I’m trying to tell the truth about my life because so far it’s been a series of falsehoods, necessary lies and necessary evils stacked precariously on top of each other like a survival game of Jenga. I’m ready to move forward unfettered and only introspective honesty can save me. These lies, white and black, that I’ve told to myself and others for self-protection, need exposure. Then the truth will be known, and the truth will set me free.
I won’t start at the beginning. It’s too cluttered. I’ll start my truth at the moment when I knew: it’s on my twenty-fourth birthday that I realize something is wrong. I wake up crying and the tears don’t stop: I cry onto my toast, onto my coffee, all over my keyboard. It’s a sadness I can’t stem, as if my vulnerable insides have become over-saturated and swollen, suddenly cracking my protective exoskeleton. After years of carefully constructing my outsides to be impenetrable the levees have broken, the barriers have crumbled, and I’m crumbling with it. I’ve survived childhood abuse and abandonment, gone on to excel in college and create a new space for myself, far away from the past, and now my past is showing up at my doorstep. The Bible, that book of broken promises, warns that the sins of our [abusive] fathers will be visited seven-fold upon the children. Is that what’s happening? Is the darkness of my skin a mark of the damned?
Sure, I’m a hot mess, but isn’t everyone in their twenties? Nothing unusual to see here, just the regular quarter-life crisis. I see a psychiatrist and nod when she gives me her diagnosis: acute depression. I take the pills she prescribes me, and consider the whole mess cooled down. I head out on vacation to see my brother and best friend; we eat french fries with mayonnaise in Belgium, smoke weed in a charming head shop in Holland, and sample German beers and sausages with long lost cousins from Kazakhstan.
Three weeks later, the day before I am to leave my brother and fly back home, I try to kill myself for the first time.
It takes six men to restrain me to the hospital bed, their burly bodies the only barrier between me and the darkness and my desperate need to finish what I started. I’m handcuffed to the bed, my jail cell, and am confronted with confused faces – didn’t I take my medication? Why would I want to hurt myself, want to hurt those who love me? I have no answers. I only know that inside I am already dead. Where others see a magnanimous light at the end of the tunnel, I see a merciful darkness waiting to take me home.
I’m back in therapy, and a new diagnosis has been determined: Borderline Personality Disorder. A condition in which people have long-term patterns of turbulent emotions and a persistent unstable sense of self. Since I’m dead inside, therapy is a slow process: corpses were never known for their conversation skills.
“How do you feel about growing up with a father who beat you?”
“What’s your emotional reaction to your mentally ill mother?”
I don’t understand the question.
I plead the fifth.
Silence was the only tool against pain in my family: see no evil, speak no truth. On the outside I am hard femme, but inside I am stone: no one is allowed to touch my private parts, my hidden self.
All I want is to gather my million splintered shredded-paper pieces into a whole and I’m surrounded by strong people with loving hearts, people who won’t give up on me despite the fact that I gave up on me a long time ago. They’re a circle around me, keeping the night at bay, swaying back and forth to Sufjan’s soft voice: “I can see a lot of life in you, I can see a lot of bright in you.” They say it’s going to be all right. Hold on, they say, but I’m just trying to make it through these noisy nights. My brain has been commandeered by a guerilla army of twisted terrorists, a poisoned peanut gallery, asking, “Why are you still here,” and sneering at my pain, feeding on my fear. Your time is up. You have no place.
I’m holding on, but I’ve already asked the audience and called a friend, and the lifeline is slippery, thin, slick with self-doubt and brittle from my persistent weary grip.
I go on a OKCupid date and give myself mental high-fives for successfully completing a normal social interaction without any incident, but the date only highlights the emptiness inside.
I call my ex-partner: I need a body, I need her to give it to me hard, drawing me out of numbness, need the bruises to remind myself that I’m here and not lost. She doesn’t answer- she’s already told me, gently but firmly, that we can’t be together anymore, it’s too complicated, too messy. I’m not what she wants, which hits me hard because I’m not what I want either. My call goes straight to her voice mail and it feels like a stab in the heart and just like that, the lifeline snaps and I free-fall back down the rabbit hole.
