Let’s face it; there’s no fooling. The sagging skin, the wrinkled face, the ridiculous forty something woman in short skirts and bottled-up Botox. The gravitational pull and the eventual flight back home were booked in advance. You already hold the winning ticket. I recognize the faces in the street, the fear, the familiar grimace and disgust at the sideways glance in the shop’s windowpane. I see the doubt, the two-second pause, the roll of the eyes in the rear view mirror. I’m going to rise above it, be the lady lit from within. I’m going to honor this body that works, that walks me from place to place. I’m going to love this heart that beats and eyes that see the sun and feel the heat, and arms that sway to the rhythm and ears that hear the beat. I’m going to resist the tug; I’m going to dig the features and the sum. I’m going to take the very best care. Every so often, I’m going to eat eggs with buttered toast and pancakes dripping in maple syrup. I’m going to drink beer without the guilt. I’m going to love a man head on without flipping the light. Sooner or later, I’m going to want to play the parts. I’ll be mother, daughter, sister, lover, and feminist right on time. I’ll want to write the appropriate words that answer the meaningful questions. I’ll get the joke. I’ll laugh out loud without bringing my hands up to cover my face. I am timeless, ageless and the perfect temperature. I will not grimace at the sight of a beautiful young woman. I will nod and offer her a secret, knowing smile and familiar glance. I will put away the minis, the boots, and the crazy forms of self-expression and store them deep in the back of my closet. I’ll hold onto them for a younger version of myself. I no longer have any use. I’ll walk the walk with conviction. I’ll talk the talk and hear the discussion. I will listen, with a mind that is open. I will wait ten seconds to answer. I’ll have a well-thought out appropriate response. I’ll take an interest in the world around me. I’ll be empowered, insightful, bright and impulsive in an instant. I will mellow out and leave fear, jealousy and rage behind. I’ll do all the things that a grown up does. I will act like a curvy, sophisticated, well groomed woman. I will see the face and body; I will embrace and endorse the beautiful. I will tuck away my first class ticket in the back pocket of my favorite pair of ripped, familiar blue jeans for a later date. I will remember where I put it. I’ll keep my head on straight, high upon my strong, beautiful shoulders. I will put one determined foot in front of the other. For now, I’m just going to walk. And face the window without the pain.
I wrote EMBERS AND ASH some years ago, or so. I don’t remember the precise day, I remember the unhappy circumstance. I needed to come home. I was unwell. Truth, I was out of my fucking mind and the only person I wanted, needed and trusted was the one who birthed me. Her ferocious, constant, capable mother-love was the only thing that was not spinning out of control. The one I counted on, shared every milestone, pain, triumph, the prettiest and ugliest parts of myself. All the minutia that comes with living and choosing the risk of loving. I never wanted to come back home, no, no, no. Not in a million years. That for me meant failure, big time. What would the peanut gallery say? It still stings when I think about it too long, when I’m beating myself up which is more often than not. I’m not well, get over it, fight and it is what it is. That’s what she’d say, her voice drilled in my head that keeps me alive, grounded to the earth.
Here I am, years later. Home, in her rock solid house. I’m so fucking grateful to wake up knowing she is downstairs waiting. I hear the familiar sounds, the heavy gait puttering around the kitchen. I don’t have to hear her at all I know instinctively from the air I breathe easier. Her mind is sharp her body willing yet less able, the terrifying reminder she is mortal after-all. God gave me a horrible burden to bear, but gifted me one superhuman willing to stick it out, fight with me and for me when I can’t. Love is the risk worth taking no matter the hurt, fear, what lies ahead. I remind myself, over and over. I am not a mother, I only understand the depths, beauty and bitter-sweetness from her side.
It’s what I know. The one truth I’ve learned that matters.
Then, and now.
