I feel you when I wake up, but I remember when I couldn’t. Waking up used to be a languid process, still half dreaming against the gentle drip of my morning coffee, against my mother calling for me to hurry from the other side of our apartment, finally rousing me from sluggish start. When you first started to visit me in the morning, the change was gradual. My drowsy routine of waking would play over and over again until its cycle was ended by you rousing me. Sitting bolt upright in my bed with the realization my lethargic mornings were slipping later and later, I would frantically cram the papers from the night before in my bag and cram the urge to just skip again to the back of my mind. Nearing the end of your time with me, you would wrap your arms around my waist, hold me in the warm reprieve of my bed. Where drowsy eyelids used to flutter open and gradually open wider and longer, now eyes shot open, unable to drift back into a comfortable peace with the knowledge that without fail, I was already late. The coffeemaker collected dust, the radio had been unplugged from the wall so long you weren’t even sure it would work anymore. “Lay down with me a little longer,” you said, “you’ve kept the world waiting this long, it can wait a little bit more.” What happens when you can’t find the energy to even start the day anymore?
I loved you. I can still remember how jealous my friends got of our relationship. It was all too quick, too much too fast, they said. I wasn’t acting like myself, they said. Friends would call me when I was with you, ask me why they hadn’t seen me around much anymore, ask me why when they did see me I looked drained and always seemed to be rushing somewhere, too hurried to stop to talk. It was because I was always running back to you, scared that I had already lost who I was before you. That without you, all that was left was that drained shell of the person I once was, reanimated with just enough energy to drag myself through each day, no more, no less. But couldn’t they see it was because I loved you? Or because I thought I did then, at least. “Stay silent, don’t tell them anything,” you said, “you can’t trust them to tell them what’s best for you, they don’t understand how much you need me.” So I did. I drew back into you even further, zipped my lip even tighter about what was happening. Nobody else needs to know, because honestly, who would give a fuck anyway?
You told me the answer was no one, so my reality became defined by you. You were my last friend, every other connection I burned through the Reds you got me so dependent on. They were done being force fed the same tattered illusion of someone who had it all together, and tired of becoming my verbal punching bag whenever they shined light through the growing holes in my charade. I don’t know whether to be grateful to you for not leaving me, or to curse your name. You told me I needed you, and I believed you. Until one day, I saw through you, that you had broken my reflection. I saw my doctor that week, and he saw the bruises you left on my brain. He introduced me to a little blue friend. Told me this tiny warrior could shut you up for once. What I didn’t know, but have wished on every shooting star that I could go back to tell myself, was that this little blue friend was no friend at all. A wolf in sheep’s clothes, he made me scream into the void about how “I was fine,” and “so much better now, thanks for asking!” until my voice went numb. Then it was only you. You spoke for me, stole the voice in my mind until it was only yours. The little blue traitor gave you my keys, and before I knew it, I was stuck in the backseat of a car spinning out of control with you at the wheel, laughing at the fear I didn’t have a voice to scream about anymore. “This is how you are going to be now, a mouthpiece for me,” you said, “and who will even notice a difference to save you?”
But before I would go careening out of the car, the question was answered: everyone who I thought had left me in the darkness you created. The friends I thought had left me behind, as it turned out, had been calling back to me, offering to hands to pull me out of the grave you dug for me, but I couldn’t hear them over my own echoed half-truths. I couldn’t hear them over your own blatant lies. At first, I didn’t believe that anyone would care enough to notice that I hadn’t gotten out of bed before two in the afternoon in weeks. That I hadn’t eaten in days, thinking maybe I could just starve you out of my mind. That maybe, just maybe, if I completely isolated myself from everyone who cared about me, that I could just finally disappear as you shoveled soil on top of my still-breathing body. But little did I know that the hell I was battling on the inside was showing on the outside, and people took note. That people missed me when I disappeared for days on end, not leaving my room to eat or shower or go to class, just laying in bed wishing to be anyone but myself. Your words formed a self-loathing haze in my mind, a fog through which every light in my life was hidden from me -- but that didn’t mean they lost hope, that they had ever given up trying to find me in the murkiness that became my mind when you were with me. “They’ll give up eventually, but I will never leave you like that,” you said, “can you imagine, an eternity spent together, just the two of us?”
