The Beach House, Part I

The Beach House, Part I

My dad used to say that standing in the surf looking out over the ocean was the closest he ever felt to being free.  He’d tell us that we were never really free, no matter what they said.  Putting a fragile stamp on a brick didn’t turn it into glass, he was always fond of saying.  It didn’t change what it was.

We owned a beach house down in Malibu, a nice, secluded place right on the beachfront that always felt more like home to me than our real house.  It was a cozy place, spacious but elegant in its simplicity and authenticity, not all decked out in technology and modern things the way a lot of the “nicer” ones usually are.  The walls were wood, both inside and out, so coarse and rough that you might think the entire house had been built up from driftwood planks washed ashore from a shipwreck.  I used to press my face up against the walls, closing my eyes and inhaling deeply through my nose, swearing I could still smell the salt from the ocean, soaked deep into the wood.

The house was painted a beautiful azure blue, like the bottom of the ocean on a hot summer’s day, with doors and window frames and the like painted white.  If the walls were the ship’s sides then the floors were the deck, built from dark, polished hardwood, worn and smoothened by all those years’ worth of feet treading across it.

The house was as close to the beach as you could get without being subjected to the tide, and the water was literally a stone’s throw away from the front door.  Granted not for me, not at that age at least.  The porch was my favourite place in the entire house, and it was where I’d spend the majority of my time when not at the beach itself.  Sitting under the canopy, lazily swinging back and forth in that old white rocking bench, its paint peeling and cracking around me as though time itself was passing me by, the sway of the chair synching with the push and pull of the ocean’s tide.  That was how I’d spend my summer afternoons, all those years ago; looking out over the horizon to where the sea met the sky.

It was just the three of us, most of the time.  Myself, Tara, and our father. Mom didn’t come down too often; she was never particularly fond of the beach.  She was the kind of woman who was more at home in a shopping mall or a country club, not so much the outdoors.  You know the one; tight, pursed lips, prim and proper personality, with designer dresses covered in colorful flower print, large sunhats and even larger sunglasses.  She had been raised into the lifestyle, her family the proud owners of a decent fortune dating back several years after a certain investment took a turn for the best.  A downside of her personality was that she could sometimes come off a bit pretentious, but behind the cold front was a very warm interior, and she was full of love, especially for us.

Dad was always the rough-and-tough one, the big lumberjack-type who was always on the verge of enveloping those around him in a crushingly nurturing bear hug, eager to take us camping and fishing and hiking and whatnot.  He had come from close to nothing but had built his name up in his trade and passion of choice (carpentry), and when the day came had knelt before our mother with a ring of sizeable worth and a bank account reflecting it, having earned every last penny.  Naturally she hadn’t cared much one way or another about this, but he had known it was important to her family that she didn’t marry “beneath her”, and indeed with this peace offering he managed to win them over as well.  Friends would often tease that they were the oddest pair that ever lived, but whether or not their differences had any effect on their relationship, either constructive or destructive, it couldn’t be denied that they loved one another terrifically.  That much was always obvious, even after.  Especially after.

The beach house was always the favourite of all the outings our father would take us on, and whenever we got the chance (and the say-so from Mom) we’d be out packing the car sooner than you could say “vacation”.  Mom would often watch from the front doorstep as we made the final preparations, a small smile plastered on her face.  Sometimes she’d come along, just to be there with us if not to take advantage of the beach, but most of the time she’d make excuses, some of which would be legitimate.  We didn’t mind too much though; it wasn’t that she was an absent parent figure, just that the beach house wasn’t her thing.  She made up for it tenfold the rest of the time. And there was something special about her staying behind.  I know how that sounds, and I don’t want to give you the wrong idea, but there was something intimate about it just being the three of us.  Dad would slide his massive frame into the front seat, squeezing behind the steering wheel, and he’d start the car, turning his body around to face us as he pulled out of the driveway, and he’d give us this wink, like there was this big secret that only we knew about, something only we were a part of.  It was a wonderful feeling, being part of something exclusive.  It’s strange, isn’t it? That to feel included we feel the need to exclude others?  That the more select the group is, the prouder you are to be a part of it?  It’s like you’ve passed some kind of test, and immediately if not always consciously, you feel superior to those who aren’t a part of it.  I guess that’s what it’s all about.  Feeling better about yourself, if only by feeling worse about others.  But I digress; of course I considered none of this as a child.  It’s only in looking back that we see how naïve we were.  Naïve and fragile.

