Browsing Tag

suicide

depression, Eating Disorders/Healing, Guest Posts, Writing & The Body

A Tale of 19 Wet Towels or How I Failed to Shed My Skin

March 23, 2017
towel

By Ella Wilson.

1. Birth

Every time in my life that I have had the opportunity – that is to say I have been in the presence of a huge coming or going or leaving or starting, a massive adding on or taking away – every time I have had the chance to step out, to leave behind, to shed, to transform, to butterfly, to snake – every time I could have showered off the detritus of some time in my life that lay heavy on my skin. Every time I could have grown, instead I wet-toweled.

2. Starting school

Here is how you wet-towel. You take the thing you might have stepped out of, a skin, a time, a loss, a tiny pair of pants, a hit in the face. You take that thing and you wrap yourself in it.

3. Suicide attempt age 12

You shiver at first because the wet towel makes you cold. The weight of it makes you slow. After a few days you start to smell old and nothing seems like a very good idea.

4. Puberty

Shame is sticky and the antidote to transformation.

5. Losing my virginity

Shame tells you to hide, unfortunately the tools it gives you for hiding promote shame on shame. Shameless self promotion.

6. Leaving school

When you would rather not be seen it is preferable to hide in anything you can find.

7. Leaving home

8. Getting a job

9. My father dying

When my father died I did not notice. This is not because I was not paying attention exactly, in fact I paid so much attention, maybe too much. Nursing him from when I was 13 to 22. But something can become normal, like someone being ill, like thinking someone won’t really die. So I slept on his hospital floor for months. I swabbed his throat with little pink sponges. I knew the nurses names. He died. I wanted to stay on the floor. I wasn’t ready not to have a father. I wore his clothes. I didn’t cry. I did not become fatherless. I just became personless.

10. Moving to America

11. Being hospitalized for anorexia

12. Getting married Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Mental Health, Surviving

Mother And Daughter: An (In)Complete History of (Almost) Suicide

March 12, 2017
suicide

CW: This piece discusses suicide and suicidal ideation.

By Amy Buchanan

One of my earliest memories is this: Sitting in the passenger seat of an old, beat-up blue Volkswagen, tracing a raindrop with my finger as it slides down the window and swallows up other raindrops along the way. My bare feet don’t yet touch the floor. I’m barely tall enough to see the gray world outside. My pajamas are twisted up, cutting a red line into my neck. My mother’s boyfriend opens the door and ponderously shoves a wastebasket full of my socks into the back seat. He is a bear of a man; I adore him, but he can be scary. This morning he is scary. Just sitting next to him brings anxious tears to my eyes.

“Where are we going?” I ask.

“I’m taking you to some people. You’re going to live with them now.” He forces the car in gear, and we begin to drive away.

“Where is my mom?” I cry, a keening sound too big for my small body.

“Who the hell knows. Probably going to the ocean to drown,” he looks at me. “She doesn’t want you anymore. Now shut it.” Continue Reading…

death, Guest Posts, Young Voices

And Then I Remember What You Said, a Letter to My Brother

December 31, 2016
lucky

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

CW: This piece discusses the aftermath of suicide.

By Emma Tait

December 31, 2016

Dear Ollie,

I know you know this holiday season is hard for me. But still, I need to tell you how I’m feeling, how I’m feeling about how the holidays this year, the third year since you have been gone. Please don’t take this the wrong way, I know you are looking out for me, in the good big brother kind of way.

I am always catching glimpses of you out of the corner of my eye, seeing men that look just like you, sometimes I even hear your voice. Every time this happens my breath catches in my throat and for a split second I glance around hopefully, as if I live in a different world where there is a possibility of us running in to each other on the street on our ways home from work. In a parallel reality this would be our life. You would have lived. You would have stayed in Vancouver and we’d see each other all the time. This parallel reality still lives in my head, and sometimes when I “see” you I pretend with all my hear that it is so. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, Tough Conversations

Conversations On Baseball, Zombies, and Death

November 5, 2016

TW: This essay discusses suicide.

