“There is an emptiness.
I am so vulnerable suddenly.” ~ Sylvia Plath, from “Three Women,” Third Voice
It’s been almost two years since my life was upended into total chaos. Two years since my idea of normalcy faded into a new normal that is anything but. Two years since I felt like my life and those within it might be moving back into some semblance of everyday existence.
I was so very wrong.
Any approach to normalcy that we may have been nearing exploded into shards of glass in one afternoon, and there was no chance of normalcy after that. Not one second passes when I don’t ask myself what if . . . what if I had done this or hadn’t done that . . . what if I had never, or if only I had . . .
“What if” is a phrase that will kill you, you know. My ability to blame myself for everything is a long-standing state of being, as long-standing as my love affair with guilt. I honestly don’t know where it all started, if I was just a child and felt such profound guilt that my parents’ marriage wasn’t the storybook kind, that somehow it was my fault. Kids take on a lot more guilt than adults give them credit for. But it started long ago, and it has never abated, this consuming sense that I am the one who could have prevented this or that tragedy, that I am the one who should have seen the signs before this or that happened.
It’s pretty frigging arrogant, right? This sense of omnipotence and omniscience with which I feel I should be imbued. Only children are great at seeming arrogance. It hides their insecurities well.
“I have had my chances. I have tried and tried.
I have stitched life into me like a rare organ,
And walked carefully, precariously, like something rare.
I have tried not to think too hard. I have tried to be natural.” ~ Sylvia Plath, from “Three Women,” Second Voice
If left alone with my thoughts for too long, I inevitably begin a deep dive. It matters not how well I know exactly where I will land nor how badly I will fall. That never even factors into it. The truth is that I really have very little control over these dives.
My mother never understood this, nor did my first husband. They were both of the school of think happy thoughts to fix whatever ails you. He saw my depressions as self-absorbed; she saw them as completely perplexing. What did I have to be depressed about? What, indeed. I lived in a nice house in a nice suburb. I had friends, family, seeming popularity in school. I could go on and on, but it doesn’t really matter.
Ask a person suffering from debilitating depression why, and the chances are very good that they cannot answer you; just as if you begin to list for them all of the things for which they should be grateful and happy, you will only push them farther down. Trust me. We know what we should be grateful for, but we can negate your list and add 50 more things before you take a breath.
“What is it I miss?
Shall I ever find it, whatever it is?” ~ Sylvia Plath, from “Three Women,” Third Voice
The irony of the moment is that I am not within the full throes of a debilitating depression; rather, it’s just more of a commonplace, ordinary depression. You know, a run of the mill kind of thing in which no one specific thing is wrong. Nothing has really happened. It’s just there. On the fringes, as it were.
So how do I know that the deeper fall is incipient? How do I know that night will be followed by day, and so on? Years of experience, my dear. Years. For instance, there was that song that came up in my YouTube playlist, the one that made me teary-eyed, and then there was that thing that reminded me of that time, and the smell that hearkened back to that day.
I cannot explain it to you. It’s like trying to catch rain in a colander. You can’t, and we’ll both end up wet. (The glibness is affected, and it hurts my heart, yet I provide it for you, don’t you see?) Shall I call you listener, or reader, or friend? No? Should you call me wanderer, sojourner or wayward one? Perhaps.
“The voices of loneliness, the voices of sorrow
Lap at my back ineluctably.” ~ Sylvia Plath, from “Three Women,” First Voice
It’s strange, you see, in that the way I feel about my life at the moment hearkens back so clearly to exactly how I felt after I lost Caitlin. Then, I had no control over anything, no power to make anything better or right or good. Now, it is the same, but not. This time, the losses are not from death, but they feel as if they are. They feel just as permanent, and sometimes I feel as if I have been rent, from stem to stern, as it were, and there is no clear path to healing.
I could pause here and say, “oh, don’t listen to me. I’ll be fine in the morning.” And there is a distinct possibility that it may be so. And there is also a possibility that it may not be so. It all depends on how far my mind races with these thoughts before I am able to call a halt, if I am able to call a halt, that is. I keep thinking that I could have fixed all of this, that I could have done something to make everyone and everything okay in the end.
