TW: This essay discusses suicide.
Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This week is Suicide Prevention week and this remarkable essay is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. Together we can help erase the stigma of mental illness and there is nothing to be ashamed of about depression. I believe even the messy parts of being human are beautiful. If you need to talk, there are good resources available including To Write Love On Her Arms and 1-800-273-TALK. We are stronger together, helping each other. The Manifest-Station is always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here. And remember: You ARE enough.
By Leah Juliett
Death threw me a bridal shower last summer. It sat at the crook of my neck in the shape of the cold belt that no longer fit around my contorted waist. I exhaled and my cracked heels exited cold ground. My voice ripped out of my larynx and I have not seen it since.
Mental illness is a cold turkey my family always forgets to serve- never spoken of; sitting in an oven that demands repair. White-skinned relatives always militantly ready to snap the steel gate closed before the smell gets out. Last fall my mother forgot to take out the trash for three weeks and maggots spilled out onto the garage floor. The smell of bone dust lasted in the car port until December, but has stayed on my body. I emote bleeding sockets and rug burned back. I reek of a decaying brain.
My childhood bedroom has become both gravedigger and priest- mourning me and calling me holy. Pouring dirt on naked body. My skin begs to have more stiffness than elasticity. I do not want to recover from what haunts me. I want to be drenched in it; wet thighs, bleached lips. I want to remember all the times I slept underground.
The first girl that I fucked with was made of fire. Her hair was dipped in raven ink. When she slipped her head beneath my hollow stomach, I cooed. I was dawned in trauma, bones cracking under heavy weight of my skin suit. Trauma too pretty to be spelled into post-traumatic stress. My body not a war veteran. When I told her I loved her, she left a flower at the head of my grave and departed like the weary admire the death of someone they wished they’d known better.
When my family eats dinner, I like to believe they chew the meat of my Adam’s apple. My throat throbs. Small hands clutch voice box. Birds cough out of asthmatic chest. The oxygen that steams from my inhaler is cold and milky, the color of male ejaculation that drenched my early teens. When I press it to my lips I wonder if this is how they try resurrect a corpse. My breath is some form of witchcraft, my inhaler a magic spoon. No matter how often I want to die, I always press the red plastic wagon that floods a surge of air back into my charred lungs.
The bridal shower was quaint. I drank a glass of water and took two Lexapro cookies that crumbled and tasted sweet under my teeth. Gifts sat under a large oak tree outside of my window, wrapped in shiny paper I’d seen at the local drugstore. I imagined all of the thank you notes I’d have to write. Mother. Father. Sister. Grandmother. Grandfather. Childhood pool. Plant on my bedside table that I’d named after Sylvia Plath. Blood. Answering machine. Suddenly it seemed like an undoable task. I cannot write a letter that does not sound like a obituary. My fingernails carved words into the hard wood of my desk. There is no erasure of what is written in stone, but wood can be burned. This quiet body can still be burned. From ash, I can fit into the cells of my old skin like plant seeds and I can build myself into a new man.
There is a burial ground at the pit of my stomach where my body allows poison people to continue to live. The rotting, the asthma, the constant churning of broken shells under wrists that beg to be cut open. The undead dance on my clavicle, etch foreign words into my pelvis. I cannot feel sexual attraction without a ceremony of grief- my vagina only wet when my eyes can no longer produce tears. This is the birthday party I never had.
The problem with mental illness is that it does not sit cold in the oven. It marinates the whole house. It’s the maggots, the turkey, the bones left under the bed. The quiet throb when you read newspaper obituaries for people you never met, only, all of the people are you. It is the sliver in your thumb that always seems to find it’s way into your nervous system. It pokes floats in your cardiovascular system until your chest ruptures. I wasn’t born for small things. My body, my coffin, my illness is so large I cannot hold it in my hand. It wasn’t being gay, or hating my body. It wasn’t being naked or touched or exposed or cut open. If I were clean of impurities, there would still be a sickness. The alien graveyard still living under new city. I cannot dig up what is too deep to see.
Death approached me after all the guests had left. It handed me the belt from the top shelf of my closet. It stretched around my neck like the pearls I’d imagined would go nicely with my bridal shower dress. I wanted to turn my body into a cross, hanging like Jesus from my bedframe. I wanted to relive my mother’s church.
Death looked at me with eager eyes, a handsome fiancé-to-be begging me to accept such a grandiose proposal. My chest sat heavy beneath all the lives I had not lived.
I do not know if I will ever marry. I do not know if I could stomach a diamond.
When I handed back the belt I did not deny death. My voice is too strong for this caracas. When suicide strangled me, my throat strangled back. Words beneath my ribcage pushed upwards until unholy screams pierced the room I slept in. I am a banshee body. I am a watery grave. I am uncomfortable, I am unearthly, but I am here. I will live here until the Earth turns over and the graves spill out. I will dance among decaying bodies falling backwards from the sky like a haunting snowstorm. My voice will not die. I will not die.
When Death threw me a bridal shower, I burned down the building. I grabbed my voice from His melting hands and ran before the noose pulled me back into the bad place. I have not seen Him since.
Leah Juliett is a nineteen year old poet, actress, LGBTQ+ activist and intersectional feminist from Connecticut. She is the author of “Orange Peels and Other Things that Burn” (2015, Amazon Publishing), and has competed nationally at the Brave New Voices Slam Poetry Competition. She has been featured in Seventeen Magazine, Teen Vogue, Buzzfeed LGBT, Attitude Magazine, and The Huffington Post. Additional work has been published on The Clit List and The Odyssey Online.
That was stunning.