My dad loved the beach house as much as we did; maybe even more.  Like I said before, while my pastime of choice was sitting on the porch, his was to stand right out in the surf, usually at sunrise or sunset.  Seeing him standing out there, hands on his hips or hanging limp at his sides, the back of his head betraying none of his thoughts, you couldn’t help but wonder what he was thinking.  I would often watch him from my perch, wanting to go over to him, to see the expression on his face as if to get some kind of clue as to what he was thinking about.  I’d stare at the back of his head for what seemed like eternities, imagining what might be going on inside, what might be transpiring behind that wall.  Sometimes I’ll wake up in a cold sweat, chest heaving with each panicked breath as I try my best to shut out the image of my father’s head over the eternal spread of the ocean, of my arm reaching up, of my hand grabbing him by the shoulder, turning him around, his face the last thing I see before I wake.

He’d stand out there early morning or evening, ankle-deep in the sand as the waves rushed up over his shins, coming in strong and then retreating, leaving behind the froth which would cling to the mass of coarse hair on his legs.  I remember being fascinated with his leg hair when I was young.  Whenever he would settle down to read a book or watch television he’d set me down on his lap or at his feet, and I’d gently pick at the dark entanglement, brushing it gently down with my small hands.  Sometimes I’d pull too hard and he’d cry out, making me giggle.  Then he’d smile and place his hand atop my head, the already massive palm seeming enlarged in proportion to my tiny skull.  He’d rub it gently, my head shaking around a little as he did so.  Every now and then I think back to those times, and I think about all the force and power behind those hands, the same hands that would lift massive pieces of wood and operate heavy tools and machinery, and I wonder what might have happened if he had pressed just a little harder, or squeezed just a little tighter, and I wonder just how much effort it would have taken for him to crush my skull in his hands.

Last but not least was Tara; my younger sister by three years and a bit.  She had dark black hair that seemed to flow like ink spilt from a writer’s glass jar, an effect that was (to the best of my knowledge) unintentionally doubled by the feathers she would often braid into it.  She’d wear a different one every day, only going without when the formality of the family’s destination called for it, such as church or one of the many lawn socials held by relatives on our mother’s side of the family.  They were always feathers she herself had found; never store bought or artificial.  She’d collect them in this big old vintage trunk she had found in the beach house’s attic on our first stay, an ancient thing whose ivory-green shell was littered with old postage stamps and stickers, charming in its ugliness.

Whenever she’d come across a new feather, an occurrence that happened most if not always during walks along the beach front, she’d stoop down and gently pluck it up by the stem, raising it up in line with her eyes.  She’d study it for a while, looking for breaks in the barbs or damage to the stem or caked-on dirt, her small lips parted slightly in what could only be described as childlike awe and fascination.  Then she’d brush it off, preening the barbs so that they were all perfectly aligned and smoothened out, and she’d take it and race back to the house where she’d wash it with soap, being careful not to rip off any of the barbs.  She used to leave out washing them at all, but once mom found out she insisted on it, for fear of fleas or ticks or other such things.  Which, to be fair, was a reasonable enough concern, and in her added defense not once did she even consider suggesting that Tara throw out the feathers. That was the thing about our mother; with so many quirks and peculiarities herself she knew what it was to be eccentric.