The magic potion makes me so small that I disappear, obliterating myself in the inky darkness. When darkness falls, there is no distinguishing the truth from the lie, right from wrong. You rely on sense, instinct, what your body and brain has done before. I fall into autopilot mode, swallowing pills and injecting weeks worth of insulin without a single thought crossing my consciousness. I am a shadow of my regular self; my being having been consumed by darkness. It’s a darkness that is physical, palpable, suffocating. If god is dead, then why am I still alive?
The following 48 hours are a blitzkrieg of anxious action: sirens, blood, the fierce tears of loved ones whose love I cannot comprehend. Again, I’m trapped in a hospital bed, being poked, prodded and questioned by nurses, plastic surgeons and the municipal psychiatrist. I plot my escape from those inexplicably bent on my recuperation. I disconnect my IV, lying that I need to find the bathroom. I collect my damaged body and wounded soul and escape into the night.
The night is where I belong; the darkness is the only thing I understand. This is what I tell myself as I wander the streets, dizzy, disoriented, and disillusioned by the comfort of death, dying and yet still alive. A friend I fucked has made a deal with god that if I come home alive, she’ll call her mother every week. She probably hasn’t heard that god is dead – we killed him, and now the world has plunged into chaos.
I’ve been listed on the news as a missing person and when I find out that there’s an entire police force, thirty men strong, combing the city in search of me, I am enraged — in my mind they’re careless and cruel, misguided and misinformed; they are nameless, faceless antagonists in my struggle to rejoin the night.
I lock myself in a friend’s apartment, barring the doors of his bachelor loft to prevent an intrusion by those foolish enough to try and save me. This man who I used to sleep with, before I accepted his body was not the kind that I needed, he has not let go of me the way that I have let go of him and everyone else who has worn their love for me on their sleeve. He is not home – he is spending the night on a couch in my apartment, waiting for me to make my way back home so he can hold my fragmented self in his arms and try his best to make me whole again. Maybe this is what love is, I will think to myself later — an unshakable will to put things back together again.
I dream of subway tracks, of lying on a highway in front of on an oncoming truck, or flinging my already broken body off the highest heights. And this is how they find me twenty-four hours later, still trying to obliterate myself so that I and the darkness can become one.
I’m forcibly committed to a closed psychiatric ward where I spend the next seven days observing those who are even more mad than I. Women are screaming at invisible foes, tearing their clothes off and banging their heads against the wall, pissing themselves. It’s at once terrifying and entertaining, like being in some kind of TLC series: I spend the majority of my time chain-smoking in the ‘Barbie Club’, an acrid smelling lounge with a bird’s eye view of the crazy scenes unfolding at all hours. I’m again blanketed in love, nested in the center of a caring circle: my best friends spend every second of visiting hours with me, my brother flies from across the ocean to hold me close. I’m shaken by his fear, by seeing him choking on fierce tears. And still I cannot be reached, I cannot fully understand – I have one foot in the dark and one in the light.
The time right before night, when light is escaping and darkness takes her place, is the most uneasy state of all. The neuroscientist Richard L. Gregory reminds us that “between the brightness of sunlight and the dim light of the stars is the intermediate light from the moon, giving uneasy mesopic vision, which should not be trusted.” This unsteady mesopic space becomes my safe haven; the only familiar color (or lack thereof) whose habits can be relied upon. Grey does not split or bend, blackness does not scatter or fracture. It wraps you up, covers your flaws, softens the edges so that the ceaseless forward motion of being is bearable.
I move cities to start an out-patient program: I need a fresh start, a new season of growth. I quickly find a tentative foothold in the queer community and meet a brown- headed stranger, an artist with a genius IQ and an uncommon braveness. This boi, this summer bird who I fear will fly south as soon as the days grow darker, extends me unexpected and undeserved kindness. “You are not your illness,” they tell me, “I refuse to see you as a one-dimensional and broken being.”