By Meg Weber

My daughter was six years old the first time she asked me for details about Melissa’s death. She knew Melissa had been my best friend, that she had died, and that I missed her. I had staunchly avoided any other details.

One morning, just over a year ago, Kai finally voiced her questions. “Why did she die? Did she get sick? Did she want her bones to be a skeleton?” Although we’d talked about scattering Melissa’s ashes, I had purposefully skipped over describing how bodies become ashes.

I hadn’t explained how Melissa died, mainly because walking in the forest on a clear blue sky day is something I want Kai to be excited about, not scared of. I want her to love trees, not fear them. But the day she finally asked her litany of questions, I told her the truth. Melissa had been hiking in a forest and a big part of a tree broke off and fell on her. “Momo, did her blood come out? Momo, why didn’t she just run really fast to get away from the tree? That’s what I would have done.” Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Mental Health, Young Voices

From the Ground I Burn

September 8, 2016
suicide

TW: This essay discusses suicide.

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This week is Suicide Prevention week and this remarkable essay is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. Together we can help erase the stigma of mental illness and there is nothing to be ashamed of about depression. I believe even the messy parts of being human are beautiful. If you need to talk, there are good resources available including To Write Love On Her Arms and 1-800-273-TALK. We are stronger together, helping each other. The Manifest-Station is always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here. And remember: You ARE enough.

By Leah Juliett

Death threw me a bridal shower last summer. It sat at the crook of my neck in the shape of the cold belt that no longer fit around my contorted waist. I exhaled and my cracked heels exited cold ground. My voice ripped out of my larynx and I have not seen it since.

Mental illness is a cold turkey my family always forgets to serve- never spoken of; sitting in an oven that demands repair. White-skinned relatives always militantly ready to snap the steel gate closed before the smell gets out. Last fall my mother forgot to take out the trash for three weeks and maggots spilled out onto the garage floor. The smell of bone dust lasted in the car port until December, but has stayed on my body. I emote bleeding sockets and rug burned back. I reek of a decaying brain.

My childhood bedroom has become both gravedigger and priest- mourning me and calling me holy. Pouring dirt on naked body. My skin begs to have more stiffness than elasticity. I do not want to recover from what haunts me. I want to be drenched in it; wet thighs, bleached lips. I want to remember all the times I slept underground.

The first girl that I fucked with was made of fire. Her hair was dipped in raven ink. When she slipped her head beneath my hollow stomach, I cooed. I was dawned in trauma, bones cracking under heavy weight of my skin suit. Trauma too pretty to be spelled into post-traumatic stress. My body not a war veteran. When I told her I loved her, she left a flower at the head of my grave and departed like the weary admire the death of someone they wished they’d known better.

When my family eats dinner, I like to believe they chew the meat of my Adam’s apple. My throat throbs. Small hands clutch voice box. Birds cough out of asthmatic chest. The oxygen that steams from my inhaler is cold and milky, the color of male ejaculation that drenched my early teens. When I press it to my lips I wonder if this is how they try resurrect a corpse. My breath is some form of witchcraft, my inhaler a magic spoon. No matter how often I want to die, I always press the red plastic wagon that floods a surge of air back into my charred lungs.

The bridal shower was quaint. I drank a glass of water and took two Lexapro cookies that crumbled and tasted sweet under my teeth. Gifts sat under a large oak tree outside of my window, wrapped in shiny paper I’d seen at the local drugstore. I imagined all of the thank you notes I’d have to write. Mother. Father. Sister. Grandmother. Grandfather. Childhood pool. Plant on my bedside table that I’d named after Sylvia Plath. Blood. Answering machine. Suddenly it seemed like an undoable task. I cannot write a letter that does not sound like a obituary. My fingernails carved words into the hard wood of my desk. There is no erasure of what is written in stone, but wood can be burned. This quiet body can still be burned. From ash, I can fit into the cells of my old skin like plant seeds and I can build myself into a new man.

There is a burial ground at the pit of my stomach where my body allows poison people to continue to live. The rotting, the asthma, the constant churning of broken shells under wrists that beg to be cut open. The undead dance on my clavicle, etch foreign words into my pelvis. I cannot feel sexual attraction without a ceremony of grief- my vagina only wet when my eyes can no longer produce tears. This is the birthday party I never had.