When they had been sufficiently cleaned the feathers would be left on a windowsill to dry, often anchored beneath a small rock lest a sudden gust whisk away her cherished find.  Sometimes she’d forget to collect them, and as their numbers grew you’d see dozens of them littered all about the beach house.  They’d flutter across the floor with drafts, settle lightly on armrests and stairs, decorate the counters of the kitchen.  There was something magical about them, like the forgotten effects of fairies who’d been passing through the house.  Eventually they’d all be collected again, and carefully placed in that old trunk with the others, to be chosen as a hair accessory at a later date through a process understood only by Tara herself.

So there we’d be, the three of us: my sister on the beachfront, my father in the wake, and myself settled safely beneath the shade of the porch roof.  The rest of the time we’d spend our days playing in the sand, swimming, chasing one another in and out of the tide, our shrieks of joy and amusement echoing far across the beach.  We’d take walks along the beachfront together, going as far as the lighthouse peak where the sand turned to rock beneath our feet.  When the sun had dipped low beneath the horizon we’d retreat indoors for dinner and a board game, sometimes a movie.  They were good days, and the memories forged there have remained with me unblemished by the blur of time even to today.  Not a single one lies out of reach should I have the notion to recall it.

God help me, not a single one.

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The Beach House, Part II

The Beach House, Part II

After it all came out I think what surprised us most (the obvious aside) was the informality of it all.  Just a curt process server with a letter from Tara that we read in the living room, a letter that my mother couldn’t finish through her tears, that made my father as quiet and somber as I’d ever seen him, that made me shake my head in disbelief, unable to stop repeating the phrase “I don’t understand”, like a mantra designed to protect from all things out of my comprehension.

It had been my first visit home since accepting the journalism position at New York Times, and the family had been planning on a reunion-of-sorts, part congratulatory for my new job, and part time to play catch up with Tara, whom no one had seen or heard from for some time.  I remember the last real conversation I’d had with her before the letter: she’d mentioned having trouble sleeping and was seeing a therapist.

“A therapist?” I remember asking her, only half listening as I leafed through a report for work.  “For sleep problems?  Don’t you think that’s a bit drastic?”

“It’s not just the sleep.  There’s… other things, too.  Besides, Kimmy says everyone should see a therapist anyways.  It’s good for you.”

“Yeah, sure.  Okay well, listen, I gotta go, but let me know how that works out.”

“Will do.  Bye.”

“Bye.  Love ya.”

Fast forward three weeks, and we were crowded around the letter in the living room of my childhood home, a room that would never be the same again.  My father was the first to try and take control of the situation.

“I think…” he cleared his throat, voice shaky and eyes misty, and started over.  “It would mean a lot to me, Jesse, if you spent the night.”

I nodded, head bobbing up and down one too many times, like a buoy caught in rough waters.  “Jesus, dad, of course.  I’m here.  I’m here.”

He nodded, managing a tight-lipped smile as he clasped my shoulder, for whose support I still don’t know.  My mother was still on the verge of hysteria, so I sat down and did my best to comfort her.

“Why would she do this?” my mother was saying between sobs.  “How could she do this?  How could she say such… such terrible things?”

“I don’t know, Mom.  I don’t know.”  But as I held her close, her tears soaking into my shirt collar, I realized I did know.  Her therapist, Kimmy.  That bitch had filled her mind with bullshit, planted seeds of darkness where before there’d been nothing but good memories, memories of a pure and innocent childhood.  I didn’t say anything then, for fear of upsetting my parents anymore than they already were, but it was in that moment that my mind was made up.

Not even once did I consider the possibility.

I went to see her the very next day.  I didn’t talk this through with my parents, and if they knew they made no effort to ask me about it – not even after.  Mom was still borderline hysterical, sobbing throughout the night, but dad had an air of defeat, of numb resignation that somehow struck me as even more depressing.  I remember thinking how terrible it was, that the claim alone could completely shatter them, shatter us.  Technically nothing had changed – not yet, not officially – but even so nothing would ever be the same.  The lives we’d lived up to that point, the relationships we’d forged with one another, had been shattered beyond repair by nothing more than a few words printed on a letter.  How fragile we are.

