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suicide

Guest Posts, Mental Health

Suicide with a Side of Pasta

October 21, 2023
suicide

CW: suicide, attempted suicide

The psychiatric clinic just on the outskirts of Paris was very posh: a restored sixteenth century stone exterior that reminded me of the relais—country houses—that aristocratic families built when they wanted to get away from the monarch’s court. The clinic’s lobby and dining rooms were beautifully appointed with expensive furnishings. My psychiatrist had recommended I stay there for a couple of weeks to receive treatment for my worsening depression.

I had one of the largest patient rooms. A bedroom big enough to waltz in, with the northern light coming from the floor-to-ceiling windows. Private bath. Embroidered bell-pull if I needed anything from the staff. The shrinks came to talk with me once a day. I lied to them about how bad I was feeling, not wanting to admit what an idiot I was for still living with Michael. I only wanted to get back to the Paris apartment to make sure Michael wasn’t sleeping with men in our bed. After everything that had happened, I knew I shouldn’t give a damn, but I did. My real therapy was painting.

I pulled up a dressing table to the window where I began an illumination of St. Francis taming the wolf. I was thinking of the medal I’d given Michael on our trip to Assisi, the one he said the mugger had stolen, another one of his lies. What was I trying to work out? Did I want to replace the lost medal with my artwork? Or could it be that I wanted to be like St. Francis, using love to tame the wild wolf, to domesticate my roaming husband and lure him back to my home and heart. St. Francis was Michael’s favorite saint, and though I couldn’t replace the medal, I thought an illumination would show my love for him. Anything to bring back the version of the man I still loved so much. Unsure of what I hoped to achieve, I started drawing it anyway.

I knew I didn’t want to be alone. So, I called a friend. “Beth, I’m in a psych clinic in Paris. Can you possibly come be with me?” I asked. “The doctors are dismissing me this weekend. I gotta get out of here.”

I so needed to be with a friend who knew both Michael and me. Beth had stayed with us many times in Paris. I’d told her of Michael’s affairs with young men, prostitutes who only wanted his money—my money that my parents had put aside and left to provide a secure future for me and my husband. She knew how devastated I was. We talked several times a week, and I poured out my outrage and grief to her.

“Of course, I’ll come. Matter of fact, I can stay for a week.” she told me. “How are you coping? How long have you been in this clinic?”

“Not doing too well. Michael hasn’t been to see me,” I said, trying not to cry. “He hasn’t even called. I’ve been here over two weeks—I gotta go home.”

“Stay put till I get there,” she said. “I’ll book a hotel near your apartment and you can stay with me. Before I come get you from the clinic, I’ll go by your place and see what’s up with Michael.”

***

“Have you been outside today?” Beth asked, hugging me when she got to my room. Her long blonde hair brushed my cheek. “Gorgeous weather, but cool. C’mon—you need some sunshine.”

I passively allowed her to swaddle me in blankets. There was a large terrace at the clinic where patients and visitors could view the Paris skyline, the Eiffel Tower, and Sacre Coeur. Better digs than my apartment, whose view was nil. It was “sous-sol,” meaning it was between the ground floor and the basement. It had originally been a coal cellar. From the clinic’s terrace I saw flowering trees, tulips below bursting from their winter solstice. Peace. Tranquility. New life. Maybe even hope.

“Did you go by the apartment?” I asked her. “Did you see Michael?”

Beth looked down, couldn’t meet my eyes. “Yeah. Apparently, he just woke up. He met me at the door with only a sheet tied around him,” she said. “The floor was a mess of other sheets, rumpled clothes, liquor bottles, and used condoms. We saw them at the same time. He looked at me defiantly.”

Beth said to Michael, “I thought you told Diane you wouldn’t be sleeping with men anymore.”

He said to her, “I never said that. I told her I wanted to stay married to her. Beth, I love Diane. But she’ll have to accept my new lifestyle.”

Then she turned to me, and asked kindly, “Are you okay with that? How d’you feel about going back there?”

“I’m not okay with that,” I said wearily. She was standing in front of me, leaning on the terrace bannister, and partially blocking my view of the Eiffel Tower.

“What’re you gonna do about it?” she asked. “How can you stop him?”

“I dunno yet,” I said.

“You wanna divorce him?” she asked. “Or at least, a separation?”

“Sure, I’ve thought about it,” I said, looking down at my hands, wringing the corner of a blanket. “But where would I go?”

“Why the fuck should you go anywhere?” she cried, defending me. “Boot his sorry, cheating ass out the door!”

“I can’t.” I felt defeated. “I keep thinking I can make our marriage work, if I can just hang in there,” I persisted. “I don’t want to live without him.”

“But you can live without him,” she said. “You’re so much stronger than you think you are.”

I had issued an ultimatum to Michael during one of our counseling sessions. “If you continue to have these affairs, it’s over.” He only shrugged, as if to say, “What are you gonna do about it if I do?” I was coming to terms with the fact that I had no boundaries and Michael knew it too.

A week or so later, we had tickets to a piano concert in Paris. Michael was especially complimentary of my appearance that evening, declaring his oft-repeated remark about how proud it made him feel to be with me. Each of these compliments boosted my ego, my belief that he loved me, that perhaps things could and would change.

“My god, you look stunning tonight!” he said.

Even though it was considered bourgeois to “dress” for concerts, operas, art openings, we had always loved dressing up, and saw no reason to quit just because it was the current Paris fashion to wear jeans everywhere. I’d taken great care with my makeup, even putting a shimmery stroke of highlighter on my cheeks and collarbones. I wore a sheer, gold and silver embroidered, navy silk tunic over a navy tank top and leggings. I did look stunning!

In the taxi, he casually mentioned that he was going to Cologne for his boyfriend Voss’s twentieth birthday party. “I’ll be gone for the weekend, but I’ll be back on Monday,” he said.

I knew who Voss was—I’d seen his picture. He was Jordanian. Michael had rhapsodized about him more than once, often in the same sentence when he’d gushed about Tristan, his lover in Canada. My whole body stiffened, but I finally managed to say, “No, you’re not going. You can’t keep doing this to me!”

“Oh Diane, stop with the drama.” He looked out the taxi window, bored, but not upset. “I told Voss I’d be there—he’s counting on me.”

I asked the driver to stop. “Enjoy the concert,” I said to Michael. Getting out, slamming the door, I hailed another cab to take me home.

***

Our apartment was blessedly still, peaceful. I felt a sense of incredible relief wash over me like a cool breeze. The sense of stiffly and stoically holding it together was gone. I was alone and it felt so delicious and sweet, and it didn’t hurt that the spring Paris night smelled of lilacs.

I filled a large pot with salted water for pasta and turned on the gas burner, remembering nostalgically, when we were renovating the kitchen, how I’d stood my ground on getting a gas, rather than an electric stovetop. Michael loved my cooking.

“No one who cooks worth a damn,” I said, “cooks with electricity. You can’t control the temperature or the timing!”

“It’s gonna be way too expensive,” he argued. “Our building’s not fitted out for gas.”

“So, we’ll be the only ones who have it,” I said.

“I can’t justify the expense,” he said.

I played my last card. “Fine,” I said, “then we’ll eat all our meals out—I’m not cooking on electricity anymore.”

“Okay, okay. I give,” he said, throwing up his hands. “But you better crank out some pretty amazing dinners.”

***

As the water heated to boiling, I went through the hall closet and bathroom pantries grabbing every anti-depressant, every prescription painkiller and sleeping medication I could find. I also picked up Michael’s prescription meds. Had to make more than one trip in order to get them all. Bringing them to the kitchen, I spread them out on the granite countertop. There were a lot. I added fresh fettuccini to the boiling water.

Filling a large water glass, I calmly took every pill.

I’d accomplished everything I wanted to do, and what I hadn’t done wasn’t all that important. Our parents were dead. The Michael I had married was forever lost to me. My son Andrew was settled in his own happy life with his wife and kids. Sure, he’d miss me; the boys were little—they’d forget me soon enough, and I wouldn’t be a burden to anyone.

It was a quiet, rational decision: my wonderful fairy tale marriage had turned into a Stephen King horror film, and I didn’t know how to escape from it. I was numb. I felt no self-pity, no thought of punishing Michael. I just wanted out and could see no other way.  I didn’t write a suicide note—didn’t feel the need for melodrama.

By the time I’d taken all the pills, the pasta was ready to drain and season with cold-pressed virgin olive oil. I even added freshly chopped Italian parsley, expensive sea salt, and ground white, black and pink peppercorns. If this is gonna be the last thing I eat, it should be good.

I had done my research well—had googled “how to suicide” and discovered that unless pills were taken on a full stomach, they would likely be thrown up. I wanted to be sure I was successful.

Thinking I had time to die gracefully, I enjoyed my pasta, and didn’t rush to throw away the empty pill bottles. I was eating my last mouthful, feeling rather smug that I had pulled this off, when I heard the front door open. Just as Michael came in, I passed out on the kitchen floor.

I vaguely remember the EMTs cutting open the front of my fabulous, expensive Ralph Lauren tunic, thinking, please don’t ruin it! and being carried to the ambulance, but nothing more until I woke up from a coma four days later in the ICU. “No,” the nurse said when I asked. “Your husband hasn’t been here to see you.

***

The cops came to arrest and question me!” Michael fumed when he picked me up at the hospital. “They wanted to know what I’d had to do with your attempted suicide. Can you believe that? I was at the police station for nine fucking hours!”

