I finished the book. It took me longer than I thought it would because it hurt, remembering what she went through, learning new details about the events and their impact.
I’m so glad I read it. I’m so glad she wrote it. I’m so grateful for her bravery, then and now.
But the book left my brain rummaging through the metaphorical drawers of that period of time, picking up the photos, the memorabilia of the upheaval of my early 20s and the wreckage of my family.
There was a photograph taken of PT (the writer), me and the third of our little pack that summer, sitting on a rock wall at the shore of Lake Charlevoix. PT and I were wearing baseball caps, Polo of course. Someone’s brim was backwards. Our arms were cast around each others’ shoulders, but our faces were far from carefree. PT later sketched the photo from the back. I’m not sure who has possession of the photograph or the drawing, but it is the drawing that remains the most vivid in my mind.
You can’t see our pain. You can only see the love.
The lyrics to that summer were Jagged Little Pill, or Candlebox, or the Indigo Girls. She taught me how to smoke, how to properly use the F-word as all parts of speech. I lost my fundamentalism, which later led to me finding my faith.
We stressed everyone out. Our sweaters were on backwards or inside out. We were sad but laughing. Brave but chicken shit.
She was struggling. I was struggling. Our friend, M, was trying to keep us on an even keel. M, the oldest, had a great theory of how to help people: If the person who is hurting is with you, they are safe.
I tried to do it for PT. I know she tried to do it for me. M did it for me. We were juvenile raccoons loose in a kitchen, emotionally, so it was messy and probably not always the BEST thing.
I survived it. I learned, through those girls, the value of presence. Of being with each other, even if there aren’t words, even if you can’t find your words. Especially if you can’t find your words.
There’s been so much discussion in recent weeks, necessarily, of how to appropriately respond to mental illness, to reach out if you are hurting, or how to find the proper resources, etc.
I know I struggled with thoughts of suicide during that period. There were times I wished that my family’s violence ended that way. It would have been neater. Simpler.
It didn’t. I didn’t. The reason I didn’t, in part, is because of two girls, arms draped across my shoulders, even in the midst of their own pain, their own struggles. We were with each other. We were safe, or as safe as we could be.
I know I wasn’t always as helpful as I could have been, or should have been. I wasn’t always my best self. But I remembered the value of presence. I tried to be present for my sisters, and my mom as we moved forward. I try to be present for my friends now.
If you are with me, you are safe.
It’s harder as an adult. Work calls us in the morning, and we are no longer able to be awake until 4 a.m. and function. We have husbands, and wives, and dogs, and kids, or whatever, all things that take us away from the necessary sometimes.
Depression. Anxiety. Grief. Worry. It doesn’t have to be “mental illness.” It doesn’t have to be diagnosed. It is the human condition.
Don’t wait for them to ask. Don’t wait until you’re “healthy enough.” You don’t have to be a therapist. You don’t have to have all the words.
Just drape an arm over the shoulder, and look out in the same direction. Sometimes that is enough.
God knows, it’s a start.