I haven’t been out at 3 a.m. in a while. By while, I mean without you.
The fog was covering the mountains in a thick layer, smoothing any jagged details. It was humid, but I still wore the flannel you liked me to keep in the backseat of my car for this very purpose. Still tucked into my security blanket, I went to sleep in the middle of my bed.
This morning, I grumbled as I took out the vacuum and swept up the place. Topsoil littered the floor and napkins were shredded under the couch. It wasn’t until I saw a pair of paws playing quietly alone that I realized we all have a silent caretaker.
I have to choose who I want to care for me, as well as who deserves my care.
I remember every face I meet and the name it owns. This seems like an interesting addition to a résumé and a useful parlor trick to use once the party is over. It should be but not when growing up and making mistakes in a city that fits in between a couple of hills we collectively decided to call mountains. The bodies of the faces saunter and snicker and carry on, passing by like it means something to me. It does. I remember every moment. The emotions they left with me. The secrets they told me. Annoyance makes my pulse radiate heat, just like how pavement feels on a southern day in July. Even though I regularly cut ties without much motive, I still reserve the right to selfishly froth in my own ill wishes. It’s only when they pass and I remain unnoticed am I shaken back into my senses. I realize it’s likely they’ve gone another day without thinking of me. It’s vexing to be overlooked. It festers and grows, turning real individuals into memories and ideas as flat as newspaper. No one has ever ignored me. They’ve just been walking past me, engrossed in their own valid thoughts.
Have I locked the door? The door is locked. Pull the handle, once, twice. Doesn’t budge. Now push it in so the latch clicks. Click. Thank god, I’m home. There’s a roast chicken sitting on the counter. Who doesn’t refrigerate a chicken? Has that just been taken out or has it been sitting there for hours like the dishes sitting in the sink? The floor is sticky. The stovetop is crusty. I cleaned last week. No one thanked me. Did I lock the door? Look back. It’s locked. I’m exhausted. I need to rest, but that will take up an hour of my evening. My nightly ritual takes an hour and a half. Studying takes up three. If I do all of it, I’ll be getting in the shower at 10 and sliding into bed at 11:30. I can’t rest, but I’ll lay in bed while I study. When did I last wash these sheets? I wash them weekly, but they feel dirty. I feel dirty. I feel guilty. I feel like I’m not doing enough. I’m not smart enough. I’m not strong enough. I’m not enough.
1, 2, 3.
For each of us, the symptoms are the same. The rushing heart, the twitchy little fingers, the swirling stomach full of nausea. I remember my sister telling me what hereditary means. “You’ll get it too.” And I did, I do, and I will until I don’t anymore. Most of the time it’s only a nuisance, gnawing at the frayed corners of my nature. When the conditions are right, its hooks sink in deep. The women in my family have taught me many methods of eradication. Watching her baby’s chest rise and fall in its sleep calmed my mother. Gardening gave her a sense of control in a world that wouldn’t love her for the right reasons. For my sister, exercise and routine quelled the pent up rage that comes from being silenced. I have yet to create the algorithm perfect for my own body, but I have been working on piecing it together. Free writing allows me to scratch off the thickened skin of my uncertainty. Warm water soothes and tames and washes away anything I can’t acknowledge just yet. Epsom salts and scrap paper come together to create a papier-mâché coat to shield me from myself temporarily. I can’t say that it’s a cure-all, but I’m so relieved to feel warmth again.
“If this is a life threatening emergency, hang up and call 911. For English, press 1.” 1. “To schedule an appointment, press 2.” 2. “Hi, my name is Kelly. How can I help you?” Hi Kelly. I need to schedule an appointment. “Okay! Can I get a name and a date of birth?” Angelique Peterson, 04/04/1997. “What is the reason for the visit?” Depression. “Do you have a psychiatrist you visit?” I have a psychologist. “So, what is the reason for the visit?” Depression. Specifically, medication. “Oh. Um, I can get you in on December 15th at 9 a.m. Would that work?” That’s over two weeks away. Is there any sooner time? “That’s our first available opening. Oh, and it looks like we don’t take your insurance.” Great.
Trying to get help while you still want to get help is half of the problem.
The living room was always dark and warm and safe; mom kept the lights in the living room turned off. Thirty minutes before I woke up, she’d turn on the heating unit to “get the chill out” for me. She let me eat my breakfast on the couch with a tv tray. She didn’t let my siblings do that as children. My love for my mother knew no bounds. I remember crying, begging, pleading to stay home with her. Each morning, tears filled my eyes as the lump in my throat grew larger and larger until my cries turned into hoarse hiccups. Sometimes she’d hug me and laugh at my “big crocodile tears”. Sometimes, with a fist clenched around a whisk or a ladle, she’d threaten me to keep crying. Sometimes she’d humor me, roll her eyes, and let me stay. I know she thought I was faking, but the pain was excruciatingly real. Like clockwork, my stomach would twist into a mass of tangled knots every morning. I was expressing my emotional pain the only way I knew how. Physically.
I was always troubled, wound up tight, and confused. I thought it was normal to have achey muscles from the constant tension of dealing with not only life, but also the barrage of self doubt. I thought it was normal to think about what this place would be like without me. Is that what would finally show them that what I’m feeling is real? I don’t want to die. I never have. “It’ll get better” is stuck deep in my ribs and I want to see what better is like. But there’s a point when you’ve been so overlooked and so beaten down that you wonder, “When will someone notice on their own?”
We ate a full roll of Mentos. Well, I did. You ate two when I asked out of obligation, but I didn’t ask again. Maybe the peppermint got to me, or maybe it was the fact that I always feel like I don’t belong, but I started to cry. You patted my back and said all the right things.
Once I had dried off and wrung myself out, things were back to normal. We watched two episodes of a 44 minute tv show, which was exactly long enough for me to calm down, forget, and remember again. “Maybe you should see a doctor…” The six words no one wants to hear. My face contorted, softened, and then began looking for an escape route. I chuckled and said, “Probably”. I’ve never gotten past probably.