The problem with mental illness is that it does not sit cold in the oven. It marinates the whole house. It’s the maggots, the turkey, the bones left under the bed. The quiet throb when you read newspaper obituaries for people you never met, only, all of the people are you. It is the sliver in your thumb that always seems to find it’s way into your nervous system. It pokes floats in your cardiovascular system until your chest ruptures. I wasn’t born for small things. My body, my coffin, my illness is so large I cannot hold it in my hand. It wasn’t being gay, or hating my body. It wasn’t being naked or touched or exposed or cut open. If I were clean of impurities, there would still be a sickness. The alien graveyard still living under new city. I cannot dig up what is too deep to see.

Death approached me after all the guests had left. It handed me the belt from the top shelf of my closet. It stretched around my neck like the pearls I’d imagined would go nicely with my bridal shower dress. I wanted to turn my body into a cross, hanging like Jesus from my bedframe. I wanted to relive my mother’s church.

Death looked at me with eager eyes, a handsome fiancé-to-be begging me to accept such a grandiose proposal. My chest sat heavy beneath all the lives I had not lived.

I do not know if I will ever marry. I do not know if I could stomach a diamond.

When I handed back the belt I did not deny death. My voice is too strong for this caracas. When suicide strangled me, my throat strangled back. Words beneath my ribcage pushed upwards until unholy screams pierced the room I slept in. I am a banshee body. I am a watery grave. I am uncomfortable, I am unearthly, but I am here. I will live here until the Earth turns over and the graves spill out. I will dance among decaying bodies falling backwards from the sky like a haunting snowstorm. My voice will not die. I will not die.

When Death threw me a bridal shower, I burned down the building. I grabbed my voice from His melting hands and ran before the noose pulled me back into the bad place. I have not seen Him since.

Leah Juliett is a nineteen year old poet, actress, LGBTQ+ activist and intersectional feminist from Connecticut. She is the author of “Orange Peels and Other Things that Burn” (2015, Amazon Publishing), and has competed nationally at the Brave New Voices Slam Poetry Competition. She has been featured in Seventeen Magazine, Teen Vogue, Buzzfeed LGBT, Attitude Magazine, and The Huffington Post. Additional work has been published on The Clit List and The Odyssey Online.

 

Join founder Jen Pastiloff for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016. Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was? Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty. Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

Join Jen Pastiloff at her Manifestation Workshop: On Being Human in London Oct 1st and Dallas Oct 22. Click the links above to book. No yoga experience needed- just be a human being! Bring a journal and a sense of humor. See why People Magazine did a whole feature on Jen.

 

Check out Jen Pastiloff in People Magazine!

Check out Jen in People Magazine!

depression, Guest Posts, Surviving

Depression Stole My Mom

July 24, 2016
depression

By Julie Hoag

“I can do it myself,” I said, I was mad, insistent I do it all on my own.

I wasn’t going to let her fix this for me. I yanked hard to loosen my backpack to free it from a metal bar under my seat when my mom dropped us off at school that day in December. My thirteen-year old sister got out of the back seat, I got out of the front passenger seat. That was the last time I saw my mom alive.

We had tried to start my car before going to school, but I flooded the old black station wagon and it wouldn’t start. I wanted to take the new white station wagon and drive myself and my sister to school, but my mom needed it for the day. I was sixteen and I admit it, I was a brat. I wanted to drive myself, and not be driven by my mom. I could drive and I had a car, I never rode the bus and being driven by my mom embarrassed me.

We went to school, clueless to what horrors would come later in the day. I went through my day oblivious to others because I had the worst problem: my mom was sick. She had been losing weight and spent hours on the phone talking to friends. She saw untruths like my dad looked older and skinnier when he looked the same to me. She was different, not my dad. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Surviving

The Shivers Take me Hard

June 26, 2016
suicide

TW: This essay discusses suicide and suicidal ideation.

