When life attacks

There’s no security to the future. We can barely even find security in the past. What we think happened may not even be what really happened, not in the history of civilization, nor in our personal histories. Each of us is an unreliable narrator in our own story, but no one else can fill in the details, not reliably. Some memories that are big in our minds are events that only occurred once in our physical lives but recur endlessly in our minds. Little things can turn into big memories, and big things can be forgotten. It’s on each of us to construct the narrative of our own lives, regardless of definitions and judgements.

I tend to be dark. I tend to remember the hard things, not so much the things that made me tremble with joy. Those things that make my heart ache with a heavy sadness are the ones that rise to the surface of my memory again and again. Most sunny afternoons of life are forgotten.

I try to pinpoint the great moments, those tremulous, joyous times. Simple still-life moments emerge. I played drums with a cousin in the basement of his grandmother’s house. We listened to Quiet Riot.

This pops up in memory, and the more it pops up, the more I remember it. The more I remember it, the more I remember other times with this cousin, like dancing to Thriller in my aunt’s house. The more I remember it the more I remember it. I try to hold onto the dancing, the drums, but the insecurity I felt, even as a child, cuts in. I remember the anxiety, the confusion, how my body felt awkward and perplexing, never quite doing what I wanted it to. I cover up the whole thing with a blanket of judgements, about my pink corduroy pants, my mousy hair, my crooked smile, my demeanor. Other recollections drive their sharp heads out from under the cover, times where I felt vulnerable, did things I didn’t want to do, but wanted to do, but didn’t want to do, but did anyway.

Where are the happy thoughts? Why can I only seem to feel the rough ones? Perhaps I like the dark, I tell myself, perhaps the dark likes me.

There’s a thing that happens, when I write a play script. If I write something that I think is really dark, Ali thinks it’s funny. She’ll go on to direct it funny, and people will laugh when they hear it. But if I write something for comic effect, if I’m howling into my keyboard, she will read it and say “this is depressingly dark.” And there I am snarfing my prosecco.

I was sitting on the couch watching tv. I don’t know what I was watching. This was well after I stopped being able to watch any show that portrayed hurting children, or victimizing women. No matter how it’s portrayed, these lifestyles of hurting people are glamorized, and I don’t want to feel that glamor while simultaneously feeling dread. So it wasn’t Law and Order, or Criminal Minds, or Dexter, or Breaking Bad, or NCIS, or countless other shows. It was something tolerable, something plain, something digestible, perhaps even something noble, like TNG, or Buffy. I was having a glass of wine. We were at our old place in Greenpoint. It was fine, there was nothing out of the ordinary to be worried about. The baby was sleeping, he’s already had his neurosurgery, he was recovering well.

It was fine.

“You’re sitting on your couch,” I thought. “You’re watching tv. Your baby is sleeping. You’re fine.” These thoughts were aggressively consoling. I was yelling at myself. “You. Are. Fine.” I realized that I was willing myself to be fine. There were other thoughts, too, thoughts that I couldn’t hear at first, thoughts that were so loud I don’t know how I could have missed them.

“You are a beggar,” they said, “you have no career, you have no friends, your family pities you, your marriage is a wreck.” It was like dancing to Thriller, and feeling the song slip away, so it was just my body moving in time to nothing, just my cousin staring at my flailing arms. The room, the wine, the tv show, all slipped into this darkness. The sides of my vision closed in so all I could see was my terrified inside.

I tried mentally to step back from it. From some distant, far off, front row place, I watched it unfold. I tried to counter this madness with accusations of madness.

“Stop being crazy,” I thought. But the crazy ignored me, prattling on at fever pitch.

“Your apartment is a hovel, but still you can’t afford rent, your job skills are mediocre, you’ve done the best you can in life, and it’s horrible. You have nothing to show for yourself.” I tried to counter these facts with other facts.

“I’m over-educated, I have two degrees.”

“Lots of good that’s done you.”

“I do things, I make things, I do the best I can with what I’ve got.”

“Someone else could have done better.”

I asked Dave. “Do you think I’m horrible?”

“I think you’re great,” he said, calmly, with authority.

I looked back at the tv, I chugged my wine, I clutched my head, my heart was beating so fast I thought it would stop. I asked Dave to put me to bed. He tucked me in like I was a second child. He kissed me good night.

I closed my eyes. I waited for it to go away, but I couldn’t shake it. I’d had nightmares, and night terrors, moments of intense self-doubt, times when I was mentally unable to leave my apartment, but this was ridiculous. This was like criticism overdrive, and I felt smaller than a flea. I felt bad at everything.

All the painful memories surged up and took their turn spinning under the harsh lights of my internal critique. Mostly the things I’ve done, that have hurt people, or the things I’d done to intentionally hurt myself. Incidents on basement couches and back seats. Cruel things I’d said just to jack myself up a little bit. Times I’d drenched my consciousness in oblivion just to not remember. Expectations I’ve had and fallen way, way, way short of.

I closed my eyes and tried to sleep. If I’d had a hammer I would’ve bashed myself in the head with it.

I woke up shaken, but the bitterness had faded. I could face myself, if barely, could face my husband, in front of whom I’d played such a fool. I could face my son, who loves me with an unconditionality that will fade as he ages, and if he understands forgiveness, will come around in time to cushion me at the end.

I search it out. I am searching. I lean on things I’ve known before, familiarities, little prayers, little laughs. I reach out with my heart. I find that there’s a lightness there. A lightness that is not afraid, that stores up all the joy my memories forget, and holds it tight, like a compressing star, about to go pulsar.


We visited the ocean. We had a lovely time. I’m endeavoring to make that a recurring memory.





2 thoughts on “When life attacks

  1. Your brief insights into lightness keep me from my darkness. You are my hero, Libby, insane maybe but true. You speak the words I cannot; you feel the things I’m afraid to feel and yet you live. You experience the tremendous faith that C has in you (that can be overwhelming but is another story) and someday we will spend the time I’d so love to. For now, thank you for writing, delving deep and not being afraid to put it out there – hero. I love you

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