I couldn’t, not even for a second. You made me into the things I feared most. Who I am is someone who loves helping others shoulder their burdens. You made me irresponsible, untrustworthy. Everything I promised to help with, you made me forget in the fog that you formed, clouding any attempt at coherent thought. Because of you, I broke promises I didn’t remember making. I became “that” member of every group, and you made me forget why I cared enough to try. Who I became was the drain on everyone else’s energy. Who I became was the burden I wanted to badly carry for others. Who I am is someone who craves stability, a simple creature of habit. You made me second-guess my own reality, distrust the intuition that had never failed me before. You made me afraid to tell others about what was happening, afraid to admit I was battling something bigger than me. Everything I did to seek help, you made me fear what would happen if I opened up, so I lied to everyone, trying to keep up appearances. Because of you, I couldn’t even find stability within myself, distrusting anyone who offered to help me find it again. I became paranoid, and you told me that this fear that everyone was conspiring to watch me fail was the gospel truth. Who I became was someone who couldn’t be trusted to steer the direction of my own life towards stability and healing. Who I became was a liability, a danger to myself. “You’re lying to yourself, I am you,” you said, “how can you say that you didn’t create me?”
In some ways, you were right. I found myself struggling to find the words to verbalize what had happened to me. Without the unshaken voice and the clear mind you took from me, even the things that once were luminous in my darkest times burned out. The car I once took on long drives to escape you became a place where I hid from anyone who offered a hand to lift me up. The pen that was once overflowing with verse, always ready to scribble down sonnets of love for my chosen family, had run dry, had become another letdown when the lines lost zeal in the fog. The bed in which I imagined up all the ideal lives I could create for myself while I dozed became a place of confinement, where a fear of failing and an even greater fear of facing the next day locked my eyes open. The love letters I would write to all the people who made me feel like someone who mattered became lashing out with all the energy I had left, livid with the life that had become my own, lost without insight that my resentment of the world and the ones who (still, miraculously) found a way to love me was misdirected, as the only true target who could be blamed in my downward spiral was myself, my own muddied mind. The classes I signed up for with such eagerness and dedication, I my grades slipping in because I couldn’t conjure the energy to care. Because I kept filling out that little easy form, telling another half-truth, that I was much less afraid of being caught in these white lies than climbing out of bed. Because I really was sick, but I found that professors and deans wouldn’t question what they couldn’t see when it was tiny bugs floating in the empty cavern of my stomach or inching up my inflamed throat, but they couldn’t believe in the invisible when it was the embers slowly burning every joyful memory, every ounce of trust I had into ashes inside of a brain touched with fire. You started that fire with your searing words that echoed through my skull, with the touch of your flaming fingers against my spine. If only I could see then that these fires would not become a source of warmth when the cold came again, was not the fiery passion of a love I thought I didn’t deserve. If only I could open my mouth to tell someone what was happening without the smoke that formed the haze inside my skull billowing out from the mouth that I once trusted. But I couldn’t, so I kept quiet. I kept fighting, never calling for reinforcements from those who I couldn’t see had taken up arms from the moment you first met me. But what did it even matter -- how could I win a war I waged against myself?