By Brenda Taulbee

It is February and 2am and I am standing in the Holiday gas station, you know, the one on the corner of Higgins? I slipped I say into the telephone that Kelly, the late night attendant, hesitantly handed me. My cell phone is a lump of useless in my soggy pocket. Kelly has long, beautiful hair that he keeps pulled back. He likes microbrews and taking his mother to craft shows. We’ve chatted the handful of times I’ve stumbled in just before bar hour to pick up a 30-rack of cheap beer. Something to fuel the after party and take the edge off morning.

Can you come get me? I ask the phone and my girlfriend on the other end of it. The homeless man who saved my life nervously peruses the candy bar rack. Kelly eyeballs him from behind blocky glasses. If it weren’t for me he’d have run him out already. His long fingered hands splay across the glass case of Scratch ‘Em and lottery tickets like two fat spiders. On the other side of the receiver her voice is forever ago. I didn’t think I was trying to kill myself that night, but I guess that’s the story. The thing and the thing beneath it. The thing being a river, and me quickly becoming the thing beneath it. The stepping itself was easy. One second ground beneath me, the next nothing. All that dark water sucking eager at my heavy winter clothes. Continue Reading…

depression, Guest Posts

The A-Okay Team, Owning My Shit & Mile 4

April 24, 2016
depression

Trigger Warning: This essay discusses suicide

By Regina Hastings

When I was a kid, I had two friends, John and Jared, who lived on the street behind my house. In the summer, we roller skated on Thayer Street and in the winter, we ice skated at Scanlon Playground. Racing around corners, passing each other in the rink, we grew well balanced through practice. But we had our fair share of tumbles. Each time, one of us fell, we would pop back up on our skates and yell to the others: “A – Okay” to show that we were not hurt. We were strong, we were the “A okay” team.

I haven’t thought about this memory in a long time until I started thinking about a strong defense mechanism I acquired over the years. I don’t have words for sadness because I don’t allow myself to feel it. I stumble, I fall, I bounce back up in “A – Okay” style.

That seems great because who wants to feel sad? It’s so uncomfortable.

But here’s what I have learned, there’s this protective coating that shields sadness. It is anger. And it can get ugly. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Surviving

What my Mother’s suicide taught me

March 25, 2016

By Liz Goodchild

I still look for her, even after all these years. I scour crowds, searching for her face, hoping to catch a glimpse of her thick-rimmed glasses, the same glasses that helped to identify her when she was removed from the railway tracks. And yet I know that she is gone. That I will never see her again.

She was tall. Much taller than me. She carried herself with such dignity and determination and yet depression drenched her bones with every step she took. I only knew her as a child and teenager, and yet I am an adult now. How has it been fifteen years since I last saw her? Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts

The Art Of Missing

March 11, 2016
grief

By Eve Phillips

“I’m not sure we should date, but regardless, I want to be friends.  Honestly though, I miss you when we don’t talk,” he rambles uncomfortably, after I press him to consider what he really wants.

I’m 32; I’m a widow who is dating again. As a result, I frequently want to escape the agony of another awkward dinner with a man who has yet to understand that when you meet the right person, “You know.”

There is no Well, maybe… or Perhaps if something better doesn’t come along… You just know, and you see your future life unfolding with that person supporting you.

In this conversation, I desperately want to unleash that honesty to an unfiltered degree by saying, “Please just go fuck yourself. You have no concept of missing a person. I know because I own that feeling.”

However, he is a good man, and we have both been hypnotized by the political correctness that permeates white-collar professions. So, my contributions to the conversation are punctuated by “I understand.” and “I know where you’re coming from.”

I avoid conflict in the feminine fashion, and internalize resentment. As kind as this man is, the bottom line is that he is 45, and his family members are all alive and well. I’m 13 years his junior and feel lost in a world of missing those who have left me behind.

I once believed that my emotions would develop their own olfactory system and become immune to the feelings of longing and loss. Missing was my birthright—growing up as a child longing for a mother who died of cancer in her thirties.