“Sorry,” I mumbled, even though I had nothing to apologize for.  “Why would they do that?” At this point, my sympathy for his arrest was about as real as his sympathy for my suicide attempt.

“They thought maybe I’d poisoned you, or urged you to take all those pills,” he said. “They even asked me if money was involved.”

“So, what’d you tell them?” I asked, not really caring, and still groggy from the meds they’d given me before I left the ICU. I just wanted to sleep again.

He shrugged. “I told them I loved you even though I was gay, and would never want you dead,” he said. “The first thing I did after I got back home was to call Andrew and all our friends in the States.”

“To tell them I’d failed at suicide?”

“That, and to let them know I was gay again,” he said, “even though I wanted to stay married. Funny, no one seemed surprised.”

“What’d Andrew say?” I asked.

“Said he’d figured I might be gay—had thought so for a year or two ‘cause I wasn’t paying as much attention to you as I had before,” he said. “How I was always going off without you. He was really cold to me when I told him about the police crap.”

Maybe that’s because you seem a lot more upset about being questioned by the police than the fact that I almost died, I thought. You narcissistic, self-centered little shit.

“Did he ask how I was doing?” I ventured.

“Yeah,” Michael said. “I told him you were out of the woods, that he didn’t need to come to Paris. Maybe you oughta call him—let him know you’re okay.”

But I’m not, I thought.  I tried to kill myself and you don’t even give a damn.

***

My suicide attempt left me feeling like my blood was icy; my heart a dull beating rock. I felt so cold and alone. Michael was no help to me. He was drinking himself into a stupor on a regular basis. I picked up the phone and called David, Michael’s alcohol therapist.

“David, please,” I said, “I just got out of the hospital from a suicide attempt. And I don’t know who else to turn to.”

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“Alive, but still really traumatized,” I said.

“I don’t usually work with the non-alcoholic partner in a relationship,” he said, “but because the alcoholic Michael is so closely linked to your own trauma, I’ll take you on as a client.”

My dead heart leapt a bit. Was there some life left in me? Some spark that Michael had not extinguished with his constant cheating, indifference, and boozy nights of horror?

I felt hopelessly stuck, doomed to stay in a sham of a marriage that was making both of us utterly miserable. Why? Because I had convinced myself that I couldn’t live without him. But that deeply flawed thinking had gotten us where we were: Michael had once tried to kill himself because, being gay, he couldn’t see himself in a straight marriage for the rest of his life. And I had tried killing myself because I couldn’t live in a marriage where my husband was having gay affairs.

Nothing I had done to try to fix our broken marriage had worked. Michael had decided he was “gay again,” but the truth was he had always been gay. Instead of trying to get him to give up his lovers and struggling to make him love me the way I needed to be loved, it occurred to me that maybe I should try to love myself, to save myself.

When I finally decided to change my life, everything changed. The smell of the air, the feel of my jacket, tight around my body. Food tasted better. The sun was warmer. The wind windier. Everything had new power. This is what happens when a co-dependent person separates from the source of their dependency. Of course, I felt scared, but there was this intoxicating freedom moving inside me, overshadowing the fear. I sprouted wings and new legs. I had ideas, I was full of life itself; all my old life had been sucked out of me. I felt, again, alive.

***

I called Andrew to tell him I was leaving Michael. There was silence on the crackly line and then he gave a sigh.

“Mom, I’m glad you’re divorcing him—just wish you’d made the decision a year ago. I love Pops,” he went on, “but you’ll be so much better off without him.”

“But I’ve never lived completely by myself,” I said. “The very thought of it scares me. I’m not sure of what I’ll do, or where I’ll live.”

“Mom, remember the last line in Mame? ‘Life is a banquet, and most poor bastards are starving to death.’

“I remember,” I said, laughing through my tears.

“Well, keep repeating it to yourself. You’ve got the whole rest of your life to live and enjoy,” he said. “You survived your side of pasta, but Mom, you haven’t even gotten to the cheese course in this banquet!”

Diane Calvert is a medieval-style artist, a memoir writer, and she has recently begun a new “career” as a stand-up comic. From September to June she writes and does comedy in New York City. She spends summers in Noyers-sur-Serein, a tiny village in the back pocket of rural France where she creates medieval illuminations. She has had commissions from The Rare Book School in North Carolina, and has lectured at the Sorbonne in Paris on medieval art.

Her publishing credits include Angel et Démons dans la Littérature du Moyen Âge (Presses de L’Université de Paris-Sorbonne,) Mon Coeur Qui est Maître de Moi (Editions Alternatives,) and Tournaments Illuminated (Society for Creative Anachronism)

***

Wondering what to read next? 

This is not your typical divorce memoir.

Elizabeth Crane’s marriage is ending after fifteen years. While the marriage wasn’t perfect, her husband’s announcement that it is over leaves her reeling, and this gem of a book is the result. Written with fierce grace, her book tells the story of the marriage, the beginning and the end, and gives the reader a glimpse into what comes next for Crane.

“Reading about another person’s pain should not be this enjoyable, but Crane’s writing, full of wit and charm, makes it so.”
Kirkus (starred review)

***

Statement on Black Lives Matter and support for social change

Guest Posts, Family

Her Body, At Rest

September 6, 2023
letter, envelope

Mom: I think we were quite young when it really started to kick in heavily. And then she was going every day to see a psychiatrist and we were told she was getting French lessons. We were never told what was so. We were never even told she committed suicide.

Julia: How did you learn that she did?

Mom: I guessed

~

When I go through the mail today, I see I have received an envelope from my mother. I’d know her cursive anywhere, her signature ‘S’– for Sally–a series of loops that used to leave me awestruck as a child.

It will either be a New Yorker article or her mother’s suicide notes. She’s been promising both for months.

I bury the envelope within that day’s small pile of mail where it sits, nestled between a ValuPak and a Company Store catalogue. I pass the pile every time I enter or leave my apartment, adding new mail to it daily.

We are standing in the vestibule a week later, when my husband Scott knocks the catalogues and envelopes to the ground for the third time. The small pile has become an unwieldy stack.

“Sweetie,” he says, with a raise of the eyebrow, “would you like me to go through the mail?”

“Oh,” I say, as casually as I can, “no. It’s on my list for today. I think my Grandma Marjorie’s suicide notes may be in there.”

“Jesus,” he says, with a shudder, and wanders into the kitchen ending the conversation.

As I lean down to pick up the scattered envelopes and catalogues, my daughter Esme looks at me with curiosity and says, “Maymay help?” At nearly twenty months, for her the commonplace is exciting and the trivial consequential. On another day, we might make collecting the mail a game. Today, I panic. She cannot touch that letter. She cannot hold that part of the past in her hands. She will be infected. Her brightness eclipsed.

“No,” I reply, all my usual gentleness disposed of. She looks confused for a moment and then her eyes fill with tears. She says simply, sternly to herself, “Maymay help. No.” I reach for her to apologize, but she is already walking away, managing her disappointment in me without me.

Left alone in the vestibule, my body floods with adrenaline. I have an urge the throw myself between my peaceful life and the envelope; to fling the papers out the window and watch them float to the ground like feathers. Or ashes.

Instead, I follow Scott and Esme into the kitchen to make plans for dinner. I do not touch the mail. The scattered envelopes remain until I restack them later, careful to hide the letter somewhere in the center, where it will not be seen.

The next day, while he is out and she is napping, I take the giant stack into the living room and sort it. Stripped of its pile, the envelope lies alone in the middle of the coffee table. White paper sitting on a black surface, it almost glows. I am suddenly tired. I lie down on the couch to rest my eyes for a moment. I wake up an hour later to Esme calling me.

“Mamaaaa? Maaaama?”

I head toward her room. I’ll open the envelope tomorrow.

~

Mom: What I remember happening in the house is just, I didn’t want to be there. And I translated it as a shame that the house was so big and we were so rich and the lights were always on. It was like showing off when I wanted to crawl in a hole. I remember someone who didn’t usually bring me home from a ballet lesson dropping me off at the house and me telling them I didn’t really live there. I was just visiting.

Julia: How old were you at this point?

Mom: I must have been nine, ten. Before our mother went to the hospital, but things were already really bad.

~

That night I dream I am marched into an arena filled with silent spectators and shot point blank in the back of the head. I feel my body hit warm hard dirt and sand. I feel my heart slow to a dull thudding stop.

I wake, sweaty and flooded by memory. I pad into the living room in the semi-darkness and stand in the doorway looking down at the table where the envelope lies, waiting.

It is eighteen years ago. I am twenty and sitting on the kitchen counter top of my childhood home, legs dangling, fists clenched sweaty on my thighs. Even though I’ve been gone for nearly three years, every homecoming still turns me into an angry child with sweaty palms and feet that don’t quite touch the floor. I hate this place. I hate the unopened moving boxes that have been gathering dust since we moved here ten years ago in 1990, peppered throughout the house like landmines marked ‘KITCH G’ and ‘BATH A’ in my mother’s long capital script. I hate the dust, the endless drafts that seem to pour through the walls, the way that— despite its many windows— the house always feels dark. I hate this kitchen, which was ripped out one weekend in a gleeful torrent of artistic ebullience when my mother’s college roommate was visiting with her daughters in 1992 and marked the beginning of a renovation that just never happened. We painted murals on some walls, others we ripped down to the studding. Eight years later, it’s all still there: the angels my mom’s friend Jamie drew, the multicolored phrase ‘WE CAN LIVE IN HARMONY’ I wrote over the door frame which was of course accented, in perfect twelve year old fashion, with a lopsided rainbow. I am just a visitor now, exiled by choice and obligation from my new life in New York City for this weekend visit, but whenever I come home I always leave gasping, as though I might be boxed up and left in the corner. Marked ‘J’ for Julia and never opened again.

