I was just talking about it a little more than an hour ago. It was easy. The words fell in a neat and sensible enough line off the tip of my tongue, so it doesn’t seem to make any sense at all that when I sit down to write about it now, the blank space on the page looms ominously.
The first time I heard this song, years ago, it burrowed its way into my bones the way almost nothing has before or since. Maybe only I saw the glimmer of solace in it, sad as it is.
I was going to die when I was 46. I had known this all my life the same way I’d known when family members would pass; if I knew, I was right.
At every funeral, I was the quiet, stoic one — not strong and silent, but small and lumpy and stoic all the same — there to be the shoulder, the calm hand, the gentle squeeze, with no tears of my own for the person who had left us, but only the rest of us, left behind. They thought it was strange I didn’t grieve the same; maybe I just didn’t feel. Maybe that was just one more way I was broken.
It may be just another way I’m broken, but it isn’t the one they think. It’s that I knew, often around a year out, and I had time to do my mourning in advance and spend time as I could before it was too late.
I have to, I think; my emotions move in geological time.
They always have. Rarely, if ever, does something break the pattern.
46 tried its very best to kill me.
It didn’t even wait eight hours to throw an absurd potential end in my direction, in which my husband might have accidentally killed me with a cranky cone snail.
I’d picked up that very shell days earlier with my bare hand, and thrown it back into the sea, just in case it was still alive then. Not so the next time. Carefully collected with a rake, set aside, watched. Watched more, and properly squinted at. Segregated for further scrutiny before we left. No sign of life at all until my husband was waggling its angry stinger too near my face and calling over small children to come look at the ‘wonder of nature’ that could have quickly killed anyone it hit with neurotoxin while I screamed at him to stop.
He didn’t listen, but no one ever does. No one ever did. Not to any of it.
46 tried to kill me over and again. It even sent a pandemic, in 2020, the year that broke the world. It sent riots, it sent rage, it sent an endless stream of lies, and it sent throngs of would-be door-kickers giddy to torture and kill people like me.
Sometimes I think it’s only because the whole paradigm cracked open that I slipped through one of those cracks — or maybe the world and I were broken in the same way enough that something changed, and I fit too well now to let go of just yet.
Maybe it’s been bullshit the whole time, but it was bullshit I believed. Everyone believes bullshit, sometimes.
I had enough reason to.
There were times it felt like punishment.
Over the period of a year, I tried to kill myself seven times. Each attempt failed more improbably than the last, ending with the world’s least intelligent cat attacking the bag on my head and tearing a hole in it.
I almost died from organ failure, but didn’t due in large part to an uncannily well-timed moment of sheer stubborn ‘fuck that’. I couldn’t tell you why; I don’t know. It was right in the middle of that same year.
Even my terrors and tragedies have something in them I can laugh about. Sometimes, I think it’s the thing I’m most grateful for in all my life; I would have lived it as mostly tears, otherwise. I have been given the gifts of my bizarre perspective and circumstances, and cry rarely, all things considered.
(When the winds have blown things ’round and back again, what was once your pain will be your home.)
I was too broken to repair, and I wasn’t being given an early out. For a few months, I hated the world with such venom that I despised anyone who so much as prompted me to speak on any given day. I spent days in silence, when I wasn’t wailing pointlessly at the ceiling.
“Just let me go. Please.”
I didn’t want to have to wait it out to 46, and then, it was still a year or two away, over which time I lost more and more pieces of myself I didn’t know that someone could ever truly lose.
I spent almost two years watching it all go, apologizing to everyone and the universe itself for the burden of my continued existence. The tiny reservoir of self-esteem I’d built up ran dry and crazed as if it had been baked in the desert sun. Sex drive? What didn’t recoil from itself was shamed the rest of the way out.
Then I really couldn’t speak, either. The living cartoon, full of voices and impressions and accents and camp, could barely form comprehensible words. I wasn’t prepared, and no one warned me. I thought once that losing the ability to sing had been a blow — and it was — but it didn’t compare.