In fact, I owned tragedy—losing my husband in a pointless war eighteen months after our marriage. Continue Reading…

Anxiety, Binders, Family, Guest Posts

Losing Jason

June 8, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Sayzie Koldys

On June 7, 1984, seven-year-old Louis Anthony Mackerley arrived home from school to a babysitter.  His mother was in the hospital, and his father, an Allentown manufacturing laborer, was at work.  Louis informed the sitter that he was going to visit a friend down the street.  Anyone watching would have seen a small boy step from the apartment clad in long, blue pants, a green striped shirt, and brown shoes.  If you looked closely, you may have noticed his pink socks, the boyish auburn hair, or the rounded almonds of his eyes.  You may have seen him step into the street, even heard the taunts of the other school children as he slipped into a hot dog shop to escape them.  It’s possible that you may have seen him leave that same shop, minutes later, in an attempt to resume his journey.  But, it seems, no one saw Louis Mackerley after that.  Not ever again.

These details may have had little relevance to my life, to my family, were it not for Louis’s photograph on a milk carton, his face a dead ringer for my brother’s.

More than a year after Louis Mackerley’s disappearance, my mother, father, brother and I set off in the middle of the night for our annual drive to Florida.  I was eleven, my brother seven.  Somewhere in New Jersey, as the sky lightened with the first rays of morning, my father stopped for milk.  We weren’t used to seeing the photographs on the cartons, a practice only recently begun by The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.  We hadn’t yet adjusted to rows and rows of missing kids, snatched from their lives in the time it takes to snap a photograph.  They were new enough to hold our attention, to keep our eyes from blurring their black and white faces into one.  I don’t remember who noticed it first, whether it was my mother or father, or which one of them initiated the joke, but we were all complicit.

“Jason*,” my mother said, the lines of her mouth turned down, “we have something to tell you.”  She showed my brother the picture on the milk carton and went on to describe how we had been responsible for his abduction.  He stared quietly at the photograph.

“You were too young to remember,” I said, catching on to the game, “but I begged for a brother so mom and dad picked you up one year on our way to Florida.”  I loved to tease him, to convince him that I could fly with the aid of a pillowcase or that my favorite doll was a real baby he had to stay awake all night to care for or it would die.  But this was even better.

“The only thing is,” my mother said, “we feel guilty for taking you from your real parents.  Since we’re right next to Pennsylvania anyway, we’ll give you back.”

My brother continued to stare at the picture of Louis Mackerley.  The likeness was such that even he began to believe that the image was his.  Since he remembered growing up in our family, I believe his terror came not from the possibility that he was Louis, but that he had been somehow confused with someone else’s missing kid.

“See,” I said, “your real birthday is February 15, 1977–you’re really eight, but we changed your age to seven in order to fool the police.”

“Don’t worry,” my mother said, “you’ll like your real parents.” Continue Reading…

Guest Posts

Secrets.

March 11, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88

 

By Maryann Gray.

I was 13, in 8th grade, and my mother had enrolled me in the John Roberts School of Charm, which was around the corner from the Plaza Hotel in New York City. Every Saturday, I rode the train by myself from Scarsdale to Grand Central Station, took the Madison Avenue bus uptown to 59th street, and devoted the hours of 9:00 a.m. to noon to classes on make-up (called “make-down” in JRP), wardrobe, figure control, and something called “poise and personality.” After, I went to lunch with the girls in my class and then we wandered around the Upper East Side until it was time to go home.

There was something about the ride from Grand Central back to Scarsdale that brought out the melancholy in me. The train started in a long black tunnel, and then emerged into daylight somewhere in Harlem to roll by tenements and housing projects. They were so close to the tracks I could see anemic houseplants reaching for sun on fire escape landings and window curtains fluttering in the breeze. There was something pathetic and brave about these small efforts to prettify urban grit. Gradually the city gave way to the Westchester suburbs, where I could catch glimpses of a stream running alongside the tracks and see the back sides of houses, with their swing sets and cement patios. They were further away from the tracks than the tenements but close enough that train noise had to be a fact of life. I felt sorry for those families – the only houses they could afford were the ones that no one really wanted. The closer we got to Scarsdale, the denser the trees alongside the tracks became.

The train ride home was both comforting and lonely. My day had been devoted to the hope, or maybe fantasy is a better word, that I could be beautiful, self-assured, and popular. Now I was returning to my real life, uncomfortably aware that charm school was not going to fix me. I stared out the window and wrapped myself in depression like a big cozy blanket.