I drove down to her flat in the city, just over two hours from mom and dad’s, and hammered on her door until she answered.  Her eyes were red and puffy, cheeks stained with mascara and tears, and I remember being struck speechless by just how much she’d looked like our mother the night before.  For a moment I forgot that Tara was the one who’d inflicted this pain upon us, and my heart ached with the nonsensical thought that we were in this together, that I had to comfort her just as I’d comforted our mother the night before.  Then her face crumpled in on itself and she fell into me, locking me in a hug as her body shook, and I remembered with something like disgust that it was her fault all this was happening.

I pushed her away, suddenly overcome with a terrible rage.  “Tara, what the fuck?”

She wore an expression of puzzlement, still too confused to be hurt.

“How could you do this?” I continued, stepping forward aggressively.  “Why would you do this?  Do you have any idea what you’ve done to us?  To mom?  To dad?”

At this a flicker of understanding flashed across her face, and she took an instinctive step back into her apartment.  “Jesse…”  But this seemed to be all she could manage, and like a hunter closing in for the kill I took full advantage of her hesitation.

“How could you?  How could you let this… this bitch fill your mind with these lies?  How could you be so fucking weak?”  She flinched at my words as if each stung with the force of a whip, eyes downcast as she closed in on herself.  In my rage I took this for a sign of guilt, and feeling I’d made my point, felt my blood start to cool.

“You… you don’t believe me.”  She spoke so softly that at first I thought I’d misheard her.  “I thought… I thought of all people, you’d stand by me.”  Her eyes stayed down, refusing to meet my own.  “I guess I should have known better.”

There isn’t much more to tell.  The case never made it to trial, coming to a close on the district attorney’s desk – lack of evidence, too much time had passed, etc.  In the end it boiled down to he-said/she-said, and there was no way to prove anything.  I don’t remember feeling happiness though; in fact I don’t think any of us were happy, really.  Relieved, maybe, but with everything that had happened it was hard to imagine us ever being happy again.  It was like coming home to find your house had been broken into: there was a lingering sense of violation, like your sanctuary, the one place you were supposed to be safe, would never be the same again.  Something was stolen from us, something that could never be returned.

I didn’t see Tara after the encounter at her loft, and to the best of my knowledge our parents never saw her either.  There were times I thought about going over to talk but they never came to fruition – I was always stopped by the thought of what I would say, what I could say.  Part of me wanted to apologize, to let her know that it wasn’t her fault, that she’d only served as the patsy in a sadistic attempt by her therapist to con a rich family out of some cash.  Part of me was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to look at her without feeling my gut clench and my throat clam up, and so long as I put it off I would never have to admit to myself that some things could never be forgiven.

Eventually I drifted away from my parents as well, a process that began with my inevitable move back to New York but which continued as my calls grew more and more infrequent.  I could have blamed it on my work, on the time-difference, even on the simple fact that life moves on, but the truth was it became too much to talk to them, to see them.  Our phone calls and video chats felt strained, almost forced, and no matter what we did the inescapable shadow of all that had happened hung over us like a dark cloud.  I think it was the same for them, because pretty soon they stopped calling too.

It’s hard to say exactly when I realized it.  Like most things in life it crept up on me, advancing upon its prey in the form of nagging thoughts, vague feelings at the back of my mind.  Part of me thinks it was always there, tucked away in a dark corner of my mind that I’d simply refused to acknowledge, just as Tara had refused to acknowledge it up until the moment her therapist dragged it out into the light.  Sometimes I’ll wish it wasn’t so, and I’ll try to convince myself that I didn’t know, that there was no way I could have known, but deep down I know this is just my guilty conscience trying to relieve itself of the burden.

Regardless of how long it had lingered in the back of my mind, the realization struck me in its full one night just over a month after.  That same night I went to the airport and caught the first flight back on an impulse.  No, not an impulse; it was something I had to do, something I’d been meaning to do for a long time, even without realizing it.  There was none of the excitement or passion that came with an impulsive move – it was a numbing calm which settled over me as I paid for the ticket, which remained even as I slept through the flight, landing in California sometime around four in the morning.