Piece by piece, it was all going away, and I could do nothing but watch it go. Fighting it, fighting for it, nothing made a difference; it was as useful as kicking a wave to turn it away from crashing against my legs.
When the creativity went, I wasn’t me any more.
I didn’t know it could go.
It was, to the best of my understanding of such things, me.
Not any one thing — no item, no craft in particular — but the wellspring from whence they came, because they had always come. Too many to count, to ever keep up with. They were a torrent of images and ideas and words and concepts and stories, and they had blasted like a firehose unceasingly throughout my life until then.
They would keep me up at night if I didn’t make up stories to tell myself in my head to fall asleep to, but now there were no stories, just the quiet and the dark: empty.
My creativity isn’t me.
Or at least it isn’t all of me.
It’s a substantial enough portion that the scraps remaining may as well have been stranded sailors, screaming and terrified as they scrambled up the mast of a ship that was most certainly going down in a once-in-a-hundred-years storm.
“Not this. Please, just let me go.”
More than once over the past year, my humble part in the fight against disinformation and the conspiracy cults that have risen to prominence rapidly through the course of the pandemic, I have remarked that, as an artist — as I was, at least in a very small way again by that time — and a driven creative, I never expected to find myself on the side of reality in any given cultural fight.
It isn’t just that I feel strongly that imagination and creativity and creative efforts should be encouraged provided they aren’t harmful, or that they are beneficial to individuals and society as a whole.
It’s that completely raw, base, inescapable-even-within-my-own-head-for-an-instant reality was a horror that left me physically cold and shaking for months.
Because it is, particularly as it was.
Because it is, particularly as the world is today. I can’t pretend I don’t see it.
Beneath the declaration of implausibility is something else I don’t say: it will never not feel cruel in some way. It doesn’t matter how ugly the world they choose to believe in is.
I don’t say it because it would be easy enough for those who need to hear the message most to ascribe the motive to a desire to be cruel.
There is little I could I desire less.
I still don’t know how or why I made it to 47. I truly don’t. I just know I did.
Most of my pieces were still missing.
Most of them still are.
I spent years sincerely believing the time to 46 and whatever of it persisted were hell, and would be the worst of it, with a promise of rest thereafter, or at least no more of the struggle to spackle my remnants together with hope and busywork and idle daydreams, because it was painful and exhausting.
It isn’t as though more fucked up things didn’t happen in that time; the previous entry is an example of one of them. (Another loss to grieve.)
It isn’t as though more fucked up things didn’t happen after 47, either.
They don’t stop, of course. They won’t. I don’t expect them to.
I sat up through that night. I don’t even know why I wanted every minute all of a sudden, but I did.
It was 2020, the world was imploding, and I still wanted to show up for it.
No, I can’t explain that shit, either. Maybe you strangers on the internet can tell me.
The most daunting question I have ever faced?
“Well, what now?”
Things have wheeled around dramatically more than once over the past few days — let alone weeks and months — and I have no idea what I’m doing, what to think, or how to feel.
I am a train wreck with good intentions even with all the time and effort I’ve put in to unfucking my head over the past two years.
I don’t know how to fix that, or if I can.
I have the chance to try.
The part that chokes me up and terrifies me at the same time? Is also the reason I’m just the tiniest bit proud of myself in a real way for the first time:
I’ve decided I want to try to fix my shit.
It doesn’t sound like much.
It doesn’t sound like it requires any courage at all, does it?
Hope actually does require at least a scrap of it, especially when fixing my life in any measurable way is likely a doomed prospect.
(But this poverty is our greatest gift, the weightlessness of us as things begin to shift.)
I spent years waiting to die, often enough wanting to.
Maybe this is take two. Maybe it’s an encore, extended engagement, or there never was any sort of deadline at all.
Either way, I want to live, and a life worth more than waiting for it to be over.