This is what three years in jail looks like.
January always marks another year. Another year that my dad has been in jail. Another year that I haven’t seen him.
I wanted to write about this for many reasons. First and foremost, I posted something similar a year ago, and a lot has changed since then.
Secondly, I just think sharing this kind of information is really important. I have an internal debate about this a lot though. On the one hand, I often worry that this type of experience (for lack of a better word??) isn’t relatable enough to the people most likely to read my blog. I worry that no one will care because no one (that I directly know) has been through something similar. But on the flip side, I also feel that this type of content is worth sharing even more than some of the other things I write about because it’s uncommon. I fear that, to an extent, I’m doing a disservice to myself (and others) for not making this all more commonly known.
Most often, I cling to that fear of not being relatable to avoid a bigger issue. In reality, this shit is just hard to put words to. I’ll preface the rest of this post with that. Even though it has been three years, I still have so many contradictory, confusing, and often inexpressible emotions tied to all this. I’m going to attempt to not let that deter me from sharing though.
When you look at the statistics, about 5 million children in America have parents that are (or were previously) behind bars. That’s about 1 in every 14 kids, or 7%.
Less than 1% of white children have incarcerated parents though.
My dad has been in jail for almost three years.
**To give a brief background for those of you who are unaware. My dad was arrested in January of 2015. I was living in Arlington, VA at the time. I haven’t seen him in person since Christmas of 2014. I just recently started talking to him on the phone this year. Over the past three years, he has been transferred between multiple facilities in multiple different states (PA, NY, CT). The details of his arrest are vague to me, partly because I don’t want to be involved, and partly because the justice system is extremely confusing and the process takes an extremely long time. From what I know, my dad was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. I also know that, as of now, he is attempting to appeal this for a shorter sentence. **
Each time I try to put words to paper about this, a few things always come to mind:
- I often compartmentalize this part of my life which makes vocalizing my experience complicated
- I have a hard time wrapping my brain around the flaws within the current justice system and accepting the fact that I can’t comprehend how to fix it
- My relationship with my dad was very complicated prior to his arrest, which complicates the situation further
- There are people out there like me, even though according to the numbers I am part of the <1%
- My feelings and experiences are not entirely negative
- Incarceration is a loss too, but it’s not final and as a family member you can choose what that means to you over time
Along with that, when I think about my dad, I usually feel overwhelmed with a complex layer of simultaneous emotions. I always, without fail, feel anger, stress, guilt, loss, relief, shame, love, admiration, nostalgia, bitterness, and confusion altogether, every time.
I think that is what often makes me want to refrain from sharing this experience with others, in this way at least. Because my relationship with my dad is so complex, this isn’t just about having an incarcerated parent, it’s about having a parent with mental health struggles too, and how those experiences overlap.
So the way I have coped and the things I have learned are, in a sense, two-fold. Even though most people may not be able to relate to the situation directly, hopefully, what I have to share can possibly be beneficial to others in some way or another.
Part One: Incarceration
To start, I’ve learned to understand that incarceration is a loss, and with that comes grieving. There shouldn’t be shame in that. But there will be. Because the person you’ve lost is still physically there.
It’s not a death, but that’s the closest thing most people will compare it to. That’s the only way most people, who have never dealt with incarceration before, can possibly wrap their brains around the experience and the feelings tied to it.
Unlike a death, people will forget the anniversary. YOU will forget the exact anniversary sometimes. To complicate things, neither you nor your friends will usually know how to talk about it.
You also won’t spend time memorializing the person, not only because they’re not truly gone, but because your loss will always have lingering bitterness and confusion.
Also unlike a death though, you and the person you’ve “lost” will potentially have room to progress together. Your dynamic may change and your relationship may grow. It takes time though, just because you’re not ready at first, doesn’t mean you never will be.
First, you need to process the events surrounding their arrest. Regardless of the situation, I believe one thing will hold true, you will come to learn that no single person is all good or all bad. You will come to see that sometimes you can still love someone, even when they’ve done wrong.
As is true for most things though, the progress you make (both individually and within your relationship together) will never be linear. You will continuously feel like you’re taking 3 steps forward just to take 2 back. That part will never stop, but over time you will accept it as routine.
You will always, always, always be filled with mixed emotions. There is nothing wrong with that. There is no handbook to teach you how to appropriately cope. Even though there are literally 5 million other people out there that can potentially relate to you, you will still feel alone.
Sometimes you will feel helpless that someone you know is suffering, alone, behind bars. You will feel shame and stigma associated with the concept of incarceration as a whole. You will feel guilty that you couldn’t help “fix” them when you still had the chance. You will miss them, even when you think you don’t.
Part Two: Mental Health
In my case, to some extent, I feel a lot of relief regarding my dad’s arrest too. If it wasn’t for his arrest, I don’t think I would ever feel so free from the responsibilities of constantly worrying about his well-being.
With that comes guilt too though. Guilt that I’m finally, in some ways, using this space as a chance to be selfish. Every letter and every phone call is another reminder that I have separated myself from someone who needs me.
