A few days ago, I got the text that my grandmother has terminal lung cancer. Having smoked for sixty odd years, and being her age that’s not something that struck me with astonishment. But it, nevertheless, took its toll. Enough of one, at least, to trigger some sort of reversion. I reminisced to some years prior to what would likely be a similar experience – leading her son, my father, to his death from a different form of cancer over the course of a few short months. I wondered if this would play out much the same.
Considering all the factors, I knew I’d have to take time off work to go out there and lend a hand helping her and spending what time there still was to be had. From the sounds of things, it won’t be long before I’m back where I was at twenty-three: holding a toothpick so that another loved one can suck morphine from a sponge. Which, although I will do so without hesitation, it’s not an opportunity I particularly relish.
I spiraled in that headspace for a while before I texted my partner, asking if I could see her later. To which she replied, being her forward and wonderful self, that she was currently predisposed on an acid trip. For the remainder of the night Mona would be confined to coloring on her floor, rediscovering her own sense of well-being. Admittedly, she had been off lately, and when it came to centering herself, she always found a way. Albeit inopportune timing, I both admired and envied that about her. And if it would help her, then so be it – she had my support.
Nevertheless, a certain level of disappointment was inevitable, being that I perceived myself as needing her in that instance. But I had to let her be. If we intend to grow together, her independence and individual strength are traits I have to continue to encourage. Despite that knowledge, my codependence still flooded me with one cognitive distortion after the next. They’re the kind of insecurities that seethe out of your every word, no matter how well disguised, when you’re in that headspace. So, I decided to minimize my texting the best I could.
Not long after, I wrapped up at the office and made my way toward the highway to head back home to Chicago. Isolated in that regressive state, I established the means to justify my stance, across the counter from the cashier while my tank filled out in the cold. Eight dollars is better than fourteen, I validated intrinsically. Outside, I couldn’t unravel the cellophane fast enough, and before I knew it I found myself in drive, the car beginning to cloud while I argued with the motor of a frozen window. That had been a feeling I’d long since forgotten, but with that sensation came a morbid form of nostalgia.
While I basked in the irony of my circumstances, I tossed over the list of coping skills I’ve developed in the last few years. All of which serve my emotional betterment, but that clearly was far from the objective on that drive. And with bestowing my burdens upon my partner being a pattern I’ve learned better than to perpetuate, I called my best friend. We ran through some cognitive exercises he’d picked up in rehab some weeks before, with the conversation winding down around the time that he purchased three handles of vodka for himself at a CVS, asking me and the people in line for a phone number so he could get the sale price. We wished each other luck, then hung up.
An hour and a half commute later, I dredged in zombified, and sat silently, attempting to write some of the lyrics I’ve been long since obligated to finish. With some rye over rocks, I obsessed a while, went out to smoke, and then came back in, to a page barely changed. Working another approach seemed to be the best idea in the instance, but half an hour’s effort only resulted in the same paragraph I’ve written countless times in alternate arrangements. It usually begins well intentioned, but by the third sentence it always manages to paint my life as an intermission between suicide attempts. The tactic yields me nothing, and yet I continue to recreate the circumstances that place it on every page.
Defeated, and having reinstated the narrative I claim to be so adamantly combatting, I went to bed. It only being ten made that a bit premature, which might be why I woke up a few hours later to a text from Mona. She’d sent it within a matter of minutes from when I fell asleep, innocently asking how my night had been going. That feeling like a loaded question is far from natural, but I replied briefly, reminding her that I love her, and stating that I was going back to bed. But from one until just shy of six, I laid there anxiously tossing, ruminating, and in a few instances, even shamed myself aloud to an empty room. Little to none of it had to do with the news I had received. It had only been a trigger, spiraling me back through flashes of loss, landing me in ruins. It’s in that shattered sense of being that I almost always manage to dissolve into self-loathing
I thought of Monica, and what she’d offer me in advisement. She’d ask me what was wrong, then where it was rooted, tracing the origin, as always, back to instilled narratives I leave in place surrounding my experiences as a person with cerebral palsy, along with the ableism and abuse I’ve consequentially endured. Then she’d assure me of the opportunity to release them and all of their associated insecurities. She would encourage me to be present, to draw into consideration that the room is still the room, and that I choose my perception of myself, of it, and everything beyond it’s confines. She’d end by reminding me that it isn’t who I fundamentally am that leads me estranged from my loved ones, but rather the disconnect between me in actuality, and me in my internalized definition.
