Friday, October 7, 2016

Letting the Light Out

I was surprised to wake up.
It sounds absurd, I know....given how we live or lives: willingly drifting into oblivion every night, ostensibly with the expectation of always waking up... Of always picking up where we left off the next morning.
But... What if...there was no expectation of picking up where we left off? What if that was it? The last night. The last time you closed your eyes and succumbed to that oblivion. Maybe even embraced it.
How would you drift off?
Kicking and screaming? The way children fight sleep?... Something deep inside revolting at the idea of letting go of this day at all costs?

Or with a resigned sigh? Maybe... even a relieved one?

And later, when your eyes slowly opened... to the bathroom floor... and... to blood... all of it...
...wouldn't you be surprised too?

Once, in highschool,..I wrote a long essay on Existentialism. I say long. What I remember as 20 tight but sprawling pages of incisive analysis was more than likely just five doublespaced and over-margined sheets of poorly written shit. I knew almost nothing about existentialism. (It's French, right?) I'd read Camus' The Stranger, partly because the cover art was so compelling... but mostly because it seemed like such an adult thing to intellectual and cultured...

...but I'd failed to understand any of the real themes in the story... my ability to think critically about literature locked in a losing battle with the biological compulsion to try and get naked with girls...

I'd read The Plague, followed by The Fall... and came a little bit closer... but still failed miserably.
And then... I read The Myth Of Sisyphus. And while there was a metric fuckton that I probably didn't get... and still probably don't... all of a sudden, things made sense... The themes of all his work somehow getting past the omnipresence and omnipotence of "blanket time in the field."
All of this talk of "absurdity" and "void" and "taking our clothes off."
Or...was that me?

Sisyphus, doomed by actions in his past life to push a rock up a hill for eternity...always losing his purchase just before the apex and forced to watch the boulder, his current raison d'etre, tumble back to the bottom. Where he would have to begin all over again.


Fuck Everything Ahead.

But that wasn't what stuck with me. We've all known and felt that story press into our lives since...what? second grade? Making it through one miserable day of doing things we didn't want to do...and being powerless to change it..., only to stare down the barrel of a whole life of them...thinking that it never ends. This is the power of myth that "Mean Joe Campbell" was always jabbering about. A story that has all the power of existence complicatedly encased in its simplicity. Abstractions to manifest the ineffable. Or at least give them rough form. Form that the human mind can try to make sense of.

But what resonated...or at least gave me pause...was his take on the struggle. On coping with the fate of some seemingly endless and terrible existence.
"The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy."
Is it?
Must one?
His take that there were moments in that hell where Sisyphus found solace. Vista and altitude. Placing his face against the rock... feeling its texture and coolness.

Even if I didn't agree with it all at the time... (you know... as an astute and learned 18 year old)... every sentence in that book was and is thought provoking in all the right ways. The ways that stick with you forever, swirling around in your brain every time you ride your bike... stand in a line... wake to sunshine in your eyes... buy almond milk... lose a friend... slog through a gray day... shop for a stupid fucking dining room table... kiss a girl... tell her you love her... feel her hand slip out of yours as she pulls away... cut yourself open to let all the light out...

I knew the blood was my own.
I didn't want to... but I did. In that way we always do. In that way we wake up everyday...with all the weight we hauled through yesterday still there... waiting to be hauled through today. And tomorrow. And the day after that.
As much as we might wish otherwise.

My head...hurt. A long blood crusted knot creased along my scalp, roughly the shape of the edge of a brick.
My entire body was sore. Bruised, it felt, from the inside out. My hand was split open...either from the windows I'd put my fist through... the impact of the car that didn't quite miss me... or from the ground that embraced me...

And my arms... My arms...
They were a mess.