I repeatedly bang my heels into the cabinet behind them— percussive and rhythmic: a pounding, a heartbeat. As if by making noise I will not disappear into the past. As if it will make her see me. The twenty-year-old version of the baby she pushed out of her body and the girl who—at seventeen— pushed her way out of this home. We spiral down anyway, chasing and fleeing. My heels, it turns out, are a drumbeat that drives us farther away from this moment and into the twistable memory of my childhood, of what was and was not.

We are not fighting about the fact that I was barred from wearing a bra or shaving my legs until I was well into high school. Nor are we screaming about the fact that once I reached thirteen and therefore passed the age my mother was when her mother died, she systematically started trying to remove all traces of me from the house by putting any belonging I had left outside of my room in our moldy mouse haven of a basement. KITCH G would last through the turn of the millennium but my Doc Martins couldn’t make it through the afternoon. No. We are screaming about my freshman year high school track meets, to which she made one frowning appearance with my brother and was never after seen again.

“You only came to see me run once! And you never said congratulations! You never said you were proud of me!” I scream, sounding like a rejected script page from Saved By The Bell. Tears are streaming down my face and I have failed us both in this. In addition to never discussing our shared past, my mother and I do not—as a rule— cry in front of each other. Crying is weakness. Survival dictates fury.

“You never said you needed me to! You never needed me that way!” she responds, shock and confusion on her face.

“Of course I did!” I don’t say.

“I still do!” I don’t say.

“After enough disappointment, I learned not to need you at all!” I scream.

I can see this remark land on her like a tidal wave, its weight crushing any idea that still exists that our relationship can be saved, that I understand her at all. She is crying now, in a ragged way that embarrasses me.

“You’re lucky I was even alive,” she says, quietly.

Alive. It is the one thing I cannot contest. The thing she gave that was not given to her; the offering that should forgive all other transgressions.

She looks at me. I look away. She breathes as if to speak but says nothing. I look at her to end the silence, to let her know it’s ok not to say anything, but she has looked down. This is the story of our relationship; we seek but never connect, we reach but never touch.

Then, quietly, she says, “Would you like to see my mom’s suicide notes?”

I stare at her, shocked. At her freckled cheeks and auburn hair. The ‘slipper’ nose she hates. The face I love but cannot tolerate. I do not know how to respond to this new offering. I didn’t know these notes existed, let alone existed in our house. I was seven when I learned my grandmother killed herself and nearly eleven before I saw a picture of her, discovered I had her eyes. I’ve spent my life since then wondering where behind our shared eyes her sadness might reside in me, and how I might scoop it out, a surgical procedure of total removal, always fearful of being eaten from the inside out, a nice snack for the darkness that swallowed her whole. If I read these notes, will I be welcoming something? Opening a door? But my mother has reached. I will reach back.

“Ok,” I say.

We pad upstairs. She goes first. I follow. We pass the boxes and the dusty furniture and wend our way to her room. I sit on the floor next to her bed while she rummages through her dresser and takes out several pieces of folded blue stationery. She shuffles them. She doesn’t look at me.

“These aren’t the originals,” she says, “these are copies Aunt Ellen wrote out for me. The cross outs are my mom’s, though. Apparently at the bottom of the one to us there were water marks that Ellen thinks means she was crying. Anyway, here you go.” I take the pages and perch in a patch of sunlight on the edge of her bed to read. She hovers nearby.

~

Back in the present, three days later, I orbit the envelope, still on the coffee table. When it comes to Grandma Marjorie, I’m a satellite circling a planet I will never catch but cannot release.

In the early hours while the house was quiet, I dreamt I was dying of some unnamed illness and leaving my daughter behind. There was nothing I could do to stop it. I felt myself reach for my life, my child. I felt them both slipping away. I woke in the darkness sure that I was ill, disappearing and spent the morning checking my body for the tender swollen places death might live.

I am angry with a dead woman for bringing her despair into my home. I am angry with myself for inviting it.

I have spent years building walls of safety, relegating the chaos of my childhood to tiny piles. My daughter’s life is peaceful and her joy, infectious. In our home, there is evidence of her everywhere. I want her to grow up never questioning her place in the fabric of our family, never doubting my presence or my love for her. She doesn’t know that darkness is her birthright and I have no intention of teaching her.

I imagine my mother sending me her past, trusting me to hold it so she no longer has to. My mother who has gentled, who has turned her grief and rage into a soft forgetfulness, a longing to connect, to be close; who keeps urging me to take ‘all this pain and make something beautiful’.

I pick up the envelope and turn it over in my hands. There are four sheets of paper inside— copies of the handwritten copy I read eighteen years ago— folded neatly into the pocket of a navy note card from my mother; a golden eclipsed sun and many stars that says simply, in her long, loopy script:

As promised.

Love you

sweetheart.

~

Mom: I mean, there are people who have known me for a long time that don’t know my mom committed suicide. People know Ellen about an hour and a half and they know.

Julia: Why do you think that is?

Mom: I think I would say that I’m ashamed somehow. That’s not what mothers do. That you can’t even…you know…not even for you.

~

After reading, I fold the pages and sit, holding them in my lap. I think of my daughter’s tiny body, asleep in the next room, safe in her knowledge of me. I imagine my mother as a child, suddenly motherless. I remember myself at twenty, sitting with these same pages, my mother just across a patch of sunlight. Through time and space I feel my mother look at me. I look back. We reach.

Julia Motyka

Julia Motyka is a writer, performer, and yoga teacher. She lives in NYC with her husband, two kids, and an ever-growing menagerie of animals. She’s working on a memoir and an essay collection. Occasionally she posts things @juliamotyka_me. Maybe she will tweet someday. That day is not today.

***

Wondering what to read next? 

This is not your typical divorce memoir.

Elizabeth Crane’s marriage is ending after fifteen years. While the marriage wasn’t perfect, her husband’s announcement that it is over leaves her reeling, and this gem of a book is the result. Written with fierce grace, her book tells the story of the marriage, the beginning and the end, and gives the reader a glimpse into what comes next for Crane.

“Reading about another person’s pain should not be this enjoyable, but Crane’s writing, full of wit and charm, makes it so.”
Kirkus (starred review)

***

Statement on Black Lives Matter and support for social change

Guest Posts, Grief

Babyland

January 6, 2022
cemetery

By Kris Martinez

Though I’d barely known him, I’d thought about him off and on over the years. If anything, he came to me as a passing thought of the strange way seventh grade had begun with the announcement of our teacher’s death just after Labor Day. The memory was almost always accompanied by the vision of Joyce K. running around the playground at recess in her hand-me-down maroon plaid uniform, the warm September sun shining on her ratty reddish hair as she sang her song in soaring arcs. The old elastic of her graying white knee socks puddled down around her ankles and her arms spread wide as she flew across the blacktop and dashed over the lines of the basketball court, singing, “Mr. Le Vasseur is de-ad! Mr. Le Vasseur is de-ad!”

Every time his memory knocked at the door of my brain I tried to will it away, telling myself I barely had any right to remember him. I didn’t know this man. His story wasn’t mine to tell. And yet, the more I tried to ignore it, the more insistent it became.

When I finalKris Martinez has over twenty-five years of experience as a marketing and advertising professional and has owned a digital creative agency near Chicago for the past sixteen years. Her company’s work has been recognized with dozens of industry awards and she is a member of several professional organizations. Kris’s work has appeared in Enterprising Women Magazine where she was honored in 2018 as an Enterprising Woman of the Year and currently serves as a Board Member and writer. In addition to being a speaker for Crain’s Chicago Business on entrepreneurship and fostering growth among women-led businesses, she has been a guest lecturer at several Chicago-area universities and served as a judge in marketing and advertising competitions. In 2020, Kris will complete her MFA in Creative Nonfiction and Screenwriting from Antioch University Los Angeles. The essay Babyland is excerpted from Descent Into Light, her first book. She has also completed a feature-length screenplay of the same name. Kris and her husband live near Chicago with their three children.ly went looking for him after thirty-five years, there wasn’t much to find. He wasn’t married and didn’t have children. My research uncovered a brother, now deceased. He’d had a niece and nephew and was preceded in death by his parents. I’d long known he was from St. Charles, where we’d lived for the past fifteen years, which I considered a minor coincidence. But it never really occurred to me to look for his grave until the day I was suddenly consumed by the thought and couldn’t focus on anything else.

Union Cemetery on the east side of St. Charles was my destination, just north of town on Route 25, the north-south highway that runs adjacent to the Fox River, about thirty-five miles west of downtown Chicago. It would be impossible to count the times I’d driven past the cemetery, taking Harper to her Little Acorns program at the park district or picking up Maya from birthday parties and outings with the Girl Scouts. In the past thirty-five years that I’d been living my life, Mr. LeVasseur had been there in the ground.

As I drove north on Route 25, I passed the St. Charles Episcopal Church where I’d been to a few A.A. meetings early on in my recovery. On this day, I was happy to see they were proudly flying a rainbow flag with the words, “Everyone is Welcome.” It was a balm to see such an inviting message in a world that seemed to get more divisive by the day.

