Strength and weakness are not mutually exclusive; instead they are two sides of the same life. To proclaim the latter is not to dispel the former. Weakness is the banner I wave for surviving unrelenting bludgeoning; a testament to the ferocity of forces against me; the dying I breathe in so I can be here. Now.
Somewhere in between these four walls, I lost the ability to see myself in other people. Severed, too, became the tendon leading others to me.
In the wound of absence, alone year after year, trails of endeavor have morphed into placeholders. They gather and congregate, persistent in the way I wish people are used to know had been.
If these walls could talk, they would cry instead. Big, sloppy tears of fierce surrender because I just can’t anymore. The paradigm which propels me forward mostly yanks me back, carving into me incontrovertible truisms like the steady slice of a scalpel. Cut me up, brand me wrong, boast me a harbinger of the macabre. Wear me like a cautionary medallion, then flee, as the ruby thrum is plucked from me, like a daisy sacrificed to the storm.
“You inspire me.” Next time these words are poised to roll off your tongue, I urge you to bite it. I’ve bloomed from child to teen and teen to adult on the receiving end of such commentary, and let me tell you, it doesn’t feel as uplifting as one might think. Much to the contrary, being held as a totem of inspiration sings a demoralizing tune which makes me feel spat upon.
Here’s why: reducing me to an amalgamation of undesirable circumstances that you’d rather not experience yourself, does not brand me a hero. Surviving catastrophe after calamity has not gifted me enlightenment, so please don’t expect me to spew pearls of insight. No matter how well-intentioned, these three words echo only the sentiment that you are glad not to be me. Though I can’t fault you for finding appreciation to belong to your body instead of mine, how might you think admitting to such might make me feel? Additionally, my life is not about inspiring others. A desire to live a robust, healthy life does not warrant adoration. Serving as a target of said adoration does nothing to staunch or justify the inhumane task of being chronically debilitated, nor should it.
Feeling inadequately equipped to process profound pain is understandable. Converting my torment into your gain, however, is not. A bandaid for the ego does nothing to soothe my boiling insides, it only reinforces your privilege while disregarding my identity as anything but that poor sick girl.
Here is what I know for sure: if ever someone you love is cast to the fringes of existence by forces beyond her influence, do not stand idle. Do not stipulate or tally the cost to your person. Do not follow. Go by her side, into the abyss. Tangle yourself in the thicket; whether you know how to extricate yourself is not the matter. As long as she is ensnared, you have no other place to be.
Tumble in not with expectation of accolades, thinking yourself worthy of a badge of courage. To stay by her side is not a duty, labor or burden to endure; to hold her without touching, to wade into the fragility of her, to be there as she screams–that is your privilege. This is what I know for sure.
Wearing my skeleton on the outside of my skin, I bury my eyes into the golden gloss of his fur. Twin trails slip down, drip, drip, dripping until they pour onto the carpet. My forehead wobbles across the arcs of his insulated body, incubated by steady breaths. Attuned but unafraid, his chocolate orbs glance my way. A resonant yet simple sorrow conflicts his canine form. Blending stray salty tears with the straw tinge on his back, I whisper, tremulously. “Am I going to die?” My emptyness plummets farther as though every minuscule detail of the bedroom is diving my demise. He blinks, velveted ears flicking, but says nothing.
The mechanic cadence of synthetic calories traveling through a tiny black hole in my biceps booms like gunshots against my senses. Arrow-like tips of my bones grind against me. Collapsing beside him, I enclose his paw in my hand and he listens as I fold in on myself.
The curtains that are my eyelids droop at half-mast. Entangled in all kinds of tired, my pulverized nerves are begging for a white flag of slumber surrender. The gauzy veil of my vision notes tree trunks, mounds of upturned chunks of cement and the more distant façade of lackluster storefronts. But the cacophony coming at me in dizzy intervals mutes the totality of what I see. It is all forgettable, a clump of superfluous mush impervious to my pain.
And then, from the beige of blah, a pinprick of awareness pulses as a man enters my sight. With even shoulders and a thin yet ropy hint of muscle, he holds to him a modest bun of belongings. He approaches the cylinder perimeter of the water fountain, which serves as the uniting vantage point of this business complex. He unrolls his things and even from the distance of the parking lot, I can discern a plastic bag safeguarding one bar of soap. The gentle precision of his movement, unlacing his tattered shoes, scrunching his industrially bright white socks down, and rolling his pant legs to mid calf transfixes me.
He wades into the water, sputtering from an ancient centerpiece with a kind of grace I imagine to be reserved for ablutions. I cannot tear my gaze from him and I hope that should he feel my interest, he will somehow sense that mine is not an admonishing stare. Much to the contrary, I’m slogging through a mush of awe at the sacrosanct manner this man soaps his feet and hands, while simultaneously cursing the ideological infrastructure that has left him without shelter. Apparently immune to the reverie I’m feeling, a man outstretched on a bench less than a few feet from the fountain, is impervious to the life splashing before him. Remaining engrossed in the screen of his phone, the pangs of depersonalization propagated by modern technology surge over me.
There are few convictions I commit to these days. An array of broken body, broken mind, and shattered beliefs strewn like skeletons across a battlefield have rendered me a paragon of doubt. But this man matters to me, of this I am sure. I am also sure, suddenly, that I have seen him before. A flicker of recognition, of him curbside patiently requesting whatever kindness strangers may bestow upon him, catches sparks in my memory. I don’t want to be a stranger, another person averting her attention.
Hot tears burn from behind my eyes as I am caught in a frenzy of urgency to give. With propulsion thrumming through me, I ride the coattails of whatever I’ve got because for what may be the first time in a long time, I want to give it away.
Having corralled a handful of change into my palms, I swing the passenger door open, rushing to catch him before he continues on to his next destination. My feet do not carry me quick enough though, and his steady strides have moved him too far. There is an inexplicable lament of sadness that sloshes over me, side to side, back and forth.
The coins grow balmy in my palm, their metallic scent perfuming my air as I brush a stray curl from my face. A dull gust whispers among the canopy of branches above, wafting down over me, and everybody else tucked comfortably within their crannies of oblivion.
The scene again fades to tasteless mush, a non-specific landscape of what seems to me to be a whole lot of stuff we don’t need. The paucity of intangible trinkets we do need takes on an ironic weight, not unlike a boulder of emptiness. I lug around an unwelcome totem of memory; heinous times marring my insides.
The template in my head picks over theoretical underpinning from another lifetime. As though searching a box of Crayolas for the precise shade, I roll the pastel paradigm tips over the touch pads of my intellect: topaz, sunshine, periwinkle, selected individually or as a trio, it is not beyond me that the ingenuity of principle is nothing without the moral compass to actualize it. As I slog my uncharted course back to my car, I wonder madly for what must be the seventeenth time in as many hours: How do we make the forgettable matter? What will it take humanity to remember our sameness in a society deluded by division? Why is it that we’ve become so immersed in filling voids with manufactured sustenance that the core of connection has become severed?