I carried a notebook with me on these days, so I could take notes at JRP. Moisturize before applying foundation, I wrote. Use a sponge. Always stroke upwards. I made shopping lists — eyelash curler, lip liner, good tweezers, natural bristle brushes, a magnifying mirror. I recorded my homework assignments. Walk with a book on my head for ten minutes every day. Do twenty side bends, twenty toe-touches, and twenty twists every other day. Once a week, apply an egg facial. Let the egg come to room temperature. Separate the white from the yolk. Smear the yolk all over your face, except the eyes and lips. Don’t forget under the chin. When it dries, apply the egg white right over the yolk. When that dries, gently wash your face. Pat dry, never rub.

On one of those rides home, tired and morose, I tore a corner off a page in the notebook, and in neat rounded letters wrote, “Help me please.” I folded the scrap, then folded it again, and slipped it in the thin crack between the window and the metal frame.

Even as I did it, I knew I was being adolescent and overwrought. I hadn’t been kidnapped and held as some maniac’s sex slave. I wasn’t dying a tragic death from a rare and painful disease. I was healthy, loved, and heading home to Scarsdale, where my mother would pick me up at the train station and take me to Lord and Taylor, so we could buy eyeliner and maybe a sweater.

But as soon as I tucked that note into the window frame, I longed for someone to find it. I wanted them to wonder about the girl who left it there (they’d think “girl” because my handwriting was pretty obviously feminine). Maybe it would be the conductor, cleaning up the train at the end of the line, a couple of hours away in Connecticut. Maybe he would read the note and remember the quiet girl in the blue dress, and maybe he would be extra nice to me the next time I rode the train. Or perhaps somebody’s father would read it, a businessman on his way home from work. He would feel badly for the mysterious unhappy girl and wish he could find her and give her a hug. Or maybe another girl about my own age would read it, and she would understand. “Help me, too,” she might write before slipping the note back where she found it. Or maybe some cute boy would find it and feel touched by the note’s raw vulnerability. He might start riding in that carriage every Saturday afternoon, studying the passengers until he noticed me and knew right away that I was the author. Maybe someone, an old lady perhaps, would find the note and call the conductor over. “Do you think we should call the police?” she might ask. “Someone on this train needed help.”

What was most likely, I knew, was that no one read it. It probably got plucked from the window and tossed in the trash, along with gum wrappers, cigarette butts, soda cans, food bags, and other notes from other lonely girls.

But it was at least possible that someone read it, and that was enough. The note became my precious secret. I thought about it all the time – while waiting to be excused from the dinner table at home, struggling with pre-algebra homework, and watching other kids flirt on the playground while I sat on the bleachers and pretended to read.

I thought about leaving a note on the train every week, but that first one said it all. I had written down my prayer, although I didn’t call it that at the time, and sent it into the universe.

***

A few months after graduating from JRP, I made up a boyfriend. That summer, instead of going back to sleep-away camp in Maine, I signed up for a teen tour and spent six weeks traveling across country with 30 girls and 5 chaperones. We started in Denver, made our way west, drove up the California coast, and then flew to Hawaii. We stayed in luxury hotels and traveled to fancy restaurants in a fleet of limousines. We had to wear dresses, and we weren’t allowed to chew gum or date. Everyone complained about missing McDonalds, but I only pretended to miss it because I’d never been permitted to eat there.

The cliques formed quickly. There were the losers – the girl with the badly repaired harelip, the one who was maybe just a little bit retarded. There were the sophisticates – an impossibly thin girl who hid from the sun because a tan would hinder her modeling career, a girl whose last name placed her in one of the wealthiest families in the world, a girl who was going to boarding school in France after the teen tour. Then there were the girls with attitude. They couldn’t believe they had to wear a pastel dress and spring coat to sit in a box seat at the Hollywood Bowl and listen to stupid classical music while their friends back east were on their way to a rock concert somewhere in upstate New York. They sneaked onto their hotel balconies late at night to smoke joints that they scored from boys on the street. They scowled at the chaperones, broke the rules every chance they got, and were staunchly unimpressed by things like museums or even the marble bathrooms in the I. Magnin department store in Beverly Hills. They preferred to hang out by the pool and flirt with boys.