My dad, from what I know, struggles with Borderline Personality Disorder, Depression, and Anxiety. As I think I’ve shared before, in a lot of respects, when my parents split up when I was 18, I became the person my dad turned to.
Until my dad was arrested, I spent almost every day helping to manage his problems that I couldn’t fix and emotions that I couldn’t bear. I did so partly out of love, partly out of fear, partly out of a false hope that I could really “fix” him someday, and partly out of a desire to avoid my own problems.
One of the best things to come out of my dad’s incarceration has been the realization that, at the end of the day, I can’t be responsible for anyone but myself.
In general, sometimes I also feel embarrassed. Sometimes I feel so unbearably alone. Sometimes I feel like all anyone can think about when they look at me is my father. And sometimes I think everyone forgets completely.
I’ve learned a lot this past year though. In many respects, my dad’s arrest has shined a light on all of his mistakes for me. It has given me an opportunity to see what he struggles with, avoid running into similar situations, and live my life completely differently as a result.
From this, I’ve learned that there is no shame in being yourself. In fact, the things you tend to be most ashamed of are the things that you should wear with the most pride. I’ve learned that people will accept you if you accept yourself, and if you wear your experiences confidently, people will often have respect for you rather than judgment.
I’ve also learned to let go of fear. It’s so easy to be afraid of what you have yet to try. I spent over two years telling myself I didn’t want to “live my life in fear like my father”, yet never truly followed through until recently.
I’ve learned that it doesn’t actually hurt that much to be disliked for being yourself. It hurts so much more to constantly try morphing yourself into the person you think people want you to be.
I couldn’t be more comfortable with who I am and what I like than I have been this past year. I am so proud to say that the things that kept my dad living in shame, like his mental health and sexuality, are some of the things that I am most proud to be open and honest about in my own life.
As selfish as it sounds, I can confidently say I would have never gotten to this place if my dad hadn’t been arrested.
Like I mentioned though, it isn’t always easy. It’s usually like sailing into uncharted territory with no sense of direction and no compass to show you the way. Most of the time I’m just guessing and hoping I make some sort of progress as a result.
I don’t have all the answers, in fact, I literally have none, but I hope, to some extent, my lack of knowledge is helpful too.
I think what’s most important to remember is that even the most confusing and seemingly negative experiences can have positive outcomes. And just because you don’t have it all figured out, doesn’t mean you aren’t dealing with your experiences correctly.
Take things one step at a time. Don’t forget to look back at where you started, and remind yourself of how far you’ve come. Be proud of who you are, and the factors that have helped to make you that way. And remember that everyone else is going through their own unique experiences too. Have patience, approach others with acceptance, and be understanding. We’re all just figuring it out as we go along. AMIRITE?
Happy 2018!!!!!!!! BE U AND LUV URSELF
(If you have any interest in reading the similar post I wrote last year, click here)
First of all, I am very well aware of the fact that I haven’t written anything of value on here in literally months. Ya know, just figured I’d acknowledge my complete lack of commitment and say that I HAVE THINGS TO WRITE ABOUT AND I WILL SHARE THEM SOON.
In the meantime, check out August’s vlog ft. my friends with video footage to prove that we do in fact watch sports occasionally.
I have been literally terrified to share my own post for the entire duration of this month.
I spent a long time trying to decide how to best express my relationship with suicide/suicidal thoughts. It’s an extremely complex dynamic to put words to. On the one hand, I have seen people take their own lives, and I have seen how such an action can be so final, leaving so many broken in its wake. But on the other hand, no amount of experience and understanding can stop me from feeling the ways I have felt.
Like I said, sharing these thoughts is beyond terrifying to me. Yes, I have gotten to a point where I am able to be open about a lot of myself via this blog. I share so many thoughts and intimate experiences in hopes that they will help at least one person out there to feel more understood.
Ontop of that, every time I do a month-long project like this, I ask others to help contribute. I ask them to share things about themselves that they may not have ever said to anyone else before. Time and time again, I am blown away by the amount of support and participation I receive. That is why, I knew for this month, I just wouldn’t feel right asking other people to share their relationships with suicide if I didn’t share my own too. It’s really fucking scary though.
I have spent countless hours thinking about what I hope those of you reading might get out of these words. I really still don’t have a clue. They’re not creative, or well-written in the least. In fact, they are just the blunt and candid thoughts that have come to mind over the years when I have found myself at my lowest.
These words are a part of me though. They have been a part of me for many years.
I think the point in me sharing this is two-fold. First, I want to really stress the fact that “normal” people can experience these thoughts and urges too. So many people struggle with these similar feelings in silence. Second, I want to prove to myself that I don’t have to be ashamed of thinking these thoughts. I want to remind myself that I have made it thus far, even though I struggle. These feelings can be a part of me, without overtaking me.