In the throes of those hours and minutes however, I adhered to the more natural inclination, sifting through my consciousness in pursuit a component to this that’s kept me up on nights like that for years. Then, before I knew it, the alarm rang, subsiding another sleepless night. I’d go to work drained, the day of a big meeting, followed by our office party that evening. That would be the first glimpse of that world my partner would observe. Likewise, it would be the first window into the reality of who I am that my coworkers would have.
Come six-thirty, Monica wandered in, pink haired and tattooed, taking her seat next to mine. I’d been caught up in a conversation with the woman across the table about the different places she used to frequent years ago when she lived in the city. Many of which have closed down, but in spite of her vicarious living, it was the most engaging conversation to be had.
Moe and I sat there, slightly displaced, having our vegan meals placed before us thirty minutes prior to the rest of the food being served. We talked about her acid trip, and I reminded her that if I started quoting Emma Goldman it was time to take me home. Half past seven my phone alerted me that the Education and Outreach meeting I led weekly was about to begin. I saw the calls coming in, and found a certain amount of humor in the juxtaposition, being at that table at an hour usually reserved for me to play “Anarchist Party Planner” for the IWW.
We all had to find a subject we could share however, so I decided to strike one up that I had no doubt would resonate with the people there. I pointed out that the last time we had all these higher-ups in town someone had stolen all but a spoonful of my hummus from my lunch bag in the refrigerator. Naturally the topic inspired an uproar of frustrated peers who, in fact, had also experienced the phenomenon of disappearing hummus. One woman stated she could substantiate my concern, being that she always ensured her hummus appeared like a Zen garden each time she finished eating. The claim then was that someone had ruined said Zen garden by carelessly serving themselves the majority of what remained.
We went down the line for about twenty minutes of this, each person complaining about having been a victim of this unrelenting predator, before we got up to go home. When we got back, I sat on the couch, Monica laying across my lap with her dog near her feet. I felt my anxiety radiate, and assumed she could feel my negative energy. After about an hour of television we went to bed. I stretched out, and we talked about the disconnect between us and those we had just recently been with. She made mention of how she’d forgotten about the trivial nature of conversations in those circles, and went on to describe the look of horror that my boss had upon seeing her pink hair. Hoping it could have been fathomed, I asked her if she was certain. “Oh yeah,” she said. “I know that look. She did not like me in the least. But that’s okay. She’s not my boss.”
“We’re just from different worlds.” I concluded, “Most people don’t exist in the punk rock, anarchist underbelly of Chicago.” Then, running my fingers through Monica’s hair, offering her what comfort I could, I reflected on the one I share with her, and the other, in which I partially reside. Babbling as we faded about where I want to see my life headed, I witnessed the schism, the disconnect. My displacement, my anxiety, my fears, and concerns are rooted somewhere. But they aren’t coming from my past – at least not anymore. This is my future calling back, summoning me to step out of the life I’ve landed in, and into the one I’ve always claimed I would someday obtain. No longer was this about the need to accept myself, but to permit myself the space to inhabit my skin, unashamed, and to look back at the crooked footsteps that led me out of hell.
And though it may take some time, I will learn to be present. It will require all of my discipline and diligence to align my truth with my reality. But to live in accordance with your ambition is to exist uninhibited by internalized narration. I have things to say in this world, and I cannot permit myself the space to cower in the face of opportunity. There is talent worthy of pride in these words, and the need to compose them in accordance with my purpose is a truth I’ve denied long enough. Because better than most, I’m aware how quickly it can all be reduced to a toothpick, morphine, and a sponge.
Our staff opens up about their struggles with mental health.