When it all came crashing down and I realized I never needed or loved you, I thought I would be alone. I thought all I would have were the splintery shards of the sense of self that you shattered. I thought I would be trapped inside the dark of the cloudy mind you created for me. But I was wrong. The reinforcements I had rejected, keeping at arm’s distance to form a radius of isolation around my life, stormed in through the searing heat inside my skull, rescuing me from the fire I had given up on running from before the last pillar of sanity crumbled against the flame, resuscitating my half-conscious body from the burning gases I had invited into filling my lungs. Their homes became my halfway houses as they helped me to rebuild the life you and your little blue friend stole from me. They fed me when my body was too weak from trying to starve you out to fight anymore, when my mouth was still babbling about how I didn’t need their help, how I was fine, how dare they try to control my life like this, those paternalistic bastards. They carried me to see the doctor who I had avoided since he introduced me to the little blue traitor, showed him the stitches from where they had sewed me back together. He gave me a whole new team of little chemist friends, one a vibrant peach that brought back memories of picnics with my heroic mother during hot southern summers, when I was covered with Band-Aids from scraped knees and biting bugs but was unbreakable. One a tiny white pearl that reminded me of the beach trip with friends who knew I was more fragile than the shells cracking under our bare feet but still loved me, where we laughed to keep from freezing and did cartwheels on the deserted dunes. One a little yellow disc that reminded me of those I ducked from, careening through the air above the green lawns of the home where I found stability and love and joy between class periods. One an overstuffed pink pillow that reminded me that under the black soot that covered every part of me, somewhere there was a fragile, but unbreakable pink heart, still beating and finding the stability and love and joy even after months of manic attempts to hide this tiny fragile muscle from anyone who tried to care for it. These little chemical friends cleared the dark clouds in my mind to let the light back in. These little chemical friends illuminated the faces of those who had never left me behind, even though I had burned them with my white-hot wrath if they tried to break through the walls I built to keep everyone out. These little chemical friends showed me that there was a life beyond you, a life that I wanted more than anything. How could I have been so dense as to let you convince me otherwise, to let your lies become my truth?
This is not just a letter to you to tell you all the ways you have wronged me, to show you how I never needed you, to show you how better I am now that my little chemical friends and my big human friends have loved me better than you ever pretended you did. It’s a thank-you note to all who never gave up on me, even when I gave up on myself. It’s an apology to those who I let down when I couldn’t even pick myself up out of the grave you told me was the best place to stay, that you pushed me down into. It’s an admission of guilt, as I take full culpability for the person I became, and can I tell you a secret?
On dark nights where I am frantically finishing work long after my little chemical friends have clocked out and gone to sleep, I still feel you. I hear your whispers, but I know better now. I know that I am loved, worthy of that love, and I am capable of loving right back, but not for you. When you try to seduce me back into you, I call on the peacekeepers who stitched me back up when you tore me apart. I send them love letters again, reminding them that they mean more to me than you ever could, and reminding myself that I am still capable of loving with all of my heart. I remind myself that I believe in higher powers that are bigger than me, and you are not one of them even though you made me think you were. You blocked the beams of light from every god I had ever known, made me think that they had failed me. You convinced me you were the only higher power that would never fail me, but you were a demon who wore the clothes of a god. I know that now, and I’ve found my faith again. My faith in the friends I thought were gone for good. My faith in the family that is fractured and fucked up, but fills me with warmth and affection nonetheless. My faith in my own feet to carry me forward towards progress, never back to you. My faith in a God who never stop listening, and won’t forget but will forgive. But will that be enough, or will these apologies fall flat like the broken records that played from a broken mind?
One day, I know this overstuffed pink pillow of a heart will stop in its tracks. When my life flashes before my eyes, I hope I’ll see only a blip of darkness in the time that you twisted my reality into something unrecognizable. When my feet finally bring me to the gates and face me towards Saint Peter, I hope that he’ll see a me beyond you. I hope that he’ll see that I got lost trying to shake you off my back, to me free myself from the demons that had set up shop in my mind. And most of all, I hope that he forgives me, because I’ve seen hell. Hell is not being able to trust your own thoughts. Hell is watching every bridge you built go up in flames, knowing you started every fire. Hell is yelling into a void for help, only able to hear your own frenzied cries echo back to you. Hell is a place on earth with you. I hope that the heaven I’ve sought on earth through my faith in higher powers steering me back into the light is enough to be forgiven. I hope God heard every prayer for peace, every prayer for guidance, and every prayer for forgiveness I sent up during my walk through hell. I hope every apology letter I wrote to the loves I pushed away, to the higher power I grew distant from, to the body I broke trying to kill you, to myself for blaming myself for ever trusting you is tucked between the pages of Saint Peter’s book of names. And, heaven help me, I hope that he calls my name.
If not, I’ll see you in hell. I know you’ll be waiting for me there.