When Things Get Dark

[Meta Note] I don’t usually do content warnings because I don’t tend to have particularly heavy content, but fyi the main topic of this post is death including discussion of old age, cancer, and violence. Specific mention is made of the Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting. This post also contains frank discussion of mental health issues and (if you squint) allusions to suicide and suicidal thoughts.

Talking About Death is always a mood killer. I know this from personal experience. Everyone is sitting around, having a grand old time, and then all of a sudden, the subject becomes unavoidable. Talking about loss basically ends most conversations, which is unfortunate sometimes, but also I’m not a therapist.

That doesn’t mean that people can’t come to me with their problems; it just means that I have my own baggage, and I can’t be held down by everyone else’s too. I simply don’t have that capacity.

Let me start again.

I was at an event a few weeks ago where we were given cue cards with questions on them, and we had to choose a question to answer individually to share with the group. The two conversation prompts were functionally the following: “Describe your middle and high school experience” and “Describe the person you aspire to be”. Now, the other four people at this table were strangers. I had never met them before in my life, and while I gave them each a business card, I haven’t heard from any of them since. But of these four other people, two, maybe three of them were really hyped for talking about high school. As though it was a great, fun time to rehash. I gently tried to steer them away, by listing the positives of answering the second question. But it started to get dangerously close to the point where I knew everyone would be swayed toward the question I did not want to answer, so I simply said “If I have to talk about high school, things are going to get very depressing, very fast.” That ended that conversation, and we answered the other question instead.

I didn’t want to talk about middle and high school, because my memories of that time are scattered, fractured, and while they are hazy, they also hurt. Contrary to what one might expect, my therapist cautioned me against journalling when I am in a fragile mental state because too much introspection is actually quite bad for me, given how much I tend to get caught in thought spirals sometimes, and writing about it causes me to get stuck in an endless feedback loop until I burn out. It hasn’t happened in several years because I learned this great adulting skill called restraint, and I’ve had plenty of productive therapeutic sessions in addition to taking medication, but the fear of it is what keeps me from writing too late at night. That, and Annie sometimes has trouble falling asleep if I have the light on.

But I digress.

It’s been almost a year since my Aunt Malika died, and I still think about her almost every day. It’s not so much a sad thinking anymore, though of course I would rather her be alive than dead. But what I mean is that, I feel as though I am carrying her with me. She is gone, but her spirit and energy is so, so alive, because it lives on in all of us. I think of the others too, of course. A few months ago was the anniversary of when my Aunt Carol died. When Malika died, my mum told me in person, waking me up gently, though way too early considering I had only gone to sleep a handful of hours earlier, to tell me that Malika had passed. It didn’t register at first, but then my mum was able to hold me as I cried, and she cried too.

When Aunt Carol passed, it was different. It was my last semester, senior year of college, and I had been planning go to a movie screening, but it got cancelled, and even though I preferred to do work in the library I had left the book I needed to read from in the dorm and so I decided to go back home. I had gotten a text from my mum asking what I was up to that night, so I sent her a million back, and while she didn’t respond, I considered this pretty normal because I had texted her an hour after she texted me. But then she sent me another text, not replying to any of mine, just asking where I was. So I called her, and she told me about what had happened. It was a weekday in the beginning of the week, so I was far from being able to see any of my family, and I was far from being OK. I barely remember the next few days after that.

The worst bit of all of this was that she died on February 13th 2018, just one day before the Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting. Due to the fact that she had just died, I had been ignoring all social media, all news outlets, and all the people I could, which was difficult because that was a particularly packed week on my calendar. Somehow, though, I managed to stay in enough of a bubble that when it finally popped I was completely wrecked again, and the fact that the next week was February break was the only thing that saved me from completely cracking open and dropping out, or at the very least flatlining my GPA, which would have been a shame given it was my last semester.

Things were very dark for me last year, to the point where getting to where I am now seemed like an impossible dream. The funny thing is, though, that impossible as it was, that darkest time? That was when this seed was planted.

You see, in order to research this post I looked back at that old text conversation with my mum, and at my Google calendar for that day, and I realized that she sent the first text at 5:03pm, just three minutes after my 5pm info session about the Columbia Publishing Course — yes, the same publishing course I am starting this Sunday — began. I had completely forgotten that those two events those two, life-changing events, one in the worst way and one in the best, happened not just in the same day, but very nearly in the same instant.

I suppose that what I’m getting at is that the world works in mysterious ways, particularly because this Sunday — yes, the same Sunday I start the course — is the one-year anniversary of my Aunt Malika’s death. I don’t pretend to have any of the answers, but I do know that on every journey I take I bring with me the love and support of my family (including my friends) both living and departed, that love and support being the greatest gift of comfort for when things get dark.

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