Gulf Shores

Gulf Shores
Photographer Patricia Gulick

Sunday, May 26, 2013

3-23-13 RMB A Gift’s Burden
Dear Rita Mae Brown,
It is five am and my dog has stolen one tennis shoe. She does that sometimes. Doesn’t chew them, but puts them in her bed or transports them to another room, her own version of creating a scavenger hunt, because of course she refuses to retrieve her treasures even though I know she is aware of what you are telling her to go fetch. She cocks her head with an innocent “Whaaat is it you want me to get???” Fortunately, I have more than one pair.
To clarify something from yesterday’s letter, even though I found what I believe to be your energy, I am still far from really knowing you. Again, our words, our language, there aren’t enough of them, or the best combination eludes me to convey my meaning in these matters.
Oh, my friends’ response the other night as to why they stick with me was a combination of “Yes, we know you are special” (as in weird) and “We haven’t got a clue!”
One had an interesting point. I thought I had been fortunate to meet people along the way who would be with me for decades, encouraging me, supporting me and even attempting to understand me. This friend hadn’t thought of it before but when pressed, said she felt I purposely located my friends. I unconsciously built this community where I would be safe. She may be on to something. In all cases, I was the first to follow, or make contact or establish a connection. In all cases, I thought it had something to do with the other person.
The one I followed as a teen, her father died of a rapidly growing cancer about a year into my presence. I did not yet know her well. At times I’d ask “Should I leave? Do you want to be alone?”
She’d say “No. Stay.”
“What can I do? Do you want to talk?”
“No just stay with me…like you do.” I did.
The others were similar cases, like my friends welcoming a hand with three rambunctious boys. I thought I was helping all of my friends in some way. Funny, if she is right, my actions were more selfish than benevolent.
On another note, part of my talk with my sister, her husband and son, was to tell them about these gifts. Allow them to see how the gifts had affected me. At times it felt more like a curse than a gift. In my childhood, it was too much. It led me in to being that seventeen year old walking corpse. I carried the burden of feelings, emotions and frustrations of others. In my childhood, the world was too mean, the home I lived in too angry.
My mom had taught us a bedtime prayer “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” I changed the words. I prayed God would take my soul in my sleep, prayed to die. It is the first thoughts I can recall of not wanting to be alive. I was six.
By seventeen the burden I carried took its toll. I didn’t realize this burden was not mine to carry or to fix. All I wanted was to make everything better, to find peace in my universe and for those that were in it. It was what I prayed for before blowing out birthday candles, before Christmas, daily.
Peace never came. I felt weak, unable to make enough of a difference. I thought everyone felt this way. If I could feel their feelings, couldn’t they feel mine and everyone else’s? How on earth did people survive this emotional onslaught? I simply wanted to be released from the pain, to die. I searched for whatever it was I lacked to make that happen. Since God had refused to answer my prayer it was up to me.
At seventeen the day came. I had stopped seeing girlfriend #1 in part because she was a tie to this world. I hear about a lot of people wanting to kill themselves because they can’t live with their sexuality or their world is made too difficult because of it. My experience is the opposite.
Any night I was with my girlfriend, I was not alone with blade to my wrist, searching for a way out. She was a distraction from the pain. She was one person I could focus on, make happy. I jumped through her hoops just to see her smile. It was a miniscule defeat. But even that was hard, making her happy.
When I broke down, I was finally ready to go away, no ties left. I had failed to make everything better. There was no peace to be found. In that instant the pain vanished. Maybe it was some kind of self defense thing, the extinguishing of emotion to preserve the self. I was numb.
Before I acted, I had one thought, “It’s now or never. Either do it now or lay it to rest.” A lifetime spent wanting to die taught me that is no way to live. I couldn’t go back to constantly searching for an exit. It occurred to me that if I could live without the pain, I could live. I threw the knife across the room.
I became robotic, blocked every emotion, kept distant. Some crept inside my walls, weakened my resolve, like girlfriend #2 and my guys, but I had learned something. I had found the off switch, a safe place of no pain, no emotion at all. I went there often, sat alone rocking, just being. It was not a good existence, but it was a far better place than where I had been.
The friend I followed knew about this state. When I would recede to the shadows, she would find me and try to draw me out. She was the only one who knew about the girlfriend and encouraged me to spend time with her or with my guys or find someone else to date. She would talk to me and say “What are you doing?”
“What do you mean ‘sitting’?”
“Just sitting.”
“Are you watching TV?”
“No. Just sitting.” It was an honest answer. I could answer honestly, because I was no longer in that far worse place. I thought “sitting” was an acceptable answer. My concept of life was warped.
“You can’t just sit. Let’s get some friends together and rent a movie or something.”
“No, I’m fine.” I thought I was. I didn’t speak of how far I came to get to that point.
Years later, we got together one night to watch a TV movie she wanted to see. Apprehension took hold and I tried to leave. Mad that I was leaving, she stopped me from going “Hey, you said you would watch this with me.”
“I changed my mind. I don’t want to.” The movie was about teenage suicide, a true story. I was in my early twenties. The wounds were still too fresh.  I didn’t think I could watch it without falling apart. I never fell apart in front of anyone and was not about to start doing so.
We argued. She pressed for the truth, knew there was something I was not telling her. I lost my composure. I yelled at this person that kept me from ‘sitting’ my life away “Don’t you KNOW?!?”
“Know WHAT?” How would she know? I’d never told her, never discussed myself, my life. I did that night.
She insisted I stay. She pulled two comfy chairs side by side in front of the TV where we sat, still, quietly watching the movie. For two hours she held my hand. For two hours tears ran down my face and soaked my shirt, pain overflowing for my own life story running through my mind, for all that I held inside for so long.
I realized that night how “together” she thought I was. Yeah, I was a bit anti-social and had odd habits, like “sitting”, but suicide was not in her vocabulary. She could not relate to how one would have to feel to reach that depth. She had remained my friend, pulled me in to life, without knowing the distance I travelled. Amazing.
Although every person’s experience is different, there are some universal truths. Some see suicide as a release of pain. I did. It is not. The pain shifts. It doesn’t leave with you or evaporate, it shifts to those who care for you and some that don’t even know you or know you well. I have been on the receiving end of several phone calls about suicide attempts and deaths. I’ve sat through a young cousin’s funeral and watched the pain course through his family. I hadn’t spoke with him for years, but I felt it too. It doesn’t evaporate. Find another way.
It is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
It is messy. As bad as whatever one faces is, it is nothing compared to the aftermath of an attempt. I’ve stood in a hospital’s intensive care unit aside someone after an attempt and repeated a life lesson that a wise friend taught me, “Everything will always be alright.” It was the only time I ever doubted those words, but they proved true once again…eventually.
“Everything will always be alright.” If one thinks of where they have been in the past and how their life progressed, they will see these words ring true. They are true about whatever one faces, no matter how awful it seems. Hold tight to those words.  
I know how badly it can hurt, my heart goes out to anyone suffering that pain. But there is another way. Find it.
I wish I had more insights at the ready. This has turned into one of those rambling letters. If you are still reading Rita Mae, thank you for bearing with me.
Onward and upward,

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