[This essay contains a very frank discussion about suicide, mental illness, and child abuse. It was originally posted at PAGANARCH on September 23, 2015]
I don’t want to write about this. My whole soul screams against it, like when my quads scream against riding on a hard-gear up a Seattle hill, or my arms groan agonised protest against another set of bicep curls.
I don’t want to write about this, like when I don’t want to meet new people, don’t want to get out of bed some mornings. Like when my heart refuses to let itself be loved by someone unfamiliar to it, or my mind aches upon reading something more complicated than it prefers to handle.
I don’t want to write about this, but I will.
I remember staring at the pavement below, crying. My hands were slippery with blood, the palms pierced with bits of glass which took a long time to remove later.
It was chill. I was shaking, drunk. I was 20, too young to drink, but had drank half a bottle of whiskey. I still can’t even handle more than a shot of the stuff; two beers and I’m sloshed…I have trouble believing I’d drank so much of that shit, but I had.
It was the ‘thing’ to do, I guess. I had someone else buy it for me. I’d never had the stuff before–I’d only three or four times even had alcohol, and I hated it.
Also, I didn’t smoke yet, but had gotten that same friend to buy me a pack of cigarettes. I smoked half of them.
Something was in me, I guess. Some idea that’s never fully left, which is also a process that has never fully ended, and a presence never exorcised. There’s little difference between the three; a god’s an idea, and a process, and a presence. Some insist only the first, some allow the second, almost no-one but polytheists will admit to the third.
But…this wasn’t a god. None would give such a thing worship, except perhaps the most foulest of humans, and even then they’d be consumed by its hunger long before it had a chance to spread its disgusting gospel.
What it was, I still don’t know, but I see it sometimes, right at the moment I least want to see it, right at the moment I’ve taken off every piece of armor I’ve donned my entire life to protect myself from it.
I’d punched through a window with my fists. Windows don’t shatter like you’d think they do when you punch through them. You have to punch a few times, especially if you’re intending then to crawl through to a short ledge.
I sat there in the glass, picking up shards, slicing repeatedly into my skin, the physical acts of a ritual that felt pre-scripted, written before men ever walked the earth.
What went through my head, I don’t remember. I couldn’t breathe; something was pressing there, crushing my lungs, pulling the air from my body. Like a ‘panic attack,’ or hyperventilation, except the feeling (and here’s where things get crazy) was from without as well as within.
The ‘trigger’ was a scenario of abandonment, but neither the scenario nor the trigger are quite as relevant as you think. We mythologise the human psyche like we mythologise our infections, our conditions, and our failures, all dark, injurious laments rather than epic strength and heroism. ‘Abandonment issues’ one might say, dismissively, or as a shorthand for a slightly deeper ‘complex.’
But I, being the one who survived it, may call it what I like, name it as I saw it. I call it a haunting.
When I was eight, growing up in Appalachia, I had a strange series of dreams and waking visions
I woke up in the middle of the night with my nose touching the ceiling; turned around to see my body laying on my bed and panicked, finding myself back asleep.
I remember sitting in a bath asking my cognitively-disabled (and later schizophrenic) mother what happened to all my siblings she drowned in the bathtub. Except it wasn’t her who had drowned them, but another mother, and there’d been 5 or 6 of them, and I’m sure it didn’t help my mother to hear that from her child.
And then a long series of dreams after that where a man in a spaceship who actually lived in a monk’s cell and wore robes had me read strange writing in a book so he could ‘return to the stars.’
A few years later is when my father started beating me. I remember it deeply; he’d whip me with his leather belt repeatedly, and then make up horrific rituals for it. He’d make me go fetch his belt. One time he made me take his belt off of him before beating me.
The beatings were so bad I began to go into convulsions at random times, crying that I wanted to ‘go home.’ And both my parents would assure me I was home, but I knew better, because there was the woman who’d come to me as I slept and would hold me, a large Black woman, much bigger than anyone I’d ever seen. She’d hold me really close and assure me that it was going to be okay later and I shouldn’t worry, but I remember she’d cry when she held me.
I’m crying right now.
There was this other time when I was so terrified I thought I wouldn’t survive and this guy came to me. He was with me, but a later me, and we were in Paris, and he told me that I’d be in Paris later (I didn’t even know where Paris was at the time) so I should “hang on, okay?”
I did. Also, after my parents took me to counseling (probably state-mandated, I don’t know), the beatings stopped. I remember asking my father in the car later what the counselor said, and he got really angry and said “she tol’ me I cain’t beat you wit’ the belt.” And I remember his anger about this, but at least he’d stopped, acting somehow shocked that such a thing could affect a kid.
I still don’t want to write this, you know.
I’m sitting on that roof, on all that broken glass many stories up from the pavement. I’m terrified as I slice open the skin of my wrists. It takes a lot to get at a vein, you know, at least when you’re drunk out of your mind and can’t see for the tears and the blood in your eyes from where you’d cut your forehead pushing your body through that broken window.