Also, I’d like to express that, at least from my own experiences, suicidal thoughts aren’t always present, but that doesn’t make them any less real. Just like depression, it can vary in intensity from day to day or week to week. I can have great days, and I can have days where I feel like I will never be happy again.
With that said, here are some extremely personal, private blog entries that I have written in the past:
Monday, June 8, 2009
I feel like I have no one
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
I cant keep doing this anymore
I’m never ever happy
Sunday, February 7, 2010
I’ve never been more unhappy
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
I got so mad when you told me you think I’m depressed
because I love being happy and I love loving life
but I think you’re right and that scares me
I can’t think of the last time I was truly happy
I feel tired and run down all the time
Monday, June 13, 2011
I’ve felt so numb the last few days
like I’m upset or alone but I don’t have enough emotion to express or explain WHY I feel that way
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
No matter how many people I physically surround myself with, I still feel so fucking alone
Saturday, June 23, 2012
I mean I always used to get sad about things, even for long periods of time sometimes, but I would still feel something
Whether it be sadness, or anger, or the occasional bursts of happiness, or excitement or passion
Even in the most painful of times I still had feelings in one way or another
I still had dreams and aspirations that ultimately made me happier
now I’m just numb
I don’t feel anything, just emptiness
like I’m here but I’m not actually here
I have no motivation to do anything at all
and no matter where I am or who I’m with I can’t shake off the numbness
Sometimes I’m just better at hiding it in front of people
but sometimes I can’t even bring myself to speak or move
if I could sleep for weeks I would
Sunday, July 1, 2012
Atypical Depression Symptoms
-sadness or depressed mood most of the day or almost every day
-loss of enjoyment in things that were once pleasurable
-a major change in weight (gain or loss of more than 5% of weight within a month) or appetite
-insomnia or excessive sleep almost every day
-physically restless or rundown that is noticeable by others
-fatigue or loss of energy almost every day
-feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness or excessive guilt almost every day
-problems with concentration or making decisions almost every day
-recurring thoughts of death or suicide, suicide plan, or suicide attempt
-For a diagnosis of atypical depression you must have this symptom:
-Being cheered up by positive events
Why am I too scared to talk to anyone about this if I know this is how I’ve felt for so fucking long
I just want someone to tell me how to get better
Monday, October 15, 2012
I know I haven’t written in a while but I think it’s because I was just waiting until I felt like there was really something to say
For a while, like I said, I didn’t have feelings at all it seemed like
I just was numb all the time and every day felt the same and I remember thinking to myself so many times I’d rather feel absolutely miserable than nothing at all
because at least miserable FEELS like something, numbness is horrible and empty and boring
Monday, December 3, 2012
I live inside my own mind so fucking much sometimes and it’s such a self-destructive concept that I need to learn how to stop
There’s just this literally insane train of thought that I have every single day
I think about how alone I feel or how stressed I am and then the rest of the thoughts just pile on top
Thursday, January 24, 2013
Adderall really does make me 10x more depressed
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
I’ve felt really sad lately
not the kind of sad where I crave attention
not the kind of sad where I’m lonely
and not the kind of sad where I feel empty either
like uncontrollably so
I keep crying for no reason
and I feel no need to have real connections with anyone
I only feel comfortable alone
Monday, November 4, 2013
The biggest reason I hate Adderall is because it makes me think really horrible thoughts
like often times I genuinely feel that my Adderall makes me bipolar
like actually bipolar, I’m not just exaggerating when I say that
because when I take it there is a period of time where I get really happy and excited to be productive and my brain feels like its flooding with happy thoughts
and then there’s a large period of time where I just think about all the reasons why I’m unhappy
When I don’t take my Adderall I’m really unfocused and people say I can be really annoying
but my brain feels calmer
I don’t have 9million thoughts bouncing around all the time
and I feel genuinely happy and confident in myself as a person for the most part
I never feel that way when I’m on Adderall
I’m always second-guessing myself and over thinking things and worrying
and feeling anxious and awkward and unconfident
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Sometimes I work myself up so much that I want to just scream really loud
or drive down the highway for a really really long time until I end up somewhere different
or write something passionate that depicts my thoughts
or run for miles until I get so tired that I fall over
or SOMETHING to release all the thoughts in my head
but then I get too lazy
and just do nothing at all
but sit and feel overwhelmed about everything in my brain
and feel tired and useless
I feel literally dumb and lazy and useless all the time
I have no passion or drive or strong opinions/thoughts/feelings
I just feel indifferent all the time
I wish I had a purpose in life
I wish I didn’t give up before I started EVERYTHING
like even writing this I just want to give up and delete it and stop
whats wrong with me
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
I think about killing myself almost every night while I’m laying in bed
When I was at school I had people around all the time so I had a lot of distractions and I thought about it less
now I spend way too much time alone
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
I’ve already cried 3 times today
I feel like I’m losing my mind
Saturday, January 24, 2015
I wonder if anyone will truly love me and by that, I mean all of me
I wonder how much longer I will have to wait to meet someone who makes me happy to be myself
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
having a lot of anxiety
feeling depressed a lot of the time
Thursday, March 17, 2016
I think about killing myself probably on average once a week and definitely at least every other time I’m drunk.
