Lasting Impressions

When I was fourteen, and just beginning to show the worst symptoms of bipolar depression, I experienced the death of someone close to me for the first time.

I still remember when my mother came into my room to tell me Nana (my mother’s mother) had died, from pneumonia she had contracted because the steroids she needed to be on to keep her autoimmune disorders (including lupus, among other things) in remission, had destroyed her immune system.  It was also the first time I truly understood the meaning of the phrase, “damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” as ultimately, it was the medications that kept her alive that killed her.

My memory of that event is different than most of the memories before that, in that I remember seeing myself from the door to my room, as my mom came in and told me the news, that Nana had died, and watching myself shrink away from my mother and curl up around the scruffy and worn long-eared rabbit that Nana had given me a decade before then.  It was then I began to understand grief (for someone else, I had dealt with a different kind of grief secretly on an ongoing basis for the last few years at that point following several severe sexual brutalizations), this grief seemed more acute than any feeling I’d ever experienced before.  The grief was so strong, that I feel it now still, in my eyes welling up with tears as I recall, in the feeling like a ball of iron is weighing down my gut, pulling on the bottom of my rib cage…

I started a photography class at a local college a few weeks ago, and instead of checking out a camera from the school a few days at a time, I remembered a recent offer from my mom for her to give me a 35mm camera.  I thought she was referring to the Canon that mom had used in college herself and that, when I was deemed responsible enough with the almost-disposable cheap snapshot camera I’d been given around age 5 when I showed interest in shooting pictures, I was allowed to borrow mom’s hallowed Canon.

The idea excited me.  This whole class excites me, really.  It had been so long since I worked with film, I’d forgotten how thrilling it used to be to me to hoard each exposure for *just* the right moment, because each roll of film and each print had to be begged for following endless hours of chores, and every exposure was priceless.   But I digress.

I was wrong.  I went out to mom’s for dinner after talking to her, she was tickled pink that I came to visit.  As I was getting ready to go, she brought out the camera.  It wasn’t the Canon.

The camera she brought out was a mid-80’s Minolta, a nice 35mm SLR that is IDEAL for the work I’m doing for the next three quarters for the film portions of my photography classes.  As she opened the case to show me, she said the camera had been Nana’s, that Nana bought it right before she started to get really sick, and had used it on her travels to see states she’d not visited before now that she was permanently retired from the hospital where she’d been an RN for close to four decades.  Mom said that it had been sitting in storage since Nana had started getting sick in ’88, that other than two or three times mom and the other kids had taken it out to check on it, it hadn’t been handled, and that it hadn’t been used.

I’ve been using it the last couple weeks.  Ineptly, because it’s been a little over two decades since I last shot film, but I’m anxiously awaiting my shot at checking out a canister and developing this first roll tomorrow.  Digressing again…

Tonight, just a short while ago, I went to clean off the dust that has been on the lens this whole time with a few cotton swabs and some rubbing alcohol, since I’d accidentally touched the surface today and left a fingerprint.  I swabbed the surface gently, switching swabs as soon as they started to leave lint behind.  When it seemed as clean as it would get, and it dried, I held it to the light to check the job I’d done.  Despite my work, a fingerprint still clearly reflected.

What the fuck?! was my first thought – how can that be?  Until I realized, the fingerprint is on the *other side*.  It wasn’t a lens surface I’d cleaned, but only a filter left screwed on the lens to protect it.  I unscrewed the filter to clean it, and then it struck me, hard.

This was the last remaining fingerprint that Nana left behind.

I almost looked for a box to save the filter, but I’m trying to work hard on not hoarding shit anymore (and keeping this would be a step backward on a moderately serious problem I have in that direction).  I would have taken a picture, if I had the right lights necessary to show its reflection on the filter’s glass, but I don’t, and so I didn’t.  And really, it seems to me that the purpose of death for me, as someone left behind, and of grief, is to learn to let go.

