***Please be advised that the following post may contain descriptions of self-harm that may upset certain readers.***
On my ferry ride home, I’m lulled into sleepiness by the boat’s rocking over choppy waves. Thoughtlessly, I’ve smeared ink down the page of my book. A blurry line of indigo that extended from an underline I’d marked off in the first several pages of Beauvoir’s Ethics of Ambiguity.
“It is in the knowledge of the genuine conditions of our life,” the wobbly underline pinpoints, “That we must draw our strength to live, and our reason for acting.”
She is responding to Sartre, and his writings in Being and Nothing, that muse whether or not life is logical to live–knowing the future we have in store as humans. We are born, we struggle against our primitive desires, we fail, and grow old and die.
Impermanence outlives you
Your life will always be
You've always been and you will remain
I'll speed up time so you can see
Look at this window pane
There's no need to be afraid
The glass is slowly melting
And the wood just falls away
I had to re-learn how to fear death. It was a strange bike to learn how to ride again.
I'd been resentful after years of pain, and had allowed myself to become brittle after going it on my own for so long. But you learn heavy lessons from the weight of life's yoke: What’s brittle is already dead, and invites decay. And as I started to feel better about living, I started to fear again. It's only the truly vital that fears its own mortality. Only when you've got something to lose, can you fear losing it.
Again, I’m going to try to be honest with you. As honest as I can stand.
As my grandmother–my Nana–drew closer to death, she wished it on herself constantly, asking why God had kept her away for so long. Plagued with depression and the diminishing ability to walk and create art, she was ultimately consumed by dementia. Her life had been a hard one, and her death more so. Her sadness eclipsed mine, so I swallowed it and let it sink further now than I could reach. Even two years later, I haven't quite processed her death, and years later, it burned like an underground coal fire. A century would pass before the flames could be guttered out. When the coal had burned itself away, the rage would end.
Today you feel like you are nothing
So unsteady on your feet
But you have the strength inside you
Of the trees, the rocks, the beach
You're older and younger
Than every burning star
The last attempt on my life was two winters ago, right before my birthday. It seemed like such a small weight next to my grandmother’s, but that was part of what made it so pernicious. It made me guilty for feeling sad at all.
But the truth was that I couldn’t handle the premise of becoming homeless with my dog again. We’d spent the winter with a broken chimney and hot water heaters that had been shut off by the FDNY in November. It was now February. Desperate for a new place to move, my roommate and I had tried every avenue possible to land an apartment with a seventy-five pound dog. The catastrophizer in me said, with certainty, that we’d end up back on the street just as my mother had promised we would. She would be proven right.
I wanted so badly out of this reality that I was ready to accept none at all.
I cleaned my room, tossed my makeup in the trash and wrote a letter. After I’d sealed it up, I organized my writing on my desktop and placed my password on a sticky note on top of my laptop. Drifting to the waterfront with my license, I'd tucked it in in the pocket of my jacket, to identify my body. A morbidly considerate act that half-funny, half-sad.
I spent forty-five minutes trying to find something large enough to fill my pockets at the water. Virginia Woolf had done it this way, Hadn’t she? Filled up her pockets with rocks and then walked into the water. I spotted the Coast Guard speedboat, looking like it was heading my way. Spooked, I sat down, pretending like I was simply lounging, feet kicking over the lip of the pier. Stalling in the water, the speedboat waited before swinging back to escort a tanker out of the harbor. I wondered if they’d even seen me at all. I realized then, with a sinking feeling then, that there was no way that I could drown without something heavy enough to keep me from floating up. They say your body fights your attempt to stay down, trying to save itself.
Defeated and feeling naive, I sat defrosting in a Thai restaurant an hour later, glaring into my cooling tea. Why hadn’t I researched it more? Looked along the pier a little longer? Did it mean that I didn’t want to die? That my resolve had been weak?
D walked past the restaurant window home early from work, and stopped when he found me there. He looked straight through the pane at my dishevelled face, almost not recognizing me. I had no strength to know how to arrange my face, how to present myself. I didn't even know if I wanted him to know where I'd been.
He walked into the shop and sat down. “I called you,” he said. His eyes said I thought we were done with this.
I thumbed the phone in my jacket pocket, purposefully turned off. I don’t know what to say, where to begin.
When my dog passed away this summer, it vivisected my sense of home. Roots holding me here were beginning to dry, and pull up. Parts of me became brittle and broke away, lifting up from the small patch of dirt I’d tried so hard to sow. It felt like the slightest wind could lift me, airborne at this point, far away from this barren
One night after my sudden move, my friend, Christina, showed me a Rose of Jericho.
She held it out to me, a dried-up little ball that looked like the runt end of a Christmas tree. She lowered it into a bowl of water, and within fifteen minutes, life was returning to flush the tips of its unfurling branches. The dead thing turned brown to forest green. It was a dazzling little plant.
“It’s like a fern,” Christina explained, watching it slowly yawn and stretch its way back to life, “They live in very shallow water and tumble around the desert for months until they find more. The whole time they’re alive, surviving for years in the desert on basically nothing.”
A will to live–stronger than reason itself–even in the face of deserted odds.
This tumbleweed had blown across the world to remind me this lesson about life’s impermanence: Take the good moments where you could get them, and when things seem like they’ve become insurmountable, just keep rolling.
I never thought this day would come
I never realized our time would end
But if you've got to go