I wanted it all to end, because I’d seen it again, that thing, that darkness, that haunting. Something that wants us gone, something that wants us destroyed.
It’s the same thing you see on the streets, hanging around the piss-soaked homeless woman with necrotic skin infections. It’s what you see in the after-image of the meth-addict scratching his face off.
It’s what you see in the oil slick on a forest stream and the trash dumped off the side of a hill, but it’s not quite the same with that–perhaps different trenches in the same no-man’s land, facing each other, two armies in an epic war.
I escaped much of that war in those hills.I was the only boy I knew who didn’t get molested. Cousins, friends, neighbor boys all had stories, or acted really strange and didn’t want to be around certain men any longer. The one that haunts me the most is the kid from school I brought to sunday school as part of an attendance drive. I won a trip to a chain restaurant in town for bringing the most friends; but one of the kids I brought never spoke to me again after my sunday school teacher pulled off my friend’s pants to ‘check his underwear’ in front of a room full of broken-toothed, mostly shoeless kids.
Jesus loves you, by the way.
Me? Somehow unscathed. I’m pretty sure the man with the book from the stars had a lot to do with that, though, probably the same way I escaped brain cancer from the leaking nuclear power plant a few miles from our home, asthma or worse from burning coal in a wood-burning stove in a small house one long winter, and the same way I survived that autumnal suicide attempt a decade later, or avoided being driven off a bridge by my mother a few years later.
If you’ve been reading me for awhile, you know my mother’s schizophrenic, you know I raised my sisters mostly alone for much of my adolescence while working and going (sorta) to high school.
That shit kinda fucks you up in some strange ways. Mothers are our archetype for ‘goddess’ usually, which is all fine and good for those who had mothers who weren’t trying to kill their kids because demons were telling them to, or who gave entire paltry paychecks over to a megachurch to help them build a new building, or grabbed an intercom phone in a grocery store, hit the button, and told the assembled shoppers in her perpetual young-girl voice:
“Everybody accept Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior because I have a bomb and am going to kill you all.”
She was always particularly intent on doing the right thing, that woman. And as horrifying as that was at the time, it’s also kinda funny.
I tell you I don’t want to write this shit?
This stuff haunts you, because you see someone who’s supposed to be your sole guardian against the world disintegrate before your eyes, you hear your little sisters cry in fear about how ‘mom’s talking to herself again’ and then, worst-of-fucking-all, you find yourself pretty certain you’re becoming like her when the darkness claws at your chest on a ledge as you’re bleeding from both wrists.
Or later, too, when you can’t get out of bed because your whole soul feels drained.
Or later, when you try to explain something you saw or think to someone you love and admire, someone you want to be loved and admired by, and they give you a blank stare like you just told them you saw a god or something.
And, of course, you’ve said that, too.
When I started writing on-line a little over two years ago, I’d found an initially supportive person who ran a forum and wrote really well. She was nice, I really liked her stuff, I thought we’d be friends. And then when I started talking about seeing gods, I got a really concerned message about how I was encouraging people suffering from mental-illness not to seek treatment.
I’ve actually heard this a few other times, too. It’s strange to hear that, having woken up in a white padded room on a hard bench with both of my wrists wrapped in so much gauze I thought my fingers had been amputated. Also, it sucks to wake up restrained, by the way, almost as much as it sucks to be beaten up by a friend with a broom, or by cops when they finally arrived.
Nah, seriously. Go get treatment if you need it. There’s shit that wants us gone.
What wants us gone? I…I don’t really know.
I’ve seen the Burnt Ones. They’re really terrifying, their skin crackling like thin layers of ash off charred wood, or flakes of blue-black coal. Not sure what they’re on about, really, except they show up and warn you not to do something that’s about to change your life, because you might not survive it.
What they don’t tell you, of course, is that we survive everything until we don’t. And that’s just death, and that’s hardly a rare condition for humanity anyway.
But really, the things you see in vision are benevolent compared to what you see with your eyes–if you look, anyway. Cops killing Black men, poisoned rivers, countries bombed to bits while people watch the aftermath on television while sitting down to dinner. No dark abyssal creature, no haunting being compares to a woman tripping a fleeing Syrian refugee to help the border police catch him, a well-known Atheist arguing it was cool to arrest a Muslim boy who brought a clock to school, or the nightmare of watching everyone around you stare at a little phone in their hand while there’s a rainbow in the sky above you.
I’ll take tea with an Archon or the restless dead any day over those people.
I told you I didn’t want to write about this, but I knew how this would go. I knew I’d cry about half-way through writing this, and somewhere about word 1200, I’d go make tea, stare at the moon outside, come back to these words and remember why I write this stuff.
I write this stuff against what wants us gone, weaving the only magic I have full faith in against that darkness others call ‘light’ and ‘civilization.’
I write this stuff to exorcise what wants us gone, and to give you tapestries to keep you warm when the soul’s winter comes.
I write this stuff so you don’t think you’re fucking crazy.
Because you’re not.
This shit is.
