Updated: Feb 17
What began as a way to escape myself – to escape the burden of thoughts so heavy that even words would not hold their weight– soon became a way to escape who I had become.
At times, there are days I wonder if any of it was even real, that slow descent into a self I can no longer imagine. And yet other times, certain things will bring me back: the sound of fragile leaves skittering across the sidewalk in fall; the smell of stale cigarette smoke clinging to the clothes of a passing stranger; the melody of an old song I once loved.There are things that bring me back, and when they do, the memories – often blurred and dreamlike –come to me in glimpses, and then they’re gone.The only thing I’m left with this an unnerving sense of what once was.
When I asked someone about this, they told me it’s the mind’s way of coping with pain. If you forget, you can no longer relive. But even when I struggle to remember,I know there are some moments that will never leave me, no matter how hard I try.
Sitting across from him, I watch as he holds a dirtied glass pipe to his mouth, scratching his lighter once, then twice, until it keeps a flame. His face is cast in orange as he draws the smoke into his lungs, and I begin to wonder where the smoke takes him.
There comes a point when almost anything and everything else becomes more appealing than what you’re feeling now, and for me, this was that point.
“Here,” he says, passing it to me.“Take it.”
I hold its delicate, still-smoldering body in my hands as if it’s an injured bird, and I examine its insides, yellowed and speckled with black.
I bring it to my mouth, spark the lighter, and inhale.
Beside my apartment window sits a green ash tray, filled to the brim with cigarette butts and the soft, gray remains of burnt tobacco.
Pulling yet another cigarette from my pack, I let it hang between my lips, sheltering it with one hand and lighting it with the other. As I exhale, the smoke is drawn toward the half-opened window, and I watch as it swirls up and out of my apartment, and then disappears.
There’s a better way to do life, I think to myself. Looking to the sky, I dream of my next chance of escape.
I know I shouldn’t, but I do.
I’ve never gotten high this early in the day before, but my thoughts have become too much to bear and I don’t know how else I’ll make it through. Before I leave to class, I look at myself in the bathroom mirror, realizing the whites of my eyes are glazed over with red and my eyelids look heavy with sleep.
I question whether or not they’ll know, and my heart begins to race.
Suddenly, I’m outside and it feels like it’s raining at such a slant that I can barely walk straight and my neck stings from the thousands of raindrops pinpricking my skin over and over again, and someone’s behind me now – I can hear their boots beating against the sidewalk, faster and faster– and I know they’re looking at me, I know they know, and the closer I get to campus, the more students there are and I swear I hear their voices in the corners of my eyes – prodding me with judgement, with disdain, with disgust, and I become disgusted with myself, too.
When I finally arrive in class, I’m sopping wet and I stare at my desk for the entirety of the lecture, hoping I’m invisible and knowing I’m not.
I visit home for what feels like the first time in months, and it very well could be – I’ve given up on trying to number the days and have instead given in to the familiar pull of each hour into the next.
As soon as I arrive in the driveway, I see my parents standing in the doorway, and in that moment, they look older than I remember them– worried, worn down even. They tell me they want to talk, and as soon as we sit down, tears begin to fall from my mother’s eyes and my father places a hand on her knee, trying to comfort her. They tell me I need to see someone – that I need to get real help because they don’t know how to help me anymore.
I almost wish I could be present with them to show them that I care, but I’ve forgotten how to feel, so I sit their listening, pretending to understand.
The first time I meet my psychiatrist in some windowless office space, located somewhere near the heart of downtown, he asks me to tell him a little bit about myself, so I do. A quarter of an hour later, he bends toward me in his chair – elbows propped on his knees, hands gathered together in a supplication of sorts, and he asks me a question so simple I almost don’t realize its gravity: “Do you think rehab would be a good idea?”
I can’t say I haven’t thought about it before, though willingly making the wrong decisions has given me a sense of control over my life that it’s as if I’ve been gifted the ability to predict my own future.
Even if I was losing myself to the escape, I was choosing to lose myself nonetheless, and I wasn’t sure if I was ready to let that go.
My grandfather falls in his home again and is left lying alone on the bathroom floor for hours, forgetting he has an emergency call button strung around his neck.Luckily, someone finds him, and this time, they take him to stay at an assisted living home where he’s confined to viewing the world through a small bedside window.
It’s a nice day when I see him, just past spring, and I’m hopeful the nurse will let me take him outside in his wheelchair to the little garden I saw tucked to the side of the building.Entering into his room, I’m met by his weary blue eyes and a half-smile.I struggle seeing him like that, imprisoned in a body he’s always trusted but has now betrayed him.
The low hum of the television fills the silence between us, and as I sit down next to him, I wonder if he has any idea why I’ve been distant for so long – why I’ve missed his calls week after week and haven’t found the time to call him back.
Before I can explain myself, he reaches over and places a cool hand on my arm. “I’m glad you’re here,” he says to me, and I can tell he means it.
For the first time in a long while, I realize I’m glad to be here too.