Cease to Exist, Part II: Aftermath

It takes me a long time to forgive, longer to let go. It’s harder when the object of my forgiveness doesn’t apologize, and harder still when the object disappears, leaving me to do the work of relationship on my own. Look at me, I want to say. Put your hand here where it hurts. I don’t want to punish; I just want to be seen.

I was spending Valentine’s Day at the dollar movie with my girlfriends because that sweet boy who’d put a journal in my hands all those years ago got engaged to someone else. Though we’d broken up when I was nineteen, he’d written to me during those two years after college when I was a Jesuit Volunteer in Belize City. His letter kicked off a sweet and hopeful correspondence between us. We made plans for him to visit, talked of our hearts coming full circle. And then there was silence. No letters, no calls, except that one from my mom telling me he’d met someone else. Though we had promised each other nothing, in my mind, the story ended with us together.

I learned a lot in Belize, how to bake bread, how to play guitar (well, sort of), how to pray, how to coordinate a youth group and a parish fair, how to teach twelve-year-old girls to play volleyball, how to write every day, no matter what, how to enter and re-enter a long and deep healing process that I didn’t even know I needed. Belize cast light on my shadows, and some of them followed me home.


IMG_3606Those days and nights after the St. Valentine’s accident were filled with fear, a sense of dread and doom. On our first trip to the credit union, before my mom and I spoke with the “cease to exist” guy, we’d met with an in-house financial advisor who’d said we weren’t eligible for credit union membership. No membership equaled no loan, which equaled no car to replace the one totaled on the night for lovers. As we drove back to the dealer to explain our plight, clouds settled over me, darkening the crisp blue of Albuquerque’s winter sky. My mom might have said, “It’s okay. We’ll figure it out,” or perhaps commiserated with a “yes, that woman was rude.” But I had already left her for the land of Nothing Ever Works Out For Me. We find a great car in my price range, but I can’t get it. And I wouldn’t need a car if my old one (read: my parents’ car) hadn’t been totaled. And that car would be fine if I just had a boyfriend to take me out on Valentine’s Day.

IMG_2404There have been blessedly few periods in my life when I have felt like Charlie Brown, the Wicked Witch of the West, and my overgrown five-year-old self all rolled into one, alone, threatened, afraid, certain the moment I step outside, a house will land on me. But when those periods hit, they feel eternal. These periods have all been preceded by a Major Life Event (emphasis mine)—a breakup, an accident, a move, a loss, sometimes all at once. Just as in the midst of a migraine, you can’t remember a time when your head didn’t feel like it was being stabbed from within by an icepick, when depression hits, you can’t remember your joy. And if there ever was joy, it was fleeting, the bright spot in an otherwise overcast life. In a depression, I might call a friend, go for a run, or take a nap. Sometimes I’d bake just to have a sense of accomplishment. Look at me, I made four dozen Hershey Kiss cookies. Maybe I am capable. Maybe I’m not a loser. Maybe I won’t have to live in my parents’ garage. Whatever the lifeline, its lift was temporary. Soon enough, I’d have to hang up the phone, jog home, wake up, or find something to do with all those damn cookies (besides eating them, which just leads to an even deeper depression).

Sometimes I would turn to my journal with a pen to bleed out some of the sickness. I tried never to read over what I’d written in the past for fear I’d find the same ailment that plagued me in the present, or worse, that those entries from Joy would feel like dispatches from a far-away land that I would never visit again.

Each time depression hits, I feel singled out, a twisted kind of chosen one whose lot in life is to feel more deeply than others, to carry an emotional and spiritual weight that normal people can’t bear. I wonder, why me? What did I do to deserve this? (And then I remember the words of a writing teacher who spoke about this indignation in a lecture on authenticity in memoir. She asked, “Who are you to be spared?”)

Relating to depression in this way feels a lot like cursing the wind. I don’t have to like the grit in my contact lenses or the toppled trash bin; but questioning the wind’s presence doesn’t relieve my eyes or improve the condition of my yard. Telling the wind to f@#* off doesn’t impact its force or change its direction. It only inhibits my movement.

So next time—if there is one—depression enters my room, instead of pretending I don’t see it or telling it to go, I might step closer to it, observe it, relate. Look at me, it will say. Put your hand here where it hurts. It doesn’t want to punish. It just wants to be seen.