I don't know why I regained consciousness. Maybe something inside clicked back on. Maybe my body decided to make one last ditch effort at survival, to spite my mind.
And...I don't know why I stopped bleeding. There's no reason I should have. Though mostly... I think I simply never finished.
Honestly, I don't like to think about it. Which isn't to say that I don't. All the time. Which isn't to say that every sharp thing I ever hold in my hands doesn't make something inside me tremble. Which isn't to say that sometimes, when people touch my wrists a certain way, that I don't feel a nauseating sting... a sickening tug run up the length of my arm to wrench the insides of my chest.

I'd never seen so much blood.

With the same sudden and impulsive tendency to action that had brought me to the floor... I would pull myself off it... and move toward the door. As quickly and best I could....fighting to stay conscious.
Stumbling in with my arms wrapped in towels...I would tell the nurse that I had tripped over the open dishwasher and cut my wrists on the knives that protruded from the utensil basket. Not caring if she believed me or not. And not caring that I didn't own a dishwasher. She would glue and tape and stitch me together... x-ray my insides and head for internal bleeding... and later, let out a low whistle as she sat across from me and told me that I had "done a real number on myself." And that I was "lucky." She would look at me pointedly and ask if she needed to make a phone-call. I would stare at the floor in silence... until she asked again. And then I would say "No. Please... No. I'm...ok. I am. I just... tripped. I'm ok," offering a teary and tremulous smile as proof. And she would look at me for a long time...her own wheels spinning. She would scribble a name and number on a piece of paper...and tell me that if I promised to call the number, I could go.
It was the number of another doctor...The kind of doctor who handles people who "do a number on themselves."

Later...maybe it was days... maybe it was weeks... I would sit in a a chair...and tell a man barely older than myself... things. Some of it a repetitive litany of things he's likely heard a million times too many... Some of it maybe not so much....
That nothing made sense...that unlike the vanishing scars on my arms, hidden by thick colors, heavy line work and sleeves... there was a hole inside of me that wouldn't close...that it would be better for everyone if I disappeared... that my legacy would always be damage.

I'd tell him... that sometimes... it was too much. Not "it." Not some perceived hardship or circumstance... because let's be honest... as hard as my life can feel... it's a fucking cakewalk. That's never what it's about. No... I meant the other "it." The way "it" diffuses into my life. All the noise and chaos of that much movement and that many voices. I'd tell him... that I couldn't process the ghosts... the first time I'd call them that.

And he would nod... and purse his lips...tap his pencil...make notes...pretend to understand...
...and ultimately...write a prescription.

And for too many months, I would take the pills. For "situational depression." I admit, I laughed at the diagnosis. As if there was any other kind... Situation always being a catalyst to unbalance brain chemistry. Situation always being the impetus for a plunge to nadir...
At the same time feeling a surge of relief at the idea that I was just temporarily out of whack... and not permanently fucked. That maybe ghosts were just one more manifestation of this "situational depression"...even though they've been around forever. And not sure-as-shit proof that I'm out of my fucking mind.

Later...I'd throw all of the pills away. Stop taking them in that way you're never supposed to stop taking pills that affect your brain chemistry. My situational depression depressingly deepened by the situation of those fucking depression pills. An ever present numbness. An apathy that wasn't happiness or unhappiness. Too many apologies to girls for a non-existent libido. ("It's not you... it really is me.")
I would steel myself for the aftermath... and weather it. I'd ride my bike further than before. Throw myself into projects. Do burpees in my living room until even walking up stairs and lifting a spoon hurt. Throw myself into being a father. Know that he was the anchor that was keeping me grounded... know that he was the reason I pulled myself off that floor... know that he was and is the best thing I've ever created in my life. Try to convince myself that my presence in his life was a boon... and not a bane.
And when he was away with his mother...I'd drink myself to sleep and hide the sharp things. Because everyone knows the demons come out at night.

I'd wrestle with a Jekyll and Hyde mentality... focused and committed... reckless and nihilistic. Make it through the days. But I'd still feel... extinguished. Like a light had gone out inside of me.
I'd wrestle with that. What the fuck did I even mean? "A light had gone out?"
Trying to put everything into perspective.


