek and dripping off his chin, pitter pattering against his forest green shoulder. More and more blood comes, like a steady beat, pulsating. Bum, bum. Bum, bum. Bum, bum. Blood, blood. Blood, blood. Red, blood. Swelling in and out, in and out.

My concentration sinks into the sight. I can smell the salt in the wound, the sulfur shot from the gun. I zero in and can’t turn my head. The wound is not clean. It’s jagged, skin hangs down over part of the wound, specks of white bone break up the beating pool.

I can’t stand to not look at him but I can’t stand to look at him. The smell overwhelms me and I start to get nauseated. My stomach contracts over and over again until I am ready to heave but I remain frozen and so does he. He is the worst living nightmare I can consciously imagine and all he does is stand.

 

 

This is a throwback of a journal entry I wrote seven years ago of a nightmare or mental trigger I had because of PTSD at the time. When I get especially stressed out, this is something I see fairly vividly in my dreams.

Credit for the photograph goes to Alexander Krivitskiy on Pexels.com.