Across the street is Bethlehem Lutheran Church, where I’d desperately gone after I slipped up and drank again only to find that they were closed. As I dejectedly walked away from the locked doors that day, a woman in black glasses and grey sweatpants asked me if I was looking for a meeting. I said yes. She said it only took two people to meet, so we sat on a cement bench outside the closed doors of the church and she recited all the familiar words by heart. She said that alcoholics slip up all the time, but it’s getting back on the wagon and trying again that counts, so that’s what I did. It was one of the best meetings I’ve ever had.

As I drove past these two churches where I’d laid my sinful heart bare, I checked in with myself: it no longer hurt to remember these things. I needed every last drink to find my bottom. And it took every last meeting to get me on the path of recovery.

I arrived at Union Cemetery and pulled to the side of the paved lane to assess the grounds, not knowing where to begin. Fortunately, I had seen a photo of the headstone someone had posted online. It was a red granite stone, at a low angle to the ground. Newer, if thirty-five years is new. Which I guess it is in a cemetery.

It was a warm day, sunny and in the upper eighties with the humidity creeping towards one hundred percent. The grass was thick with moisture and clung to my flip-flopped feet as I worked my way methodically up and down the rows, training my eye on only the newer, red granite stones.

As I read name after name, the concept of a grave marker intrigued me. It contains only the barest of facts: a name, the dates of birth and death, and that’s usually about it. A veteran will typically have the details of his or her branch and years of service. Some people opt for a short poem or scripture passage, but not often.

I saw many headstones that had the word Mother or Father etched into them. The deceased’s children or family would have placed these stones and settled on this singular word to describe their loved one. But these people – they weren’t just Mother or Father. They were Son, Daughter. Friend. Sister. Aunt. Lover. At what point does one decide: now, forever more, she shall be known as Mother? Such a commitment to confining the dead to a single-word description in her relationship to others. How can one’s life be summed up on a single stone? And yet – isn’t it our relationships with others that matter most?

I came across several old St. Charles families I recognized, notable names like Baker, Anderson, and Norris. So many prominent people who’d had roads, parks, and hotels named after them like Beith, Farnsworth, and Dunham. These were distinguished people who’d made names for themselves in life and whose elaborate gravesites now served as permanent reminders of their lasting influence – or at least, their wealth. Now, they were all gone.

I thought of how all of these people had lived and died. What had their lives been like? Did they accomplish everything they wanted in whatever time they’d been given? What sort of pain and suffering had they gone through? How did they die? But more importantly: how had they lived?

I tried to peel my shirt away from the river of sweat that was now running down my back. The heat almost suffocated me as another elaborate stone jolted me with its familiar name: Swanberg, the country road near our home. It was to Swanberg Road I’d gone on the day I decided to end my life. After texting my husband and siblings goodbye and telling them to tell my kids I loved them, I’d planted my feet in the middle of Swanberg Road as a Mack truck barreled down on me, closing my eyes as I prepared for impact.

Swanberg Road was the site of my second suicide attempt, and I was here to visit the grave of my teacher who had died by suicide. I thought of this now as I stood looking at this headstone. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I listened to the insects buzzing nearby and felt the warm sun on my skin. I put my hand on my chest to feel my beating heart and the rise and fall of my breathing. I needed to remind myself that though these Swanbergs were gone, I was still here.

As I searched for my teacher, I thought of how he had lived. I realized again that though I knew nothing about this man, his death had continued to haunt me after all this time.

***

While I had been wandering through row after row trying to cover as much ground as possible, there was a young couple in the cemetery who had stayed in the same general area, hugging each other as they cried. I was mindful to keep my search at a respectful distance.

A groundskeeper walked over to talk to the couple. I overheard him telling them that he was a fourth generation caretaker: his great grandfather had been in the business, followed by his grandfather and father. Job stability, I thought. There’s always going to be death.

As my hunt through the headstones brought me closer to the couple, I realized the caretaker was consulting with them on different spaces that were available. The area they were standing in was edged by a well-manicured row of hedges, and the plots were much smaller and closer together than in the rest of the cemetery. Many of the gravesites had little toy cars or stuffed animals placed on them. One featured a blue ceramic Cookie Monster painted in a perpetual smile.

Unlike the headstones in the rest of the cemetery, many of these said “Our Baby” or “Infant Child.” These were people who would never have the chance to grow into or be defined by any other relationships; they would forever be Our Baby. Here, I had no need to be so judgmental of the choice of words selected by their loved ones. In almost all cases, these headstones had been chosen and purchased by the parents of a dead child.

I heard the caretaker say he had to head back to his office for a bit and told the couple they could stay as long as they liked. Realizing he could probably help me in my quest, I got back in my car and followed him to the old groundskeeper building.

“Can I help you find someone?” he said kindly. I noticed he didn’t ask if I was looking for a grave or a headstone. He didn’t even say just a generic, “Can I help you?” or, “Need some help?” He asked if he could help me find someone.

“I’m looking for a person who died in 1985,” I said, showing him the picture of the headstone on my phone.

“Aw that’s great someone posted a picture so you had something to go off of,” he said, looking at the photo. “I recognize him. Let me find him for you.”

I followed the lanky caretaker into his wood paneled office which was filled with a massive desk and a few folded American flags on a battered brown couch. I was thankful for the air conditioning unit that was trying mightily to battle the rising temperature outside; it felt good to catch a break from the heat.

He pulled a beat-up old map of the cemetery out of a closet cabinet. The ancient paper was mounted on a large board and protected under cracked plastic that curled at the edges. He opened a thick three-ring binder that listed the details of each burial plot and quickly turned to the L’s.

“LeVasseur…Delmar. There he is!” he said, marking a miniature map of the cemetery to help guide me in my search. “Looks like he’s in Babyland, right where we just were.” I was shocked to hear him use my teacher’s name, thinking, like a child, that teachers don’t have first names. It was uncomfortable to hear it; it felt too intimate. It made him human.

But it rattled me to hear him use the term “Babyland,” like it was an amusement park. It seemed too casual a name for the infant section, like the babies deserved something more respectful.

He pointed to the Babyland section on the map and I saw something that I hadn’t realized when I’d been standing there: the well-manicured row of hedges outlining the area was in the shape of a heart.

“Really? He was forty-two when he died,” I said, surprised that he’d be buried there.

He checked his log again. “Oh, I see what I did. No, Delmar’s over here,” he said, apologizing as he corrected my map for me. The grave I was looking for was on the other side of the cemetery and back toward the entrance; at the rate I’d been going, it would have taken me another two hours to find it. The whole process was so efficient, I wondered why I had let myself wander around for so long before asking for help.

“That couple I was just talking to? They had twins, and one didn’t make it,” he said, shaking his head. “Losing a child – that’s the worst way to go.”

My chest ached as I thought of the torment the parents of the deceased child must be going through. I’d been at the cemetery almost an hour, and they had been standing in the same place the entire time: under a tree near the manicured hedge as they tried to decide on the impossible.

“The man I’m looking for – he was a suicide,” I said. “Is he…I mean…you don’t have a separate area for suicides, do you?”

“No, no, we have them all over the place.” He laughed as he thought about how that sounded. “I just mean, they’re treated like anyone else. But that’s a terrible way to die. I mean, when someone’s in their eighties or whatever, that makes sense. But babies and suicides – that’s never good.”

I told him about the book I was reading on suicide and how not so very long ago, people who died by suicide weren’t allowed to be buried in a regular cemetery. In some societies, they often weren’t allowed to be buried within the city limits, and heinous things were often done to their bodies after death an in effort to shame them and make an example of them to everyone else.

“That’s terrible,” he said. “That’s a terrible way to treat people. It’s hard enough losing someone to suicide. Why would they put their families through that?” He went on to tell me that he’d lost two of his closest friends to suicide.

I thanked him for the map and his time and drove to the north end of the cemetery near the entrance, just on the other side of the golf course. I heard the thwack of a golf ball and saw golfers through the tree line making their way down the smooth, green course. It was a beautiful day for golf. A beautiful day to be alive.

I got out of my car and scanned the rows of headstones, my eyes now accustomed to searching out only red granite. I quickly zeroed in on two rows of red and made my way closer, but I was in no way prepared for how I would feel once I actually saw it: Delmar LeVassseur.

Seeing his name etched in red granite was so final. Reaching out to touch his headstone, I heaved as I traced with my fingers the year he had died: 1985. I pictured his brown corduroy jacket with the leather elbow patches, his neatly trimmed goatee. But it was his quiet demeanor and his kind, dark eyes that came to me now. I exploded in tears and collapsed to my knees as I cried in heavy, gasping sobs.

Embarrassed by my reaction, I chastised myself: why was I crying? I didn’t know this man. I didn’t know anything about him at all. Logic would say: move on. Forget it. It’s a non-thing.

But it wasn’t, to me. Something in me needed to understand what drove him to take his own life. After all these years, I needed to know more. I needed to know: what happened? What happened next? And here, finally, I had at least part of the answer.

What happened next was that his body was placed here in this cemetery, likely by his brother, and he’d been here ever since. What happened next was what happens after suicide: death. Forever.

I knew that he had been preceded in death by his parents not long before he had died, but his grave was alone, between two strangers. Where was his family? Why wasn’t he buried with them? I cried even harder realizing that he had been buried alone.

I knelt on the grass and cried as long as the tears would come, taking off my sunglasses to wipe my eyes. Streams of black mascara ran down my face and stained my white shirt.