I don’t think about how and I don’t plan it out so I guess I know I won’t actually do it.
But I guess it’s more that I feel lethargic 100% of the time and I’ve run out of hope that that feeling will ever go away.
I’ve had these thoughts for years now but they’ve just become more consistent I guess and now I have them in the middle of the day in public whereas a couple years ago I would only think this way alone in my room in the middle of the night.
I also sound like an idiot trying to honestly express those feelings bc it sounds like such a cry for help or something. I just have never said those words out loud and I’ve definitely never expressed them to anyone I know so it feels good to write it somewhere I guess idk.
Monday, June 20, 2016
idk what is wrong with me
I genuinely don’t think I will ever change my ways or ever feel less alone
Tuesday, October 25, 2016
my mom is the only reason I would never be able to kill myself
she’s been through too much already to lose a kid
but Jesus do I feel like I have no reason to be alive
Friday, May 19, 2017
oh, also I keep feeling like really painfully sad after drinking again.
Friday, July 21, 2017
I really think I am incapable of love
I fucking hate myself
Sunday, September 10, 2017
This is one of the numbest moments I’ve had in a while.
I feel so empty and alone
And I keep laying here thinking about how I felt this exact same way 2,5,7 years ago
The difference is now I don’t even cry
I’ve done everything I can to stop these thoughts
Counseling and medication and time and work are supposed to bring about positive change right? What happens if I’m trying and I still feel the same emptiness though
Is everyone in the world meant to feel full and whole and completed?
I don’t think so
I think some of us are meant to only make it part of the wayI’m so empty
I want to die I really mean it
After re-reading these posts, I noticed so much shame and embarrassment in my words. Like I said, I was so hesitant to share any of this. The plethora of ways people can interpret these feelings is so terrifying to me. But I think it’s important to overcome that fear and speak up this month.
I hope, if you are reading this and have ever felt similarly, you know that you are so understood and so far from alone. I hope you know that, although it is so much easier said than done, sharing how you feel is cathartic in so many ways.
There is a good chance I will continue to struggle with these feelings for a long time to come – I really have no idea. But I am so happy that I was able to put them out into the world for the sake of this month.
Like I have said many times already, your feelings are so valid, whatever those feelings may be. Today I learned to take my own advice a little bit too.
Every 12 minutes, someone takes their own life…. that equates to over 38,000 Americans a year losing their lives to suicide. On top of that, 20-25% of Americans over the age of 18 struggle with depression, yet only half of these people seek help.
Whether or not you have any personal experiences with suicide/suicidal thoughts, I hope the words and videos that I have shared this month have resonated with you, and have helped, in some small way, to break the stigma surrounding mental health and suicide.
It is estimated the 80-90% of those who seek treatment for their mental health issues are treated successfully. Although, when it comes to mental illnesses, there is no “cure”, by breaking the stigma, we can persuade more people to feel comfortable enough to seek help and find progress and success.
If you, or someone you know, is struggling with any type of emotional issue, I highly suggest looking into some of the amazing resources below. They are confidential (almost all are also anonymous) and extremely helpful:
Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Crisis Text Line: https://www.crisistextline.org/how-it-works/
The Trevor Project (LGBT-related crisis help): 1-866-4-U-TREVOR (866-488-7386)
SoulMedic (Anonymous Online Chat help): http://remedylive.com/soulmedics
I Am Alive (Crisis Network): https://www.imalive.org/index.php
Soooooooo I have a few great pieces already prepared for next week, BUT I wanted to post one more video-related piece to round out this week.
Today is about Kevin Hines. I don’t want to share too much background information, because I want to let the videos below speak for themselves, but Kevin’s story is so meaningful to me. It is heartbreaking, inspiring, moving, and simultaneously filled with a mixture of both hope and pain. If you believe in miracles, I think it’s safe to say that Kevin definitely is one.
Before I give too much away, check out his story:
Now, Kevin spreads suicide prevention awareness through public speaking and with his film, Suicide: The Ripple Effect.
Below is the trailer for the film:
Another crazy busy day at work means another video as today’s post (sorrrrrry!). I think this video is extremely powerful though, and I think it’s a great sequel to yesterday’s post.
Although I feel very strongly that suicide is NOT selfish act, I do believe that it definitely has a wide-spread impact. Suicide has a way of affecting so many people in so many different ways.
Sometimes, with regards to death in general, I have this theory that some people do not allow themselves to accept that they’re struggling/grieving as much as they deserve. Does that make any sense? I think that because death is scary, yet common, yet simultaneously difficult to understand, we don’t always know how it’s supposed to affect us.
In reality, loss impacts each of us differently, and no one way is right or wrong. Because of this, we should accept that we each cope differently too. I don’t think there should be any shame in this. I also don’t think that we should expect the pain to go away at any specific point. Grieving takes time. In many senses, I don’t believe grieving really ever ends.