I paid for a rental at the airport and drove straight there, like a puppet on a string, filled with the sort of resolute purpose one can only find in a creature without a choice.  Because there was no choice – not for me, at least.  There was no question of what I had to do, only that I had to do it.

I made one stop along the way, at a gas station, where I bought and filled a canister before carrying on my way.

The beach house was just as I’d remembered it.  Even in the quiet stillness of the night it stood defiant against the dark, a landmark of my childhood.  We’d sold it some years back, and this was my first time seeing it in over two decades, but it could have been yesterday.

I stood with my back to the shore, the quiet roar of the tide like a great and powerful beast just behind me, like the edge of the universe itself nipping at my heels, a dark oblivion into which I could fall back and cast all my memories to the void.  I closed my eyes, felt the wind brush over my skin, allowed the waves to rush over my mind, enveloping my thoughts and washing clear all I’d ever known.

“It really is a beautiful place.”

I turned, knowing who I’d find but wanting to see her face all the same.  “Is it?”

She smiled, eyes never leaving the house.  “Of course.”

“Oh.”  For a moment I felt confused, embarrassed even.  “I’m sorry.”

She laughed, and a vision hit me then, a vision of feathers blowing in the wind, more vivid than anything I’d ever seen with my own eyes.  “Don’t be.  What it is and what it represents are two different things, and even if destroying the latter also requires destroying the former, it was still a very nice gesture.”

I considered this for a moment, turning back to the house.  “I did love it.”

“Me too,” she agreed softly.  Through the windows a faint orange glow had begun to light up the dark.  “Not much longer now,” she remarked, almost to herself.

“I’m sorry.”

“I already told you; you don’t have to be.”

“No- I mean, about everything else.”  My voice cracked and before I knew it my face was streaked with tears.  “God, Tara, I’m so sorry.  I should have been there for you.  Even if I hadn’t known, I should have been there.  And instead I called you a liar-”

“Jesse.”  She took me by the shoulders, looking at me for the first time.  “It’s not your fault.  It was never your fault.”

“But I should have been there for you!”

Her expression softened.  “Yeah.  Yeah, maybe you should have.  But you’re here now, and that’s all that matters.”  She pulled me into an embrace, holding me tight as I cried, holding me as I should have held her that day.  “Shh, it’s alright.  It’s alright, Jesse.  It’s alright.”  We rocked steadily together in the light of the orange glow, two broken people holding onto one another for support.  Fragile, but not alone.

When the police finally came the house was gone, reduced to a smoldering black pile of ashes and ruins.  I knew it had to be done, but looking at it my heart ached all the same – as much for what it had become as for what it had been.  I made no move to resist as they pulled me gently to my feet from where I’d collapsed in the sand, slapping a pair of handcuffs on and leading me back to the main road.

She was standing out in the surf when I looked back, the water lapping over her ankles.  The sun had started to rise, seeming to emerge from the waters as it made its way up into the sky.  At first I thought she might leave me with that sight, my last vision of her forever incomplete, but at the last second she turned, a smile on her face.

Same Old Song and Dance

“Fate comes a-knocking, doors start locking
Your old time connection, change your direction
Ain’t gonna change it, can’t rearrange it
Can’t stand the pain when it’s all the same to you, my friend”

– Aerosmith, “Same Old Song and Dance

I’ve been having a lot of trouble with my book lately – the words feel wrong, the sentences clunky, the transitions awkward.  You know how it goes: you begin doubting not just all you write but all you’ve ever written, questioning your dedication, your capability, your talent.  The very thought of attempting to write fills you with revulsion, and even when you do manage to bring yourself back to the page the only reward for your persistence is more shit writing.