Iris Bishop was the center of this clique. She had long red hair and big breasts. She was as sultry as a 15-year old can be. Everyone knew that Iris had a boyfriend back home in Philadelphia. He sent letters to each hotel on our itinerary, and she was constantly bumming stamps for letters and postcards back to him.

I wanted to hang out with Iris and her clique. I wanted to be one of them, unafraid of adult condemnation, a little contemptuous, ready for adventure. At first, they wanted nothing to do with me. My clothes were too conservative, my manners too deferential. I was a goody-goody, afraid of breaking the rules. To solve this problem, I invented a boyfriend, telling Iris all about him on one long bus ride from Denver to Aspen. His name was Robbie, he was three years older than me, and I met him through my cousin. We had to sneak around because his parents were poor and mine were rich. We hadn’t gone all the way, but we had made out on the bed with most of our clothes off. I loved him, but had broken it off just before the summer because I was going to college and he wasn’t, so we really had no future together.

Iris became my friend. We spent hours trading stories about our boyfriends, and she picked me to be her roommate at each hotel. Under her tutelage, I learned to ignore instructions from the chaperones and flirt with boys just for the heck of it (because I was still in love with Robbie and not ready for another relationship. In Hawaii, I stole a golf cart one evening and we careened around the resort grounds laughing hysterically until hotel security stopped us and the chaperones threatened to send us home. It was the highlight of the entire trip, much better than the 17-mile Drive or Hearst Castle. On the last night of the trip, Iris and I vowed to stay friends forever. “I used to think you were so straight, but that was before I knew about Robbie,” she said, and we both laughed and laughed.

I never told anyone that I lied to her. It was my secret, private information. I didn’t feel guilty about it; if anything I was proud of the way I’d figured out how to make friends. The girl who was in a passionate but troubled relationship with Robbie felt more like the real me than the girl who took notes on make-up techniques at the John Robert School of Charm, spent her weekend evenings baby-sitting for the neighbors, and had never been kissed. She was the false self, all wrapped in anxiety and ambivalence. The real me was bold and sexy, and she would emerge as soon as I shed the cocoon of family and childhood that still encased me.

I had another secret that summer, too. The secret was that I couldn’t stop thinking about killing myself. I had no intention of actually doing it. When Iris and I paraded to the beach in our bikinis, shared tokes off a joint after escaping the chaperones, or traded stories about our boyfriends, I felt happy. But as soon as I was alone for any period of time, my thoughts turned to death, specifically suicide. Often this occurred on our bus or car rides, when I felt the same sad sense of dislocation that came over me on the train. A few years later, when I read about anomie in sociology class, I had a label for what I felt, a dull depression that put me at a distance from everyone and everything. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to cry as that it seemed like my smile muscles were permanently frozen.

In Los Angeles, I dared myself, knowing I’d never do it, to fling open the door of the limousine carrying us to Universal Studios and jump out onto the freeway. A few days later, as we drove up the Pacific Coast Highway in a chartered bus, I tuned out the chaperone’s lecture on Cannery Row and wondered what it would feel like to run to the edge of a cliff and jump. Would I reach the water, or land on the rocks below? Would I be scared? Would it kill me? During our surfing lesson in Hawaii, I had the strongest urge to just keep paddling out to sea, until I was out of sight of our group and the shoreline receded and all I could see was water.

I had these impulses everywhere we went. But then I’d hear Iris’ throaty laugh, or someone would poke me or ask me a question, or the chaperones would hand out treats, and just like that it was over. I could smile, I could talk, I was a normal girl again.

Months after the teen tour had ended, my sister eavesdropped on a telephone call I had with Iris. “I heard you,” she said as soon as I hung up with phone. “You made up a boyfriend, didn’t you? That’s so pathetic.”

I hated my sister that day, for listening in and discovering my secret and then for exposing me. Most of all, I hated her for confronting me with my lies. I wasn’t the person that Iris thought I was, or the person that I could believe myself to be when I was with her. I was just me, flushed with shame and full of impotent anger.

