Where the child can be free
I'm exhausted by keeping this story a secret, and I thought it was finally time it was told:
Whenever I am advised that I’m not doing things the way they should be done, my mind travels to a chest in my closet. It is a child’s chest with my name painted on it by an old family friend I never really knew. As a child, this was my treasure trove and I hid some of my most important possessions in it. Today, it contains only a few items: a Michael Jordan basketball card that used to be part of a pair, a faded green Power Rangers action figure with loose joints from years of use and abuse, a photo album with pictures so old that they aren’t even memories, and a pharmacy prescription bag.
The latter item was the most recent addition. That bag contains a variety of anti-depressants and pain killers. All sorts of drugs they prescribed her in order to help her feel better–to heal her. The medications were changed with such regularity that she rarely finished any of the prescriptions. Eventually, I learned that she never threw away the pills. She had kept all of them, the oxycodone and the zoloft, klonopin and clonazepam and clozapine and lithium and xanax and the trazadone that smelled like old eggs whenever she opened the bottle. Everything she had been prescribed and didn’t finish, whether it had helped her or not. She was using them whenever she saw fit, and in quantities she knew to be unsafe. I did not know, maybe because she did such a great job at hiding, or maybe because I did not want to know.
She knew she was doing wrong, and during one of the lucid days she told me what she had been doing. We collected all the pill bottles and she gave them to me because she knew she could no longer be responsible with them. She was scared that if she kept them, she would keep taking more and more and she wanted to do better than that. She wanted to be better than that. I was scared that one day I would wake up in the morning and she wouldn’t. So we collected them all. Some were still needed and some were not. I did not know which were which, and neither of us thought it safe to sort through them: she still did not trust herself. So she waited in another room while I hid them from her.
One day, we fought, and it was bad. We never fought about specific things. We fought about being unhappy and we fought because we were both afraid. This fight was because that day I was depressed and she wasn’t. She wanted a day to smile, and I did not have it in me to do so. It was a day when we had switched roles, which was becoming more common with each passing day. The job and her condition were weighing heavily on me, and I had recently learned that a friend of mine had been reported missing (he later was found dead at the bottom of the George Washington Bridge). I was cracking, and she knew part of it had to do with her. This only made it worse. I was torn between asking for help, as she had of me so many times over the years, and protecting her from my own pain, which I knew would be a trigger for her. The result was me sullenly pacing in and out of the room we were sharing in a state of panic because the stakes for even this decision could be so high, and I could not decide whether to help myself or to protect her.
In the end, I chose neither. I drank, alone in my room, while she ignored me for her own safety. I sat on the floor with a bottle of Jeremiah Weed--the first liqueur I could find--and my late grandfather’s dull hunting knife, which I had found before my grandparents’ house had been sold after their passing. My treasure box was open in front of me as each sip from the bottle became longer and longer. I looked at what my life had been, and what it had become. There was a pain in my chest that felt as though my heart was being pulled out. It was the stress of constant, unrelenting fear and pressure, and I just needed it to stop, even if it was only for a few minutes. I thought, here in my hands is the same tool she uses all the time. I wondered how it worked, and what made her return to it time after time. It must work for her to expose herself and her friends to this nightmare repeatedly; for her to risk her body draining itself on her bed while the pounding on her locked door forced the hinges to give way. And with more spite than I believed myself capable of, I thought, maybe she deserves to know what it’s like to see this through my eyes.
In a moment of what felt to be surprising peace and acceptance, I dragged my grandfather’s hunting knife over the skin of my upper arm. Not much pressure. Enough to release tiny droplets of blood that trickled slowly down my arm. Immediately, the peace and acceptance were gone, replaced by utter revulsion for what I had just done. Tears formed at the edges of my eyes as I realized how low I had fallen. This was not who I was. I could not go to my family. I could not go to my friends. They could not know what had happened. I was too ashamed. So I went to the only person who would understand, the person who I had learned this from, and the person I knew would be hurt by it the most.
I stood in the doorway and could see that she knew what had happened, or at least had a sense. Her eyes stayed locked on the television--cartoons, that let her, now as an adult, claim the childhood that had been stolen from her-- as she tried to delay whatever conversation she knew was coming. I asked her how she does it. Does what, she asked in response, still not looking at me. I raised my hand and presented my grandfather's knife, which I had kept to preserve his memory and I had now sullied. How does it make the pain go away, I asked her. She could avoid it no longer, and I could see the tears in her eyes too now. It doesn’t, she answered. It just moves it some place else.
She took the knife from my hand, being careful not to make too much contact because of her fear of being touched. I curled up at the end of the bed and cried, knowing that at this moment, more than any other in my life, I had failed. She would process this suffering as her fault, and I knew her well enough to be sure she would punish herself for it the moment my eyes weren’t on her.
A few days later, we made what had become almost a religious trip to the pharmacy. She had once again run out of her supply of rolled gauze and medical tape. The cycle had begun again, and we were slowly killing each other.
That is why, for me, there is no correct way that things should be done. It implies that there is right and there is wrong. This is not true. Now, there is only what can be done to survive in this world: to put distance between myself and that pain and head towards something better. That is all I want and all that matters to me. Of course I will be hurt along the way. I expect it and I will embrace it when it comes, because it will be the pain of being reassembled, and not being torn apart.