After a time, I stood up to go and casually looked at the names on the surrounding graves and noticed two red granite headstones in the next row: Lee and Ann LeVasseur. I hadn’t seen them when I first found his grave; I’d been too overcome with emotion. I was relieved to see that he wasn’t alone after all.

I wanted to see his grave because I needed to know that he was real. He was more than just the way he died, more than just a troubled girl’s singsong hanging on the September sky.

He was a real human being who battled a lot of demons and lost. He mattered.

It wasn’t Mr. LeVasseur’s suicide that led to my first attempt to take my life five years later. Nor was it his fault when I made a second attempt twenty-five years after that. When I was seventeen, I’d already been living at the bottom of depression with notions of death for longer than I cared to remember. When I was forty-two, the same age he’d been, that same madness had returned, now compounded by addiction.

My seventh grade teacher wouldn’t be the last person I’d know to attempt or die by suicide, but he was the first. I didn’t know him, but I knew his pain.

As I got back in my car, I saw that the couple with the deceased twin was still standing under the tree, near the heart-shaped manicured hedge, putting off their agonizing decision as long as possible. My grief was no match against the awful reality of a dead baby; I could drive away, but for this couple, they would never escape the tortuous agony of losing a child.

And yet – grief is not a competition; we don’t need to compare. There is simply no limit to the amount of sorrow in this world. But allowing ourselves to feel what we feel is the only way to get through it and make our way back towards the light.

Kris’s work has appeared in Enterprising Women Magazine where she was honored in 2018 as an Enterprising Woman of the Year and currently serves as a Board Member and writer. In addition to being a speaker for Crain’s Chicago Business on entrepreneurship and fostering growth among women-led businesses, she has been a guest lecturer at several Chicago-area universities and served as a judge in marketing and advertising competitions. Kris completed her MFA in Creative Nonfiction and Screenwriting from Antioch University Los Angeles. The essay Babyland is excerpted from Descent Into Light, her first book. She has also completed a feature-length screenplay of the same name. Kris and her husband live near Chicago with their three children.

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Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option.

Guest Posts, Family, memories

Four Shots: Looking for Signs of a Life

August 14, 2021
white

by Suzanne Orrell

The black and white photograph you scanned that day shows your mother ­–– my would-be-mother-in-law. She is holding you on her jutted-out hip in waist high water at Lake Pontchartrain Beach. Her dark curls gather under a sun bright straw hat. Upturned crinkles smile at the corner of her eyes. The crook of your left arm is firmly clasped around her neck. Sunshine catches water droplets that linger before sloping from the fingertips of your right hand. Fred, your older brother, easily splashes beside you. The shot captures the roller coaster tracks of the Zephyr in the background as they arc skyward before sinking into troughs. You look certain that she, is

Your mother, guiding you down a playground slide. Your brother sits behind you, hands taut against your tummy. Both of you, dressed in plaid, short sleeved shirts patiently smile, not one hair out of place on either of your heads. This shot shows how the skinny white belt encircling the dark material of her dress accentuates your mother’s waist. Her hair looks freshly done. She has recently applied lipstick. She looks stylish, seems cheerful. The gleam in her eye is genuine given the low sky, broken by distant storm clouds. When you first discovered this photograph a couple of years ago, you called me in from the kitchen. Somehow, in all this time, it is one you’d not seen. “Does this look like her?” you ask. I couldn’t believe you weren’t certain that, she is

Your mother, tacking friction rubbed balloons to the wall for your birthday party. The black and white photograph proves it is your fifth because the number five is visible on the party-hat you are wearing. Neighborhood hat-wearing children gather with you around a large, unopened present. Even Jingles, the German Shepherd, wears a hat. Your mother wears one too. If there is a gleam in her eye in this shot, it is obscured from behind her cat-eyed glasses. Her hair looks flat, faded. She does not smile. She is staring down the barrel of the camera. If a look could kill. Her floral apron makes her look frumpy. “Has she put on weight? Or maybe, is it conceivable she’s pregnant with my sister?” you ask.

The final shot you scanned that day shows a tall glass lamp with a dark lampshade crowned by a belt of white ribbon. The lamp offers zero illumination. The black and white photograph shows off the lamp’s proportions visible in the long-necked taper toward the flared curve of the base. It is graceful, transparent, window-pane wavy yet impossible to tell whether the lamp is wired for a three-way or single wattage bulb. After the photograph was taken, your mother, custom fit tiny red pieces of tile to this lamp, little mosaic pulse points positioned in cement. Then, in one final action she extinguished her own life. Your mother is absent, missing, from all further photographs.

Today, the lamp sits in its final resting place, a monument on a waist high table in your stepmother’s house, surrounded by accumulated clutter, a melee of mail–some not even opened–magazines, mess. Despite its height, despite its grace, despite the red tiles, despite her handiwork, the lamp tends to go unnoticed amidst the chaos. It’s plugged in, but rarely, if ever, switched on.

You, forever her son, scan the documentation, search the long shadows in black and white, looking for clues that she, is your mother.

Suzanne Orrell lives and writes in Idaho. A former chef and caterer, she finds that writing, like cooking, requires patience, craft and honesty. When she’s not writing or dreaming up the next meal she enjoys taking long walks, playing tennis and travel.

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Leigh Stein is amazing, no really she is. Leigh was cofounder and executive director of Out of the Binders/BinderCon, a feminist literary nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the careers of women and gender variant writers. The Land of Enchantment was our first introduction to Leigh, and her memoir of a broken love and lost dreams placed this writer firmly on our radar. Leigh’s recent novel, Self Care, received rave (and starred) reviews and is a highbrow yet satirical look at influencer culture. This month, though, she released a book of poetry  that is everything. What to Miss When: Poems is a look at the internet, the pandemic, and the life lived in between. Leigh is an amazing talent, pick up one of her books and let us know what you think!

Order the book from Amazon or Bookshop.org

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motherhood, Guest Posts, Tough Conversations

Motherhood (or Lack Thereof)

May 9, 2021
one

by  Maegan Gwaltney

My two small nephews and tiny niece climbed out of the couch cushion fortress on the bedroom floor. As the first sliver of sunlight whispered through the blinds, they jumped around me on the bed, shouting the details of their dreams. I was in my early twenties and loved my older sister’s kids- the weasels as I affectionately called them- with a fierceness I was unprepared for. It’s a testament to that love that I let them turn my bed into a bounce-house at the ass-crack of dawn, gladly trading sleep for the music of their laughter.

“I wish we lived here,” four-year-old Katie said as we sat eating breakfast.

“It wouldn’t be as fun if you lived here all the time,” I answered. “Because I’m your aunt, I don’t get to see you every day. So, when I do, we stay up late, have treasure hunts in the woods, and eat dessert pizza. If I was responsible for you all the time, you’d have homework, bedtimes, and healthy foods.”

“Like a mom,” she said, full mouth dripping milk. “When will you have kids so we can play with them?”

“Chew! You’re gonna choke,” I said.

“Cooousins!” her older brother Lee shouted.

“I don’t think that’s gonna be any time soon,” I said, thinking that no child should be born into the shitstorm that was my relationship with my Sort-of-Ex-Boyfriend.

“Mom says you’ll be forty before you have kids,” Lee smiled.

“What?” I laughed, nearly spraying the table with Cinnamon Life. “I’m going to ask your mom about that.”

Jake sandwiched between Lee and Katie in age, and always one step ahead, was quiet, pondering. As he took a bite of his cereal, I watched the thought arrive.

“Guys! If she has kids, she won’t have time for us!”

Their eyes grew wide.

“That’s not totally true,” I said. “I’ll always make time for you guys. But when I have my own kids, there will be fewer slumber parties.”

Not if. When. A word spent with unquestioning confidence. A safe and far away assumption, believing I’d have my own tribe to follow the paths worn in the woods by those around the table that morning, my first lessons in a love larger than I thought my heart could hold. My only lessons. Forty has come and gone, my empty arms proving my sister’s prediction wrong.

***

When I was 13, 14, 15 as my body began to curve and spread, I’d stand in front of the full-length mirror in my bedroom with a wadded-up shirt under the one I was wearing. T-shirt for the first, and second trimester. Sweatshirt for the third. I took the business of making it look realistic very seriously. Sculpting it into a perfect mound. When I was sure it was right, I’d step back from the mirror, discovering who I had become, a calm smile spreading across my face, butterflies releasing in my true tummy. I’d turn sideways and stare at the roundness, the size of it. I’d rub my hands over it, cupping them underneath as if the weight demanded more support. I’d stand there for the longest time, enchanted by my reflection, by how beautiful I felt. Unable to take my eyes off the woman waiting for me.

I had things I wanted to do first, acting, writing. It took me years to stabilize the overwhelming anxiety that limited me for most of my life, later diagnosed as OCD. I just assumed, despite my late start, I’d find the right person, the right time for children. Neither ever happened.

***

I lived in Los Angeles for eight years. I’d moved there to pursue acting, which mostly amounted to selling vitamins to the Rich and Angry in Beverly Hills. The winter before moving home, I had my thyroid removed due to cancer. Both of my sisters flew out to be with me. Two days after surgery, weak and emotional, a bandage over my open wound, I took them sightseeing.

We stood on the stairway of The Kodak Theater in Hollywood, home of the Oscars. I’d watched countless times as actresses climbed those steps, believing the view would one day be mine. That morning, hormones raging in the key of clear-eyed reality, I collapsed into my oldest sister’s arms on those stairs sobbing. This isn’t going to happen for me. I always thought it was. But it isn’t. This same truth finds me now.