EMBERS AND ASH
by Jacqueline Cioffa
Oh dear, have you seen her? She was right here a minute ago. I swear. I can still smell her cheap $5.00 perfume and tobacco trail. I didn’t know. I was ill prepared, unfit for this thing called a lifespan. How to navigate the hillbilly, redneck back roads without a compass of one’s own? Abandoned, side tracked, lost in the strange moments rolled into one. Bone crushing, blood pulsing, cotton candy sticky, all-consuming love. I have not been on the other side; I do not know how she feels. I did not experience the pain of giving birth, the miracle of a helpless creature cradled in her arms, heart to heart beating. To feel precisely how she feels, thinks. I cannot know. I am out of my depth, in foreign waters. The grown up child still needs her, close. The mere presence calms the rattled, shaky, knee scraped bones. I could never be that good. Selfless, compassionate, proud to mop floors, cook dinners, wash clothes and carry heavy loads without fuss. A lifetime of that kind of fierce love wears you down. Even the strongest, most stubborn, willful adoration wilts. Overtime. It happens. The love is not lost, it simply turns down the volume. Nature and time see things differently. The well-oiled machine in sync with the needs of her child eventually breaks down. I can’t compete with evolution. I can’t will it to stop, slow down. It does not hear. I cannot bear to lose the anchor, safe ground. I sob and sob until exhaustion sets in. I can’t help myself. Wrought with emotion. I overthink it. I think again, tricking the brain bad won’t happen. I can’t even come close. In this life I have loved many but only one burned constant, embers and ash. No matter, roles were bartered long ago. Overbearing, enveloping, tough, crazy mother love does not judge. It remains solid, no matter how deep the disappointment. She watches quietly, observing the ebb and flow. Waiting patiently to gather shattered, fallen pieces, dustbin in hand. What a sour burden to own something so precious, forced only to have to let it go. Her greatest gift, knowing precisely when to push and when to pull. That I understand. That, I know well. The incomparable fear of love and loss, one’s heart ripped straight through the middle. Embers and ash. The unbearable, unbreakable mother daughter bond so simple, so complicated.
THE RED BENCH
I want to dance alone in the dark. I want to hear the underlying music through the deafening mundane silence that is everyday life. I want to make snow angels in a Speedo. I want to smile again without feeling forced. I am going to free myself from the limitations wrapped tightly around my neck. I’m going to discard the heavy and not give it a second thought. I’m going to dance on paper and move mountains with thoughts clear in black and white.
The limbo of my life will become a discarded thing of the past. There will be happy, chocolate chip minutes and inviting, familiar scents wafting through stale air.
It will be comfortable.
My love of prose runs deep, and flows freely. I never try to push or guide her, I simply wait. She comes to me in thought, letting words steer the course. 100,000 keystrokes, always grateful for the ride. Slippery, sliced, bruised and banged up, the rocks show me the how. Pointing towards the unsettling, eery calm waters, and guaranteed ease of crystal blue, crisp, sun storm light beautiful. A new day. Possibility runs amok, wild like the raging currents I am bound to.
I Am Adam Lanza.
A decade ago I lived a frivolous, spoiled, privileged life. An International fashion model, I worked in more countries than I can count. Freedom was something I took for granted, until the earth fell from under me and my whole world shattered.
My first psychotic breakdown took away everything I knew to be true and buried me whole. The paranoia, delusions of grandeur, mania, the irrational and out of control behavior. I wanted to die, too exhausted by the fragile, broken mind. I wanted to let go of the rage, the fear, the despair, I wanted to end my life. The slicing of the wrists, my escape and a way out. Dancing in the streets, in stores, I was too out of my mind to be ashamed, by my behavior. The shame and isolation would come later, as thick and heavy as a steel beam, freight train crushing my soul.
I lived with my brother, exasperated, helpless, not knowing what more he could do, he put me on a bus back home to my mother. My Irish, stubborn, loyal, family first, capable mother. She had experience dealing with Mental Illness; my family had been plagued by the unlucky 1 in 4 gene pool.
My sick, wracked mind betrayed me, no longer mine to control. The whole and intact me, I used to know now gone forever. The carefree, compassionate, strong, independent person is living her worst nightmare. Even on the hard, horrific days, the dark evil thoughts dominating my brain, I fight desperately to regain control. If you have not been exposed to Mental Illness, please do not talk to me about it. You are out of your league, cannot begin to comprehend the exhausting toll it takes. On a family, friends, that is if you are lucky enough to have any left. Mostly, you are left with isolation and shame, your own.
My second breakdown brought black days, numbness, and a shell of a person. The depression and anxiety, so crippling I was forced to leave the big city, retreat back home to the safety of familiar surroundings. The pain so deep, so heavy, the fear immense, death seemed my only option. A welcome release from the demons, the evil lurking in the corners of a tortured mind.
I work hard to beat the beast daily, as soon as my feet hit the floor, shaking. I take the psych drugs, Lithium, Xanax, Valium, the shock treatments and practice alternative medicine. I do yoga, eat healthy, exercise and live simple. I try to avoid the triggers, terrified of the next episode.