And so I let go, and gently swabbed the last traces of my maternal grandmother from the only thing of hers that I still own.  I wonder who will miss me when I go, like I miss Nana now — even though she’s been gone for most of my life.

I spend a lot of time reflecting on ideas for what legacy I hope to leave behind, especially since I have no children and plan to keep it that way (for many very good reasons – a discussion for later).  What fingerprint will I leave behind for decades after my death?  And who will be there to find it?

The “Please Forgive Me” Letter, early 2012

I found this letter among some of my husband’s things a few weeks ago.  It gives insight into how I was feeling just before I went into the detox unit of a local psychiatric hospital back in late January or early February of 2012.  I’m not sure whether or not to be grateful that my husband never throws away any piece of paper he has, ever — the reminder is a hard one, of how needy and desperate I had become.


Dear Hunny Bunny Love Monkey

Somewhere deep inside me is left a shadow of the woman you fell in love with, and she very much still loves you.  But she hasn’t been in control of me for a very long time, and I have no idea how to get back to being her again.  I’m so lost – you’ve known that as well as I have for a long time.  And I have done so many things wrong, and I can’t seem to find the strength to do the right things at all any more.  I feel so empty and worthless that I often think that hurting you and my family more [with suicide] would be kinder than going on being the evil pathetic excuse for a human that I have been.

But figuring out how, and where, and when to end my life makes me realize that as selfish as I am now, killing myself would be the ultimate, absolutely most painful thing I could do to you (and my family), more painful than the stealing, and the lying, and the cheating (breaking the rules & sneaking around).  I just don’t know how to start doing better, working toward making things right, how to stop breaking your heart, stop killing what little tiny bit of love you have left for the wife I used to be for you.

I’ve been killing myself slowly for at least the last 4 years.  Once cocaine came into my life, all my happiness, strength, follow-through, ability to focus, kindness, consideration for you and others, health, centeredness, balance, intelligence, creativity and more… and most of all my love for myself and for the people who were important to me and so much the center of my world then – all of those things have been destroyed, disappearing slowly but steadily, in such a way that I didn’t notice until it was too late & I was too weak against the power of that powdered concentrated psychopathic self-disintegration – like the barrels of oil or blood diamonds to a wealthy right-wing republican – I simply had to keep collecting more and more at everyone’s expense, especially yours & mine.

So I’ve taken risks.  The part of me that does still love you can’t stand to keep stabbing you in the back & so I’ve put myself in danger over & over again, hoping someone or something else will end your & my suffering, so that it won’t be my fault that my death will cause you even worse pain.  In a way, I’m glad I failed to bring about that end, because as much as I can’t bear the thought of the price I’ll pay for my weaknesses and pathetic evils that I can’t stop repeating – the price of losing you for good – I do want you to be happy again, and I know if I went so far as to put you through being a widower it would take you so much longer to be happy again than if I were to just lock myself up & let you get on with your life without me.

Why can’t I just give you as much love as you’ve given me?  Why can’t I just STOP this fucking shit and save our life together, and the house, and our love for each other? Why can’t I be the me I used to be before cocaine & the hippy crack coke nitrous substitute that devastated my brain?  Why can’t I stand on my own anymore?

As much as I have treated you worse than an enemy, I hope you will one day feel that our life together was worth the pain, and that you will stop hurting enough to feel at least a small amount of the love from me that you really do deserve but that I haven’t been able to give you like I should for so long.

Please forgive me, please please please let me try again after I get help like I’ve needed for so long.  I really do love you, Hunny Bunny!


 

A very short while after writing this letter, I went in for detox, horribly sick with bronchitis.  After 9 days, they discharged me, and the day I got out I went right back out to get and do more drugs.  I started going out to my Dad’s place out near the coast to get clean, staying there a month or two at a time, getting 30 and then later 60 days at a time, only to return home and, soon after, to relapse again.  Hubby started locking me out of the house when I refused to go back to my dad’s, and that’s when I started living in the shed, on the lead-up toward the final bottom that I reached when I started to get serious about recovery.

