I stand next to this twin of mine. This twin that looks as much like me as a sewer does a stream. It is bent over under the burden of an invisible weight. I hold my cane behind my back and debate going it alone. It has the nose of Cyrano with a stout end. Mine is nothing special but normal all the same. Its ears droop and it drags along in a tired sort of way. I stand upright wearing my a silver wrist watch and finely laced black leather shoes. I wear a crisp peacoat tailored to my tall frame while it is draped in an ill-fitting sheet with a ghostly silhouette. There is nothing gentle or feminine about it, nothing bold or masculine. This is not my twin whose beige skin is broken along like the cracks of a concrete wall, broken and to the mercy of any passersby. This is not my twin that walks beside me, always chained to me where our feet meet the sidewalk. This is not my shadow.
I’m feeling better. This is the moment that always scares me because it is in such close proximity to when I have felt my worst and I can still taste that bitterness and feel how it makes my mouth water as if I’m going to vomit so violently I can feel my stomach spasm. I’m feeling better but I still remember vividly how it was and how it could be.
Depression takes such a strong hold of me when I’m in its throes that I get to a point where I can’t really remember the feelings I had outside of it. It is like somebody reached inside me and took out the best emotions and left only the most shallow, dark, or destructive. I don’t miss being happy in those times because I don’t really believe I was ever happy. I know I was, at some point, logically, the way you just know the sun has risen before and warmed the Earth when you step outside on a morning mid-winter and it’s cold, dark, and you can see your breath more immediately. You have to prepare yourself for the uncomfortable chill that comes from stepping out of a hot shower and even if you’re so cold you can’t physically bring the feeling to your skin, you know that at some point you rushed outside half-clothed, sprinting across the grass to leap in a cold, blue pool. While your mind has memory of it, your body has none, not even the memory of a feeling.
But exiting depression is the opposite, like stepping out of a dark movie theater directly into the mid-day sunlight. It’s almost blinding. You’re glad it’s sunny but the jolt is startling because part of you is still sitting in the dark and trying to decide if you want to leave the familiar comfort of a seat you’ve been in for several hours, only starting to stir and not eager to wake up. You begin to brim with energy at the idea that you have the rest of the Sunday afternoon to get things done, to be productive, and to be outside in your neighborhood and a part of the world but you still know at some point it will get dark again. It won’t always be like this and the night will blanket your world and the dark black of it will fill the spaces between your house and your neighbors’ and between you and anybody else. It makes you enjoy the sunlight more but you do so reservedly this time, unable to love it without abandon. As good as it feels, as much as its energy radiates your skin and your soul stretches satisfying after a long nap, at the back of your mind you’re already afraid of the dark.
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.
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.
You wouldn’t think the two would go together, would you? Well, in the wonderful world of depression, all things are possible. It’s like if you took Walt Disney’s most fantastic, imaginative, wonderful dreams, all ironically envisioned in the midst of the Great Depression, and got a little too relaxed, letting them blur together. Pinks and greys and blacks and blues and purples. Sticky like sugar but also like the moist, dirty feeling of waking up in a hot sweat where your nightmare follows you into your room and sits, waiting for you at the edge of your bed. A dream that you allowed yourself to stretch too long so that you ran out of joy and upon noticing the empty pockets, began filling them them with lethargy. You find the bubbles of curiosity you imagined as you walked through your dreams and they pop into puddles of doubt which stain the tips of your toes a dull, threatening grey and no matter how many times you wash them, the stains always remind you to feel just a little bit unclean, enough so that no shower leaves you entirely renewed.
Whatever constellation of fucked up it is, whatever concoction of ADHD/PTSD/depression/anxiety, I’ve got–I don’t wear it like a badge of honor. It’s a branding somebody burned into my neck long before I saw it coming. And when my screwed up sets my life on fire, the branding burns like it did the day it came in. The world tells me it is invisible. I tell myself it is invisible, that it is in my head. It doesn’t exist, right? It doesn’t exist. I’m lazy, I tell myself. Once upon a time a doctor gave me a diagnosis, a label, and I ran away with it because it was easier to face than the demands of normal life. I am playing up my situation. Everybody has bad things happen to them. Most people have had traumatic experiences. I’m the only one I know who lives like fatally wounded animal, perpetually unable to engage in life like a decent adult.
I feel as if every day of my life is another day in the court of public opinion, and a simultaneous court where my own opinion of myself is weighed. I have become a master of “well, but,” “yes, and” “I wanted to, but.” Nothing is ever simple. Nothing is ever cut and dry and it is exhausting, I’d imagine, for those around me. But here is the thing, it’s exhausting for me too. That’s why people have suicidal ideation. Because when your condition is unbearable for you, the pain is scathing when you’re a curse on somebody else.
And when everything that makes you a problem to yourself and others isn’t visible, it’s as likely to be there as it is to not be there. Anybody can fake a mental illness, I tell myself. I browbeat myself incessantly using the stereotypes and words and stigmas society has toward mental illness. I try to get myself to change by saying monstrously mean things to myself. It’s nothing. And I’ve no excuse. I have to get my shit together because everybody else does. I have to stop procrastinating. I need to be more self-disciplined. And I genuinely believe all of these things about myself. I don’t seek help or ask forgiveness because I don’t believe I deserve it in the least and it would be both ludicrous and shameful to try to explain my behavior. All of this is in my head and all of it is my fault and my choosing. My theatrics.
The thing that I can’t explain away though, is that today, when trying to unscramble words on an app I use (something to distract my inner relentless critic), I had all of the letters for “decide” in front of me and I just needed to draw a line between them in the correct order. There is no reason this shouldn’t be a shamefully simple task. I have a BA in English language and literature, an MA in children’s literature, and will soon have an MA in educational leadership. I had a ninth grade reading comprehension in the fifth grade. I won several spelling bees growing up. I have been writing “decide” since I was in the first grade when my spelling and reading were so advanced my teacher took me off her curriculum and created a separate one with separate assignments for me. I say these things not because I am proud of them; if anything, they’re my shame because all of this information suggests that I should be more than capable of the things with which I sometimes struggle senselessly. The things I convince myself are happening because of barriers I’ve manufactured in my mind. All of those qualifications would lead one to think I had no trouble connecting the letters in the word “decide.”
And it took me about six tries in the course of three minutes to figure out that my answer on the game kept getting rejected because I was misspelling “decide.” It took me another minute and a half I’d guess to figure out how to actually spell it.
I don’t know. I don’t know what to do or what help to ask for because it took me three degrees and over five minutes to figure out how to spell a word which has been in my vocabulary for twenty-two years. The only thing that seems an absolute given is that even when these phases go, they come back sooner than they did the last time. Whether it is in my head, whether mental illness is a lie I tell myself, or whether it’s real, I honestly can’t begin to decide because I couldn’t even fucking spell the word “decide” an hour ago. It doesn’t matter if it’s real or in my mind. At least I can take comfort in the idea that this bond is forever.