I never know when the outbursts will come, when paranoia will convince me the man in the park wants to kill me. In my heart and my soul, I know this is completely irrational. But, the mind plays tricks. I have to fight, every minute, every second to control the grappling Illness I must live with. Day after day, in constant fear of what I might do next. I don’t own a gun, I would be afraid to have one in close proximity. I hate violence, I find it abhorrent, but I do not trust the beast.
There is no concrete help for the Mentally Disabled; there is half hour, once a month consults with the overworked, underpaid psychiatrist, who spends your time glancing at a clock. There are no solutions, into the mysteries of a broken mind, they throw pills at you. Pills that may very well be your undoing, send you deeper into depression, trigger manic episodes or worse an acute psychotic episode, and the killing of innocent souls. Those are the worst breaks, the psychosis, and the hardest to come back from. I have visited them firsthand.
I watched, helpless as my beautiful, brilliant, Yale educated, compassionate cousin ended her own life. She was a Dr., the smartest person I know and she could not find a way out of the Mental Illness that plagued her. My own father, who endured 17 years of Mental Illness, endless pills that made him worse, psychiatric hospital visits, a dementia ridden mind at the end. My mother, who fought every battle with him, and for him when he couldn’t. His daughter who would always be in my memory, his adored, precocious, funny face, happy and intact child.
He died not knowing my name. Although, in my heart and my spirit, I know exactly what I meant to him. His last breath I was beside him, holding his hand and on his heart. I felt the unbearable pain and destroyed mind, set free as he floated up to heaven. He was a good man, the kindest, most selfless I know.
I am a good person, who doesn’t deserve this fate. I am not a violent person, but I am Adam Lanza. He may have committed a horrific, unspeakable EVIL, act. Did he start out evil? He must have been an innocent, child himself at some point. When did his broken mind take over, when did he lose all rational, self-control? It’s too hard to grasp, too big to think about without immeasurable faith.
When are we, as an empathetic society going to care about the Mentally Ill? Fight for them; stick up for them, as eagerly as we fight against gun control. When will we do something about the fact that there is no place for ‘us’, when the evil, mind disease takes hold? They send you to the ER, push a pill, perhaps a 72 hour hold to the Psych Ward. There is nowhere a parent with a disturbed, sick child can turn. We are in trouble, as a society. Take the guns off the streets, a mentally disturbed individual will find another way to kill. Help us fix them, with more research, better facilities, more culpability from the Government and its people, for the Mentally Ill.
I weep for those children, the families, the unimaginable depths of pain and sorrow. I rejoice in my youth, safe, happy and healthy. I’m grateful for that. I expose myself, sharing my story. Perhaps it can help bring insight and perspective. I don’t believe human beings are evil, I believe they are defective and commit violent, unspeakable acts.
Mental Illness has afflicted me, but it could’ve been you or a loved one. One in four is not great odds. I am alone, completely and utterly alone with my Illness, even while surrounded by an empathic family. I am not a child; I am an adult, who’s better equipped to manage this bastard disease.
Please, don’t judge me. Don’t judge Adam Lanza. Don’t judge the ‘crazy,’ the insane, the unfit, the unwell, the lunatic that is me.
Help us instead.
Originally published by Brooklyn Voice.
‘BRAINSTORMS’~ AN EXPRESSION OF DEPRESSION VOLUME 2 The ‘Expression of Depression’ anthologies arose from a journal and pad of art therapy drawings recorded during a stint in rehab. The idea was to collate similar pieces from as many writers as possible; the desire was to provide empathy and inspiration to anyone going through a similar experience of isolation and mental struggle. Brainstorms is the 2nd volume in the expression of depression series, a collection of poetry & short fiction from established and emerging talent. Featuring work by Melvin Burgess, Todd Swift, Sadie Frost and Clint Catalyst.
Model Behaviour by Jacqueline Cioffa
“Can you understand? Someone, somewhere, can you understand me a little, love me a little? For all my despair, for all my ideals, for all that – I love life. But it is hard, and I have so much – so very much to learn.”
– Sylvia Plath, The Journals of Sylvia Plath
Start with a simple truth. The most basic. The brain dictates pen and pad. The writing spills effortlessly onto the page. A freedom feeling I have not known elsewhere. I write not to be rich, not to be famous, but because I can. I must. The breath and body cannot tell a lie.