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.

 

 

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Cease to Exist, Part I: Impact

I am remembering a trip to the credit union with my mom. She was helping me buy a car, and the suit and tie man behind the desk was explaining the ins and outs of the loan, the particulars of early payments, missed payments, and what would happen to the car should I “cease to exist.”

Weeks earlier I had been rear-ended by a Dodge Ram Charger in a 4-car pileup and totaled my parents’ Ford Taurus. The accident happened on Valentine’s Day, and my dates were my roommate Beth and a woman I’d met in group therapy. We were on our way to the dollar theatre to see The Empire Strikes Back when the Toyota Camry in front of me slammed on the brakes. I screamed, certain that I was about to plow my parents’ car into the rear bumper, and then breathed a sigh of relief when I realized we had stopped short. In an instant, a bad thing had become a good thing, and I had made that happen. Beth, in profile, her face illuminated by the Kentucky Fried Chicken sign across the street, opened her mouth to speak. She might have turned to me, the light glinting off her glasses.

The worst hits come out of nowhere. You go to the movies on a Friday night. You slam on the brakes. You exhale. Your friend opens her mouth to speak. But you don’t hear her. Instead light in the rearview catches your eye. The light makes you scream. Or maybe you were already screaming, and that’s why your friend opens her mouth to speak, to ask why.

There is the before: holding tight to the steering wheel, as though it could protect you, bracing for impact, headlight filling the rearview, not looking back, knowing there’s nothing you can do.

And there is the after: A man’s face in my window. “Oh my God, are you okay?” Stepping out of my car, the door still opens and closes. Radiator fluid pools on the road. Saying, “No, it’s okay, I don’t need an ambulance,” even though I probably do, even though I know that saying no is a misstep. An ambulance is a big deal. An ambulance is expensive. But there’s no blood, no broken bones. It could have crushed me. I could be dead. But I’m not crushed or dead. So I must be okay.

I don’t remember the middle: the impact, the sounds, the smells, the feeling in my body. The body-mind is wise in this way; it protects us from pain until we are strong enough to feel it.

Published in: on September 30, 2014 at 2:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Disappearing Act

ImageAy, the blog.

I disappeared those last few months of 2013.

I do that sometimes, get buried under tasks and meetings. I don’t make the time to sit quietly and reflect. But it wasn’t just tasks and meetings; I got buried under fear and disappointment, lost in that tape that too often plays in my head: Am I doing enough? Am I good enough? When will I feel like I am enough?

Even the voice rushing to my defense wields a bludgeon. Of course you’re good enough? What’s wrong with you? Why do you always do this? Why aren’t you ever satisfied?

Sigh.

2013 was rough. Family stuff, relationship stuff, personal stuff, writing stuff, transitions, friends in crisis.

It wasn’t all heaviness. There was rain. Here, rain is good. There was light. There was the reunion with the Desnudas, hours writing in a little house in south Texas. The Belize women met up in Seattle and took a ferry to San Juan Island for a long weekend of drinking tea (well, okay, and wine), visiting lavender and alpaca farms, watching a pod of orcas, and long talks into the night. A group of mujeres decided to turn our stories into a stage production, so I started writing a play. We got a puppy. I wrote new poems and read at Sunday Chatter. P. jumped more than a grade level in reading. K. lit up the stage dancing at his school’s annual cultural celebration. I took swimming lessons. Henry and I celebrated our second anniversary with hot springs and massages (and Café Bella Luca and the Passion Pie Café) in Truth or Consequences. I started (and kept) lifting weights. Our little family walked to the Río Grande the weekend after unexpected rains swelled our río to levels not seen since the early 70s. We saw viejitos, backpackers, little boys with buzz cuts and Raiders jerseys, families, a woman doing yoga on the observation deck.

Sometime in the darkness of early morning in early winter, I woke up before the rest of the house and rearranged the words of my play for fifteen minutes. I did it again the next day. And the next. And then something cool happened. It was three in the morning, and there was a sentence in my head. The new normal is a window between our bedrooms. And another sentence. It’s peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and laundry. It’s feeling homeless even though I have a place to live. I followed the sentence to my laptop and wrote for thirty minutes.

Whatever the darkness, whatever the disappointment or fear, writing always leads to light.

Writing leads to light.

Writing.

Light.

I am here again. Think I’m gonna stay awhile.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published in: on January 16, 2014 at 12:29 pm  Comments (2)  
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Jennifer Givhan, Poet & Novelist

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