In the spirit of not letting mental illness define yourself or how you see other people. Diagnosis isn’t a label or an identity. That is what 2016 taught me.
In 2004, my father died.
And Ottawa became a city of ghosts for me, full of empty pockets of memories tarred by loss. But if I thought it was the city that was haunted, I was sadly mistaken. I am the one who is haunted. By my father, by my old life, by the truth that life is nothing like what I had once imagined. No matter where I travel, run or hide these specters will follow and I have had to accept that they are constant companions. That’s the thing about sadness, it is selfish and will always need to be felt.
I remember the city of ghosts was once a beautiful place I called home and could not have fathomed leaving the way I did. I sat in the taxi and waited in the airport to board a flight and never come back and all the while it poured down, as if the city were weeping. I think it did for both of us.
Because once my father died, so too did the city. The ice-laden hills I once rode my toboggan down seemed colder and lonelier than before, Dow’s lake where we took paddle boat rides every summer became nothing but a reminder of a ship one man down.
Now there’s a ghost everywhere I go. Every milestone, every achievement is tainted bitter with the taste of emptiness…something or someone is always missing. Amid a sea of proud families at graduation, standing among fellow students donned in black robes signifying an accomplishment to take pride in, I could only see an empty seat in the audience, right next to my mother. I know she feels it too…but we never talk about it.
So today, I drink the poison his once dilapidated kidneys could never have filtered, never did. Suck in sickly sweet air from a cigarette with the same lips that said good night to him one last time.
Life goes on…
but it’s just not the same.
To new beginnings in familiar places…what goes around comes around.
7th June, 2016: We wheeled ourselves into a haphazard circle on a sunny afternoon in the midst of reddish dirt and wisps of dried grass. The breeze swept carefully tucked hair and long dresses up ever so slightly, teasing us all, playful. We turned like a merry-go-round in third gear, a carousel of chit chat about us. There’s just something about small talk, especially when it no longer feels so small…
8th June, 2016: Old faces in new places have made me feel somewhat dizzy, a retrospect looming. I’m beginning to feel like the world is a little pocket, occasionally stuffed with the old acquaintance or childhood friend who once played pretend with me, scribbling with crayons just outside the box. Coincidences are funny and it’s quite a jest to welcome, even if it’s met with some old-fashioned and long learned apprehension.
9th June, 2016: An unconventional end befell my collection of books stored away in boxes 575 kilometers away, in the form of insects with an unfortunate appetite for moist pages…dampened by the careless faucet left leaking in the upstairs flat,water dripping its way down the cracked cement. Sometimes it’s better to forget rather than be maudlin and so I’ve taken to technology for my reading, an artifice in its screen and font adjustments, replacing the paperbacks and hardcovers. Although it warmed up to me, I think I like to romanticize the past and the people boxed away in it, love them as I do.
10th June, 2016: The sound of clanging forks and chit chat is the perfect backdrop for a bit of light reading, as a cup of tea sits upon the table. The breeze is dotted with drizzle as the finished paper cup threatens to totter over just shy of the large windows. Perfect weather can make for less of a dull time, ticking away in an otherwise unoccupied hour here and now. A recipe for renewal.
11th June, 2016: Thumbing pages of books and notepads has become second nature, a tell tale sign of my mind wandering. A friend asked me if it calmed me down but quite the contrary, I think it makes me feel all the more elated, alive with ideas and quaint possibilities.
I had a lovely summer, finally with some free time and I graduated from college, so I’d chalk that up to a good time.
Church Street milling with people mid day is where I found myself, disappearing into the throng, walking with no place to go until I met a friend and we sat ourselves down to catch up on everything we’d been missing, long been kept from enjoying time off, no pressing deadlines or harried hellos and goodbyes. We’d been through some hell of a ringer and came out clean on the other side. And in that late afternoon, we sat outside a cafe, smelling of cinammon in the air. The smell of nicotine intermingled as we sucked on pale white cigarettes, vestiges of lipstick with names like wine festival and bold crimson caressing the tips. And I remember thinking, summer smells so sweet.
Light filtered through kaleidoscope tinted sky lights, and the light buzz of beer was coloured with reds, blues and bright yellows. Behind me were little wooden houses, brightly painted and in rows perched on shelves lined till the ceiling where the colours of the stained glass danced upon them as if for tiny little people. And on many occasions, we all feel tinier than we are but with a couple of beers in hand and bowling drunkenly afterwards, the brightly coloured bowling balls sloping ever always to the right, we could not have felt any bigger than at that very moment.
Trees blooming with pink flowers are such a sight to see and one of my favourites, even when a tram is zipping me by so fast I couldn’t hold on to take a picture fast enough. Thankfully I did. And with a lake spread out before my eyes and fishermen waiting for the long haul not too far away, I felt like a tiny dot among the crowd, in a way that made me realize we’re all trying and we’re all okay.
We swallowed the pangs of that knotted feeling,
the aubergine of doubt tainting our dreams.
It tasted sickly, like a cherry-flavoured expectorant
yet bitter like cold and flu pills
when they rested upon your tongue for much too long a time.
We were ill with discontent, ridden with the symptoms of
an unfortunate case of inadequacy.
A chronic condition of constantly qualifying, quantifying …
until we realized we were calculating infinite,
which, of course, is a crushing epiphany.
But once it passed, we felt it.
We are enough.
I’ve read in books of God that keeping silent is the way one can become actualized, but to be quite honest, the sub-vocalization can be deafening in itself. The irony lies in how my thoughts aren’t allowing me to hear myself think, sometimes because there simply is too much. I could use a server that reroutes them, lowering the volume to a whisper.
I feel like I have lost my words, an infallible dulling of the mind. And so I have begun to study them in all their multiplicity, colloquial lilt and marvel at the havoc they wreak when a poet or fire starter dare use them as an aberrant risk, forsaking semantics for depth. It reminds me of why I need fragments of language, so that I can, in all my capacity, describe these feelings pouring out, as if from the spout of a watering can. They do not flood but pour and drizzle, so many all at once…pristine or murky with sand and soil. I need them, if not my sentience and experiences shall all but melt inside of me, succumbing to forgetfulness. I have to remember, for I am alive and I am here, filling that bottomless watering can and growing lilies, chrysanthemums and African violets to the best of my ability.
At times, I reminisce about those ineffable mixtures of happiness and languor. I want to feel like water colours dripping down a page, free, light and best of all, dissolved in warm memories. A bright yellow, the colour of the Post-its lining my father’s desk, or the plum of my favourite shirt. Perhaps the meringue orange of my mother’s warm sweater that I used to sneak for myself. Maybe the green hues of the potted plants breathing in my old home and the grass I rolled around in. I imagine slowly seeping into the page…
Now, that’s a good feeling.
The sun flickered between the blinds of the window, the cheap sheers dancing lightly. Marred by cracked walls and peeling paint, the room looked like the inside of a monochromatic kaleidoscope…blinding yet bereft. Much like us, the broken blinkers. We too have suffered the way this room has from time and detriment. We are starved of love and it is eating away at us from within. Do you wonder…can you stitch flesh that has long since fructified, threading the slow corrosion to work a semblance of unity? Or shall we remain febrile enthusiasts, bits and pieces flying but too manic to notice how close they clatter? Like tottering tea cups. So close to the edge. So close to fracture and fission. After all…everything we loved became everything we lost.