If you have lost a loved one and you want to talk about your feelings and your grief, I highly encourage you to. It can (and will) be extremely therapeutic and cathartic. If you are not comfortable sharing that part of you yet, don’t! You need to wait until you’re ready.
My only advice regarding this is to share how you’re feeling at some point, when you feel ready, whenever that may be. Like I said yesterday, there are people that understand what you’re going through. There are people that care and there are people that want to listen. Please don’t ever convince yourself that the way you are coping is incorrect, shameful, or unworthy of vocalizing. Your feelings are so beyond valid.
Loss is confusing and heartbreaking. It brings with it a mixed bag of emotions. Loss due to suicide, in some ways, is even more complicated. Please cut yourself some slack and just allow yourself to feel what you feel.
I have been SWAMPED these past few days at work, so I haven’t had as much free time to curate written submissions like I normally do. Having said that, I found a few really awesome videos that I knew I wanted to share this month, so what better timing than now!
I especially appreciated today’s video because it puts faces to the topic of suicide. On the surface, before hearing their stories, the people featured in this video all seem similar to any other person you’d likely encounter during your day to day life. Each from different backgrounds, with different experiences and upbringings, and each with a different reason for their suicide attempts.
It, again, is such an important reminder that you have no idea what someone else is going through at any given time.
It also helps to make an amazing point that, if you are struggling with similar feelings, you can find help and you can find a light at the end of the tunnel. You are not alone. Do not just assume that other people cannot understand what you’re feeling. More people than you realize can relate and empathize. I know it seems literally impossible, but find the strength to share what you’re thinking about and going through. Even if it’s only with one person. There are people that understand. There are people that can help. There is hope. It is possible to feel less empty again. I promise that it is possible to find a will to live.
“Everyone is worthy of life”
Today I want to share a video originally posted by Drew Monson. As some of you know, I’ve been a weirdly big fan of Drew’s content for so long. When people ask what I appreciate about him though, I find it difficult to fully explain.
The majority of Drew’s content is hilarious and beyond weird. His videos are, more or less, sporadic trains of thought that are just unintentionally mesmerizing.
From the outside looking in, he’s a 22-year-old, fast food loving, turtle owning, vlogger, who isn’t afraid to share stories about his panic attacks, therapy sessions, spells of depression, and everything else in between. He’s one of the strangest content creators I’ve ever watched, and I think he’s absolutely brilliant.
He just has this ability to share stories about difficult experiences in a way that anyone watching can relate to. It’s no surprise that he has over a million Youtube subscribers – he, like any good comedian, jokes about the stuff so many of us go through, but few of us want to share.
The best way I can describe what I’m trying to say is: Drew’s content is a small insight into his life that consistently makes me feel drastically less weird and drastically less alone.
Usually, although a good amount of his content is about deep, weighty issues, it is still intended to be funny. Today I wanted to share one of his more serious videos though.
I think the way he talks about his struggles with depression and suicide is extremely important. I don’t think I can stress that enough. Without giving too much away, I just remember stumbling upon this video and being like “WOW I FINALLY FEEL SO COMPLETELY UNDERSTOOD.”
Today’s piece is one I have been dying to share for a while now, well before I came up with the idea for this month’s collaborative project.
This is a piece written by my aunt, Julie. In many ways, she has been someone I have idolized for so long. As I grew up, I was always so proud to have so many interests in common with her. To me, she was like the success story I wanted to one day become.
I first read this piece a few years ago. I still remember how relieved I felt when I finished it. I remember feeling like “Oh…okay! She’s not flawless, she’s human. Cool, I can be that. That’s attainable.” It was as if, in that moment, a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I remember feeling this urge to share the story with everyone I knew, in hopes that they would feel the same.
This was long before I started to go to therapy, mind you. This was well before I was comfortable admitting that I struggled with anxiety and depression. This piece was one of the first real eye-opening experiences I ever had with regards to anything involving mental health. It was one of the first times I realized that maybe I wasn’t okay, and if I wasn’t, that wasn’t wrong. It was one of the first times I didn’t feel alone.
When I knew I wanted to share pieces for Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, this is the first one that came to mind. Not only is Julie an extremely talented (published) writer, but she’s also a volunteer counselor for the Crisis Text Line.
In case you have never heard of it, the Crisis Text Line is a 24/7 support service for anyone, in any type of crisis, at any time. It is an AMAZING resource. Check it out if you haven’t already.
Although I could go on for hours, I don’t want to ramble too long before introducing Julie’s piece. I hope it touches you in some of the same ways it did for me. Here it is:
The Fall of Strangers
Sometimes I write that she runs to the edge of the rooftop. Fifteen stories below, I’m running uphill on the sidewalk. She speeds up for momentum, so that she’ll fly past the instant when she might change her mind. The park isn’t safe at this hour, so I’m under the streetlights. I feel strong, so I lengthen my stride and decide to run farther. She vaults out past the edge, and gives herself to gravity just as I’m fighting it. For a second, she’s in flight. Our hearts are pounding. A few more steps and I’ll catch up to her.