My body’s turning the page. Nature, that unrelenting bitch, does not bargain for time.

***

Motherhood, or lack thereof, was never a choice I made. I suppose, in some way, it was a series of micro-decisions, so imperceptibly small that I barely noticed I was choosing one path by not choosing another. Still, there’s no moment in the road behind me that I look to and say I should’ve done it here or that man should’ve been the one. Perhaps it would be different if I were a woman who mapped her life instead of trusting the compass in her gut. But I’m a woman who wakes in the night, panicked by some tiny mistake, my mind punishing me for something that will be meaningless next month. So, I’m grateful not having children can’t be distilled down to one moment or choice because that’s a one-way ticket down a rabbit hole I can’t afford. I cling to the hope that there was a knowing in me, greater than the sum of my regret looking back, a wisdom in trusting the compass that led me here.

***

I always believed I’d have a son. His image was born with my Sort-of-Ex-Boyfriend. I could see this little boy clearly in my mind’s eye, dark hair and deep hazel eyes, a gentle, curious soul with a tiny smile that lit up his face, sitting on the kitchen counter as he asked me a question, reaching for my hand as we walk or melting his weight into my chest, the constant thrum of my heart his lullaby, as I carried him in my arms.  Everything about him felt familiar, this little loved one I hadn’t met waiting in the future, certain though far away.

The name came almost as sudden as the image, unique and beautiful, like music running through my mind. Though I sang it inside my head, practicing for Some Day, for a long time I wouldn’t say it out loud. I felt some strange superstition as if it were a magic spell I’d cast on my future, whose certainty lived in silence, a wish that if spoken wouldn’t come true. Over the years, the mythical fathers changed like a revolving cast of characters, but two things remained, belonging only to me, this sweet boy and his beautiful name. I’d search for it in baby books, excited to find it, annoyed when it was listed for girls and not boys. I’d judge the different spellings and never remember the meaning until I’d see it in print, discovering it again every time. Mighty warrior.

***

I meet my friend at a bar for wine and writing, which we both know will only ever turn into wine. She has notes for this essay.

“No writing advice, but you should definitely get knocked up,” she says refilling my glass.

I laugh at her certainty, knowing how simple it seems from the outside. With my obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression, the chaos in my head seems louder with each passing year. I’ve used every tool I have to fight my way to solid ground: therapy, medication, yoga, meditation. I need a certain amount of rest and peace to keep myself on an even keel. How fair would it be to add a child to that?

“You’re making excuses,” she says. “This sounds like something you really want, have always wanted. Life is short.”

In the week after that conversation, I sing the notes of his name in my mind. I lay down words in my laptop and discover the truth of what she’s said, somehow surprised by the depth and length of this want that’s been with me for so long. I visit the feeling of him, the weight and rhythm of his deep sleep breathing against my chest. I ask myself questions.

What is the difference between an excuse and a reason? Would a child give me incentive beyond myself, beyond my family to keep fighting the darkness in my mind? Or would it make it harder, swallowing, not only me but my innocent child? Is that just my OCD demanding the certainty of some perfect outcome before committing? Or is it logic, raising her voice above want?

***

I rush onto the train grabbing a seat, swinging my backpack onto my lap. A small voice floats over rows of winter hats to find me.

“What kind is this one, with the pointies?”

A father is reading a book about dinosaurs to his daughter, who is maybe five years old. I turn my head and watch them. I do this a lot lately, studying parents and children as if I’ve just landed on this planet, which in a way I have. I find myself staring at the way they interact, fascinated by this intimate verbal shorthand I will never speak. A language I knew once, years ago, but whose fluency has faded with lack of use.

***

“They are as much yours as mine,” my sister, Shannon, says of her children. She calls them Ours. A beautiful gift and powerful salve housed in this tiny word.

She keeps reminding me that it’s not too late for me to be a mother. Shannon had two kids by the time she was 20, her whole life built around these beautiful, needy creatures, shaped to fit their care before she’d run grooves of habit and preference into the surface of her life. I stand at the other end of this spectrum, a lifetime on my own, wondering when the grooves got so deep.

***

My dreams are haunted by the ghosts of Potential Father’s past, like some surreal Lifetime movie starring all the guys I’ve dated. My Sort-of-Ex-Boyfriend. The Good Guy, whose heart I dragged through the shitstorm relationship with my Sort-of-Ex-Boyfriend, like a selfish child clutching at both. The Republican, who I loved but wasn’t in love with, The Wine Guy, who followed me across the country to chase a dream that wasn’t his. In the dark chaos of these dreams, they are always leaving. I am on the outside, alone, soaked in sadness for what is no longer mine, unsure if my decision was the right one. One by one, night after night, they knock on the door of my subconscious, as if to ask, “Are you positive I wasn’t the one?” I wake disoriented and filled with the grief of being left behind. Still, the answer to their question is always yes.

***

I am a teacher’s assistant in a classroom of children with special needs. Before Covid remote learning, my heart would swell as I walked down the hallway, tiny bodies rushing past, loud, untamed, and excited. Everything about me vibrated to the frequency of their laughter.

I possess a strange confidence in working with kids, one I rarely allow myself elsewhere. I’m good at connecting with them, all the Auntie mojo in me finally being used again. I thought that this job was a beautiful solution, outsmarting the loss, filling the place in me that felt empty. But I slowly began realizing how wrong I was.

There was no distance to protect me. Jealousy tightened in my chest when my coworkers coddled my favorites. I’d push it down, but guilt flooded in to replace it. I interrogated my reactions. What’s wrong with me? In the halls where small bodies stampede, I felt joy lined with sadness. None of these little beings would ever be mine to build forts with or have treasure hunts. This was my job. I loved it, and I wanted that to be enough. But the place I hoped to fill only echoed louder with emptiness.

***

I spent eight years in Los Angeles torn between the future I imagined acting and the family I adored in Illinois. I always thought the decision to walk away would come to me suddenly, an undeniable mandate spoken in the deep voice of the gods. I never suspected it would bubble up from inside me, slowly melting my beliefs like ice, one quiet idea at a time.

When I think of motherhood, settling into the silence beneath thought, I feel a quiet certainty, rising up from a bone-tired body that has survived so much: autoimmune disease, thyroid cancer, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder. It whispers a truth that weighs more than words: I cannot do it alone.

Maybe the compass in my gut has been broken all along. But I’m choosing to listen to my body.

***

My nephew Jake, the little boy who sat in the kitchen so many years ago, took his own life at 22. In the months following, I’d look at babies, feeling a pull in the deepest part of my belly, some never-was umbilical cord tugging me towards a tiny soul I hoped to meet. Maybe it was the life force raging in me, or the echo of my best memories, longing to start again.

In sharing the devastating loss, I discovered something in the eyes of strangers, a sort of silent calculation of the amount of grief I was allowed, some strange hierarchy of mourning.

Who were you to him again?

I was his aunt. I am his aunt.

As I silently debate the correct tense for dead loved ones, the softness in their faces fades a fraction, relieved to not have to comfort his mother, sister, or wife. At least that’s how I interpret it, perhaps filtered through my own insecurity. Just the aunt. I wanted to download a lifetime of memories shared, to prove I’d earned the intensity of what I was feeling.

People forget that mother is not only a noun but a powerful verb, lifting trucks off babies, laying down lives to save them. I’m not a mother. I will never claim that noun. But I’ve mothered. A verb woven in my bones, called to life the first time I met my nephew’s eyes. If you say it’s not the same, you’re right. But my version of this verb, the only action I’ve ever been certain of, is no less real or fierce, or natural.

Ask the children. Search their eyes. Scan the molecules of their brightest moments. You’ll find me there, slowly arriving at a place where I understand how this verb shaped my life. Learning to let go of the noun that will never be mine, by recognizing the children who somehow still are.  

Ours.

***

It’s not a perfect process. I inch closer to acceptance by focusing on all I’ve been given. But the truth is, I’m still floating in an ocean of ambivalence, the waves changing every day.

When I ache for the little voices that will never wake me for breakfast, I’m comforted by the ones that did so long ago, when I believed being an aunt was meant to prepare me for motherhood. It turns out, this was the journey I was built for, the privilege of watching these amazing beings change, their lives expanding, the root of our love reaching deeper than I thought possible. No longer the children who ran into my arms, they are still the core of everything I am, saving me from myself with every call, visit, text or memory.

Being an aunt changed me. It’s a love that hums in my blood, sewn into my soul, unchanged by time, space, and even death.  But there is an emptiness in me that sometimes aches for more, a loss no one else can see.

I’ve learned to mourn the past, the lives and seasons that altered and defined mine. But how do you grieve for something that never was? How much space is this invisible loss allowed? It’s a familiar hymn on the lips of so many people reaching this season of their lives, the sun setting on Someday, the Far Away Future suddenly tomorrow, then yesterday, then out of reach.

  We can make space for that. Or we can run from it. With alcohol, sex, drama, or drugs, tangling ourselves in regret, missing chances to change the moment we’re living. I’ve done a lot of running in my life. Now I’m searching for the courage to be still and level my face at the reflection of the life I’ve created.

***

Lately, I stand in front of the mirror, staring at the naked length of myself, changed by time, gravity, cellulite, and weight. I rub my hands over my belly, a place never occupied, smooth and unstretched. My eyes follow the gentle curve of my hips, unwidened by birth. I don’t know one mother who’d trade her child for the stretch marks they caused. Still, I cling to this bikini season consolation prize, my shallow insurance against regret.