We’re what makes this world bearable.
Two years ago, I’d just come down from an ancient druid mountain in France called Menez Hom. and I guess 18 years ago, I was about to jump off a building.
The plan was simple, I guess. I’d get so drunk I couldn’t feel any pain. I’d slash open the veins in both of my wrists. And then I’d throw myself off the roof. The combination of all of it would certainly work–if one didn’t kill me, the other thing would, and I’d no longer have to worry about what wants us gone.
I’d also no longer have to worry about being thought ‘crazy’ again.
My mother’s schizophrenia scared me, because it wasn’t just babbling incoherence. She’d predict stuff that was about to happen. She’d read people’s thoughts. She’d have visions and shit.
My own depression, my own ‘difference,’ terrified me, too. I remember when people found out I was gay and mostly fled from me. Or when I’d gotten suicidal at Christian college, got on meds, and then had the fact that I was taking anti-depressants used against me when I applied for an editor position with the college newspaper. “How can we know your job performance won’t be affected?” they’d asked, and, well…
Fuck job performance.
Fuck being the same.
And fuck being terrified of what you see, and especially fuck apologizing for not being like everyone else.
They say trauma causes delusion. “They” are right. And also very wrong.
Trauma, if anything, causes you to see differently. It’s traumatic to watch someone get shot by a cop, or die of a condition they wouldn’t die from it they weren’t poor. It’s traumatic to watch a woman trip a Syrian refugee, it’s traumatic to see a god. It all makes you see things differently. And what you do with that difference determines whether you survive, whether you fight your government or become addicted to drugs or end up bleeding to death after jumping from a roof.
I see stuff differently, and that’s why you read me, actually. Sometimes I see the way you do. Sometimes I show you a way of seeing differently. Sometimes I just write pretty stuff, but this is hardly pretty.
Just as I was about to jump that day, 18 years ago, my friend showed up. I’m not sure why. Probably the friend who’d bought me the whiskey and cigarettes thought it was a bit bizarre and told him. Probably I’d said some stuff that gave them clues–I always think I’m more cryptic and closed-off than those who love me find me to be. I’m only ever fooling myself, anyway.
He shows up. Pulls me back through the window. I remember shouting ‘let me die’ or some ridiculous futile protest. It was all pretty futile by that point–I already knew I’d end up in Paris some day, and I hadn’t been to Paris yet. Trying to pull the pages out of a book to get it to end earlier doesn’t work, not when the man-from-the-stars made you read that book when you were eight years old, or when the Black goddess told me it was gonna be okay and I’d see her again.
Beats the fuck out of me, he does. He and his brother. And then the cops come. They hurt pretty bad, by the way–don’t fight them without friends, and not in one of those really rare moments they’re actually trying to keep you alive.
And now I’m writing all this stuff to you, regardless of whether I wanted to or not. Like working out, or probably giving birth to a child, the pain’s worth it afterwards. Who wants a baby stuck inside them forever?
Who really wants us gone?
People who know me personally tell me I’m one of the kindest people they know. It’s one of the few compliments I’ll ever accept from most people, most times, because it’s the only thing I can say I’ve honestly decided to be. Because I’ve seen what wants us gone, what wanted me gone, and someone’s gotta fight that.
And occasionally people will remark on the vividness of my visions, or how it seems incredible I see so many things so frequently. That one, I used to worry about, actually, because it made me wonder if they thought I were crazy, or delusional, or lying. Fear of being thought ‘insane’ is unshakeable, if you’ve had the sort of mother I’ve had.
A skeptic might claim the visions I had as a child or the visions I have now are mental tricks to compensate for the trauma I experienced. There’s no difference in my mind between such a position and those who claim Syrian refugees should be made to go back home, or that Black men shot by police ‘had it coming.’
No. I’m not crazy. I get to decide this, by the way–I’m the one who survived all that. I just look at trauma that others don’t look at, and let it teach me to see differently.
I look at the way everyone’s miserable with Capitalism but tell themselves ‘it’s the only option,’ and I see the trauma there and I learn to see what can be instead.
I look at the way homelessness and addiction and racism and poverty and dead forests aren’t just unfortunate side-effects of the way we’ve set up civilization but the very requirements for the rest of us to have ‘nice things,’ and I learn to see that this is so fucked that I don’t want nice things any longer.
And I look at the way I’ve survived almost every attempt what wants us gone has made to destroy me, and I realize it’s precisely because I see differently that it wants me gone. It’s why it wants difference destroyed, why it wants us all the same, all mindless, obedient, ‘normal’ people, easily controlled, easily done away with.
All the freaks I’ve known, all the fantastic queers, all the mad poets, all feral mystics and the incredible activists and truth-tellers revolutionaries and meaning-makers all know what wants us gone….
…and also know what needs us here.
Rhyd is the co-founder and managing editor of Gods&Radicals. He’s usually in a city by the Salish sea in occupied Duwamish territory, but he’s currently trekking about Europe for the next three months. Follow his adventures at: PAGANARCH.
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