To make matters worse I haven’t been blogging nearly as much as I used to, or as much as I probably should be.  The result is a mentality of stagnation, one which encourages self-deprecation and hesitates at the thought of trying to break the cycle.  It’s like the only thing worse than doing nothing is doing something wrong.  They say you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, but trying and failing often feels a lot worse than not trying at all.  If I’m going to fail I’d rather it be because I was lazy or uncommitted, not because I simply couldn’t do it.

It’s like my shortcomings are my own personal safety net.  So long as I limit myself I will always know what I’m capable of, never reach for more.  I’m like the anti-Icarus: so scared of flying too close to the sun that he never flew at all.  This book, this… world I have in my head is incredible and fantastic and powerful and I’m afraid I won’t do it justice, can’t do it justice.  Trying to reconcile what you have pictured in your mind with what you translate onto the page is one of the hardest things about writing, because my words rarely live up to the source material.

I know I can’t let the fear of failure keep me from trying, but sometimes it stops me all the same.  It’s like this cycle I go through every so often: first life gets in the way of my writing, then when I try to get back into things I find myself locking horns with writer’s block, then the writer’s block develops into doubt, before finally transforming into self-loathing.  Of course it never lasts, and sooner or later I’ll have a breakthrough and start writing again – which sounds good, until you realise that this means I’ll never be able to wash my hands of the whole thing.  I’m stuck living through this abusive cycle for the rest of my life.

Oh well.  Here’s to waiting for the next breakthrough, I suppose.

Until then I always have Netflix.

A Million Different Ways to Say Sorry / End of an Era

“I always thought that I was somewhat different
turns out we are all just one
The evil in your blood is only made of
memories you don’t let go”

– Horse Thief “Evil’s Rising

Hey.

I know it’s been a while since we last spoke, but I think we both needed the space.  The truth is, we’re not good for one another.  You’re too eager to hurt me, and I’m too eager to let you.  I can’t keep living like this – neither of us can.  All this guilt, all this anger and hatred and self-pity and sadness and fear isn’t sustainable.  I don’t deserve to feel this guilty, and you don’t deserve to feel this angry.  We both wanted someone to blame, but it was never me.  I think that’s one of the hardest things about what happened: there was no reason behind it.

We needed a reason.  We needed a punching bag, a scapegoat onto which we could project all our hatred.  Suffering a tragedy of any kind is bad enough as it is, but without something to blame any attempts at venting your frustrations are reduced to shadowboxing.  Without an outlet those negative feelings will fester and rot away at your insides, a volatile mixture of sadness and unspecified anger eager to lash out at the slightest provocation.  Everything and everyone around you is susceptible to blame, collateral damage in the wake of an unaimed weapon.  You find blame everywhere you look because it’s all you ever look for, but these outbursts do nothing to relieve the pressure building up inside you.  You can sense the fragility of your logic, the lack of merit in their guilt.  What you need is someone whose guilt is unfailing, whose fault cannot be disputed simply because there is no alternative, who can always be counted on to fuck things up.  With nowhere to turn outwards, your hatred soon turns inwards.

I became my own scapegoat.  I became my own punching bag, my own reason for everything wrong in my life.  My body had betrayed me, so by some default this made it my fault.  Everything that followed was simply an extension of that original fuck-up, a series of mistakes and shortcomings all stemming from my body’s betrayal.  Each link in this chain reaction only compounded my own self-loathing, a never-ending sequence of reasons for me to hate myself.  I became self-destructive, subconsciously tearing down every opportunity life presented me just so I could continue to justify my own self-hatred.

But anger is draining, and after thirteen years of beating myself up I’m tired.  I’m tired of constantly feeling at odds with myself, tired of needing to be both the culprit and the victim.  I’m tired of forsaking my own right to happiness, tired of playing the tragedy.  What happened will never be okay, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be okay.  It wasn’t my fault – none of it was.  This blog, this testament to my own self-pity and self-hatred cannot be my life.  Like the scar that runs down my back it will always be there to remind me what I suffered through, but I cannot live life looking back.