As I take in the naked truth of who I’ve become, this body home to the choices I’ve made, I search for her, beyond the shape I thought she’d carry. Meeting her eyes, I offer a soft smile, opening my empty arms to this woman waiting for me.

***

Digging through closets on a recent visit to my mom’s, I discovered a baby name book I bought years ago. The blue eyes of the plump diapered boy on the cover tucked safely away through all my moves. I turned the pages, landing quickly on the one with the corner bent, marked by my younger self as if I might need a map to find my way back. In the middle of the page, the spelling I chose for him glows bright highlighter yellow. It’s meaning below, new again. Mighty warrior.

I hear the music of his name in my head, then softly say it out loud.

Kaelan.

I would’ve named him Kaelan.

 Maegan Gwaltney is a Chicago writer, storyteller, and reigning World’s Greatest Aunt (with the t-shirt to back that up). She’s working on a memoir about family, grief, and coming to terms with her own mental health after losing two beloved nephews to suicide. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram at @MaeG765.

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Megan Galbraith is a writer we keep our eye on, in part because she does amazing work with found objects, and in part because she is fearless in her writing. Her debut memoir-in-essays, The Guild of the Infant Saviour: An Adopted Child’s Memory Book , is everything we hoped for from this creative artist. Born in a charity hospital in Hell’s Kitchen four years before Governor Rockefeller legalized abortion in New York. Galbraith’s birth mother was sent away to The Guild of the Infant Saviour––a Catholic home for unwed mothers in Manhattan––to give birth in secret. On the eve of becoming a mother herself, Galbraith began a search for the truth about her past, which led to a realization of her two identities and three mothers.

This is a remarkable book. The writing is steller, the visual art is effective, and the story itself is important.

Pick up a copy at Bookshop.org or Amazon and let us know what you think!

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Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

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Click here for all things Jen

Guest Posts, Grief

Babyland

January 27, 2021
cemetery

By Kris Martinez

Though I’d barely known him, I’d thought about him off and on over the years. If anything, he came to me as a passing thought of the strange way seventh grade had begun with the announcement of our teacher’s death just after Labor Day. The memory was almost always accompanied by the vision of Joyce K. running around the playground at recess in her hand-me-down maroon plaid uniform, the warm September sun shining on her ratty reddish hair as she sang her song in soaring arcs. The old elastic of her graying white knee socks puddled down around her ankles and her arms spread wide as she flew across the blacktop and dashed over the lines of the basketball court, singing, “Mr. Le Vasseur is de-ad! Mr. Le Vasseur is de-ad!”

Every time his memory knocked at the door of my brain I tried to will it away, telling myself I barely had any right to remember him. I didn’t know this man. His story wasn’t mine to tell. And yet, the more I tried to ignore it, the more insistent it became.

When I finally went looking for him after thirty-five years, there wasn’t much to find. He wasn’t married and didn’t have children. My research uncovered a brother, now deceased. He’d had a niece and nephew and was preceded in death by his parents. I’d long known he was from St. Charles, where we’d lived for the past fifteen years, which I considered a minor coincidence. But it never really occurred to me to look for his grave until the day I was suddenly consumed by the thought and couldn’t focus on anything else.

Union Cemetery on the east side of St. Charles was my destination, just north of town on Route 25, the north-south highway that runs adjacent to the Fox River, about thirty-five miles west of downtown Chicago. It would be impossible to count the times I’d driven past the cemetery, taking Harper to her Little Acorns program at the park district or picking up Maya from birthday parties and outings with the Girl Scouts. In the past thirty-five years that I’d been living my life, Mr. LeVasseur had been there in the ground.

As I drove north on Route 25, I passed the St. Charles Episcopal Church where I’d been to a few A.A. meetings early on in my recovery. On this day, I was happy to see they were proudly flying a rainbow flag with the words, “Everyone is Welcome.” It was a balm to see such an inviting message in a world that seemed to get more divisive by the day.

Across the street is Bethlehem Lutheran Church, where I’d desperately gone after I slipped up and drank again only to find that they were closed. As I dejectedly walked away from the locked doors that day, a woman in black glasses and grey sweatpants asked me if I was looking for a meeting. I said yes. She said it only took two people to meet, so we sat on a cement bench outside the closed doors of the church and she recited all the familiar words by heart. She said that alcoholics slip up all the time, but it’s getting back on the wagon and trying again that counts, so that’s what I did. It was one of the best meetings I’ve ever had.

As I drove past these two churches where I’d laid my sinful heart bare, I checked in with myself: it no longer hurt to remember these things. I needed every last drink to find my bottom. And it took every last meeting to get me on the path of recovery.

I arrived at Union Cemetery and pulled to the side of the paved lane to assess the grounds, not knowing where to begin. Fortunately, I had seen a photo of the headstone someone had posted online. It was a red granite stone, at a low angle to the ground. Newer, if thirty-five years is new. Which I guess it is in a cemetery.

It was a warm day, sunny and in the upper eighties with the humidity creeping towards one hundred percent. The grass was thick with moisture and clung to my flip-flopped feet as I worked my way methodically up and down the rows, training my eye on only the newer, red granite stones.

As I read name after name, the concept of a grave marker intrigued me. It contains only the barest of facts: a name, the dates of birth and death, and that’s usually about it. A veteran will typically have the details of his or her branch and years of service. Some people opt for a short poem or scripture passage, but not often.

I saw many headstones that had the word Mother or Father etched into them. The deceased’s children or family would have placed these stones and settled on this singular word to describe their loved one. But these people – they weren’t just Mother or Father. They were Son, Daughter. Friend. Sister. Aunt. Lover. At what point does one decide: now, forever more, she shall be known as Mother? Such a commitment to confining the dead to a single-word description in her relationship to others. How can one’s life be summed up on a single stone? And yet – isn’t it our relationships with others that matter most?

I came across several old St. Charles families I recognized, notable names like Baker, Anderson, and Norris. So many prominent people who’d had roads, parks, and hotels named after them like Beith, Farnsworth, and Dunham. These were distinguished people who’d made names for themselves in life and whose elaborate gravesites now served as permanent reminders of their lasting influence – or at least, their wealth. Now, they were all gone.

I thought of how all of these people had lived and died. What had their lives been like? Did they accomplish everything they wanted in whatever time they’d been given? What sort of pain and suffering had they gone through? How did they die? But more importantly: how had they lived?

I tried to peel my shirt away from the river of sweat that was now running down my back. The heat almost suffocated me as another elaborate stone jolted me with its familiar name: Swanberg, the country road near our home. It was to Swanberg Road I’d gone on the day I decided to end my life. After texting my husband and siblings goodbye and telling them to tell my kids I loved them, I’d planted my feet in the middle of Swanberg Road as a Mack truck barreled down on me, closing my eyes as I prepared for impact.

Swanberg Road was the site of my second suicide attempt, and I was here to visit the grave of my teacher who had died by suicide. I thought of this now as I stood looking at this headstone. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I listened to the insects buzzing nearby and felt the warm sun on my skin. I put my hand on my chest to feel my beating heart and the rise and fall of my breathing. I needed to remind myself that though these Swanbergs were gone, I was still here.

As I searched for my teacher, I thought of how he had lived. I realized again that though I knew nothing about this man, his death had continued to haunt me after all this time.

  • • •

While I had been wandering through row after row trying to cover as much ground as possible, there was a young couple in the cemetery who had stayed in the same general area, hugging each other as they cried. I was mindful to keep my search at a respectful distance.

A groundskeeper walked over to talk to the couple. I overheard him telling them that he was a fourth generation caretaker: his great grandfather had been in the business, followed by his grandfather and father. Job stability, I thought. There’s always going to be death.

As my hunt through the headstones brought me closer to the couple, I realized the caretaker was consulting with them on different spaces that were available. The area they were standing in was edged by a well-manicured row of hedges, and the plots were much smaller and closer together than in the rest of the cemetery. Many of the gravesites had little toy cars or stuffed animals placed on them. One featured a blue ceramic Cookie Monster painted in a perpetual smile.

Unlike the headstones in the rest of the cemetery, many of these said “Our Baby” or “Infant Child.” These were people who would never have the chance to grow into or be defined by any other relationships; they would forever be Our Baby. Here, I had no need to be so judgmental of the choice of words selected by their loved ones. In almost all cases, these headstones had been chosen and purchased by the parents of a dead child.

I heard the caretaker say he had to head back to his office for a bit and told the couple they could stay as long as they liked. Realizing he could probably help me in my quest, I got back in my car and followed him to the old groundskeeper building.

“Can I help you find someone?” he said kindly. I noticed he didn’t ask if I was looking for a grave or a headstone. He didn’t even say just a generic, “Can I help you?” or, “Need some help?” He asked if he could help me find someone.

“I’m looking for a person who died in 1985,” I said, showing him the picture of the headstone on my phone.

“Aw that’s great someone posted a picture so you had something to go off of,” he said, looking at the photo. “I recognize him. Let me find him for you.”

I followed the lanky caretaker into his wood paneled office which was filled with a massive desk and a few folded American flags on a battered brown couch. I was thankful for the air conditioning unit that was trying mightily to battle the rising temperature outside; it felt good to catch a break from the heat.

He pulled a beat-up old map of the cemetery out of a closet cabinet. The ancient paper was mounted on a large board and protected under cracked plastic that curled at the edges. He opened a thick three-ring binder that listed the details of each burial plot and quickly turned to the L’s.

