Between mock counseling sessions and fitful sleep, between attending class and tossing and turning, between frantically researching for next week’s Law and Ethics presentation and glancing at the clock every hour after 2:00 a.m., I write to you. I ignore the dog and my need for sleep. I pretend that the work I have to complete in less than six days is really due in three weeks. I write to you. Maybe for you. But really, it is for me.
Where are you right now? What are you wearing? What music is playing in the background, what girl warbles behind the sound of splashing bath water, what fights can you hear from the too-close neighbors? What can they hear from you?
I am underwater tired right now, the kind of tired where it feels like I have spent too long in a chlorinated pool. It is a sooty dampness in my chest and head. Both feel hollowed out and weary. Mold has gathered in the crevices and corners of my mind, which has also been colonized by obligation and stress and fantasies where I do things I do not want to do. I cannot help doing those things. The ghosts compel me.
I wonder: when will it all break apart? When will the growl turn to a rumble, the fissures suddenly appear, the foundation become marbled with cracks? Because the center cannot hold. Or I cannot hold on to it. Not for long.
All I have to do is tough out the next few weeks, ride out the tremors, pay no attention to the ghosts. And keep on writing.
You waited until the house was empty, dug out a cigarette from the pack you had hidden between mattress and frame, lit up, and drew in the cool, mentholated smoke. There was a buzz in the center of your chest, half pleasure, half pain, a nervous purr in your abdomen. You exhaled, letting go of the smoke like a secret you could no longer keep.
It was not the quiet thrill of nicotine you wanted, but the rush of the forbidden, of sneaking out and getting into the exiled boyfriend’s car, of kissing a stranger after closing time as he pressed you into the back wall, of sitting alone on circle of frostbitten grass with a flask of purloined whiskey raised to your lips. You tell a lie and lying gets easier. You go for sex over intellect and then intellect over sex until the two never meet. You learn that good and bad are mutually exclusive: you cannot be both at once and so you must choose who you are in each changing moment.
At this moment you are good, but there have been times of great confusion, when the smoke was thick inside and out and you were lightheaded with lack of oxygen. All around you now is the smell of burning wood, soothing and earthy, and the promise of a hidden cigarette, the anticipation of the slug of whiskey that tastes of charred oak. The white car waits to drive you off the edge, the man corners you in the bar. You feel his warmth before you turn around.
It is only your imagination, you reassure yourself. Those who are forgotten must also forget. So you leave the cigarette in its pack. You set fire to dead wood. You live off the excitement of a controlled burn and sit back and let the flames consume your anxiety.
Image Some rights reserved by james_michael_hill.
Me, smoking, rebellion, and fire. It is where my writing is at right now. But I do not actually want to smoke cigarettes. I am not pursuing the pointless.
A young, Black woman addicted to crack cocaine puts her newborn in a cardboard box on top of a pile of trash. The next morning, she finds the baby gone, presumably taken away with that week’s garbage. She assumes he is dead, but he has actually been rushed off to the hospital. A middle-aged, White hospital social worker and her husband adopt the baby. The young woman gets clean, finds out her boy is alive, and sues for parental rights. Race (understandably) plays a large part in the narrative.
The paper topic?
We are to write an essay on the racial, ethnic, and/or cultural identity development of the main female characters, with a focus on the feelings, people, and experiences they elicited. We also need to answer the question What happened in the story that allowed you to recall a similar incident from your personal life?
Watching a movie that involves a young, down and out woman abandoning her baby and then believing that the baby is dead, near the anniversary of my first son’s birth/death . . . well. And her baby turns out to be alive! What if my son had lived? What would it be like to have a son out there in the world? What if I had been allowed to right the wrongs of my pregnancy? Can I even imagine such a thing? Should I?
In the movie, the two mothers share their love for Isaiah. In my life, I share the loss of a child with Isaiah’s natural mother. We are connected by guilt, shame, and loss.
But how much of this “similar incident” do I want to include in my paper?
Counseling graduate programs are meant to stir up emotion, to get students to recognize the places that still ache so that they can deal with that ache as much as possible before they start to work with clients. But often there is not enough recognition that these aches are deep, old, and complicated. They require a delicate touch, an acknowledgment of what people have lived through. There is no room in the classroom for such pain. There is no time. Instead, students are often left feeling vulnerable, agitated, and alone.
In the last two years, I have written papers about the worst of my childhood. I have sat through long, too-detailed discussions on when a counselor needs to report that a minor client is having sex or being sexually exploited. I have participated in role plays in which one person plays the female rape victim and the other plays the male counselor on call. I have been reminded of that horrible, lonely pregnancy and the aftermath of the death of boy who was not meant to be.
I know the timing of my first pregnancy and its sad outcome are not totally unusual. Teenage girls get pregnant. They don’t always get prenatal care. Difficult childhoods abound. However, I hope my experience of being sixteen and giving birth at home to a stillborn baby is rare. I hope that my fellow graduate students have never experienced such a thing. I hope I am the only one who is triggered by the story of a mother who was not ready to parent and so almost lost her child forever.
But my story is relevant. It is part of what informs me as a counselor-in-training. It is a part of who I am. Perhaps I will include it in the paper, supplying the facts without the pain, the events without the backstory, the details without the guilt. It can be another step in ridding myself of the deep shame that stubbornly permeates my sense of self.
Maybe. We’ll see.
Image Some rights reserved by Www.CourtneyCarmody.com/. Hopefully, I will start using more colorful images again soon.
I lived off the fumes of cigarettes and generalized guilt and anxiety, with daily chasers of India pale ale to muffle my fraught thoughts. Food held little appeal. The boy was getting 104° F mystery fevers every three weeks, which was not only worrying, but knocked the entire household down for days at a stretch. The windows in my mental space were blacked out and shut so tight that no air could enter. Grad school was an iffy hope on the horizon.
No, 2011 was not a good year. It took most of 2012 and 2013 to pull out of it and stabilize.
My recovery process would not have been possible without the support of my husband. I am thankful for my family. I am thankful that the boy is healthy and has not even missed a day of school this year (knock wood). I am thankful that I am able to go to graduate school and that I have the opportunity to work with kids. I am thankful that, despite my mini-slides back into depression, which may just be a way of life now, I am able to write and enjoy my family. I may get low, but I have not been 2011 low in a long time.
I am thankful. I am grateful. I am blessed. Happy Thanksgiving, dear (American) Reader. I hope you get to spend it in a way that brings you happiness or at the very least contentment. We are going to a movie and then the same restaurant we went to in 2011, but under much clearer skies. Enjoy!
Image Some rights reserved by HAMED MASOUMI.