Other times I write it straight: In 1996 I witnessed a suicide in New York City. I abandon imaginary details. I don’t really think she was running. Not at her age, in her state, or in those shoes: sullen mauve pumps, one of which landed askew next to her. It would be wrong to say she launched like a diver, or dove like a bird of prey. For all I know she might have been pushed. I only know for sure what I finally saw: her body on the pavement, head smashed beyond recovery, brains fanned out across the sidewalk.
I was working that year as a biographer’s assistant, at a small desk built into the underside of a loft bed in a one-bedroom apartment. Those were the early days of telecommuting. The woman I worked for lived just across town on the Upper East Side. We’d check in by phone, but most of the time I worked alone, interrupted by field trips to public libraries or longer getaways to private archives to find letters and diaries that belonged to people I had never met, most of whom were already dead. When I worked at home, days often ended at five o’clock with me realizing I hadn’t spoken a word to another living person all day.
I loved my job, loved holding the aged, handwritten letters of strangers, examining the journals of others and exploring the idiosyncrasies of families that were impeccable on the outside and daft on the inside. They felt familiar. I grew fond of the people I researched, and they became my community by proxy. I had freedom to work when and where I pleased, and to disappear whenever I wanted to. I lived with my fiancé, who was finishing medical school and rarely at home. When he was, he was fitfully asleep, or a shadow of himself, consumed by work.
I was good at being alone, I thought, even though I was lonely some of the time and mildly depressed—a condition I dismissed as indigenous to New York, something I could handle.
At the end of the day, every day, I got out to run. Running in Manhattan put me back among people. And there were no people I would rather have mingled among more than the people of New York City. I would run from our apartment on 107th street through the neighborhoods on Amsterdam and Columbus, past the bodegas and towering apartment projects over to the giant hill at the upper western corner of Central Park. I’d run into the park and make a double loop around the reservoir. I’d pass people on rollerblades, lovers in arms, children with nannies. And by the time I got to the East Side the crowd was all Burberry and fine terriers on leashes. When I wanted a shorter run, I ran through Riverside Park along the Hudson, over broken crack vials and, further south, through the islands of flower gardens set in the cobblestone. I ran by people on park benches staring alone at the river, people with children and dogs, teenagers in tunnels. I ran in every kind of weather, from the worst heat to the heaviest snow. Running was my drug, my release, my state of grace.
By the time I left my apartment that afternoon the sun was setting. I ran down West Side Drive, from 107th down to 72nd Street and back again, and then on past my own block. A light rain started to fall. Ahead, I saw the lights of fire trucks in front of a building—maybe a fire alarm or a car accident. There were no police lines, up, and no one seemed distressed. So I kept to my path.
A group of people stood looking, their eyes all pointing to something on the ground. As I passed them, I suddenly saw her: a woman in her mid-fifties, curly hair, gray skirt, a single shoe on the ground near her foot. Cinderella. Her head had made a pit in the pavement. But there was no pit. The side of her skull was flattened against the ground. Her brain speckled the sidewalk all the way to the small bushes that bordered the building from which she had dropped. The same sidewalk where I suddenly realized my feet were falling. Now I was on tiptoe, horrified, leaping past what I had already disgraced.
Of all the thousands of ways we encounter strangers, meeting someone at the moment of their death is possibly second in intensity only to meeting them at the moment of their birth. Between those extremes, we pass by with indifference in grocery stores or airports, or confront with clear intention on battlefields or in bars. But to witness this woman alone on the pavement, destroyed, was more than I knew what to do with. I had no basis for processing it, no precedent for understanding the absurdity of how we had just made contact.
A few minutes faster and I might have blocked her, stopped her, or obstructed her fall. Maybe just one person on the street below would have been enough to change her mind. Then again, she might have struck and killed me. But I wasn’t there when she fell. Should I have been? I was no one: a pedestrian, a jogger, a passerby. The cement was there to catch her.
I stopped running and sat on the curb. There were footsteps behind me, and then a hand on my shoulder.
Over the next several years, my fiancé, Mike, became my husband, and we moved to the suburbs of San Francisco to raise our two children. One afternoon my friend Stephanie called and asked if I would go to see Jason, a friend of hers whom I’d never met. She was traveling, and had received an email from him saying he was in trouble. He had stopped drinking a while ago, but was drunk today, far gone, and sounded like he might be thinking about taking his own life.
I don’t know what made her think I was qualified to give that kind of support. My husband said it might be safer—for Jason and maybe for me, too—to call 911. That might have been true.
“What am I going to find?” I asked her.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I just think he needs someone.”
I drove to his house. I didn’t find it easily, but soon realized that he lived in a house behind a house.
When I reached his door, I noticed the lights inside were off. Maybe I was already too late. I wondered if he was hurt or if I was going to get hurt. A small sign on the door read JASON—a note to help people find him. He wanted to be found.