I hold their words close like a security blanket. They don’t rip me open, they unwrap me slowly, patiently, gently removing my opaque layers until all that is left is the rawness of me. I tell them my truths and they tell me theirs, and because we are both a little damaged, we agree to take it slow – it’s better to go at a steady pace when you are dragging bags behind you. They court me, taking me out on a real date with wine and dessert and a goodnight kiss. They ask me to be their girlfriend in the frozen pizza isle of the grocery store, and my heart grows three sizes. That night I fuck them, intimate caresses followed by hard thrusts, and when I touch this butch’s chest they don’t pull away – they trust me, and we stay in the moment together. This boi, who can reach my bruised interior underneath my exoskeleton, their touch is not a violation, it’s an affirmation. For the first time in what feels like eons, my heart and my body walk hand in hand.
And then, like always, I fuck it up. They’ve come too close to the beast within, they’ve touched my private parts, and my defense mechanism kicks in. I wield my words like a sword to sever our ties; I lash out at them with an unabated and violent fury usually reserved for myself. And when I succeed, when this boi has fled for safer pastures, I’m left with a gaping hole that cannot be sealed. Loneliness fills it like winter winds might carve into a mountain, but I’m not in therapy, and so I have no patches to keep out the chill. My mother never taught me how to sew, how to repair the emotional fabric that suffers the inevitable wear and tear of everyday life. Inexplicably, the brown-headed summer bird does not fly away — they offer me a chance to explain myself, to try and make sense of what I have shattered. Again, I’m confused by this unshakable will to put things back together.This boi, this gentle person whose olive branches I’ve burned, teaches me a new word — solipsism — and it echoes in my brain as I clumsily try to replant seeds of trust.
Sent into a tailspin, I again find myself on autopilot, not trusting my crazed brain to make new or better decisions: I faceplant in a pile of stimulants to shake the deadness from my soul, I drown in bottles of liquor to dam the mental bile that threatens to projectile vomit across my carefully crafted and controlled surroundings, I dull the sharp edge of emptiness with unnamed bodies in my bed. Bodies whose life I pray will bring my own back into being. And all the while I wait for my sins to be washed clean by fierce tears.
“Light can run a person’s times and moods,” observes Ellen Meloy in The Anthropology of Turquoise, and I soak up her truths because I’ve watched them unfold slowly, painfully, shaping the contours of of my own reality. Those fascinated by the relation between society and language have observed that black is the first color to enter a language, and blue among the last. Are they then opposites, blue and black, day and night, hope and the lack therein? Light is the absence of darkness and the essence of color, that fictive space created by the tenuous connection between eye and brain, perception and reality. But what about when light lies? From afar, the ocean and sky appear blue; when this blue is confronted up close, it is clear, colorless, empty – neither air nor water can be captured or clung to, they are too mighty to catch in the palm of your hand. Only in vast amounts do they reflect color. Life, in color, must be embraced as an onslaught in order to be experienced. It must be faced in tidal waves, tornadoes, incomprehensible masses of terrifying strength, enough to destroy the participant. Even the end of the rainbow is a mirage, a trick, a cruel taunt to keep you caught up in the chase for closure.
I chase because I am taught to rage against the dying of the light, yet even the wisest of men know the dark is right. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust, I try to remember my favorite things but the memories are burnt and the singed remnants fall through my fingers and blow away. The ashy dust fills the sky, and darkness falls yet again. But this time I know that darkness cannot exist without light, and that telling my truth will split the darkness open. And when I cautiously dip my toes into the world of color, into an ocean full of possibilities, I will look at how the blue waters are honeycombed with light, and I will be free.
Special Note: Autostraddle’s “First Person” personal essays do not necessarily reflect the ideals of Autostraddle or its editors, nor do any First Person writers intend to speak on behalf of anyone other than themselves. First Person writers are simply speaking honestly from their own hearts.