A friend once went on a rant in front of me... about suicide. About how pathetic and selfish it was. He didn't know anything about places I'd been in my life... or maybe he did...but I didn't say anything.
Funnily enough, I'd gone on the same exact rant once...long before. In my own narrow, privileged, selfish and myopic worldview, absolutely failing to understand how anyone could ever want to check out of life.
Until I did.
Until it was all that I thought about.
And until something snapped...and tipped the scales.

And then... I understood too well.

I've always been torn on depression. A part of me knows on a very personal level how real it is. How overpoweringly tangible and substantial a thing it is. And a part of me thinks it's just a symptom of boredom. A self-perpetuating sickness we've inflicted on ourselves with the way we live our lives. Too much of nothing and not enough something. Suburban ennui turned malignant... metastasizing into a cancer of the mind.
When we're engaged in the task of surviving... of truly scrapping to make it through a day...there's no time to be depressed. You're present... thinking critically about how to live from one moment to the next. And when you're doing what you want... chasing what moves you, even when it's hard...there's purpose.
It's in the other moments... the in between times, where we seem to spend most of our lives. Limbo... purgatory... salle d'attente... When you have just enough time to say... "Wait... nothing makes sense. This my life? How can that be? That's when the tumors start to form.
And in some of us... that cancer is more aggressive than in others. Genetics. Diet. Disposition. (And apparently gut fauna? This world...)

While there was and always is a selfish part of me that wanted to run from all the pain I was feeling and creating...the overwhelming feeling I had as I collapsed in my own blood was that this was for the best... that disappearing, even in a traumatic way, was the best outcome for everyone. That no one would have to watch me fall, pick me up, deal with my mess...and ever be hurt by the damage I would inevitably gouge into their lives. That the scar I was about to cause was better than the blast crater I'd leave if I persisted in living.
Selfishly selfless.

Because this wasn't a movie. No angel was going to earn his wings by convincing me that I'd ever do any good in this life. Some people might miss me... but they'd still be better off without me.


We've all lost it at times. Some moment that leads to this cascade of slamming doors in our heads...the normal outlets and rooms of reasoning suddenly blocked...and the course of action becoming this running full tilt down whichever hallway we're shunted into. that moment made manifest. Chased by whatever demons we have down that hallway of slamming doors... a hallway that ends in abyss. At least,,, for me.

I can't say... that I won't always struggle with it. But... I've pause. To reset myself.
You know when you're walking down the street, and for no reason you can think of, you suddenly feel this overwhelming anxiety about that one set of footsteps behind you? Knowing that it's just another hapless moron walking the same direction, but unable to shake some stupid fight or flight panic? So you stop and tie your shoe, or look in a store window, or anything... until the footsteps pass.
It's like that. I let the footsteps chasing me pass. Or I just punch whoever it is in the face. (It's always me, in case you were wondering.) And I've learned...that just because the doors are all slamming shut at that moment, it doesn't mean you have to run full tilt down that hallway. You can stop... sit down. Lean your back against a door, get lost in the grain of the wood on the floor... nod off for a bit... Pass out. Get in bed and pull the sheets over your head for however long you need to. Maybe the doors won't be open when you wake up... but you won't feel that frenzied panic you felt before.
And they might be. One of them at least.

I know... it's infinitely more complicated than that....What goes through our heads as we push our rocks up the mountain. The circumstances... the people... the demons... the damage...
And I know that there is infinitely more to say. But saying this was hard enough. my moment of abstraction. My telling a story to find the meaning in it.
Hoping I'm smart enough to understand the themes... And hoping they're there... and that it's not just a literal story about some scarred wreck lying in a pool of his own blood for no reason.

Fuck it.... Let's get naked together...


  1. Well written Watts. I admire your honesty, bravery, and word smithing skills. Thank you.

  2. Excellent. Lots of us have been there. Glad you are still here. Ride on.