“LeVasseur…Delmar. There he is!” he said, marking a miniature map of the cemetery to help guide me in my search. “Looks like he’s in Babyland, right where we just were.” I was shocked to hear him use my teacher’s name, thinking, like a child, that teachers don’t have first names. It was uncomfortable to hear it; it felt too intimate. It made him human.

But it rattled me to hear him use the term “Babyland,” like it was an amusement park. It seemed too casual a name for the infant section, like the babies deserved something more respectful.

He pointed to the Babyland section on the map and I saw something that I hadn’t realized when I’d been standing there: the well-manicured row of hedges outlining the area was in the shape of a heart.

“Really? He was forty-two when he died,” I said, surprised that he’d be buried there.

He checked his log again. “Oh, I see what I did. No, Delmar’s over here,” he said, apologizing as he corrected my map for me. The grave I was looking for was on the other side of the cemetery and back toward the entrance; at the rate I’d been going, it would have taken me another two hours to find it. The whole process was so efficient, I wondered why I had let myself wander around for so long before asking for help.

“That couple I was just talking to? They had twins, and one didn’t make it,” he said, shaking his head. “Losing a child – that’s the worst way to go.”

My chest ached as I thought of the torment the parents of the deceased child must be going through. I’d been at the cemetery almost an hour, and they had been standing in the same place the entire time: under a tree near the manicured hedge as they tried to decide on the impossible.

“The man I’m looking for – he was a suicide,” I said. “Is he…I mean…you don’t have a separate area for suicides, do you?”

“No, no, we have them all over the place.” He laughed as he thought about how that sounded. “I just mean, they’re treated like anyone else. But that’s a terrible way to die. I mean, when someone’s in their eighties or whatever, that makes sense. But babies and suicides – that’s never good.”

I told him about the book I was reading on suicide and how not so very long ago, people who died by suicide weren’t allowed to be buried in a regular cemetery. In some societies, they often weren’t allowed to be buried within the city limits, and heinous things were often done to their bodies after death an in effort to shame them and make an example of them to everyone else.

“That’s terrible,” he said. “That’s a terrible way to treat people. It’s hard enough losing someone to suicide. Why would they put their families through that?” He went on to tell me that he’d lost two of his closest friends to suicide.

I thanked him for the map and his time and drove to the north end of the cemetery near the entrance, just on the other side of the golf course. I heard the thwack of a golf ball and saw golfers through the tree line making their way down the smooth, green course. It was a beautiful day for golf. A beautiful day to be alive.

I got out of my car and scanned the rows of headstones, my eyes now accustomed to searching out only red granite. I quickly zeroed in on two rows of red and made my way closer, but I was in no way prepared for how I would feel once I actually saw it: Delmar LeVassseur.

Seeing his name etched in red granite was so final. Reaching out to touch his headstone, I heaved as I traced with my fingers the year he had died: 1985. I pictured his brown corduroy jacket with the leather elbow patches, his neatly trimmed goatee. But it was his quiet demeanor and his kind, dark eyes that came to me now. I exploded in tears and collapsed to my knees as I cried in heavy, gasping sobs.

Embarrassed by my reaction, I chastised myself: why was I crying? I didn’t know this man. I didn’t know anything about him at all. Logic would say: move on. Forget it. It’s a non-thing.

But it wasn’t, to me. Something in me needed to understand what drove him to take his own life. After all these years, I needed to know more. I needed to know: what happened? What happened next? And here, finally, I had at least part of the answer.

What happened next was that his body was placed here in this cemetery, likely by his brother, and he’d been here ever since. What happened next was what happens after suicide: death. Forever.

I knew that he had been preceded in death by his parents not long before he had died, but his grave was alone, between two strangers. Where was his family? Why wasn’t he buried with them? I cried even harder realizing that he had been buried alone.

I knelt on the grass and cried as long as the tears would come, taking off my sunglasses to wipe my eyes. Streams of black mascara ran down my face and stained my white shirt.

After a time, I stood up to go and casually looked at the names on the surrounding graves and noticed two red granite headstones in the next row: Lee and Ann LeVasseur. I hadn’t seen them when I first found his grave; I’d been too overcome with emotion. I was relieved to see that he wasn’t alone after all.

I wanted to see his grave because I needed to know that he was real. He was more than just the way he died, more than just a troubled girl’s singsong hanging on the September sky.

He was a real human being who battled a lot of demons and lost. He mattered.

It wasn’t Mr. LeVasseur’s suicide that led to my first attempt to take my life five years later. Nor was it his fault when I made a second attempt twenty-five years after that. When I was seventeen, I’d already been living at the bottom of depression with notions of death for longer than I cared to remember. When I was forty-two, the same age he’d been, that same madness had returned, now compounded by addiction.

My seventh grade teacher wouldn’t be the last person I’d know to attempt or die by suicide, but he was the first. I didn’t know him, but I knew his pain.

As I got back in my car, I saw that the couple with the deceased twin was still standing under the tree, near the heart-shaped manicured hedge, putting off their agonizing decision as long as possible. My grief was no match against the awful reality of a dead baby; I could drive away, but for this couple, they would never escape the tortuous agony of losing a child.

And yet – grief is not a competition; we don’t need to compare. There is simply no limit to the amount of sorrow in this world. But allowing ourselves to feel what we feel is the only way to get through it and make our way back towards the light.

Kris’s work has appeared in Enterprising Women Magazine where she was honored in 2018 as an Enterprising Woman of the Year and currently serves as a Board Member and writer. In addition to being a speaker for Crain’s Chicago Business on entrepreneurship and fostering growth among women-led businesses, she has been a guest lecturer at several Chicago-area universities and served as a judge in marketing and advertising competitions. In 2020, Kris will complete her MFA in Creative Nonfiction and Screenwriting from Antioch University Los Angeles. The essay Babyland is excerpted from Descent Into Light, her first book. She has also completed a feature-length screenplay of the same name. Kris and her husband live near Chicago with their three children.

Guest Posts, suicide

Chester Bennington is Dead

August 19, 2019

benningtonCW: This essay discusses ideation and/or suicide. If you or someone you know needs immediate help, please call 911. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. The world needs you.

By Nikki A. Sambitsky

“Just ‘cause you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it, isn’t there.”
-Lyrics taken from “One More Light” as performed by Chester Charles Bennington,
 March 20, 1976-June 20, 2017

Chester Bennington is Dead.

Chester Bennington is dead; I sit struggling with my feelings, knowing what it feels like to reside in that same dark space, grateful to that angelic light, that blessed essence, for guiding me out.

Chester Bennington is dead; his family, bandmates, fans, the world, and I mourn a life who departed this earthly plane too soon. Forsaken youth around the world, in their disbelief and sorrow, crafted makeshift memorials. Some stood singing, some stood in silence, all held slim, white candles that glowed and flickered through the night’s shadowy shroud during poignant vigils.

Chester Bennington is dead; the sadness is all balled up inside my chest, knotted, tangled, coiled, yet, still tethered to my own demons, my own depression that lingers within me. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Grief, Surviving

Stonehenge, Survival, and Me

January 23, 2019

By Angela M Giles

Today is the day of my father’s death.  He was a successful suicide, which is to say my father failed at living. The loss of him, his choice not to stay with us, hurts, badly. This is something I have to carry, and it is a permanent wound that is deep and open. My body has been carrying so much, for so long.
 
I have been in London over the past days and it has been a satisfying and humbling trip. Satisfying because the time here has been utterly, fantastically delightful. Humbling, because this was a trip that was cancelled after a car accident that I was lucky to survive.

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, depression

When Depression Gets Too Heavy

November 5, 2018
depression

CW: This essay discusses ideation and/or suicide. If you or someone you know needs immediate help, please call 911. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. The world needs you.

By Kari O’Driscoll

There’s a reason darkness is used as a metaphor for depression. In my worst moments, I felt as though there was a black spot in my head spreading like an oil spill, creeping outward, sinking in to the valleys and crevices of my brain and obliterating any possibility of light permeating. Perhaps the most shocking thing about it was how tired it made me. Never had I known that depression was so exhausting.

There is a television advertisement for an antidepressant medication whose tagline is “Depression Hurts.” The first time I saw it I felt right, like the ad writers had seen me in my natural habitat and sussed out something nobody else had noticed. I remember curling myself into a fetal position, rocking back and forth, feeling a weight and a soreness in my ribs – between them, an accordioning of my chest around my heart and lungs. My limbs ached as though I’d just climbed 4000 steps, my head hung low with fatigue. A fog settled over the top half of my brain that made focusing a chore. Depression was heavy. It was effort. It was draining, physically, mentally and spiritually. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, suicide, Surviving

Depression is Still A Duplicitous Asshole

August 12, 2018

CW: This essay discusses suicide. If you or someone you know needs immediate help, please call 911. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. The world needs you.

By Angela M Giles

This weekend marks the four year anniversary of Robin Willam’s suicide. I still cannot watch anything with him in it, it makes my heart hurt too much. I know this is irrational. But it is real. Perhaps it is my fear of seeing a flicker of darkness cross his face, or perhaps it is hearing him say something that hits too close to his end that prevents me. I know how his story finishes, I want to remember enjoying his work.

Suicide is a complicated act, its shroud is depression and it is often accompanied by something else, another disease that really gives ideation heft. In the case of Robin Williams it was Parkinson’s disease, in the case of my father it was alcoholism. In my case it was a combination of diagnosed issues, packed in trauma, tied up in emotional abuse, both at the hands of a lover. Continue Reading…