I opened the screen door and rang the doorbell. I waited, then knocked. Still nothing. I opened the mail slot and yelled into it. “Hey Jason! Answer the door!”
Another minute passed, enough to scare me.
Finally I heard someone coming. He opened the door. His eyes were red and glassy. At the base of his bleached-blonde hair were black roots, tousled as if he’d been sleeping. He wore sweat pants and a T-shirt. “Hey,” he said. The apartment smelled like cigarettes and maybe pot. Definitely alcohol.
“I’m a friend of Stephanie’s,” I said. “She said you weren’t feeling so hot so I came over.”
“Stephanie,” he said slowly. “That girl. She’s good people.”
He opened the door wide and let me in.
“She was worried about you.”
“Yeah. I don’t know. I have a fever or something.”
His apartment was dark and stuffy. A small plant struggled on the kitchen table. He sat down on a small couch by sliding glass doors.
I sat down in a chair facing him. And there we were. I remembered once sitting in a therapist’s office back in New York. I was crying and crying—I couldn’t handle it after all—and she leaned down to the floor and pushed a box of tissues toward me without ever lifting her ass off her chair. I never went back.
I didn’t come there to sit back and stare at this man. I had nothing to say to him politely over a coffee table.
I said, “I’d rather sit on your side. I came here to make sure you’re okay.”
I stood up and climbed over the coffee table straight to him, sat next to him and took him in my arms. He fell into me and I squeezed him hard. He shifted and turned so he could fit more closely. He sighed. “Thank you,” he said. He pulled his legs close to his body and curled up. I think I said, “It’s okay. It’s okay.”
He wasn’t crying. He breathed heavily in big sighs. Maybe he was relaxing, or just trying to breathe. I didn’t know how much he’d had to drink, but I guessed a lot.
We were quiet for a while. I had rushed over quickly after my friend called, right after a shower.
“Your hair is wet,” he said. “You smell so clean.”
“I think I know how you feel,” I told him. “I’ve felt exactly the way you’re feeling right now.”
“When?” he asked. “Tell me.”
But I couldn’t. The answer was “yesterday.” I thought it would terrify him.
Yesterday: I pulled the point of a razor across my skin and made a cut on the back of my left hand, on the flesh between my finger and thumb.
I wasn’t even close to admitting what I had been feeling in the previous weeks. I kept my life in a rush of accomplishment, so the empty spaces would blur, and was now at a halt, alone, leaning against a counter in my bathroom.
The pain stung, corrosive, but the color was rich and red—unmistakably healthy. The sight of it made me feel strangely robust, in spite of how I felt emotionally. Here was the blood that propelled me forward, the same blood that could tell me I was young and fertile, or mortally injured. I took my time, in no rush to see it end. Then I thought of my children and husband and job and responsibilities, covered the cut with a sober band-aid, and left the house.
I wondered, if someone was going to confront herself finally and truly, if it could only be done violently.
But that wasn’t enough. I didn’t want to die. I want to look over the edge, to confront the stranger in myself, and stand my ground.
“A while ago,” I lied. “I cut myself to sort of punctuate what I was feeling. It was like this huge cavern of loneliness and despair opened up in me, and I could make it small and manageable and put a band-aid on it. I didn’t think anyone else would understand.”
“I know,” he said.
But he didn’t know, didn’t see that the band-aid was still on my hand.
“So I’m here and you don’t have to be alone,” I told him.
“You know, you sound like you’re good at this,” he said. “The way you just showed up and let me hold on to you. Like you know twelve-step programs.”
“I don’t know. I guess I think it’s something we all need at one time or another.”
“That’s how sponsors are supposed to be in AA. They’re supposed to be there for you.”
“I mostly know them from The Wire.”
“I love The Wire!”
“Yes, well, Bubs is all I know about AA.”
There was Jason, this stranger in my arms, suddenly very much alive. In that apartment, I might have found anything. Or he might have never even let me in the front door. He would need therapy from someone more professional than me, or an intervention, but at the moment, he just wanted to shoot the shit.
We talked about television, about his sponsor, and about differences between suburban and city life. I said it wasn’t as easy to walk outside and enjoy the anonymous comfort of humanity like you can in the city when you feel alone. Jason agreed, or nodded, or mmhmm’d.
“But do you do this a lot?”
“You mean show up at stranger’s homes when they’re sad and sit on the couch with them?”
“No, I don’t.”
“And Stephanie just asked you to come over?”
“Stephanie. Shit. You know when you let people lean on you, when you help people, you forget about your own problems.”
Stephanie had called more friends, people Jason knew, and in a little while they showed up with their baby and gave Jason more distraction, more love, held on to him when it was time for me to go home to my own family.
That night he called. He sounded happy, relieved—and maybe a little in disbelief that the world had come through for him, stood in his way of a path he didn’t really want to take at all. And I told him that he rescued me, too. Months later I told him that it really was the day before that I had been feeling the way that he had. That it was my own vulnerability that qualified me to hold him up, to really understand how he felt, to hold him like some kind of fragile scaffold.