Isn’t that what mothers are for? To offer a salve for the hurts? To be the one that brings everyone back together after a rift? If not for that, then what? That’s a real question, dear reader. I don’t know what my role as mother means, any more. I realize that there are all kinds of mothers out there, and plenty of them are perfectly happy not to have constant contact with their offspring. Everyone moves along on their individual life trails, rarely crossing or interacting. Weird.
What you have to understand is that I was raised in a household with a decidedly Filipino approach to family, in spite of my North Carolinian mother. In a Filipino household, generations live together, and there are often cousins, too, first, second, no matter. The terms uncle and aunt do not necessitate blood kin. They are honorifics. The point is that children are rarely very far away from their parents in these kinds of households. It’s completely alien to me, and it’s also another source of pain: to realize that if either of my parents were still alive that this state of affairs would absolutely kill them.
Perfect. Now I’ve added the parental guilt (mine for them, not theirs for me) to this particular dive.
“I am calm. I am calm. It is the calm before something awful:
The yellow minute before the wind walks, when the leaves
Turn up their hands, their pallors. It is so quiet here.” ~ Sylvia Plath, from “Three Women,” First Voice
I deliberately left the last parts of this post unfinished last night, thinking that if I came back to it later, that I would no longer feel the need to finish, that I would be calmer, more fixed. I am neither, and the constant thrum of a migraine sits somewhere just behind my eyes; this does not engender any sense of well being, only adds to the unease . . . dis-ease? Disease?
Hmm . . . never approached that word in that way before. Curious.
Today is grayer and colder than yesterday when I began, and even though I slept for most of the night with only 3 awakenings (few, for me), I still began the day unsettled, which is how I began this post. Dear reader, whoever you are, wherever you are, I apologize for this self-indulgence. Better are the days in which I skate just along the surface of everything, as it is on those days that I can actually breathe most freely, feel less in order to feel better.
Forgive me for that last bit—it made complete sense in my head. I suppose that my point is that on the days in which I am able to block many of my thoughts, on those days I can find a calming peace in the simplicity of my life now, here, on this land, surrounded by trees, wildlife, and no sounds of traffic or people or cities. But I must admit that when I do finally allow my thoughts to brook my consciousness at some point, I always feel just a tad guilty for trying to shut everything out.
Yes, I know, that makes little to no sense. Alas, alack, as it were.
“Again, this is a death. Is it the air,
The particles of destruction I suck up? Am I a pulse
That wanes and wanes, facing the cold angel?
Is this my lover then? This death, this death?” ~ Sylvia Plath, from “Three Women,” Second Voice
In my attempts to respect the privacy of others, I find that I am frequently talking in a coded language that only I can understand, which tends to defeat the purpose of sharing, does it not? It’s like collecting shells on a beach after a storm: There is always so much detritus at hand, but finding unbroken shells always requires a careful search and much sifting out of the unnecessary.
Nevertheless, share I will. I will toss these scattered thoughts out into the ether in the hopes that in so doing, I might be able to purchase a little peace for myself, or if not peace, exactly, at least a few hours in which the widening gyre that Yeats so often spoke of does not continue to spin. Of course, he was alluding to the constant movement of history towards chaos. I speak only of my personal history and my attempts to stop its spinning towards entropy.
Enough. There will be more later. Peace.
*All images are pen and ink drawings by Sylvia Plath, who was originally an art major before switching to English. In 2011, a collection of 44 drawings by the poet went on display at the Mayor Gallery in London. According to an article in The Independent, “the sketches were given to Plath’s daughter, the artist Frieda Hughes, by her poet father and Plath’s former husband Ted Hughes before he died . . .The drawings date from 1955, the year Plath graduated from Smith College, Massachusetts and won a Fulbright scholarship to Newnham College, Cambridge, in England, where she was to meet and marry Hughes. In 2017, the National Portrait Gallery of The Smithsonian Institute hosted a retrospective of Plath’s art and memorabilia.
No poem today as I think that I covered that aspect well enough with all of the Plath quotes.
Music by Larkin Poe, “Mad as a Hatter”