I’m letting you go.  You will always be a part of who I am, but we can’t be at odds with one another anymore.  I am not your scapegoat, and you are not mine.  I refuse to take the blame for all that’s happened, and I refuse to blame you for beating me up about it.  We needed one another, for a time at least, but that time is over.  We know better now.  I forgive you, and I know that in time you’ll find it in your heart to forgive me too.

 

 – A Letter to The Modern Leper

Taking Stock: A Compilation of Photos from Shutterstock and Thoughts by The Modern Leper (Alternatively, “A Collage of Catharsis / Real Words, Fake Smiles”)

 

Why should I feel sorry for others if I’m not even supposed to feel sorry for myself?

I hate my body, but not nearly as much as my body seems to hate me.

It’s easier to believe in a God you can blame then it is to accept an indifferent yet unfailingly cruel universe.

Am I shallow for hating myself so much?

Find happiness in the little things, because the big things will invariably let you down.

Is it a sin to give God the middle finger?

If everyone could just stop pretending everything’s okay maybe we wouldn’t feel so guilty about pointing out when it isn’t.

Sometimes I feel like committing suicide if only to validate my own sadness.

The fact that I still haven’t been able to kill myself has now become a source of self-hatred in itself.

Self-pity is exhausting, but I don’t know how to reconcile with all the bad things in my life without giving off the impression that I’m over them.

You will never be everything you could be, far less anything you should be.

Stepping Through & Looking Back

Stepping Through & Looking Back

“I don’t wish to be excused for this
My disguise and my excuses they have worn so thin
But may I ask, and answer honestly
What would you have done if you were me?”

– Frightened Rabbit, If You Were Me

I grew up an outsider.  Not in anyone else’s eyes, mind you – just my own.  I ostracised myself from society because I believed that I was different, and that being different was bad.  I was never bullied in school, and I was never purposely excluded or made to feel embarrassed, but all the same I never felt like I belonged.

A big part of it was undoubtedly my tumour.  Right from the get-go it steered me towards self-loathing.  When we first discovered it we were forced to move from Trinidad to Canada in order to get the appropriate level of care, and for a long time I blamed myself for the family’s uprooting.  It was a big change, moving from the Caribbean to North America.  There were a lot of stressful moments, and things were far from easy.  I blamed myself when anyone felt homesick, when my siblings had trouble adjusting, when I’d overhear my parents arguing over financial troubles.  That’s a pretty heavy burden for a seven year old kid to hold on his shoulders.

On top of that was school, which only got worse as the effects of my kyphosis, and its hold on my self-confidence, grew.  Whenever I’d look in the mirror I’d see an outsider, so I started to act like one.  I was antisocial, introverted, and weird.  I was the source of my family’s pain, and I was a loser.  Those were the thoughts that ran through my head day in and day out, convincing me of their validity.  Even when people would make an effort to include me, and I’d try and act like one of them, deep down inside some part of me would always know the truth.

Or what I perceived to be the truth.

I convinced myself that I would never be anything more than what my disease defined me as.  I was sure that was all there was to me, and that I would never amount to anything more.  And sure, it’s a great thing to realize that all your fears and worries are just in your head.  But that doesn’t change the fact that they’re still there.

It’s one thing to realize that your thoughts can’t be trusted, it’s an entirely different thing to ignore them.  People always tell me that it’s about mental exercise, and that you have to keep the negative thoughts from taking over, but how the fuck do you stop yourself from thinking a thought?  Once you’ve thought it… it’s already there!  You can’t un-think it, you can’t stop yourself from thinking it.  There’s no filter for thoughts like there is for speaking.  Once you’ve had it you’ve had it.

So maybe it was all in my head, but does that diminish its validity?  I don’t know.  Because if I felt that way, then there must be a reason why I felt that way.  You can’t give a seven year old kid a spinal cord tumor and not expect him to come out of it with a few dozen psychoses.  And if feelings of insecurity and instability were the only possible outcome, what’s point in worrying about them?