How to Be, Part IVa: Reflection

Continued from June 26, 2014 post, How to Be, Part III: The Ingredients

photo 2I was eighteen years old, a few weeks out of high school, when I wrote my first journal entries from a spare bedroom in my high school sweetheart’s house. He was a charming, boyishly handsome young man from a village near the Four Corners, who’d come into my life at the national student council convention in Prairie View, Illinois the summer before my senior year. Ours had been a long-distance relationship, maintained by late-night phone calls, letters, and the faith and naiveté of those whose hearts have never been broken. I was a good daughter, and so, as a graduation/going off to college/you’ve suffered enough being separated from each other gift, my parents allowed me to visit him. My mom and I drove to Albuquerque, where I dropped her off at my aunt’s house in the South Valley. I continued solo through Bernalillo, past the red bluffs of Jemez, and the pumping jacks outside Farmington. We spent a day with his friends at Navajo Lake, played board games with his middle schools nieces and nephews, talked and talked about our future—our imminent cross country separation and our dreamy post-college life, complete with international travel and children we’d already named. We road-tripped to Durango, where we took pictures next to a big stuffed bear outside Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and wandered a bookstore hand in hand. It was there that he pulled a burgundy and gold journal off the shelf and offered it to me, as he might have offered a bouquet of roses or his hand.

“You need to buy this,” he said.

So I did. In my journal I asked God to keep us together once I left for Harvard, to make me more patient. Love made me vulnerable. It made me honest. I confessed what a jerk I was being to my parents and little brother, and maybe if I’d spent more time writing instead of worrying that summer, I would have unearthed my conflicting excitement and dread over leaving my family in that small New Mexico town and going to Harvard, my deep knowing that I wasn’t prepared, my fear that I would fail and that the tiny door through which I’d been allowed to slip would be forever closed to other young, brown, working class girls.

September 6, 1990, Somewhere bet/ EP & DFW

Here it is—the day. After the long summer, it hardly seems real. I’m going to Boston….

I wanted to write something…poignant, so that 20 years from now, I could pick this book up and say to myself, “Boy, that was touching.” Now the best I can hope for is, “I was a total basket-case that day.”

Friday, September 28, 1990, 2:19 AM

This inferiority thing is starting to be a real problem for me. I don’t feel special here.

There were other entries. I miss him. I don’t fit in. I wish I could call home. How will I ever finish this essay in time? But as the academic year progressed, the gap between journal entries widened, and I found myself approaching each stint at the journal as though I were making up for lost time. I haven’t been here in weeks so I better make it good. And this is what I ended up with:

January 17, 1991

My country is at war!

Saddam Hussein is a madman!

photo 1

I didn’t write about how much I wanted to go home, how snobby I found my roommate’s friend and frequent visitor. He had three names and a boarding school upbringing. He mocked my accent—an accent I didn’t know I had—and the white brick house and dirt yard I lovingly displayed in a framed photo on my desk. I didn’t write about how I just wanted him to like me, not in a girlfriend kind of way, but in a see the goodness in me kind of way. I didn’t write about my other roommate’s mood swings. I didn’t write about my need for touch, how much I missed waking to the sound of my parents’ voices at the kitchen table, a kiss on my cheek, a hug as I left the house for school. At home somebody always knew where I was. I expected the same feeling of family, so one Saturday as I headed out the door, my backpack in tow, I told the moody roommate, “I’m going over to the language lab. I should be back in an hour.” Without looking up from her book, she replied, “I’ll alert the media.” I didn’t write about the friend from Deming who had transferred to U Mass Boston because he wanted more than anything to be on the East Coast. He’d grown up on a farm south of town. His first language was Spanish. I remember his mother in a pink housedress and apron. She and I couldn’t talk to each other, but she was always so kind to me, always so happy to see me. The day I got my ACT scores, H. explained to her that my 27 was good, and she held me to her and squeezed my nose as though I were one of her five children. In Boston, H. would change his name to Alexi and dye his hair blonde.

At Harvard, I introduced myself as Karen, my first name (passed over when my Grandma China couldn’t pronounce it and said to my mom, “Pues, dile Michelle”). I didn’t write about how I wanted to be somebody else, somebody smarter, somebody wealthier, somebody who belonged.

To Be Continued Tuesday, August 5, How to Be, Part IVb: Más Reflection

Published in: on July 29, 2014 at 11:59 am  Comments (4)  
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