One of the bystanders had come over to me. He must have seen me run straight through the crime scene (was it a crime?), and I was ashamed.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
I nodded. That anyone should be asking how I was doing when a woman lay dead twenty feet away astonished me.
But I wanted the comfort. I asked him what happened, who she was. He said no one knew.
“Did she live there?” I asked, indicating the building above her.
“I don’t know. If she did, nobody knew her,” he said. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yes,” I said, and stood up. “Thank you.”
I couldn’t pick up where I left off. I walked home because it didn’t make sense to run. Nothing made sense. I had no idea how long that feeling would last.
At home, I turned on the television to keep me company. Four different channels had shows about suicide. They were melodramas, made-for-TV movies, a talk show, and stand-up comedy. I turned it off.
I walked back up to the scene. The entire block had been tied off with bright yellow tape and flares at 109th and Broadway to prevent cars from coming down the street. From a distance I could see the woman’s body was covered now, her shoe still lying next to her.
I wondered who she was, what had provoked her, what weight had brought her down. There was nothing in the papers the next day, nor any day after.
I called a friend and she came over. We put our feet up and had a drink. She spent the night and slept next to me in my bed like my sister used to. We talked in the dark and soon fell asleep.
** Originally published in the anthology Rumpus Women, Vol. 1, editing by Julie Greicius and Elissa Bassist **
I’ve been seeing a lot of blog posts recently written by young people in the corporate world. I don’t know if I’m somehow subconsciously attracting articles like this or what, but posts by ~20-somethings in big cities looking for jobs~ are basically consistently begging me to view them these days.
A reoccurring theme I’ve noticed in all of these posts is that all of these people seem so hopeful??? The all seem fairly confident that they will find careers they want? They also all seem financially stable? Even though a lot of the people behind these posts are either currently unemployed or currently interning.
I finish reading these posts with the same frustrated feeling every time. First of all, I really thought I had the mindset of the majority on this? I thought that that’s why we all share those memes about how miserable it is to be a millennial? Did I miss the memo? I don’t know if it’s just me and my complete inability to “fake it”, or if it’s a little bit of that grass-is-always-greener effect happening, but you aren’t all actually happy, are you?
I’m not writing to pick people apart or to call some bloggers out on their shit. Quite the opposite actually. To me, blogging has always been about honesty. That was the entire intent of this blog from the start. I wanted to share my genuine experiences and opinions with the world to remind myself and others that no one is ever alone.
So like…..can we all agree that the working world in your 20’s (and even after) is scary AF? Yes, granted, I work in the Media Industry. And yes, ideally I would like to pursue a creative position in my future (ha ha haaaaaaaaaaaa). So that does play a part in my opinions on all of this. My college professors used to tell us weekly that the Media Industry was a “‘no’ business”. They would remind us daily that we will hear a hundred “no”s before a single “yes”. So yeah, maybe I hit the ground with some preconceived notions and a negative attitude, but I sure as hell am not alone.
I don’t think the struggles of finding a job in your 20s change that drastically from industry to industry either. Like, if we’re being honest with ourselves, can we admit that a good amount of a college graduate’s initial success on the job hunt is directly correlated to the connections they have off the bat?
Every. Single. Position. I had prior to my current job was because of a connection I had. When I was moving from DC to NYC, I applied to hundreds and hundreds of jobs over the course of 4-6 months until I landed an interview with the company I am at now.
My point in this is, it’s not unusual to feel discouraged and unwanted while trying to find your corporate niche. I don’t know if some people are just better at grinning and bearing it, but I personally think it’s extremely easy to feel lost and hopeless as a 20-something working professional, even with a job.
I literally wonder DAILY if I made the right decision by graduating college with a Media Arts degree. I have an internal battle with myself constantly over whether I should continue to choose a career path for the money, or attempt to look for something that I can put my passions into. I’m constantly terrified that I’m not making enough money to sustain my lifestyle, and I’m even more scared that a passion-driven position would make that problem worse.
When people tell you that you should follow your dreams and do what you love, they’re completely right, but they often forget to remind you that it going to be hard AF too. I love that our parent’s generation, for the most part, seems to have instilled the idea in all of us that happiness should come before money. What I don’t think anyone talks about though, is the fact that it’s almost impossible to measure and quantify “happiness”. In my opinion, this leaves our generation constantly wondering if we’re doing the right things, making the right decisions, and finding the “happiness” we’ve been working towards all this time.
This is basically the biggest ~first world problems~ post on the planet right now, and I get that. Especially given the recent horrific events in our country (and the world, i.e. Barcelona today), but it’s been on my mind for so long now. Plus, I just cannot even begin to articulate my feelings on all of those recent events – that’s for an entirely separate post.
It’s just so easy to feel lost in a world filled with so many talented people. I think we all deserve a little reminder that we’re still of worth, even though things aren’t always going to come easy.