She told me that they fought and were violent, and that her mother had tried to drown her in a well when she was tiny. I was in my socks on the fire escape.
I imagined my body on the ground. It was something that I could picture. But the fall, how long would that last?
My motor control was failing. I clutched the railing, then let go a little, then grabbed hold, then let go again, but caught myself. It was a relinquishing, though at the time I would not have been able to articulate it. I did not want to die, only felt that I would, or should, or must, and I had my pain and my reasons.
Whatever terms we use, whatever the specific nature of their origins and progress, our so-called mental illnesses are themselves traumatic and stigmatizing. They isolate us from others. I was thin and cold. I held my arms to my sides. I peered up at the clouds and the jet planes and the sunset. It was hard to look at the sky. I was taking Klonopin for anxiety and insomnia. My mother was dead, and my socks had holes.
The light hurt my eyes, and sounds felt like sharp little jabs at my head; when the helicopter came, that afternoon on the roof, I hunched over, protectively. Was the helicopter coming for me? Regan had raised her voice with me. It was happening more and more.
My depression was a feeling of my body falling into an endless dark space. This pattern was repeated in the s, when his work against the extension of slavery gave him a sense of purpose but also fueled a nagging sense of failure. Like a endless funk. I wish I could overdose on something. I also feel like giving up at times — still. Lincoln's literary prowess is as well appreciated as any aspect of his life; like so many of his rhetorical efforts, his stand at Cooper Union would be a triumph. My 2 older sisters soon went back to my father, me only after 5 years and the school psychologist told them I had to.
She and I were in the living room. It was a bright April Friday.
For months, Regan had been with me, sleep-deprived, anxious, angry, afraid, untouched, breathing my cigarette smoke, not eating, not laughing, morose—the winter. Then, in early spring, I had staggered into Manhattan and spent the night with a former girlfriend. I remember Regan screaming at me that I would go to Hell, and that she hoped I would die.
I wrote so many letters. I wrote them all winter long, on a notepad, while sitting on a tarp on the living-room floor. Writing, moving my arm, my wrist, my hand, was effortful. My grip on the pen was rigid, and my hands ached, and were always cold. I wrote an opening, ripped the page from the pad, and began another note. The notes were apologies.
Sometimes I called friends and held them on the phone. I was fine, I told them. When I lay down, I crossed my arms over my chest, in the position of a corpse. But then I was up, startled, pacing, shaking, scared, awake without having slept, worrying about my heart, spreading out the tarp, not wanting to leave a mess, and then sitting with pills, pad, pen, and a knife, an old Sabatier that had been in our kitchen when I was a boy.
The blade was rusty. None of the letters got finished.
At the end of the day, at around five or five-thirty, before Regan came over after work—she was a poet but worked then as an administrator at a hedge fund—I stored the tarp, replaced the knife in the kitchen drawer, cleaned the ashtrays, put away the pills, and buried the suicide notes deep in the garbage.
On the roof, late that day in April, after running from the apartment and up the stairs, after a session of hanging from the fire escape and letting go in stages, I climbed the ladder to the roof and huddled against the stairwell bulkhead, next to the door to the stairs. I was breathing fast, and my body hurt. Beyond the Brooklyn rooftops was Manhattan. Lights were on in the skyscrapers. The pain seemed to come from my skin and my muscles and my joints and my bones.
I felt as if I hurt everywhere, but also nowhere. My chest was constricted, as if a weight were pressing in—but from where? There was no weight, no feeling of a source or origin or cause, nothing to palpate. Have you? Have you felt as if your body were collapsing from the inside, collapsing and hardening? Where was Regan? Where were my friends? I wanted a bullet. I remember lying in bed, imagining the bullet easing in.
Was Jesus waiting, or a trip into brightness, some stellar afterlife, like the one my mother had imagined on her deathbed? Was death knowledge, or nothing, or might I wake up, a baby again, born into some new violence? What were the chances? Might I, after falling, be maimed and alive? If I was gone, would Regan live?
I grew up sleep-deprived. I was sickly. I had anxiety, allergies, and asthma, and irritable-bowel syndrome, and headaches, and, starting in fifth grade, when I was ten, awful and incapacitating back spasms. They began early one morning before school, in the upstairs bathroom in our house on Lewis Mountain Road, in Charlottesville, while I was bending over the toilet, throwing up after a night of staring around my dark bedroom, struggling to breathe, listening to the fighting.
Sometimes, in the middle of the night, my sister and I crept out of our rooms and sat in our pajamas on the landing, behind the bannister, afraid to look. You could say of our childhood that she played in her room, while I went out to the yard. Or you could say that she fled into her room, and that I fled outside. I made friends, but my friends were always changing; our family moved almost yearly, moved up and down the southern Atlantic seaboard, or sometimes just across town—Sarasota, Gainesville, Charlottesville, Tallahassee, back to Charlottesville, and then south again, down Interstate 95 to Miami.
Pretty much every year, we packed up the old house and unpacked into a new one: single-story, two-story; driveways, sidewalks; screened porch, no porch; three cats, four cats; swimming pools, beaches, ponds; a converted Army barracks in Gainesville, a bungalow in Tallahassee, suburban tract houses in Miami, a farm at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
I remember, as best I can, the houses. I remember the crying. I remember the questions: If he kills her, and the judge asks me what I saw, what will I say? If she kills him, and the judge orders me to tell what happened, how can I speak?
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If he kills her, and goes to prison, what will happen to Terry and me? If our mother kills our father, and goes to prison, what will we do?
How can I prosecute my father? How can I accuse my mother? I imagined myself on the witness stand. I was in fifth grade. I remember that I was failing math. While the teacher talked, I imagined a courthouse scene. There was a lawyer, and it was quiet; people waited for me to speak. There were knives in the kitchen, and I remember my mother screaming, one night in Charlottesville, when I was ten and Terry was nine, the year in the house on Lewis Mountain Road, that my father was trying to kill her with one. My father was a graduate student then, a T. Eliot man, at the university.
Even the bad times, in recollection, seem somehow not to include him, though he was right there, drunk, sarcastic, maudlin, a phantom.