I can’t just change the way I think and be done with it.  I can’t just erase fourteen years off of my life and pretend it never happened.  I can’t snap my fingers and make all these issues disappear, or suddenly accept that maybe the problem was in me all along and I still have a shot at normality.  I can’t do any of that, and even if I could I wouldn’t know how.

When you’ve spent your entire life trapped in a room by yourself, only to learn one day that the door was open all along, it doesn’t erase all those years spent sitting alone in the dark.  It doesn’t change the things you told yourself in that lonely void, or heal the mental scars of having been shut away for so long.  All it does is expose you to a life you’d forgotten, a foreign and unfamiliar reality which you’ve long since forgotten how to operate in.  And when that happens, when that door finally opens and you walk through, the best thing you can do is take it one step at a time.

Between Paranoia and Perception

Between Paranoia and Perception

Say what you wanna say, any time of day, 
but don’t justify my truths and I,
It’s time for me to change, time for hope 
to bleed, time for love to sacrifice

– Stabilo, Beautiful Madness

A big part of anxiety – a big part of my anxiety, at least – is distrusting other people.  I have trouble believing people’s motivations and intentions are good and true, I have trouble taking the things they say at face value.  When people are nice to me I assume it’s either because they pity me or because they want something.  Probably not the best mentality to have in life, but there you go.

I’m sure part of this inherent distrust for others is a result of the fact that I have trouble trusting even myself: once I realised what I was capable of, it was only a matter of time before I came to the conclusion that everyone else was also capable of such thoughts, acts, feelings.  I know all the dark little motivations people have because I have them myself.  There’s also the matter of my low self-esteem to consider.  When you don’t even like yourself it’s hard to imagine anyone else liking you.  Compliments, companionship, acts of kindness are all met with bitter suspicion – not only do they fall on deaf ears, but they leave me wondering if it isn’t all some malicious joke.

The worst part of all this isn’t even my uncanny ability to rationalise these things – it’s the fact that half the time I don’t even have to try.  Admittedly that’s sort of the point of rationalising: when you’re really good at it you hardly know you’re doing it at all.  But I’d be naive to suggest that that’s all it ever is: my mind, grasping for straws and looking for shadows where they don’t exist.  As much as I’m loathe to admit it, as terrifying as it is to fathom, sometimes the paranoia is nothing more than perception.

No one is perfect.  Most of us try to at least achieve some semblance of goodwill, but at our core we are chaotic beings, prone to contradictions and faults.  Most of us have a decent enough grasp on our actions, but few can claim dominion over our thoughts, over the whispers and the intentions behind our deeds.  What’s worse is it’s rarely even that simple: sometimes we do what we think is right, even if we don’t feel like doing it.  We want to befriend the loner, not because we actually want to be his friend, but because it’s “the right thing to do”.  Our intentions are good, even if they’re not true.

Trying to puzzle out everyone’s intentions will drive you mad.  It’s an exercise in futility because no matter what you’ll never actually know if you’re right or not.  You could go on guessing and calculating till the end of your days, but sooner or later you’re going to have to accept that you’ll never know.  Even confronting them on the issue is ineffective, because unless they openly confess to having ulterior motives (which, let’s be honest, would probably never happen) no amount of reassurances on their part will quell your paranoia.

You can’t go through life living like that, always second-guessing other people’s words and actions.  In the end all you can do is focus on yourself.  Unless given an express reason not to, you need to learn to trust people.  You need to learn to judge them on their actions, and not on any imagined intentions.  It can be hard, exposing yourself to the possibility of betrayal and pain, breaking down your walls and showing them your vulnerability.  But the only thing worse than being betrayed by a handful of people is living under the assumption that you’re being betrayed by all.

As the old saying goes: “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice and you’ve shattered what little faith in humanity I had left, leaving me to roam the Earth in a permanent state of paranoia, incapable of ever trusting another human being again.”