know you’re living in my mind
It’s not the same as being alive
I know you’re living in my mind
It’s not the same as being alive
If telling the truth is not polite
Then I guess you’ll have to fight
If telling the truth is not polite
Then I guess we’ll have to fight
I lived for a year, in the bed by the window
Reading books, better than memories
Wanna feel the seasons passing
Wanna feel the spring
It’s been a while since I’ve been to see you
I don’t know where, but you’re not with me
Heard a voice, like an echo
But it came from me
-Arcade Fire, “Supersymmetry”
My recent blog post titled, “The Little Blue House” may have seemed out of place to some. If you didn’t read it, don’t sweat it. It was very long, very honest, and very personal. It wasn’t about something unique to the cancer experience, but I wrote it from a terminal perspective. I just happened to have a memory from the year I wrote about pop up one day and it suddenly struck me:
If I don’t write about that year and what it meant to me, it will soon just… disappear… As if it had never even existed at all.
But it did exist. In fact, it was a very defining year for me growing up. The “story of my life” just wouldn’t quite be complete without this chapter. So I wrote about it. Maybe I will get around to organizing this haphazard mess that I call my blog sometime while I am still capable to do so. Probably not. But everything that I’ve placed into this wordy and occasionally beautiful blog captures a piece of what made me who I am today, and/or contributes to how I am processing what lies before me now, but which will someday just be a part of all of your distant pasts.
I am not by any means any more special than the unique self of everyone who stopped in to read parts of this blog. Nor is my story particularly more special or interesting than anyone else’s. But it is still the story of a person. My story. And as such, it deserves to be captured. Let the thoughts, and memories exist beyond me, somewhere for a little bit longer. I existed. I tried. I failed. I grew. And I loved so very deeply.
Everyone will die someday, so everyone should do this. And if, unlike me, your story is only half-written? You should especially do this. Just start writing. You will find that the more you type, the more you will begin to discover certain recurring events that define who your character is today. And in so doing, it may become clear to you what you need to overcome, or change, or shift, or… whatever in order to make the second half of your book, and life, as fulfilling as it can be.
In my writing thus far, here are the themes that have kept coming up for me:
1) One of the most damaging things that can be done to a child is to rob them of unconditional love. Both my brother and I were robbed of this in the earliest years of our bio parents’ marriage, but he bore the worst brunt and was abused on top of it. I saw the extent of the damage this did to my brother, psychologically, and I could never really bring myself to hate or be angry with him even though there were some occasions that he took this out on me. I cannot write about these earliest years, because I was too young to remember them, but I can write about the years after that, which I do remember. I remember my first experiences with unconditional love, with my step-dad (who became my Dad) and his parents and how those saved me. Living through these lessons defines who I am as a parent more than any other thing. Attempting to punish away a child’s struggles doesn’t work. Only love. Only love works. The cycle stopped with me. That is part of my story.
2) You can’t rely on authority or the “adults” in the room to do the right thing. You have to take care of yourself. Growing up, very few adults told me that I could do great things. I was always “surprising” people. I learned how to work hard and take care of myself, only to hit the wall of learning that the world was no different than high school. Popularity was still more important than merit, and the system was built to work against certain people (or groups of people). I developed a strong internal locus, where I felt it was on me to “fix” everything. Only to have to learn at the end that there are some things that you just can’t fix. I had to unlearn a core part of myself and relearn how to “let go” and “accept” instead.
3) Authenticity is the enemy in our school, work, and other social environments, and it is bleeding our collective souls dry. I hid mine away until I reached a point in my career where I felt that it was time for me to use my unique self and talents, only to be told to shut up, put them away and nod my head instead. I found myself trapped in a place where I was expected to squash my talents and do nothing at all, all the while being gas-lighted that my concerns were. The experience tore me down in so many ways that I believe that I ignored symptoms, and had my illness accelerated because of it. I look around and I see so many other people- especially those around my age- drowning in stress and unhappiness and trying to gain approval from a system that’s designed to suck them dry. They too, are having health issues. I want to scream at them that life is too short to sacrifice your health and happiness to work. If you find yourself in a situation where you are the enemy just by sharing your talents and being yourself, it’s time to move on.
4) Perfection is a poison that sickens everyone who goes near it. It poisoned just about everyone on my mother’s side of the family with alcoholism. My mom added anorexia and bulimia to the mix, and was rotten to the core both physically and psychologically by her fifties. Severe Osteoporosis, Anemia, Cirrhosis of the liver… I teach my kids to focus on being the best version of themselves, and to seek to do the right thing and that everything else will fall into place. The cycle stopped with me, and that is a part of my story.
5) All suffering is caused by expectations that aren’t fulfilled. I watched my mother die by the slowest suicide ever. Decades of drinking, not eating, taking laxatives and feeling sorry for herself and thinking that the world was unfair because it didn’t unfold the way she had envisioned it. Her husband and kids fell short of expectations. She wasn’t as wealthy as she wanted to be, etc. As a result, she missed out on decades of joy and destroyed all of her outward beauty. In her last year of life she was seen looking at photos of her (so incredibly beautiful) younger self and saying out loud “I was so beautiful. Why couldn’t I ever see it?” It’s such a heartbreakingly sad story. I sometimes feel guilty for bringing it up so often in this blog. Can’t I just forgive her and move on? Yes I can, actually. I am ready. But in order to get there, I had to first tell her story, and write her ghost. Because she was my mom- my person zero– her story has always haunted mine.
6) Religious institutions, and people with religious motives cannot be fully trusted. This is the only overarching theme that I have to admit is filled with bias. But when you see my history written out, you begin to understand how I got here. I started out attending church with my Mom because that was what I was “supposed” to do, and then proceeded to have encounter after encounter of false religiosity that ended up turning me away from it with a bad taste in my mouth. I’ve had some growth in the opposite direction in the past two years. I’ve seen very honest religiosity. I’ve seen big hearts and honest, intentional prayers, and I’ve finally developed a kind of religious/spirituality of my own through it all.
I am grateful to everyone who has had the patience to watch me write these stories. I am so very grateful for having had the time and this space to write them. I am getting very close to the ending now. All that remains are some scribbled messages to say goodbye, some shaking of hands, and some long overdue hugging of ghosts.