 

***

When I was 22 years old and had largely but not entirely quit making up lies, I accidentally killed an 8-year old boy named Brian who darted in front of my car. News about the accident spread rapidly in the small Ohio college town. The son of one of my professors played on the same little league team with the boy who died; the department secretary belonged to their church. The local newspaper ran a story about the accident including my name and address. For months, I couldn’t not talk about it. The accident totally dominated my attention; it was all I had room for. I told the story over and over again, to friends, to my therapist, to the lawyer, to the insurance agent. It was an edited story, though, a story that left out some details. I didn’t do this as part of some master plan. I simply had no vocabulary for certain aspects of the experience. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, healing, loss

The Other Side of Loss.

January 21, 2015

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By Rene Denfeld

I come from a family of suicides.

My older brother killed himself by eating pain pills and then putting a plastic bag over his head—just in case. My mother followed a few years later, willing herself out of this world. Cousins, siblings, nephews: dead. Even those who survive often bear the marks or memories of trying.

When someone you love kills himself or herself—and when it happens over and over again, as in my family—suicide becomes as ordinary as crossing the street. It becomes your hand on a glass of milk. It becomes you opening the mail, you going for a walk: see that bridge? See that truck? It becomes the freeway ramp you recall your brother made his first attempt to kill himself, driving the wrong way, desperate for collision. It becomes the plate of food you look at and see your mother, denying herself until she literally starved to death, a gasping skeleton clutching your hand in a bed, so devoid of fluids she could not cry.

When the people you love kill themselves, it becomes a common thing, a normal thing, and an everyday you-could-do-it-too thing. It haunts you. It asks, why not you? What gives you the right to survive? Continue Reading…

depression, Guest Posts, Self Image

Metamorphosis: A Growth Chart of Myself and the Natural World in Snapshots.

December 18, 2014


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By Melina Papadopoulos.

Like many eager young students, my understanding of metamorphosis began with the charming story of the caterpillar, almost always fairytale-like in its delivery. Its beginning urged me to sympathy, portraying the caterpillar as a lonesome, unsightly creature who spends his days lounging on dandelion heads or in the green shadows of jungle gym tunnels. By the end of the story, my eyes widened with wonder. After a long season of deep slumber in a self-constructed chrysalis, the caterpillar emerges, now butterfly, now winged, soaring, a beautifully fragile flourish of flight.

It is worth noting, however, that metamorphosis is not exclusively a mechanism meant for “upgrading biologically” in a purely aesthetic sense. To quote marine biologist Jason Hodin, metamorphosis is a “substantial morphological transition between two multicellular phases in an organism’s life cycle, often marking the passage from a prereproductive to a reproductive life stage.” But perhaps I would delve into the whole process more intimately, unravel it until every creature that metamorphoses can find itself between the growth spurts, the transitions of transitions.

Suddenly—

Tadpoles are tempted from the water with the promise of legs. Their metamorphosis begs for beginnings; a clutch of quavering eggs stares up from the murky shallows of the pond, like the many glaucomic eyes of a fitful sea monster. Metamorphosis aches for resolution. Before it can allow the frog to learn of the land, it must snuff out the youthful tail and sculpt all that remains into a more dignified asymmetrical rump.

More important, metamorphosis challenges old identities while new ones form beneath. In his book The Mystery of Metamorphosis, Frank Ryan explains that at one point organisms were classified only by their adult forms. He goes on to explain the major flaw of this classification system, “that many larval forms just did not fit in with the extrapolation of the tree of life based on the adults.” Such observation is astute because it acknowledges that an organism’s identity encompasses its whole life cycle, not just the end of it, after it has fully shed away its old skin, corrected its awkward gait. Life cycles shape children into adolescents, adolescents into adults, tissue by tissue, organ by organ. But it is a mere shaping and reshaping, not a rebirth, not a revival. In the hands of metamorphosis, everybody emerges with his own creation dust in his eyes.

In the hands of metamorphosis, nobody is ever complete.

Continue Reading…