Three Songs That Saved My Life

Today, celebrate three songs that are significant to you (Writing 101, Day Three: Commit to a Writing Practice).

Before starting: The exercise calls me to write for at least 15 minutes, and however long I spend writing today to be my average writing time for the rest of this month’s course’s exercises.  A lot of people have been saying on The Commons for this month’s course that they find the time passes too slowly.  Not for me.  I have, so far, found myself having to stop myself when I’ve already gone over.  I’ve heard the term “bloggorhea” (like diarrhea of the mouth, but transferred to blogs) used to describe tendencies like mine to just write endless posts about what I find interesting.  I think my challenge this month will be to find a better “economy of words,” as my friend Nancy (an acclaimed gallery artist and former high school English teacher) from my young adulthood claimed was the only real thing my writing lacked.  And here I go doing it again.  Time to just do the exercise.

Write about the three most important songs in your life — what do they mean to you?

1.  Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata in C Minor, as performed by Vladimir Horowitz on a cassette tape recording made during the early 80’s.  Also called “Pathetique.”

I still have the cassette, somewhere.  The music encoded on the magnetic tape of that cassette has been fuzzed out by the noise created by having played it many too many times.  I would play its movements, then rewind, then play it again, and rewind, repeating these as often as I needed to until the tears would slow down and eventually dry up.  I was so often so lonely that I would pity myself my (total) lack of any friend my own age – all my friends were adults, who understood my plight all too well, but they couldn’t take the place of the scoffing, mocking, bullying adolescents who were my peers in school.  I often used to say, “I didn’t have friends, I had books,” growing up, but that’s not completely true.  I had Vladimir Horowitz’s fingers caressing those white and black keys, comprehending the absolute despair that overwhelmed me, soothing my pain.  No other interpretation of that sonata has sounded so right to my ears since, no other version does for me what that one did then.  I found another Horowitz version recorded a couple of decades later, but it doesn’t have the same passion, the same skill, it is a faded replica of the older one’s glory.

2.  For My Lover – Tracy Chapman

When I was 12 or 13, I was given my first CD boombox.  My dad had already started collecting CDs, cassette tapes were still sold in stores but it was clear that CDs were the wave of the future.  With that boombox, I was given the three CD’s that were my favorites of my dad’s collection: Joni Mitchell’s “Ladies of the Canyon,” James Taylor’s “Greatest Hits,” and Tracy Chapman’s debut album.  All three were rotated and played on repeat, but the latter was the one that spoke to my adolescence in a way the other two did not.  It was difficult picking just one song from that album – “Fast Car,” “She’s Got Her Ticket,” and “Baby Can I Hold You” were also top on the rotation of songs to get repeated on my headphones and sung along to under my breath at night, but “For My Lover” spoke to a time of great tribulation when I was 14.  I had been dating a 19-year-old, and he got me pregnant.  I miscarried soon after, but my mom (shortly after he had left town to go home to live with his parents again) went through my room, found my diary, and read the entire thing to find out what was going on in my life.  She tried to have the older boy prosecuted for statutory rape, to which I responded that I would volunteer to testify for the defense and appear in court wearing the sluttiest outfit I could find to prove that I had initiated the relationship and that he didn’t know my age until we were already involved.  I felt like I was in prison, I felt like I was being punished for my choice of lover and for protecting him and, in a way, that was true.

3. My Dad’s Gone Crazy – Eminem

This rap song starts out with the sound of someone chopping up lines on glass with a razor and then snorting something with a straw, only to follow with the sound of a toddler asking, “Daddy, what are you doing?”  The song speaks to the craziness of addiction, the anger and self-righteousness that goes along with it, the rebellion against society, and the grief at what is happening, what he is doing to himself and those who love him still in his life. ‘Nuf said.